Prosperity theology, or the "health and wealth gospel," is a recent movement that teaches that God promises material blessings, in this life, to those who have faith in him and who do his will. Wikipedia traces its origin to the 19th century, but while researching the subject, I found Augustine apparently addressing something similar in a sermon on shepherding:
But what sort of shepherds are they who for fear of giving offence not only fail to prepare the sheep for the temptations that threaten, but even promise them worldly happiness? God himself made no such promise to this world. [...]
For the Apostle says: All who desire to live a holy life in Christ will suffer persecution. [...] You say instead: “If you live a holy life in Christ, all good things will be yours in abundance." (LotH, 1010)
This looks like indirect evidence that even around the year 400, Augustine was dealing with teachings similar to those of today's prosperity theology. Thus I'd like to know:
- Is there any surviving direct evidence of these sorts of teachings in the early church?
- I.e., surviving writings that actually teach this, as opposed to secondhand accounts
- How much indirect evidence is there?
- Can we tell how popular these teachings were, and when they gained traction?
I am interested in material after the apostolic age, up to the end of Augustine's life (AD 430). I know it's somewhat anachronistic to apply the term "prosperity theology" to writings 1500 years older than the movement by that name, but to help clarify what I'm looking for, here's an example, followed by two counter-examples:
- God promises1 material2 blessings, in this life,3 to those who have faith in him and live holy lives
- This is an example of what I'm looking for; note the three marked elements
- God promises blessings to those who have faith in him
- Not an example; blessings may be spiritual or material and may not be in this life
- God [generally] blesses those who live holy lives
- Not an example; this is a proverb, not a promise