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A Poor Church for the Poor? The Universality of Jesus’ εὐαγγέλιον

Healing at the Pool of Bethesda - Carl Heinrich Bloch (1883)
Healing at the Pool of Bethesda – Carl Heinrich Bloch (1883)

The universality of Catholicism implies a socially inclusive Church. From its revelation in the institution of Christ and the preaching of the apostles, the New Testament reveals the Church as the home of every natural identity. She embraces women as well as men, the poor as well as the rich, the learned and the simple, the old and the young, the white and the black. Christ, the Head of the Church, perpetually creates in Himself a new humanity, reconciled corporately to the Father and individually one to another — a society within society, uniting all strata in sacramental dignity. Each member of Christ, of both sexes and every race and socio-economic standing, is one in Christ, and in our legitimate differences we are helps one to another in our mutual salvation. This is the Body of Christ, in which “the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you.’”

Unsurprisingly, the communal unity of Christ’s members, a unity effected by the Trinity, is Trinitarian unity. In Christ distinction is perfected by unity rather than annihilated, just as in the Trinity each hypostasis possesses everything in common other than what makes each himself. The Father is not the Son or the Spirit, but the Trinity is one in essence. Likewise the Father is greater than the Son and Spirit as unoriginate cause [cf. Jn. 14:28], yet the greater and lesser exist in the perfect harmony of a single divinity — in ἀγάπη (agape) love, which knows no envy. In a similar way, baptism not only leaves social distinction intact, it sanctifies it. Assumed into God with Christ’s humanity, one’s distinct characteristics become one’s gifts. Maleness lays down its life for femaleness; femaleness supports and guards maleness. Wealth mitigates the sting of poverty; poverty humbles wealth.

But, some will ask, didn’t Isaiah say, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me; he has sent me to preach glad tidings to the poor”? How are we to understand Isaiah’s words, which Jesus applied to Himself in Nazareth, in light of our Trinitarian and Pauline insight? In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The words poor in spirit indicate his intent. Christ is concerned with more than the mere absence of material resources. Jesus reveals mankind’s universal need of divine grace, his infinite poverty with respect to God. The pauper to whom he preaches is everyone. The material poverty of this age is only a concrete symbol of the spiritual poverty of all mankind before God, and is not of itself the primary concern of the Good News.

Indeed, to a first century reader, εὐαγγέλιον (euaggelion – “good news”) is news of the military conquest of a nation by a greater power. It carries the connotation of a herald announcing the coming of a kingdom by force. Good News? Sure, for those beloved of the King — and terrible news for his enemies. To be a friend of God is to acknowledge one “falls short of the glory of God,” and admit one’s dependence on Him. Without this, material comfort is only an idol. Christ’s εὐαγγέλιον announces God’s Kingdom is reorienting our kingdoms towards Him, and the alleviation of physical need is a sign of this reorientation.

The story of the canonical gospels is that God has become King in Jesus of Nazareth, of the Gentiles as well as the Jews, not only of the materially poor but also of the rich. Fulfilled are the Psalmist’s words, “The Lord shall reign for ever, even thy God, O Zion, to all generations.” Without the universality of the Kingdom, Jesus becomes merely a social radical, no different than Simon bar Kokhba or Che Guevara. The universality of the Good News in society necessarily means every element of society can be redeemed. This also means Jesus’ message is necessarily a subversive one. Christ reveals the potential rivalry between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this age, and demands they make themselves subservient to a higher power.

How beautifully this is expressed in the Apocalypse! “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever.” Every political system, if it is to be a friend of the Divine King and not an enemy, is to be challenged and animated by the Christian Gospel, and every ruler is to know himself the steward of a heavenly authority. Society is therefore to be Christianized. Even in this age, the Kingdom is to come “on earth as it is in heaven,” a foretaste of God being all in all. This is the great vision of which Christendom is the fulfillment, and its realization requires the involvement of the materially wealthy.


