October 25, 2017 § 71 Comments
Now and then you’ll encounter the claim that although usury (contractual profit from a mutuum loan) is morally wrong as an agreement between individuals, it becomes morally licit when it is authorized by the positive law, sometimes referred to as “the law of the Prince”. Various rationalizations were suggested for this proposed title to interest – German positive law at the time enforced contracts charging up to 5% interest on mutuum loans – as within the legitimate power of the Prince, starting with the theories of Adam Tanner (SJ) of Ingolstadt in 1620. Tanner and his pupil Christopher Haunold argued that:
This custom … was morally justified, even though the lender had no title to interest. The State validated the custom by its power of eminent domain, transferring the property of the borrower to the lender [in the form of interest]. The State, it was generally admitted, had the power of eminent domain to dispose of private property for the common good. — Noonan, The Scholastic Analysis of Usury, page 353.
According to Noonan this purely positive law argument gained no traction outside of Ingolstadt (a two and a half hour drive from Cardinal Kasper’s see today) until 1736, when Vitus Pichler (SJ) and Francis Barth worked it over into a theory. Noonan describes the theory:
The premium paid for a loan in such a situation was not usury in a strict sense, but a reward to a lender which the law allowed on the occasion of a loan. … As in the conferring of property rights by adverse possession, a private person was given the right, which he would otherwise not have, to take the property of someone else, in order that the general welfare be promoted.
No surprise that this is yet another case of selective, willful amnesia. Because centuries beforehand the constitutions of the Council of Vienne had ordered the excommunication of government officials who craft statutes asserting such a title:
Serious suggestions have been made to us that communities in certain places, to the divine displeasure and injury of the neighbour, in violation of both divine and human law, approve of usury. By their statutes, sometimes confirmed by oath, they not only grant that usury may be demanded and paid, but deliberately compel debtors to pay it. … We, therefore, wishing to get rid of these pernicious practices, decree with the approval of the sacred council that all the magistrates, captains, rulers, consuls, judges, counsellors or any other officials of these communities who presume in the future to make, write or dictate such statutes, or knowingly decide that usury be paid or, if paid, that it be not fully and freely restored when claimed, incur the sentence of excommunication.
October 23, 2017 § 59 Comments
Exercise of public authority is justified based on the common good of the community and the individual good of members of the community. Therefore, under the traditional doctrine of the Church, resort to the death penalty by the public authority requires a twofold justification.
First, of course, the condemned must be actually guilty of a capital crime and must justly deserve death for that crime.
Second — and this is where folks tend to miss the fact that the Catechism of Trent and Evangelium Vitae assert mutually consistent theology, albeit with different emphases — it must be necessary to carry out the death penalty to protect the innocent from harm.
It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society.
Evangelium Vitae goes on to suggest that this condition is rarely, if ever, met:
Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.
This latter is manifestly a question of fact, not moral principle. It is also manifestly false, unless we assume that prisoners themselves are not a part of “society” worthy of protection from (e.g.) decades of being sodomized and violated in countless other ways by other prisoners.
In other words to accept this as fact, as a premise leading to the conclusion that the death penalty should be fully abolished, requires us to dehumanize the prisoners in our penal system. Yet the whole point of the abolitionist position, its whole basis with which I fully agree, is that to act justly ourselves we must avoid dehumanizing prisoners.
October 21, 2017 § 38 Comments
The most primal power of men is violence. Therefore the besetting sins of incontinent men tend to be sins of violence primarily, and to involve sex only circumstantially/accidentally. A violent man will use violence to get sex that he desires, but he will also use violence to get other things that he desires: money, drugs, prestige, etc. This decreases as individual power decreases: the besetting sins of incontinent men with diminished capacity for violence will tend to be more effeminate or androgynous sins.
The most primal power of women is sex. Therefore the besetting sins of incontinent women tend to be sins of sex primarily, and to involve violence only circumstantially/accidentally. A slutty woman will use sex to get violence that she desires, but she will also use sex to get other things that she desires: money, drugs, prestige, etc. This decreases as individual power decreases: the besetting sins of incontinent women with diminished sexual power will tend to be more masculine or androgynous sins.
This is reflected in prison populations, which are mostly men, because our society is willing to punish crimes of violence but is not willing to punish crimes of sex. In fact when a straightforward crime of violence perpetrated by a woman is perceived to primarily arise from sex, there is across the board resistance to punishing that crime.
October 21, 2017 § 109 Comments
No matter how heinous the crime, if society can protect itself without ending a human life, it should do so.
—USCCB, A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death
The Catechism of the Council of Trent teaches that the death penalty is licit, not simply as a matter of proximate justice carried out on the perpetrator of a heinous crime, but when it is directed at the preservation and security of human life. This is echoed in the current Catechism. Many people seem to believe that it is possible to secure and preserve human life without resort to the death penalty.
