Investment Advice from St Basil the Great

080413Sunday’s Gospel on generosity and the need to renounce greed, is reflection worth continuing. Last week in the Breviary St. Basil the Great (in Hom. De caritate, 3, 6: PG 31, 266-267, 275) provided a reflection that amounts to an investment strategy not just for the near future of old age, but for eternity. Challenging though the saint’s thoughts are, they are also consoling and sensible. Lets listen to his instruction.

Out of no intended disrespect for the saint, I would like to add some of my own comments in plain red text along with his reflections, and to adjust the order of his remarks just a bit. His teaching is in bold, black italics. To read his commentary fully and in order click here: On Generosity

And thus St. Basil begins with a challenge, rooted in a blessing:

Man should be like the earth and bear fruit; he should not let inanimate matter appear to surpass him. The earth bears crops for your benefit, not for its own, but when you give to the poor, you are bearing fruit which you will gather in for yourself, since the reward for good deeds goes to those who perform them.

So, St Basil begins with a “humbling” challenge: Do not let dirt (humus) be more virtuous and profitable than you! In a way it is a play on the Lord’s image that if we who are called to be Salt of the Earth become flat, we are good for nothing, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. (cf Matt 5:13). 

But in a magnificent description of grace and mercy, St Basil contrasts the comparison and reminds us that God in his mercy allows his grace to become our merit. That is to say, God, who will never be outdone in generosity will surely not let our deeds of mercy go unrewarded, even though these deeds are really the result of his grace, not our own unaided flesh. God will never forget the mercy we have shown and if we stay in the grace of friendship with him as a member of Christ Body, we will surely not loose our reward. And thus Scripture says,

  1. Give and it shall be given unto you (Luke 6:38) 
  2. Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy! (Matt 5:7).
  3. Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward them for what they have done (Prov 19:17). 
  4. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. (Prov 11:25)

Yes, always remember, generosity to the poor will be rewarded by God to those who remain faithful. Fear not to be generous for God will not be outdone by us in generosity. He will reward, he will repay!

And thus, St Basil continues:

Give to a hungry man, and what you give becomes yours, and indeed it returns to you with interest. As the sower profits from wheat that falls onto the ground, so will you profit greatly in the world to come from the bread that you place before a hungry man….In the presence of the universal judge, all the people will surround you, acclaim you as a public benefactor, and tell of your generosity and kindness.

And here St. Basil invokes the “investment strategy” given by the Lord Himself who said,

  1. Mat 6:19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.
  2. Luke 16:9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
  3. And echoed by St. Paul: Command [the wealthy] to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:18-19)

And so here is given to us a good investment strategy. Namely, that we should store up our treasure in heaven so that, not only will it not be harmed or stolen, but also that it will be for blessing on the day of judgment!

It works like this: We store up treasure in heaven, not by putting it in some sort of balloon or rocket and sending it up, rather, we store it up in heaven by placing it in the hands of the needy and poor. What we generously give does not just go out and away, it goes UP and is “stored” in heaven for us, where it earns heavenly interest (as our Saint here notes). Scripture says, Cast your bread upon the waters: after many days it will come back to you (Ecclesiastes 11:1).

But not only is it “stored up” in heaven, but it also acts as an assurance on the day of judgment. Jesus says in the quote above that we ought to make friends for ourselves through out generous use of money.

Who are these friends? The poor! The needy! They are our investment brokers for the day of judgment and the world to come. The Lord says that when our wealth ultimately fails us (and it will fail us at death which we cannot buy our way of) they (i.e. the poor) will welcome you to eternal dwellings!

Imagine that on the day of judgment as you go before the Judgment Seat, multitudes of poor crying out, “Have mercy on this one Lord, for he was merciful to us!” Ah, what a blessed sound that will be! And the Lord hears the cry of the poor. I don’t know about you, But I am going to need a few folks praying and testifying for me on Judgement Day, and the poor and needy will be important advocates.

Yes, the Lord says, they (the poor) will welcome you to eternal dwellings and  St. Paul affirms that the wealthy who bless the poor will lay up a firm foundation for the coming age.

So listen to your heavenly investment broker Jesus, who says, be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you (Luke 11:41). Listen also to Jesus’ fellow investment analysts, St. Paul and St Basil, who insist that we will lay a firm foundation for the day of judgment and profit greatly in the World to come.

To be sure, generosity to the poor will NOT be the only thing we are judged on, but it sure will help on that DAY, standing before the Lord,  if we loved the poor and needy! And frankly, most of us are going to need every help we can get.

You are going to leave your money behind you here whether you wish to or not. On the other hand, you will take with you to the Lord the honor that you have won through good works.

And here St. Basil echoes Scripture which says, Henceforth, Blessed are those who die in the Lord. Let them rest from their labors, for their good deeds go with them. Even so, saith the Spirit (Rev 14:13)

Do you not see how people throw away their wealth on theatrical performances, boxing contests, mimes and fights between men and wild beasts, which are sickening to see, and all for the sake of fleeting honor and popular applause? If you are miserly with your money, how can you expect any similar honor?

Pay attention here. We do well to ask if we throw a lot of money away on passing, foolish or empty things. What are our versions of “theatrical performances,” “boxing contests” etc.?

Look, the Lord is not telling us never to go and see a movie, or sports event. But if we so easily spend money on this stuff, why not things that matter more and profit eternally?

