Thomas Aquinas: Theft is okay if you are hungry

Not open for further replies.


Puritan Board Freshman
A number of months ago, I was arguing with a Roman Catholic coworker of mine about the sin of theft. She argued that stealing would be okay if we were starving to death because God would be unreasonable if he punished us for trying to survive. I held instead that the Ten Commandment prohibition on theft contains no corollary that I can see which causes the verse to say: "Thou shalt not steal... except when you are starving."

It came to my attention that she is not a heterodox RC. In fact, this view was first uttered by Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica.
"It is not theft, properly speaking, to take secretly and use another's property in a case of extreme need: Because that which he takes for the support of his life becomes his own property by reason of that need." (citation)

Is there any biblical support for this idea at all? I am currently convinced that there is none, and it is just the typical folly of the Roman Catholic Church believing that it can use the power of "reason" to understand God better than the teachings of His revealed Word in the Scriptures.

Some of my criticisms of this Thomistic teaching are that it assumes that stealing is the only option for a man in a condition of poverty. That man does not have to steal, he can ask others to help him and then if they fail to love their neighbor as they love themselves the sin is on their hands. Sinning is never our only option.

Additionally, as a strong traditional conservative in political matters, Aquinas' statement makes me uncomfortable because it seems to open the door for a large state to take charge and redistribute wealth. If it is true, as he says it is, that someone else's property "becomes his own property by reason of his need," then there is no moral imperative for the state to protect property, the fruits of everyone's labor.


Staff member
Is there any biblical support for this idea at all?
Men do not despise a thief if he steal to satisfy his soul when he is hungry; But if he be found, he shall restore sevenfold; he shall give all the substance of his house. (Pro 6:30,31)

Given all the commandments to feed the poor, how would it be possible for an Israelite be so destitute that he would need to turn to theft? In such a case, it appears, some of the blame lies with Israel itself. There were consequences for theft in such cases, but not excommunication.

I don't know if the Aquinas might use the general equity of this passage and apply it to the church in his day.
Not open for further replies.