While that may be an abstract possibility in hypothetical stories, it has yet to be demonstrated an actual possibility in reality.
October 19, 2017 § 130 Comments
There were once two Greek tribes living in very close proximity, under a High King who ruled from a distant city.
The γυναίκα tribe had plenty of tempting, delicious ambrosia; but small warriors and very few weapons. The άνδρας tribe had strong warriors and powerful weapons; but they had insufficient food of their own, and what food they did have was disgusting, unappetizing, and mildly poisonous. Under the High King’s law the άνδρας defended both their own territory and the territory of the weaker γυναίκα.
The γυναίκα were very proud of their ambrosiac and abundant feasts, which made them feel powerful and important. It became their custom to parade around in the territory of the άνδρας with their delicious and aromatic dishes, to eat in front of the άνδρας, to wink at them and tease them with food that the άνδρας did not have.
Any territory set aside for άνδρας alone was considered an oppression of the physically smaller and weaker γυναίκα; so the High King made it law that the άνδρας could not set aside spaces of their own where the γυναίκα could not go. The γυναίκα were permitted to take their ambrosia with them wherever they went. The High King permitted no limits on the public and brazen display of ambrosia. The suggestion that lawful limits on the public display of ambrosia might be prudent — and that these limits should be set by άνδρας not by γυναίκα — met with outrage, scoffing and accusations of oppression.
It was permitted under the High King’s law that a άνδρας could approach, smell, sample, and participate in a γυναίκα’s meal only when the γυναίκα was explicitly asked and gave explicit permission for each smell and bite; a permission which could be revoked at any time. The γυναίκα would often get drunk and allow a άνδρας to share a meal, and later regret the action; in such a case the άνδρας was considered a criminal because the γυναίκα had chosen to get drunk, thus impairing consent. Sometimes the less morally upright among the stronger and more physically powerful άνδρας would become aggressive; even to the point of taking, without explicitly granted permission, a morsel from the plate of a γυναίκα who had shoved the plate under his nose.
And any suggestion (even from a γυναίκα) that there might be something wrong with the behavior of the γυναίκα was condemned as ‘blaming the victim’.
October 14, 2017 § 21 Comments
I first ‘met’ occasional commenter and current knight-of-the-blogroll Semiotic Animal in the comment boxes of the Acton Institute. It appears though that the entire comment thread at Acton was deleted, at some point: at least I don’t see any comments when I call up the page.
That’s too bad. That particular comment thread was an interesting exercise in schooling ideological free marketers on the actual medieval understanding of usury, as opposed to strawmen crafted through extremely selective curation.
The Acton moderator replies:
Thanks for bringing that to my attention, Zip. I stand corrected. Not intentional. Probably a WordPress or Disqus issue created when we updated blog theme earlier this year and brought over comments. If you care to repost a comment and discuss specifically, feel free.
Mike T made the original thread available on archive.is.
October 13, 2017 § 22 Comments
One of the multitude of interesting passages in the encyclical is Veritatis Splendor 115:
This is the first time, in fact, that the Magisterium of the Church has set forth in detail the fundamental elements of this teaching, and presented the principles for the pastoral discernment necessary in practical and cultural situations which are complex and even crucial.
In one sentence this invalidates two of the most common approaches to rationalizing away the universal objectivity of moral standards.
The first rationalization appeals to ambiguous – or just outright incorrect – ‘respectable‘ vintage theological opinions or practices in arguing for moral subjectivism/relativism. This in particular is a dangerous temptation for orthodox Catholics. Just because an opinion or practice is old, comes from a (supposedly) respectable source, and has not (yet) been forcefully condemned, it does not follow that the opinion is sound. The measuring stick of sound doctrine is Scripture, Tradition, and actual authoritative Magisterial pronouncements taken together and understood as harmonious. Theological musings are just theological musings, whatever the source.
The second rationalization involves crafting a supposed doctrinal-pastoral dualism. Under this neopelagian rationalization the human person lives morally inside a subjective intentional bubble separate from his concrete choice of objective behaviors, hermetically shielded from culpability by ignorance. Rather than being a sinner in need of repentance and redemption the human person is intrinsically good; the objective moral law is merely an ‘ideal’; invincible ignorance is the eighth sacrament. Evil comes from outside the person via the imposition of a purely external moral ideal, not from inside the person manifested in his deliberate choice of behaviors. A human being can be mercifully ‘accompanied‘, can be pastorally shielded from his own sinfulness by keeping him in the dark, by blocking him from coming to know the fullness of truth about the good and what that means in terms of concrete behaviors.
