December 19, 2014 § 11 Comments
A condemned proposition:
Since ready cash is more valuable than that to be paid, and since there is no one who does not consider ready cash of greater worth than future cash, a creditor can demand something beyond the principal from the borrower, and for this reason be excused from usury. – Various Errors on Moral Subjects (II), Pope Innocent XI by decree of the Holy Office, March 4, 1679 (Denzinger)
29) I know that usury was traditionally considered an execrable mortal sin. But didn’t the Church change canon law and pastoral practice to remove the penalties and stigma associated with usury? Haven’t most Catholic theologians accepted that the world has moved on from the time when the prohibition of usury made sense?
Well, you asked, so I’ll editorialize and give you my personal take.
The answer is yes. The progressive tactic of divorcing doctrine from pastoral and juridical practice is not a new Vatican II innovation targeted specifically at matters of sex and marriage. Earlier progressives were “successful” in leaving the doctrine on usury formally intact, as a kind of decoration that makes no important demands on anyone, despite their attendance of the traditional Latin Mass. Humanae Vitae could easily become the new Vix Pervenit. Contraception apologists have learned from earlier usury apologists and are using the same tactics. Progressives think that money is inherently fecund and that sex isn’t inherently fecund.
Acceptance of usury and contraception are both products of denying that things have an objective nature independent of human preferences. Centuries of ‘pastoral’ acceptance and indoctrination of economic relativism paved the way for other expressions of moral relativism.
You might think of this as the “hermeneutic of continuity of Hell”.
It should be said though that getting rid of the ecclesiastical penalties for usury was a pastoral judgement call, and I don’t necessarily disagree with it. For example it was at times a requirement that a usurer had to make an accounting of all the money he had made through usury and make restitution before he was given sacramental absolution. This is completely disanalogous to the situation of a divorced and ‘remarried’ person who is objectively committing adultery on an ongoing basis. The former may be totally repentant and fully committed to sinning no more without having the practical means to do the accounting and make restitution. The latter by definition is not committed to sinning no more.
It was also the case that usury was frequently misunderstood, and many contracts which were not usury were condemned as such by overzealous but financially ignorant people. An analogous case in the context of the sexual revolution would be the ‘rigorists’ who condemn NFP as a form of contraception, and their ‘laxist’ counterparts who make the same claim but conclude from it that therefore contraception is morally licit.
An especially pernicious false-flag argumentative tactic of usury apologists is to take the ‘rigorist’ approach as a way of discrediting the doctrine. These will contend for example that the traditional understanding of usury would disallow all census-type contracts involving regular payments of principal and interest (e.g. corporate bonds), not just those census contracts with claims that terminate in persons as opposed to or in addition to actual property. (See question 31). This ‘false flag’ approach is aided and abetted by useful idiots on the traditionalist or reactionary side who cheer on their ‘rigorist’ arguments.
None of that has any bearing on the objective status of usury as an execrable mortal sin.
Usury would of course be intrinsically immoral even if that did, counterfactually, make industry and commerce impossible or if it were unhealthy in some sense for industry and commerce — just as contraception would remain intrinsically immoral even if the lack of it led inexorably to overpopulation and misery. But the moral prohibition of charging usury does no such thing. Like moral doctrine on contraception it merely prohibits actions which are objectively harmful both to the parties involved and to the common good – even though they do involve a short term ‘payoff’ of sorts, which is why they are tempting. This is why the arguments in favor of laxity on contraception and usury tend to mirror and cross-reference each other (myriad examples can be found simply by Googling various combinations of the terms “usury”, “Catholic”, and “contraception”).
