Are Christians really supposed to be communists? A response to David Bentley Hart

"Last Supper of Christ" by Jacopo Tintoretto "Last Supper of Christ" by Jacopo Tintoretto

The Christian scholar David Bentley Hart has earned a cult following for his combination of deep erudition, pavonine prose and penchant for provocation. The formula worked well when Professor Hart, a classicist, gave a preview of his now-published translation of the New Testament by writing in Commonweal of his discovery that the New Testament condemns wealth as such—as opposed to, as we are sometimes told, greed or overdue attachment to wealth—a fact which, he says, is brutally laid bare in the literal Greek text and but is all too often bowdlerized by pusillanimous translations. Now Hart has laid out his argument again in the New York Times.

The assertion was bound to generate controversy. Professor Hart’s rhetorical style is combative and designed to goad the counterpunch. And it is intuitively obvious why Christian, and Catholic, supporters of the free enterprise system (of whom I count myself) would react to this idea as to nails on a chalkboard.

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Still, lost in the shouting, I wish someone had bothered to note that Hart’s position is merely a restatement of well-established Roman Catholic doctrine. The Catechism of the Catholic Church approvingly quotes the Gospel of Luke (“He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none and he who has food must do likewise”) and St. John Chrysostom (“Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs”) on the topic of what Christians should do with their money.

I wish someone had bothered to note that Hart’s position is merely a restatement of well-established Roman Catholic doctrine.

Citing Scripture and St. Thomas Aquinas, Leo XIII’s encyclical “Rerum Novarum,” the bedrock of modern Catholic social doctrine, unambiguously states: “when what necessity demands has been supplied, and one’s standing fairly taken thought for, it becomes a duty to give to the indigent out of what remains over” (No. 22). In “Quod Apostolici Muneris,” the same pope writes “By most urgent precept [the Church] commands the rich to distribute their superfluous possessions among the poor, and terrifies them by the divine judgment, whereby, unless they go to the aid of the needy poor, they are to be tormented by everlasting punishments.” Pius XI’s “Quadragesimo Anno” concurs: “a person's superfluous income [...] is not left wholly to his own free determination. Rather the Sacred Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church constantly declare in the most explicit language that the rich are bound by a very grave precept to practice almsgiving, beneficence, and munificence” (No. 50).

In other words, the very fact of superfluous wealth, apart from greed or lack of detachment, is condemnable. In the technical language of Catholic moral theology, the explicit threat of eternal damnation makes it one of those “grave matters” where the objective fact alone is condemnable and, if engaged in freely and in full knowledge of its sinfulness, is a mortal sin, like theft or murder or adultery. This is not some new revelation. It is Catholic dogma.

I would add that Catholic supporters of free enterprise do themselves no favor by trying to sweep that fact under the carpet. There is no opposition between believing in divine condemnation upon wealth as such and believing that a system that happens to create great wealth for a few also creates the most prosperity for all and especially the poor—indeed, these views are complementary. To whom much has been given, much will be required.

Now, to be fair, Hart goes much further than this basic point. It is nonetheless important to be reminded of Catholic doctrine’s condemnation of wealth, since so many would-be orthodox Catholics seem so unaware of it. Still, Hart doesn’t just assert this point; he further argues that the New Testament condemns not only wealth but virtually all private possession.

It is important to be reminded of Catholic doctrine’s condemnation of wealth, since so many would-be orthodox Catholics seem so unaware of it.

His arguments here are much less convincing. They range from merely bad to disturbingly powerful—and it is because of that power that we should understand precisely why he is wrong.

First, the bad: Hart correctly notes that the early Jerusalem church practiced a kind of proto-communism, holding all property in common. That the New Testament’s divine author intends this as a blueprint for all Christian living, however, is belied by the fact that Paul’s epistles show that the other churches did not practice this, and that he does not regard it as a violation of the Gospel.

Hart also charges that Paul’s use of the word koinonos and its cognates, to refer to what Christians ought to do with their money, does not refer to some generic concept of “sharing” or almsgiving, but rather more specifically to common ownership of property. I dare not cross linguistic swords with Hart, but one still wonders why, if Paul’s import is as clear as Hart says it is, virtually all church fathers missed it. (Hart alleges that Clement of Alexandria purposefully diluted the text’s import to make it more palatable to Greco-Roman sensibilities.)

