Mammon is a curious word that seems to have roots in several languages and cultures – Greek, Syrian and Aramaic. Its basic meaning is “wealth” or “profit”. Jesus uses it in a handful of places in the Gospels and always in a context which places it in opposition to God. Most famously perhaps in the phrase, “No one can serve two masters. … You cannot serve both God and Mammon.” (St Matthew 6:24) a phrase which appears again in a slightly different context, in St Luke 16:13.
In Medieval times, Mammon acquired a degree of personification – Mammon was seen as a kind of anti-Christ or demon, actively playing merry hell with people’s lives. This does not seem to have been the view in the ancient world but clearly reflects the power that wealth can, and does, exert on human beings, both in terms of those who possess wealth and those who desire it.
Which brings us to the root of the matter, Mammon is potentially dangerous and harmful not because wealth is in itself an evil thing but because it is tied up with power. It’s quite important to be clear about that because it’s easy to swap Mammon (wealth) only to replace it with another Mammon in a different form. The Archbishop’s book, “Dethroning Mammon – Making Money Serve Grace”, does not shrink from exploring precisely what form that alternative mammon may look like and he comes up with some surprising, even shocking, suggestions.