Friday, March 10, 2006

Six Advocates of Tithing between 366-400

Many more references to tithing are found in the Nicene and Post-Nicene period. Six Church Fathers between 366 and 400 advocated tithing with none arguing against it. Constantine (c.a. 325 A.D.) had a large impact on Christianity while he was emperor. It was under Constantine that the church and state were united. Constantine himself was a generous giver to churches. However, no mention has been found of him collecting or paying tithes. Basil of Caesarea (370 A.D.) exhorted Christians to pay tithes and Gregory of Nazianzus (c.a. 365) mentions first fruits, but no reference to tithes has been found in the writings of Gregory of Nyssa (c.a. 365). Hilary of Poitiers (366 A.D.), when commenting on Matthew 23:23, concluded that while Christians should place a greater emphasis upon justice and mercy, tithing was still required.

Jerome (pictured left)(385 A.D.) saw the clergy as being in the line of tribe of Levi and the Jewish priesthood and therefore due tithes. In comments made on Malachi 3, Jerome said that Jesus commanded Christians to sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor. Since Christians are unwilling to do that, at least they should “imitate the rudimentary teaching of the Jews” in giving tithes for the poor and the clergy. Otherwise, Christians are “defrauding and cheating God.” Ambrose (374 A.D.), the Bishop of Milan, was unequivocal that Christians are required to tithe. If Christians neglected to give God his tenth, then God will take what they have. He clearly supported the concept of tithing. John Chrysostom (375 A.D.) said that the Christians of his day should return to tithing or face dangerous consequences. He understood the Old Testament to be inculcating multiple tithes, not one (“tithes again upon tithes”). Commenting on Matthew 5:20, Chrysostom calculates that the Jews gave about half of their income. He concluded that if when giving half “achieves no great thing, he who doth not bestow as much as the tenth, of what shall he be worthy.” While Chrysostom thought that Christians fulfilled the Old Testament law by tithing, he also believed Christians should not need law.

Augustine (pictured left)(400 A.D.), Bishop of Hippo, is one the most often cited church fathers by both Catholics and Protestants. He said that while the paying of tithes occurred before him, presently Christians were not adequately paying their tithes. Augustine believed that Jesus’ command to sell one’s possessions and give the proceeds to the poor was binding upon Christians. He lived this out in his own life. However, since Christians were unwilling to give all, they should at least imitate the Jews and give a tenth. Therefore, Augustine supported tithing through concession.

In summary, the following Church Fathers all advocated tithing and none were found in this time period that argued against tithing: Hilary of Poitiers (366), Basil of Caesarea (370), Ambrose (374), John Chrysostom (375), Jerome (385), and Augustine (400).

References and Resources:

Joseph Bingham, The Works of Joseph Bingham, ed. R. Bingham, 10 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1855), 2:179–82.

Powers, “Historical Study of the Tithe,” 39, 49.

Lyman Coleman, Ancient Christianity Exemplified in the Private, Domestic, Social, and Civil Life of the Primitive Christians, and in the Original Institutions, Offices, Ordinances, and Rites of the Church (Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo & Company, 1852), 229.

Hilary, Commentary on Matthew 23 (cited by Powers, “Historical Study of the Tithe,” 42; Lansdell, Sacred Tenth, 192–93).

Jerome, Letter to Nepotian (NPNF2 1:91). Jerome also commends Christians to tithe in his Commentary on Matthew 2.22 (cited by Murray, Beyond Tithing, 117).

Sharp, “Tithes,” 2:1964.

John Chrysostom, Homily IV: Homilies on Ephesians (NPNF1 13:69). For some incidental references to tithing see Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis 35, 54 (cited by Murray, Beyond Tithing, 112, n. 28) and Chrysostom, Homilies on Hebrews 12 (NPNF1 14:423–26). Chrysostom, The Gospel of Matthew 64.4 (NPNF1 10:395–96).

Lansdell, Sacred Tenth, 187.

Augustine, On the Psalms: Pslam 147 13 (NPNF1 8:668). Augustine, Sermon 35 (NPNF1 6:367–68); Sermon 56 (NPNF1 6:435–36).

Justo Gonzales, Faith and Wealth (San Francisco: Harper, 1990), 219.


Stephen said...

I found this in Chrysostom's writings.

"For this cause, in truth, all things are turned upside down; for political affairs are daily accomplished with much earnestness, and one must not be left behind, whilst of spiritual things there is no account taken at all; but the things which are demanded of us of necessity, and with compulsion, as though we were slaves, and against our wills, are laid down by us with much readiness, while such as are asked from willing minds, and as if from free men, are again deficient. I speak not against all, but against those who are behindhand with these supplies. For might not God have made these contributions compulsory? Yet He would not, for He has more care of you than of those whom you support. Wherefore He would not that you should contribute of necessity, since there is no recompense. And yet many of those who stand here are lower minded than the Jews. Consider how great things the Jews gave, tithes, first-fruits, tithes again, and again other tithes, and besides this thirteenths, and the shekel, and no one said, how much they devour; for the more they receive, the greater is the reward. They say not, They receive much, they are gluttons; which words I hear now from some. They for their part, while they are building houses, and buying estates, still think they have nothing; but if any priest is clothed in dress more bright than usual, and enjoys more than what is necessary for his sustenance, or has an attendant, that he may not be forced himself to act unbecomingly, they set the matter down for riches. And in truth we are rich even at this rate, and they admit it against their will; for we, though we have but little, are rich, whilst they, though they get everything about them, are poor."

This sounds as though Chrysostom beleived and taught that Christians had liberty to give as they pleased. He compared their giving to the Jews practice of tithing but did not say it was a binding practice. When you say 'tithe', you mean compulsory giving, don't you?

dacroteau said...

Chrysostom is a tricky one. I have read the quote you provided. But other parts of his writings seem to say something different. When I put them all together, it seems as though he wasn't altogether coherent in his thoughts.

The word "tithe" is used to mean different things ... a couple of which are acceptable (sort of). The biblical definition of tithing is giving over 20% of one's increase from the ground or livestock when living in Palestine/Israel. However, it is conventionally used to mean "compulsory ten percent giving." I don't believe that Christians are required to give ten percent. However, when following the principles of giving in the New Testament, most American Christians will give much more than 10%.

Stephen said...

I would appreciate any quotes on tithing that you have from Augustine and Chrysostom. Especially those that are in favor of the practice. I am still somewhat confused from reading certain reference works that say that these two men agreed in principle to the voluntary method of raising support for ministers.

Terry said...

Most believers experience the same problem Paul fought so hard to keep them from having. They simply seem to feel required to follow parts of the OT law. It always messed up their freedom in Christ, and their effectiveness. The protestants church is designed partly after the temple and partly after Jewish synagogues. Paul would still fuss today.

Gary said...

Thanks for the post. However, I too would like to see exact quotes and references. Several of the ones you cite are not where they should be. This is what happens when we quote material second- or third-hand and don't look up the references ourselves.