Of God and His Creatures

Of various Modes of Living adopted by the Votaries of Voluntary Poverty

FIRST MODE. The first mode is for the possessions of all to be sold, and all to live in common on [the capital fund accumulated by] the price, as was done under the Apostles at Jerusalem: As many as had possessions in lands or houses sold them, and laid the price at the feet of the Apostles, and division was made to each according to the need of each (Acts iv, 34, 35).

Criticism. It is not easy to induce many men with great possessions to take up this mode of life; and if the amount realised out of the possessions of a few rich is divided among many recipients, it will not last long.

Reply. This mode will do, but not for a long time. And therefore we do not read of the Apostles instituting this inode of living when they passed to the nations among whom the Church was to take root and endure.

Second Mode. To have possessions in common, sufficient to provide for all members of the community out of what the property brings in, as is done in most monasteries.

Criticism. Earthly possessions breed solicitude, as well for the gathering in of the returns as also for the defence of them against acts of fraud and violence; and this solicitude is all the greater as greater possessions are required for the support of many. In this way then the end of voluntary poverty is defeated, at least in the case of many, who have the procuratorship of these possessions. Besides, common possession is wont to be a source of discord.

Reply. The administration of these common possessions may be left to the care of one or a few persons, and the rest remain without solicitude for temporals, free to attend to spiritual things. Nor do they who undertake this solicitude for others lose any of the perfection of their life: for what they seem to lose by defect of quiet they recover in the service of charity, in which perfection consists. Nor is there any loss of concord by occasion of this mode of common possessions. For they who adopt voluntary poverty ought to be persons who despise temporal things; and such persons are not the men to quarrel over temporals.

Third mode. To live by the labour of one's hands, as St Paul did and advised others to do. We have not eaten bread of any one for nothing, but in labour and fatigue, night and day working, not to be a burden to any of you: not that we had not authority to act otherwise, but to present ourselves to you as a model for you to imitate: for when we were with you, we laid down to you the rule, if any man not work, neither let him eat (2 Thess. iii, 8-10).

Criticism. It seems folly for one to abandon what is necessary, and afterwards try to get it back again by labour. Moreover, whereas the end of the counsel of voluntary poverty is the readier following of Christ in freedom from worldly solicitudes, earning one's livelihood by one's own labour is a matter of more anxiety than living on the possessions which one had before, especially if they were a modest competency. And the Lord seems to forbid manual labour to His disciples in the text: Behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap: consider the lilies of the field how they grow, they labour not, neither do they spin (Matt. vi, 26, 28). Moreover this mode of living is inadequate. Many desire a perfect life, who have not the capacity for earning their livelihood by labour, not having been brought up thereto: also there is the possibility of sickness. And no little time must be spent in labour to suffice for earning a livelihood: many spend their whole time in labour, and yet can scarcely live. Thus the votaries of voluntary poverty will be hindered from study and spiritual exercises; and their poverty will be more of a hindrance than a help to the perfection of their life.

Reply. In the case of rich men, their possessions involve solicitude in getting them or keeping them; and the heart of the owner is drawn to them; inconveniences which do not happen to one whose sole object is to gain his daily bread by the labour of his hands. Little time is sufficient, and little solicitude is necessary, for gaining by the labour of one's hands enough to support nature: but for gathering riches and superfluities, as craftsmen in the world propose, much time has to be spent and much solicitude shown. Our Lord in the Gospel has not forbidden labour of the hands, but anxiety of mind about the necessaries of life. He did not say, Do not labour, but, Be not solicitous. And this precept He enforces by an argument from less to greater. For if divine providence sustains birds and lilies, which are of inferior condition, and cannot labour at those works whereby men get their livelihood, much more will it provide for men, who are of worthier condition, and to whom it has given ability to win their livelihood by their own labours. It is the exception for a man not to be able to win enough to live upon by the labour of his hands; and an institution is not to be rejected for exceptional cases. The remedy is, for him whose labour is not enough to keep him, to be helped out either by others of the same society, who can make more by their labour than is necessary for them, or by others who are well off. Nor need those who are content with little spend much time in seeking a livelihood by the labour of their hands: so they are not much hindered from spiritual works, especially as in working with their hands they can think of God and praise Him.

