Vol I No. 7
Anglicans Worldwide

Trinity II Epistle: Thomas Aquinas with Commentary

by William J. Martin



But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his compassion from him; how dwelleth the love of God in him? 1 (St. John iii. 17.)

St. John the Apostle in these words exhorts us to the practice of’ almsgiving for three reasons, for he who does almsgiving obtains three good gifts (1) temporal good; (2) spiritual good; (3) eternal good.

  1. About the first good. It is noted that man acquires a threefold temporal good by almsgiving. (1) Increase of riches Honour the Lord, i.e., seek ye His praise,

not thine own, not of the world. Of thy substance (Prov. iii. 9, 10), i.e. which you rightly possess not from rapine, not from the stranger; and of the first-fruits of your own give to the poor, and so shall thy barns be filled with plenty, i.e., in a future satiety. They shall not hunger any more, neither shall they thirst any more, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine. Gloss: They who lay up treasure in heaven shall find their own delights, the granary of whom will be filled by plenty, because they shall be satiated, when His glory will be manifested; and the wine-presses will overflow with wine. He kindles the hearts of the faithful towards the praises of the Creator, and he who bestows earthly subsidies upon the poor will be rendered richer by the giving in heavenly remuneration.

It is essential for us to remember that if we are not givers, we shall not be blessed. It is the first principle of those who pray for salvation that they should be vessels and conduits of kindness, generosity, and liberality. When the self gives to himself before giving to God, the self turns inward and away from the bountiful Giver of all good things. And thus he becomes a kind of idiolater. God gives so much to us, and if we hope to perfect His image and likeness in ourselves, we too must be givers. So if we are focused on the undeserved and unmerited mercy and Grace of God’s gift, then we cannot help but assist those in need. And this must be done especially since the poor are sent our way to be helpers in our own sanctification. Their need is essential to our spiritual growth. The Christian who forgets the poor man’s need refuses to see that that very man was sent to make his Christianity grow and increase. The poor man helps the Christian’s religion to be true, not in word and appearance only, but in truth and in deed.  

(2) Defense from his enemies: The alms of man is as a signet with him, and shall preserve the grace of a man as the apple of the eye.(Ecclus. xvii. 22) He shall fight for thee against thine enemies better than a mighty shield and strong spear. (Ecclus. xxix. 13), Gloss.: Alms will rather prevail against the enemies far more than earthly weapons.

When the gift of God’s Grace moves a man to help his fellow, He confounds and frustrates the knavish tricks of the Devil. The Devil wants nothing more than that ‘the haves’ should have more, know it, and thus and close up his bowels of compassion against the poor. The Devil delights equally in the poor man whose resentment and bitterness grows into a murderous and vengeful hatred against the rich. But when the Christian gives to his brother in need, the giving and gratitude of both overcome the two sins. The rich man gives thanks to God for enabling him to help his brother and even to be helped by him out of potential sin in return. The poor man thanks God for the liberality and generosity that overcomes difference and division with love and compassion. And so both end up enraging the devil and his soldiers in their mutual exchange of love and goodwill.

(3) The prolongation of the present life: Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. (1 Tim. iv. 8)

Godliness in generosity gives a man a long life here and continues to carry him into the life which is to come. In addition, few realize that generous souls often live long. God the Fatherrdxr uses them to open the spiritual eyes and ears of those who do not yet know His Christ. Their giving to others softens men’s hearts and inspires their minds to seek after God and find Him. And thus the generous Christian is one who, because he cannot stop giving, is, unbeknownst to himself, kept in time and space for a bit longer for the great purposes of evangelization.

  1. About the second good it is to be noted, that man by almsgiving acquires a threefold spiritual good. (1) Remission of sins Break off thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor. (Dan. iv. 27) By mercy and truth iniquity is purged. (Prov. xvi. 6) Gloss.: All sin. By mercy ‘the iniquity of sinners is remitted when it gives to and forgives others.’ By truth is understood justice accusing itself for its iniquity, and repenting.

Giving comes from a love that is merciful and compassionate over and above calculation and cost. And thus the merciful and generous have in their hearts a true sense of God’s forgiveness of their sins and thus a readier desire to give His mercy unto others. We make too sharp a distinction between giving and forgiving. They are but two words that combine to form the real meaning of mercy. And thus the man who gives is one who has been given more than ever he desires or deserves. He gives because he is forgiven. Being forgiven is so great a gift that he cannot help but give in the best way that enables his neighbor to join him on the journey into salvation. And thus because the merciful man has been forgiven much, he counts is so small a cost to overcome another man’s temporal need if it might mean that he will gain a friend and fellow pilgrim.

(2) The hearing of prayers: Shut up alms in the heart of the poor, and it shall obtain help for thee against all evil ;” that is to say, in removing evil. (Ecclus. xxix.12) Gloss. : Alms shut up in the heart, are useful for advising and consulting.

We deprive ourselves of helpmates and assistants in our spiritual journey when we withhold our alms from the poor. The poor have much to teach us. They are sent to temper and moderate our lives. They have a spiritual claim upon us because God wants them to help us to come to our spiritual senses. And because they have not had the luxury of being tempted by the false god of mammon, they redirect our eyes to the treasures of heaven and our need to seek it first. They also help us to become poor in spirit, depending only upon God for our needs in this life. Poverty of spirit goes hand in hand with earthly poverty. And that the one might help us to the other, we ought to give generously to the poor.

(3) The preservation of grace: The alms of man is as a signet with him, and shall preserve the grace of a man. (Ecclus. xvii. 22)

The giving-man is surrounded by and founded upon the Grace of Almighty God. His habit of life is generosity. Being filled with gifts of the all-generous Giver, man cannot help but overflow with the liberality and munificence of His Master and Lord. Thus Grace defines the life of the man who loves his brother as himself. In his brother he finds another self, and thus gives to his neighbor what he gives to himself.

III. Of the third good, it is to be similarly noted, that by almsgiving men acquire a threefold eternal good. (1) Liberation from eternal death: For alms deliver from all sin and from death…(Tobit iv. 11)

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in Heaven. (St. Matt. vii. 21) and, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. The key that opens Heaven’s door is generosity, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. Without a mercy-filled heart a man cannot be saved. Christ’s commandment is that ‘ye may love one another’. Christ is the condescending mercy and liberality of God the Father made flesh. He ministers the Father’s forgiveness to all of us. We are to minister forgiveness and kindness to all whom we encounter. Love as forgiveness and generosity alone delivers man from eternal death. Love as forgiveness and generosity constitute a life lived unto the Lord and what then conquers and vanquishes eternal death.

(2) The possession of eternal life: Godliness is profitable, &c., having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. (1 St. Tim. iv. 8)

So the habits of love acclimate the soul to eternal life. To live unto God is to love Him with all the heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself. Life is a gift of God’s love. Life is made to be lived in God’s love. To live in God’s love is to live according to His wisdom, desire, and power. To live in God’s love is to love Him in all things and all things in Him. And thus we should do good to all men that at the Great Day of Reckoning we might recognized as those who are full of God’s love.

(3) The increase of eternal reward: He which soweth sparingly shall also reap sparingly, and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully, and shall obtain eternal life; to which may we be brought.

With whatsoever measure we have meted it shall be meted unto us again. We must lavish the world with our generosity. Earthly riches are dangerous to the Christian soul. The best recipe for the Christian is to give liberally that his spiritual progress might not be hindered by perishable commodities. The Christian ought always to give to his brothers and sisters that he might be rid of what can only stand to disturb and distract him from his earthly pilgrimage to the heavenly city. ‘The Lord liveth a cheerful giver’. (2 Cor. ix. 7)