Poverty as a Mystery
by: Jaime Correra, CM
(This article was originally published in 1994 and posted to the somos web site by Javier Chento on June 25, 2012)
Poverty is a mystery, a mystery of life and death. Like all great mysteries (God, the world, the existence of the human person, the origin and destiny of the human person) poverty, from ancient times until the present day, has been the object of concern and study and strategies to eliminate it or, at the very least, to lessen its impact.
But it seems that the poor will not disappear from the social scene. Furthermore, since the beginning of history there has never been so many poor people as there are now and despite humanity’s tremendous ability to produce wealth, poverty is more visible than ever before. This brutal reality raises questions that attempt to clarify the mystery: why are there poor people? where do the poor come from?
There have been numerous and very distinct answers to these questions. With regard to the origin or the cause of poverty (why are there poor people?) the responses can be reduced to three different categories: the causes of poverty reside in the poor themselves or in God or in society.
First of all it is frequently stated that the cause of poverty resides in the poor, in their vices, in their lack of ambition to get up and find work. This response soothes the conscience of the individuals who pose this question because it covers over the possibility of one’s own responsibility and culpability for the existence of poverty. In the labor literature at the time of emerging capitalism in England (the end of the XVIII century and the beginning of the XIX century) there are numerous testimonies from businessmen and even testimonies in civil legislation that defend low wages so as not to encourage the vices of the working class, for example, drunkenness.
It must be admitted that there are poor persons who have impoverished themselves. But this is not true for the great majority of poor people who remain in poverty from the time of their birth until their death. Indeed, they remain in this situation despite their virtuous and dedicated labor. Through no fault of their own they were born into and matured in the midst of social circumstances that at the very least tolerated discrimination and helplessness. For example, the black miners in South Africa or the children of gypsies in Spain or the children abandoned at birth in whatever part of the world … all of these individuals, through no fault of their own, are at an immediate disadvantage.
A second response points to God as the cause of poverty. God creates poor people and it is God’s sovereign will that established the difference between those who are rich and those who are poor … and the poor must simply resign themselves to this reality that was established by God. Even though such a response sounds incredible, such words have been spoke within the Church, especially during the XIX century, in an attempt to give an apparently religious answer to the mystery of poverty. These words have still not disappeared from the lips of many Catholics and pious individuals. This response states that God is the cause of the poverty of the masses of people who find themselves in this situation and furthermore, God wants things to remain this way. This same idea was expressed by Montalembert, a Catholic apologist, as he spoke before the French National Assembly on November 20th, 1848 … a discourse that was pronounced in defense of the Christian religion. What is today’s great problem? To inspire those who are not property owners to respect the property of others. The only way that I know to inspire this respect and to make people who are not property owners believe in private property is to make them believe in God, in the God of the catechism, in the God who gave us the Ten Commandments and who punishes for all eternity those individuals who are thieves. This is the only popular belief that can effectively protect property.
At other times the existence of poor people is said to be the result of a “promise” of Jesus Christ who in the gospel of Saint Matthew assures us: the poor you will always have with you (Matthew 26:11). From these words one comes to the incredible conclusion that it is impossible to lift people out of poverty and in fact this should not be attempted because it is opposed to Jesus’ teaching.
There are other responses, responses that are more accurate with regard to the mystery of poverty. These responses point out the structural organization that revolves around labor, the distribution of wealth and the ownership of private poverty. At times, however, one points to these structures in order to indicate that labor and wealth and property are well-organized and thus, there is no possible alternative to the present system.
In one way or another, this idea appears in the capitalist and neo-capitalist theory with regard to economic growth. Such growth demands an accumulation of capital that proceeds from freezing wages or lowering wages while at the same time reducing social benefits.
No one has formulated this idea with the same brutality as Voltaire in his Dictionnaire Philosophique: It is impossible for men living in society not to be divided into two classes, the one the rich that commands, the other the poor that serves … the human race, such as it is, cannot subsists unless there is an infinity of useful men who possess nothing at all (http://history.hanover.edu/texts/voltaire/volequal.htlm).
Every form of socialism (and this includes the social doctrine of the Church) locates the true causes of poverty in the social organization and not on God or the poor ... no group of socialist thinkers views poverty as good for society. Poverty is unnecessary and even harmful to society and therefore efforts must be made to eliminate it.
