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Patriarch Bartholomew
Patriarch Bartholomew

“Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in his statement for the 2015 World Water Day makes a number of assertions that, while inspired by morally good ideals, are morally and practically problematic,” says Rev. Gregory Jensen in this week’s Acton Commentary. “Chief among them is his assertion ‘that environmental resources are God’s gift to the world’ and so ‘cannot be either considered or exploited as private property.’”

While certainly not absolute, the Orthodox Christian moral tradition doesn’t reject the notion of private property. In fact, property is valued “as a socially recognized form of people’s relation to the fruits of labour and to natural resources.” Included here are the “basic powers of an owner,” such as “the right to own and use property, the right to control and collect income, the right to dispose of, lease, modify or liquidate property” (The Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church, VII.1).

On a practical level, Bartholomew’s concern for “sustainability” reflects what George Will calls an idea whose “premises are more assumed than demonstrated” and which “as a doctrine of total social explanation, transforms all ills and grievances into environmental causes, cloaked in convenient science.” When embodied in public policy, sustainability empowers “government planners and rationers to fend off planetary calamity while administering equity” allowing them “to supplant markets in allocating wealth and opportunity.”

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

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).


  • Alexander Mytnik

    The Orthodox Church as a whole has never been a friend of human liberty. Its legacy is that of statism and big government. It has fostered a culture of dependency where millions of people look to nanny government to solve their problems. In fact, all statist religions, no matter what their name, have largely contributed to the rise of the most ruthless tyrannies, causing unspeakable suffering to tens of millions of people around the world.

    • Your anti-Orthodox trolling is wearing thin, Mr. Mytnik. Unless you actually address the substance of the posts that cite Orthodox sources — instead of this bigoted nonsense — you will be invited to leave.

      • Alexander Mytnik

        So, when you, Mr. Couretas, criticized Orthodox bishops for their silence on moral issues in 2012 article called “Orthodox Bishops Assembly Silent on Moral Issues”, it was not “bigoted nonsense”, was it? Is it morally wrong to be critical of Orthodox Church? If you believe that Orthodox Church is the true Church of Christ, then you should have nothing to fear, including criticism. Also, if what I have said is false, please feel free to refute it. I, on my part, will not call you names. I am much more interested in truth. If you can demonstrate that Orthodox Church has been a voice for liberty, the rule of law, the free enterprise system, I will take my words back and admit that I was wrong.

        • I actually addressed a specific problem, rather than, as you would, make sweeping bigoted and nonsensical condemnations of an ancient Christian tradition that dates to Apostolic times and today numbers hundreds of millions of believers. If you don’t care to address the substance of the post — environmentalism — then … adieu.

          • Alexander Mytnik

            Unfortunately, environmentalism has been hijacked by the political left in order to advance their statist, big government agenda. Environmentalism and godly stewardship of the environment are not the same thing. Regrettably, many Christian leaders fail to make that distinction and in their desire to stay “relevant” give aid and comfort to the political left which generally has utter contempt for traditional Christianity. Patriarch Bartholomew is a great example of a misguided leader. He wants to be known as a “green patriarch”, whatever that means. If he wants to show his concern for the environment, then he needs to be an advocate for capitalism which, with its drive for technological innovation, has made our environment much cleaner and our planet a much better place to live.

            Is this better Mr. Couretas? By the way, by threatening to censor me, you are trampling on the very principles on which Acton Institute was founded on. I do not use profanity or foul language here. I debate ideas. Ancient Christian tradition is not beyond criticism. Simply because it is ancient, it does not make true or morally pure. Would you agree with me on that point Mr. Couretas?

          • That’s better. FWIW, this is a moderated blog. Comments are deleted all of the time and some people — like trolls — are booted off. So please stick to the issues and knock if off with the bigotry and sweeping condemnations.

          • Alexander Mytnik

            Why is “bigotry” to be critical of Orthodox Church?