It is common today to imagine the Church merely as an instrument of economic change, oriented exclusively to the physically poor, “a poor Church for the poor.” God, if he is thought of at all, exists only to alleviate discomfort. The error of this lies in a radical inversion. Final or eschatological salvation is treated as a symbol of material betterment, which is exactly the reverse of the truth. This thinking leads ultimately to a distorted idea of the Father. God, of whom we are created images, is thought a created image of man, a metaphor for the human person. Service of man is taken to be the ultimate good, and the Trinity is imagined a metaphor for the human community, a symbol of the harmony created by social justice. The untamable Lion is in fact domesticated, or so we imagine.

This inversion leads naturally to the invasion of an especially vulgar, modern form of political corruption. Latin American churchmen openly cater to the poor, forgetting the transcendent poverty that binds all together and which allows material riches and poverty both to aid in salvation. In Europe, bishops form factions over moral dogmas, as though presenting bills to a parliament. Some give interviews with the populist rhetoric of a presidential campaign, filled with catchphrases and generalizations. Children hungry for the bread of eternal truth are fed the stones of temporary policy. All is in the name of “mercy,” “smelling like the sheep,” and “the gospel of the poor,” but it is not God’s mercy or Christ’s Gospel. It is fully hostile to the shepherd and the flock, and is indicative of pervasive false religion, the sine qua non of which is the loss of an awareness of God’s transcendence and man’s needfulness.

On the contrary, however, inasmuch as the Church is the Church of the poor, it is chiefly spiritual poverty of which she is the remedy. Another way of saying this is that the spiritual works of mercy give meaning to the corporal. Without the former the latter are at best mere humanism. The Church’s bishops are at the helm of a divine society, and open politicking or catering to particular social strata on their part is obscene and scandalous. Ecclesiastical life ought to be pervaded by the kind of Trinitarian and Pauline insight that encourages the contribution of all according to their ability. The Kingdom belongs to the poor in spirit, to all who recognize God and admit their unworthiness.

If we allow this cancerous worldliness to metastasize, we risk becoming just one more political structure divided by class and imbalanced in favor of specific interest groups. And we risk not only this, but the disorder that arises in any society that denies specialization according to ability. If the wealthy do not serve the Church as well as the poor, the Church’s artistic and cultural contributions to civilization will be impoverished. By the same token, if the scholar is not allowed to contribute to the Church’s life by serving in those posts that demand refined knowledge, such as in the see of Rome and other sees, neither learned nor simple will benefit. Moreover, if those functions that demand masculinity — such as those in the sanctuary — are dominated by the feminine, neither men nor women will reap reward.

I call on Catholics to do three things: First, recognize the universality of the Gospel rooted in God’s transcendence. Know yourself a sharer in mankind’s universal poverty, and spread knowledge of the sublime riches of Christ in his Holy Church. Only the true Good News can bring order and harmony to the world. Making Catholics authentic ambassadors of the Gospel is part of OnePeterFive’s raison d’être.

Second, practice the corporal works of mercy. Strive for authentic humility, which is always scarcely aware of itself. Be kind. Put aside social status and labor for the poor. Be Christ to them and find Christ in them. In word and deed, stand against true injustice in society, but let human salvation be your animating principle. In doing this you rob false religion of its power.

Lastly, identify the encroachment of bare humanism and base politics and oppose it at every approach. Anything that directs our thoughts heavenward must be zealously encouraged. Our liturgies must be windows to the divine, and our churches oases of transcendence. Use language evocative of transcendence — for they who control terminology control the debate.

Do not give way to timidity in false submissiveness, or to naïveté in false optimism, but in all things be a good solider of Christ, ad maiorem Dei gloriam inque hominum salutem.

27 thoughts on “A Poor Church for the Poor? The Universality of Jesus’ εὐαγγέλιον”

  1. I want to share this with as many persons as I can. I see so many desiring this, but it seems as though they, and I, are waiting for a great saint to lead them.

