Usury Errors in recent Articles I

Take usury as an example. Zmirak defines usury as any “lending at interest,” and points out that it was condemned for centuries by popes and councils (which he names).

Usury was later redefined from ‘any interest’ to ‘excessive interest.’ That is not a minor tweak, but a fundamental change. To appreciate its significance, imagine a future pope redefining ‘contraception’ to make room for its general use, withholding permission only when it was employed ‘abusively.’

But by what principle did the Church condemn usury? Aquinas, following Aristotle, said that taking interest on a loan was akin to “selling what does not exist.” In a time of no growth, taking a payment merely and solely for the act of lending is just that. But in a growth economy, the Church saw that interest was no longer merely a case of “selling what does not exist.”

If you loan me money in a growing economy, you lose the gain you would have gotten from that money—so I owe you, not for “nothing,” but for your “cessant gain” and “emergent loss” (to use the terminology from English history).

If I were to take your money and not restore your loss, then I would be cheating you, not you cheating me. The same principle of justice that condemns interest in a no-growth economy demands reasonable interest in a growth economy.

And the same principle of justice rejects excessive interest, even to this day. St. John Paul II in a Feb. 3, 2004, general audience called usury “a plague that is a disgraceful reality even in our days that can place a stronghold on the lives of many people.” Pope Benedict XVI in his commentary on the Psalms on Nov. 2, 2005 condemned “the shame of usury, which destroys the lives of the poor.’”

So when Zmirak purports to show that the Church has done “a 180-degree reversal” on usury, the Church in fact did the opposite: She faithfully applied the principle despite changing circumstances.“Weakness of Witness”, First Things, Thomas Hoopes

In his fifteen-page section on usury Noonan presents quite fairly the interplay between moral teaching and the emergence of new economic systems. The biblical strictures on usury were evidently motivated by a concern to prevent the rich from exploiting the destitution of the poor. But when capitalists of early modern times began to supply funds for ventures of industry and commerce, the situation became different. Moralists gradually learned to place limits on the ancient prohibition, so as to allow lenders fair compensation for the time and expenses of the banking business, the risks of loss, and the lenders’ inability to use for their own advantage what they had loaned out to others.

These concessions do not seem to me to be a reversal of the original teaching but rather a nuancing of it. The development, while real, may be seen as homogeneous. In view of the changed economic system the magisterium clarified rather than overturned its previous teaching. Catholic moral teaching, like contemporary criminal law, still condemns usury in the sense of the exaction of unjust or exorbitant interest. – “Development or Reversal”, First Things, Avery Cardinal Dulles

In regard to our first question [i.e. is usury still a sin], in light of the various Roman decisions of the nineteenth century and of the 1917 Code, no one can be condemned for taking the legal or customary rate of interest on a loan, provided that it is not excessive. The reason for this, I argued above, is that the complexity of modern finance renders it safer simply to allow moderate interest than to engage in probably fruitless endeavors to determine the presence or absence of extrinsic titles. The Church presumes these titles to exist generally and makes the judgment that even if in some cases they do not, it is better for the sake of consciences to ignore that fact. The remedy always exists, moreover, for restitution to be made via almsgiving in case a penitent is troubled or there seems a well-founded and probable case of real usury. – “Is Usury Still a Sin?”, Distributist Review, Thomas Storck

[Aquinas] did not think it was right to sell and rent the very same thing, but he did not hold that in all cases a person extending a loan must accept as repayment the exact loan amount. The lender may also require monies as insurance against loss of the principle. Thomas did not think that, had the loan been returned on time, it justified charging interest. He said:

The lender cannot enter an agreement for compensation through the fact that he makes no profit out of his money: because he must not sell that which he has not yet and may be prevented in many ways from having. (ST II-II.78.2 ad 1)

This condemnation rests on circumstances that may, and did, change. In some market situations—apparently the ones prevalent in the thirteenth century—the likelihood of growing money through investment was seen as greatly uncertain. But in contemporary market situations, investment growth is virtually assured. As secure ways of investing money developed, the lender did lose profit on money unless interest was charged.

To take a different example, in the Middle Ages removing a man’s heart was the same as killing him, but today a heart may be removed in surgery to restore life. Intentionally killing an innocent person is always wrong, but the specific actions that count as intentional killing change and depend in part upon the development of technology. – “Did the Church Change Its Stance on Usury?”, Catholic Answers,Christopher Kaczor

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4 Responses to Usury Errors in recent Articles I

  1. Pingback: Usury and the Church in Error | Infinite Semiosis

  2. Zippy says:

    So many strawmen asserted by the progressives. For one, usury is not merely akin to selling what does not exist (as ontologically distinct from the lender and borrower themselves). Usury actually literally is selling what does not exist, since in a mutuum it is agreed that the actual property lent may be alienated from the borrower without eliminating his obligation. Promises or personal IOUs do not have the ontological status of property, distinct from the contracting parties.

    Aquinas’ argument cannot be defanged by reducing it to a mere claim of similarity.


  3. Zippy says:

    Also I love statements like this one:

    … the magisterium clarified rather than overturned its previous teaching.

    Note the absence of any actual citation of any actual clarification by the actual magisterium. Spin, spin, spin.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. There are self-imposed blinders on the authors. The integrity of the Magesterium must be defended, so it must be a clarification, the Church must be assuming extrinsic titles, it must in fact be true whether or not there is evidence. Outside the padded walls its clear the Magesterium doesn’t need to be defended, only correctly articulated.

    Liked by 1 person

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