There is a substantial difference between the socialist vision (regardless of its form) and the Christian vision. Socialist doctrine, including Marxist doctrine, is convinced that the problem of social injustice and its resulting poverty can be completely resolved by appropriate “social engineering” that includes the abolition of the capitalist economic system which in itself produces social inequality among those who own the means of production and those who are members of the working class.
The Christian who is sincerely concerned about the existence of poverty and who wants to work to lessen it and suppress it can legitimately believe that the socialist is correct. Christianity states that poverty is most definitely a problem of social organization but goes on to state that such a situation cannot be resolved simply through the application of new techniques of social organization.
At the heart of unjust social structures there is not only an unfortunate lack of success in finding just solutions but we also discover in the midst of this situation the mystery of personal and communal sin and its resulting institutional sin that has produced the injustice of the structure: ambition, selfishness, lack of solidarity, the worship of Mammon, fear of insecurity and death (Hebrews 2:15). In summary, the three forms of concupiscence mentioned by Saint John are experienced by everything in the world, including the social structures and those individuals who establish such structures (1 John 2:16).
Social poverty is certainly the product of unjust social organization but it is also the result of sin. The problem of injustice and the poverty that results from it is clearly a social and economic problem. But it is also a human and ethical problem or perhaps we should say it is a violation of ethics and the fault of humankind. It points out the mystery of the existence of sin and the mystery of the existence of poor people who are victims of their own sin but also victims of the sins of others. Indeed, the existence of poverty and the injustice that it produces cries out to God and only in the mystery of God can we find a principle that leads to a solution and a remedy, a principle that leads to redemption.
The Old Testament
The human person has been created in the image and likeness of God to have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air and the cattle (Genesis 1:26) … to be God’s ambassador and act in God’s name. God alone is creator and as such possesses all that exists outside of him: the land is mine (Leviticus 25:23). Humankind has received from God everything that exists in the world and therefore is the administrator of these material realities. Thus Scripture provides us with this fundamental anthropological vision concerning the relationship between the human person and the material things of this world.
At a specific historical era the Promised Land was given to the chosen people as a free gift from God so that they might inhabit this land of abundance in peace.
Everything that has come forth from the creative hands of God is good (Genesis 1:3, 10. 12, 18,, 21, 25) especially man and woman who are the immediate object of the first blessing of God that is bestowed on creation: God blessed them, saying … (Genesis 1:28).
The curse, the breaking of this harmony that God desired and had established (God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good [Genesis 1:31]) is not the work of God but of the human person (Genesis 3) who wanted to be like gods (Genesis 3:5), that is, people wanted to claim as their own the knowledge, power and dominion that is proper to God alone: for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God ir give him thanks … they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator … and were filled with every form of wickedness, evil, greed and malice (Romans 1:21-22, 25, 29).
Saint Paul applies this powerful judgment of God with regard to human history to the history of the Gentiles. The Jewish people, however, were not exempt from this same judgment since they condemn themselves because they do the very same things (Romans 2:1).
This is precisely what occurred in the history of the chosen people. The will of God to see his people living in the Promised Land in peace and justice was frustrated as people attempted to extend their land holdings and utilized other mechanisms of human invention, for example, usury and imprisonment resulting from debt. The will of God was further frustrated by natural causes, such as the death of a husband or of both parents which left a wife and/or children in a situation of abandonment and poverty. Then there were other natural occurrences over which the human person had no control, for example, floods, storms …
The books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy multiply the norms and laws that deal with resolving injustice and its resulting poverty. Historian of ancient Israel and biblical commentators point out that in practice such norms existed on paper but were seldom enforced and/or practiced. This fact reveals once more the evilness of people which is evidenced in both the Old and the New Testament. The norms, however, that were given by God, clearly define God’s unequivocal will and desire that people live together in solidarity and justice.
The obligation to care for widows, orphans, foreigners and the poor and the fact that this is the expressed will of God is found not only in the Pentateuch, but in all the books of the Old Testament, especially in the writings of the prophets. The three books that we highlight below point out in great detail the mechanisms of structural justice that not only seeks to help those in need, but also attempts to reestablish structural conditions of social justice that would allow all people to live with dignity. We point out some of those mechanisms:
• Norms against the monopolization of land: every fifty years there is an obligation to return land to is former owner (Leviticus 25:10, 13); the land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine (Leviticus 25:23ff).
