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Always Enough: Basil of Caesarea and Sustainability

WheatSUSTAINABLE living is a Christian calling, declares Calvin College. Tearfund and the Jubilee Centre have produced five Bible studies on Christianity, Climate Change and Sustainable Living.

Basically put, sustainability is the belief that there are enough resources on earth to provide for its population, if only these resources could be used wisely and equally.

So, is this a new fad? Could it be that sustainability is in the New Testament mandate? It is certainly the thought behind 2 Corinthians 9:8. “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”

But there is a much stronger tie-up with the monastic community vision. Basil, bishop of Caesarea (c.330-379), wrote at some length on this issue. In his sermon “To the Rich”, he writes:

“But how do you make use of money? By dressing in expensive clothing? Won’t two yards of tunic suffice you, and the covering of one coat satisfy all your need of clothes? Is it for food’s sake that you have such a demand for wealth? One loaf is enough to fill a belly.”

Bread

If you have been blessed with more money and goods than others, it is so you can meet the needs of those others, he argues.

“It takes wealth to care for the needy; a little paid out for the needs of each person, and all at once there is sharing. Whoever loves his neighbour as himself [as Christ taught], will not hold on to more than his neighbour has.”

Basil protests against those “who leave grain to rot but will not feed the starving”, who choose ivory sofas and silver tables when ordinary wood is just as suitable. This is more than cheap swipes at material wealth. For Basil, a man steeped in the Christian community vision of the Desert Fathers, the inherent sin of such behaviour is its refusal to accept simplicity for the sake of sustainability. It is as much a sin against the earth as it is against the poor.

This is the context in which Basil in his day, and concerned Christians today, saw the devious lie of consumerism and turned against it.

Published 1st April 2016 with tags: consumerism environment sustainability

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