    St. Athanasius, ora pro nobis.

  2. I couldn’t agree more. We have a socialist priest in our parish that confuses charity with socialism and socialism with social justice. Apparently the 7th commandment doesn’t exist in his Bible. Paul says that God loves a cheerful giver, not one that is forced to give with a gun to his head. Jesus never commanded anyone to play Robin Hood. When priests start preaching that the ends justify the means we’re all in trouble. The Church shouldn’t be playing favorites with classes of people or special interest groups.

    • He isn’t a socialist unless he believes in workers ownership of the means of production. Real authentic socialism is not bad imo. Private property(in the means of production) is theft from the commons, and from God. The church obviously must cater to the spiritual needs FIRST, but I do not see anything wrong with a left-traditionalist view of economics.

      I believe that for to be authentically conservative, one should hold a socialist view(or at least anticapitalist, something like syndicalism).

      It seems as if your priest is a liberal social democrat. Not an actual socialist.

      Relevant quote:
      “Tell me, then, whence are you rich? From whom did you receive it, and from whom he who transmitted it to you? From his father and his grandfather. But can you, ascending through many generations, show the acquisition just? It cannot be. The root and origin of it must have been injustice. Why? Because God in the beginning made not one man rich, and another poor. Nor did He afterwards take and show to one treasures of gold, and deny to the other the right of searching for it: but He left the earth free to all alike. Why then, if it is common, have you so many acres of land, while your neighbor has not a portion of it? It was transmitted to me by my father. And by whom to him? By his forefathers. But you must go back and find the original owner. Jacob had wealth, but it was earned as the hire of his labors.” – St. John Chrysostom

      • If you really believe that then feel free to send me the name and password of your bank account so you can spread your wealth around.

        • Did you read anything that I wrote? I just said that i’m against private property IN THE MEANS OF PRODUCTION (i.e factories and so on). I’m not against currency, i’m only against capital(i.e capital as stored up labor). I am against exploitation and the taking of surplus value. I do not believe in big government. I believe in small local direct democratic villages/towns deciding things(i.e libertarian municipalism, or democratic confederalism)

          Please stop equating socialism with liberal social democracy(protip, socialism isn’t about “spreading the wealth around”).

      • redchrysostom:

        Your caveat is well taken, but fundamentally flawed, I believe.

        I cite Rerum Novarum again:

        “[I]t is natural that he should wish that his children, who carry on, so to speak, and continue his personality, should be by him provided with all that is needful to enable them to keep themselves decently from want and misery amid the uncertainties of this mortal life. Now, in no other way can a father effect this except by the ownership of productive property, which he can transmit to his children by inheritance. A family, no less than a State, is, as We have said, a true society, governed by an authority peculiar to itself, that is to say, by the authority of the father. Provided, therefore, the limits which are prescribed by the very purposes for which it exists be not transgressed, the family has at least equal rights with the State in the choice and pursuit of the things needful to its preservation and its just liberty.”

        And now several passages from Quadregesimo Anno:

        “[T]he law of nature, or rather God’s will promulgated by it, demands that right order be observed. This order consists in this: that each thing have its proper owner. Hence it follows that unless a man is expending labor on his own property, the labor of one person and the [productive] property of another must be associated, for neither can produce anything without the other. Leo XIII certainly had this in mind when he wrote: ‘Neither capital can do without labor, nor labor without capital [i.e. private ownership of the means of production].’ Wherefore it is wholly false to ascribe to property alone or to labor alone whatever has been obtained through the combined effort of both, and it is wholly unjust for either, denying the efficacy of the other, to arrogate to itself whatever has been produced.

