Comments: Glad and Generous Hearts

Thanks for this piece by Joe Cassidy. Stimulating. Just to be a bit of a devil's advocate with regard to the theological premise, a turn of phrase caught my eye, "The challenge to embrace such communitarian generosity is not uncomplicated." An important qualification for sure, one wonders if the scriptural premises are not more complex than suggested by Cassidy. As biblical scholars have noted, the "koinonia" described in Acts is probably idealized, as much a description of the way the author of Acts thought things ought to have been, not just the way they actually were. One would also need to lay along side the bliss of sharing the consequences in Acts of fudging on the matter of disclosure of capital gains i.e. Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. Death from above!

Is what is described in Acts, whether actualized or idealized, a transient arrangement, not essential in itself but derivative of a more transcendent but less specific set of values that run throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian renewed covenant? The connections linking charity to justice and the common good as outlined, for example, in Caritas In Veritate, are systematic,global,and up to date.

Perhaps the real challenge from Acts is one that would have us build on the principles of charity, justice and the common good, economic theory and institutions specific to our time and place.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Sunday, 11 May 2014 at 3:48pm BST

It is interesting, in view of Diarmaid's excellent exposition of problems with literal interpretation of this biblical passage, to realise how far from practical application in today's world are some of the examples given of the 'ideal' Christian ethos in the time of the early Church.

This realisation is very important in all our idealistic leanings towards biblical literalism.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Monday, 12 May 2014 at 7:10am BST

Don't disagree with any of that, though it does seem that the Jerusalem church did rely on other churches to keep itself going – perhaps witnessing to bad accounting rather than virtuous sharing! Theologically, I wonder whether the transience of the arrangement (you're right: it didn't last) can obscure the eschatological telos of all the virtues you describe. Each has no logical limit (how charitable? how just?) but still serves to set the direction for discernment in 'our time and place'.

My question, as much to myself as to others, is whether the ideal of community itself (as opposed to sharing things) ought to be the more compelling and challenging bit – especially when it comes to understanding what 'charity' means (or can mean).

I was also reacting (without saying so) to a particular RC tradition where 'evangelical counsels' are sometimes contrasted with ‘precepts' (this came up because I was thinking of the Jerusalem church as a model for religious communities). The Church is probably beyond such thinking these days, but such a contrast arguably had the effect of separating vowed poverty, chastity and obedience from the day-to-day lives of lay-people. Today we describe religious life in terms of a ministry of eschatological witness – such witness being effective not just for those who take up the vows, but for the whole Church. Thus celibate chastity has something to say to those who are married, obedience to those who make decisions, poverty to those who have more than they need (there are better examples). I then noticed that the prior context of the vows is again the community, and I wondered how the idealised community plays an eschatological function in terms of challenging the goal of charity. Do we give to 'others' out-there-somewhere, or is there a sense in which we are supporting and becoming a larger communal ‘we’?

That led me to wonder even more whether the motive for giving should ever simply be an ethical one, or whether Christian charity is always enabled and initiated by the Spirit, not as one virtue alongside others, but always as a dynamism towards community. You are right, though, to suggest that the challenge today is not to recreate a past community, but to build actual communities in our time and place, using the best resources and models we have.

Posted by Joe at Monday, 12 May 2014 at 1:48pm BST

Mea Culpa. My mistake, in my comment on Monday, was to ascribe Joe Cassidy's excellent article to Diarmaid McCulloch. However, some minds just happen to think alike!

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 13 May 2014 at 10:23am BST
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