|RPM, Volume 19, Number 44 October 29 to November 4, 2017|
This commandment sanctions and authorizes a distinction in property or possessions. The end or design of this commandment is, the preservation of the property or possessions which God has given to everyone for the support of life: for if it is not lawful or becoming for us to steal, it is necessary that every man should possess that which lawfully belongs to him. God, therefore, in this commandment, forbids all frauds, together with all the cunning devices and arts by which the goods and possessions of our neighbor are injured, diminished or confounded so as to lose his right in them, or to make it doubtful. In forbidding these things, God at the same time enjoins all those virtues which contribute to the preservation of our neighbor's goods and possessions. Thou shalt not steal, that is, thou shalt not desire, or attempt to take to thyself thy neighbor's goods by fraud.
Therefore, thou shalt defend, preserve and increase them, and give unto thy neighbor what belongs to him. God calls the things that are forbidden theft, in order that he might comprehend and condemn under this, as being the grossest kind of fraud, all other sins of a kindred nature, with their antecedents and consequents.
I. COMMUTATIVE JUSTICE is a virtue in the acquisition of goods, which does not desire the possessions of another, and contributes to an arithmetical equality in contracts and in the ordinary traffic amongst men in the purchase and exchange of goods according to just laws. Commutative justice then consists in preserving an equality between merit and reward, wages and labor, &c., whether it be in the acquisition, or disposition of goods. Justinian, the Roman emperor, writes in relation to the possession and division of things: that some things are common to all by natural right, as the air, water, the sea, the shores of the sea, &c. Some things are public, as rivers, ports, the use of the banks of rivers, &c. Some belong to no one as things sacred, religious, and holy. The largest amount of things, however, belong to persons privately and singly, and are acquired in various ways. Those things, therefore, which are transferred to another owner, or which any one takes to himself, belong either to no one, or to some one. Those which belong to no one, become the property of the persons who acquire them. Those things which belong rightly to someone, can only pass into the hands of others, either by violence and against the will of the rightful owner, or by captivity in war; or with the consent of the owner, as by inheritance, or contract. Possessions pass into the hands of others by inheritance, either by will, or without any will. A contract is an agreement between certain persons in reference to the transfer, giving, or exchange of possessions according to just and wholesome laws. All contracts are included under commutative justice, and may be comprehended under ten classes. 1. Buying and selling, when an article passes from the vender to the purchaser, in such a way that the purchaser gives a just and equivalent price for it. This is sometimes accompanied with a condition of selling it again, or it may be without this condition. The buying of revenues, or the receiving an income belongs to this, and is no more to be regarded as usury, than the letting out of land, for which a certain yearly rent is required. 2. Borrowing is a contract according to which the use of a certain thing is transferred to another, in such a way that he returns that which is equivalent. There is something given in borrowing, not that the same thing may be returned, but only that which is similar or of equal value. Lending is that which takes place when the use of a certain thing is granted to someone for a certain length of time, when he is to return the self-same thing whole and without any injury, without having to pay any remuneration for the use of it. 4. Donation, when a certain thing is transferred to another person, without recompense, by the rightful owner, who alone has the right to give it by free will. But, should someone say, that justice demands that like should be given for like; and that inasmuch as this is not done in what is given as a donation, it must conflict with justice; we would reply that this is true only in case the things are given with the intention that a compensation be made. 5. Exchange, when things are exchanged by the consent of those who are the lawful owners, or when one thing is given for another which is equal in value. 6. Leasing or letting out, is a contract according to which the use of certain thing, without any right of possession, is given over to another person by the rightful owner, for a certain length of time, upon the condition that he to whom it is leased pay a given sum for its use, and return it again in a proper state at the expiration of the time for which it was let. 7. Pledging or mortgaging is when a certain thing is transferred to another person, which gives him a right to it as long as certain things which are due him are not paid; or it is a contract which takes place when a certain thing is delivered to another person upon this condition, that he has the right of using it according to his own pleasure, in case it is not re deemed within a given time. 8. Committing in trust, is a contract according to which neither the use nor possession, but only the keeping of a certain thing is entrusted to another person. 9. Partnership is a contract between certain persons, who associate themselves together in business, according to which one person gives his funds, and the other his attention or labor, upon the condition that they receive or bear an equal proportion of the loss or gain, and that neither one reap the entire gain, or sustain the whole loss. 10. There is, lastly, a contract according to which the use or possession of a piece of land is transferred by the owner to a farmer to till, upon the condition that he cultivate it, and be bound to render to the owner thereof some particular service. These different kinds of contracts are to be observed for the better understanding of commutative justice.
