November 14, 2017 § 47 Comments
The basic principles behind the prohibition of usury are simple. Financially, usury is any contractual profit for the lender stemming from making a “loan for consumption“: a loan which authorizes the borrower to consume or alienate the actual property lent, while personally guaranteeing that he will restore to the lender the amount lent. Morally, personally guaranteed loans are only licit as acts of charity or friendship made to a borrower in need: they are never licit under any circumstances as acts of financial self-interest on the part of the lender.
Intuitively, charging rent for the use of collateral property owned by the lender – actual alienable property which is later returned to the lender intact or ultimately bought out by the borrower – is not intrinsically uncharitable.
Intuitively, charging a man rent for the use of his own person, for each breath he takes from his own lungs, is intrinsically uncharitable. Interest on a personal IOU is a charge of rent against a man for the use of his own person, since his obligation to repay simply is personal.
It is also intrinsically uncharitable to make a mutuum borrower responsible for the lender’s changing circumstances. In general with a mutuum loan the borrower is not responsible – cannot be made responsible – for all of the circumstantial changes which occur in the universe during the duration of the loan.
People use terms like “inflation” in economic theory to refer to aggregate indexes of relative price changes over time. An index is just a representative sample of statistically aggregated spot prices of particular goods and services, measured in some particular unit (US dollars, McDonalds Big Macs, etc). There are as many possible relative price indices as there are discrete combinations of goods, services, transactions, and time periods. But folks tend to treat “inflation” as if it were a basic feature of reality as opposed to a particular heuristic/statistical guesstimate about certain historical circumstantial changes in relative prices (measures of who in fact bartered what in exchange for what) for certain goods and services (and only those goods and services, etc).
I once bought a house by selling some stock, paying for the house with the proceeds. When I sold the house it had “lost value” in terms of US dollars but had “gained value” in terms of the stock I sold. Whether the house had inflated or deflated in price over the period I owned it depends on what measure we use for price. If I had sold the stock, rented a place to live, and made an interest free mutuum loan of the remainder of the proceeds I would have been financially better off still, assuming the mutuum was repaid. If I had rented and not sold the stock at all I would be worst off of all, in terms of financial outcome.
This all would have been the result of changing circumstances. In general it is not the responsibility of mutuum borrowers – it cannot be a mutuum borrower’s responsibility in justice – to compensate lenders for changes in the lender’s circumstances.
Inflation is a heuristic measure of aggregated circumstances in the economy, crafted and reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even if inflation were a measure of the actual concrete and personal changing circumstances of the actual lender, which it isn’t, it remains intrinsically unjust to charge mutuum borrowers rent for the use of their own persons simply because of the changing circumstances of a lender.
November 5, 2017 § 47 Comments
Since 1999, I have directed a pastoral counseling agency that conducts over 12,000 [hours] of pastoral counseling per year. That means that, over the last 18 years, I have either personally conducted, or been directly responsible for, over 216,000 hours of pastoral counseling, which is all about asking how one can apply the teachings of our Catholic faith to some of the most complex situations one could encounter in life. Our agency’s services are delivered in English and Spanish to Catholic couples, families, and individuals across North and South America, Europe, Asia (primarily Hong Kong and India), Australia, and Africa, which has given me a uniquely multi-cultural lens through which to view this question of pastoral practice. I am a Fellow of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, and I serve as the Chair of the Education Committee for the Catholic Psychotherapy Association, which is responsible for the professional development of the next generation of pastoral psychotherapists. I also direct a graduate program in pastoral studies which is forming the next generation of pastoral ministers. I have written over 20 books and programs on a host of serious, practical, faith-based topics that have been translated into at least 7 languages.
The idea that the laity are doomed to be spiritual also-rans strikes me as a particularly pernicious failure of pastoral practice. I am, frankly, appalled that what appears to be driving the progressive advocacy of an interpretation of Chapter 8 of AL that supports communion for Catholics who are remarried without the benefit of annulment is that lay people are just too weak to live holy lives. It seems to me that some 50 years after Vatican II, lay people deserve a little better than “we think we have to lower the bar because, well, you suck.”
… I happen to work with an awful lot of people who have been heroically bearing the cross of living faithfully in their irregular marriages for years and who are a testament both to the fact that the current teaching bears real personal and relational fruit AND the fact that heroism is for the average Christian (thank you very much). On their behalf, I can only say, “How dare you.” to anyone, who out of their misguided approach to pastoral practice would seek to demean the witness of such faithful, courageous, godly, and yes, heroic people.
(HT: LMS Chairman)
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 § 108 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 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 § 14 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.