Many anti-Catholics attacked the Holy Catholic Church on the requirement of tithing as prescribed in the Council of Trent’s Decree on Reformation (AD 1545-1563), as it states:
“The payment of tithes is due to God; and they who refuse to pay them, or hinder those who give them, usurp the property of another. Wherefore, the holy Synod enjoins on all, of whatsoever rank and condition they be, to whom it belongs to pay tithes, that they henceforth pay in full the tithes, to which they are bound in law, to the cathedral church, or to whatsoever other churches, or persons, they are lawfully due. And they who either withhold them, or hinder them (from being paid), shall be excommunicated; nor be absolved from this crime, until after full restitution has been made. It further exhorts all and each, that, of their Christian charity, and the duty which they owe to their own pastors, they grudge not, out of the good things that are given them by God, to assist bountifully those bishops and parish priests who preside over the poorer churches; to the praise of God, and to maintain the dignity of their own pastors who watch for them” (chapter 12, session 25).
HOWEVER, does the Holy Church really require the faithful to pay for tithes based on the citation above?
First of all, the laws promulgated (not the doctrines defined) in the Council of Trent including those of Tours (AD 567) and of Macon (AD 585) are, as a rule, no longer binding, since they have been replaced by the current laws which are in force today. In fact, Canon 6.1 states right at the beginning of the current Code of Canon Law (CCL) that among other things, the previous (1917) code and other laws which are contrary to the new code were abrogated once the new code took effect in 1983. Though the laws of the past councils are of great historical interest, they do not constitute the current laws of the Church.
On the other hand, the concept of tithing is of pre-Christian origin, and in fact, a referrence to it can be found in the book of Genesis, as it reads: “Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine, and being a priest of God Most High, he blessed Abram with these words: ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, the creator of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your foes into your hand.’ Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything” (14:18-20).
The word tithe came from the Anglo-Saxon word teotha meaning “a tenth.” Apparently, one tenth of one’s bounty was customarily given to the priests in their service to God as prescibed in the Torah. The record of tithing is kept in the books of Leviticus (23:30-33) and Deuteronomy (12:17; 14:22-29) where the Jews offered to God, or tithed, one-tenth of their harvest of grain of the fields or their produce of fruit of the trees, one-tenth of new pressed wine and oil, and every tends firstborn animal of their herd or flock. The book of Numbers also records how God prescribed that the Levites, the priestly class of the Jewish people, were entrusted with these tithes: “To the Levites I hereby assign all tithes in Israel as their heritage in recompense for the service they perform in the meeting tent” (18:21-24).
But, remember, tithing was an Old Testament obligation that was incumbent on the Jews under the Law of Moses. Interestingly, with Jesus’ atonement, Christians are no longer required to keep the Law. Acts 13:39 highlights it: “Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses” (see also Galatians 2:16, 3:11; Romans 3:28).
Because of this, the Holy Catholic Church infallibly teaches that the “faithful also have the duty of providing for the material needs of the Church, each according to his own abilities” (CCC 2043). Thus, she ruled that the “Christian faithful are obliged to assist with the needs of the Church so that the Church has what is necessary for divine worship for apostolic works and works of charity end for the decent sustenance of ministers” (CCL 222). Indeed, the Christians are dispensed from the obligation of tithing, i.e. ten percent of their incomes, but not from the obligation to help the Church.
The Sacred Scripture is very clear on this. In 1 Corinthians 16:2, St. Paul writes, “On the first day of the week [Sunday] each of you should set aside whatever he can afford.” NOTICE that the apostle here admonished giving whatever one can afford and not how much percentage is required. He further exhorts the same message in 2 Corinthians 9:5-8, as it reads: “So I thought it necessary to encourage the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for your promised gift [donation], so that in this way it might be ready as a bountiful gift and not as an exaction. Consider this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each must do as already determined without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work.”
Furthermore, the same apostle ordered Timothy to tell the rich to be generous and ready to share, as it reads: “Tell the rich in the present age not to be proud and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth but rather on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, ready to share, thus accumulating as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true life” (1 Timothy 6:17-19). As what Christ said, “for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions” (Luke 12:15).
Living the Gospel, the Church, through her ministers, absolutely needs the support of the congregation for her sustenance as Jesus taught the apostles to depend upon charity when He sent them on mission: “Provide yourselves with neither gold nor silver nor copper in your belts; no traveling bag, no change of shirt, no sandals, no walking staff. The workman after all, is worth his keep” (Matthew 10:10). The apostle to the Gentile also instructed the early Church community to provide for the needs of their priests: “Do you not realize that those who work in the temple are supported by the temple and those who minister at the altar share the offerings of the altar? Likewise, the Lord Himself ordered that those who preach the gospel should live by the gospel” (I Corinthians 9:13). Yet, the Church never demands ten percent from everyone’s wealth but the only treasure that comes from the heart.
Thus, like the Macedonian churches which gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people (cf. 2 Corinthians 1-7), may the Christians of the today’s generations would also find an overflowing joy in the grace of generosity.
Remember what St. Francis said in his famous prayer: “For it is in giving that we receive.” Therefore, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38).