There is opposed to this virtue every unjust and unlawful transfer of property, whether it be effected by violence, as robberies, or by fraud and deceit, as theft. Theft is the taking of that which belongs to another, without his knowledge and will, with the intention to deprive him of it. There are many ways in which theft is practiced both in public and private life, of which we may mention the following: 1. Embezzling, or taking that which belongs to the state or commonwealth. 2. Sacrilege, which consists in taking some sacred or holy thing. 3. The various deceptions which are practiced in merchandising, as when any one uses fraud and artifice in effecting contracts, or sales, together with all the wicked tricks and devices by which any one designs to appropriate to himself what belongs to another. 4. Usury is the gain which is received in view of that which, has been borrowed or loaned. All just contracts, the contracts of paying rent, a just compensation for any loss, partnership, buying, &c., are exempted from usury. There are many Questions respecting usury concerning which we may judge according to the rule which Christ has laid down: Whatever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.
II. CONTENTMENT is a virtue, by which we are satisfied and contented with our present possessions, which we have honestly acquired, and by which we quietly endure poverty and other inconveniences, not desiring what does not belong to us, nor what is unnecessary. The extremes of this virtue are, on the side of want, avarice and theft; and on the side of excess, a feigned refusal, as when anyone would make it appear that he is unwilling to receive that which he nevertheless would and greatly desires. Also, inhumanity, which is not to receive any thing.
III. FIDELITY is a virtue which has a concern and anxiety in regard to the losses and privations of another, and endeavors to avert them, willingly and diligently performing all the different duties which are devolving upon us in our appropriate callings in order that we may have what is necessary to sustain us and ours, and that we may also have that with which we may supply the wants of others, all of which is done with the design that we may glorify God thereby. The extremes of this virtue are, 1. Unfaithfulness, which has no care in regard to the losses and injuries of others, and does not diligently perform what duty requires. 2. Negligence and slothfulness, which merely desires to reap public good without contributing anything thereto.
Obj. But mention has already been made of fidelity in the fifth commandment. Therefore it does not properly belong here. Ans. It is not absurd, that one and the same virtue should be placed under different commandments for different ends and in different respects: for the ends and designs of different actions and virtues make a difference in the things themselves. Fidelity is placed under this commandment in as far as it includes a desire to guard against the disadvantages and losses of others, and to do those things by which we may acquire for ourselves food, raiment and such things as are necessary. And it is placed under the fifth commandment in so far as it includes obedience in doing our duty.
IV. LIBERALITY is a virtue which contributes of its substance to those who are in want, from right considerations and motives: or it is a virtue by which those who are possessed of it communicate of their own possessions to others, without being urged thereto by any civil constraint, or enactment, but by the divine and natural law, or for the sake of godliness and charity, with a liberal heart, according to their ability and the necessity of others, knowing where, to whom, when, and how much they are able to give, and at the same time preserve a medium between penuriousness and prodigality.
The extreme of this virtue on the side of want, are penuriousness, meanness, and covetousness, which may be said to consist in a desire on the part of any one to increase his possessions by right or wrong; or which, by a want of confidence in God, and a trust in the possessions of fortune, is not contented with those things which God gives by lawful means; but desires more and more, and seeks to take to itself, even by unlawful means, what it has no right to, and does not give where God requires that we should exercise our liberality. The other extreme of this virtue shows itself in prodigality, or in a lavish expenditure of what God has committed to our trust, which gives beyond the bounds of propriety and without any necessity, being actuated thereto by delight in an excessive use or waste of our gifts and possessions.
V. HOSPITALITY is a species of liberality, and is that by which we entertain strangers and travelers, and especially those who have been banished on account of the profession of the doctrine of the gospel, with true Christian charity and with all the duties of hospitality. Or it consists in liberality and kindness towards strangers, especially towards Christians, who are driven into exile on account of religion, or are forced to travel for the confession of the truth. The extremes of this virtue are, on the one side, a want of hospitality towards strangers, and on the other, extravagance in entertaining them, so exhausting the fountain of our beneficence that we are not left with those things which are necessary for ourselves.
