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.