Porters, Catapults, Community, and Justice: St. Augustine on Wealth, Poverty, and Property

Kate Ward

Abstract


Contrary to widespread views that Augustine had little to say about questions of wealth and poverty, this essay shows that Augustine envisioned interdependent Christian communities where the poor achieved full participation. He preached that wealth is morally dangerous, enabling vice and weakening dependence on God. While he believed that poverty is morally protective, he supported the poor in advocating for their own well-being with the wealthy. He depicted the poor as “porters to heaven” with the unique power to help the wealthy earn favor with God through almsgiving, and even argued for distributive justice, saying that the excess of the rich is the rightful property of the poor. Augustine’s primary concern around issues of wealth was for the moral development of the individual, a valuable perspective for today’s renewed attention to virtue; but as this essay shows, his thought is also useful to those who focus on social change. This essay makes Augustine’s thought on wealth and poverty accessible to ministers seeking guidance from one of the pillars of Christian tradition on one of the most morally urgent issues of our time.


Keywords


Ethics; Wealth; Poverty; Augustine; St. Augustine; Almsgiving; Social Justice; Participation

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ISSN: 2169-1088