    • Michael Bauman

      Mr. Mytnik, your comments ignore the cultural, political and economic environment in which the Orthodox Church was legalized and grew. For most of her life, there was no other form of government except some sort of monarchy. That is not to say she has always acted for good and has not been an agent of the state where she should not be. Nevertheless, the fundamental teaching of the Orthodox Church has always been to maximize true human freedom, i.e, freedom from sin. Her ascetical and religious practices are designed toward that end. The Church has always been and will continue to be a hierarchical body but one founded on the personhood of each communicant (not always practiced to be sure). If the hierarchy is acting in a manner that is unfitting and unbecoming or outside the teachings of the Church, fellow Orthodox have a responsibility to address such actions.
      Human freedom is neither simple nor without its difficulties especially when it is practiced in a culture of individualism and hedonism. It certainly does not help the environment.
      The fact that you ignore such realities and concentrate only on one aspect of the Church in a way that is very much biased toward a particular social ideology that comes into being quite late in the life of the Church might suggest why Mr. Couretas calls you to task.

      • Alexander Mytnik

        Mr. Bauman,

        I am critical of the Orthodox Church because of its dismal record on human liberty and human rights in general. I do not ignore “the cultural, political and economic enviroment in which the Orthodox Church was legalized and grew.” The Church of England, for instance, has also existed under monarchy, yet England gave us Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights of 1689, Richard Hooker, John Locke, etc.. It seems very strange that the Christian tradition which places so much emphasis on free will would make excuses for the poor decisions that its hierarchs and laity have been making with regards to human liberty. The Orthodox Church had a choice to make whether it was to become the handmaiden of the state or stand for freedom from secular interference in its affairs, whether it was to become a voice for civil society and much needed reform or an agent of despotic rule and statism. Unfortunately, it made the wrong choices, the consequences of which millions of people still have to live with until this very day. Sadly, the Orthodox Church as a whole stubbornly refuses to learn from its mistakes of the past and make amends. One can only look at the state of the Russian Orthodox Church today: its love of power, intolerance, self-righteousness, vanity and greed. Russia has been wallowing in despotic rule and lawlessness, yet its hierarchs persist in their support of the regime which steals from its own people, denies them basic human rights, threatens other countries with a nuclear bomb, brazenly violates international law by invading their territory under false pretenses.

        I do not believe that it helps your cause when your call people “bigots” or “trolls”, as Mr. Couretas has done, simply because they engage in legitimate critique of the Orthodox Church. I do not know of a Roman Catholic today who would call someone a bigot because he or she is critical of RC for crusades, inquisition or some other wrongdoing which their church was responsible for. Roman Catholic Church, in the person of the pope, has sincerely apologized for those crimes of the past and asked for forgiveness. What about Orthodox Church?

  • Michael Bauman

    Capitalism as it is currently envisioned is not the answer any more than any other economic theory. There is, in real practice, no such thing as free markets.
    Father Gregory is correct on the point that eco-systems are constantly changing and adjusting and that they all include human activity. All eco-systems are connected with each other and effect each other. Yet it is impossible to come up with a world-wide strategy for all systems everywhere and at all times.
    Asceticism, economies and eco-systems work best if they are looked at locally and personally. Take care of what you are able. Policies should empower local, personal activity, conservation, and resource management. They should also be human based rather than founded on a philosophy that we are the problem.

  • The two church groups with the least credibility on economics are the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic. Both look back to a very long and deep anti-commerce tradition that they got from pagan Greeks and merely baptized it as Christian. The West didn’t recover true Biblical economics until the theologians of Salamanca, Spain in the 16th century. They were Catholic, but the Catholic Church and nations ignored them. Only the Protestants embraced Salamancan theology and economics and created the first real free markets in Western history. Yes, both the Catholics and Orthodox have long and deep traditions and volumes of writing on economics and almost all of it is anti-Biblical and anti-Christian. This blog does an excellent job of trying to correct both, but it’s hard for the old churches to admit that the upstart Protestants got it right and they’re wrong.

