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Can Capitalism be Reconciled with Orthodox Values?

Dr. Nikolas K. Gvosdev

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Just as Orthodoxy has no specified plan for the political organization of the state, it also presents no concrete proposals for the structuring of the economy. The perspective of the New Testament is that the things of this world are fleeting and ephemeral compared to the everlasting matters of the spirit. However, the admonition that human beings do not live by bread alone recognizes that bread, and by extension other material things, are necessities for human survival.

In economic matters, the Orthodox ideal has been to seek a balance between wealth and poverty, between the needs of the individual and the well-being of the entire community...

Orthodoxy does not believe in an economic system that rewards laziness and encourages the poor to depend upon handouts from the state. Work, productive labor, is a necessary part of the human experience. Chrysostom exhorts his audience: "Let us not then despise labour; let us not despise work; for before the Kingdom of Heaven, we receive the greatest recompense from thence, deriving pleasure from that circumstance, and not pleasure only, but what is greater than pleasure, the purest health." (Chrysostom, Book IX, p. 353)...

The Orthodox emphasis is upon self-sufficiency. In an ideal world, everyone would be "middle class", neither eking out an existence at the level of mere subsistence nor enjoying excess. As St. Basil concluded, "If only each one would take as much as he requires to satisfy his immediate needs, and leave the rest to others who equally needed it, no one would be rich, and no one would be poor." (Hengel, p. 2) "What is beyond our wants, is superfluous and useless," Chrysostom advises. (Chrysostom IX, p. 349)

Dr. Nikolas K. Gvosdev, J. M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies, Baylor University

Read the entire essay on the Sobor website.



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