Matt. 6:1-4 (Part 1)

POLYCARP: When you can do good, do not defer it, because “alms delivers from death.” Epistle to the Philippians, 1.35

SECOND CLEMENT: Almsgiving therefore is a good thing, as repentance from sin; fasting is better than prayer, but almsgiving than both; “but love covers a multitude of sins.” But prayer out of a good conscience delivers from death. Blessed is every one that is found full of these; for alms-giving lightens the burden of sin. 7.522.

THE DIDACHE: But your prayers and alms and all your deeds so do, as you have it in the Gospel of our Lord. 7.381.

HERMAS: Give ear unto me, O Sons: I have brought you up in much simplicity, and trust, and chastity, on account of the mercy of the Lord, who has dropped His righteousness down upon you, that you may be made righteous and holy from all your iniquity and depravity; but you do not wish to rest from your iniquity. Now, therefore, listen to me, and be at peace one with another, and visit each other, and bear each other’s burdens, and do not partake of God’s creatures alone, but give abundantly of them to the needy. For some through the abundance of their food produce weakness in their flesh, and thus corrupt their flesh; while the flesh of others who have no food is corrupted, because they have not sufficient nourishment. And on this account their bodies waste away. This intemperance in eating is thus injurious to you who have abundance and do not distribute among those who are needy. Give heed to the judgment that is to come. Therefore, you who are high in position, seek out the hungry as long as the tower is not yet finished; for after the tower is finished, you will wish to do good, but will find no opportunity. Give heed, therefore, you who glory in your wealth, lest those who are needy should groan, and their groans should ascend to the Lord, and you be shut out with all your goods beyond the gate of the tower. The Shepherd of Hermas, 2.16

TATIAN: Consider your alms; do not do them before men to let them see you: and if it be not so, you have no reward before your Father which is in the heavens. When you give an alms now, do not sound a trumpet before you, as do the people of hypocrisy, in the synagogues and the marketplaces, that men may praise them. And verily I say to you, they have received their reward. But you, when you do alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand does; that your alms may be concealed: and your Father which sees in secret shall reward you openly. The Diatessaron, 9.58.

CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: “If you do alms,” it is said, “let no one know it; and if you fast, anoint yourself, that God alone may know,” and not a single human being. The Stromata, 2.434.

ARISTIDES: The Christians do not proclaim in the ears of the multitude the kind deeds they do, but are careful that no one should notice them; and they conceal their giving just as he who finds a treasure and conceals it. The Apology of Aristides the Philosopher, 9.278.

TERTULLIAN: At any rate, you [Romans] say, the temple revenues are every day falling off: how few now throw in a contribution! In truth, we are not able to give alms both to your human and your heavenly beggars; nor do we think that we are required to give any but to those who ask for it. Let Jupiter then hold out his hand and get, for our compassion spends more in the streets than yours does in the temples. The Apology, 3.49.

TERTULLIAN: Scripture commands each of two things—namely, that we work for the Lord without the acquaintance of any second person, and without pressure upon ourselves. To His Wife, 4.46.

ORIGEN: Accordingly, if we do alms before men, having in our thoughts the design of appearing to men philanthropic, and of being honored because of philanthropy, we receive the reward from men; and, universally, everything that is done with the consciousness in the doer that he will be glorified by men, has no reward from Him who beholds in secret, and renders the reward to those who are pure, in secret. Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, 9.444.

ORIGEN: It is sowing to the flesh when one does alms, with trumpeting before him, in synagogues and streets to be glorified by men, or likes to pray standing in synagogues and at broadway corners to appear to men and thought a pious and a holy person among the onlookers. Indeed every wayfarer along the broad and spacious way leading to destruction without rightness or straightness but crooked and cornered throughout, (for the straight line is broken in it to the utmost), is standing no less than he who prays at broadway corners, not in one but through his love of pleasure in a number of streets in which beings who as men are perishing because they have fallen away from their divinity, are to be found glorifying and pronouncing blessed those whom they have thought to act piously. On Prayer.

ORIGEN: Just as water always conflicts with fire and fire with water and such things can never dwell together simultaneously, so likewise egotism and virtue are opposed to each other and can never easily coexist in one and the same soul. Therefore egotism is to be expelled from our souls, and we must abide in Christ’s commandments. Fragment 114.

ORIGEN: Wherefore the law of nature will be of no help whatsoever for knowing God's righteousness, thought it appears to understand something about human righteousness.  For the law is indeed able to perceive what is just among men, as, for example, that what someone does not want to suffer himself, he should not do to his neighbor. But is it able to perceive naturally that righteousness which says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men,” and, “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing”? These and just things of a similar nature are things which the law of nature cannot declare, and therefore the Apostle says, “But now, apart from the law,” sc. “of nature,” the righteousness of God has been disclosed,”  having the attestation of the law of Moses and of the prophets, in whom the Holy Spirit had recorded many things about God's righteousness through figures and enigmas. Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans.

ORIGEN: The zeal of the Jews was not according to knowledge.  That is why, since they were ignorant of God's righteousness, they were trying to fulfill their own, i.e., the righteousness that was seen by men, though assuredly they should have instead obeyed the righteousness of God, who is Christ.13 Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. 

CYPRIAN: He gave a law to the sound man and bade him sin no more, lest a worse thing should befall the sinner. We had been limited and shut up into a narrow space by the commandment of innocence. Nor would the infirmity and weakness of human frailty have any resource, unless the divine mercy, coming once more in aid, should open some way of securing salvation by pointing out works of justice and mercy, so that by almsgiving we may wash away whatever foulness we subsequently contract. . . .

