What do we know about the revenue / expenditures of early churches?

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allegoria
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What do we know about the revenue / expenditures of early churches?

Post by allegoria »

What were their primary means of revenue (donations from individual rich donors versus average “member” collections)? What percentage of the revenue went where? This I am really interested in: what percent went to expensive incense and oil, what percent to feasts, what percent to aiding the poor, what percent to architectural development, etc?
Secret Alias
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Re: What do we know about the revenue / expenditures of early churches?

Post by Secret Alias »

In whispers of the ancient night, beneath the silent stars' soft light,
There lies a tale of parchment old, of epistles forged and stories bold.
In the second century's shadowed halls, where faith's young echo softly calls,
A church, in infancy entwined, sought words to guide, to bind, to find.

With Paul's name, they boldly wrote, on scrolls that distant ages quote,
Crafting letters, rich and keen, in places Paul had never been.
Titus, Timothy, by the score, Epistles crafted in folklore,
A narrative to unify, under the Mediterranean sky.

And there amidst the growing creed, the Church Fathers' texts proceed,
Not as relics, true and tried, but as inventions, far and wide.
Ignatius, Clement—voices lent to a faith's burgeoning ascent,
Woven with a master's art, from the late second century's heart.

These documents, so neatly penned, were means to a transcendent end,
To shape a doctrine, pure and clear, for all the faithful far and near.
In catacombs and basilicas, where whispers spoke of Christ’s miracles,
A canon formed from artifice, to guide the flock to paradisal bliss.

Yet, let not skepticism's shade, upon our ancient faith be laid,
For truth, in many forms, does dwell, in stories that our spirits tell.
Though origins may intertwine with fiction's craft and design,
The essence of the message rings, with love and hope, and eternal springs.

So ponder on these ancient deeds, the late inventions, the sown seeds,
For in the heart of every tale, is a truth that never will grow stale.
Though scholars may debate the source, the spirit's force remains on course,
Guiding through the ages long, in whispered prayer, in psalm and song.
StephenGoranson
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Re: What do we know about the revenue / expenditures of early churches?

Post by StephenGoranson »

While I would not venture percent estimates, for architecture, inscriptions sometimes mention a major donor or donors.
This may be relevant both for early churches as it is for synagogues, given overlap in terminology and practice. In synagogues a major donor is sometimes also referred to as an archisynagogos.

Also relevant for a time: Paul's collections, and commentary.
StephenGoranson
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Re: What do we know about the revenue / expenditures of early churches?

Post by StephenGoranson »

Many of the earliest churches, evidently, were house-churches, so the owner of the house allowed that use, with, in some cases, modifications to the house.
Yet, on the other hand, there are indications of community sharing of property.
Qumran is an earlier example of community of possessions.
People who joined Christianity came from various backgrounds, economically and otherwise.
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Leucius Charinus
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Re: What do we know about the revenue / expenditures of early churches?

Post by Leucius Charinus »

According to Acts there was supposedly great fear over the management of money, property and tithing for the church industry. The penalty for mis-management was death by the hand of the Most High:
  • 1 Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property.
    2 With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.
    3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?
    4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”
    5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened
    6 Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
    7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.
    8 Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?” “Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”
    9 Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”
    10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
    11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

    (Acts 5.1-11)
The moral to this account seems to have been: be extra careful about church funds.

"Apostoloi" was the official name given to the men sent by the rulers of Jerusalem to collect the half-shekel tax for the Temple, the tax itself being called "apostolé." See Theod. Reinach, "Textes Grecs et Romains, etc.," 1895, p. 208; and also Grätz, "Gesch. der Juden," iv. 476, note 21, where Eusebius is quoted as saying: "It is even yet a custom among the Jews to call those who carry about circular letters from their rulers by the name of apostles"

https://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles ... postleship

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DCHindley
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Re: What do we know about the revenue / expenditures of early churches?

Post by DCHindley »

allegoria wrote: Tue Apr 02, 2024 4:54 am What were their primary means of revenue (donations from individual rich donors versus average “member” collections)? What percentage of the revenue went where? This I am really interested in: what percent went to expensive incense and oil, what percent to feasts, what percent to aiding the poor, what percent to architectural development, etc?
You might want to look at estimates of the activities of the Church of Rome around the late 3rd and early 4th centuries.

There was a gentleman, Mike Conley, who posted a paper that estimated the revenues and expenditures based on accounts of relaying the number of various church functionaries (probably from Eusebius).

He sent me a copy once, mainly because he was a graduate of Ohio State University, as was I. He was for many years an anti espionage consultant, during the Vietnam era at least.

