St. Hildegard on the Pursuit of Wealth

The Pope appears to regard free-market capitalism as a form of colonialism:

“The new colonialism takes on different faces. At times it appears as the anonymous influence of mammon: corporations, loan agencies, certain ‘free trade’ treaties, and the imposition of measures of ‘austerity’ which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor” (link).

“It is a truly pressing duty to use the earth’s resources in such a way that all may be free from hunger. …We need, then, to find ways by which all may benefit from the fruits of the earth, not only to avoid the widening gap between those who have more and those who must be content with the crumbs, but above all because it is a question of justice, equality and respect for every human being” (link).

In our concern for improving the lives of the world’s poor, one wonders whether the Church should be putting such a high priority on the eradication of poverty.

In her first major work, Scivias, St. Hildegard expounds on Ecclesiates 29:14:

“Place your treasure in the commandments of the Most High, and your alms will bring you more profit than gold.”

In the first person voice of God, the Doctor of the Church explains that God judges one’s intention in either giving or receiving; and adds that some people are meant to be poor:

“You should give your alms to the poor as I mete out my grace to you. But let not those who receive alms take them vainly or avariciously. There are many who love laziness, and do not want to labor on their bodies to feed themselves. …And if they persist in this, without correction and without penitence for their apathetic wickedness, they are unworthy in my sight.”*

“But there are also many who suffer bodily necessity and receive alms in fear of me, and pray and work for those who weigh out mercy to them. …And among these are many from whom I have withdrawn earthly riches in order to give them celestial wealth” (Book 2, Vision 6, Chap. 91) [emphasis mine].

Moreover, she adds that the pursuit of wealth does not necessarily imply greed:

“Those who gladly suffer poverty for My name’s sake are extremely lovable to me, but those who are greedy and would gladly possess earthly riches but cannot lose the reward of this labor [somewhat unclear]. And one who seeks riches in order to satisfy not his greed but My will has a good intention, and I will reward him with honor” (Chap. 92) [emphasis mine].*

Hildegard separates the poor and rich in the eyes of God by their intention, which must be ultimately for His greater glory. The Church should keep this in mind and keep its focus on the heart of the Christian message.

The problem is that the world hates that sort of thinking. In the early 20th-century Christian charity took a back seat to organized philanthropy; it was argued that philanthropy solved the problems that led to the need for charity, which was considered “indiscriminate”. The Christian concept was overly focused on the individual giver’s act of love of neighbor and God and did not have as its goal the eradication of impoverishment. The word charity was even being purged from the titles of charitable organizations and replaced with “service” or “welfare”.

Ironically, it was capitalists like Andrew Carnegie who made philanthropy and the effort to end poverty even possible.

…rjt

*Quotations taken from Hildegard of Bingen: Scivias, translated by Columba Hart and Jane Bishop. The Abbey of Regina Laudis: Benedictine Congregation Regina Laudis of the Strict Observance, Inc. Paulist Press, 1990.

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