Full text: Ownership as interpersonal dominance

In effect, the Roman Golden Age became the Christian Garden of Eden. The Stoic elements are 
obvious in the following statement by St. Augustine: 
Whence does each possess what he does possess? Is it not human right? For by divine 
right ‘the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof’: poor and rich are supported by one 
and the same earth. But it is by human right he saith, ‘This estate is mine, this house is 
mine, this slave is mine.” By human right, that is, by the right of emperors. How so? 
Because it is through the emperors and princes of this world that God hath distributed the 
human rights to mankind....Take away the right derived from the emperor, and who dares 
say, ‘That estate is mine, or that slave is mine, or this house is mine?’ (St. Augustine, Homily 
VI, 25, Milgne, Patrologiae Latinae, 35, in Schiatter, 1951, p. 37) 
Like the Stoics, Augustine felt the highest natural law justification for ownership to be 
knowledge of use, especially knowledge of moral use: 
...do we not convict all those who enjoy things they have acquired legitimately and who do 
not know how to use them, of possessing the property of another? For that certainly is not 
the property of another which is possessed rightly, but that is possessed rightly is 
possessed justly, and that is possessed justly which is possessed well. Therefore, all that 
which is badly possessed is the property of another, but he possesses badly who uses 
badly. (St. Augustine, Letter 153, VI, 26, in Schlatter, 1951, p. 38) 
According to Bartlet (1922), this concern for the just use of property stems in part from the 
pre-Roman, Hebraic idea of property as stewardship: 
Speaking through Haggai, the Lord said, “Mine is the silver and mine the gold” (Haggai 2:8), 
so that those who do not wish to share what they have with the needy....should understand 
that God commands sharing not as being from the property of them whom he commands, 
but as being from his own property; so that those who offer something to the poor should 
not think that they are doing so from what is their own. (St. Augustine, Sermo L. 1, PL 38:242, 
in Avila, 1983, p. 115) 
Thus, the early Christians, in marked contrast to Aristotle, claimed that giving and sharing were 
not acts of altruism, but acts of justice and restitution, since the wealthy were stewards of God's 
property to which the poor had a natural rights claim (Carlyle, 1922; Lovejoy, 1942). 
Probably the greatest amendment the Christians made to the Roman legacy of property 
theory was their desire to restore communal ownership based on natural law. For the early 
Christians, human nature in the Garden of Eden was not the human nature of fallen, sinful man. 
Communal property was not only an ideal from pre-history, but an ideal for the present and the 
future. The early Christians were very much against private property, and preached strongly 
against the characteristics of human nature associated with property (Avila, 1983). Because the 
early Christians were concerned with goals of spiritual transcendence, they had a Pythagorean 
distaste for attachment to the material world. St. Ambrose preached against worldliness and 
argued that attachment to property abrogated the essential relationship of owning, that of a 
master having dominion over his property:

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