I lost my copy to a HDD crash several years ago and I do not have the heart to brave the frustration of recovering the files locked on an unbootable drive.

I think Peter K. may have a copy, though.

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DCHindley
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Re: What do we know about the revenue / expenditures of early churches?

Post by DCHindley »

I rooted around for Conley's article.

I found it below, although it no longer seems to be posted online. It may once have been online at RadicalKritik (I have shurely spellded it wrong).

IIRC, and this was 24 years ago, Conley drew upon his experiences researching a pamphlet for the Dept of the Army in the midst of the Vietnam conflict, where he obtained and analyzed statistics about things like how many medical staff and food and medical care programs the N. Vietnamese army and the S. Vietnamese Viet Cong had dedicated to winning the hearts of the S Vietnamese people. It was not all brutal as depicted in Hollywood movies like Green Berets. They had many dedicated humanitarians on their side.

Conley felt that there was a parallel to be drawn in the social programs that the Roman Christian church(es) exercised, under adverse conditions and direct attacks or police actions, that did in fact, over time, win over the common folk.

See Michael Conley, "St. Ignatius: The Insidious Pragmatism of the Episkopoi of Rome and the Rise of Christianity"
Journal of Higher Criticism 7/2 (Fall, 2000), 242-285.

He picked on Ignatius because he advocated for a strong central authority in each town, a bishop, assisted by presbyters & deacons. I'm not sure where he got his numbers from to provide descriptions of how the Church of Rome had operated hospitals, food distribution programs, etc., probably Eusebius.

On what basis did he draw these conclusions?

See Michael Charles Conley, The Communist insurgent infrastructure in South Vietnam: a study of organization and strategy, Washington DC: Headquarters, Department of the Army, 1967. Department of the Army pamphlet no. 550-106.

Maybe someone has archived a copy of the former JHC article?

DCH
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Peter Kirby
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Re: What do we know about the revenue / expenditures of early churches?

Post by Peter Kirby »

DCHindley wrote: Wed Apr 03, 2024 11:21 am I think Peter K. may have a copy, though.
I was able to find his old website archived.

"St. Ignatius, the Insidious Pragmatism of the Episkopoi of Rome and the Rise of Christianity"
https://web.archive.org/web/20050203235 ... tius1.html

"Ignatius, John and Paul: A Trio of Second Century, Hellenistic, Church Fathers"
https://web.archive.org/web/20060908223 ... _trio.html

"The Scholar's Dilemma: Researching the Dynamics of Second Century Christianity"
https://web.archive.org/web/20050416184 ... anity.html

"Marcion's Place in Early Christianity: A Political Power Play"
https://web.archive.org/web/20050310053 ... rplay.html
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DCHindley
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Re: What do we know about the revenue / expenditures of early churches?

Post by DCHindley »

Peter Kirby wrote: Wed Apr 03, 2024 7:27 pm
DCHindley wrote: Wed Apr 03, 2024 11:21 am I think Peter K. may have a copy, though.
I was able to find his old website archived.

"St. Ignatius, the Insidious Pragmatism of the Episkopoi of Rome and the Rise of Christianity"
https://web.archive.org/web/20050203235 ... tius1.html

"Ignatius, John and Paul: A Trio of Second Century, Hellenistic, Church Fathers"
https://web.archive.org/web/20060908223 ... _trio.html

"The Scholar's Dilemma: Researching the Dynamics of Second Century Christianity"
https://web.archive.org/web/20050416184 ... anity.html

"Marcion's Place in Early Christianity: A Political Power Play"
https://web.archive.org/web/20050310053 ... rplay.html
Ahh, the pre-Unicode days.

Those essays seem to still have some relevance, yes?

Michael was (is?) a unique kind of guy. He had given me a draft copy of the Ignatius essay (before publishing it in JHC in 2000), and at the time, I was not sure what to make of him. He was from the "Cosmic Christ" movement of Europe, so had a - unique - POV. I felt he was equating 2nd-3rd century CE Christianity with communist insurgents in S. Vietnam, Hamas (pre-Gaza), etc. That seemed over the top at the time, but then, look at recent events in Gaza.

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DCHindley
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Re: What do we know about the revenue / expenditures of early churches?

Post by DCHindley »

Hello again allegoria,

I found the reference in Conley's Ignatius article, but due to scanning errors and Conley's unusual citation style I had to reformat it a bit.

