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Chapter 10: Work, Subhuman Realities, and Property

Question D: What Are the Foundations of Moral Norms about Property?

Property usually refers to a portion of the world which someone occupies or to some thing which someone can use. Unless the context requires a narrower reference, however, property will be used in the rest of this chapter to refer not only to land, what is permanently attached to it, and other goods, but to money and whatever it can buy, including claims to services, entities such as stock certificates and insurance policies, and so on.

The common human dominion over subpersonal creation is more basic than property, which is merely a mode of sharing that dominion. Property ownership implies not only rights but also, and more fundamentally, responsibilities. Both private and public property are morally necessary. Moreover, each society needs to develop and implement a property system.

1. Property Should Serve the Providential Purpose of Material Things

God gives the whole human family dominion over subpersonal creation for everyone’s reasonable use. People’s occupancy of places and uses of things, together with the requirement of fairness, cause many territories and things to become property, that is, to be morally tied in a special way to a particular person, family, or other community. Nevertheless, property ownership always remains subordinate to the more basic truth that humankind as a whole receives all material goods from God as his gift.55

a) God intends material goods for everyone’s reasonable use. Repeating constant and very firm Catholic teaching,56 Vatican II articulates the fundamental truth about material goods:

 God has destined the earth and all it contains for the use of all human individuals and peoples, in such a way that, under the direction of justice accompanied by charity, created goods ought to flow abundantly to everyone on a fair basis [note omitted]. One must always bear this universal destination of goods in mind, no matter what forms property may take as it is adapted, in accordance with diverse and changeable circumstances, to the legitimate institutions of peoples. (GS 69)57
John Paul II emphasizes the importance of this point: the “principle of the common use of goods” is the “fundamental principle of the moral order in this [socioeconomic] sphere” and is “the first principle of the whole ethical and social order.”58 Again: “It is necessary to state once more the characteristic principle of Christian social doctrine: the goods of this world are originally meant for all [note omitted].”59 Yet again: “The basis for the social doctrine of the Church is the principle of the universal destination of goods. According to the plan of God the goods of the earth are offered to all people and to each individual as a means towards the development of a truly human life.”60

b) The universal destination of goods must be understood rightly. This principle does not mean that in the beginning human persons jointly owned the material world, with each having an equal share; no such primitive social order ever existed.61 Therefore, the universal destination of goods does not imply even a basic or prima facie claim on the part of each individual to an equal portion of the world’s goods.

The principle means, rather, that nothing in subhuman creation ever comes to be with a label saying: this good is meant for this person but not that one, this group but not that, people of this sort but not of that sort.62 Instead, both in the beginning and now, God provides all the riches of the material world for all people to use as he directs. His directions are the moral norms flowing from the principles of practical reason, which human beings naturally know. Thus, God makes material goods available for all humans to use reasonably, that is, for the promotion and protection of true human goods, not only in the users but in others, by cooperating justly with their creator and with one another.

c) The universal destination of goods limits an owner’s rights. As explained previously (in B.3), particular material things or portions of subhuman creation become linked with particular persons or groups as the latter use them, for instance, as a person gathers plants and animals to eat or as a group occupies the territory in which it lives. Still, the mere fact that such a link exists does not constitute the relationship of owner to property. That relationship is a moral one differentiating the owner’s role and responsibilities from those of other people. Like any other moral relationship, it must be governed by fairness. Not everyone who possesses something, but only one who possesses it fairly, can be that thing’s owner in a moral sense (though obviously a person with no moral right to something can hold a legal title to it).

For possession to be fair, it must be consistent with the universal destination of goods, which requires that they be available for everyone to use reasonably. It follows that ownership cannot of itself entail an exclusive moral right to use. So, immediately after laying down the principle of universal destination (in the passage quoted in a), Vatican II adds: “For this reason, in using those goods, people should consider the exterior things which they legitimately possess not only as their own but as common, in the sense that their possessions should benefit not only themselves but others as well” (GS 69).

d) St. Thomas distinguishes the right to use from ownership. At the end of the sentence just quoted, the Council refers in a note to two passages in St. Thomas, clarifying the Christian teaching it reaffirms.63