Fourth mode. To live on the alms contributed by others, who retain their wealth. This seems to have been the method observed by our Lord: for it is said that sundry women followed Christ, and ministered to him out of their means (Luke viii, 2, 3).

Criticism. It seems irrational for one to abandon his own and live on an other's property, -- or for one to receive of another and pay him back nothing in return. There is no impropriety in ministers of the altar and preachers, to whom the people are indebted for doctrine and other divine gifts, receiving support at their hands: for the labourer is worthy of his hire, as the Lord says (Matt. x, 10); and the Apostle, the Lord hath ordained that they who preach the gospel should live by the gospel (1 Cor. ix, 14). But it is an apparent absurdity for these persons who minister to the people in no office to receive the necessaries of life from the people. Others moreover, who through sickness and poverty cannot help themselves, must lose their alms through these professors of voluntary poverty, since men neither can nor will succour a great multitude of poor. Moreover independence of spirit is particularly requisite for perfect virtue: otherwise men easily become partakers in other people's sins, either by expressly consenting to them, or by palliating or dissembling them. But this method of life is a great drawback to such independence, for a man cannot but shrink from offending one by whose patronage he lives. Moreover the necessity of exposing one's necessities to others, and begging relief, renders mendicants objects of contempt and dislike, whereas persons who take up a perfect life ought to be reverenced and loved. But if any one will praise the practice of begging as conducive to humility, he seems to talk altogether unreasonably. For the praise of humility consists in despising earthly exaltation, such as comes of riches, honours, fame, but not in despising loftiness of virtue, for in that respect we ought to be magnanimous. That then would be a blameworthy humility, for the sake of which any one should do anything derogatory to loftiness of virtue. But the practice of begging is so derogatory, as well because it is more virtuous to give than to receive, as also because there is a look of filthy lucre about it.

Reply. There is no impropriety in him being supported by the alms of others, who has abandoned his own possessions for the sake of something that turns to the profit of others. Were this not so, human society could not go on. If every one busied himself only about his own affairs, there would be no one to minister to the general advantage. The best thing then for human society (hominum societati) is that they who neglect the care of their own interests to serve the general advantage, should be supported by those whose advantage they serve. Therefore do soldiers live on pay provided by others, and civil rulers are provided for out of the common fund. But they who embrace voluntary poverty to follow Christ, certainly abandon what they have to serve the common advantage, enlightening the people by wisdom, learning and example, or sustaining them by their prayer and intercession. Hence there is nothing base in their living on what they get from others, seeing that they make a greater return, receiving temporals and helping others in spirituals. Hence the Apostle says: Let your abundance in temporals supply their want, that their abundance in spirituals also may supply your want (2 Cor. viii, 14: cf. Rom. xv, 27). For he who abets another becomes a partner in his work, whether for good or evil. By their example other men become less attached to riches, seeing them abandon riches altogether for the sake of perfection. And the less one loves riches, the more ready will he be to make distribution of his riches in other's need: hence they who embrace voluntary poverty are useful to other poor people, provoking the rich to works of mercy by word and example. Nor do they lose their liberty of spirit for the little they receive from others for their sustenance. A man does not lose his independence except for things that become predominant in his affections: for things that a man despises, if they are given to him, he does not lose his liberty. Nor is there any unseemliness in their exposing their necessities, and asking what they need either for themselves or others. The Apostles are read to have done so (2 Cor. viii, ix). Such begging does not render men contemptible, if it is done moderately, for necessaries, not for superfluities, without importunity, and with due regard to the conditions of the persons asked, and place and time. There is no shadow of disgrace about such begging, though there would be, if it were done with importunity or without discretion.

