August 10, 2018 § 41 Comments
Is he going beyond his authority? Is he changing the catechism and breaking with centuries of church teaching? Is it true that if he does this he can do most anything? Rod Dreher over here seems to think so.
I’m not so sure.
The classic example is the Catholic teaching against usury. In the Middle Ages the church taught that usury was a sin. It was argued that it was a sin because it was un natural. It used money to make money rather than honestly selling goods and services. Furthermore, it was invariably seen as a way for rich people to oppress the poor through high interest rates.
However, in the modern world the practice of lending money is far more complex and it is arguable that the money lender is indeed honestly selling a service–making loans. Furthermore, with loans being available to everyone, rather than oppressing the poor it is arguable that the poor are empowered by being able to borrow. They can get an education they could not otherwise afford and purchase things on credit to improve their lives. Is money lending still abused? Of course, but that’s not the main question.
When it comes to the death penalty the real change happened not with Pope Francis, but with Pope John Paul II.
August 7, 2018 § 27 Comments
He that is not with me, is against me: and he that gathereth not with me, scattereth. – Jesus Christ, second Person of the Holy Trinity
Addressing the announced changes to the Catechism on the death penalty, changes categorically asserting its ‘inadmissibility,’ Joseph Shaw writes:
If [the Holy Father’s theological advisers] are not bound by past popes, there is no reason why future popes should be bound by this statement, and indeed the authority of Pope Francis over Catholics today is called into question.
[Compatibility with the teaching of previous popes, councils, etc] is not the natural reading of the text, but one might argue that since it is purporting to represent the teaching of the Church we must read it if humanly possible in accord with previous authoritative statements of that teaching. On the other hand, bishops and theologians supposedly friendly to Pope Francis are loudly saying that the natural reading is the correct one…
This is no accidental ambiguity: it is a design feature. In this case the mouse-hole of ambiguity conservative Catholics need to crawl through to maintain the continuity between the two editions of the Catechism is humiliatingly small. When they have crawled through it, moreover, they will be ignored.
 It takes a certain skill to effectively make ambiguous categorical assertions. But that skill is required when the point is authoritative self-immolation of authority.
August 5, 2018 § 17 Comments
I’m not a historian, let alone a historian of Catholicism. But I know enough to be familiar with what has sometimes been referred to as the ‘pornocracy,’ the rule of medieval Borgia popes more interested in their mistresses and political power than in their often neglected job as appointed guardians of the Faith.
I am not a sociologist either. But I’ve noticed that when heterosexual sins are condemned, the response of people who indulge in them tends to be something on the order of “Meh.” By contrast, I’ve noticed that practicing homosexuals tend to find it utterly intolerable that anyone, anywhere, in any context, might slightly disapprove of their sexual behaviors. As always there will be many individual exceptions; but I think there is enough truth in this observation to create a social gradient.
So I guess it should not be surprising that the thing that really contrasts the old pornocracy to the new, the medieval heterosexual clerical cabal to the Current Year homosexual cabal, is the accompanying internal assault on moral doctrine.
July 20, 2018 § 4 Comments
The negative precepts of the natural law are universally valid. They oblige each and every individual, always and in every circumstance. It is a matter of prohibitions which forbid a given action semper et pro semper, without exception, because the choice of this kind of behaviour is in no case compatible with the goodness of the will of the acting person, with his vocation to life with God and to communion with his neighbour. It is prohibited — to everyone and in every case — to violate these precepts. – Veritatis Splendour
Abstractly speaking an authority can take either a “whitelist” approach to property exchanges (only approved transactions are endorsed and enforced) or a “blacklist” approach (transactions are presumptively endorsed and enforced, but exceptions apply).
As a practical matter though the latter is the only real possibility for actual finite human authorities. Any attempt at the former proposes to actualize a potential infinite, and thus in practice would become a perverse and sociopathic version of the latter.
So blacklists it is. There is good reason why categorical commandments take the form “thou shalt not.”
(Originally a comment here).
June 15, 2018 § 25 Comments
It is worth emphasizing that personal guarantees on invested capital (usury) are indeed very bad business in entrepreneurship, where capital and labor/expertise come together to produce objectively valuable goods and services. Personal guarantees are a huge red flag that the contracts and capital structure are dysfunctional and should be re-worked before a deal is inked, or that perhaps the deal is no good at all on any terms. It is a naive and foolish business practice to give capital to a business partner under a regime of personal guarantees.
Usury is great business though when the objective is to sell things to consumers (e.g. college degrees in grievance studies fueled by five dollar lattes); things that they cannot afford without selling themselves into slavery, at prices massively inflated by the ready availability of usurious loans.
June 14, 2018 § 13 Comments
Can you licitly contract with a borrower, “I will give you this sack of flour for a sack of the same size plus one dollar, payable tomorrow?”
No you cannot, at least not simply, because this is usury: you are demanding a personal guarantee of more than one sack of flour tomorrow, as payment for exactly one sack of flour today.
What you could licitly do is buy equity in the borrower’s lawn mower for one sack of flour. You could then rent your share of his lawn mower back to him until he redeems it by giving you one sack of flour, or, barring that, the lawn mower.
Of course if a piano falls on the lawn mower you both now co-own, you lose what you invested (in addition to being out the profits). As co-owner of the lawn mower you share in any risks to that lawn mower.
You could buy an insurance bond from Joe against falling pianos, with some of your mower rent proceeds, secured by the product of Joe’s wheat field. But perhaps there would be a drought, etc.
All of which is to say that if the contract is a mutuum, any contractual profit is usury. But if the contract is not a mutuum and in no way contains a mutuum (hidden or otherwise), contractual profits are not usury.
June 13, 2018 § 32 Comments
I understand and appreciate the point – the lender merely gets the borrower’s pledge. The borrower gets the thing.
But it is unsatisfying that it is necessary to introduce idiosyncratic usages of very well-defined words. Nobody ever says that a lender “sells” the “loan”. Selling is something quite distinct from lending.
Like many words the English word “loan” is multivocal: it has several distinct meanings. I’ll point out two of them in this post.
In one sense of the term, I loan you my car to drive for a while since your car is in the shop. The term “loan” here means that I retain ownership of my car while you use it: you are obligated to return that actual car to me when you are finished using it. Because you are using my car, it is morally licit for me to make a profit – charge you rent – for your use of my car.
In a different sense of the term, I loan you some flour to bake into bread and eat. The term “loan” here means that you now own that actual flour, and have personally pledged to pay me for it later with different flour. (This is the kind of “loan” which is meant by the Latin term “mutuum“). As a mutuum lender I no longer own that actual flour, you do: I have agreed that you may dispose of that actual flour however you wish. Furthermore, you have not pledged any collateral: you have not sold me an interest in any specific itemized actual property that you do own: all you have given me is a pledge, not ownership of any thing. In virtue of the agreement itself I now own nothing, I simply have your promise that you will pay me for what you have purchased within some agreed time.
So it is morally illicit for me to make a profit on your use of that actual flour: if I attempt to do so I am attempting to charge you rent for the use of something which I do not own. Charging rent for the use of property I do not own is intrinsically unjust. I do not own the flour any longer once I have given it to you under a mutuum: if I did, then when you bake and eat the bread you would be stealing from me, as if you had sold the car that I lent to you in the other example.
If it is always intrinsically immoral to make a profit from this kind of lending, then why would anyone lend in this specific manner? Out of friendship or charity, of course, and in pursuit of the common good.
But it is never morally licit to lend under a mutuum out of financial self interest.