St. Basil the Great: Not Ready for Talk Radio

They say: whom do I wrong by keeping my property? What, tell me, is your property? Where did you find it and brought it to your life? Just like someone in the theatre, who had a seat and then stopped those who entered, judging that what lies common in front of everyone to use, was his own: rich men are of the same kind. They first took possession of the common property, and then they keep it as their own because they were the first to take it. If one had taken what is necessary to cover one’s needs and had left the rest to those who are in need, no one would be rich, no one would be poor, no one would be in need.

Isn’t it true, that you fell off the womb naked? Isn’t it true, that naked you shall return to the earth? Where is your present property from? If you think that it came to you by itself, you don’t believe in God, you don’t acknowledge the creator and you are not thankful to Him who gave it to you. But if you agree and confess that you have it from God, tell us the reason why He gave it to you.

Is God unjust, dividing unequally the goods of our life? Why are you rich, hile the other is poor? Isn’t it, if not for any other reason, in order for you to gain a reward for your kindness and faithful providence, and for him to be honored with the great awards of patience? But you, having gathered everything inside the bosom of avarice which is always empty, do you think that you wrong no one, while you strip so many people?

Who is the greedy person? It’s him, who doesn’t content himself with what he has. And who strips? He who steals what belongs to the others. And you think that you are not greedy, and that you do not strip the others? What was granted to you, in order for you to take care of the others, you took it and you made it your own. What do you think?

He who strips the clothed is to be called a thief. How should we name him, who is able to dress the naked and doesn’t do it, does he deserve some other name? The bread that you possess belongs to the hungry. The clothes that you store in boxes, belong to the naked. The shoes rotting by you, belong to the bare-foot. The money that you hide belongs to anyone in need. You wrong as many people as you could help.

From Homily On Avarice 7.

  • James

    Of course Catholic teaching has developed since then and has recognized a limited right to private property.

    The question becomes, how much is one required to give to another? How much should the govt. redistribute through taxes? This particularly in our current first world countries where the greatest poverty, per Bl. John Paul II, is not material poverty but spiritual poverty.

    I suspect if St Basil the Great were here today, he, like Bl. John Paul, wouldn’t be concerned about material, but rather spiritual poverty.

    • Spastic Hedgehog

      I don’t know if it’s fair to say that Bd. Pope John Paul II wasn’t concerned about material poverty.

      “Love is the only driving force that impels us to share with our brothers and sisters all that we are and have.”- John Paul II, On Love in Chicago in 1979

      “People living in poverty do not belong on the sidelines. They must be at the center of our concerns.” John Paul II, Sollictitudo Rei Socialis

      See also Sollictitudo Rei Socialis, Laborem Exercens and Centisimus Annus at large.

      • James

        My comment if read closely, discusses poverty in the first world (developed) countries. Bl. John Paul’s comment is indeed in Centesimus Annus if not another of his social encyclicals (can’t find the exact quote yet.) As his acute intellect correctly diagnosed, the poverty of developed countries is spiritual.

        • Mark Shea

          …and expresses itself in, among other things, a huge and growing disparity between the wealthy and the poor and a contempt for those in need.

          • James

            Which goes back to my first comment about prudential judgment and what qualifies for legitimate taxation etc.

            Then, per Caritas in Veritate, charity must be made in the truth. There is a legitimate question about how much income inequality is harmful.

            http://blog.heritage.org/2011/03/11/why-does-income-inequality-matter/

          • James

            There is also the implication that the rich necessarily hold the poor in contempt. Some do, some don’t. Each person will be judged by God

            Just as class warfare is denounced in Rerum Novarum. Some talking about income redistribution are engaged in class warfare, some are not. Some are seeking more than they have needlessly, others out of legitimate need. They will also be judged accordingly by God.

          • enness

            A situation which is only encouraged by misguided attempts at “justice” by threat, am I right?

    • Mark Shea

      Catholic teaching has always recognized a limited right to private property. It’s fascinating how quick Americans are to spiritualize all the New Testament teaching about poverty in order to get things away from the delicate subject of money.

      • James

        There is no reference to Scripture in my comment. It is to the, correct in my opinion, assessent of John Paul II regarding the true poverty of the first world. That is spiritual poverty – a lack of grace, faith and virtue – as opposed to the spiritual poverty of the Beatitudes which involves a detachment from goods. Something rich and poor can struggle with.

