Public health depends on economic balance. Basil and Ambrose both condemned as toxic the economic profiteering of high-interest loans, describing the devastating losses they caused for those afflicted with unemployment and need. For Basil usury was a fatal, chronically self-devouring disease like a wild animal; its metastasizing growth, he implied, feeds on itself and its host to the destruction of differentiation, a disordered body, family, and property undermining civic stability. (Hom. Ps. 14b). If you are the financier, better to forgive the interest at least—or, best, write off the entire loan as a gift. The godly capitalism of right material practices was, he said, at core about thanksgiving. Addressing grain-hoarders during a famine, he wrote: “As costly capital, preserve thanksgiving in your soul….Cling twice as tenaciously to thanksgiving as you do to luxury.” (Hom. 8.6)

Economics are so bound to illness that the sick poor are “twice poor,” say Gregory of Nazianzus’ and Gregory of Nyssa’s respective sermons titled “On the love of the poor.” A Christian’s right response to their plight demands direct identification of them with the body of Christ, modeling aid action on God’s liberal and indiscriminate generosity for creation. Such “love” is not simply mercy but righteousness.

Susan Holman