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Aquinas on Private property

August 14th, 2005 | 1 min read

By Andrew Selby

A very nice site I stumbled across is “Acton Insitute for the Study of Religious Liberty.” Therein you can find excellent articles and book review by prominent conservative Christian scholars such as Os Guiness and Herb Schlossberg.

One piece of an article I desired to leave on the venerable St. Thomas Aquinas on the nature of economics:

“Aquinas’s economic thought is inseparable from his understanding of natural law. In his view, natural law is an ethic derived from observing the fundamental norms of human nature. These norms can be understood as the will of God for creation. An unlawful act is that which perverts God’s design for a particular part of His creation. Economic transactions, according to Aquinas, should be considered within this framework, since they occur as human attempts to obtain materials provided by nature to achieve certain ends.

“Private property is a desirable economic institution because it complements man’s internal desire for order. “Hence the ownership of possessions is not contrary to the natural law,” Aquinas writes in the Summa Theologica, “but an addition thereto devised by human reason.” The state, however, has the authority to maintain a legal framework for commercial life, such as enforcing rules prohibiting theft, force, and fraud. In this way, civil law is a reflection of the natural law. Further, Aquinas believed that private ownership of property is the best guarantee of a peaceful and orderly society, for it provides maximum incentive for the responsible stewardship of property.

“Aquinas helped relax the traditionally negative view of mercantile trade that figured prominently in, for example, Patristic thought. For Aquinas, trade itself is not evil; rather, its moral worth depends on the motive and conduct of the trader. In addition, the risk associated with bringing goods from where they are abundant to where they are scarce justifies mercantile profit. The merchant, however, must direct his profits toward virtuous ends. “