At least there are no hobgoblins
May 8, 2017 § 29 Comments
Following Denzinger, The Summa Theologiae, and De Malo, one of the most useful resources on the subject of usury is John Noonan’s book The Scholastic Analysis of Usury. The reason it is useful is because it collects in one place a large number of sources, citing all sorts of different medieval and later scholars and quoting various arguments on the subject.
Unfortunately, the author’s own words tend to dilute the usefulness of the text rather than enhancing it. With all the usual caveats associated with paraphrase, I’ll sum it up as follows for those who don’t want to buy their own copy:
Pre-modern people were very ignorant about property, contracts, and finance. They simply didn’t see all the holes in their theories; holes through which creative financial engineers could and eventually did drive trucks. Modern financial technology has made the traditional prohibition of usury obsolete in practice. Those sweet preciously naive little devout medieval hearts were in the right place, and making sure our hearts are in the right place is the lesson we can still learn from the Church’s millennium of full-throated condemnation of usury. But that business about never profiting from mutuum loans is embarrassingly passé.
Noonan had the virtue of consistency in his approach to moral theology. He also wrote a book entitled Contraception, which follows the same basic structure and narrative. Pre-modern people were very ignorant about biology and medicine. Modern medical technology has made the traditional prohibition of contraception obsolete in practice. Those sweet preciously naive little medieval hearts were in the right place, and making sure our hearts are in the right place is the lesson we can still learn from the Church’s millennium of full-throated condemnation of contraception. But that business about never choosing deliberately mutilated sexual behaviors is embarrassingly passé.
But consistency, it is said, is the hobgoblin of small minds. The beauty of inconsistency is that it empowers us to impose our own narrative on moral reality, rather than conforming our will to an objective moral reality which exists prior to our wishes. Not everyone feels the need to live within the constraints of consistency (at least not, uh, consistently); let alone within the constraints of objective moral truth.
One of the popular sub-narratives in the Current Year is that Pope Francis’ ‘pastoral’ initiatives are unique and special. Never before (and especially not before Vatican II) has a Supreme Pontiff suggested that absolution may be granted to penitents who don’t understand or don’t agree that their behaviors are gravely immoral. Never before has a Supreme Pontiff made it official policy to absolve penitents who do not intend to cease choosing objectively immoral, gravely wrong behaviors. Never before have those who commit manifest grave sin been given backstage passes by the Vicar of Christ to skate past the bouncers and turnstiles, and receive Holy Communion.