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Spiritual And Economic Poverty


At the time that Francis of Assisi began his ordeer of Friars Minor, based on voluntary poverty and the sermon on the mount, the Church which he honored as Jesus' earthly vehical was at the height of its economic and political power and well on the slippery slope of corruption.  So while Francis honored the Church, he admonished his followers to avoid it as much as possible.  Specifically, he wanted them to avoid becoming bishops and cardinals and prefered that they remain laymen

Father Richard Rohr, a Fransiscan, deals with that topic this week and it will be interesting to see where he goes with it.  But i had some immediate thoughts.

I am accustomed to viewing poverty as either voluntary or involuntary, spiritually poor in spirit and possessions or economically poor because that's how society is structured and the rich prefer to hold on to as much of their wealth as possible.  But there are other kinds of economic poverty and other ways  of lookiing at it.

During Jesus' time, Rome was an agrarian society.  In such societies the one percent (or 3 or 5) controlled between two-thirds to three quarters of the total wealth, with the royal family holding as much as one-half.  Excepf for 6 to 12 percent who were "outside" the system or "expendable" the bulk of the population were peasants and poor.  If one peasant was more fortunate than the others, he considered himself lucky but still a peasant who sought no higher or more lucritive calling.  There still may be some such people in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.  Poverty is not so much involuntary as a simple fact of living.

Jesus himself lived like a peasant dispite his trade.  In fact, by becoming a teacher (uncertified) and healer (of the poor rather than the rich) he placed himself among the "excpendables."  His audiences, followers, and students were mostly peasants but included other classes ( lepers, the sick poor, the rich young prince, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea) and "strangers in the land."

Things were not much different in "Italy" 1200 years later.  There may have been a few more people of wealth and more of those were merchants, like Saint Francis' father.  (Capitalism was born in "Italy.").  Francis' followers must have been like Jesus', and his message was also.  Sadly, like the Church, the Order of Friars Minor also changed a lot over the years.

Jesus and Francis expected (and wanted) their followers to be poor.
Francis also wanted nis followers to be "poor in spirit."




The Gosped According to "Matthew" has Jesus begin the sermon on the mount with the first of nine blessings.  "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for their's is the kingdom of heaven.

Luke, writing a few years later, records four beatitudes, the first of which is: "Blessed by ye poor, for your's is the kingdom of God."

Q1 written(?)  sometime before 70 a.d.is liberal scholars efforts to get as close as possible to the actual words of the "historical" Jesus.. Here there are three "beatitudes," the first is which is "How fortunate are the poor, they have God's kingdom."  The next two dealing with the hungry and the crying are even  more down to earth.  A fourth "beatitude" apparently added years later is similar to Luke's fourth blessing.

Jesus, it seems to me, was concerned primarily about the physical poverty of the people in Galilee.  The sermon on the mount is a practical guide to living as a community in the midst of chaos and impending war.



I have not got very far with this, but i want to  make two points.

1)  There ,may be considerable overlap between poverty of spirit and poverty.  Many spiritually informed people choose to be poor, and many poor people, closer to the earth and closer to "reality" than the rest of us tend to be more spiritually inclined.

2) Poverty of spirit is not spiritual poverty.  The former has to do with humility and attempts to subdue ego in  the interest of the common good and a perception of unity.   When Mother Theresa of Calcutta referred to the  West as a "spiritual Bangladesh" she was not praising us but implying that the spiritual needs of the West are as urgent as the economic needs of the poorest nations.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
nerthus
Feb. 17th, 2016 04:11 pm (UTC)
Funny how you and I are often on the same wavelength with the topics we are studying; I've just been reading Meister Eckhart and the sermon for the other day was on poverty. Have you read him? In the sermon I read he spoke of 3 kinds of poverty:

"Thus far I have said that he is poor who does not want to fulfill the will of god but who so lives that he is empty of his own will and the will of god, as much so as when he did not yet exist. We have said of this poverty that it is the highest poverty. Next, we said that he is poor who knows nothing of the action of god in himself. When a person is as empty of 'knowledge' and 'awareness' as God is innocent of all things, this is the purest poverty. But the third poverty is most inward and real and I shall now speak of it. It consists in that a man HAS nothing...
"...Thus we say that a man should be so poor that he is not and has not a place for God to act in. Therefore I pray God may quit me of god, for [his] unconditioned being is above god and all distinctions. It was here [in unconditioned being] that I was myself, wanted myself, and knew myself to be this person [here before you], and therefore, I am my own first cause, both of my eternal being and of my temporal being. To this end I was born, and by virtue of my birth being eternal, I shall never die. What I am as a temporal creature is to die and come to nothingness, for it came with time and so with time it will pass away. In my eternal birth, however, everything was begotten..."

Here he is reiterating words from another sermon in which he asserted that God is always and eternally begetting Jesus and Himself in a sense so all creaturely births of man and animal are from God begetting basically Himself so we are all eternally begotten and cannot die. He then talks about 'bursting forth,'

"...when I shall be free within God's will and free, therefore of the will of god, and all his works, and even of god himself then I shall rise above all creature kind, and I shall be neither god nor creature but I shall be what I was once, now, and forevermore...for in bursting forth I discover that God and I are ONE."

It seems to me he is saying true poverty is in giving up ALL notions of self, creatures, and a sense of god (he writes it small 'g') that is not GOD, which he connotes with capital 'G' in the sermon; God is beyond ALL of that, and only by engaging in the utmost poverty of not giving up any part of ourselves to god for him to work with do we escape the illusion of not already having God and discover that we are ONE With Him eternally already. But to realize this you have to go through those 3 stages or aspects of 'poverty.'

Edited at 2016-02-17 04:13 pm (UTC)
bobby1933
Feb. 17th, 2016 07:52 pm (UTC)
This is the sort of thing i expected, but never quite found in Eckhart. I have a book of his sermons and lectures and i think i can find it there.

Thank you, that was a pleasure to read!
nerthus
Feb. 18th, 2016 05:13 am (UTC)
You're welcome! Mine is the Harper Torchbook version translated by Raymond Blakney, has also the text of Eckhart's Defense against charges of heresy. Forgot to add that to the end of my comment earlier!
bobby1933
Feb. 18th, 2016 07:10 am (UTC)
Yes, i found the sermon in Meister Eckhart: Selected Writings, translated by Oliver Davies. Marginal notes and underlinings suggest that i read it several years ago, but i could not have understood half of it at the time as it so much more profound and true and universal now. I am in awe, and it is like i had never read the sermon before.

Eckhart had a few medieval ideas, especially about women, so he turned me off and i fear i missed the good stuff.
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