• The use of scales and just measurements (Deuteronomy 25:13; Leviticus 19:35).
• A just salary: you shall not defraud a poor and needy hired servant (Deuteronomy 24:14).
• Returning objects of primary need that had been given as a pledge for a loan (clothing [Deuteronomy 24:12], a hand mill [Deuteronomy 24:6] … for he would be taking the debtors sustenance as a pledge [Deuteronomy 24:19ff; Leviticus 24:6; Exodus 22:23-25]); the tithes that one is obliged to give should be distributed among the poor (Deuteronomy 23:20).
• Numerous norm regarding usury (Exodus 22:24; Leviticus 25:36; Deuteronomy 23:20)
• and the remittance of debts so that there is no one of you in need (Deuteronomy 15:1-4).
This impressive list of norms, if they had been observed, would have attained God’s plan with regard to the social life of his people: a life of justice, solidarity, and at the same time a satisfying life.
In the Old Testament justice has roots that are clearly religious in character since they reflect the expressed will of God. Furthermore, the decision to fulfill or not to fulfill the demands of justice desired by God will determine whether God blesses his people: the Lord God will bless you abundantly in the land he will give you to occupy as your heritage … if you but heed the voice of the Lord, your God, and carefully observe all these commandments which I enjoin on you today … the Lord, your God, will bless you as he promised (Deuteronomy 15:4-6).
The New Testament
As in many other aspects, the New Testament embraces that of the Old Testament but also moves beyond the vision presented there. Jesus himself expressed this principle when he stated: Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish but to fulfill (Matthew 5:17). In other words, Jesus came to give a more profound meaning to the law and the prophets. In the New Testament Jesus not only defends the poor but also identifies himself with them: whatever you did for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me (Matthew 25:40). God does not only listen to the cry of the poor and embrace their cause but he voluntarily takes on the condition of the poor (he became poor although he was rich [2 Corinthians 8:9]). He becomes incarnated and becomes man in order to proclaim the good news of liberation and redemption to the poor (Luke 4:18).
Previously we made the observation that the mystery of poverty is not simply an economic or social problem but rather is a human and an ethical problem. Now we add: from the new perspective of the incarnation of the Word into the world of poverty, the mystery of poverty is above all a theological problem. God reveals himself in the midst of poverty. Therefore those who believe in the God of Jesus Christ will find that ministry on behalf of those who are poor is the privileged place for discovering God: come, you who are blessed by my father, for I was hungry and you gave me food (Matthew 25:34-35).
With regard to that which we have referred to as the mechanisms/structures of social justice, the gospels are more reserved than the Old Testament. But by way of compensation they appeal to a reality that is on a higher level: a radical conversion of the heart that involves a total rejection of erecting material goods as an idol. Jesus’ criticism of a perverted psychology, which results in a desire for wealth, takes on an extremely harsh tone. His criticism does not proceed from resentment or any desire to condemn the rich but from a conviction that the rich can be saved … if they are converted (Luke 19:8-9). It is wealth that endangers their salvation (Luke 18:25).
To gain access to God through faith in Jesus Christ places certain demands on every person, demands of renunciation (in other words, one must love Jesus Christ above all else, including family and one’s own family [Luke 14:26]) which in the case of material possessions is expressed in this well-known phase: those who do not renounce all their possessions cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:33).
Jesus’ teaching with regard to material goods is focused on two important dimensions. The first fundamental dimension is to level the path that the human person must travel in order to move toward God … (love of God, the first and most important commandment). Nowhere in the gospels does Jesus imply that material goods are evil and therefore should be burned and/or destroyed. The best way to free oneself from the danger of becoming enslaved by material goods is to give them to the poor (anthropological-social dimension), then one is in a position to follow the Lord (theological dimension) (Luke 18:22).
First generation Christians, aware of Jesus’ teaching, sought for ways to give life and meaning to Jesus’ instruction with regard to material goods. They realized that above all else the Lord was seeking a conversion of the heart (including a “social reform” that should flow from such a conversion) and therefore they did not demand that one had to literally and effectively renounce their material possessions. Peter as much as said this to Ananias (Acts 5:4).
