Thursday, February 4, 2010

Gospel Poverty is NOT .... (#3)

Gospel Poverty is not miserliness.

Father Dubay says that avarice is a vice, not a virtue. A miser will try to hoard money -- the money he keeps does not benefit himself or others. A Christian view of money is that it is a means for doing good, not an end in itself.


My notes:

Avarice is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Aquinas points out that covetousness has a special condemnation because it involves resting in things as if they were good in themselves, rather than using them properly as means to our final end. St Paul says that the love of money is the "root of all evil...." (1 Timothy 6:10)

The Catholic Encyclopedia says of avarice:

Avarice (from Latin avarus, "greedy"; "to crave") is the inordinate love for riches. Its special malice, broadly speaking, lies in that it makes the getting and keeping of money, possessions, and the like, a purpose in itself to live for. It does not see that these things are valuable only as instruments for the conduct of a rational and harmonious life, due regard being paid of course to the special social condition in which one is placed. .....It is more to be dreaded in that it often cloaks itself as a virtue, or insinuates itself under the pretext of making a decent provision for the future.
The worst form of covetousness or miserliness would be frankly doing unjust things for the sake of gain. I suppose a lot of the horrors that Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell wrote about post-industrial-revolution were based on this kind of injustice.

I think though that more personally, I have a tendency to hold on to things for the sake of security. This is more subtle, but it still, I am realizing, has an effect of turning me away from trust in providence towards the collecting of resources as if they would do some good in themselves.

Because most of my collections are not particularly expensive or "vain" I am more inclined to be OK with the tendency. But miserliness is not particularly expensive or vain in itself, either. The common image of the miser is someone who dresses in rags, doesn't eat enough for health, etc. So it's helpful for me to realize that there is more than one way to be disordered in the approach to "things."

My personal weaknesses:

  • Collecting homeschool resources -- curriculum and supplies like paper, art materials, etc.
  • Buying clothes and other accessories that we don't need right now, but might need sometime in the undefined future. A silly example -- for years I had several pairs of soccer cleats in various sizes which no one had ever worn, but I had found them inexpensively and didn't want to let them go.
  • Keeping things we don't really use because they might come in handy.
As the Catholic Encyclopedia points out, avarice often disguises itself as a virtue -- providence for the future, or thrift. But it's more like lack of trust in God's provision, or lack of generosity towards others.

"Frugality", however, is something separate from this kind of hoarding, because the root of "frugality" is "fruitfulness". I suppose you could think of the parable of the men with the talents. The one who buried his in the ground so it stayed exactly the same (except for the dirt : )) was condemned, while the ones who used the items to bear fruit were praised and given more. Frugality is something more like what Father Dubay calls "sparing". Both my mother and my mother-in-law are good examples of this because even though they are prosperous, they often re-use or make do with old things and try not to buy new things unless they have a direct need, and they also are very generous with what they have.


  1. "It is more to be dreaded in that it often cloaks itself as a virtue, or insinuates itself under the pretext of making a decent provision for the future."

    Interesting ... I had always thought of this only in terms of money (i.e. saving for retirement, etc) but your post is making me think in terms of our "things" too.

    I am of two minds about saving for the future - our society seems SO different than in ages past where it was common for an aging parent to live with his/her children, so I "fear" we need to have money invested for that time. I also think of the verse about the ant who was praised for saving for winter...but then YES, we *are* saving money and just letting it sit there (making interest, at least) and not giving it away.

    You know, I wish God would come down again and straighten all this out in my mind, in person. :)

  2. I think in today's world it makes sense to save for the future. I don't think avarice is the SAME as making a decent provision for the future -- the entry just says it can disguise itself that way in our minds. So it's probably a matter of discerning, making sure it's not TOO high priority. Also, I think God is willing to work with our "faults" if we are submitting them to Him. My daughter LOVES to plan and prepare way ahead. It's a good thing, but she knows she takes it to a fault sometimes. She also knows that God is working on her with her cooperation. Just an example. I'm the opposite -- more like a grasshopper : ). So I probably have to be more careful to be provident and plan ahead.


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!