Our Ecclesiastical Revolutionaries

I thought I’d toss out some impressions of those who have made the current mess in the Church. I have no special knowledge of any of this, but these are indeed my impressions, so other views would be welcome:

Walter Kasper is basically a German engineer. He likes systems that have been thought through and work smoothly and predictably in accordance with well-articulated basic principles. He accepts as a basic reality the German social welfare state that looks after all human concerns and turns the German bishops into well-paid functionaries with large budgets to use as they wish, and he wants to fit the Church seamlessly into that model. Hence the radical disjunction he makes between “praxis” and “doctrine.” By turning doctrine into a sort of decorative accessory, like the British monarchy, that move is the most simple, practical, and reliable way to unify the two in all practical respects. (Germans like thoroughgoing coherence, so it’s not surprising Cardinal Marx has openly suggested changing doctrine as well.)

Francis is quite different. He’s an Argentine who acts like he knows everything (I am told that’s their reputation in Latin America), and a Jesuit who holds his cards close to his chest, follows the results of his inner meditations, and takes an utterly tyrannical view of authority. So he doesn’t care about system. His will is good enough for him.

He’s intelligent but not a thinker. He rejects concepts, logic, and systematic analysis as guides but only cares about how things look to him right now. That seems mostly based on the situations that impressed him in Argentina, for example Peronist politics, conservative clergy allied to people he didn’t like, and people in slum neighborhoods living in disordered conditions who seemed to need special accommodations (the Church as a “field hospital” etc.) and might get poached by Protestant charismatics.

He’s willful and high-handed by nature as well as background. His aversion to reason and theory means he finds it hard to take into account concerns and experiences different from his own. He prefers to insult those who differ, and when they seem likely to cause problems do what’s needed to get rid of them and make them a lesson for others.

So it’s natural for him to pick up on Kasper’s idea of changing “praxis” but not doctrine. The former, especially in the form of doing what seems good to him at the moment, is what he cares about. The latter is rather in the background with him, although he has no inclination to contest it. He’s a “son of the Church” and accepts it all at least notionally although it’s not supremely important to him.

His faith is of a basically concrete and popular type: Marian devotion, the Bible, personal relationship to Jesus, concern about the devil, complaints about the powerful, and lack of interest in theology or history. In some ways it seems that of an entirely uneducated person: if he thinks a crucifix is a wonder-working relic and wants it he’ll pry it from a dead man’s hands and feel no shame. (His recounting of the incident also seems to show an amazing lack of self-awareness.)

All of which seems to leave the Church in the position she’s been for the past 50 years from the standpoint of a social traditionalist, only more so: largely useless at the practical sociological level, but nonetheless ultimately and in principle the only fixed point from which the inhumanity of the modern world can be opposed and overcome. That view depends, of course, on the view that reality and truth, and thus doctrine, are what matter in the long run.

I’d add that how all this plays out depends not only on those at the very top of the Church but also all the other people and tendencies in play, including those aroused by the incredibly ham-handed management of the first session of the Synod. Francis has a strong will but he can also be politic and doesn’t care about consistency. We shall see.

[UPDATE: Francis is indeed a politician. He wants people to support him, and he’s not principled enough to argue and persuade them, so he says different things to different audiences. People who try to put all his utterances together and make sense of them are committing what philosophers call a “category mistake.”]

[SECOND UPDATE: Also see John Rao’s commentary, If You Try to Understand Francis, You Will Lose Your Reason.]

45 thoughts on “Our Ecclesiastical Revolutionaries

  1. I think you hit the nail on the head regarding Pope Francis. He is certainly intellectually lazy in that he constantly fails to consider the consequences of what he says. Thinking about consequences requires the kind of conceptual framework (causality, natures, etc) that he doesn’t care to bother with. He reminds me of the guy in epistemology class who concludes that discursive knowledge is not necessary, since connatural knowledge is superior. As a result Pope Francis, relies on his guts and shoots from the hip.
    We see this in his understanding of human nature. For Francis the rest of man is basically like him which means all you need to do to save souls is tell people that Jesus loves them and is willing to forgive them. If you agree or pretend to agree with Pope Francis, then you are cool with because Pope Francis knows he’s right. On the other hand if you disagree with Pope Francis you literally can’t argue with him because Francis doesn’t do logic.

