Peter Kwasniewski

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Why Christians should give away their wealth instead of hoarding it

Peter Kwasniewski Peter Kwasniewski Follow Dr. Peter

October 25, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – 

Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. (Mt 19:23-24)

The Christian tradition places a strong emphasis on the value of voluntary poverty and the actual benefits being poor or becoming poorer by giving away our material riches to the extent that we can. This, in turn, is founded on the need for interior conversion in regard to our attitudes about acquisition, possession, enjoyment, and happiness. Due to the fall, we are tempted to place our happiness in creatures, and one of the most obvious manifestations of this bent inclination is avarice or the disordered desire for material goods and riches. Mother Teresa was famous for saying that the most joyful people she met were among the poorest, and the saddest among the most affluent.

In the second chapter of the Second Epistle to St. Timothy we read:

Labor as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No man, being a soldier to God, entangleth himself with secular businesses, that he may please him to whom he hath engaged himself. For he also that striveth for the mastery, is not crowned, except he strive lawfully. (2 Tim 2:3-5)

St. Thomas Aquinas offers the following perceptive commentary on these verses:

The goal of bodily warfare is obtaining victory over the enemies of the fatherland, and so soldiers have to abstain from those things that divert them from the fight, namely, business and pleasure. “Everyone that fights in the struggle abstains from all things” (1 Cor 9: 25). But the goal of spiritual warfare is to be victorious over the men who are against God, and so one must abstain from all those things that distract us from God. Now these are “secular businesses” (cf. 2 Tim 2:4), because concern for this world chokes the Word. And so he says: “No man . . . entangles himself.”

Wait a minute. Can it really be true that “concern for this world chokes the Word”? It sounds terribly narrow and strict. In fact, it sounds like the very opposite of the belief and behavior of most Christians in prosperous Western societies today. Perhaps in some sense it has always been that way, for Aquinas continues by entertaining a difficulty concerning Paul the tentmaker:

Against this [view], someone might say that secular businesses are temporal ones, and that the Apostle did such things, when he lived by the work of his hands. 

As we would expect, no relevant detail in the text escapes the Angelic Doctor’s notice. He finds the solution in St. Paul’s exact choice of words:

My reply would be that the Apostle says entangles, not exercises. Now a man is entangled in the things with which his cares and concerns are connected. Properly speaking, then, the things forbidden to the soldiers of Christ are those entanglements of the mind that are shown to be unnecessary. Likewise, he does not say “is entangled,” but “entangles himself,” for one entangles oneself when one takes on business without piety and necessity. However, when the necessity of the duty of piety and authority is involved, then one does not entangle oneself, but rather is entangled by such necessity. “I commend to you Phebe … that you assist her in whatsoever business she shall have need of you” (Rom 16:2). 

The reason why they must not entangle themselves is “that he may please Him to whom he has engaged himself” (2 Tim 2:4). “If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him” (1 Jn 2: 15). For he who is a soldier of Christ has committed himself to waging war for God; and so he must try to please Him to whom he has committed himself.

St. Thomas’s analysis of self-entanglement got me thinking about the root problem with much of what passes for “capitalism” today. The fundamental problem is not exploitation of workers, bad though that is, or overpayment of CEOs and CFOs, or the production of cheap, ugly, throw-away “goods,” or the divorcing of fathers from families and mothers from children. These are indeed terrible things, highly typical of the modern marketplace. But the worst problem of capitalism is the simple fact that it powerfully breeds, and in turn feeds upon, a soul-dominating love of this world—a preoccupation with possessions, riches, status, power, so many “entanglements of the mind” as St. Thomas puts it. All the other problems mentioned above flow out of this source.

The passages of Scripture against riches deserve to be brought forward again and again. Christianity objects to getting rich and being rich in this world because of how dangerous worldly wealth is for the soul’s spiritual health. The love of material riches turns quickly to a longing for them, then a lusting after them, until there is envy, rivalry, violence, selfish enjoyment, and apathy, even contempt, toward other persons. By a law of fallen nature, the amassing of worldly wealth leads to vice and obstructs virtue: “the love of money is the root of all evil,” as St. Paul strikingly says (1 Tim 6:10). Over time, then, the rich will tend to be foremost among the worst people in the world.

One need only call to mind the 2009 meeting of “the Good Club” in New York City that brought together billionaires such as Bill Gates, David Rockefeller, Ted Turner, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffett, and George Soros for the purpose of strategizing about their favorite agenda: the reduction of the world’s population through contraception and abortion. Only a blindness caused by materialism could embrace such evil as good.

Our Lord’s first anxiety is about the danger to salvation presented by the attachment to worldly goods that resides in every fallen human heart. The actual vices and sins come later, when the danger has been ignored and the attachments indulged. This is the negative reason, then, to keep giving away what we earn, what we have, to others who need it more. 

But the positive reason is more beautiful: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that through his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). We want to imitate our Master in His loving generosity. This is why, when God gives a person wealth, He gives it to him primarily for the sake of benefiting others and not of pleasing oneself.

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Peter Kwasniewski

Peter Kwasniewski holds a B.A. in Liberal Arts from Thomas Aquinas College and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America. After teaching at the International Theological Institute in Austria and for the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austrian Program, he joined the founding team of Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyoming, where he taught theology, philosophy, music, and art history, and directed the choir and schola. He is now a full-time author, speaker, editor, publisher, and composer.

Dr. Kwasniewski has published seven books, including Sacred Choral Works (Corpus Christi Watershed, 2014); Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis (Angelico, 2014); Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness (Angelico, 2017); A Reader in Catholic Social Teaching (Cluny, 2017); and Tradition and Sanity (Angelico, 2018). Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis has been published in Czech, Polish, German, and Portuguese, and will soon appear in Spanish and Belarusian.

Kwasniewski is a scholar of The Aquinas Institute in Green Bay, which is publishing the Opera Omnia of the Angelic Doctor, a Fellow of the Albertus Magnus Center for Scholastic Studies, and a Senior Fellow of the St. Paul Center. He has published over 750 articles on Thomistic thought, sacramental and liturgical theology, the history and aesthetics of music, and the social doctrine of the Church. 

For news, information, article links, sacred music, and the home of Os Justi Press, please visit his personal website, www.peterkwasniewski.com.