But Hart’s most powerful argument relates less to any specific scriptural passage or linguistic point than to a sort of argument by accumulation. The New Testament’s calls for Christians to renounce worldly goods and to embrace poverty are so numerous, so emphatic, so insistent, that however we might be able to lawyer ourselves out of any particular one, we would always be missing the forest for the trees. One hears the echo of St. Francis’s call for poverty sine glosa, “without gloss”—that is, without vaguely dubious theological arguments that try to define poverty as anything but its common-sense meaning. Or the echo of Kierkegaard, who famously wrote:

The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world?

Contra their critics who would reassure me that I can go on with my petit bourgeois lifestyle undisturbed, Hart and Kierkegaard are quite right that the New Testament says what they think it says. But it is important to understand why they are wrong about the implications.

Jesus, we are told, did not just speak in parables, he spoke in hyperbole. Quite right: Nobody thinks that Jesus actually wants you to pluck your eye out if it drives you to lust. (Wouldn’t you be just as able to lust after a beautiful person with just one eye?) What is wrong is to stop once we have said this.

Professor Hart is wrong and the church is right. There are vocations, and some Christians are called to total poverty; others are called to live in the world, and therefore to engage in market transactions, to earn wages and to accumulate savings to provide economic security for their families. No church father, catechism, encyclical or council has ever preached the opposite. What is wrong is to stop once we have said this, as his critics would have us.

Some Christians are called to total poverty; others are called to live in the world, and therefore to engage in market transactions.

Here’s the rub: The fact that I can know that God does not want me to give up all worldly goods because I support a child is precisely why I cannot rest easy. The fact that my vocation is perfectly acceptable to God is why Jesus’ thunderous words still apply to me. Jesus’ dramatic, hyperbolic words are a reminder that even while maintaining my vocation as a petit bourgeois, I can always be more radical in how I love and how I give to my fellow man. “Fearful it is to fall in the hands of the living God,” Kierkegaard reminds us in the same passage I quoted above. And how reassuring it would be for petit bourgeois Christians like myself to tell ourselves that the way Jesus preaches is for the others, for those who go into the desert.

To put it simply: poverty sine glosa is not the only way for the Christian. But that reminder should always be followed up by the always urgent reminder that we could still do with a lot less glosa and a lot more poverty.

Jesus’ hyperbole is there to remind us that we can always do more. “Let the dead bury their dead,” Christ commands us! We cannot take that to mean that all Christians everywhere should fail to pay respect to deceased loved ones. But neither can we—and this attitude is much more common, much more destructive—simply wave a magic wand of “Well, that’s hyperbole” and turn this fiery admonition into some bland platitude about detachment from worldliness. How much of my attachment to my family is a genuine expression of Christian charity, and how much is rote habit, social pressure, mere convenience that draws me away from Christ? The hyperbole is too strong for me to rest easy. How many “good Catholic” parents bemoan the decline in priests until Junior announces that he is going to the seminary and they won’t have grandchildren? Let the dead bury their dead.

How reassuring it would be for Christians like myself to tell ourselves that the way Jesus preaches is for the others, for those who go into the desert.

Hart, a tireless basher of Protestant theology (not one of his least virtues), has produced a crypto-Protestant theology out of his exegesis. It paints the same picture of the New Testament’s moral commands as Luther’s: as a kind of reductio ad absurdum, a rhetorical device meant to convict us of their impossibility and to cause us to seek refuge from divine wrath through faith alone, apart from works, and he defends this picture by impatiently swatting away millennia of tradition and scholarship through appeals to the plain literal meaning of Scripture alone. In contrast, the Catholic Church (as well as Hart’s own Eastern Orthodox Church) has always maintained that these commands are calls for actual moral heroism—difficult, to be sure, but achievable through the supernatural aid of the Spirit and the sacraments. This ersatz sola fide doctrine, it should be stressed, is not what Hart means—but it is what his thesis would have meant, in practice, for the vast majority of believers if the church had adopted it, doing incomparably much more to hasten Christianity’s appeasement of materialism, consumerism and the petite bourgeoisie that he correctly blames on the Reformation.

“The Jansenist Saint-Cyran once made the thought-provoking remark that faith consists of a series of contradictions held together by grace,” Joseph Ratzinger wrote in his magisterial Introduction to Christianity. The whole business of orthodoxy—of right belief—is the holding together of those contradictions, while error comes from often well-intentioned attempts to resolve them by emphasizing one side at the expense of the other. Is Jesus God, or is he a man? Yes, orthodoxy answers. Is there one God, or is there God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit? Yes, orthodoxy answers. Is salvation by sheer grace through faith, or through works? Yes, orthodoxy answers. And finally, are Christians called to a total renunciation of the world, or are there vocations that rightly involve property ownership and all that that entails? Yes, orthodoxy must answer.