    This intellectual laziness in turn makes him a poor judge of men as we can see his championing of Kaspar and demotion of Burke. I have met Cardinal Burke and he is easily the most impressive bishop I have ever met in my life. He is innocent as a dove and wise as a serpent. Any man with half a brain would keep Burke around him because of his obedience and competence.

      • It may not be bad judgment from his point of view. A number of people have commented that Bergoglio/Francis doesn’t like distinguished men around him.

        I suspect that Francis’ “regular guy” appeal stems in part from him actually being basically a regular guy.

        I also have the impression that “regular guy” leaders inherently understand that when they surround themselves with, shall we say, less ordinary men, they lose de-facto leadership. A talented leader can convince those around him not only to do what he wants, but to think it was their own idea. It is frequently the case that someone who is formally a subordinate is de-facto running the show, and I think most people – even “regular guys” – know this.

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  3. Thanks for posting this, Jim. I have been wondering about your thoughts on Francis (I can’t get your website here at work anymore).

    “…. and takes an utterly tyrannical view of authority. So he doesn’t care about system. His will is good enough for him.”
    If that’s the case, then the Holy Spirit must be protecting the office in the way Catholics understand. Francis could have done much more damage by now.

  4. By turning doctrine into a sort of decorative accessory, like the British monarchy, …

    Great parallel. This way all but the most intransigent of loyalists can be neutered/appeased, as the liberal hegemon comprehensively dominates everywhere and everything that matters practically. Liberals have learned well the lesson that isolating “religion” – doctrinal truth – into a zoo or museum where it has no real-world consequences is much more effective than trying to exterminate it outright.

    • Isn’t what Jim is describing here what, in a nutshell, Vatican II did? Operated on practice or praxis rather than doctrine/dogma?

      • Bruce B:
        Well, there is nothing inherently wrong with focusing on practical (pastoral or juridical) matters, and as Aquinas reminds us not everything that is immoral must be illegal.

        Behind most monomanias there lies an unobjectionable idea. I’ve called the retreat-to-the-unobjectionable-idea strategy “weaponized nihilism”. The neoreactionary kids call it a “mott-and-bailey” strategy based on a paper some guy wrote in the mid oughts. The general idea is that when you are pushing for something unreasonable, instead of honestly defending what you really want when it is attacked you reframe the discussion to make it look like something unobjectionable is under attack.

        I think the strategy is related to Larry Auster’s concept of the “unprincipled exception”, which we were discussing at VFR in the early oughts. The decorative British monarchy is a kind of unprincipled exception to liberalism, but the important thing is that it is continually drained of all practical relevance until it vanishes from all spheres except the strictly private. As long as the monarchy has no real authority it can be treated as a consumer preference, an entertainment or cultural product which the free and equal superman can take or leave as he pleases. But it will never authoritatively discriminate with any actual teeth.

        This further ties into the “ratchet” or Hegelian mambo – these unprincipled exceptions keep all but the most intransigent “conservatives” on board, and over time are drained of public content and authority. A categorical divorce of the pastoral from the doctrinal is an ecclesial mechanism to accomplish this in ecclesial politics.

        Whether VII was “supposed” to accomplish this is one question, but it is clearly the case that for many liberals (including the ‘conservative’ variety) it has in fact been the lever for accomplishing this.

      • Yes. When Francis says that he is just picking up on the Conciliar Church’s “gradualism” (I think a better word, if it is a word, would be clinality), he is just telling the truth. Presumably he is cribbing from Kasper or someone, since that kind of abstract talk is uncharacteristic. The practice, obviously, will drag the doctrine along with it eventually, at least in the private thoughts of churchmen. How easily churchmen slid from saying that talking nice about assorted heretics, schismatics, and infidels was a good way to attract them to saying “they’re fine where they are.” How easily they slid from saying that ecumenism is a good way to attract converts to explicitly disavowing the “ecumenism of return.” All Francis is doing is smoothing out an unprincipled exception or two in the Conciliar project. The conservatives are defending no principle. This is why they are flirting with attacks on the person of the Pope.