In the first passage (S.t., 2–2, q. 32, a. 5, ad 2), Thomas answers an argument that, because people have the right to keep what is their own, almsgiving is never a matter of precept, a strict duty in justice. Previously in the same article, he has pointed out that failure to give alms can result in eternal punishment (see Mt 25.41–46) and has argued that almsgiving is a matter of precept if two conditions are met: (i) one has more than enough to meet one’s own needs and those of one’s dependents, and (ii) some other person or persons cannot survive unless one makes one’s surplus available. In this context, his answer to the objection is that any earthly good which God gives people is theirs in the sense that they own it, but not in the sense that they alone may use it; for insofar as they do not need it to satisfy their own needs, others should be able to use it to satisfy theirs. He supports this by making reference to a striking statement of St. Ambrose, which he had already quoted and which Vatican II also quotes: “Feed those who are dying of hunger, for if you have not fed them, you have killed them [note omitted]” (GS 69).64

In the second passage to which Vatican II refers (S.t., 2–2, q. 66, a. 2), St. Thomas gives three reasons why owning property is morally licit and even necessary. First, people tend to take better care of what is theirs than of what is common to everyone or to a group, since individuals shirk a responsibility which is nobody’s in particular. Second, if everyone were responsible for everything, the result would be sheer confusion. Third, dividing things up generally makes for harmony, while sharing common things often leads to tension. Owning property, understood as the capacity to care for and distribute things, therefore is justified. The capacity to use things, however, is an entirely different matter. In regard to use, a person is not justified in holding anything as proper but only as common, in the sense that he or she must be ready to share it with others in need.65

e) Ownership is subordinate to the universal destination of goods. Having quoted Vatican II’s formulation (in GS 69) of the Church’s constant and most firm teaching concerning the universal destination of material goods, Paul VI adds:

 All other rights, whatever they may be, including the rights of property and free trade, are to be subordinated to this principle. They should in no way hinder it; in fact, they should actively facilitate its implementation. Redirecting these rights back to their original purpose must be regarded as an important and urgent social duty.66

f) Analogies do not adequately express the concept of property. Because no human being owns anything which was not first God’s gift to all humankind, property ownership is more like what most people would call “trusteeship” or “stewardship” than “ownership,” and so many Christian writers employ such analogies.67 However, no analogy with a legal institution adequately expresses what property truly is, and so none corrects the fundamental misunderstanding of property widespread even among devout Christians. Instead of resorting to analogies such as stewardship, therefore, it seems better directly to criticize the unsound concept of property and to articulate the implications of a sound concept more fully.

2. Private and Public Property Are Both Morally Grounded

Given that caring for property and seeing to its just availability to meet human needs come first among the functions associated with property ownership, it might be supposed that Christians ought to favor public ownership over private; in this way, it might be argued, public servants would function as trustees in carrying out the responsibilities of ownership, while the tendency of private owners to usurp exclusive use would be blocked. However, even though the Church’s teaching acknowledges that public ownership of property can be justified, the Church also teaches that private property is morally necessary and sanctioned by divine law.68 Thus, private property usually should not be socialized; most abuses of private property instead should be remedied by public regulation and a more just distribution of the responsibility of private ownership.

a) Private ownership often is social rather than individual. Individualism sometimes leads people to assume a false opposition between private property and common use. In reality, most human actions employing material things are cooperative; for example, a family shares a dwelling and the necessities of life; many stockholders own a corporation, and many workers use its productive facilities; an academic community shares a campus. Thus, public ownership, the holding of property by a civil society, is not the only form of social ownership, and collectivism not the only alternative to individualism (see 6.E.4–5).69

In the Church’s social doctrine, the basic model of private social ownership is family ownership: property from which a family draws all or some of its livelihood, the land on which it lives, its home.70 Since the family, unlike the individual, continues beyond one lifespan, the right of inheritance follows necessarily from the family’s right to own property.71 (Of course, this right is not infringed by taxes on the estates of those who leave more than enough to meet their families’ needs and give their children a start in life.)

b) The moral effect of ownership should determine the form it takes. The responsibilities of ownership—proper care of property and its availability to meet human needs—pertain whether the property is public or private and, if the latter, social or individual. The responsibilities may go unfulfilled under any form of ownership; but if they are fulfilled, different forms of ownership can have very similar results with respect to the availability of goods for use. Yet private and public ownership of property differ essentially in how they distribute decision making and responsibility. In judging what forms ownership should take, therefore, it is necessary to consider the moral impact of ownership on the owner as a responsible moral agent.

