Religious Roots for Fiduciary Duties

Legal commentators have differing opinions regarding the origin and background of fiduciary duties.  A recent article by Mary Szto would seem to focus on the business side of things, as her article is entitled “Limited Liability Company Morality: Fiduciary Duties in Historical Context,” 23 Quinnipiac Law Review 61 (2004-2005).

However, the author strikes a deep religious tone to fiduciary relationships.  Says Ms. Szto, “Fiduciary duties are the offspring of ecclesiastical property views and Roman legal forms.  They would then mature into agency and trust law; partnership and corporate law would later wed them to the business association.  They are Christological in origin.  Fiduciary duties acknowledge that property ownership, including the business enterprise, requires stewardship.”

In analyzing the history of fiduciary duties, she argues that, “The origin of fiduciary duties has religious and secular roots.  These roots were wed by canon lawyers in the medieval era . . . Fiduciary duties in the biblical tradition begin in the Genesis creation account.  The human mission on earth is being a fiduciary, being a steward of God’s and other’s property.  Israel is a fiduciary.  So is Jesus Christ.”

Continuing in this vein, she explains that,  “In the biblical account, after creating the world, God appoints man and woman as agents.  They steward the world, exercise dominion, and are fruitful.   God is the world’s eternal owner, and his agents are stewards.  Fiduciary duties thus bond God, his creation, and his creatures.  Adam and Eve failed in the enterprise, however, and the rest of biblical history is the story of redemption.  It is a search for the faithful fiduciary and a permanent inheritance.  God redeems Israel from Egypt and gives Canaan to her as an inheritance.

“Within this creative-redemptive-consumptive framework, business people in the Bible have fiduciary duties to God and others . . . In Christian theology, Christ is the perfect fiduciary.  He is the selfless steward who lays down his life for others.  By dying and rising, he enables those who accept him to have an eternal inheritance.  Christ is the bridge between death and life, time and eternity, temporal and permanent property.”

Next week we’ll continue an analysis of this article.