      • James

        I make no reference to Scripture. My comment is referring to John Paul II’s accurate diagnosis of the true poverty of developed countries. That is, spiritual poverty. This is a poverty of grace, faith and virtue as opposed to the spirit of poverty of the Beatitudes. This latter is properly understood not as not having goods but being detached from them. Something rich and poor struggle with.

      • Marthe Lépine

        You just said, better than me, what I have been thinking. It is interesting how often people run to hide between expressions such as ” prudential judgement”, “spiritual poverty” and “subsidiarity”…

      • Marthe Lépine

        My last comment was directed to Mark, by the way. I find it difficult to limit the idea of poverty to “spiritual poverty” when so many people are unemployed or just about to lose their jobs, just about to lose their homes, without sufficient or even any insurance to provide for their health, to name just a few of some current problems in the developed countries…

  • Joseph

    Mark,

    You’re going to get some interesting comments on this post, including the very first one that came in. I’m not rich, but I’m definitely not poor, and I’ll be perfectly honest with you: I know I don’t share what I have as much as I probably should.

    I can understand the kickback you’ll likely receive and I can understand the arguments for it. But, if I want to be intellectually honest, it is because I have become greedy. St. Basil is correct.

  • Dan C

    The use of the term “class warfare” has been so overused by the right wing as to have bleached the term of any meaning. It’s like “heterodox vs. orthodox” terminology used by the right wing in 2004. It became heterodox to fail to support the Iraq War and Bush Tax cuts. Now restoring the US to taxation rates everyone in these comboxes paid in 1995 is “class warfare”-all which are fractions of the rates of Germany (Benedict’s homeland) and current Italian taxation rates. Such terminology “dogmatizes” rationale discussions of tax rates- like the libertarian heresy uses the term “envy” and violations of the Ten Commandments for the same discussion.

    Such terms result in eye-rolling for so many folks.

    • James

      But the term class warfare, or at least class struggle, is in CST whether one likes it or not. The question is, is that what is being done now.

  • Dan C

    I think a discussion of “spiritual poverty” as noted by the important spiritual writers over the millenia are so “all overthe place” as to lack an understanding of what it means. Any discussion that does not re-focus a discussion of “spiritual poverty” back to the relevant Lucan analogue of “Blessed are the poor” probably is not truly focusing on “spiritual poverty”.

  • Dan C

    Yes this term, class warfare, is in several encyclicals. These encyclicals were largely written at a time of communist overthrow and governmental redistribution. Current propaganda has Obama as such.

    There is no question among the rationale- class warfare is not being discussed now. Those of us who know what the world looked like with Soviet-backed socialist states vs. The oligarchies of wealth and depredation backed by the US know what class war looked like. Like a Sandanista AND like a Ferdinand Marcos (who waged class war on the poor).

  • Dan C

    Mother Theresa eagerly sent her missionaries into American ghettoes. He Heritage Foundation, after losing battles against recycling aluminum in the 1980′s, has chosen to re-work the discussion with propaganda that there are no American poor.

    I suggest any time in an after-school program, inner-city food bank, or soup kitchen would dissipate such a fantasy. It is dishonest to continue to broker such propaganda.

    • Mark Shea

      Agreed. Heck, the prayer requests I’m constantly posting from readers in desperate situation should be some clue that all is not as happy and carefree as those who want to spiritualize all poverty would suggest.

    • James

      I’m sorry. I missed where I said there was no material poverty. Also, please refute the points I linked.

      I have actually worked with the poor most of my life. Currently, 90% of my clients are below the American poverty level. Almost none are hungry, they have TV’s, cars, I-Phones etc.

      Western poverty for the most part is different. Thus why I emphasize the need to address the spiritual poverty – something Mother Teresa noted as the most pressing problem in the West.

    • James

      This from someone who is not into “propaganda.”

      “She went on. Here in the West, she said, it is different. Here most poor people have enough, even though they don’t understand how little “enough” is. But they are unhappy, she said (and she knelt to look through the rear window at the tired faces of the mothers gathered outside the van, as the other Sister led them in Santa Marias before distributing their food). They are unhappy, because they have no God. That is the real poverty. The farther North you go in America, she added, the more wealth you see, and the less joy you find. Those people, she said, looking seriously at us, the depressed, and the sad people “with no God and a great big house”, are the poorest of the poor. That’s what Mother Teresa meant. It is hard, she added with a sigh, to find Christ in them. Sometimes we must put Him there.”