c) The moral well-being of persons calls for private property. The Church’s social doctrine firmly defends private ownership because of its potential moral benefits to the acting person.72 In a predominantly agricultural economy, the paradigm of ownership is having one’s own piece of land and the tools to work it. In a more developed economy, John XXIII noted, the ownership and management of productive goods often are distinguished; many people rely for security on insurance and pension schemes, and on various public programs; and some are far more interested in acquiring skill in a trade or competence in a profession than in having material goods as their property. Nevertheless, he reaffirmed the moral right to own private property and its personalistic foundation.73

d) Vatican II reaffirms the Church’s teaching on this matter. While recognizing the complex forms which human dominion over material goods can take, Vatican II endorses prior Church teaching on private property:

 Because ownership and other forms of private dominion over material goods contribute to the expression of personality, and since, moreover, they give one an occasion for exercising one’s role in society and in the economy, it is very important to promote the access of both individuals and communities to some ownership of of material goods. Private ownership or some other kind of dominion over material goods provides everyone with a wholly necessary area of personal and familial independence, and should be regarded as an extension of human freedom. Finally, since it adds incentives for carrying out one’s vocation and responsibility, it is one prerequisite of civil liberties [note omitted]. (GS 71)
This very compact summary makes four points.

i) Private property helps people express their personalities: they can realize themselves in the things they own. A house, for example, becomes a home through the work family members put into maintaining and improving it to serve their common life. Ownership also enables people to express love and build up interpersonal communion by giving and sharing.

ii) Private ownership encourages people to strengthen the larger society and contribute to the common welfare. It does this in two ways: first, the prospect of having something of their own motivates people to work, to invent, and thus to create wealth; second, experiencing ownership challenges people to fulfill their social responsibilities by seeing to it that the goods they control benefit others as well as themselves.

iii) Control over some material goods is necessary for self-reliance, and self-reliance is necessary for appropriate autonomy. As only nations with adequate resources can develop their own economies, so only individuals and families owning suitable property can provide for themselves. Lack of self-reliance has an impact on those who depend on public subsidies: decisions about many personal and family matters inevitably are made for them by public agents.

iv) It is no accident that, as a matter of historical fact, widespread private ownership and recognition of civil liberties go together. Motivated to do their social duty, responsible owners can be entrusted with considerable liberty. Conversely, eliminating private ownership in favor of public ownership means decisions are made by public authorities, who must implement them by constant involvement in the details of everyone’s life.74

e) Public ownership of property also sometimes is justified. Although the Church’s teaching defends the private ownership of property, it also approves of public property (see GS 71). Of course, nobody questions the right of a civil society to own the material goods absolutely essential for carrying on its functions—such things as public buildings, official papers, and safety or military equipment—and certain things which all or most people use in common: roads, public parks, a postal system, and so on. But the Church’s teaching goes further. It holds that some kinds of property are best reserved to the state, since allowing them to be privately owned would give their owners too much power over others, to the detriment of the common good.75

Moreover, for the sake of the moral and social goods which property should serve, the state can and ought to regulate the use of private property and even, if necessary, expropriate it, with just compensation to the former owners.76

f) Two things must be noted to understand this teaching. First, even if public ownership of certain productive property is justified, the property need not always be owned and managed directly by the state, as public buildings are. Other forms of public ownership are possible, for example, control by semi-independent, publicly regulated, nonprofit corporations. Hence, the Council’s teaching speaks of “various forms” of public ownership (GS 71).

Second, when expropriation is justified, the just compensation often will be much less than what the former owner could have obtained by selling the property privately. For if private owners profit by using their property to the detriment of the common good, part of the property’s market value will derive from the unjust profit it is expected to yield, and the owners deserve no compensation for losing that. In some cases, in fact, there need be no compensation at all, for owners who seriously and persistently violate justice in retaining and administering property might be justly punished by being compelled to forfeit what they have abused.

3. A Just System Specifies Moral Responsibilities Regarding Property

The responsibilities treated in chapters eight and nine bear directly on goods intrinsic to human persons, as individuals and in community: life, health, bodily integrity, marriage, and family. So, the principles of practical reason and of morality, directing action toward integral human fulfillment, specify those responsibilities, in the sense that many relevant norms can be derived from moral principles alone.

