Our good saint produces in this Chapter the best arguments against voluntary poverty. He then defends that state in the next two chapters.
1 There have been some people who, in opposition to the teaching of the Gospel, have disapproved the practice of voluntary poverty. The first of these to be found is Vigilantius, whom, however, some others have followed later, “calling themselves teachers of the law, understanding neither the things they say, nor whereof they affirm” (1 Tim. 1:7). They were led to this view by these and similar arguments.
2 Natural appetite requires every animal to provide for itself in regard to the necessities of its life; thus, animals that are not able to find the necessities of life during every period of the year, by a certain natural instinct gather the things needed for life during the season when they can be found, and they keep them; this practice is evident in the case of bees and ants. But men need many things for the preservation of life which cannot be found in every season. So, there is a natural tendency in man to gather and keep things necessary to him. Therefore, it is contrary to natural law to throw away, under the guise of poverty, all that one has gathered together.
3 Again, all have a natural predilection for the things whereby their being may be preserved, because all things desire to be. But man’s life is preserved by means of the substance of external goods. So, just as each man is obliged by natural law to preserve his life, so is he obliged to preserve external substance. Therefore, as it is contrary to the law of nature for a man to injure himself, so, too, is it for a man to deprive himself by voluntary poverty of the necessities of life.
4 Besides, “man is by nature a social animal,” as we said above. But society could not be maintained among men unless one man helped another. So, it is natural to men for one to help another in need. But those who discard external substance, whereby most help can be given others, render themselves by this practice unable to give help. Therefore, it is against natural instinct, and against the good of mercy and charity, for a man to discard all worldly substance by voluntary poverty.
5 Moreover, if it be evil to possess the substance of this world, but if it be good to deliver one’s neighbors from evil and bad to lead them into evil, the conclusion is that to give the substance of this world to a needy person is an evil and to take from an owner is a good. Now, this is not right. So, it is a good thing to possess the substance of this world. Therefore, to throw it away entirely is an evil thing.
Notes My grandpa used to say, take what you want, but eat what you take.
6 Furthermore, occasions of evil are to be avoided. But poverty is an occasion of evil, since some are induced, as a result of it, to acts of theft, of false praise and perjury, and the like. Therefore, poverty should not be embraced voluntarily; rather, should care be taken to avoid its advent.
Notes The false praise angle will sound new to use moderns, a culture saturated in it.
7 Again, since virtue lies in a middle way, corruption comes from both extremes. Now, there is a virtue of liberality, which gives what should be given and retains what should be retained. But the vice of defect is illiberality, which retains both the things that should and should not be retained. So, too, it is a vice of excess, for all things to be given away. This is what the people do who assume poverty voluntarily. Therefore, this is vicious, and similar to prodigality.
8 Moreover, these arguments seem to be confirmed by the text of Scripture. For it is said: “Give me neither beggary nor riches; give me only the necessaries of life, lest perhaps being filled, I should be tempted to deny, and say: Who is the Lord? Or being compelled by poverty, I should steal, and forswear the name of my God” (Prov. 30:8-9).