He references Cornelius, Bishop of Rome who, in a letter to Bishop Fabius of Antiochia, dated to 251 C.E., detailed the size of his command:

“This [self-styled] avenger of the Gospel [Novatian] then did not know that there should be [only] one bishop in a Catholic church in which – how could he not know? – there are
• forty-six presbyters [πρεσβυτέρους];
• seven deacons [διακόνους];
• seven subdeacons [ὑποδιακόνους];
• forty-two acolytes [ἀκολούθους];
• exorcists [ἐξορκιστὰς], lectors [ἀναγνώστας] and doorkeepers [πυλωροῖς] altogether fifty-two;
• widows [χήρας] together with the needy [θλιβομένοις, entrusted to them] more than fifteen hundred,
all of whom the grace and generosity of the Lord nourishes.”
[I've replaced Conley's summary with the Eng Translation of Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book VI,43,11 in NPNF Series 2 vol 1]*

That's a fairly extensive network by 250 CE, but most modern scholars believe that the earliest organization was of "house churches," where a householder hosted, or directed, their expression of worship: Weekly Agape meals, sometimes in tombs, and discussion of theology and the best means to worship god.

They used one or more Greek translations of Judean scriptures, mostly Pentateuch, Psalms, and works of the Prophets, and many of the earliest "Christians" of the kind idealized by the NT scriptures, were gentiles or of gentile origin.

This suggests that the earliest Christians (as distinct from Jesus' original Judean centered movement) had attracted a significant number of gentiles for whom Jesus teaching seemed appealing. These gentiles may have attended readings at Judean synagogues, as Judeans were happy to share their history and beliefs with interested pagans, and welcomed them as brothers if they wanted to join as converts. A lot of gentiles may have not been in a position to convert to Judaism via circumcision & law. Some had masters (were slaves) or had patrons upon whom they depended, who might disapprove of the circumcision decision, as the Romans considered this a form of mutilation and distanced themselves from it. Romans were not as sadistic as many portray.

So, we have gentile individuals in towns who stood out at the synagogue readings, asking probing questions of the teachers present, and really delighting in the exchange. These might then host "bible studies" and be considered an "elder" (presbyter) by the others attracted to his discussions or agape meals. That is supposed to be how the original "elders" came about.

Later, as communities outgrew individual households and local Judean synagogue readings, they organized by electing someone to be the President, CEO/COO, the head of the government of the faithful in each town. These were designated "Overseers" (yes, as in a work crew foreman) or episkopos (bishop). Scholars are divided on when these bishops first appeared, many suggesting that the letters of Paul that do mention them are the Pastorals, which many moderns have abandoned as inauthentic. I will mention that some of the sectarian DSS do mention an official by a Hebrew term that is equivalent to "overseer," and since these predate the time of Jesus by almost 100 years, I am inclined to think that it was a common form of Judean private association, one that early gentile Christians had adopted too.

There is a belief that earliest Christians were of the lower classes, slaves or day laborers and such. Yet, based on Acts, it is often believed that as the base of believers grew, they were selling possesions (even a slave could own a house in a town or have lease rights to farm property that could be sold) sharing their personal possessions in common, which by extension also included their dependents. Community of property was also a feature of some of the organizational DSS.

So, the episkopos (bishop) would begin to hire deacons to assist them in maintaining contacts with the dependents and organizing their agape meals for the poor, and distribution of sacraments and pastoral and daily living living services to the initiated members. I doubt that anyone has put this to numbers, but I am open to correction. There was no modern style "economy" in the Roman era, so the estimates will have to center around an unknown number of initiated members, an unknown number of learners, a bishop, seven deacons, each deacon having a subdeacon and six acolytes, then there is the "over 1500" dependents (widows and the destitute, perhaps this latter are those dependent on their agape meals for at least one good meal a week).

So there was indeed a social outreach aspect of their church business, perhaps from the beginning. We have also six presbyters for every deacon, plus 4 to spare, but were not paid by the church for their efforts, which was apparently advisory, and may have involved teaching of doctrines. So, actually, the teaching of doctrines may have never been under the bishop's direct control. The bishop did act as a check to his presbyters, but a little of that was probably also going the other way too.

I have audited scores of protestant churches with very similar organization: board of trustees/governors, elected officer(s) of whom some might be paid, "ministers" who are paid in salary and allowances, and other professionals like choir directors and organists, most of whom are paid something for their time and efforts, and the maintenance/kitchen workers who are usually paid.

The description above, dated to 251 CE, shows to what extent the church of Rome had expanded, and it only took about 200 years.

DCH
allegoria wrote: Tue Apr 02, 2024 4:54 am What were their primary means of revenue (donations from individual rich donors versus average “member” collections)? What percentage of the revenue went where? This I am really interested in: what percent went to expensive incense and oil, what percent to feasts, what percent to aiding the poor, what percent to architectural development, etc?
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