Apologists for contraception have learned the playbook from the apologists for usury: give lip service to the doctrine as an important decorative piece of theology up in the sky; “pastorally” defang it so that in practice it can be ignored on the ground; continue to “dialogue” until the right “pastoral” result is achieved; paint any opposition into a corner as unmerciful, impractical, and disconnected from reality; and assert that this “pastoral” result was a development of doctrine, ignoring the dog that doesn’t bark — the nonexistent teaching documents from the Magisterium representing an actual doctrinal “development”. Do the latter enough times over a long enough period so that everyone starts to accept it as a given, including much of the clergy. Continue to point out various “defects” in the “simplistic” understanding articulated in Magisterial documents, and be sure to reiterate regularly that they are not infallible. Oh, and point out the sexual peccadillos, I mean economic practices, in clergy and the Vatican: because if the Vatican does something in its secular operations or practices that constitutes an infallible proclamation that the practices cannot be immoral, as long as they are the things we want to not be immoral, and anyway it isn’t really immoral but if the Church actually means what it says doctrinally in those defective non-infallible documents then it is being hypocritical. Shout down any alternative description of the situation on that front as excuse-making. Once all that is achieved all remaining objections must be marginalized and ridiculed. Pat the old celibate economically illiterate men in the Holy See on the head for their prior silly immaturity, congratulate the laity for its wisdom about the “facts of life” and the sensus fidelium, and move on.
But it turns out that the prohibition of charging usury is and has ever been a perfectly reasonable limitation on morally licit commerce; a limitation which merely disallows trafficking in human beings as if they were property and thereby creating fake wealth, vested in nonexistent property, which pollutes the real economy.
December 11, 2014 § 1 Comment
I did a pretty significant update to the Usury FAQ based on recent discussions at several web sites, adding several questions, revising a few, and improving the format a bit.
And a number of updates on on 12/13 and 12/14. At this point any significant revisions/additions will probably be a result of additional feedback that comes in, rather than me adding things that I am aware of having been left out of the original draft. I think the FAQ has a pretty solid foundation now.
November 10, 2014 § 196 Comments
“Are we not ashamed to pay usury? Not contented within the limits of our own means, we do by giving pledges and entering into contracts, fabricate the yoke of our slavery.” – Plutarch
We exhort you not to listen to those who say that today the issue of usury is present in name only, since gain is almost always obtained from money given to another. How false is this opinion and how far removed from the truth! We can easily understand this if we consider that the nature of one contract differs from the nature of another. – Vix Pervenit
Understanding usury requires an understanding of how the nature of some contracts differs, fundamentally and categorically, from the nature of others. Usury is not a matter of the same kind of contract differing only by ‘excessive interest’. Usurious contracts constitute a kind of contract which is intrinsically immoral by its very nature. This FAQ is intended to help people understand what usury is – and is not – and answer many of the questions which naturally arise.
- What is Usury?
- What is “lending”?
- Is usury always morally wrong?
- What if the interest rate is reasonable?
- What is the key difference between a mutuum and other contracts?
- What if the borrower is an institution like a government or corporation rather than an individual?
- I don’t get it. Why is charging interest on a loan always morally wrong?
- But economic value is relative, isn’t it? Isn’t value reducible to whatever people’s preferences happen to be?
- What if the loan is secured by collateral?
- Does collateral have to be physical?
- Aren’t lots of non-mutuum contracts unjust?
- Why would I ever lend someone money if I can’t charge interest?
- Didn’t the Church allow the Franciscans to collect “interest” above and beyond the principal on their mutuum loans to the poor?
- Hasn’t the Church approved charging interest to recover opportunity costs? What about the time value of money?
- Shouldn’t an investor be compensated for giving up the opportunity cost of investing his money in something else?
- Doesn’t the future labor of a worker constitute a ‘real asset’ against which a loan can be collateralized?
- Traditionalist scholastics claimed that you can’t sell time; progressive scholastics asserted that the worker’s wages are a counterexample. Weren’t the progressives right?
- Traditionalist scholastics claimed that you can’t sell risk; progressive scholastics asserted that an insurance bond is a counterexample. Weren’t the progressives right?
- Is a corporate bond usury?
