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The ownership of property is not about power, and the wide distribution of property is not about a greater equilibrium of power. Rather, property has an end, which is to serve the common good. The universal destination of all material goods is in God. As Aquinas says, we should regard property as a gift from God, as gift that is only valid if we use it for the benifit of others (ST II-II66.1ad2). Thus Aquinas sanctions private ownership only insofar as it is put to its proper end, which is the good of all: “Man ought to possess external things, not as his own, but as common, so that, to wit, he is ready to communicate then to others in their need (ST II-II.62.2). Absent such a view of the true end of property, freedom means being able to do whatever one wants with one’s property, and property can thus become nothing more than a means of power over others. (29)

What is most important is the direct embodiment of free economic practices. From a Christian point of view, the churches should take an active role in fostering economic practices that are consonant with the true ends of creation. This requires promoting economic practices that maintain close connections among capital, labor, and communities, so that real communal discernment of the good can take place. Those are spaces in which true freedom can flourish. (32)

William Cavanaugh, Being Consumed

prop·er·ty

n., something owned; a possession.

[Middle English, from Old French propriete, from Latin proprietas, ownership]

Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Effetti del Buon Governo in Campagna or “The Effects of Good Government in the Country” (c. 1338-1340)

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The Christian social vision goes beyond economics, at least in the sense of buying and selling to pursue our individual interest. A Christian notion of the economy is, as far as possible, about nurturing a social or “civil” economy, because it recognises that pursuing one’s own interests isn’t necessarily antithetical to having a social or mutual concern.

Of course, state and law must play a crucial part in defining and regulating such an economy, but it is more crucially about a change in practice and ethos. It is vital that we move beyond a social democratic politics that is only about taming and taxing the capitalist monster. Instead, we need genuinely civilised market and financial processes in the first place.

Similarly, the Christian social vision goes beyond politics, in the sense that the latter is about law and the minimal conditions for human flourishing. Politics alone cannot provide reconciliation and forgiveness, or a more concrete vision of what is, in fact, the good life. That must come from somewhere other than political processes. If it doesn’t, it tends to be a vision imposed by a rather arrogant technocratic elite.

The church itself is the site of the true society. It is the project which brings in everything, because there are no easy boundaries between the secular and the sacred. We find its transcendent reference-point when gathered round the Eucharist, receiving the gifts of God and giving back the gifts of God in praise and worship. This models the reciprocity necessary in community.

John Milbank, “Christian Vision of Society puts Economics and Politics in their place” (article)

so·ci·e·ty
n., A group of humans broadly distinguished from other groups by mutual interests, participation in characteristic relationships, shared institutions, and a common culture.

[French société, from Old French, from Latin societās, fellowship, from socius, ally, companion]

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