The idea of wealth coming through the service of others was not known in this world until the modern age, beginning in the late MiddleAges. Before then, there was a widespread assumption, contradicted by hardly anyone, that one sector of society was growing wealthy at the other’s expense.
The wealth accumulated through the market process has permitted the human population to grow exponentially. We can read the spiritual writers of the fifteenth century and forward on issues of wealth and see that they celebrated its arrival as something good for humanity, while continuing to warn of the need of charity and spiritual concerns.
Voluntary renouncement of earthly possessions was seen as an act of personal piety, a calling. But so too is the calling to manage money well, to create, invest, accumulate, and give generously. This is the lesson we learn from the science of economics, which was not something invented by Adam Smith, but rather something discovered first by the students studying in Spain under the influence of St. Thomas. With this background we can see what is wrong with dreams of the wholesale expropriation of the rich. It would lead not to social justice but to a historic calamity that would shock even those who witnessed the famines of old. The end of wealth would require the radical reduction of the human population too. It would also be an unparalleled disaster for human freedom.
In Jesus’s parables, too, we see not a negative portrayal of enterprise but one that is morally neutral, a setting in which to learn the great lessons of life. In them, we find people buying and selling to obtain treasures, hiring workers to work in vineyards, building houses in a variety of natural environments, and even investing money in productive and unproductive enterprises.
Jesus used the settings of enterprise not to condemn wealth but often as analogies to the kind of spiritual riches we should seek in life. The Acton Institute seeks to spread this knowledge of the market and their virtue, which is one reason your support of our work is also a contribution to civilization itself.
Rev. Robert A. Sirico, President
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