Sunday, January 12, 2014

Bellarmine on the Errors of the Rich (5)

Happy Sunday!  Tomorrow I will present a bit more on the Baptism of Our Lord, and the conclusion of the Christmas season.

Today is also, of course, traditionally, the feast of the Holy Family, about which I posted yesterday.

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler by Hoffman.

St. Robert Bellarmine, S.J. (+1621), Jesuit, Cardinal, and Doctor of the Church, wrote Ars bene moriendi, the Art of Dying Well, in 1619AD. Today I continue my presentation of this work, as I plan each Sunday, which now brings us to Chapter 5, In Which the Deceitful Error of the Rich of the World is Exposed. This chapter is particularly challenging to those of us living in a materialistic society that is obsessed with wealth and tends to act as though the right to private property is absolute!

St. Robert Bellarmine (+1621AD)



IN addition to what has been already said, I must add the refutation of a certain error very prevalent among the rich of this world, and which greatly hinders them from living well and dying well. The error consists in this: the rich suppose that the wealth they possess is absolutely their own property, if justly acquired; and that therefore they may lawfully spend, give away, or squander their money, and that no one can say to them, "Why do you do so? Why dress so richly? Why feast so sumptuously? Why so prodigal in supporting your dogs and hawks? Why do you spend so much money in gaming, or other such-like pleasures?" They will answer: "What is it to you ? Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with my own ?"

Now, this error is doubtless most grievous and pernicious: for, granting that the "rich" are the masters of their own property with relation to other men; yet, with regard to God, they are not masters, but only administrators or stewards. This truth can be proved by many arguments. Hear the royal prophet: "The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof: the world and all they that dwell therein." (Psalm xxiii.) And again: " For all the beasts of the wood are mine: the cattle on the hills, and the oxen. If I should be hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fullness thereof." (Psalm xlix.)

And in the first book of Paralipomenon, when David had offered for the building of the temple three thousand talents of gold and seven thousand talents of silver, and Parian marble in the greatest abundance; and when, moved by the example of the king, the princes of the tribes had offered five thousand talents of gold, and ten thousand of silver, and eighteen thousand of brass, and a hundred thousand of iron, then David said to God: "Thine, O Lord, is magnificence, and power, and glory, and victory: and to thee is praise; for all that is in heaven or earth is thine: thine is the kingdom, Lord, and thon art above all princes. Thine are riches, and thine is glory, thou hast dominion over all: in thy and is power and might: in thy hand greatness and the empire of all things. Who am I, what is my people, that we should be able to promise thee all these things ? All things are thine; and we have given thee what we have received of thy hand." (chap. xxix. 11, &c.) To these may be added the testimony of God Himself, who by Aggæus the prophet saith: "Mine is silver, and mine is gold."

This the Lord spoke, that the people might understand that for the new building of the temple nothing would be wanting, since He himself would order its erection, to whom belonged all the gold and silver in the world. I shall add two more testimonies from the words of Christ, in the New Testament: " There was a certain rich man who had a steward: and the same was accused unto him, that he had wasted his goods. And he called him, and said to him: How is it I hear this of thee ? Give an account of thy stewardship: for now thou canst be steward no longer." (St. Luke xvi.) By the "rich man" is here meant God, who, as we have just said, crieth out by the prophet Aggæus: " Mine is silver, and mine is gold." By the "steward" is to be understood a rich man, as the holy Fathers teach, St. Chrysostom, St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, Venerable Bede, besides Theophylact, and Euthymius, and others on this passage.

If the Gospel, then, is to be credited, every rich man of this world must acknowledge that the riches he possesses, whether justly or unjustly acquired, are not his: that if they be justly acquired, he is only the steward of them; if unjustly, that he is nothing but a thief and a robber. And since the rich man is not the master of the wealth he possesses, it follows that, when accused of injustice before God, God removes him from his stewardship, either by death or by want: such do the words signify, "Give an account of thy stewardship, for now thou canst be steward no longer."

God will never be in want of ways to reduce the rich to poverty, and thus to remove them from their stewardship: such as by shipwrecks, robberies, hail-storms, cankers, too much rain, drought, and many other kinds of afflictions so many voices of God exclaiming to the rich: "Thou canst be steward no longer."

But when, towards the end of the parable, our Lord says: "Make unto you friends of the mammon of iniquity, that when you shall fail, they may receive you into everlasting dwellings," He does not mean that alms are to he given out of unjust riches, but of riches that are not riches, properly sospeaking, but only the shadows of them. This is evidently the meaning from another passage in the same Gospel of St. Luke: " If then you have not been faithful in the unjust mammon, who will trust you with that which is the true?"

The meaning of these words is: "If in the unjust mammon" that is, false riches "you have not been faithful"in giving liberally to the poor, "who will trust you" with true riches the riches of virtues,
which make men truly rich ? This is the explanation given by St. Cyprian, and also by St. Augustine
in the second book of his Evangelical Questions, where he says that mammon signifies "riches;" which the foolish and wicked alone consider to be riches, whilst wise and good men despise them,and assert that spiritual gifts are alone to be considered true riches.

There is another passage in the same Gospel of St. Luke, which may be considered as a kind of commentary on the unjust steward: "There was a certain rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and feasted sumptuously every day. And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, who lay at his gate, full of sores. Desiring to be filled with the crumbs that fell from the rich man s table, and no one did give him; moreover, the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham s bosom. And the rich man also died: and he was buried in hell." This Dives was certainly one of those who supposed he was master of his own money, and not a steward under God; and therefore he imagined not that he offended against God, when he was clothed in purple and linen, and feasted sumptuously every day, and had his dogs, and his buffoons, & c. For he perhaps said within himself: " I spend my own money, I do no injury to any one, I violate not the laws of God, I do not blaspheme nor swear, I observe the sabbath, I honour my parents, I do not kill, nor commit adultery, nor steal, nor bear false witness, nor do I covet my neighbour’s wife, or anything else." But if such was the case, why was he buried in hell ? why tormented in the fire ? We must then acknowledge that all those are deceived who suppose they are the “absolute" masters of their money; for if Dives had any more grievous sins to answer for, the Holy Scripture would certainly have mentioned them. But since nothing more has been added, we are given to understand that the superfluous adornment of his body with costly garments, and his daily magnificent banquets, and the multitude of his servants and dogs, whilst he had no compassion for the poor, was a sufficient cause of his condemnation to eternal torments.

Let it, therefore, be a fixed rule for living well and dying well, often to consider and seriously to ponder on the account that must be given to God of our luxury in palaces, in gardens, in chariots, in the multitude of servants, in the splendour of dress, in banquets, in hoarding up riches, in unnecessary expenses, which injure a great multitude of the poor and sick, who stand in need of our superfluities; and who now cry to God, and in the day of judgment will not cease crying out until we, together with the rich man, shall be condemned to eternal flames.


I shall be presenting this work at length, but in chapter-length installments each Sunday. If you simply can't wait for the next chapter, or want to read it all at once, you can find the full text here:

Live well.

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