Property rights and responsibilities are less fully determined by the principles of practical reason. Wealth and property are not goods intrinsic to persons. Rather, the realities constituting them are subpersonal things which become personalized through human occupancy and use, with the latter depending on human creative intelligence and freedom. While moral principles require that subpersonal things be used for morally good ends, with reverence toward God, and with justice toward other people, those principles by themselves do not imply any norms referring to property insofar as it is specified by human creativity. Consequently, human decisions can rightly specify property rights and responsibilities in diverse ways.

Every society therefore has a property system shaped by its own laws and customs: a set of rules and practices concerning the acquisition, use, and exchange of material things. Efficiency and fairness require such a system: it defines legitimate acquisition and creates the complex forms of ownership found in the community. Insofar as the system is just, it specifies many of one’s moral responsibilities regarding property. But no actual property system is perfectly just, and the defects in the system under which someone lives must be taken into account in identifying responsibilities.

a) Socially established property systems do several things. Every society’s property system presupposes the reality of ownership; ownership is not created by laws and social customs. However, each society’s property system does spell out what will count in that society as legitimate acquisition, thus making it easy to recognize items of property and identify the owner of each. The system also settles otherwise unclear limits of ownership: boundaries of land, distinct aspects of complex things which can be used in different ways, when ownership lapses through disuse, and so on.

As a society’s economy develops, it establishes conventions for a more complex property system. Rules are developed for dividing ownership and sharing the use of property, and sharp distinctions are introduced between ownership and legitimate custody and control, for example, by tenants or trustees. Elements of the responsibilities of ownership and the rights to use can be distributed among various people at different times and even at the same time. With the establishment of some commodity or symbol of value as a commonly accepted medium of exchange (money), it becomes possible to assign a comparative value to everything which can be exchanged. Symbolic tokens of ownership, such as titles to property and share certificates, are created. The relationship between owner and property no longer need involve any actual physical control; a token of ownership can be bought and sold, deposited to guarantee a loan, and so on. Laws make clear what counts as an enforceable agreement or contract to exchange property, the conditions under which a contract is no longer enforceable, and so on.

b) A property system is justified by serving the common good. It is possible to imagine a small group of fair-minded people who could own and use things properly without any established property system; they would settle all problems on a case-by-case basis. But since settling problems takes time and effort, and many problems are recurrent, regular practices soon would develop, even among such people, and these would become accepted as binding customs. A simple property system tends to become more complex in order to achieve further benefits by facilitating economic activities which are not possible without the system’s additional features.

In many cases, moreover, even fair-minded people would find it very difficult to solve problems without the commonly accepted rules of a property system. For example, when property is fortuitously damaged or destroyed, the owner suffers the loss, and such losses often occur during a transfer of ownership, when it is unclear who is owner. Without rules to settle the precise moment at which a change of ownership occurs, even fair-minded people often would be unable to agree about which party must accept a loss.

By benefiting all or most members of a society without directly harming anyone, a property system can be morally justified, so that its rules and conditions become morally binding on all.

c) Fairness also requires the development of a property system. Even when rights and responsibilities could be determined without the clear rules of a property system, not only efficiency but fairness demands such a system. This is so because people differ greatly in assertiveness and ability to discern their own interests, so that lack of clear rules would put some at a constant disadvantage. Although such people inevitably suffer some disadvantage—for example, in buying and selling they negotiate less shrewdly than others—a property system often can save them from being exploited, by making them conscious of their rights and making others conscious of their responsibilities.

A property system also can serve justice insofar as its rules make it possible or easier for authorities to identify unfairness and rectify it by enforcing rules, requiring specific performance of undertakings, awarding damages to injured parties, and so on.

d) The justice of the accepted property system should be presumed. In general, one should presume that laws and binding customs are just (see 11.D.4.a). So, unless it is morally more probable that one may act contrary to a norm specified by the accepted property system, the norm should be followed.