The Holy Spirit speaks in the sacred Scriptures, and says, “By almsgiving and faith sins are purged.”  Not assuredly those sins which had been previously contracted, for those are purged by the blood and sanctification of Christ. Moreover, He says again, “As water extinguishes fire, so almsgiving quenches sin.”  Here also it is shown and proved, that as in the laver of saving water the fire of Gehenna is extinguished, so by almsgiving and works of righteousness the flame of sins is subdued. And because in baptism remission of sins is granted once for all, constant and ceaseless labor, following the likeness of baptism, once again bestows the mercy of God. The Lord teaches this also in the Gospel. For when the disciples were pointed out, as eating and not first washing their hands, He replied and said, “He that made that which is within, made also that which is without. But give alms, and behold all things are clean to you;”  teaching hereby and showing, that not the hands are to be washed, but the heart, and that the foulness from inside is to be done away rather than that from outside; but that he who shall have cleansed what is within has cleansed also that which is without; and that if the mind is cleansed, a man has begun to be clean also in skin and body. Further, admonishing, and showing how we may be clean and purged, He added that alms must be given. He who is pitiful teaches and warns us that pity must be shown; and because He seeks to save those whom at a great cost He has redeemed, He teaches that those who, after the grace of baptism, have become foul, may once more be cleansed. . . .

The divine admonition in the Scriptures, as well old as new, has never failed, has never been silent in urging God’s people always and everywhere to works of mercy; and in the strain and exhortation of the Holy Spirit, everyone who is instructed into the hope of the heavenly kingdom is commanded to give alms. . . .

The remedies for propitiating God are given in the words of God Himself; the divine instructions have taught what sinners ought to do, that by works of righteousness God is satisfied, that with the deserts of mercy sins are cleansed. And in Solomon we read, “Shut up alms in the heart of the poor, and these shall intercede for you from all evil.”  And again: “Whoever closes his ears that he may not hear the weak, he also shall call upon God, and there will be none to hear him.”  . . . Remembering which precepts, Daniel, when king Nebuchadnezzar was in anxiety, being frightened by an adverse dream, gave him, for the turning away of evils, a remedy to obtain the divine help, saying, “Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you; and redeem your sins by almsgiving, and your unrighteousness by mercies to the poor, and God will be patient to your sins.”  And as the king did not obey him, he underwent the misfortunes and mischiefs which he had seen, and which he might have escaped and avoided had he redeemed his sins by almsgiving. Raphael the angel also witnesses the like, and exhorts that alms should be freely and liberally bestowed, saying, “Prayer is good, with fasting and alms; because alms deliver from death, and it purges away sins.”  He shows that our prayers and fasting are of less avail, unless they are aided by almsgiving; that entreaties alone are of little force to obtain what they seek, unless they be made sufficient by the addition of deeds and good works. The angel reveals, and manifests, and certifies that our petitions become efficacious by almsgiving, that life is redeemed from dangers by almsgiving, that souls are delivered from death by almsgiving. The Treatises of Cyprian, 5.476-478.

LACTANTIUS: This is the chief and truest advantage of riches; not to use wealth for the particular pleasure of an individual, but for the welfare of many; not for one’s own immediate enjoyment, but for justice, which alone does not perish. We must therefore by all means keep in mind, that the hope of receiving in return must be altogether absent from the duty of showing mercy: for the reward of this work and duty must be expected from God alone; for if you should expect it from man, then that will not be kindness, but the lending of a benefit at interest; nor can he seem to have deserved well who affords that which he does, not to another, but to himself. And yet the matter comes to this, that whatever a man has bestowed upon another, hoping for no advantage from him, he really bestows upon himself, for he will receive a reward from God. God has also enjoined, that if at any time we make a feast, we should invite those who cannot invite us in return,  and thus make us a recompense, so that no action of our life should be without the exercise of mercy. Nor, however, let any one think that he is debarred from dealings with his friends or kindness with his neighbors. But God has made known to us what is our true and just work: we ought thus to live with our neighbors, provided that we know that the one manner of living relates to man, the other to God. The Divine Institutes, 7.176.

LACTANTIUS: As often, therefore, as you are asked for aid, believe that you are tried by God, that it may be seen whether you are worthy of being heard. Examine your own conscience, and, as far as you are able, heal your wounds. However, because offenses are removed by almsgiving, think that a license is given you for sinning. For they are done away with, if you are bountiful to God because you have sinned; for if you sin through reliance on your almsgiving, they are not done away with. For God especially desires that men shall be cleansed from their sins, and therefore He commands them to repent. But to repent is nothing else than to profess and to affirm that one will sin no more. Therefore they are pardoned who unaware and incautiously glide into sin; he who sins willfully has no pardon.  Nor, however, if any one shall have been purified from all stain of sin, let him think that he may abstain from the work of almsgiving because he has no faults to blot out. No, in truth, he is then more bound to exercise justice when he is become just, so that that which he had before done for the healing of his wounds he may afterwards do for the praise and glory of virtue.

To this is added, that no one can be without fault as long as he is burdened with a covering of flesh, the infirmity of which is subject to the dominion of sin in a threefold manner—in deeds, in words, and thoughts. By these steps justice advances to the greatest height. The first step of virtue is to abstain from evil works; the second, to abstain also from evil words; the third, to abstain even from the thoughts of evil things. He who ascends the first step is sufficiently just; he who ascends the second is now of perfect virtue, since he offends neither in deeds nor in conversation;  he who ascends the third appears truly to have attained the likeness of God. For it is almost beyond the measure of man not even to admit to the thought that which is either bad in action or improper in speech. Therefore even just men, who can refrain from every unjust work, are sometimes, however, overcome by frailty itself, so that they either speak evil in anger, or, at the sight of delightful things, they desire them with silent thought. But if the condition of mortality does not allow a man to be pure from every stain, the faults of the flesh ought therefore to be done away with by continual almsgiving. The Divine Institutes, 7.178-179.

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