    • That’s not quite right, as Murray Rothbard detailed here:


      Now, Kauder goes on to point out that the Italian-French subjective value, utility theorists were Catholics, while the labor-value theorists: Petty, Locke, and Smith were British Protestants. Kauder attributes this precisely to the Calvinist emphasis on the divinity of work, as opposed to Catholic thought, which only considered work as a means to making a living. The Scholastics, then, were free to come to the conclusion that the “just price” was essentially the freely competitive price set on the market, whereas the Protestant-influenced British had to say that the fair price is the “natural” price where the “amount of labor exchanged in each good is the same.” DeRoover points out that the late Spanish scholastics Domingo de Soto and Luis de Molina both denounced as fallacious Duns Scotus’ dictum that the just price equals the cost of production plus a reasonable profit. In fact, Smith and Locke were influenced both by the scholastic stream which they acquired from their philosophic training, and the Calvinist emphasis on the divinity of labor. It is true that Smith believed that free competition would eventually bring market prices around to the “just price,” but it is evidentthat a danger has been introduced — a danger that Marx fully exploited (and, in fact, that lingers on in the imperfect competition theories, which are akin to emphasis on some juster world where the “natural” or “optimum” prices reign). Thomists, on the other hand, always centered their economic studies on the consumer as the Aristotelian “final cause” in the economic system, and the ends of the consumer are “moderate pleasure-seeking.” By the 19th century, Kauder says, religious influences on economic thought were not important. He does point out, however, the importance of his strict Evangelical background for Alfred Marshall. Marshall’s father was a very strict Evangelical, and the Evangelicals were strict Calvinist-revivalists. Perhaps this is why Marshall resisted utility theory, and insisted on retainingmuch of Ricardian cost-theory, which even yet persists as a result.

      I would like to add further comment, however. The most “dogmatic” laissez-fairists in the 19th century were not the British, but the French (Catholic) economists. Bastiat, Molinari,etc. were much more rigorous than the ever-pragmatic English liberals. Further, laissez faire theory was developed in fine flower by the Catholic Physiocrats, who were directly influenced by natural law-natural rights thought.

      This brings me to the second great influence of the Catholic scholastics — the natural law, natural rights theory. Certainly natural law was a great hindrance on state absolutism, and it began in Catholic thought. Schumpeter points out that the divine right of kings was a Protestant theory.

      • Keep in mind that Rothbard was writing about the history of economic thought. I was writing about economic history.

        As I pointed out, the scholars of Salamanca were Catholic, but the timing is important. The Salamanca school appeared in the 16th and early 17th centuries. The Dutch were the first to implement those economic ideas in the 17th century, though they were Protestant. As McCloskey and others show, the Dutch were the first capitalists, not the English.

        And Smith had little that was new to offer, In fact, he got value theory very wrong, which the Dutch didn’t, and set back economics by 200 years. Locke learned his economics from the Dutch, but also got some things wrong.

        And yes, some later Catholic writers, by the 19th century, were pro-free market, but Catholic countries never were and still aren’t today. Few Popes have accepted the economics of Salamanca, either. As I wrote, the scholars of Salamanca were Catholic, but no Catholic nation followed any of their economics and instead stuck with the traditional, pagan views.

        It’s one of history’s great ironies that what Catholic scholars discovered, no Catholic nation has ever embraced and for the most part the Popes have disowned. But Protestants embraced it and flourished. That’s why so many people think it has Protestant origins.

  • mcbockalds

    Quote, “…“sustainability” reflects what George Will calls
    an idea whose “premises are more assumed than demonstrated” and which
    “as a doctrine of total social explanation, transforms all ills and
    grievances into environmental causes, cloaked in convenient science.”

    When George Will tackles Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen’s “The Entropy Law and the Economic Process” whose premises are not assumed, then he might have something to add to bioeconomic or ecological economic theory. The thermodynamic underpinnings of our economic activities are not based upon convenient science. Neither does ecological economics find all environmental ills rooted in capitalism and “free”-markets, nor are possible solutions to these ills – such as sustainability – only sought in “big”-government programs. Both our economic and political systems have warts and neither one deserves our worship.

  • HWe

    Hmm , I find the Patriarch has a valid point as far as he is asserting that natural resources shouldn’t be considered as private but communal property, then only that part of the resource can be considered private property that is extracted by labour as a result of that labour. Meaning in practice that one does not or should not automatically own all the gold in a mine , but rather has a licence to extract a specified amount of gold , from a mine , and the extracted gold only is ones private property.. of course because it is less favourable to Mining companies than the current situation , it would be controversial. It is scientifically demonstrated in the case of the water supply at least : take out and replace all the ground water on your land with nuclear waste and the land outside of the boundaries of your land would be affected eventually ?

    (saying that ; I didn’t read the full essay).