From “On the Love of the Poor” (ca. 380)
Never despise homeless people who are stretched out on the ground as if they merit no respect. Ask who they are and discover their worth. They bear the image of our Savior. The Lord in his goodness has given them his own image in order that his image might cause the hard-hearted to blush with shame, those who hate the poor, just as travelers who are attached by thieves present immediately the images of their king so that the credit of the authority will reduce the brigands to better sentiments. Thus, too, are the poor the stewards of our hope, the guardians of royalty, who open the door to the just and close it again to the wicked and egotistical. Terrible accusers, vehement prosecutors, although they always judge in silence! For the Judge listens to them and their self-sacrifice, and what we squander cries out to God who fathoms the heart, in a voice clearer than the herald’s trumpet.
Those are the ones who have prompted God to formidable judgment, for whose sake you have often heard the lesson. In that lesson I envision the Son of Man descend from the sky and walking in the air as one walks on earth. Thousands of angels escort him. Then the thrones of glory appear in the sky and all they who had grown up under the sun and breathed terrestrial air, are separated into two camps, waiting at the foot of the tribunal. One are called “sheep” and are placed to live on the right. I know that the camp on the left is designated “goats.” The savage heart of this species merits it this name. The Judge interrogates the accused and I listened to their answers. Each received its due penalty; the species who were true to life won the kingdom. Egoists and the wicked were sent to punishment by fire, and for all of eternity.
The Scripture tells this account with such care, and our court of justice has been painted so precisely, to convince us of the advantages of good works. For it is the divine charity which preserves our life, mother of those who are poor, presbyter of the aged, treasure of those in need, universal haven of the unhappy, who defends and consoles all ages and all sorrows. As in the useless competitions of the circus, the leader proclaims his love of honor by the sound of a trumpet and announces the prizes to all the competitors, good deeds summon together those who have fallen on hard times and who are in critical circumstances not to honorably reward them with calamity, but to heal their difficulties. Virtue better than all feats of prowess!
Charity lives in the intimacy of God and it is God who by his hands shaped the first works of love and philanthropy in creating everything that is. For God is the first and foremost lover of good deeds who nourishes the starving, waters the thirsty, and clothes those who are naked.
St. Gregory of Nyssa (ca. 335-395) was a Cappadocian bishop and theologian, a defender of Nicene orthodoxy, famed for his integration of Platonism and the allegorical exegesis of Scripture. His feast is celebrated on January 10 and March 9 on the calendars of different churches.