      • I’ve mentioned before that there is precedent for the Church to just stop talking about a specific species of mortal sin, pastorally ignoring it while doing nothing to formally change doctrine: usury. How many people know that they should not receive communion if they have committed unconfessed usury? How many even know what usury is? Most people have wildly incorrect ideas about usury and/or think that modern conditions have changed circumstances so much that it rarely if ever applies. Sound familiar?

        A difference here is that marriage is a sacrament though, so it will be interesting, in Chinese curse terms, to see how it goes.

      • DrBill: Which conservatives are you talking about? It seems to me the ones inclined to say the Pope’s a bad guy or at least a bad pope also want to say Vatican II has been misinterpreted and misapplied from day one. They’re trying to follow the principle of interpreting Vatican II by reference to what came before and what the documents actually say. They don’t like Francis because that’s not what he’s doing.

        Agreed about Francis’s cribbing. He’s not a thinker and repeats what he’s heard from others that’s to his immediate purpose.

      • Zippy: Do you know a good discussion explaining how usury would apply today? My impression is that the Church recognizes legitimate titles to compensation for letting someone else use your money, for example risk of nonpayment or the economic loss from your inability to use it some other way that would give you a legitimate profit. So if I buy a corporate bond on the market, and I could have bought a limited partnership interest, the interest on the bond would compensate me for the equity return on the LP interest adjusted for risk and thus presumably be legitimate. That wouldn’t apply to what would commonly be called usury today (lending to someone in a tight spot or to someone who’s an idiot at interest higher than e.g. the rate on the corporate bond plus a reasonable risk premium etc.).

      • Having been schooled on this subject by Zip, I’ll jump in here partly to try to reinforce in my own mind what he has taught me about usury. The interest rate on the instrument is not relevant. What matters is whether the instrument is collateralized under clauses that terminate in real property. Corporate bonds are collateralized by the assets of the issuing corporation, and the bondholder has no claim on the assets of any person over and above those assets. So they would not be usurious. Neither would mortgages, home equity lines of credit, auto loans, policy loans (against cash values of life insurance policies), margin loans, etc.

        The most common sort of usurious instrument today is credit card debt. Again, it doesn’t matter whether the interest rate on the card is 5% or 25% or 45%. What matters is that credit card debt is not collateralized by specific assets, so that the lender has recourse to *any* assets of the borrower.

        Much of the business – most? – in credit markets these days is conducted using non-recourse, collateralized debt instruments; i.e., non-usurious instruments. So there is nothing outre or difficult about avoiding usury, nor is there any way to argue that restricting commerce to non-usurious debt would impede business. Velocity in the corporate bond market is instant, and it is easy to get non-recourse loans of other sorts.

        On the other hand, all the revolving credit out there is usurious, and so most importantly are debt issues of the US Treasury.

        Revenue bonds would not be usurious, I think, because in any given period during the life of the instrument the creditor has recourse only to the revenues booked by the issuer as an asset.

        Avoiding the commission of usury should be easy for most people: just don’t work for the United States or any bank.

        If you search on “zippy + usury” you’ll get a lot of good stuff, at his site, at What’s Wrong with the World, and also a bit here.

      • Home mortgages and auto loans are typically recourse to the obligor as well as secured by specific assets. That’s OK?

        Also, a corporate general obligation is recourse only to the assets of the corporation because of limited liability. No specific assets are pledged though. Is that not OK?

        (“Just look up ‘zippy + usury’” would be a sufficient answer if you don’t want to pursue this tangent any further.)

      • I did not know that about auto and home loans. Will be reading my mortgage agreement this evening!

        If those loan forms do recur to the obligor, they are usurious.

        Corporate GO’s are OK.

      • Kristor:

        If those loan forms do recur to the obligor, they are usurious.

        It is probably worth pointing out that while these contracts are formally usurious, they generally speaking infrequently actually end up resulting in a deficiency judgment. It becomes material usury when collateral assets are depleted and the lender goes after the borrower personally.

        But if the courts allowed foreclosure/repossession but simply refused to enforce deficiency judgments, a whole host of modern ‘conjure assets out of nothing’ shenanigans would disappear.

      • Kristor:

        … and so most importantly … debt issues of the US Treasury [are usury].

        That isn’t where I came out on the question of sovereign debt.