And in turn, this is why orthodoxy matters. Not as a sort of logical game, or as a sort of checklist whose every entry the church must tick, but because in the end, the opposite of orthodoxy is not heresy—it is idolatry. We scheming swindlers spend our entire days building up idols, a God in our own image. The image of the Golden Calf does not just symbolize money, power and sex, it symbolizes those things because if any of us were a god, we would be a god of money, power and sex. The scheming and the swindling is the drive to drop one side of the contradictions set forth by orthodoxy so that we can worship a God in our own image, a God who, like the Golden Calf, seems more reassuring at first because it is easier to grasp, but always becomes a pitiless tyrant. How much more fearful it is, instead, to face up to the apparent contradictions and to try to live them through the Spirit.

In his laudable attempt to stir us out of our complacency and unleash the radicality of the Gospel’s commands, Professor Hart’s oversimplification actually ends up domesticating them.

Frank Pray
1 week 6 days ago

Why not just admit we choose to disobey Jesus’s teaching on property ownership? At least we’d take the element of hypocrisy out of the debate. The truth is that we’re just not ready or willing to accept the implications of Jesus’s teachings on this subject. I know I’m not, at least not yet. Who is brave enough to be so counter-cultural? Certainly not the Vatican with its many treasured assets.

David Cruz-Uribe, OFS
1 week 6 days ago

The creates a false dichotomy. It is not as bad as some gut-level reactions to this article that I have read, which focus on the word "communist" to such an extent (and conflate it with Soviet totalitarianism) that the argument is lost. Here, the author demonstrates that the assertion that the Gospels teach communism must be rendered complex, and by a sleight of hand conclude that the Gospels are okay with "free enterprise". He never defines this term, but his repeated use of the vulgar marxist term "petit bourgeois" suggests that he equates it with free market capitalism. That is a long leap and not one supported by the multiple sources that he piles on. Leo XIII and Catholic Social Teaching are in general very suspicious of free market capitalism and it's idolatrous treatment of private property.

Robert Lewis
1 week 5 days ago

No, I think his article is brilliant because it OPPOSES neo-liberal or "free market capitalism." What he is arguing for, by implication, is social democracy, in which both the government and the ordinary citizens obey Jesus's directives in the Beatitudes--but in which the individuals do it without government coercion.

J Cosgrove
1 week 5 days ago

Free market capitalism is the only moral way to distribute goods. Any other way is immoral and oppresses the poor. But the market must remain free, that is key. Freedom does not mean only current suppliers but freedom of the buyers and freedom to enter the market as a supplier. Too often what is called capitalism is not free market capitalism but some coercive system based on power protected by political alliances.

And by the way free market capitalism allows one to live a communal semi-socialist existence as long as this it not coercive. The key is a system that is not coercive and lets people essentially remain free.

This is built into humans and is part of human nature or the natural law. Which is why it is God's way. It is how He made us.

Without free market capitalism our lives would be nasty, brutish and short.

Robert Lewis
1 week 5 days ago

The "moral way to distribute goods" is described in the Beatitudes, and any human ideology that advertises itself as being superior to that way is blasphemy.. The ideology that describes the "free market" as the "moving hand of God" is of the devil.

J Cosgrove
1 week 4 days ago

The beatitudes and free market capitalism are completely compatible. One does not preclude the other. Actually free market capitalism enables the practice of the beatitudes. It certainly doesn't ensure the meaningfulness of the beatitudes but it in no way hinders it.

Before free market capitalism was widely adopted, 80% of the world were slaves or serfs. It was almost impossible to see the beatitudes play out in any meaningful way when hunger and short lives were the norm.

You might want to explain how the beatitudes specify how economic goods are created and distributed. The answer is they don't. You might also want to show where other economic systems besides free market capitalism have worked better for the people. The answer is there isn't one.

People do not like being enslaved but prefer the freedom to choose. A world where the beatitudes can be preached and be fulfilled is very compatible with freedom. God not Satan made us to desire freedom. . Satan prefers enslavement.

Any form of socialism will not work because all are incompatible with freedom. So to enforce any form of socialism the elite must oppress the masses in order to make it work. So we will be back to new forms of serfdom or slavery. Socialism really only worked in one place, the kibbutz of Israel. But they voted it out a short time later.

