Welcome back to “Melanchthon Monday”! Today we have a passage on the divine sanction protecting the right to own property and the tyranny involved in the magistrate laying hold of it unjustly. The passage comes from my forthcoming translation of Melanchthon’s Summary of Moral Philosophy and is part of a response to the question of whether King Ahab had the right to seize Naboth’s vineyard (1 Kings 21).
The distinction of properties, or property rights, belongs to the law of nations, or, as the philosophers say, to the law of nature. Therefore, to disturb the distinction of properties and to seize those that belong to someone else without just cause is unjust. Thus both the law of nature and God’s law (when it says, “You shall not steal”) protect property rights. For the decalogue, as has been said often, is an explication of natural law, which shows that the law of nature is the judgment of God. Tyrants, therefore, sin against God when they seize citizens’ fortunes.