Acton Institute Powerblog

An Eastern Orthodox Moral Case for Property Rights

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While Chrysostom speaks in terms of the morally good use of wealth, says Rev. Gregory Jensen in this week’s Acton Commentary, it is a standard inconceivable apart from private property.

As a pastor, I’ve been struck by the hostility, or at least suspicion, that some Orthodox Christians reveal in their discussions of private property. While there are no doubt many reasons for this disconnect, I think a central factor is a lack of appreciation for the role that private property can, and does, play in fostering human flourishing. It is through the wise and prudent use of our property that we are able to give ourselves over in love to the next generation and so give them the possiblity of likewise transcending a purely material way of life through an act of self-donation.

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


  • Matt

    Good thoughts Father, and I agree. Curious what have you heard specifically re: some Orthodox Christians’ suspicion of property rights? What is their reasoning?

  • teapartydoc

    When reading all of the criticism cast upon the wealthy by early Church fathers, most notably St. John Chrysostom and St Ambrose one should be careful to note that they never ever deny the right of the wealthy to ownership. The goal of the speakers is almsgiving and lack of ostentation in their parishioners.

  • Sorry not to have responded earlier. I was out of town just after this was posted.

    In answer to Matt, the Orthodox Christians I’ve spoken with who are suspicious of property rights don’t seem to have any reasons beyond the kind of uncritical reading of the fathers that teapartydoc warns against. The problem isn’t that people are making a systematic argument against private property. While I would likely disagree with such an argument, I would welcome it. Instead what I’ve gotten is an emotive appeal on behalf of wealth distribution that uncritically appeals to the fathers.

    One of the things that concerns me as a priest is that most Orthodox Christian (laity and clergy) have very poor backgrounds in moral theology. Instead of sound moral reasoning rooted in Orthodox Social Teaching, I hear people making purely pragmatic arguments in favor of their position.

    So, for example, if someone is concerned about helping the poor they think having the government take form Peter to help Paul is fine since Paul’s in need and Peter has more than he needs. How exactly this makes Paul better in the long run, to say nothing of how this isn’t an injustice against Peter, remains not simply unanswered but unexamined.

    Or I’ll sometimes hear Orthodox Christians say that wealth needs to be more equally apportioned. In response I ask for numerical standards: How much concretely should each person have? Pushing for an actual number just makes people angry and it does so because there’s not thought underlying their position only a feeling.

    Hope this helps a bit.