Robert Lewis
1 week 4 days ago

The radical autonomy of the Enlightenment philosophies and Protestant Reformation heresies that gave rise to the "Gospel of the Market" are all inimical to what Jesus Christ taught. Certainly, atheistic socialism and the "dictatorship of the Proletariat" are perversions of the message of the Beatitudes, but so are the ideologies of unfettered or "enlightened selfishness" and "consumerist culture" that are implicit in the anthropology of those Enlightenment philosophies and in the darkly pessimist theology of "salvation by faith alone". Surely, you must know that the social justice encyclicals of the modern papacy clearly advocate for a capitalist system that is modified into social democracy.

J Cosgrove
1 week 4 days ago

The pope's record on economics are not stellar.

Also, Just what is "social democracy?"

If it means you contribute and help the unfortunate till they are self sufficient then that is compatible with free market capitalism. But if it ends up with a permanent and growing underclass dependent on handouts then that is very Unchristian and not sustainable.

It is a vague and thus a meaningless term and one could say the United States is a social democracy since we spend trillions each year redistributing money. All made possible by the excesses generated by free market capitalism. These excesses didn't exist till free market capitalism became the primary economic system of Western Europe, the United States and Canada in the late 1700's and early 1800's and then much of the rest of the world after World War II.

And please don't point to the Scandinavian countries as successful social democracies. They are very small and very homogeneous countries which are now having difficult times due to immigrants who will not assimilate. They are hardly models for large multi-ethnic societies.

Robert Lewis
1 week 3 days ago

'Just what is "social democracy?"'

It is a "mixed" capitalist economy in which the government regulates to prevent monopoly, and in which a basic "safety net" is provided for all citizens, so that no one suffers from penury due to "market forces" but only due to willful, deliberate improvidence.

J Cosgrove
1 week 2 days ago

Sound like free market capitalism to me. You may not understand just what that is by your comments. It is when all are free and not coerced into certain decisions by the power on one side.

Robert Lewis
1 week 2 days ago

It is definitely NOT what the French call the "Anglo-Saxon Model" of capitalism; it is not what the admirers of Ayn Rand, such as Paul Ryan, think it is, and it is not what Koch brothers and Donald Trump think it is. And it IS what Jeremy Corbyn, Emmanuel Macron and Pope Francis think it is.

John Walton
1 week 6 days ago

Perhaps we should judge a political and economic movement by its effects and not its noble intents -- in the 20th century, 100 million perished under communism -- hardly Christian if you ask me. Quod erat demonstrandum.

Vince Killoran
1 week 6 days ago

So we are called to be Christian socialists, and not communists? That's fine by me. It's the free-market enthusiasts who try to fit Catholic social teaching in with their conservative economics that always seemed dodgy. The late Michael Novak made a valiant attempt to do this and failed.

John Walton
1 week 5 days ago

Communalism worked out so well in the early church, that it was necessary to write: "For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat." 2 Thessalonians 3:10.

Ysais Martinez
1 week 5 days ago

I think the broader point of discussion would be the open hostility, strongly documented in history, of Communism towards Christianity. The replacement of God with the state. I am having a hard time understanding how the solidarity lived in the first Christian community was communism which is an ideology that calls religion the opium of the masses. A system of thought responsible for the deaths of over 100 million people. An ideology hand in hand with fascism in their obsession with violence to justify ends. I didn't find a sentence about the godlessness of communism in the whole article.

Robert Lewis
1 week 5 days ago

There is no more need to discuss "communism" in the 21st century. The so-called "dictatorship of the proletariat" is a non-starter, after what the proponents of "communism" did in the 20th century, so NOBODY wants to reinstate it. However, we are now in the thrall of an equally pernicious ideology that, if left unchecked, will EAT the natural world ALIVE--and, perhaps, outdo fascism and communism, which never threatened destruction of the planet, in its depredations. There is no justice in this system--no care for the poor, or the children, or the indigenous, or the disabled, or even the demobilized warriors who defend its violent expansion into the Third World: http://utrend.tv/v/9-out-of-10-americans-are-completely-wrong-about-thi…

Ysais Martinez
1 week 5 days ago

I could care less about your pool of abstract idealism overpopulated with faceless shapes. I find it it irresponsible that an editor would let a writer get away with calling the first Community of Christians communists. The author complete and utterly waters down what Dr. Hart wrote. It's classic obscurantist writing --in my opinion. And for your information before I give a darn about humanity (faceless people I cannot name), I will do something about the concrete persons I interact with on a daily basis (actual individuals, with a name I know, who I can actually do something about): my family, my neighbors, my block.

