In praise of poverty (2): The reason and logic of chosen poverty

I think that it is worthwhile to talk a little bit on poverty as a means to God. Throughout history and cultures of the world, holy figures lived on the essentials. One never finds rich mystics or hermits or visionaries. This is not to say that rich people cannot be holy, but these people are in reality poor in spirit: they are detached from their riches and use their wealth for the benefit of others.

In Church history we find several figures who freely left a rich lifestyle in order to pursue one of poverty. Francis of Assisi, Thomas of Aquinas, Ignatius of Loyola and Augustus Czartoryski are examples of such people. Outside Christianity we also find such figures: Siddhartha Gautama is a clear example from Buddhism. Outside the religious sphere we find people such as Marcus Aurelius (although emperor of Rome, he was known to lead an austere life) and Plotinus. This is to say, that poverty as a means to the Transcendent is not confined to some dull medieval brainwashing but a universal phenomenon.

On the christian-theological plane we find the reason and logic for this phenomenon at the the very heart of the Christian creed: no where else but in the Holy Trinity. The Christian professes the Oneness of God in three persons. Relationship in the the Trinity is not an accident but is the essence. This was observed brilliantly by St Augustine of Hippo in his ‘De Trinitate’. Each Person dwells in the Other.

Indeed each Person empties itself to make space for the Other. It can be poorly likened to an eternal circular movement. Thus the Father gives everything He has to the Son and the Son returns all that He has received to the Father; the Holy Spirit is the means through which such exchange takes place, but to be able to be such means, the Holy Spirit also must be an empty channel. We see therefore that the identity of the Persons is to found precisely in the act of self donation. What greater poverty is there then to give up one’s own person? And yet it is also the greatest richness, for there one finds himself, for the Son is not the Son without the Father, and the Father is not the Father without the Son.

In the mystery of the Incarnation, the Son empties himself in order to make space for humanity in the Sonship: “…who although he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” (Phil 2, 6-7) This leads us to understand to what extent Christ can be called saviour: what was once considered to be a curse from God (poverty), now is the condition that God himself took upon himself, thus raising the dignity of the poor to divinity. This is why it is the poor who will inherit the Kingdom. (cfr. Lk 6,20) What huge social implications this would have if world leaders really understand this!

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