Pius XI 1922-1939

The Ownership or Right of Property *


[From the same Encyclical, “Quadragesimo anno,” May 15, 1931]


2254 Its individual and social nature. First, then, let it be held as acknowledged and certain that neither Leo nor those theologians who taught under the leadership and direction of the Church have ever denied or called into question the twofold nature of ownership, which is called individual and social, according as it regards individuals or looks to the common good; but have always unanimously affirmed that the right to private ownership has been assigned to men by nature, or by the Creator himself, both that they may be able individually to provide for themselves and their families, and that by means of this institution the goods which the Creator has destined for the entire human family may truly serve this end, all of which can by no means be attained except by the maintenance of a definite and fixed order. . . .


2255 Obligations inherent in ownership. In order to place definite limits to the controversies which have begun to arise over ownership and the duties inherent therein, we must first lay down the fundamental principle which Leo XIII established, namely, that the right of property is distinguished from its use. * For that justice which is known as “commutative” directs men to preserve the division of property as sacred, and not to encroach on the rights of others by exceeding limits of proper ownership; but that owners make only honorable use of their property is not the concern of this justice, but of other virtues whose duties “it is not right to seek by passing a law.” * Therefore, some unjustly declare that ownership and its honorable use are bounded by the same limits; and, what is much more at odds with the truth, that because of its abuse or nonuse the right to property is destroyed and lost. . . .


2256 What the power of the state is. From the very nature of ownership which We have called both individual and social it follows that men must in very fact take into account in this matter not only their own advantage but also the common good. To define these duties in detail, when necessity demands it, and the natural law does not prescribe them, is the duty of those who are in charge of the state. Therefore, what is permitted those who possess property in consideration of the true necessity of the common good, what is illicit in the use of their possessions public authority can decide more accurately, following the dictates of the natural and the divine law. Indeed, Leo XIII wisely taught that the description of private possessions has been entrusted by God to man’s industry and to the laws of peoples. . . .”* Yet it is plain that the state may not perform its duty arbitrarily. For the natural right of possessing private property and of transmitting goods by inheritance should always remain intact and unviolated, “for man is older than the state,” * and also, “the domestic household is prior both in idea and in fact to the civil community.” * Thus the most wise Pontiff had already declared it unlawful for the state to exhaust private funds by the heavy burden of taxes and tributes. “Public authority cannot abolish the right to hold private property, since this is not derived from the law of man but of nature, but can only control its use and bring it in harmony with the common good.*. . .


2257 Obligations regarding superfluous income. Superfluous incomes are not left entirely to man’s discretion; that is, wealth that he does not need to sustain life fittingly and becomingly; but on the other hand Sacred Scripture and the holy Fathers of the Church continuously declare in clearest words that the rich are bound most seriously by the precept of practicing charity, beneficence, and liberality. The investment of rather large incomes so that opportunities for gainful employment may abound, provided that this work is applied to the production of truly useful products, we gather from a study of the principles of the Angelic Doctor,* is to be considered a noble deed of magnificent virtue, and especially suited to the needs of the time.


2258 Titles in acquiring ownerships. Moreover, not only the tradition of all times but also the doctrine of Our predecessor, Leo, clearly testify that ownership in the first place is acquired by the occupation of a thing that belongs to no one, and by industry, or specification as it is called. For no injury is done anyone, whatever some may say to the contrary, when property is occupied which rests unclaimed and belongs to no one; but the industry which is exercised by man in his own name, and by the aid of which a new kind, or an increase is added to his property, is the only industry that gives a laborer a title to its fruits.

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