Robert Lewis
1 week 5 days ago

I know you won't like this, but there are numerous passages of Scripture in the New Testament which indicate that that homeless person on a bench that you pass by, and which the "government" does, too, is as much your brother or your sister as your "family" or your "neighbors."

J Cosgrove
1 week 4 days ago

I just returned from Portugal, Spain and France. We were warned by several of the guides that those begging are part of a criminal conspiracy run from Eastern Europe who exploits people to come up with a certain amount each day. They mostly begged outside of churches. So the guides told us that giving to them would encourage this system and but we could give if it would make us feel better. It just would not help the person we were giving money to. We were told to offer them a meal but most refused but one did accept and one our fellow tourists sat down with one of them at a McDonalds.

Robert Lewis
1 week 4 days ago

What a harsh and contemptuous attitude on the part of those "guides"! As if the heart or the conscience of one of those beggars couldn't possibly be changed by an act of fraternal charity, or by communing with him or her through a shared meal. The one "fellow tourist" who sat down with the beggar is probably the only true "Christian" among all of you--and definitely including the "guides".

J Cosgrove
1 week 4 days ago

They are not beggars. They are tools of a criminal organization. All but one refused the meal.

Robert Lewis
1 week 3 days ago

You don't know that. You have only your guide's word for it, and such "guides" generally prey on the tourist trade, and don't want to see their "customers" spending any money but in the places they are "touting." (As a constant expatriate, I know this to be true better than American "tourists.") Many years ago an old girlfriend of mine had a tantrum on a city sidewalk when I gave money to a man who said his car had broke down and he hadn't enough dollars to make calls to a repair shop. She berated me for giving money to someone who, she said, was likely to spend it on "liquor." Instantly I knew that I needed either to dump her or have her dump me: my saintly grandmother had taught me always to give without asking, and to never be repulsed by the needy or the indigent or the disfigured, but to say, in the case of the latter, "Bless the mark." You have doubtless succumbed to the cold and heartless "petit bourgeois" ethos of modern neo-liberal capitalism, and Pope Francis is absolutely correct about where such people stand with Jesus Christ.

Alexandra Moldoveanu
1 week 2 days ago

I assure you that those guides are right. I am Romanian and begging is big business here, mostly run by Gypsy mafia. Naturally they exported it to other countries because Westerners have more money to give. Do you really think the Gypsy women from Romania whom I've seen begging in Paris are starving? They could live here, maybe not well, but they wouldn't starve. People don't starve in Romania (though lack of healthcare might kill them), they can get food at any monastery or church or one of the social centers run by the Church (and Roman Catholics too, where they exist). We all agree it's good to offer a meal to someone. The issue is with giving money, because that's what encourages begging.

Robert Lewis
1 week 2 days ago

I am familiar with the ways that various "mafiosos" in the Third World capture and use beggars. That doesn't take away from the fact that the children and women who are begging are being exploited. That doesn't take away from their humanity. That doesn't take away from their need for solidarity with and affection from other human beings. I would say the same thing to your comment, as what I said to the one above: you are basically heartless. Also, for your information, many of the women and children in the Third World and elsewhere who are being exploited by the local mafias are KILLED or TORTURED, if they don't produce MONEY for their handlers, at the end of each day. I suppose you are OK with that, so long as you and the "tourists" don't have to be confronted on your sidewalks with the problems caused by poverty.

J Cosgrove
1 week 5 days ago

Jesus advocated a variety of systems on how to live one's life. The apparent communal sharing life that appears to be communistic has been practiced continually as part of the religious life since He was alive but not as part of everyday life in general for most even in His time.

Jesus mentioned all sorts of systems including slavery without condemning them specifically. And in the parable of the talents he appears to be endorsing venture capitalism. But for the religious life it is giving up all and following him.

I believe we have to separate the various ways one leads their lives and how economics fits in with each. Only a small percentage were actually meant to live the vow of poverty. This does not mean one is excused from using their worldly goods in a wise and generous manner.

I believe the article makes these points in a clear persuasive way.

Henry Smith
1 week 5 days ago

I had the occasion of enjoying a splendid Dinner at the Jesuit Residence
at Fordham in September of 1980. We had excellent food, excellent wine, and excellent deserts served on very fine china and the Waiters were superb. The thought did strike me that it might be more than awkward to
explain to the Good Lord, should Judgement Day suddenly break upon us,
why we were eating and drinking so well while the poor in the Bronx were not.

