The Four Principal Gates of Hell, Part 3: Theft

Let us now pass on to the consideration of the third great gate of Hell by which so large a portion of the damned enter; I mean theft. Some, so to speak, adore money as their God, and look upon it as the object of all their desires. The idols of the Gentiles are silver and gold. But the sentence of condemnation has already been pronounced against such: Nor thieves . . . nor extortioners shall possess the kingdom of God. It is true that theft is not the most enormous of sins, but St. Antoninus says that it very much endangers salvation. The reason is because for the remission of other sins true repentance only is required; but repentance is not enough for the remission of theft: there must be restitution, and this is made with difficulty. A certain hermit had once the following vision: he saw Lucifer seated on a throne, and inquiring of one of his demons why he had been so long about returning. The latter replied that he had been detained by his endeavors to tempt a thief not to restore what he had stolen. Let this fool be severely punished, said Lucifer. To what purpose have you spent this time? Do you not know that he who has taken the property of another never restores it? And, in truth, so it is: the property of another becomes to him who takes it like his own blood; and the pain of suffering one's blood to be drawn for another is very difficult to endure. We learn it every day from experience: innumerable thefts take place; how much restitution do you see?

My brethren, see that you take not the property of your neighbor, and if during the past you have ever failed in this respect, make restitution as soon as possible. If you cannot at once make full, restitution, do it by degrees. Know that the property of another in your possession will not only be the means of bringing you to Hell, but will make you miserable even in this life. Thou hast despoiled others, says the prophet, and others shall despoil thee. Because thou hast spoiled many nations, all that shall be left of the people shall spoil thee. The property of another brings with it a curse which will fall upon the entire house of the thief. This is the curse that goeth forth over the face of the earth, . . . and it shall come to the house of the thief; that is to say (as St. Gregory Nazianzen explains it), that the thief shall lose not only the stolen property, but his own. The goods of another are as fire and smoke to consume everything that comes in their way.

Remember well, mothers and wives, when children or husbands bring home the property of their neighbor, remember well to chide and reprove them; not to applaud their action, or even consent to it by silence. Tobias hearing a lamb bleat in his house, Take heed, said he, lest perhaps it be stolen; restore ye it to its owners. St. Augustine says that Tobias, because he loved God, did not wish to hear the sound of theft in his house. Some persons take the property of their neighbor, and then are fain to quiet their consciences by almsdeeds. Christ, says St. John Chrysostom, will not be fed with the plunder of others. The sins of this kind, committed by the great, are acts of injustice, the injuries that they inflict upon others, the taking from the poor of what is their due. These are descriptions of theft which require perfect restitution, and a restitution most difficult of all to make, and most likely to be the cause of one's damnation.