      Full link here:

      http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/archive/ldn/1960/63/6063001

  • Hezekiah Garrett

    That’s kinda everyone else’s point, James!

    Spiritually dead folks building mansions from the bones of the poor, not just here, but the world’s poor.

    I agree it’d be perfect if their hearts turned en masse and they gave all they had to the poor. I’m just not about to make the perfect the enemy of the good.

  • Hezekiah Garrett

    I am curious if James proposes the same remedies for abortion that he seems to endorse for exploiting labor? They both, after all are sins which cry out to heaven for vengeance. If not, why not?

    • James

      I am against both. I believe there are more laws in America protecting laborers than there are protecting the unborn. So in that sense I would first work on laws protecting the unborn.

      Thanks for changing the subject.

  • Dan C

    Let’s look at the phrase “spiritual poverty.”. It’s provenance is likely strongest from Matthew’s beatitudes. Matthew was writing for a wealthy Syrian community. Luke-his first audience knew material deprivation. For Luke, it is “Blessed are the poor.”. Done. No “poor in spirit.”. It is clear who are blessed. Not the “good poor”-because such a category has never existed-the poor side of town has always always been the “tough” part of town. So…I hold that the Lucan poor look a lot like everyone’s poor. Matthew, discusses “poor in spirit”. His audience knew what the poor was too-there was no romancing the rabble begging for food, the child beggars/pickpockets terrorizing markets.

    Blessed are the poor. And those like them is the final answer. That is a challenging question poorly thought out by theologians great and small through the years.

    The Heritage Foundation does not know that of which it speaks. Do children grow up and live in violent, deprived, households today? Yes. And how do these damaged, traumatized, beaten, raped (a tragically common problem for youn girls) act as adults?

    Children and families live harsh and dreadful lives of deprivation that is physically and materially insecure.

    It’s time to respect this.

  • SKay

    What is the teaching on “limited right” of private property?

    I was under the impression that the Church owns quite a bit of private property.
    Should the Church sell or give it all away?

  • Marthe Lépine

    There is a difference between owning property and hoarding a much larger part of a country’s wealth than the large majority of the population. “WE are the 99%” may be a slogan, but it states the problem in a very clear light. Figures and graphs offered by Mark and other show how income growth is distributed; the very few very rich have seen an enormous growth in their incomes while the rest have been stagnating while the cost of living has increased. To say that people who have tv’s and IPhones are not really poor is a cop out. Why should the poor be any more virtuous, be any more able to ignore intensive marketing and the hype around every new electronic gadget than the rest of us? If anything, they are more vulnerable because they have not had access to the same education and may not know how to make the difference. Instead of self-righteously condemning the poor for not being any more budget conscious as many of us, let us look at the real picture. The people around us whose jobs are disappearing, those who are losing their homes because they did not know how to recognize manipulative advertising that claimed that they “had a gold mine under their home” (I have actually seen that sort of ads) managed to convince them that it was a good idea to re-mortgage their homes, those who are going bankrupt because of illness in the family, those who need to rely on food banks to feed their families, they are not all poor because they have made “bad decisions”. It is all too easy to ignore their pleas and say that material poverty is not that prevalent in “first world” countries, that poverty is a spiritual problem. These are just excuses to justify our favourable opinion of the rich because they are supposed to have “earned” it while everyone else is just too lazy. Strangely enough, my thinking on such matters has been stimulated by a childhood memory, that of my mother expressing disgust because some children of a poor family from the neighbourhood had ice skates before she felt she could afford to purchase skates for me and my brother. I was not more than 14 years old then, but I did feel, somewhat acutely, that there was something wrong with that statement, and it stayed with me all those 55 years after…

    • SKay

      Marthe-
      I was truly asking for an explanation of the Church’s “limited right” of private property that Mark mentioned and also how that applied to the Church–since it also owns private property.
      In this country the Constitution gives us the right to own private property and we do pay property taxes–and mine have just gone up.
      I would never want the government to take away the right of the Church to own private property nor do I like the government threatening to take away it’s tax exemption because of the abortion issue(political speech).
      This came home to me when I called the parish office of our parish Cathedral in order to discuss a local issue dealing with abortion. They were very careful with how they worded anything dealing with local politicians and abortion. The ACLU seems to pick and choose what Church they want to have problems with.

