Full text: Ownership as interpersonal dominance

A possession ought to belong to the possessor, not the possessor to the possession. 
Whosoever, therefore, does not use his patrimony as a possession, who does not know how 
to give and distribute to the poor, he is the servant of his wealth, not its master; because 
like the servant he watches over the wealth of another, and not like a master does he use 
it of his own. Hence, in disposition of this kind we say that the man belongs to his riches, 
not the riches to the man. (St. Ambrose, De Nabuthe, 3, PL 14: 738, in Avila, 1983, p. 67) 
St. Augustine similarly preached against attachment to property and the social discord such 
attachment produced: 
There are some things which are to be enjoyed, other which are to be used, others which 
are enjoyed and used...To enjoy anything means to cling to it with affection for its own 
sake. To use a thing is to employ what we have received for our use to obtain what we want, 
provided that it is right for us to want it. An unlawfully applied use ought rather to be 
termed an abuse....If we wish to return to our native country where we can be happy, we 
must use this world and not enjoy it. (St. Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana, 1, 3-4, PL 34: 
20-21, in Avila, 1983, p. 109) 
Whence the discords among brethren?...Whence one womb, and not one soul? -if not for 
the fact that as long as their soul Is crooked, those who possessed a share with their 
brother or sister consider that share, and strive to enrich and increase it and wish to 
consolidate everything in their possession. (St. Augustine, Sermo CCCLIX, 2, PL 39: 1591, 
Avila, 1983, p. 117) 
Renaissance & Reformation 
However, by the late Middle Ages, Scholastics such as Alexander of Hales and Albertus 
Magnus were arguing that although communal property was natural in a state of innocence, 
private property was natural in the contemporary state of sin (Schlatter, 1951). This change, and 
the rediscovery of Aristotle’s Politics, led to new attempts to develop natural explanations of 
property. Aquinas was pivotal to this change. On the one hand, he continued the argument that 
communal property was the ideal condition and that all men had a natural right to temporal 
goods (Fredrickson, 1954; Maritain, 1933; Schlatter, 1951). He also held to the old claim that 
knowledge of proper use is the ultimate justification for ownership: 
...a thing is naturally commensurate with another person, not according as it is considered 
absolutely, but according to something resultant from it, for instance the possession of 
property. For if a particular piece of land be considered absolutely, it contains no reason 
why it should belong to one man more than another, but if it be considered in respect of its 
adaptability to cultivation, and the unmolested use of the land, it has a certain 
commensuration to be the property of one and not of another man, as the philosopher 
shows, Politics, Il. (Aquinas, Basic writings of St. Thomas, I-ll, Q. 94, in Schiatter, 1951, p. 49) 
Aquinas also retained the Christian belief that all property is held in stewardship. 
On the other hand, Aquinas revived the Aristotelian claim that owning property is a natural, 
innate, legitimate pleasure (Maritain, 1933). The argument, presented in Fredrickson’s (1954) 
scholastic thesis on The Psychology of Ownership, is this: all things belong to God, and man’s

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