The rich man is a thief

The above is the conclusion of Basil of Caesarea, who in the fourth century wrote

 “‘Upon whom,’ he (the private proprietor) says, ‘do I inflict any injury in retaining and conserving that which is mine?’ What things, tell me, are yours.  yours? Whence did you bring them into the world? You rich act like a man who, being the first to enter a theatre, would keep all others out, regarding as his own that which was intended for the common use of all. For you appropriate to yourselves the common heritage, simply because you were the first occupants. Whereas, if every man took only what was sufficient for his needs, leaving the rest to those in want, there would be no rich and no poor. Naked you came from the womb; naked you shall return to earth. Whence your present possessions? If you say, ‘from fate,’ you are impious, since you do not recognize the Creator nor render thanks to the Giver; if you answer, ‘from God,’ then tell me why you have received them. Is God so unjust as to distribute the necessaries of life inequitably? Why are you rich and your neighbor poor? Is it not to enable you to receive the reward of benevolence and upright stewardship, while he obtains the crown merited by patience? Yet you fancy that you do no injustice when you gather all things into the fathomless recesses of your greed. Who is the avaricious man? The man who is not satisfied with enough. Are not you, then, avaricious? Are you not a despoiler? For you have made your own that which you have received to distribute. Is he not called a thief who strips a man of his clothes? And he who will not clothe the naked when he can,-is he deserving of a different appellation? The bread that you keep in your possession belongs to the hungry; the cloak in your closet, to the naked; the shoes that you allow to rot, to the barefooted, and your hoarded silver, to the indigent. Hence you have done injustice to as many as you have failed to help.”

Were the church fathers communists[pdf]? John A Ryan doesn’t think so.

Stealing from the poor presents quotes from selected church fathers and comments by readers.

About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

33 thoughts on “The rich man is a thief

  1. persedeplume says:

    I had to circle back around for a second read of this. It’s a pretty good topic, actually. A case can be made on either side from the bible for either viewpoint. Job would be an example of “prosperity” gospel, and Ananias and Sapphira would be one for what I would characterize as complete subservience to the church rather than Communism. A lot of folks don’t really get that Communism/Socialism is “systems of production for use based on public ownership of the means of production and centralized planning.” The church doesn’t really fit that paradigm. The NT does talk a lot of smack about rich folk and their prospects for the kingdom, however.
    I don’t have a moral objection to someone being “rich” per se, as long as they got that way ethically. That’s a yardstick few of today’s wealthy can measure up to, I’m afraid.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nan says:

      Sometimes it isn’t so much the fact a person is “rich” as it is what he does with the money. Many (most?) put it on display, hoard it away, or use it to make more money. Few (at least that we’re aware of) use it to help those less fortunate.

      Yet you fancy that you do no injustice when you gather all things into the fathomless recesses of your greed.

      Liked by 3 people

    • makagutu says:

      The article by Ryan says exactly the same thing; the church doesn’t fit in communism.

      I don’t have a moral objection to someone being “rich” per se, as long as they got that way ethically. That’s a yardstick few of today’s wealthy can measure up to, I’m afraid.

      This, I think is one of the questions of our times.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. renudepride says:

    This was very thought provoking as the “rich man” reminded me too much of the idiot who stole the recent American election. I need to clear that thought from my mind and read the post again when I can separate the content from my own prejudices against the idiot mentioned above. Naked hugs!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. basenjibrian says:


    I think that is too comfortable a position. Many, no most of us, could be condemned by this essay.

    The bigger problem is the vagueness of this condemnation. One could argue that any person not dressed in minimal rags, eating bread and water, and living in a shanty is guilty of this “sin”. A convenient argument, because “the church” is conveniently available to distribute your excess (no government welfare programs during the writer’s era). Hitchens points out the damage such an ethos can do w/r/t human betterment and striving.

    The essay also assumes that these shared goods are available for the taking, with no effort or toil. Even as a skeptic of capitalism, this strikes me as woefully simplistic. If a farming family fences off a plot of vacant wasteland and through work and capital transforms it to a garden, does a poor family unwilling of unable to do the same entitled to the fruits of said garden? Just because. So…the essay is dangerously simplistic.

    And, the arguments ignores the whole debate of the value of charity. This very blog has discussed some of the problems with “aid”. Is giving things to “the poor” really the best approach for running a society? Especially over the long term.