  • Marthe Lépine

    Oh, and about the Church selling her property: I would find it even more scandalous that people would use their money to purchase this property, including church buildings that have been designed to give glory to God, the provider of all wealth, instead of using that money for worthy causes such as helping the poor…

  • Hezekiah Garrett

    The Church doesn’t actually treat much of Her property as private, now does it?

    But Mammon worshippers always trot it out.

  • Hezekiah Garrett

    No subject changing,James.

    And no, if you think a body of law in these united states exists to protect laborers from exploitation, then you obviously don’t understand what the Church means by exploitation.

    Because I assure you there are quite a few laws on those same books ‘protecting ‘the unborn. And they are every bit as effective, apparently.

    • James

      When I see the National Unborn Relations Board perhaps I might agree with you.

      • Marthe Lépine

        James, that comment can easily be interpreted as an expression of contempt that has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with charity. The only way for workers to protect themselves is through unions, and the Catholic teaching has time and again repeated that this was acceptable. The attitude behind a declaration such as the one you have made here is very much closer to being “envy” than the attitude of people who are beginning to say that it might not be right that a very small minority of the population has control of most of the wealth. Some unions have survived, and been successful, and for that very reason, their members are workers whose wages and working conditions are the subject of “envy” from those less fortunate, an envy that is being cultivated and manipulated by the “right” in order to destroy those unions. I do not think it is very Christian, when comparing the comparative “privileges” of unionized workers, to claim that these “privileges” should be taken away, instead of asking how it would be possible for other workers to gain the same advantages by working together to improve their lot. In your country, it seems that the scarecrow of “communism” or “socialism” is a very useful tool to prevent workers from working together to obtain better wages and working conditions; it is simply and clearly manipulation! In addition, there is no longer any “International Communism” and it is no longer a threat. Then, whether or not some persons like the ideas expressed by Marx and other thinkers of that ilk, instead of those expressed by Ayn Rand, should have nothing to do with whether or not it would be a good idea to work with some of those people in order to create labour organizations as one means among others to try to improve workers lot – and in that way to try to bring a measure of social justice to the working poor, for example.

        • James

          It is actually an expression of contempt for the ridiculous assertion that there is no protection of workers rights. That is actually a lie.

          Your response is a furtherance of that lie.

          • Marthe Lépine

            Facts, please? Since I happen to have union experience, I will need more convincing from you…

          • Marthe Lépine

            Well… actually, let me be more precise: If you do care to do some research instead of just accusing me of lying, it would not be enough to come up with actual examples, you would have to also demonstrate that most of the protections for workers that have actually been legislated had their roots in the spontaneous goodwill of legislators, instead of the work done over the years by workers’ organizations, including unions, to obtain such legislated protections… And from my own knowledge and experience, I find it very easy to say that you will have some trouble making such a demonstration!

            • James

              Glad you changed your answer. As you know, and for whatever reason, there are a vast array of protections for workers and unions (including in the US the National Labor Relations Board.)
              There are essentially no legal protections for the unborn. The statement by Hez. was the lie. The fact that you backed off your previous post supports that such a lie by Hez cannot be supported and only by changing the criteria (actual laws vs intent in writing those laws) can you come close to the original assertion.

              • Marthe Lépine

                I just cannot accept that reductionist American idea that there should be nothing done in any other area of social justice until abortion is eliminated. Why should we not have both protection of the unborn AND protection of workers? Those are not mutually exclusive, and if some people have the required talents to work in the area of worker protection, why should they wait until the abortion issue is no longer with us? The fact that there exist many protections for the workers and that workers have a right, according to Church teaching, to work together to obtain or improve those protections, including such things as a just wage and some kind of safety net, does not exclude that other people who are more gifted and/or interested in fighting abortion are allowed to do so as well. St. Paul said somewhere that different people can have different functions, such as teaching, preaching, prophesy, healing; in our times this can certainly be extended to pro-life work and pro-worker work.

              • Marthe Lépine

                Hé! Now you call Hezekiah AND me liars. And you are even too contemptuous to take the trouble to spell Hezekiah’s entire name! Thanks a lot. In my experience, when someone has to resort to name-calling in the face of other peoples’ argument, it is because these arguments have touched a sore point, and that when stumped and unable to reply logically with facts, name-calling might seem to be enough to express your superiority…

              • Marthe Lépine

                Going back to your reply: you did not bother to even try to answer my question, you just repeated that there is a vast array of protections, without telling me what brought those protections about, because those protections actually were gained by unions and other labour organizations, which is my point! If you disagree, bring me facts.

                • James

                  If you read my comment it was about the fact that there were laws and not how they came about. And those can be easily found.

  • Clare Krishan

    Thanks for sharing our patrimony so liberally ! Patrimony is intangible property, and such heirloom quality is quite valuable and rarely seen on display since the merits of salvation got all quantitatively-eased by the Reformation’s cheap grace policies!

    Property isn’t wealth, nor is money capital. But all are real and tangible in the present.

    Wealth is leisure to enjoy the natural endowments of the Creator, as befits ones’ station in life (Poles enjoys pierogies and a keilbasa, a Pakistani not so much, he’s more into puris and a kebab). Wealth is attained by retaining tangible goods, the produce of labor for consumption at a point in the future either by yourself or in exchange for some other desirable good held in a depot elsewhere.
    The property value of a field only becomes worth something (ie appreciates) when it can yield a tangible return (grain in the silo, oil in the jars, grapes in the winepress). Capital in the form of tools (a plow, a mule, seed, manure,* water supply**) must first be extended as investment to render the field valuable. Money is a medium of exchange that enables a property owner to divest his capital and invest in other means to attain prosperity, with certain risk attached to such venture capital (new seed may fail to thrive in the soil at that location since such crop varieties require a different sun exposure than your property enjoys (you’re on the wrong side of the hill for grapevines) . Money cannot return anything unless it is exchanged for capital to be invested in a venture that is subject to risk. But money is valuable, because it can be held until the purchasing power equivalent is needed.

    * a form of wealth retained from the mule in past seasons
    ** dug channel to nearest watercourse (may be leased to others as a return on your investment in excavation labor, a source of money)

    AND so to the response to a prior comment from James:

    “How much should the govt. redistribute through taxes?’

    One can only speak of redistributing something that is real and tangible in the present moment, such as property, wealth, capital or money (see above). A govt’ is free to negotiate with its citizens the terms of its fiscal housekeeping, and even levy taxes without representation (I’m British, have no vote but pay taxes here — and paid taxes to my German host country when employed by an American firm based there).

    Here comes the rub.

    I trust that the real value of what is due to me under the social contract we call redistribution is more likely to be there in the future in the German state than in the United States or United Kingdom. Here in the US the income from current taxes no longer covers the outlays to past clients of the redistribution contract. So we borrow money to pay the difference. Money we don’t have now, that is not real or saved or actual wealth in our possession as tangible property.
    This now cease to be called “redistribution” but becomes a confidence trick, a form of piracy if you will conducted by the current govt. on behalf of current constituents. Whose capital are they plundering? Property owners who expect a return on the money they have invested now, for when they will need that purchasing power later… Private pension fund participants like you and me … Or public ‘sovereign’ wealth funds of other jurisdictions where regulating redistribution isn’t as easy because the risks of depreciation are higher. But when we can’t pay their bonds back (Greece’s bondholders are facing a 50% haircut) that means the value of the property of our creditors declines and their ability to enjoy the future leisure of the wealth it represents is harmed, a social imbalance will arise, we will be called to make amends. The Germans took almost 80 years to make reparations on their WWI war debts from the Peace Treaty at Versailles – we’re in this for the long haul folks … God forbid it takes an armed conflict to settle the accounts, for wars deplete wealth, they are a net loss to social capital as well as destroying real capital (fields in strife-torn locations often yield a deadly harvest of land mines for generations after cessation of hostilities)

    • Dan C

      Have you read Benedict’s Love in Truth or Paul the VI’s encyclical Popularum Progressivo?

  • enness

    I get a sense of accusation from the passage, the implication that I got what I have — which is enough to be comfortable — essentially by robbing someone who has less. (I’m not rich by American standards, nor am I as generous as I could be, admittedly.) Do I think God is unjust? Hardly, but I also think His ways are not my/our ways. I might agree more with St. Basil if I thought the pie was finite — or, I should say, if I thought all pies and all their components were finite.

  • Hezekiah Garrett

    Aw, the mean old miser called me a liar for believing Christ’s Church.

    Lucky me, He gave us a head’s up about this and worse.

  • Hezekiah Garrett

    Can I justify boinking my neighbor’s wife by positing the existence of an everlasting crostata?


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