Very soon, however, they discovered that the existence of persons in need was a contradiction of their faith in Jesus Christ. So they wanted “mechanisms/structures” of distribution and participation that guaranteed that no one among them would have to live in a situation of need (Acts 2:44-45). Saint Paul appealed to the spirit of this first Christian experience of the community in Jerusalem and formulated this in terms of equality for the Christian communities that converted from paganism. He proposed to them a plan of sharing so that your surplus at the present time should supply their needs and so that if it should occur, their surplus may also supply your needs, that there may be equality (2 Corinthians 8:14).
Saint Paul does not present this plan as an order but rather states that one should be inspired by the generous example of Jesus Christ, who for your sake became poor, although he was rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). Near the end of his life Paul, basing himself on Jesus’ words, summed up his teaching to the wealthier members of the Christian community (who at that time in the Christian church were not very numerous: Tell the rich in the present age not to be proud and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth but rather on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, ready to share, thus accumulating as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true life (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
The Christian Tradition
The Lord, who knows the heart of men and women (John 2:24-25), never thought that his followers would remain faithful to his teaching. Therefore he relied on and offered people the gifts of conversion and repentance. We have to admit that despite twenty centuries of existence the Christian community is still far from having incorporated into their life the Lord’s teaching on material goods, charity, justice and the poor.
If Christians have not been faithful in practicing the Lord’s teaching, that does not mean that the doctrine is incorrect. We have the Fathers of the Church who were faithful witnesses to the Lord during the first centuries of Christianity. They gave life to the gospel teaching and, despite being misunderstood and persecuted, they applied this teaching to the problems of injustice and poverty as they existed at that time.
We could cite many different individuals but here we make reference to Gregory of Nyssa and his homily On the Love of the Poor. In this homily we find the following words: What good is it to keep meat out of your mouth if you bite your brother with wickedness? What good does it serve you to observe a strict frugality at home if you unjustly steal from the poor? Why fast during the dispute and quarrel, while you are beating up the lowly with your fist? We have seen in these days a great number of the naked and homeless. Their hands, stretched out imploring, can be seen everywhere. Their roof is the sky. Their clothing consists of wretched rags. Their harvest depends on human pity. For meals they have only the alms tossed at them by those who pass by. For a dining table they use their joined knees. Instead of public baths, they wash in the river or pond that God gives to all. This life of theirs, wandering and brutal, was not that assigned to them by birth but results from their tribulations and miseries. Be generous on behalf of your unfortunate brethren. That which you withhold from your belly, give to the poor. Embrace the wretched as gold: take into your arms the afflicted as you would care for the safety of your wife, your children, your domestics and all your house. Do not despise those who are stretched out on the ground as if they merit no respect. Consider who they are and you will discover their worth. They bear the countenance of our Savior. The poor are steward of our hope, doorkeepers of the kingdom, who open the door to the righteous and close it again to the unloving and misanthropists. For the deed done to them cries out to the one who fathoms the heart in a voice clearer than the herald’s trumpet. But as for us, each letter of the bible teaches us to imitate our Savior and creator, yet we monopolize all for our own pleasure in that we spend our fortune on pleasures, in that we accumulate it in capital for our heirs. We do not even give those in distress a single thought, nor do we have any effective concern for those in need. Moderate your life’s needs. Do not retain everything for yourself, but share with the poor, who are the favorites of God. All belongs to God, our common father. And we are all brothers of the same race. It is best and more just that brothers reap an equal part of the heritage (PG, XLVI:455-568).
Gregory of Nyssa’s notion that the poor make the Savior present to us is based on the gospel. In the Christian world this idea becomes the key to understanding the mystery of Christ through the scandalous and scathing reality of the existence of people who are poor. In those who suffer, Christ also suffers. This was the general thinking in Europe until the time of Vincent de Paul and continues today to be the thinking of people who have a true Christian vision (for example, Blessed Frederic Ozanam).
None of the Fathers of the Church or later theological development viewed God as the author of poverty. The strong denunciation that the Fathers of the Church directed against the rich people of that era is a clear revelation of their thinking about who and what caused the poverty of the masses: low salaries, slavery, luxury, the selfishness of the powerful, usury, extensive land holdings.
There were always Christians (and not just a few) who understood that the teachings of Jesus Christ involved a radical detachment from material goods and a sharing of these goods. This was especially true of the monks but they were not the only ones. For the remainder of society, those who did not reside in monasteries, the Fathers and later, theologians, formulated a demanding doctrine that became the common patrimony of the Christian world, a doctrine that was meant to resolve the great social injustices and to provide all people with the means to live in a dignified manner .