        I do not think that sovereign debt, denominated in the sovereign’s own currency (this is essential), is usury. I explained why it is not usury here, and we had a lively discussion about it.

      • Yeah, but I remain uncomfortable with where we ended up with that discussion. I’m comfortable with it as far as it goes, but I’m not comfortable that it goes far enough.

        I don’t want to hijack Jim’s thread with another one of our interminable discussions of usury – fascinating as I know all orthosphereans would surely find it – so let me just wave a hand in the direction of the source of my discomfort, and if you want to kick it around some more we can do that in a new thread devoted to that project, either here or over at your site. Or, if I’m being dense, just settle my hash quickly right here.

        I get your point about the fact that the sovereign’s debt is denominated in his own currency: he can create as much new currency as he needs to pay the interest on his outstanding bonds, in the process creating assets of really effectual value in the wider economy, without immediately engaging the assets of his subjects in the payment of that interest. The argument is that the buyer of the bond is not committing usury because he has no recourse to any assets other than the dollars that the Treasury can create as needed.

        I note in passing that this safe haven, if that is indeed what it is, would not be available to a buyer of municipal GO bonds, unless the municipality were in a position to issue its own currency (as has indeed been the case historically from time to time); or unless we were willing to agree that the municipality’s power to issue as many GO bonds as it needed to finance interest payments on its already outstanding bonds constituted a power to issue effectual fiat currency. I think I am willing to agree with that; in which case, I would agree that this safe harbor from usury is available to those who buy GO munis.

        But I’m not so sure that this power of a debtor to issue fiat currency is a harbor altogether safe from the commission of usury.
        My discomfort is that while the creation “ex nihilo” of new fiat currency does not immediately engage the assets of the subjects of the sovereign, it does engage them mediately. The fiat currency has value in respect to the Treasury bond and the parties thereto only insofar as it can be exchanged for other goods. When I give you a dollar, it’s not the piece of paper you care about, but the power it confers upon you to obtain other real goods that you value. It is that power, that optionality, that is the gift. The dollar is only the sign of that gift.

        When the sovereign debases the currency by new issues that are not themselves backed – collateralized – by real assets (gold, say) that have their own exchange rate vis-à-vis other goods, the debasement constitutes an indirect and uncompensated taking of real assets – of power, of optionality – from his subjects. So the value of new fiat currency is not in the final analysis created ex nihilo (thus my scare quotes above: there is only one being who can create any values ex nihilo, so that the sovereign’s “creation of value” via printing money is a lie about the nature of his true powers and the true character of his monetary acts). In the merely creaturely economy there is perfect conservation of value across all transactions, so that if the newly issued fiat currency is to have any value in the eyes of the bondholders who want their interest payments, that value must be procured from somewhere else in the economy. And it is: it is taken from the purchasing power, the value, of the property of all who participate in the economy over which the sovereign holds sway and enforces the sole use of his own currency (including his creditors, and indeed even his own fisc).

        Thus in economic reality the Treasury bond terminates without limit upon the real assets of the subjects, and upon their persons. It is not a direct mutuum, but it sure looks to me like an indirect mutuum. What’s more, and especially given the sovereign’s power to coerce obedience in the payment of taxes (whether directly via transfers to him of their assets, or indirectly via monetary debasement of their estates) from his subjects with the threat of violence, it looks to me as though the debasement of fiat currency is linked very tightly to slavery, as you have suggested usury generally is. Whether or not the sovereign does in moral fact own the lives of his subjects, his issue of uncollateralized fiat currency makes them his effectual slaves – and, indirectly, the slaves of his creditors.

      • Kristor:

        When the sovereign debases the currency by new issues that are not themselves backed – collateralized – by real assets …

        … that is like a corporation issuing more of its own stock, thereby adjusting its own capital structure. Sure, this can be done unfairly… but it isn’t a mutuum charging profitable interest.

        You are correct about local government bonds, though, exactly because those governments are not issuing bonds denominated in their own sovereign currency.

