Friday, February 22, 2008

Did Christ Disregard Rights of Property?

by Fr. Joseph Husslein

A favorite subject with infidel and "Christian" Socialist agitators is the alleged disregard shown by Christ for private property. Three instances in particular are constantly brought to mind as convincing proof of this.

The first refers to that Sabbath journey of the Lord, when, "as He went through the corn fields, His disciples plucked the ears, and did eat, rubbing them in their hands." (Luke, vi: 1.) They were in a strange field, we are told, but the laws of property were not regarded by Christ as conveying any obligation. Treating them as purely capitalistic inventions, He ruthlessly set them aside at pleasure.

This difficulty answers itself if the verse immediately following is taken into account: "And some of the Pharisees said to them : 'Why do you that which is not lawful on the Sabbath day?' " Without reference, therefore, to any transgression of property rights the Pharisees alleged against Him only the violation of the Sabbath law. Most eager to seize upon even the most trivial apparent irregularity on the part of Christ, they could find no fault in His action except that the plucking and rubbing of the ears of corn was labor forbidden on the Sabbath day, according to their strained interpretation of the letter of the law. Jesus therefore had fully conformed both to the recognized custom and to the divine ordinance in this regard. The latter is most instructive for our day, and is thus expressed in Deuteronomy:

"Going into thy neighbor's vineyard, thou mayst eat as many grapes as thou pleasest ; but must carry none out with thee. If thou go into thy friend's corn, thou mayst break the ears, and rub- them in thy hand; but not reap them with a sickle." (Deut., xiii: 24, 25.) Such was the written law of old as it held in the God-given legislation of the Jews. Such too is the unwritten law of charity which in Catholic countries established similar customs and which made of the monasteries the' larders of the poor and the treasuries of all in need, where the monks gave freely what they had freely received. It was only indifference to the spirit and law of the Church, spreading through wide circles of lukewarm Christians, and the Reformation which followed it, that led to the present abnormal relations between rich and poor, for which there is no final remedy except a return to Catholic traditions. Neither under the Mosaic law nor in Catholic times it may incidentally be mentioned, was there any danger of an army of unemployed who might consume entirely both crops and vintage.

We may learn in fine from this passage of Deuteronomy how firmly the law of property rights is sustained by God in His legislation to His chosen people, precisely as it is sustained by Him to-day through His mouthpiece and representative on earth, the Vicar of Christ. Although the present need might be satisfied out of the neighbor's' abundance, according to the Mosaic law, yet that neighbor's right of ownership remained sacred, and nothing might be carried off without his will.

That in the text quoted from Saint Luke there was question only of the Sabbath law is still more fully confirmed in the justification pronounced by Our Lord, which confines itself to the accusation brought against Him. "The Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath." vi : 5.) The entire passage therefore shows that it was only against the Pharisaic interpretation of the Sabbath law that Christ had voluntarily acted, in order to teach the lesson which this incident was meant to convey: that man is not for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath is for man, and that Christ is the Lord of both man and the Sabbath.

He further confirms His teaching by the example of David: "Have you not read so much as this what David did, when himself was hungry, and they that were with him: How he went into the house of God and took and ate the bread of proposition, and gave to them that were with him, which it is not lawful to eat but only for the priests?"

This incident of David was chosen by Christ as an even more striking illustration of the truth He meant to convey concerning the Sabbath and the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. The law of property, moreover, in this and similar cases, can offer no difficulty. It is accounted for by the plain doctrine of the Church, which teaches that a starving man may help himself freely from his neighbor's belongings, even against the latter's will, until he has satisfied his urgent want.

The second passage which is said to show the disregard of Christ for laws of private property is thus given by Saint Luke: "And it came to pass, when He was come nigh to Bethphage and Bethania, unto the mount called Olivet, He sent two of His disciples, saying : 'Go into the town which is over against you, at your entering into which you shall find the colt of an ass tied, on which no man ever hath sitten : loose him, and bring him hither. And if any man shall ask you: Why did you loose him ? you shall say thus unto him: Because the Lord hath need of his service.'" (xix: 29-31.)

When the two disciples arrived the owners were actually present and asked the question Christ had indicated, "Why loose you the colt?" and the Apostles answered according to their instructions, "Because the Lord hath need of him."