- Is a car loan usury?
- Is a home loan usury?
- Are credit cards usury?
- Does this mean that I can’t take out a student loan without committing mortal sin?
- What is wrong with contracts between consenting adults?
- Aren’t all unproductive loans usury? Wasn’t Belloc right when he said that the distinction between usurious and non-usurious loans was that the latter are productive?
- Haven’t commerce and currency changed in such a way that usury is no longer much of a concern?
- Isn’t the government the biggest violator of them all?
- Who the heck are you to be lecturing us all on usury, anyway?
- I know that usury was traditionally considered an execrable mortal sin. But didn’t the Church change canon law and pastoral practice to remove the penalties and stigma associated with usury? Haven’t most Catholic theologians accepted that the world has moved on from the time when the prohibition of usury made sense?
- If the sovereign should decline to enforce usurious contracts, doesn’t it follow that the sovereign should decline to enforce any contract of exchange whatsoever which empowers one party to pursue a deficiency judgment against the other party personally, independent of any real assets posted as security?
- I really don’t get it. Why again do you say that fixed-income investments in (e.g.) corporations (corporate bonds) are not usury?
- In question 16 you say that the value of future labor is not a real asset which can be used as collateral on a for-profit loan. But wasn’t it relatively common before the modern era for people to be sold into slavery to pay off a debt?
- Doesn’t St. Paul tell slaves to obey their masters?
- Doesn’t the safe harbor of personal bankruptcy imply that modern loans are really nonrecourse?
- What if the mutuum loan is made in wheat, gold, or rental cars rather than fiat dollars?
- Wait, does this mean that if I lend out my car and the borrower destroys it, he doesn’t owe me anything?
- I see that the Magisterium and Aquinas have actually been clear that lack of explicit recourse to real assets is central to usury: that full-recourse lending for profit is what is defined as the moral problem. But why is that the case?
- But you’ve said that intangible or only partly tangible things like patents and operating businesses can be ‘objects’, and thus can be property. So how do I tell the difference between what can be ontologically real property and what can’t?
- But wait, can’t a full recourse creditor go after Bob’s estate when he dies?
- Doesn’t the Vatican Bank make full recourse loans?
- What about that Catholic Encyclopedia article, anyway?
- Why do you say that the 2008 financial crisis was founded in usury?
- Does this mean that ideally consumers should always pay cash for things like houses and cars?
- Suppose I am thinking about agreeing to a financial contract which will produce some interest or other profit for me – say by opening a bank account. How can I be sure that what I am about to do is not usury?
- Is it morally licit to charge interest on a full recourse loan just to cover inflation?
- What about futures contracts? Are they inherently usurious?
October 6, 2014 § 19 Comments
As the Extraordinary Synod gets underway I expect to hear lots of Orwellian talk about ‘justice versus mercy’, as if they were opposites. This is just a rhetorical trick, because it attempts to frame ‘pastorally’ sending vulnerable people down the road to Hell as ‘mercy’. Even if we accepted the false dichotomy, deliberately leading souls to Hell by treating ignorance as the eighth sacrament isn’t ‘mercy’. As soon as a person knows that his objectively adulterous acts are grave matter, he must seek the grace to cease choosing to engage in objectively adulterous acts. And the longer things go on without him learning the truth, the more difficult his situation becomes.
Pastoral ‘solutions’ which propose to reduce objectively adulterous acts to the status of venial sin (a prerequisite to receiving the Eucharist without that reception itself involving mortally sinful sacrilege) therefore depend on keeping people in difficult marital situations ignorant. They necessarily involve hiding the truth, out of a fear that once told the truth these people will go away sad. Furthermore, to be sustainable this hiding of the truth must persist over time: as soon as the person actually learns the truth the game is up. So the truth not only must remain unspoken: it must be actively hidden and suppressed.