There is, no doubt, a certain humiliation in begging, as having a thing done to you is less honourable than doing it, and receiving than giving, and obeying royal power than governing and reigning. The spontaneous embracing of humiliations is a practice of humility, not in any and every case, but when it is done for a needful purpose: for humility, being a virtue, does nothing indiscreetly. It is then not humility but folly to embrace any and every humiliation: but where virtue calls for a thing to be done, it belongs to humility not to shrink from doing it for the humiliation that goes with it, for instance, not to refuse some mean service where charity calls upon you so to help your neighbour. Thus then where begging is requisite for the perfection of a life of poverty, it is a point of humility to bear this humiliation. Sometimes too, even where our own duty does not require us to embrace humiliations, it is an act of virtue to take them up in order to encourage others by our example more easily to bear what is incumbent on them: for a general sometimes will do the office of a common soldier to encourage the rest. Sometimes again we may make a virtuous use of humiliations as a medicine. Thus if any one's mind is prone to undue self-exaltation, he may with advantage make a moderate use of humiliations, either self-imposed or imposed by others, so to check the elation of his spirit by putting himself on a level with the lowest class of the community in the doing of mean offices.

Fifth mode. There have also been some who said that the votaries of a perfect life should take no thought either for begging or labouring or laying up anything for themselves, but should exped their sustenance from God alone, according to the texts, Be not solicitous, and, Take no thought for the morrow (Matt. vi, 25, 34).

Criticism. This seems quite an irrational proceeding. For it is foolish to wish an end and omit the means ordained to that end. Now to the end of eating there is ordained some human care of providing oneself with food. They then who cannot live without eating ought to have some solicitude about seeking their food. There follows also a strange absurdity: for by parity of reasoning one might say that he will not walk, or open his mouth to eat, or avoid a stone falling, or a sword striking him, but expect God to do all, which is tantamount to tempting God.*

Reply. It is quite an irrational error to suppose that all solicitude about making a livelihood is forbidden by the Lord. Every action requires care: if then a man ought to have no solicitude about temporal things, it follows that he should do nothing temporal, which is neither a possible nor a reasonable course. For God has prescribed to every being actions according to the peculiarity of its nature. Man, being made up of a nature at once spiritual and corporeal, must by divine ordinance exercise bodily actions; and at the same time have spiritual aims; and he is the more perfect, the more spiritual his aims are. But it is not a mode of perfection proper to man to omit bodily action: bodily actions serve necessary purposes in the preservation of life; and whoever omits them neglects his life, which he is bound to preserve. To look for aid from God in matters in which one can help oneself by one's own action, and so to leave that action out, is a piece of folly and a tempting of God: for it is proper to the divine goodness to provide for things, not immediately by doing everything itself, but by moving other things to their own proper action (Chap. LXXVII). We must not then omit the means of helping ourselves, and expect God to help us in defect of all action of our own: that is inconsistent with the divine ordinance and with His goodness.

But because, though it rests with us to act, still that our actions shall attain their due end does not rest with us, owing to obstacles that may arise, the success that each one shall have in his action comes under divine arrangement. The Lord then lays it down that we ought not to be solicitous for what does not belong to us, that is, for the success of our actions: but He has not forbidden us to be solicitous about what does belong to us, that is, for the work which we ourselves do. It is not then to act against the precept of the Lord, to feel solicitude for the things which have to be done; but he goes against the precept, who is solicitous for what may turn out even when (etiam si) he does all that is in his power to do, and takes due precautions beforehand (praemittat) to meet the contingency of such untoward events.

When that is done, we ought to hope in God's providence, by whom even the birds and herbs are sustained.* To feel solicitude on such points seems to appertain to the error of the Gentiles who deny divine providence. Therefore the Lord concludes that we should take no thought for the morrow (Matt. vi, 34), by which He has not forbidden us to lay up betimes things needful for the morrow; but He forbids that solicitude about future events which goes with a sort of despair of the divine assistance, as also the allowing of the solicitude that will have to be entertained to-morrow to come in before its time perversely to-day:* for every day brings its own solicitude; hence it is added, Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.

3.132, 135 : Arguments against Voluntary Poverty, with Replies
3.134 : In what the Good of Poverty consists