        “Property, that is, ‘capital,’ has undoubtedly long been able to appropriate too much to itself. Whatever was produced, whatever returns accrued, capital claimed for itself, hardly leaving to the worker enough to restore and renew his strength. For the doctrine was preached that all accumulation of capital falls by an absolutely insuperable economic law to the rich, and that by the same law the workers are given over and bound to perpetual want, to the scantiest of livelihoods. … That these false ideas, these erroneous suppositions, have been vigorously assailed, and not by those alone who through them were being deprived of their innate right to obtain better conditions, will surprise no one.

        “And therefore, to the harassed workers there have come ‘intellectuals,’ as they are called, setting up in opposition to a fictitious law the equally fictitious moral principle that all products and profits, save only enough to repair and renew capital, belong by very right to the workers. This error, much more specious than that of certain of the Socialists who hold that whatever serves to produce goods ought to be transferred to the State, or, as they say ‘socialized,’ is consequently all the more dangerous and the more apt to deceive the unwary. It is an alluring poison which many have eagerly drunk whom open Socialism had not been able to deceive.

        “Unquestionably, so as not to close against themselves the road to justice and peace through these false tenets, both parties ought to have been forewarned by the wise words of Our Predecessor: ‘However the earth may be apportioned among private owners, it does not cease to serve the common interests of all.’ This same doctrine We ourselves also taught above in declaring that the division of goods which results from private ownership was established by nature itself in order that created things may serve the needs of mankind in fixed and stable order. …

        “[T]they are greatly in error who do not hesitate to spread the principle that labor is worth and must be paid as much as its products are worth, and that consequently the one who hires out his labor has the right to demand all that is produced through his labor. How far this is from the truth is evident from that We have already explained in treating of property and labor. …

        “… Socialism, is surely more moderate. It not only professes the rejection of violence but modifies and tempers to some degree, if it does not reject entirely, the class struggle and the abolition of private ownership. One might say that, terrified by its own principles and by the conclusions drawn therefrom by Communism, Socialism inclines toward and in a certain measure approaches the truths which Christian tradition has always held sacred; for it cannot be denied that its demands at times come very near those that Christian reformers of society justly insist upon.

        “For if the class struggle abstains from enmities and mutual hatred, it gradually changes into an honest discussion of differences founded on a desire for justice, and if this is not that blessed social peace which we all seek, it can and ought to be the point of departure from which to move forward to the mutual cooperation of the Industries and Professions. So also the war declared on private ownership, more and more abated, is being so restricted that now, finally, [and rightly,] not the possession itself of the means of production is attacked but rather a kind of sovereignty over society which ownership has, contrary to all right, seized and usurped. For such sovereignty belongs in reality not to owners but to the public authority. If the foregoing happens, it can come even to the point that imperceptibly these ideas of the more moderate socialism will no longer differ from the desires and demands of those who are striving to remold human society on the basis of Christian principles. For [only] certain kinds of property, it is rightly contended, ought to be reserved to the State since they carry with them a dominating power so great that cannot without danger to the general welfare be entrusted to private individuals.

        “Such just demands and desire have nothing in them now which is inconsistent with Christian truth, and much less are they special to Socialism. Those who work solely toward such ends have, therefore, no reason to become socialists.

        “Yet let no one think that all the socialist groups or factions that are not communist have, without exception, recovered their senses to this extent either in fact or in name. For the most part they do not reject the class struggle or the abolition of ownership, but only in some degree modify them. Now if these false principles are modified and to some extent erased from the program, the question arises, or rather is raised without warrant by some, whether the principles of Christian truth cannot perhaps be also modified to some degree and be tempered so as to meet Socialism half-way and, as it were, by a middle course, come to agreement with it. There are some allured by the foolish hope that socialists in this way will be drawn to us. A vain hope! Those who want to be apostles among socialists ought to profess Christian truth whole and entire, openly and sincerely, and not connive at error in any way. If they truly wish to be heralds of the Gospel, let them above all strive to show to socialists that socialist claims, so far as they are just, are far more strongly supported by the principles of Christian faith and much more effectively promoted through the power of Christian charity.”

