Winter 1990

To the Editor: On the Distribution of Property

Stratford Caldecott

According to Balthasar's summary (Communio, Spring 1990) of "the uniformly common teaching of the Christian theology of private ownership up to and even beyond Thomas Aquinas," there was "no such thing as private ownership" in Paradise before the Fall. The right to own property derives not from the natural law, but from the law of nations created after the Fall to regular social relations between men who had become avaricious and ambitious for power. At first sight, this seems to conflict with the uniformly common teaching of recent popes that (in the words of Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum) "Too own goods privately . . . is a right natural to man," and that one may find "in the law of nature itself the basis of the distribution of goods." But there is no real conflict here. "The fact that God gave the whole human race the earth to use and enjoy cannot . . . serve as an objection against private possessions. For God is said to have given the earth to mankind in common, not because he intended indiscriminate ownership of it by all, but because he assigned no part to anyone in ownership, leaving the limits of private possessions to be fixed by the industry of men and the institutions of peoples" (ibid.).


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