Of course, even if a property system is entirely just, epikeia can come into play (see CMP, 11.E.10; below, 11.D.2.a). That will be so when unusual circumstances require an exception to the system’s norms in order to serve ends any reasonable lawmaker would have intended the law to serve. For example, when need is so urgent that human life is at stake, one may openly or covertly take what is needed from anyone who can spare it, although that violates the letter of the law. For no reasonable lawmaker could intend the property system to prevent the use of available goods to satisfy someone’s urgent needs, since all property is subordinate to the fundamental principle that God has destined material goods to meet human needs (see 1, above).

However, a norm should not be judged unfair or set aside merely because following it in a particular case will result in a state of affairs which seems unfair considered apart from the particular property system. For example, any law prescribing the distribution of the property of persons who die intestate—that is, without a valid will—sometimes leads to results which plainly are not those the deceased should, and quite possibly would, have brought about by making a will. Yet such a law can be just inasmuch as it provides a fair solution to the general problem, and some such solution is needed to prevent prolonged and wasteful conflicts among the possible heirs of people who die intestate. Moreover, epikeia seldom will come into play in such cases, since usually it will not be clear that lawmakers could not have reasonably intended the law to apply to them. Ordinarily, therefore, the administrator of the estate of someone who has died intestate should not try to circumvent the law, even though it prescribes what seems like an unfair distribution.77

e) A property system’s unjust norms sometimes may be ignored. In this fallen world, any property system will be unfair in some respects, insofar as it embodies biases in favor of the society’s dominant groups. Moreover, some property systems are based on false principles, such as an individualist or collectivist ideology, with the bad result of systematically violating, rather than implementing, the fundamental principle of the universal destination of material goods and/or the right of all families to the goods they need for their independence and security. Of course, even the most unjust property system includes norms which are just at least in regulating relationships among members of the same socioeconomic class. Hence, even if certain that the property system of his or her society is fundamentally defective, a person cannot assume that all its norms lack moral force. If, however, one is morally certain that a particular norm of the property system is unjust, that norm cannot of itself bind in conscience. Still, one often should comply with legal requirements which do not of themselves bind in conscience (see 11.D.3.b–c).

f) Owners should avoid the injustices that the law permits. Some people wrongly assume that whatever is lawful is morally acceptable. Even some Christians who recognize that as false with respect to other matters—for example, religious duties and sexual morality—assume its truth in forming their consciences about property matters. But while the just and applicable norms of an accepted system should not be violated, merely obeying the law is not sufficient to fulfill one’s moral responsibilities. For those who legitimately exercise ownership in a just property system may nevertheless lack moral grounds for doing so. Moreover, as will be explained (in E.1.a), although owners should share the use of their property with others, many people in contemporary, affluent, secular societies do not recognize this obligation, and the property systems accepted in such societies more or less ignore it.

Consequently, conscientious Christians must always bear in mind that even though violating the norms of the accepted property system seldom is justified, those norms by themselves are not sufficient to guide responsible choices. Often, there is a duty in strict justice either to forgo material goods to which one is legally entitled or to use one’s possessions to benefit others in ways to which they have no legal right.

g) Moral reflection must attend to every form of property. Any advanced property system provides for forms of property with no direct relationship to a material reality which could be possessed: conditional claims to insurance payments, copyrights, benefits due from social welfare funds, and so on. People who recognize their responsibilities and respect others’ rights in regard to more concrete forms of property sometimes ignore relevant moral norms when dealing with such more abstract forms. Other things being equal, however, injustices such as theft and the retention of goods which should be used to meet others’ urgent needs are the same no matter what form of property happens to be involved. Hence, the more abstract character of some forms of property should not be allowed to obscure relevant moral responsibilities.

4. Injustices as to Property Generally Constitute Grave Matter.

Violations of the norms concerning property which will be articulated in the balance of this chapter always involve some unfairness, either to particular persons, to a particular community, or to humankind at large. As with other matters of justice, it should be assumed that sins in this area are grave matters. The matter is correctly judged to be light in particular cases only if it is morally certain that the harm done to those wronged is so minor that people generally regard similar harm, suffered by themselves or those they love, as insignificant and tolerable (see 6.A.7).

Most people realize that they do a serious wrong in violating certain of these norms, such as that forbidding theft. In violating some others, however, even most Christians fail to realize that they do any wrong at all, much less that the matter is grave. Catechesis about these sins seldom has been as clear, forceful, and frequent as about those which violate exceptionless norms in matters admitting no parvity.