These ‘pastoral solutions,’ then, are necessarily plans from the Father of Lies. It isn’t ‘mercy’ to send people down the path to eternal torment, or to pat them (and ourselves) on the back paternalistically while lying to them, telling them that they will be just fine even if they continue to choose gravely immoral behaviors. Pastors will have to lie and persist in the lie – to actively hide the fact that objectively adulterous behaviors are grave matter – in order for this to ‘work’.
However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.
Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they “take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.”(180)
Similarly, the respect due to the sacrament of Matrimony, to the couples themselves and their families, and also to the community of the faithful, forbids any pastor, for whatever reason or pretext even of a pastoral nature, to perform ceremonies of any kind for divorced people who remarry. Such ceremonies would give the impression of the celebration of a new sacramentally valid marriage, and would thus lead people into error concerning the indissolubility of a validly contracted marriage.
By acting in this way, the Church professes her own fidelity to Christ and to His truth. At the same time she shows motherly concern for these children of hers, especially those who, through no fault of their own, have been abandoned by their legitimate partner.
With firm confidence she believes that those who have rejected the Lord’s command and are still living in this state will be able to obtain from God the grace of conversion and salvation, provided that they have persevered in prayer, penance and charity. – Familias Consortio
October 4, 2014 § 25 Comments
No, the objections of the first group to the number of annulments being declared is, I suggest, not to the annulment process but to the people running that process. Tribunal officers are, it is alleged, too naive, too heterodox, or just too lazy to reach sound decisions on nullity petitions; they treat annulments as tickets to a second chance at happiness owed to people who care enough to fill out the forms. How exactly members of this first group can reach their conclusion without extended experience in tribunal work and without adverting to the cascade of evidence that five decades of social collapse in the West and a concomitant collapse of catechetical and canonical work in the Church is wreaking exactly the disastrous effects on real people trying to enter real marriages that the Church has always warned about, escapes me. Nevertheless that is essentially their claim: the process needs no major reform, processors do.
Peters in effect asserts a reverse ad hominem, suggesting that opponents of the annulment mill are attacking the character of the people carrying out the process rather than attacking the process itself.
There is a another view, which is that the process needs to be reformed because the ‘internal forum’ criteria for defective consent are inherently subjective. On this view, attempting to judge the majority of ‘internal forum’ annulments is like attempting to judge whether a particular confession was valid or not, based on the testimony of the penitent — who, by the time the issue comes up juridically years later, may not be certain himself.
In the case of a bad confession there is a simple sacramental solution: go make a good, valid confession and don’t leave anything involving ‘grave matter’ out, including the possible invalid confession.
In the case of uncertain consent to marriage there is also a simple sacramental solution: convalidation. This is how the Church has always consistently treated epistemic doubt about the validity of sacraments, to wit, conditional baptism. When in doubt because of inherently subjective factors or other uncertainties, the way forward is to insure that the sacrament is confected validly and licitly.
Modern annulment practice is unique in the history of the Church, inasmuch as it treats a possible sacramental irregularity – based on purely subjective considerations – as a two way street. It doesn’t provide a way forward, it provides a way backward, in the name of a false ‘mercy’. This is terribly unfair in a way in which carrying out the death penalty without objective third-party evidence would be terribly unfair. Errors in death penalty cases result in killing the innocent; errors in ‘internal forum’ annulment cases turn various people (including innocent ‘spouses’, past and future) into material adulterers. This is just the very modern phenomenon of turning doubt or ignorance into an eighth sacrament: it pretends that mercy means letting people stew in objective evil with no real way out.