      • Indeed, one of the most popular slogans of the distributists is Chesterton’s dictum to the effect that “the problem is not that there are too many capitalists, but that there are too few.”

        • tbh. that just proves to me that distributism is a petit-bourgeois ideology you can not have capitalism without the exploitation of the proletariat. this is one of the fundamental problems with distributism/CST. It has a band-aid approach to capitalism. You can not return to “well-ordered property”(as Belloc would say), you can not return to pre-capitalist property. What we need is the abolition of private property.

          • I see you are struggling on this, but at least you admit that your position is entirely rejected by the Church. The reason I posted those excerpts is to show that, while you are free to struggle with the truth, you are not free to claim that the Church is basically/secretly “socialist” (which I think you grasp).

            As far as a return to a pre-property form of society, let me ask you: what would persons in those conditions “have”? What barriers would a family have to secure its own needs and dignity?

          • >you are not free to claim that the Church is basically/secretly “socialist” (

            Oh. Most definitely not. I’m not a libertarian theologian lol. I just posted that chrysostom quote because I thought it was fitting.
            >As far as a return to a pre-property form of society, let me ask you: what would persons in those conditions “have”? What barriers would a family have to secure its own needs and dignity?

            None whatsoever. That’s the point. Socialism has to do with private property in the means of production. Meaning, you can’t exploit the worker. Most industries would be worker owned. Families would be able to own their land just the way they own them now.

          • “worker owned”
            “own their land just as they own them now”

            This remedy just smuggles in “private property” without pronouncing the words.

            The Marxist social dialectic is bunkum. If the goal is primitive communism (no private ownership of the means of production, er, well, except for the private ownership of productive families… who would over time produce fewer or more children, be more or less successful, save more or less for more production, etc.), then what prevents that state from evolving once more into slavery, feudalism, etc.?

          • >. If the goal is primitive communism
            But the point is that it isn’t the goal.
            >no private ownership of the means of production, er, well, except for the private ownership of productive families..
            I never said that.

            I think you misunderstand what the difference is between private and personal property. The families house and land is personal property because they would be occupying it. They wouldn’t have the absolute right to exploit someone on that property(i.e taking what a labor produces and selling it without paying him the exact value that he created) and they wouldn’t have absolute absentee ownership. Thus, private property is abolished. Whilst retaining personal property. Personal property being what you use. That is what I mean by worker owned. Marxism may be bunkum, but it still is useful(in my opinion) for analyzing capitalism. I do not see what is wrong with this type of society. You can call what i’m envisioning “private property”, but it isn’t really private property in the true sense of the word.

          • rc:

            I’m willing to grant that I may not understand the way you are using some terms to shore up your position, so please do elaborate if thou mayest.

            In addition, or perhaps in order to elaborate, please answer the following questions:

            What is theft?

            Why is theft wrong?

            Why is voyeurism, wire-tapping, and hacking/phishing wrong?

            Who arbitrates the (absolute vs. non-absolute) limits of a family’s rights over its “personal property”?

          • redchrysostom:

            I would still really appreciate your response to the questions I posed (in the comment beginning “I’m willing to grant”).

            What is theft? Why is it wrong?

            Why is voyeurism and wiretapping wrong?

            Who regulates the rights of a family to dispense with its “personal” (as opposed to “private”) property?

            I’ve been perusing solid (pre- and post-conciliar books on CST, and I must say, your rejection of private property is both utterly un-Catholic and poorly reasoned. Keep in mind that Arius, and all other great heretics, “thought long and hard about” the Church’s manifest teaching, and yet could never reconcile themselves with it. Alas.

      • This is a rather glib response to what I assume is an impassioned conviction on your part, and for that I apologize; but for what it’s worth, I think it a terrible mistake in general to interpret prophetic hyperbole with the exacting literalism one would expect from a document of the magisterium. St. John Chrysostom’s soaring rhetoric follows in the prophetic tradition of Isaiah and Micah. For instance, Micah 4:

        “He shall judge between many peoples, and rebuke strong nations afar off; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. But everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.”

