“This is not communism. It is pure Christianity.”
Even Pope Francis understands. He offered that succinct assessment at Holy Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday 2021, when speaking on the Book of Acts, specifically Acts 4:32, which states of the apostles that “no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.”
Francis paused to explain in the very next line, lest anyone had any misconceptions: “This is not communism. It is pure Christianity.”
Francis, of course, is heavily criticized for being soft on communism. He has not been good on China, on Nicaragua, and on socialist basket cases like Venezuela. His China policy, as I noted here five years ago, has been awful. His Argentinian colleague, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of Francis’ Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, infamously gushed that communist China “best realizes the social doctrine of the Church.”
I watch Francis for statements condemning communism. One of the few I can point to is this, from December 2013: “The Marxist ideology is wrong.”
All of which is to say that when Francis—a pope accused of being a socialist, and who certainly speaks favorably of redistribution, of forms of collectivism, and is very critical and naïve about free markets and what he characterizes as “capitalism”—steps forward during a reading from Acts to point out emphatically that “this is not communism,” he has credibility.
I mention this now because the readings from the Lectionary from last weekend’s Divine Mercy Sunday Mass included one of the passages from Acts that Religious Left Christians often sloppily assume advocates for “communism.” The passage is Acts 2:42-47, which includes this line: “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to their needs.” And the reading from this Tuesday is Acts 4:32-37.
Karl Marx, an atheist and evolutionary racist who hated religion and referred to Christianity as a “hypocritical” faith that preaches “cowardice, self-contempt, abasement, submission, humility,” pulled from that line to develop one of his most famous maxims: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”
The other passage from Acts that is most frequently invoked by “social justice” warriors is Acts 4:32-35, which states:
The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all. There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need.
I’ve written about that passage here in articles with titles like “The Early Church Was Not Socialist” and in other writings. I can’t begin to convey how many times I’ve been asked about it over the years—and not always from opponents. Here’s the reality: The fact that certain passages of Scripture, or certain religious orders, express forms of communalism—look closely at that word, communalism not communism—or pooled together resources to help one another, certainly does not mean they were practicing the 19th-century militantly atheistic ideology known as communism.
If you think there’s a comparison between the first century apostles or St. Francis and his followers to Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks, then you’re plainly out of your mind. If you think the teachings of Karl Marx are analogous to the teachings of Jesus Christ then, well, I’m frankly speechless.
The likes of the early apostles and Franciscans were first and foremost forged on a Christian model; religion served as their rudder, their guiding, inspiring, animating force—the very spiritual force that communism seeks to abolish. Marx called religion “the opium of the masses.” Lenin called it “spiritual booze,” “Medieval mildew,” “a necrophilia,” and said, “there is nothing more abominable than religion.”
To take a single Marxist exhortation to share wealth and then, in turn, argue that communism is thus comparable to Christianity is the height of folly. Candidly, it’s unbelievable that any rational person could be that simplistic.
Individuals who opt for communal life in a religious order, which is a miniscule, rare portion of the population, do so voluntarily to serve God. Under atheistic communism, a totalitarian regime forces 100 percent of society to bend to its will. It confiscates their property, contrary to the Bible’s vigorous defenses of property rights, as rudimentary as the understanding implicit in the 10 Commandments: thou shalt not steal. In the New Testament, individuals like the Good Samaritan or the vineyard owner voluntarily give their own earnings as free-will acts of benevolence—not as forced responses to state fiat.