The Father William Most Collection
Almsgiving and Superfluous Goods
[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]
Vatican II (Church in the Modern World §69) added a footnote, quoting a message of John XXIII (AAS 54. 82): "The obligation of every man, the urgent obligation of the Christian man is to reckon what is superfluous by the measure of the needs of others... ."
The Constitution itself in §69, to which the note is attached, had said that God destined the goods of the world for the benefit of all: "Wherefore man, in using those goods, should consider those exterior goods that he possesses not only as proper to himself also as common in the sense that they can be beneficial not only to him, but also to others. For the rest, the right of possessing that part of the goods that is sufficient for himself and his family belongs to all. So the Fathers and Doctors of the Church felt, in teaching that men are obliged to aid the poor, and indeed, not only out of merely superfluous goods."
We recall John XXIII said one should "reckon what is superfluous by the measure of the needs of others." This seems to allude to the scale in common use among moral theologians, as follows:
1. Goods necessary for life--those without which one cannot live. Goods left over after this are superfluous to life.
2. Goods necessary for one's state in life --without which that state cannot be maintained. Goods superfluous to the state are all else.
3. Goods needed for the fitting maintenance of state in life -- needed to maintain fittingly. -- All else: goods superfluous in the fullest sense.
Obligations: 1) If another is in extreme necessity, lacks the necessities for life itself, we must help with goods of classes 2 & 3. Need not give what we need for life itself. 2) If another is in grave necessity - not lacking essentials of life - we must help with goods of class 3. 3) If another is in ordinary need-- we must help some at some times-- cannot determine precisely in individual cases, for there are many who can help, and need is only ordinary.
It seems Vatican II had this scale in mind, since in the next note on the above passage it says: "The ancient principle applies in this case: 'In extreme necessity all goods are common, all goods are to be shared.' On the other hand, for the order, extension, and manner by which the principle is applied in the proposed text, besides the modern approved authors, cf. St. Thomas Summa Theol. II-II, q. 66, a. 7."