The pope doesn’t leave it to just that one sentence though. He goes on to crush the idea that sound pastoral practice can conflict with the truth about objectively good and evil kinds of behavior:
Each of us knows how important is the teaching which represents the central theme of this Encyclical and which is today being restated with the authority of the Successor of Peter. Each of us can see the seriousness of what is involved, not only for individuals but also for the whole of society, with the reaffirmation of the universality and immutability of the moral commandments, particularly those which prohibit always and without exception intrinsically evil acts.
116. We have the duty, as Bishops, to be vigilant that the word of God is faithfully taught. My Brothers in the Episcopate, it is part of our pastoral ministry to see to it that this moral teaching is faithfully handed down and to have recourse to appropriate measures to ensure that the faithful are guarded from every doctrine and theory contrary to it.
And he reinforces the fact that theological opinions of whatever vintage should not be confused with the authentic Magisterium of the Church:
In carrying out this task we are all assisted by theologians; even so, theological opinions constitute neither the rule nor the norm of our teaching. Its authority is derived, by the assistance of the Holy Spirit and in communion cum Petro et sub Petro, from our fidelity to the Catholic faith which comes from the Apostles. As Bishops, we have the grave obligation to be personally vigilant that the “sound doctrine” (1 Tim 1:10) of faith and morals is taught in our Dioceses.
The life of the spirit is truth. We all know who is the father of lies. And it is no accident that spiritual ‘mercy’ killing requires that its victims be cut off from the fullness of truth.
October 9, 2017 § 98 Comments
LMS Chairman writes:
The practice in Confession of not absolving unrepentent sinners is intrinsically related to its nature as established by Divine Law.
There is a problem with this view though. The ‘pastoral’ practice of absolving unrepentant sinners goes back to well before Vatican II, and is not a new or novel thing with the publication of Amoris Laetitia.
The Vademicum for Confessors in 1997, under John Paul II though not signed by him personally, authorized absolution of penitents who were unrepentant on contraception.
The various Sacred Penitentiary and papal audience rulings on usury in the 1800’s authorized absolution of unrepentant interest-takers in a couple of cases: specifically when those unrepentant usurers rationalized their behavior by appealing to either (1) the fact that they made mutuum loans to businessmen (condemned as an excuse by Vix Pervenit) or (2) by the fact that the ‘law of the prince’ authorized charging a certain rate of interest.
Amoris isn’t the camel’s nose in the tent: it is the other end of the camel coming into the tent.
That doesn’t make the current round of clarification any less urgent, but it is important to have a full and adequate grasp of the situation. Pope Francis is not an innovator. As the first Jesuit pope he is simply completing the centuries long Jesuit project of fighting the Protestant heresy by embracing it.
The History of Economic Thought website describes, consistent with my own understanding, the Salamanca Jesuit approach to morality in economic life and politics:
It is common to associate early Jesuit philosophers like Leonard Lessius, Luis Molina, and Juan de Mariana, with the Salamanca school.
The Jesuit Order (‘Society of Jesus’), founded in 1540 by St. Ignatius de Loyola, was erected to combat the appeal of Protestantism. […] The Scholastic doctrine of ‘just price’ was rejected out of hand as all-too-divine, the Jesuits arguing that value is a human affair and was determined by natural human interaction on markets. They followed much the same line on money and inflation. On moral defenses of usury and profit, the Jesuits were eager to reform Catholic doctrine to bring it more in line with current practice, to ease their efforts to overcome the resistance of Protestant towns to re-catholicization.
Quite more controversial was the Jesuit view of the basis of civil government, something the Salamanca scholars had largely and judiciously avoided. In line with their general approach, Jesuits like Molina, de Mariana and Suarez proposed that government rested on human consent […] Jesuit musings on the human rather than divine sources of government made them downright subversive to the established order. It did not help matters that, notoriously, the Jesuit philosopher Juan de Mariana (1598) openly contemplated that the murder of a monarch might be justified, if he proved tyrannical to the people. This was uttered at a tense time of notorious political assassinations – Henry IV of France (attempted in 1595, succeeded in1610), James I of England (Gunpowder Plot, 1605), Paolo Sarpi of Venice (attempted, 1606), etc. – in which Jesuit activists were suspected of having a role (and may indeed have had one).
In the popular mindset of the time, the Jesuits became synonymous with regicide and political destabilization.
The Jesuit approach (or, more fairly, a prominent and pervasive Jesuit approach) has always been to downplay and subjectivize the moral law as a way of making the Church seem more familiar and appealing to non-Catholics, especially Protestants. From this point of view, if pervasive everyday practice is contrary to the moral law as traditionally understood then what has to change is our understanding and application of the moral law, to accommodate everyday practice and get these people into the spiritual and sacramental life of the Church. The important thing is Catholic unity, and if the moral law is a cause of disunity then that implies a problem with our understanding of or application of the moral law. What is important is how people actually live, not the abstract moral demands of the Gospel.
Jesuits have been doing this for centuries, and the fruits of this approach are manifest. We are all Jesuits now.