The doctrine is summed up in the concept of alms. This word (greatly devalued today) has many implications for our life and also provides us with a theological and social-economic framework that represents a long tradition. One of the best witnesses to this tradition is Thomas Aquinas who lived in the XIII century:
• God is the only true proprietor of all things (Summa II-II, 61.1);
• God’s intention in creating the world is that all human beings should be able to live in a dignified manner.
• The concept of private property is legitimate and in fact is the best way to create social order and a great abundance of goods (II-II, 62.2).
• Nevertheless, those who possess property should not have things as their own, but these things should be held in common so that they can be shared with those who are in need. Therefore, all who possess goods are mere administrators (II-II, 32.5, ad secundum).
• With regard to alms: because of a natural right and God’s commandment, everything that is superfluous should be given to the poor. In other words, those things which one does not need to maintain one’s life or the life of other family members should be given to the poor (II-II, 32.5; 66.7).
• At the same time those who are in extreme need can take from whomever that which is needed to satisfy their want. In doing this these persons do not steal since in case of extreme necessity all things are in common, thus fulfilling the fundamental attitude of God with regard to the goods of this world (II-II, 66.7).
• In all of this there is a strong opposition to usury as it was carried on in the Church for more than three hundred years (II-II, 78.1ff.).
Despite many statements to the contrary, it must be affirmed that traditional Christian thinking has never held that caring for those in need was only the object of private charity but also the responsibility of public authority. Once again Thomas Aquinas is a witness to this fact. In his work De Regimine Principum he states: Those who govern are to care for those in need at the expense of the public treasury (Book II, q. 15).
We can see that the mystery of poverty, (always mindful of the place it has held in the Christian tradition, that is, the privileged place of the exercise of true charity), is now also viewed as a problem of social organization and a responsibility of public authority (representatives of society) who ought to guard the common good, the good of all people.
The Vincentian Tradition
Vincent de Paul fully embraced the Christian tradition. At a time when civil authorities were inclined to resolve the problem of increased urban poverty through the so called General Hospitals (public buildings that housed beggars and those unable to find work), Vincent distanced himself from this practice because of his conviction that the poor are the living image of Jesus Christ. Therefore the poor cannot be denied their freedom by the force of law. Rather, the poor are to be treated with respect and compassion because, like Christ, the poor are our lords and masters.
At a time when the majority of people began to consider the poor as a problem of public order that could be resolved by establishing better structures, Vincent, in his thinking, is another witness to the long Christian tradition. This secular vision of poverty is not a sign that points toward the God of Jesus Christ and does not lead people to look at the need for conversion as a result of personal and social sin. Poverty is simply a problem of social engineering and therefore does not involve charity toward one’s neighbor. There is no reason to commit one’s self with those who work on behalf of the poor (for example, the bureaucrats of the various social service agencies).
That which could be said to be most characteristic with regard to Vincent’s position is not, however, so original. All of his ideas could be found in the Christian tradition as it was formulated up to that time. Even the expression cited above (the poor are our lords and masters), which is generally viewed as proper to him, is found in the Rule of the Order of Hospitallers of Saint John of Jerusalem (XII century).
Vincent was innovative as he confronted the situation of poverty that afflicted the various social groups (peasants, slaves, abandoned children, people displaced by war …). He sought to resolve these situations with new forms of assistance that involved all the members of society. Vincent did not view poverty as a problem that afflicted isolated individuals who had to be helped one by one.
With regard to that which we have referred to as structures that provided assistance, Vincent proved to be very original in his approach in this area. We highlight here the following:
• A careful study of the reality which one is attempting to remedy/resolve.
• The mobilization and organization of volunteers from every social class.
• Bringing together in a systematic manner private and public resources.
• A careful and responsible administration of said resources.
• The distribution of these resources according to the individual needs of those who are poor.
• Use of the printed word in order to inform the public about the needs of people.
• Collaboration with social and religious institutions without excluding those groups with whom one might have strong disagreements (Jansenists).
• The creation of new groups in the Church: groups of priests, laity, celibate women living in community, single, married and widowed lay people … groups organized to serve the poor.
