ONE objection to the vow of poverty that has a serious face on it, and

certainly looks wicked, is that it does not prevent the accumulation of

great wealth, as may be seen in the cases of the Philippine Friars and

the French orders. This is one difficulty; here is another and quite

different: the wealth of the religious is excessive, detrimental to the

well-being of the people and a menace to the State. Taken separately,

> it is easy to dispose of these charges and to explain them away. But if

you put them together in one loose, vague, general imputation of

avarice, extortion and injustice, and hurl the same at a person unable

to make distinctions, the shock is apt to disconcert him for a moment.

The first indictment seems to hint at a contradiction, or at least an

incompatibility, between the profession of poverty and the fact of

possessing wealth. We claim that the one does not affect the' other,

that a religious may belong to a rich order and still keep his vow

inviolate. The vow in the religious is individual and personal; the

riches collective. It is the physical person that is poor; the moral

being has the wealth. Men may club together, put their means into a

common fund, renounce all personal claim thereto, live on a meagre

revenue and employ the surplus for various purposes other than their

needs. The personal poverty of such as these is real.

This is the case of the religious. Personally they do not own the

clothes on their backs. The necessaries of life are furnished them out

of a common fund. What remains, goes through their hands for the glory

of God and in charity to fellow-man. The employment to which these men

devote their lives, such as prayer, charity, the maintenance and

conducting of schools and hospitals, is not lucrative to any great

extent. And since very few Orders resort to begging, the revenue from

capital is the only means of assuring existence. It is therefore no

more repugnant for religious to depend on funded wealth than it was for

the Apostolic College to have a common purse. The secret reason for

this condition of things is that works of zeal rarely yield abundant

returns, and man cannot live on the air of heaven.

As to the extent of such wealth and its dangers, it would seem that if

it be neither ill gotten nor employed for illegitimate purposes, in

justice and equity, there cannot be two opinions on the subject. Every

human being has a right to the fruit of his industry and activity. To

deny this is to advocate extreme socialism and anarchy and, he who puts

this doctrine into practice, destroys the principle on which society

rests. The law that strikes at religious corporations whose wealth

accrues from centuries of toil and labor, may to-morrow consistently

confiscate the goods and finances of every other corporation in the

realm. If you force the religious out of land and home, why not force

Morgan, Rockefeller & Co., out of theirs! The justice in one case is as

good as in the other.

It is difficult to see how the people suffer from accumulated wealth,

the revenues from which are almost entirely devoted to the relief of

misery and the instruction of the ignorant. The people are the sole

beneficiaries. There is here none of the arrogance and selfishness that

usually characterize the possession of wealth to the embitterment of

misery and misfortune. The religious, by their vow and their means, can

share the condition of the poor and relieve it. If there is any

institution better calculated to promote the well-being of the common

people, it should be put to work. When the moneyed combinations whose

rights are respected, show themselves as little prejudicial to the

welfare of the classes, the religious will be prepared to go out of


Everyone is inclined to accept as true the statement, on record as

official, that the wealth of the Religious Orders in France is at the

bottom of the trouble. We are not therefore a little astonished to

learn from other sources that it is rather their poverty, which is

burdensome to the people. The religious are not too rich, but too poor.

They cannot support themselves, and live on the enforced charity of the

laborer. French parents, not being equal to the task of maintaining

monasteries and supporting large families, limited the number of their

children. The population fell off in consequence. The government came

to the relief of the people and cast out the religious.

And here we have the beautiful consistency of those who believe that

any old reason is better than none at all. The religious are too poor,

their poverty is a burden on the people; the religious are too rich,

their riches are prejudicial to the welfare of the people. One reason

is good; two are better. If they contradict, it is only a trifling

matter. As for us, we don't know quite where we stand. We can hear well

enough, amid the din of denunciation, the conclusion that the religious

must go; but we cannot, for the life of us, catch the why and

wherefore. Is it because they are too poor? or because they are too

rich? or because they are both? We might be justified in thinking:

because they are neither, but because they are what they are--

religious, devoted to the Church and champions of Her cause. This

reason is at least as good as the two that contradict and destroy each

other. In this sense, is monastic poverty a bad and evil thing?