For centuries now, modern ideologues, inspired by their father the devil, have attempted to subvert the influence of Christ in society, and in the hearts of men.
One of their favorite tactics is to promote various brands of socialism, aimed at obliterating the laws of nature and of God, by touting a superficial similarity between their own aims and the virtues proclaimed by Christ.
Initially, Acts’ account of early Christian communism seems to support this deadly error. As noted, the first generation of the faithful were inspired to renounce private ownership.
As many as were owners of lands or houses, sold them, and brought the price of the things they sold, and laid it down before the feet of the apostles. And distribution was made to every one, according as he had need. (4:34-35)
Reading further, we encounter what appears to be a divinely instituted death penalty attached to this redistributive policy. When one infamous couple sells their land, and fraudulently keeps part of the proceeds for themselves, St. Peter confronts them with their guilt, and they instantly give up their ghosts, struck dead by shame or heavenly retribution (5:1-10).
Closer attention to Peter’s words, however, demonstrates that our first pope would have been no friendlier to modern socialism than his 19th and 20th century successors.
Questioning Ananias, Peter emphasizes that the land he sold, and the money he received for it, were his to dispose of as he wished. His sin was not possessing property, or refusing to transfer all of it to the Church. Rather, having promised to give all he had to the Lord, his crime was presenting a portion of the vowed offering to Christ’s vicar, as if it were the whole.
“Thou hast lie[d] to the Holy Ghost,” Peter admonishes him; and in doing so, “thou hast not lied to men, but to God” (5:3-4). That lie is the cause of his exemplary demise.
From the earliest times, Christians have practiced a form of communism based on the voluntary surrender of goods to God through his Church. As Peter’s words demonstrate, this surrender is mandatory only insofar as one is accountable to God for what one has freely vowed.
With time, Christian society developed laws and customs allowing some of us to take vows of poverty, under the auspices of various orders within the Church, while others continue to possess goods privately, in a spirit of detachment and generosity.
Socialism is a notoriously shapeshifting ideology. In all of its guises, however, it makes the same fundamental mistake.
By promising the definitive fulfillment of human needs through systems of social and economic control, socialists reduce human beings to material objects, to be manipulated, dominated, or disposed of in the name of their own hypothetical happiness.
Christians recognize that man, made in the image of God, will never be satisfied by material things, and can never be reduced to an instrument of pseudo social prosperity.
Only when we give ourselves freely to God will we learn to give generously to one another what God has given us. Those who demand what is ours on any other pretext seek only to enslave us, heart, body, and soul.
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