RCIA CLASS 24 - THE SEVENTH AND TENTH COMMANDMENTS
I. Private property is important on at least four levels.
A. First, as a practical
matter, private property is needed for a functioning economy because:
(1) people will work more if they have an incentive; (2) people tend
to take care of things more if they have an ownership interest; and
(3) people tend to fight over things less when ownership is clear.
See Pope John Paul II, Centissimus
Annus (1991) 42; St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa
Theologica, part II-II, question 66, article 2.
B. Second, private
property is needed in order to preserve a sphere of independence for
the individual, the family, and religious institutions. See Vatican
II Council, Gaudium et Spes
(1965) 71; Centissimus Annus
11-13; Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum
C. Third, private property allows people to be more creative and charitable. See Centissimus Annus 29.
D. Finally, it is
only just that when a person contributes more to the increase of the
wealth in society, he should share in that increase. See Rerum
II. Because of this importance of property, the Church both supports the right of property and also maintains that there is a duty in justice to provide all peoples with this property.
A. Thus, the seventh commandment forbids theft in any form, whether of money, property, ideas (e.g. plagiarism), grades or credit (e.g., cheating), or the like. Furthermore, the government has an obligation to respect private property and cannot in justice unduly prevent the ownership of property or the right of free initiative.
- The unjust taking
of more than one days wages is generally considered to be a grave offense
and thus a mortal sin if done with knowledge and freedom
B. However, there is also a social aspect of property. All of creation belongs first to God, and we are stewards of it. See, e.g., Matt. 25:14-30; Luke 12:16-21. In the end, we owe an accounting for all of our lives, including the use of our wealth, to God.
- In particular, the
Church has maintained over and again that the ownership of wealth involves
a social obligation. See, e.g., Centissimus
Annus 30; Gaudium et Spes
69. There is an obligation in justice to ask what the best use
of one's wealth is.
C. Precisely because it is important for independence, initiative and charity to have private property, it is important to make that property available to all people, including those who are unable to earn it themselves. See, e.g., Rerum Novarum 45–47; Centissimus Annus 15, 42.
- Thus, there is an
obligation in justice for people to provide for the poor from their
own surplus wealth, especially members of their own family. See,
e.g., James 2:14-17; 1 Tim. 5:8.
D. The desire for wealth
can be a good thing, if it leads people to a desire to serve God, family
and neighbor better. The problem comes when it is excessive or
turns into selfishness. As Pope Benedict XVI said, "Profit is
useful if it serves as a means towards an end that provides a sense
both of how to produce it and how to make good use of it. Once profit
becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and
without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth
and creating poverty." Caritas in
Veritate 21 (2009).
III. Wealth should be seen as an opportunity to work creatively and show initiative and charity.
A. The Old Testament does indicate that prosperity is one of the benefits of fidelity. However, the prosperity that the Old Testament speaks of is the ability to prosper in one's labor, not the ability to live easily and luxuriously. See, e.g., Duet. 28:1-14; Ps. 128; Is. 65:21-25; Micah 4:3-4.
- In fact, there are
warnings against the dangers of wealth, particularly because it can
lead to arrogance. See, e.g., Duet. 8:6-20, 17:17; Ps. 49:14-15.
- The Old Testament
had a strong notion of the care for the poor, by guaranteeing land,
forgiving debt and taking care of the widows and orphans. See,
e.g., Ex. 22:24-30; Duet. 15:1-11, 24:19-22.
B. Even in the new dispensation of Jesus, a reasonable desire for wealth is not wrong.
- In the early church,
it was common to hold all things in community. See Acts 2:44,
4:32-37. However, this rule was not required for everyone, but
rather was generally helpful for the community to be a better witness.
See Acts 5:4. And later, there were people with different levels
of wealth, who are called to use it well, but still presumably maintain
it. See, e.g., 1 Cor. 16:1-4; Phil. 4:15-18.
- There was a call
to pay wages for work, and that all who could should work. See,
e.g., 2 Thess. 3:10-12; James 5:4; see also Matt. 17:24-27.
C. All are called to a "spirit of poverty," see Matt. 5:3, Luke 6:20, but that calling is lived out in different ways. See Fr. Thomas Dubay, Blessed are You Poor (1981).
1. Married couples
are called to ask what level of property and spending will help them
carry out their roles, as a couple and parents, in society and the workplace,
and in all ways as witnesses to Christ. One should always ask
the question of whether the extra promotion, job, income, or acquisition
will help one be a better person or carry out one's role in life.
