The following is an excerpt from Homily XI of Saint John Chrysostom’s preaching on the Acts of the Apostles. The italicized quotations from Scripture are from Acts 4, where the communes of the early Christians are described. The entire sermon can be found here. Chrysostom is a Doctor of the Church known for his preaching and his heroic example of orthodoxy, sanctity, and social justice.
Observe, even the Apostles, after the prayer, are filled with the Holy Ghost. And the multitude of them that believed… Great, you perceive, is the virtue of this thing, seeing there was need of this [grace] even in that Company. For this is the foundation of all that is good, this of which he now for the second time makes mention, exhorting all men to the contempt of riches: Neither said any of them that anything of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things common (Acts 4:32). For that this was in consequence not merely of the miraculous signs, but of their own purpose, is manifest by the case of Sapphira and Ananias.
And with great power gave the Apostles witness… (Acts 4:33). Not in word, but with power the Apostles exhibited their testimony of the Resurrection: just as Paul says, and my preaching was not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but with manifestation of the Spirit and of power (1 Corinthians 2:4). And it is not merely, with power, but, with great power. And great grace, it says, was upon them all; for neither was there any among them that lacked (Acts 4:34). This is why the grace [was upon them all,] for that there was none that lacked: that is, from the exceeding ardor of the givers, none was in want. For they did not give in part, and in part reserve: nor yet in giving all, give it as their own. And they lived moreover in great abundance: they removed all inequality from among them, and made a goodly order. For as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold. And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need (Acts 4:34-35).
And with great respect they did this: for they did not presume to give into their hands, nor did they ostentatiously present, but brought to the Apostles’ feet. To them they left it to be the dispensers, made them the owners, that thenceforth all should be defrayed as from common, not from private, property. This was also a help to them against vain-glory. If this were done now, we should live more pleasant lives, both rich and poor, nor would it be more pleasant to the poor than to the rich themselves.
And if you please, let us now for awhile depict it in words, and derive at least this pleasure from it, since you have no mind for it in your actions. For at any rate this is evident, even from the facts which took place then, that by selling their possessions they did not come to be in need, but made them rich that were in need. However, let us now depict this state of things in words, and let all sell their possessions, and bring them into the common stock—in words, I mean: let none be excited, rich or poor. How much gold think you would be collected? For my part, I conjecture—for of course it is not possible to speak exactly—that supposing all here, men and women, to empty out their whole property, lands, possessions, houses—for I will not speak of slaves, since at that time there was no such thing, but doubtless such as were slaves they sat at liberty—perhaps ten hundred thousand pounds weight of gold would be the amount collected: nay, twice or thrice as much. For consider: at what number of juga [an imperial tax] is our city rated? How many [of the population] shall we say are Christians? Shall we say a hundred thousand, and the rest Greeks and Jews? Then what thousands [of pounds] of gold would be collected! And what is the number of poor? I do not think more than fifty thousand. Then to feed that number daily, what abundance there would be! And yet if the food were received in common, all taking their meals together, it would require no such great outlay after all.
But, you will ask, what should we do after the money was spent? And do you think it ever could be spent? Would not the grace of God be ten thousand fold greater? Would not the grace of God be indeed richly poured out? Nay, should we not make it a Heaven upon earth? If, where the numbers were three thousand and five thousand, the doing of this thing had such splendid success, and none of them complained of poverty, how much more glorious would this be in so vast a multitude? And even of those that are without, who would not contribute?—
But, to show that it is the living separately that is expensive and causes poverty, let there be a house in which are ten children: and the wife and the man, let the one work at her wool, the other bring his earnings from his outdoor occupation: now tell me, in which way would these spend most? By taking their meals together and occupying one house, or by living separately? Of course, by living separately. For if the ten children must live apart, they would need ten several rooms, ten tables, ten attendants, and the income otherwise in proportion. Is it not for this very reason, that where there is a great number of servants, they have all one table, that the expense may not be so great? For so it is, division always makes diminution, concord and agreement make increase. The dwellers in the monasteries live just as the faithful did then: now did ever any of these die of hunger? Was ever any of them not provided for with plenty of everything? Now, it seems, people are more afraid of this than of falling into a boundless and bottomless deep.
But if we had made actual trial of this, then indeed we should boldly venture upon this plan. What grace too, think you, would there not be! For if at that time, when there was no believer but only the three thousand and the five thousand: when all, throughout the world, were enemies, when they could nowhere look for comfort, they yet boldly entered upon this plan with such success; how much more would this be the case now, when by the grace of God there are believers everywhere throughout the world? What Gentile would be left? For my part, I think there would not be one: we should so attract all, and draw them to us! But yet if we do but make fair progress, I trust in God that even this shall be realized. Only do as I say, and let us successfully achieve things in their regular order; if God grant life, I trust that we shall soon bring you over to this way of life.