If I Were a Rich Man

St. Clement of Alexandria, born Titus Flavius Clemens (ca. 150-215), answers the question: Can a wealthy person be saved? In his treatise Who Is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved?, Clement argues that riches are no obstacle to salvation if one makes good use of them. We need not give up wealth when properly used; rather, we should give up those passions that lead to sin. For sin, not wealth, excludes one from heaven.

“Riches, then, which benefit also our neighbours, are not to be thrown away. For they are possessions, inasmuch as they are possessed, and goods, inasmuch as they are useful and provided by God for the use of men; and they lie to our hand, and are put under our power, as material and instruments which are for good use to those who know the instrument. If you use it skilfully, it is skilful; if you are deficient in skill, it is affected by your want of skill, being itself destitute of blame. Such an instrument is wealth. Are you able to make a right use of it? It is subservient to righteousness. Does one make a wrong use of it? It is, on the other hand, a minister of wrong. For its nature is to be subservient, not to rule. That then which of itself has neither good nor evil, being blameless, ought not to be blamed; but that which has the power of using it well and ill, by reason of its possessing voluntary choice. And this is the mind and judgment of man, which has freedom in itself and self-determination in the treatment of what is assigned to it. So let no man destroy wealth, rather than the passions of the soul, which are incompatible with the better use of wealth. So that, becoming virtuous and good, he may be able to make a good use of these riches.” (14)

“If therefore he who casts away worldly wealth can still be rich in the passions, even though the material [for their gratification] is absent, . . . it is then of no advantage to him to be poor in purse while he is rich in passions. For it is not what ought to be cast away that he has cast away, but what is indifferent; and he has deprived himself of what is serviceable. . . . We must therefore renounce those possessions that are injurious, not those that are capable of being serviceable, if one knows the right use of them.” (15)

Quotations from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1867).

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