I mentioned this to the Jesuit Father who had invited me to dinner and he gave explanations that much of the money for the fine dining was given to the Jesuits and that the Waiters were from Puerto Rico and were learning how how to be waiters and would, after a year, move on to being
to being waiters at very nice dining establishments in Manhattan.
The extremely fine China was a gift from a fellow Jesuit's parents.

Yet, I said to him that I would not want to be a member of the Society
of Jesus - who had vowed to live a life of poverty - standing before the
Lord on Judgement Day - with meals, drinks and deserts like this on
my record.

I have been taught that no one goes to Hell unless they really want
to be separated from their Creator for eternity. Most of us are not
Saints and so Purgatory awaits. I did, in youthful middle age, think
that Purgatory was like an EST Seminar - admit your faults, promise
you won't repeat them - then off to Heaven. But now, in very old age
I think we will suffer terribly and thoroughly for letting our fellow
brothers and sisters suffer because we would not curb our
insatiable appetites for what we do not need. Why shouldn't every
Christian share with the homeless the abundance that our Father gave to us - so that we might give it to the poor. Then we would learn what
Charity truly is - the love of the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts
for the sake of the Lamb of God who gave all that He was to save us
from our own sinful/selfish/greedy/prideful selves.

Robert Lewis
1 week 5 days ago

Such luxuries can become addictive. However, the Jesuits I admire are the ones who could, upon occasion, enjoy this sybarite lifestyle (historically, in order to evangelize the rich and powerful), but then go and live in mud huts in an Amazonian forest, in order to evangelize indigenous people--and, following holy Francis of Assisi, "evangelize" them "rarely with words."

Joseph J Dunn
1 week 4 days ago

For Henry Smith-- Having thought a great deal, as you have, about such matters, I come to this. In Luke 19: 1-10 Jesus meets Zacchaeus, a “chief tax collector and also a wealthy man.” The neighbors grumble when Jesus goes to Zacchaeus’s house for dinner. They regard him as a “sinner,” probably because he earns his living as a tax collector. Or maybe just because he is wealthy? But Zacchaeus says to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” Jesus responds, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”
As I imagine this scene, Jesus is at least smiling as he says this—this fellow Zacchaeus ‘gets it’! Jesus's words here, “Today salvation has come to this house” differ from, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18: 18-30). As I read the story, Jesus celebrates the generosity of a wealthy man, without criticizing him or his wealth. Over dinner in Zachaeus’s well-appointed house, into which Jesus went agreeably, they enjoyed the pleasant conversation of men who held common values. Somehow, this Gospel story, too, fits into that orthodoxy that Gobry describes.

Andrew Strada
1 week 4 days ago

The early Christian communities were voluntary associations. No one was shot in the back for trying to leave. Any comparison between those communities and 20th century Marxist dictatorships is quite a stretch, even for a theology professor. Some may argue that what Lenin and Stalin imposed was not true communism. To me, that argument has always been as intellectually dishonest as saying that what Hitler imposed was not true national socialism.

Besides, Fr. Spadaro has on several occasions warned us against a hyperliteral reading of the books of the Bible. That apparently is something that only evangelicals, Manicheans, and other such people do.

Robert Lewis
1 week 3 days ago

Hitler, who called himself a "national socialist," made certain to kill off or imprison all of the social democrats he could lay hands on, as soon as he gained power, and everybody knows that the Leninists targeted the social democrat Russians of the Kerensky regime instantly upon seizing power. Everyone also knows that the communists of the 20th century considered social democrats to be "traitors." There is almost no commonality between the modern social democrats in European politics and the Bolsheviks or the Menshiviks or the Troskyites or the Maoists of the 20th century.

Andrew Strada
1 week 2 days ago

The headlines in both the New York Times and America articles referred to "Communists", not "Social Democrats". If someone suggests that we have to be Social Democrats to be good Christians, I would disagree but respect the writer's opinion. If someone seriously suggests we need to be Communists, I will respect neither the opinion nor the writer.

Robert Lewis
1 week 3 days ago

I think that those who like the Protestant Reformation and its inevitable consequences for Western civilization are those most likely to find no theological impediment to advocating for or practicing grossly anti-social economics:
I suggest to readers these two tomes:
Luther and His Progeny: 500 Years of Protestantism and Its Consequences for Church, State, and Society
by John C. Rao
and,
The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society
by Brad S. Gregory.

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