Poverty, Individual Charity, and Societal Action

Vladimir Solovyev
Vladimir Solovyev

Men have imagined that the acknowledgement of the divinity of Christ relieves them of the obligation of taking His words seriously. They have twisted certain texts of the Gospel so as to get out of them the meaning they want, while they have conspired to pass over in silence other texts which do not lend themselves to such treatment. The precept “render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” is constantly quoted to sanction an order of things which gives Cæsar all and God nothing. The saying “My Kingdom is not of this world” is always being used to justify and confirm the paganism of our social and political life, as though Christian society were destined to belong to this world and not to the Kingdom of Christ. On the other hand, the saying “All power is given Me in Heaven and Earth” is never quoted. Men are ready to accept Christ as sacrificing Priest and atoning Victim; but they do not want Christ the King. His royal dignity has been ousted by every kind of pagan despotism, and Christian peoples have taken up the cry of the Jewish rabble: “We have no king but Cæsar!” Thus history has witnessed, and we are still witnessing, the curious phenomenon of a society which professes Christianity as its religion but remains pagan not merely in its life but in the very basis of that life.

Economic slavery, even more than slavery properly so called, has found its champions in the Christian world. Society and the State, they maintain, are in no way bound to take general and regular measures against pauperism; voluntary almsgiving is enough; did not Christ say that there would always be the poor on Earth? Yes, there will always be the poor; there will always be the sick, but does that prove the uselessness of health services? Poverty in itself is no more an evil than sickness; the evil consists in remaining indifferent to the sufferings of one’s neighbor.

This desire to limit the social action of Christianity to individual charity, this attempt to deprive the Christian moral code of its binding character and its positive legal sanction is a modern version of that ancient Gnostic antithesis (the system of Marcion, in particular) so often anathematized by the Church. That all human relationships should be governed by charity and brotherly love is undoubtedly the express will of God and the end of His creation; but in historic reality, as in the Lord’s Prayer, the fulfilment of the divine will on Earth is only realized after the hallowing of God’s Name and the coming of His Kingdom. The Name of God is Truth; His Kingdom is Justice. If follows that the knowledge of the truth and the practice of justice are necessary conditions for the triumph of evangelical charity in human society. (Solovyev, 1948, pp. 8-9)

Vladimir Solovyev


Solovyev, V. (1948). Russia and the Universal Church. (H. Rees, Trans.) London: The Centenary Press.

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