Moreover, considering what is now known about the environmental impact of many activities, the harm a person does others by maintaining a wasteful, consumerist style of life can no longer be judged insignificant as it once was. Even if particular instances do little harm, the choice—and so the moral responsibility—usually does not concern those individual instances, since they result from the habits and policies of one’s style of life. In view of the harm to others resulting from one’s whole way of life, the choice not to undertake the practice of conservation and change one’s habits can hardly be a light matter.

55. A relevant study: Robert Gnuse, You Shall Not Steal: Community and Property in the Biblical Tradition (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1985); although some of the author’s views are arguable, this work deserves careful study.

56. For a summary of recent magisterial teaching, see John Paul II, Centesimus annus, 30, AAS 83 (1991) 830–31, OR, 6 May 1991, 10.

57. The omitted note (n. 8 in the Council’s text, n. 221 in Abbott) refers first to Pius XII, Sertum laetitiae, AAS 31 (1939) 642 and 653, PE, 223.34: “The fundamental point of the social question is this, that the goods created by God for all men should in the same way reach all, justice guiding and charity helping”; also to John XXIII, Consistorial Address, AAS 52 (1960) 5–11; John XXIII, Mater et magistra, AAS 53 (1961) 411, PE, 267.43. Matthew Habiger, O.S.B., Papal Teaching on Private Property: 1891–1981 (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1990), shows that papal teaching from Leo XIII to John Paul II on property followed St. Thomas and has been consistent; while some aspects have been clarified and some new points added, the positions taken by Leo have been maintained; differences in emphasis, which some mistakenly interpret as inconsistencies, are accounted for by differences in the situations the popes confronted, since each pope’s situation posed the particular questions he addressed.

58. John Paul II, Laborem exercens, 18 and 19, AAS 73 (1981) 623 and 626, PE, 280.82 and 89.

59. John Paul II, Sollicitudo rei socialis, 42, AAS 80 (1988) 573, OR, 29 Feb. 1988, 11.

60. John Paul II, Christifideles laici, 43, AAS 81 (1989) 476, OR, 6 Feb. 1989, 14.

61. In an argument rightly rejecting the theory that ownership derives entirely from what an individual puts into things, George I. Mavrodes, “Property,” Personalist 53 (1972): 245–62, seems to presuppose such a primitive social order, for he argues that owners must compensate the community for what they appropriate.

62. Leo XIII, Rerum novarum, ASS 23 (1890–91) 644, PE, 115.8, teaches: “God has granted the earth to mankind in general, not in the sense that all without distinction can deal with it as they like, but rather that no part of it was assigned to any one in particular, and that the limits of private possession have been left to be fixed by man’s own industry, and by the laws of individual races.” The point might seem obvious. However, some thinkers deny or at least overlook it. For example, Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (New York: Basic Books, 1974), 160, thinking of human products, holds: “Things come into the world already attached to people having entitlements over them”; he treats as a mere “limit case” the emergence of objects “from nowhere, out of nothing.” The truth which faith confirms, however, is that Nozick’s so-called limit case is the fundamental truth about all material goods, and that this truth limits and qualifies all human entitlements, including those of producers to their products. For the human makers of the most complex products of advanced technology, such as computers, no less than farmers harvesting their crops, begin with God-given materials and depend at every moment of their productive activity on the action of God in nature, not least in their own human nature, to achieve the benefits they anticipate. See John Finnis, Natural Law and Natural Rights (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), 186–88.

63. Vatican II here follows prior papal teaching; it refers to Leo XIII, Rerum novarum, ASS 23 (1890–91) 651, PE, 115.22, who also quoted St. Thomas. Cf. relevant passages in Thomas which the Council does not mention: S.t., 1–2, q. 105, a. 2; 2–2, q. 66, a. 7; q. 87, a. 1, ad 4.

64. For further support from Scripture and the Fathers for the thesis that justice requires owners to use their excess property to satisfy others’ needs, see John C. Cort, Christian Socialism: An Informal History (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1988), 19–41; Charles Avila, Ownership: Early Christian Teaching (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1983). For a broader introduction to the Fathers’ social teaching, with representative selections: Peter C. Phan, Social Thought, Message of the Fathers of the Church, 20 (Wilmington, Del.: Michael Glazier, 1984); also see Igino Giordani, The Social Message of the Early Fathers, trans. Alba I. Zizzamia (Paterson, N.J.: St. Anthony Guild Press, 1944), 253–320. On what constitutes a genuine human need, see E.1.b, below.