Taking this narrative upon its face value and giving it a purely natural explanation, as Socialists do who deny the divinity of Christ, it is sufficient to say that since no objection is made by the owners we must suppose that arrangements had evidently been made with them beforehand. The colt, as is customary on such occasions, was to be held in readiness until the proper messengers should arrive whom Christ would send.

The sign agreed upon, by which they were to be known, was the answer Christ instructed them to make : "Because the Lord hath need of his service." When this was given the owners fulfilled their part of the contract. It is to be noticed that these proprietors are indicated by a plural in the Scriptures, and would therefore have been able to defend their property had there been question of any human violation of property rights. Their willingness to supply Our Lord with both the colt and its mother shows how untenable is the Socialistic position here as in the preceding instance.

But there is still another Gospel narrative to be considered, and with this we shall have answered the most important difficulties of this nature. Should others be offered they can easily be solved in a similar manner. We turn again to Saint Luke for our account.

When Christ was about to free a certain possessed man whom He found in the country of the Gerasens, it providentially happened that there was near by "a herd of many swine feeding on the mountain; and they (the evil spirits) besought Him that He would suffer them to enter into them. The devils therefore went out of the man and entered into the swine; and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the lake, and were stifled."

Were we to consider Christ on the Socialistic supposition as merely a man we would not be able to say that he had foreseen the loss of property which was to follow, and the objection would lose all its force. In fact, the entire incident dealing with obsession and the intimate presence of evil spirits would become meaningless. Why infidel "Christian" Socialists such as Spargo should concern themselves at all about the actions of Christ is unintelligible, except in as far as they hope by this method to capture the Christian vote. They well know how sadly they must distort the Gospel, and how much they must omit, to use it for their purpose, of appealing, as we are told, to the "slave-mind" of the Christian believers. If Christ was not God, then He was the greatest of all deceivers, since He claimed for Himself divinity and equality with the Fatfier. If we are Catholics it is only because we firmly believe and confess with Peter: "Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matt, xvi: 16).

In the present narrative Christ appears before us not merely as man but precisely as the Son of God, Who has all power in heaven and upon earth; to Whom all things are subject and Who alone has supreme dominion and absolute right of ownership not merely over the earth and its products, but over man as well; from Whom and under Whom alone all just property and true authority are held. This is not the Christ Whom Socialists acknowledge, but it is the Christ Whom every Catholic and every Christian must adore.

As God He commands the demons, whose name is legion, to leave their victims, of whom Luke singles out the most important and heroic, while two are mentioned by Saint Matthew; as God He permits these evil spirits to enter into the creatures most resembling them in foulness; as God, too, He foresees the consequences, which He "suffers" in order that the greatness of the miracle may come home to the inhabitants of that country, still largely pagan at the time; as God He finally cooperated with His grace in the souls of the masters to whom their servants hasten to announce the loss sustained. That loss is but insignificant in itself. The loss of the whole world, as Christ elsewhere so strongly insisted, would be nothing compared to the loss of a single soul. What, therefore, He took from them in a temporal way He returned a thousand fold in spiritual gifts, as we may well presume. Yet even for this He stood under no obligation. Towards God, creatures can have no rights but only duties, although in His infinite goodness He never ceases to shower favors upon them. There is consequently here no comparison between the action of God and the action of man ; between God, the only absolute and supreme Owner of all things, freely disposing of His creatures, and the violation of His laws by a revolutionist usurping dominion over the things that are another's.

In the event of a Socialist victory, the majority, we are told, will decide what is to be done with the productive property of the present owners, and whether compensation is to be offered or not. That none would be given is perfectly clear. "Expropriation!" is the Marxian watchword. This is the rule of might and not of right. The majority can not unmake the commandments, nor can it set aside with impunity the God Who gave them amid lightning and thunders on Mount Sinai. Against all Socialist majorities, no less than against all forms of unjust and exploiting capital, He has written the final word by which they are already judged : "Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, nor his field, nor his servant, nor his handmaid, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is his." From these commandments Christ proclaimed He would not take one jot or tittle.

Interview with Thomas Storck

On Cooperative Ownership

John Médaille Interview in Romania

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