‘Always Enough’: Basil of Caesarea and Sustainability

Image: unesco.org.uk

Image: unesco.org.uk

My reading gives me the impression that sustainability is being taken more seriously by Christians, particularly the ‘millennial’ generation. Sustainable 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. There is even a network of Christian leaders advocating sustainability: check out their webpage.

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.  This clip from the Breathe Network will give you a flavour – read the comments too.

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. God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work.

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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.”

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 inveighs 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.

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About Trevor Saxby

I'm a mentor, friend to many, with a PhD in church history. I love learning from the 'movers and shakers' of the past, as I want to be one today!

3 responses to “‘Always Enough’: Basil of Caesarea and Sustainability”

  1. sattler says :

    I'm glad of your upbeat look at community prospects. I suspect there are trends running in both directions. The cultural backdrop is still bleak. This was one of my first radref posts from three years ago (http://radref.blogspot.com/2008/11/gold-medal-for-third-place.html) but I'm sure it makes Christian exploration of community all the more necessary. Blessings to you Trevor. Shalom, Phil

  2. Trevor Saxby says :

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Trevor Saxby says :

    I'm grateful for this, Phil. Such exploration really is necessary, not least because community is so easily set up as a straw man and knocked down. Yet I talk to Joe (or Jo) Average here in the UK, who may not have any faith at all, and I often hear “we've got to pull together and share more; it's the only way”. Unconsidered, raw in outline it may be, but there's a definite sense of people starting to say enough is enough – the moral revolt that is behind the start of any revolution.
    Gelassenheit!, Trevor

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