It is quite human for the sinner to acknowledge his weakness and to ask mercy for his failings; what is unacceptable is the attitude of one who makes his own weakness the criterion of the truth about the good, so that he can feel self-justified, without even the need to have recourse to God and his mercy. An attitude of this sort corrupts the morality of society as a whole, since it encourages doubt about the objectivity of the moral law in general and a rejection of the absoluteness of moral prohibitions regarding specific human acts, and it ends up by confusing all judgments about values. – Veritatis Splendour
I’ll cite the documents of one American diocese just to give flavor on the sort of criteria which are actually being employed in the actual current process to annul marriages. Of course examples can be multiplied, and I’ve seen many more egregious examples than these. If someone doubts that, we can hold a contest to come up with more examples. This just happened to be what I grabbed with a quick Google:
Error Concerning a Quality of the Person: (canon 1097, §2) Defect of consent due to error concerning a quality of the other person, directly and principally intended in a spouse. If one party intended to marry someone who possessed a certain quality (perhaps of a moral, social, physical, religious, psychological or legal nature), and the primary reason for entering the marriage was the erroneous belief the intended spouse possessed that quality, the marriage may be invalid. The intended quality must be of such a magnitude that, without it, the person would not have married the other, and the discovery of the truth must have had a serious effect on the nature of the marriage.
Conditioned Consent – Past and Present Condition (c. 1101, §2) Defect of consent when a person entered a marriage based on a past or present condition of the existence or non-existence of a fact, typically concerning the spouse’s or his/her past (e.g., citizenship, criminality) or present state (e.g., pregnancy, a medical condition, career, a character or trait). Placing such a condition on the marriage raises serious questions, and it invalidates marriage when it is proven the condition, upon which the marriage decision depended, was not fulfilled at the time of marriage. This ground may be considered when one or both spouses entered the marriage with an expressed condition based on something from the past or present
Notice that, in addition to relying on wholly subjective testimony about peoples’ expectations going into marriage, these two criteria basically contradict each other. If you married expecting your spouse to have a certain quality and your spouse doesn’t turn out to have that quality, the marriage is null because your spouse didn’t have that quality. But if you married expecting your spouse to have a certain quality at all, that too casts doubt on the validity of the marriage.
This sort of jurisprudence makes the very idea of validly consenting to marriage into a joke.
Now reforming the process to basically close off the way backward represented by ‘internal forum’ annulments still leaves ‘external forum’ cases open to adjudication, and I would use the term broadly to include cases where objective third-party evidence of defective consent prior to the wedding is admissible: e.g. bragging to friends about the mistress at the bachelor party, as attested by third party witnesses.
But closing the door on all ‘purely subjective’ and even self-contradictory internal forum cases – whatever one thinks of it – would (contra Peters) be a process reform, would be consistent with the way the Church treats cases of possible invalidity when it comes to other sacraments, and would preach to the world by walking our talk – unlike current practice – that the Catholic Church is serious about the indissolubility of sacramental marriage.
September 27, 2014 § 145 Comments
I could be wrong, but in my understanding Augustine and Aquinas were primarily concerned with whether the Israelite conquest of Canaan was justifiable at all: with jus ad bellum. After all, on its face it was a war of conquest, and wars of conquest are morally wrong.
Just conduct during war, jus in bello, is clearly – and is formally recognized by the Church as – an entirely distinct subject.
At least one Church Father though has directly addressed accounts of killing infants in the Old Testament and how they are to be interpreted. Here is Origen on the “dashing of babies” in Psalm 137:
And in this way also the just give up to destruction all their vices, so that they do not spare even the children, that is, the early beginnings and promptings of evil. In this sense we understand the language of Psalm 137 … For, “the little ones of Babylon” (which signifies confusion) are those troublesome sinful thoughts that arise in the soul, and one who subdues them by striking, as it were, their heads against the firm and solid strength of reason and truth, is the person who “dashes the little ones against the stones”; and he is therefore truly blessed. – Origen, Contra Celsum, translated by Frederick Crombie, vol. 4, The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to AD 325, edited by Rev. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1989)
So according to Origen, Old Testament accounts of killing infants refer metaphorically to destroying heresy and vice in ourselves in its infancy; and the weapons of destruction are reason and truth.
In that sense, we should all be dashing the heads of infants against the rocks.