2. Single people
in the world likewise are called to use property, but always to a certain
generosity and courage, being open to God's calling. See Mark
10:17-31 (the account of the rich young man and Jesus.) Consecrated
single people can be especially open to the inspiration of the Spirit.
1 Cor. 7:32-35.
3. Diocesan priests
have private property, but are called to a life of noble simplicity,
avoiding unnecessary expenses and savings.
4. Religious brothers and sisters, and religious priests, take a vow of poverty, which means they own little if any private property. As with the early Christians, they own all things in common.
- As a practical
matter, this vow is lived out with varying degrees of self-denial, from
some who live a life like diocesan priests, but without private savings
or property strictly their own, to some who live with no luxuries and
many things (e.g., air conditioning) we would call necessities.
5. All people
are called to self-discipline, courage and generosity and to avoid letting
wealth become a trap or a source or pride or contentment. See,
e.g., Luke 6:24-26, 16:19-31; Rev. 3:15-19.
IV. Specific moral issues should be seen in the light of this call to use all wealth for the glory of God, and to be independent of it.
A. Positively, there is a call are to justice (on the natural level) and charity (on the supernatural level.) In particular, there is a call in justice to care for one's family and for the poor, and well as to pay fair wages, prices, taxes, etc. There is also a call to go beyond that and creatively ask what one should do, recognizing that each person we meet is created in the image and likeness of God. The obligations in justice are usually clearer and more specific; the obligations of charity require more discernment and call for creative goodness.
- There is also a call
for: (1) prudence in deciding how much to seek wealth and what to do
with it; (2) temperance in having a moderated desire for the things
of this world; and (3) courage in trusting in God and being willing
to take some risks. These virtues are brought to a higher level
with the gifts of the Holy Spirit that are counsel, knowledge, and fortitude.
- Contrary to these vices are: (1) consumerism, i.e. an intemperate desire for worldly goods that is in some places called a form of gluttony; (2) avarice, i.e. an excessive desire for the security and/or power that comes, or seems to come, from money; and (3) imprudence in the use of worldly things, either by being too acquisitive or too wasteful.
B. Gambling, usury and principles of just wages and prices are some specific issues that call for discernment.
1. Gambling is
not wrong as a moderate form of entertainment. However, excessive
spending on gambling is wrong, and can be a mortal sin if it unjustly
deprives oneself or one's family of needed things. It is even
worse to tempt another person to excessive gambling. Winning at
gambling also should not be a source or arrogance, nor losing a source
2. Interest can be legitimate as the lawful sharing in the increase in wealth that comes from combining capital, labor, technology and enterprise. However, the Old Testament principles against usury, i.e. excessive interest, or making another person overly burdened by interest still apply. In addition, a desire for able-bodied people to avoid work and live easily off of unearned income is very flawed.
3. Wages should
be based, not only upon the market price, but also upon that amount
which is necessary to support oneself and a family decently. Prices
generally can be determined by the market, but people should not take
advantage of deception or emergencies to run up or down the price of
goods, especially necessities.
4. The market,
like most human inventions, is in itself a good thing. The problem
comes when it is not governed by moral values, but rather dictates them.
As Pope Benedict wrote, "The Church has always held that economic
action is not to be regarded as something opposed to society. In and
of itself, the market is not, and must not become, the place where the
strong subdue the weak. Society does not have to protect itself from
the market, as if the development of the latter were ipso facto
to entail the death of authentically human relations. . . . [However,]
economy and finance, as instruments, can be used badly when those at
the helm are motivated by purely selfish ends. Instruments that are
good in themselves can thereby be transformed into harmful ones. But
it is man's darkened reason that produces these consequences, not the
instrument per se. Therefore it is not the instrument that must
be called to account, but individuals, their moral conscience and their
personal and social responsibility. The Church's social doctrine
holds that authentically human social relationships of friendship, solidarity
and reciprocity can also be conducted within economic activity, and
not only outside it or 'after' it." Caritas in
C. Overall, the economy and use of property should be focused on the centrality of the realization of each person's ability to respond to God's calling. As Pope John Paul II put it, there should be "a subjectivity of society, according to which man's social nature is realized in the context of numerous social groups beginning with the family and including economic, social, political and cultural groups which stem from human nature itself." Centissimus Annus 13.