Sunday, January 30, 2011

Charles Hodge on Property

Charles Hodge (1797 - 1878)
One of the common themes of many of the posts in this blog is the Christian ethic of private property. I have previously discussed the views of St. Augustine, Francis Wayland, and Basil Manly. Charles Hodge, the towering Princeton theologian also provided an important theological argument for private property. In the third volume of his Systematic Theology, published in the 1870s, Hodge as a section in which he provides commentary on each of the Ten Commandments.  He argued that in the commandment "Thou shalt not steal" God has instituted a divine right to property. The opening three paragraphs of this section is an excellent summary of his position:
This commandment forbids all violations of the rights of property. The right of property in an object is the right to its exclusive possession and use.

The foundation of the right of property is the will of God. By this is meant, (1.) That God has so constituted man that he desires and needs this right of the exclusive possession and use of certain things. (2.) Having made man a social being, He has made the right of property essential to the healthful development of human society. (3.) He has implanted a sense of justice in the nature of man, which condemns as morally wrong everything inconsistent with the right in question. (4.) He has declared in his Word that any and every violation of this right is sinful.

This doctrine of the divine right of property is the only security for the individual or for society. If it be made to rest on any other foundation, it is insecure and unstable. It is only by making property sacred, guarded by the fiery sword of divine justice, that it can be safe from the dangers to which it is everywhere and always exposed.

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