The Fathers of the Church
on Private Property, Wealth, and the Universal Destination of All Created Goods

St. Basil the Great (c. 330-379):  "Who is the covetous man?  One for whom plenty is not enough.  Who is the defrauder?  One who takes away what belongs to everyone.  And are not you covetous, are not you a defrauder, when you keep for private use what you were given for distribution?  When some one strips a man of his clothes we call him a thief.  And one who might clothe the naked and does not--should not he be given the same name?  The bread in your hoard belongs to the hungry; the cloak in your wardrobe belongs to the naked; the shoes you let rot belong to the barefoot; the money in your vaults belongs to the destitute.  All you might help and do not--to all these you are doing wrong....  Though you have not killed, like you say, nor committed adultery, nor stolen, nor borne false witness, you make all of this useless unless you add the only thing which can allow you to enter the kingdom....  If it is true that you have kept the law of charity from your childhood, as you claim, and that you have done as much for others as for yourself, then where does all your wealth come from?  Care for the poor absorbs all available resources....  So whoever loves his neighbor as himself owns no more than his neighbor does.  But you have a great fortune.  How can this be, unless you have put your own interests before those of others?....  I know many people who fast, pray, groan, and do any kind of pious work that doesnít affect their pockets, but at the same time they give nothing to the needy.  What good are their merits?  The Kingdom of Heaven is closed to them.  Every time I go into the home of one of these foolish rich people, resplendent with ornaments, I notice that for its owner there is nothing more precious than visible goods, which deck him out according to his pleasure, but that he despises his soul.  I wonder then what great benefit this silver furniture and ivory chairs can be producing while all these hoarded riches are not passed to the poor, who in their multitudes cry in misery at the gates of rich menís houses."

St. John Chrysostom (c. 349-407):  "Do not say, 'I am using what belongs to me.'  You are using what belongs to others.  All the wealth of the world belongs to you and to the others in common, as the sun, air, earth, and all the rest."

St. Ambrose (c. 340-397):  "You are not making a gift of your possessions to the poor person. You are handing over to him what is his....  God has ordered all things to be produced so that there should be food in common for all, and that the earth should be a common possession of all.  Nature, therefore, has produced a common right for all, but greed has made it a right for a few."

St. Augustine (354-430):  "I do not say, 'You are damned if you have possessions.'  I say, 'You are damned if you presume on them, if you are puffed up by them, if you consider yourselves important become of them, if because of them you disregard the poor, if you forget your common human status because you have so much more of vanities.'  ...  All people do whatever good or evil they do to free themselves from the causes of their misfortune and to acquire happiness, and they always seek to live happily, whether by good or evil.  However, not all of them attain what they seek.  Everyone wants to be happy, but only those who act justly will be happy.  I donít understand how those who do evil can hope to be happy.  How?  By owning money, silver and gold, land, houses and slaves, by the pomp of this world and worldly honor, which is fickle and transitory?  They seek to find happiness by owning things.  But what must you own to be happy?  When you become happy, you say, you will become better than you are now, wretched as you are.  But it is not possible for what is worse than you to make you better; you are a person, and everything you long for to make you happy is inferior to you.  Gold and silver and any material thing you long to obtain, possess and enjoy are inferior to you.  You are better and are worth more, and as you wish to be happy, you want to be better than you are because you are unhappy.  True, it is better to be happy than wretched.  But to be better than you are, you seek what is worse than you.  Everything on earth is worse than you....  So take my loyal advice:  we all know you want to be better and we want it too; seek what is better than you, which is the only thing that can make you better."

Pope St. Gregory the Great (c. 540-604):  "Those who neither make after others' goods nor bestow their own are to be admonished to take it well to heart that the earth they come from is common to all and brings forth nurture for all alike.  Idly then do men hold themselves innocent when they monopolize for themselves the common gift of God.  In not giving what they have received they work their neighborsí death; every day they destroy all the starving poor whose means to relief they store at home.  When we furnish the destitute with any necessity we render them what is theirs, not bestow on them what is ours; we pay the debt of justice rather than perform the works of mercy."