An Essay on Mediaeval Economic Teaching eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 233 pages of information about An Essay on Mediaeval Economic Teaching.

Communism therefore was no part of the scholastic teaching, but it must not be concluded from this that the mediaevals approved of the unregulated individualism which modern opinion allows to the owners of property.  The very strength of the right to own property entailed as a consequence the duty of making good use of it; and a clear distinction was drawn between the power ‘of procuring and dispensing’ property and the power of using it.  We have dealt with the former power in the present section, and we shall pass to the consideration of the latter in the next.  In a later chapter we shall proceed to discuss the duties which attached to the owners of property in regard to its exchange.


We referred at the end of the last section to the very important distinction which Aquinas draws between the power of procuring and dispensing[1] exterior things and the power of using them.  ’The second thing that is competent to man with regard to external things is their use.  In this respect man ought to possess external things, not as his own, but as common, so that, to wit, he is ready to communicate them to others in their need.’[2] These words wherein St. Thomas lays down the doctrine of community of user of property were considered as authoritative by all later writers on the subject, and were universally quoted with approval by them,[3] and may therefore be taken as expressing the generally held view of the Middle Ages.  They require careful explanation in order that their meaning be accurately understood.[4] Cajetan’s gloss on this section of the Summa enables us to understand its significance in a broad sense, but fuller information must be derived from a study of other parts of the Summa itself.  ‘Note,’ says Cajetan, ’that the words that community of goods in respect of use arises from the law of nature may be understood in two ways, one positively, the other negatively.  And if they are understood in their positive sense they mean that the law of nature dictates that all things are common to all men; if in their negative sense, that the law of nature did not establish private ownership of possessions.  And in either sense the proposition is true if correctly understood.  In the first place, if they are taken in their positive sense, a man who is in a position of extreme necessity may take whatever he can find to succour himself or another in the same condition, nor is he bound in such a case to restitution, because by natural law he has but made use of his own.  And in the negative sense they are equally true, because the law of nature did not institute one thing the property of one person, and another thing of another person.’  The principle of community of user flows logically from the very nature of property itself as defined by Aquinas, who taught that the supreme justification of private property was that it was the

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An Essay on Mediaeval Economic Teaching from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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