Ante-nicene fathers



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Of the life in common, and of the reason why the Church has begun to hold property.

We know that you are not ignorant of the fact that hitherto the principle of living with all things in common has been in vigorous operation among good Christians, and is still so by the grace of God; and most of all among those who have been chosen to the lot of the Lord, that is to say, the clergy, even as we read in the Acts of the Apostles: “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of Jesus Christ: and great grace was upon them all. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. And Joseph, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas (which is, being interpreted, the son of consolation), a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet; ”6 and so forth. Accordingly, as the chief priests and others, and the Levites, and the rest of the faithful, perceived that it might be of more advantage if they handed over to the churches over which the bishops presided the heritages and fields which they were in the way of selling, inasmuch as they might furnish a larger and better maintenance for the faithful who hold the common faith, not only in present but also in future times, out of the revenues of such property than out of the money for which they might at once be sold, they began to consign to the mother churches the property and lands which they were wont to sell, and got into the manner of living on the revenues of these.



II.

Of the persons by whom, and the uses for which, ecclesiastical property should be managed, and of the invaders thereof.

The property, moreover, in the possession of the several parishes was left in the hands of the bishops, who hold the place of the apostles; and it is so to this day, and ought to be so in all future time. And out of those possessions the bishops and the faithful as their stewards ought to furnish to all who wish to enter the life in common all necessaries as they best can, so that none may be found in want among them. For the possessions of the faithful are also called oblations, because they are offered to the Lord. They ought not therefore to be turned to any other uses than those of the Church, and in behoof of Christian brethren before mentioned, and of the poor; for they are the offerings of the faithful, and they are redemption moneys for sins (pretia peccatorum), and the patrimony of the poor, and are given over to the Lord for the purpose already named. But if any one act otherwise (which may God forbid), let him take care lest he meet the condemnation of Ananias and Sapphira, and be found guilty of sacrilege, as those were who lied as to the price of the property designated, of whom we read thus in the before-cited passage of the Acts of the Apostles: “But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold land (agrum), and kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said to Ananias, Why hath Satan tempted (tentavit) thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whilst it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? Why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto the Lord. And Ananias, hearing these words, fell down, and gave up the ghost. And great fear came on all them that heard these things. And the young men arose, and removed him (amoverunt), and carried him out, and buried him. And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. And Peter answered unto her, and said, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much. Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost. And the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband. And great fear came upon all the Church, and upon as many as heard these things.”7 These things, brethren, are carefully to be guarded against, and greatly to be feared. For the property of the Church, not being like personal, but like common property, and property offered to the Lord, is to be dispensed with the deepest fear, in the spirit of faithfulness, and for no other objects than the above-named, lest those should incur the guilt of sacrilege who divert it from the hands to which it was consigned, and lest they should come under the punishment and death of Ananias and Sapphira, and lest (which is yet worse) they should become anathema maranatha, and lest, though their body may not fall dead like that of Ananias and Sapphira, their soul, which is nobler than the body, should fall dead, and be cut off from the company of the faithful, and sink into the depths of the pit. Wherefore all must give heed to this matter, and watch in faithfulness, and avert the dishonour of such usurpation, lest possessions dedicated to the uses of things secret (or sacred) and heavenly be spoiled by any parties invading them. And if any one do so, then, after the sharp vengeance which is due to such a crime, and which is justly to be carried out against the sacrilegious, let him be condemned to perpetual infamy, and east into prison or consigned to life-long exile. For, according to the apostle,8 we ought to deliver such a man to Satan, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

III.




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