65. For these arguments, Thomas clearly draws on Aristotle, Politics 2.5. But although Aristotle, too, says, “It appears, therefore, that it is better for possessions to be private but for their use to be common” (1263a38–39), Thomas’s argument for this key point is essentially theological rather than philosophical. A summary of relevant New Testament teaching: Aquinata Böckmann, O.S.B., “What Does the New Testament Say about the Church’s Attitude to the Poor?” in The Poor and the Church, ed. Norbert Greinacher and Alois Müller, Concilium, 104 (New York: Seabury, 1977), 36–45.

66. Paul VI, Populorum progressio, 22, AAS 59 (1967) 268, PE, 275.22; also, John Paul II, Christifideles laici, 43, AAS 81 (1989) 476, OR, 6 Feb. 1989, 14, teaches: “At the service of this destination of goods is private property, which—precisely for this purpose—possesses an intrinsic social function.”

67. John Paul II, Sollicitudo rei socialis, 42, AAS 80 (1988) 573, OR, 29 Feb. 1988, 12, uses another analogy: “Private property, in fact, is under a ‘social mortgage’ [note omitted].”

68. Leo XIII, Rerum novarum, ASS 23 (1890–91) 645, PE, 115.11, teaches that divine law implies the legitimacy of private property in forbidding coveting: Ex 20.17, Dt 5.21, Rom 13.9.

69. See Pius XI, Quadragesimo anno, AAS 23 (1931) 192, PE, 209.46.

70. See especially Pius XII, Pentecost Message, AAS 33 (1941) 202–3, Catholic Mind 39 (8 June 1941): 12–13.

71. Leo XIII, Rerum novarum, ASS 23 (1890–91) 646, PE, 115.13, teaches: “It is a most sacred law of nature that a father should provide food and all necessaries for those whom he has begotten; and, similarly, it is natural that he should wish that his children, who carry on, so to speak, and continue his personality, should be by him provided with all that is needful to enable them to keep themselves decently from want and misery amid the uncertainties of this mortal life. Now, in no other way can a father effect this except by the ownership of productive property, which he can transmit to his children by inheritance.” Leo goes on to insist that family rights are at least equal to and in some respects prior to those of civil society.

72. See Jean-Yves Calvez, S.J., and Jacques Perrin, S.J., The Church and Social Justice: The Social Teaching of the Popes from Leo XIII to Pius XII (1878–1958) (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1961), 190–209, for a summary of the teaching through Pius XII; also see Jean-Yves Calvez, S.J., The Social Thought of John XXIII: Mater et magistra, trans. George J. M. McKenzie, S.M. (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1965), 15–28. See Habiger, Papal Teaching on Private Property, for a more detailed treatment of the teaching from Leo XIII to John Paul II.

73. See John XXIII, Mater et magistra, AAS 53 (1961) 426–28, PE, 267.104–11.

74. Dario Composta, S.D.B., “La persona umana e la proprietà privata,” Divinitas 23 (1979): 62–87, defends the Church’s teaching on private property against opposing views, especially those of Hegelian and Marxist inspiration.

75. See Pius XI, Quadragesimo anno, AAS 23 (1931) 214, PE, 209.114–15.

76. See Pius XII, Radio Message (1 Sept. 1944), AAS 36 (1944) 254, Catholic Mind 42 (Oct. 1944): 582; John Paul II, Address to Gathering at Cuilapan (Mexico), 6, AAS 71 (1979) 209, OR, 12 Feb. 1979, 7. Vatican II deals with a particular case in which expropriation might be justified: some large landowners keep much of their land unproductive and exploit hired labor; if necessary, the land should be divided and distributed to those who can make it fruitful (see GS 71); cf. Paul VI, Populorum progressio, 24, AAS 59 (1967) 269, PE, 275.24.

77. The administrator should call the apparent unfairness to the attention of those who stand to benefit from it, and they should make and follow a conscientious judgment on the matter. They, of course, in no way violate the law if they forgo a distribution to which they are legally but not morally entitled.