The Christian attitude towards property

Could a man of wealth become and remain a Christian? Did the Christian ethic make for a revolution in the attitude towards property and the industrial and commercial structure of life? Some passages in the New Testament brought disquiet to tender consciences. Notable was the statement of Jesus to the rich young ruler that if he would be perfect he must sell all that he had and give to the poor, and his further comment that it was extremely difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. As we have seen, the early church in Jerusalem for a time practised community of goods. With some partial exceptions poverty was one of the rules for those who sought to be fully Christian by following the way of the monk. Christian teachers tended to regard agriculture and manual labour as preferable to trade and frowned upon the latter for those of their faith. Clement of Alexandria did not proscribe trade, but said that the Christian merchant should seek to determine what would be a just price to ask for his wares and to demand no more and accept no less.

Yet Christian teachers did not forbid private property. They held that luxury was contrary to Christian principles and commended simplicity in clothing and in eating and drinking, but they also enjoined labour and did not require the full surrender of the fruits of labour. The Church became the owner of large estates and even monasteries possessed property collectively and sold on the market the products of the work of the monks.

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