And we ought to be careful with the many excesses of the modern age that often go unremarked. Most people older than 50 or so, who were middle class, grew up in a home of 1200 – 1500 square feet, had larger family sizes, and did just fine. Is it really necessary that homes today should routinely be 3500+ square feet with great rooms, cathedral ceilings, entertainment centers, and granite counter tops? Is it really that necessary? And why?

Again I am not trying to make lots of rules for you. I live in a nice rectory, generously bestowed and maintained by the people of God. St Paul also says, elsewhere, that our care of others ought not gravely harm us (cf 2 Cor 8:13). But honestly, don’t a lot of us have questions to ask in these affluent times about some of the excesses of the American Dream?

And if you choose to make such purchases, I am not your judge in this matter, or you mine. But surely we all have questions to ask ourselves. Is everything I want really needed?  And, more importantly, does my extravagance harm the poor and needy? Further, is my use of money wise, from an eternal perspective?

You decide, but these are questions we all ought to ask.

Your reward for the right use of the things in this world will be everlasting glory, a crown of righteousness, and the kingdom of heaven; God will welcome you, the angels will praise you, all men who have existed since the world began will call you blessed. Do you care nothing for these things, and spurn the hopes that lie in the future for the sake of your present enjoyment?

Amen! What is more important to us, comfort here, or glory there?

Come, distribute your wealth freely, give generously to those who are in need. Earn for yourself the psalmist’s praise: He gave freely to the poor; his righteousness will endure for ever. – Yes

How grateful you should be to your own benefactor; how you should beam with joy at the honor of having other people come to your door, instead of being obliged to go to theirs! But you are now ill-humored and unapproachable; you avoid meeting people, in case you might be forced to loosen your purse-strings even a little. You can say only one thing: “I have nothing to give you. I am only a poor man.” A poor man you certainly are, and destitute of all real riches; you are poor in love, generosity, faith in God and hope for eternal happiness.

My, my my! Don’t be poor in things eternal, don’t be poor in what matters to God.

This song says, “You may have all this world….Give me Jesus.”

8 Replies to “Investment Advice from St Basil the Great”

  1. A great article. I will send it to all my friends.

  2. St. Thomas Aquinas compares the good deeds done by Adam before the Fall to the any act of Charity done in accord with Grace after the Fall. He says that any act of Adam before the Fall objectively far exceeds any act of Charity done in accord with Grace after the Fall. He then goes on to say that proportionately, because our fall was from so great a height, that any act of Charity done in accord with Grace after the Fall far exceeds any good deed done by Adam before the Fall. He gives as an example the Widow’s Mite: we are all like impoverished widows and orphans because of the Fall and if anyone ever does any act of Charity in accord with Grace that person is an example of who the story of the Widow’s Mite is talking about.

    That is my best understanding of what the Dumb Ox was saying.

    I agree with the other comments that this is an excellent post and thank you, as well. In retrospect, I also agree with Shamrock that I was too severe in my criticism of the singing style of the singer of one of the videos you posted.

    1. I think I may have read a little too much into what the good Doctor was saying. I am not sure. So, here are his own words and if anyone is interested he can decide for himself:

      S.T., Part 1, Question 95, Article 4:

      Article 4. Whether the actions of the first man were less meritorious than ours are?

      I answer that, Merit as regards degree may be gauged in two ways.

      First, in its root, which is grace and charity. Merit thus measured corresponds in degree to the essential reward, which consists in the enjoyment of God; for the greater the charity whence our actions proceed, the more perfectly shall we enjoy God.

      Secondly, the degree of merit is measured by the degree of the action itself. This degree is of two kinds, absolute and proportional. The widow who put two mites into the treasury performed a deed of absolutely less degree than the others who put great sums therein. But in proportionate degree the widow gave more, as Our Lord said; because she gave more in proportion to her means. In each of these cases the degree of merit corresponds to the accidental reward, which consists in rejoicing for created good.

      We conclude therefore that in the state of innocence man’s works were more meritorious than after sin was committed, if we consider the degree of merit on the part of grace, which would have been more copious as meeting with no obstacle in human nature: and in like manner, if we consider the absolute degree of the work done; because, as man would have had greater virtue, he would have performed greater works. But if we consider the proportionate degree, a greater reason for merit exists after sin, on account of man’s weakness; because a small deed is more beyond the capacity of one who works with difficulty than a great deed is beyond one who performs it easily.


      I say that I may have read too much into what St. Thomas was saying because I think it is possible that we can perform acts of Charity in accord with Grace from our excess, and so such an act of Charity in accord with Grace would not be perfectly analogous to the act of Charity in accord with Grace of the Widow, who gave from her need. Maybe any act of Charity that is accord with Grace is, in some sense, from our need. Not sure about that.

  3. The article is a timely reminder to me of why I should not buy a Powerball ticket. If I want wealth so badly it is probably not a good thing. If my family’s basic needs are provided for why should I be longing for more and more? We should remind ourselves in this rich culture of ours how Christ said how hard it was for the rich to enter into the kingdom of heaven.

  4. What happen to giving without expecting anything in return? How about give out of pure love for God. How about give and/or help out our enemies.. OoO that’s tough! I bet that’s double the treasure.

    I love the article!

  5. As I sit here with tears in my eyes over that beautiful song GIVE ME JESUS … that I played several times .. I am grateful for this blog and the meaningful messages …. THANK YOU

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