VI. PARSIMONY is that virtue by which we guard against all unnecessary expense, and by which we take care of that which we have honestly acquired for ourselves and for those who are connected with us in the relations life, not desiring more than what is necessary for our comfort. Liberality has parsimony connected with it: for liberality without parsimony runs into prodigality, and parsimony without liberality soon degenerates into covetousness. They are, therefore, virtues which are closely allied, and are two means between the same extremes, viz: covetousness and prodigality. Neither can anyone be liberal, who is not parsimonious or frugal; nor can anyone who is not frugal be liberal. Liberality enlarges our contributions according to sound reason; whilst parsimony restricts the same according to sound reason, retaining as much as propriety will admit of, and giving as much as is needed. It is in this way that these two virtues are exercised in regard to the same object, and are between the same extremes, so that the same vices which stand in opposition to liberality, are repugnant to parsimony, which vices are prodigality and covetousness.
VII. FRUGALITY is a virtue having respect to household affairs, disposing of what has been honestly acquired, properly and profitable, and for things necessary and useful, or which incurs expense merely for such things as are necessary and useful. It is closely allied to parsimony, and yet it is evidently not the same. Parsimony consists in giving moderately; frugality in a proper disposition of things. They are both referred to and comprehended under this commandment, because their opposite, which is prodigality, is here forbidden. The extremes of this virtue are the same as those which we mentioned under parsimony.
Obj. 1. The Apostles had all good things in common. Therefore we ought to have all things in common. Ans. 1. The examples are not the same: for a community of goods in the time of the Apostles was easy and necessary. It was easy, because the disciples were few in number. It was necessary because there was great danger, that if they did not sell them, they would be wrested from them by violence. It is different, however, as it respects the church at the present time; for such a community of goods would now be neither easy nor necessary. The Apostles were, therefore, led, for just and sufficient reasons, to have such a community of goods, which causes are now no more in existence. 2. They did it freely, and not by any law constraining them to adopt such measures. Each one did it of his own accord. Hence Peter said to Ananias, "While it remained was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power." (Acts 5:4.) It was, therefore, voluntary. 3. It was a particular custom, not having respect to the whole church: for it was not observed in all the churches. Alms were collected in Macedonia and Achaia, and sent to Jerusalem. 4. It was temporary; for it was afterwards abolished when the causes which first gave rise to it passed away.
Obj. 2. Things which are natural are unchangeable. Community of goods is natural. Therefore it is unchangeable, and is to be observed at this day. Ans. Natural things are unchangeable in respect to the moral law, but not in respect to natural benefits and utility.
Obj. 3. Christ said to the young man in the gospel, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor." (Matt. 19:21.) Ans. There is a difference in the examples: 1. Because the calling of a disciple was special, having respect to the apostleship. 2. Christ designed by this, to show this young man how far he was from the perfection of the law, of which he boasted. 3. Christ did not say, give it in common, or cast it in the common treasury, but give to the poor.
Obj. 4. All things belong to Christ. Therefore all things belong to Christians. Ans. All things are ours as it respects the right to the thing, but not as it respects our right in the thing. All things are due to us, but it is not proper for us to lay hold upon anything before the time.
Obj. 5. Friends have things in common. Ans. Friends have things in common, not as it respects the ownership and possession of property, but only in their use and enjoyment, according to just laws; or they have them in common as touching the use and duties of propriety, advantage and necessity, according to sound reason: for we ought to desire those things from our friends, which we desire them to ask from us. All things, however, are not common among friends as touching their possession and right, because everyone has a distinct possession and right to his own goods. This possession of goods or distinction of rights is recognized and sanctioned by this commandment, as we have already remarked; for if we may not steal, it is necessary that we should possess what properly belongs to us, and that for these reasons: 1. That we may honestly maintain and support ourselves and those who are depending upon us. 2. That we may have something to contribute towards the preservation of the church. 3. That we may assist in upholding the interests of the state according to our ability. 4. That we may be able to confer benefits upon our friends, and contribute to the relief of the poor and needy.
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