Finally we want to address an issue that is raised by many experts who know Vincent de Paul. We refer to the question of whether Vincent was aware of the fact that the massive poverty that existed at that time was the result of political-social structures and therefore, did he look for political-social solutions or did he focus on individual, organized assistance.
We must give a definitive “yes” to both of these questions. We are not going to present all the details here but we are going to refer to an event this is especially revealing. At a time when the heightened rivalry between the municipal authorities of Paris and the Prime Minister, Mazarin, had created a situation of scarcity and hunger that especially affected the poor living in the capital, Vincent approached Mazaran and boldly asked him to resign. One can see that this is a clear case (and not the only case) in which Vincent attempted to remedy with natural means the evils that were inflicted on the poor through bad public policy.
Two centuries after Vincent de Paul, Blessed Frederic Ozanam was inspired by the same Christian vision of the poor. He viewed the mystery of poverty as one that speaks to people in a direct way about Jesus Christ. Ozanam is not original in this nor did he pretend to be so. He followed a line of thought that originated with Christ himself. Like Vincent de Paul, Frederic’s faith was not only inspired by this idea but was centered on it: what are we to do as true Catholics but that which is most pleasing to God? We are to assist our neighbor as Jesus did since they are our lords and masters!
Ozanam’s idea with regard to charity gives it a true perspective: the center and the motivating factor of all Christian life.
As a Christian, Ozanam was inspired by the Vincentian charism. We believe that we can state without hesitation that Frederic, more than anyone else since the time of Vincent’s death, not only knew how to take up and prolong the Vincentian charism but was able to formulate it in a new way and adapt it to the problem of social organization that arose from the industrial revolution and the French revolution … a form of social organization that we are still confronting … but we will develop this point in a later work.
We have already stated that Ozanam was inspired by the Vincentian vision of the poor. He is noted for his personalized interest in and concern for “this specific, distinct, poor person”. At the same time he is also noted for his broader perspective which led him to seek to resolve concrete needs that went hand in hand with the renewal and transformation of society: we are too young to intervene in the social struggle. Are we then to remain passive in the midst of a world that suffers and cries out? No! we have a path that will prepare us for our mission. Before being concerned about doing good on a societal level, we can attempt to do good for some individuals …before renewing France we can alleviate the situation of some individual poor persons.
Today, as ever before, in order to be Christian one must begin with that which the Lord spoke about: conversion (ark 1:15). In order to be a person who is inspired by the Vincentian charism, we must begin in the same way as Vincent de Paul and Blessed Frederic Ozanam did, namely, we must begin with conversion and with dedicating our life to the poor, thus prolonging the mission of Jesus Christ.
For some individuals, for those who experience the call, evangelical poverty leads them to a radical detachment from material possessions in order to serve the poor (Luke 14:33; 18:22). Not everyone is called to follow Jesus Christ in this way but we are all called to engage in a process of conversion and we are all called to place our life and our abilities (and this includes our material possessions) at the service of the poor.
For those who know how to read the Scriptures and are able to put aside their prejudice with regard to the social classes, this option for the poor is very clear in the gospel. We have been reminded about this option by the Second Vatican Council and by the body of the Church’s social doctrine that began more than a hundred years ago with the publication of the encyclical of Leo XIII, Rerum novarum.
Remember the wonderful story of Zachaeus in the gospel of Saint Luke: today salvation has come to this house (Luke 19:1-10) … Jesus spoke these words after Zachaeus expressed his intention to make amends for the injustices he had committed, namely, behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor.
Frequently and with great reason it is said that the world does not need more words and discourses but needs action in order to find solutions to the sufferings of humankind. Thus Christian faith becomes credible to the world only when men and women can see that those who follow the Lord are ministering with the poor in the same way that Jesus died … in fact, there is no greater proof of their faith: this is how all will know that you are my disciples (John 13:35).
The Church is firmly committed to this cause, for she considers it her mission, her service, a proof of her fidelity to Christ, so that she can truly be the "Church of the poor" (John Paul II, Laborem exercens, #8).
 There are many studies and anthologies about the social doctrine of the Fathers of the Church. Here we cite two in particular: The Social Message of the Father of the Church by R. Sierra Bravo, ed. Ciudad Nueva, Madrid, 1989 and J.I. Gonzálea Faus, Vicarios de Cristo. Los pobres en la teología y en la espiritualidad cristianas, ed. Trotta, Madrid, 1991.
Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM