It should be noted that he who takes from the wealthy rather than from the unfortunate to provide for his brother who are in need, or who supports some pious work, or, more importantly, who relieves the poor in their necessity, should not be counted an avariious man, but as one who justly moves common goods from one group of brethren to another. One man is richer than others, not for the reason that he alone should possess the things he holds in trust, but that he disburse them to the poor. He should distribute the goods of others, not as their owner but as an agent, and not merely through motives of charity, but of justice. Thus, when the prophet said, “Lavishly he gives to the poor,” he does not add that “his mercy,” but that “his justice shall endure forever.” Also, when the Lord spoke of giving alms, he said, “Take heed not to practice your justice before men, in order to be seen by them.” He explained that he wished almsgiving to be reckoned especially as justice, b immediately adding, “Therefore, when you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as hypocrites do.” Since giving of one’s own bespeaks mercy, it is in the province of justice to distribute what belongs to others. Wherefore, he who takes from the rich to give to the poor is not to be thought a thief, but a dispenser of common property.
St. Peter Damian, Letter 142
2446 St. John Chrysostom vigorously recalls this: “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs.”239 “The demands of justice must be satisfied first of all; that which is already due in justice is not to be offered as a gift of charity”:240
- When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice.241