        It would be an error to conclude that dogmatic pacifism is therefore Catholic. It isn’t. The prophet is foretelling the final state of the world, of which we see only glimpses in this age. In the world as it is absolute, harmonious justice is impossible to achieve. The closest instance of perfect justice is in monastic communities that communally own their property and in which violence has been utterly banished, even in self-defense. But expecting the world at large to be a monastic community ignores the deleterious effect of original sin and confuses the eschatological with the current.

        The pont is, I love St. John. I’m a Byzantine Catholic for God’s sake. But if you interpret his fiery preaching on the poor, intended to motivate lax Christians in late antiquity to care for their neighbor, as somehow implying that modified communism is Catholic, you’ve missed the barque.

        • Obviously i’m not saying it’s “catholic”. I know that the church disagrees with me. I just don’t see how CST/distributism is anything other than a band-aid to capitalism

          • Yes. I know I shouldn’t be disagreeing with the church on this. And I really try to stay as traditional as possible(I reject abortion. I go to the latin mass and so on). But I’ve thought long and hard about this issue and I can never seem to reconcile myself with CST.

  3. Rerum Novarum should be read by every bishop and priest on every New year’s Eve.

    “17. It must be first of all recognized that the condition of things inherent in human affairs must be borne with, for it is impossible to reduce civil society to one dead level. Socialists may in that intent do their utmost, but all striving against nature is in vain. There naturally exist among mankind manifold differences of the most important kind; people differ in capacity, skill, health, strength; and unequal fortune is a necessary result of unequal condition. Such inequality is far from being disadvantageous either to individuals or to the community.

    “18. In like manner, the other pains and hardships of life will have no end or cessation on earth; for the consequences of sin are bitter and hard to bear, and they must accompany man so long as life lasts. To suffer and to endure, therefore, is the lot of humanity; let them strive as they may, no strength and no artifice will ever succeed in banishing from human life the ills and troubles which beset it. If any there are who pretend differently – who hold out to a hard-pressed people the boon of freedom from pain and trouble, an undisturbed repose, and constant enjoyment – they delude the people and impose upon them, and their lying promises will only one day bring forth evils worse than the present.

    “21. … God has not created us for the perishable and transitory things of earth, but for things heavenly and everlasting; He has given us this world as a place of exile, and not as our abiding place. As for riches and the other things which men call good and desirable, whether we have them in abundance, or are lacking in them – so far as eternal happiness is concerned – it makes no difference; the only important thing is to use them aright. Jesus Christ, when He redeemed us with plentiful redemption, took not away the pains and sorrows which in such large proportion are woven together in the web of our mortal life. He transformed them into motives of virtue and occasions of merit; and no man can hope for eternal reward unless he follow in the blood-stained footprints of his Saviour. …

    “28. Neither must it be supposed that the solicitude of the Church is so preoccupied with the spiritual concerns of her children as to neglect their temporal and earthly interests. Her desire is that the poor, for example, should rise above poverty and wretchedness, and better their condition in life; and for this she makes a strong endeavor. By the fact that she calls men to virtue and forms them to its practice she promotes this in no slight degree. Christian morality, when adequately and completely practiced, leads of itself to temporal prosperity, for it merits the blessing of that God who is the source of all blessings; it powerfully restrains the greed of possession and the thirst for pleasure – twin plagues, which too often make a man who is void of self-restraint miserable in the midst of abundance; it makes men supply for the lack of means through economy, teaching them to be content with frugal living, and further, keeping them out of the reach of those vices which devour not small incomes merely, but large fortunes, and dissipate many a goodly inheritance.

    “29. The Church, moreover, intervenes directly in behalf of the poor, by setting on foot and maintaining many associations which she knows to be efficient for the relief of poverty. Herein, again, she has always succeeded so well as to have even extorted the praise of her enemies.”


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