    I ran across an interesting quote from the founder of a major Wall Street investment guide, Moody’s that is amusing w/r/t “ethical” wealth.

    Liked by 2 people

    • makagutu says:

      The right to property can only be valid if one works the land. And I don’t think a fellow who hasn’t worked has the right to his neighbor’s fruit orchard.
      What however do we do with the mad man/woman? Do we let them starve to death?
      A few years ago ( not more than 3), we got a loan from China in the form of development aid. The conditions attached to it should have made any reasonable person to say no. The labour has been mainly theirs, the equipment theirs and they shall be running and servicing the damn thing for the next several years. All the money goes back to China.


      • basenjibrian says:

        Ach. You should count your blessings, Maka. If the “aid” had come from The Evil Empire, it would have consisted of weapons and “training” for your secret police to help the thugs in power stay there. And when the whole creaky edifice began to crumble, the Shining City on the Hill would have been happy to send fleets of drones to rain terror on your recalcitrant villages.


  4. basenjibrian says:

    Oops. This is the quote from Moody.

    ,.,The/real sore spot in our modern commercial
    life is found on the speculative side. Under present
    laws, which foster and encourage speculation
    business life is largely a gamble, and to “get
    something for nothing” is too often considered
    the keynote to “success.” The great fortunes of
    today are nearly all speculative fortunes; and
    the ambitious young man just starting out in life
    thinks far less of producing or rendering service
    than he does of “putting it over” on the other
    fellow This may seem a broad statement to
    some; but thirty years of business life in the
    heart of American commercial activity convinces
    me that it is absolutely true.
    If, however, the speculative incentive in modern
    commercial life were eliminated, and no man
    could become rich or successful unless he gave
    “value received” and rendered service for service,
    then indeed a profound change would have been
    brought in our whole commercial system, and it
    would be a change which no honest man would
    regret.—John Moody, Wall Street Publisher, and
    President of Moody’s Investors’ Service. Circa 1924

    Liked by 2 people

    • makagutu says:

      The article and the comments on that link are great


      • basenjibrian says:

        Some of the comments on the site (generally speaking) verge on conspiracy mongering. But overall, Naked Capitalism is one of my absolute favorite leftist economics site….written by people actually in the Vampire Squid industry, so we are talking about insider knowledge. What I really love is how they question, no scoff at, conventional wisdom.

        For example: there was an amazing series of articles by a guest writer describing how Uber is an utter failure from an economic standpoint being propped up by billionaire Vampire Squids who are looking to establish an absolute monopoly at any cost.


  5. I’ll put the biblical references aside because they are contradictory and add little value to this discussion.

    A much better reference is “The Wealth of Nations” by Enlightenment economist/philosopher Adam Smith. In it, he conveys two essential and opposing points: 1) that societal wealth is primarily driven by human avarice, and 2) that such a system which enables avarice (i.e. capitalism) must exist within a moral social framework else it will corrupt through excessive greed and the lust for power.

    I believe Smith was correct on both points; although, the current state of capitalism – which has run amok, in my view – illustrates the precariously fine line such an economic system must tread. Today, many believe that Smith’s cultural morality requirement for capitalism has failed; and, this has opened the door to religious interjection.


    • makagutu says:

      I should finish reading Smith 😦
      In different epochs, capitalism has run amok. It is in this context that Basil’s pronouncements are to be seen. And when we look back at those periods, opportunists, mainly religious, rose to speak against such imbalances and always ended up in a revolution.
      And I have a feeling we will get to the point of revolution if things continue as they now stand.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Ron says:

    I think it’s imperative to establish precise definitions of rich, poor and enough prior to making such an assessment.


    • makagutu says:

      I agree with you, Ron.
      Is she a poor who is content with what little she has?
      Is he rich who is not satisfied with the much he has?
      Is she poor who lives on less than a $1 a day?
      I have no definitions for any of those.


    • basenjibrian says:

      I don’t think that is possible, Ron. Who is going to establish said definitions? And, such a “system” ignores the importance of relative wealth in social systems and personal satisfaction. Not to sound like a right wing curmudgeon, but the modern working class American, struggling as he may be, is wealthier beyond belief in terms of creature comforts .


  7. shelldigger says:

    I am quite sure that the thugs now running our country would scream “communist!”

    or “socialist!”

    I’m pretty sure your author had encountered some Republicans…


  8. […] while back I wrote this post in which I quoted a monk who argued the rich man is a thief. Reading The Panama Papers: Breaking […]


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