      • Very good, but the analogy to corporate stock breaks down at the very crux. If a corporation issued new stock from its Treasury and simply gave it away, it would dilute the ownership of the current shareholders, and thus debase their property, without compensation to them. This would be analogous to what central banks do when they print money. But corporations don’t give away stock. They trade it for valuable things: they sell it in exchange for cash, or for stock of other firms, or for labor (as when they grant stock to valuable employees as part of their compensation packages). The result of these transactions does still dilute the ownership of the current stockholders, but the dilution is not an uncompensated taking, because (presumably, if all goes well) the assets of the corporation are increased by the transaction, so that the shares held by current shareholders are worth more than they would otherwise have been.

        When new fiat currency is issued “ex nihilo,” by contrast, current holders of the currency are diluted, with no compensating increase in the value of their certificates. The issuing sovereign is taking the value of his subjects’ estates and transferring it to his creditors, by way of the new fiat currency.

        If the sovereign really could create new value ex nihilo, then the fact that he is paying interest on his bonds with new issues of his own currency would mean that the bonds were not usurious. But he can’t; so the bondholders have effectual recourse, via the sovereign’s tax farmers and his mint, to the *entire asset base of the sovereign’s subjects – to the fruit of their labors, both past, present, and future, without limit.*

      • Kristor:
        I don’t agree with that analysis. It is possible for an ‘intrinsic’ recapitalization to be unfair, but it is not at all the same kind of thing as a mutuum, and it need not be done only in exchange for assets. I could say plenty more if time allowed.

        Nevertheless your first instinct that this is not the time or place for further digression was probably right.

      • To be sure, stock is nowise a mutuum. It isn’t debt of any sort. By definition, then, a new issue of stock cannot be usurious like a full recourse loan is. Stock is not therefore non-usurious because it is denominated in the corporation’s own instruments, but because it creates no debt in the first place. If it is unjust, the injustice is not due to usury.

        Agreed though that we should continue with this elsewhere, if at all.

      • @Jim Kalb

        I am thinking of Cardinal Burke, Michael Voris, and Ross Douthat, specifically, but I’m pretty confident that this flirtation goes beyond those three—Fr Zuhlsdorf was selling mugs with one of the entries from Pope Francis’s Little Book of Insults on it as I recall.

        I agree that fans of the Documents of Vatican II / Spirit of Vatican II dichotomy (i.e. conservative Catholics) are the ones edging towards dropping their heretofore seemingly inviolate discipline of never criticizing the Pope.

        That their arguments are not very good you can see from this statement of Cardinal Burke’s:

        Many of us were horrified with this idea that was presented in the report, that there could somehow be good elements in mortally sinful acts. This is impossible.

        What is he talking about? Off the top of my head, mortally sinful acts involve (as one of their elements) the exercise of free will, and free will is good. Thus, all mortally sinful acts have at least one good element. Generally, that no evil is pure is one of those bits of Catholic theology I thought was widely believed. Burke disagrees? Or, there is some subtlety here I don’t get? Or, to put him at war with Pope Benedict, is he saying that Pope erred with his talk about the good elements in condomistic sex acts?

        I’m not defending the synod or its interim discussion document. The whole thing is an orgy of extreme imprudence. I just don’t see the sharp distinction the conservatives claim to see between it and the rest of the stuff that’s been going on since the Council.

      • DrBill: I was surprised by Cardinal Burke’s statement as well. Even Jove nods I suppose, especially when speaking informally, but I don’t know that much about the man.

        I don’t think the conservatives defend everything that’s gone on since the Council. The view has been that the post-counciliar popes have been well-intentioned and orthodox, and have tried to do their best in the difficult circumstances in which they found themselves, so we should all support and encourage them. It’s harder to take that view with Francis. He’s visibly one of the post-conciliar bishops they’ve complained about.

  5. Jim,

    As Kristor mentions we’ve had discussions here at the Orthosphere, at my blog (under the “usury” keyword), and at What’s Wrong with the World. My views are formed by everything in Denzinger (the compendium of Catholic doctrine used in seminaries) indexed under “usury”, Aquinas’ views, a number of academic papers and a few old books (e.g. “Interest and Usury” by Dempsey, “The Scholastic Analysis of Usury” by Noonan). Probably Ott’s collection of Magisterial writings also, now that I think of it.

    I’ll try to keep this short, but if I keep it too short I’ll end up leaving out something essential. Everything after the next paragraph is just clarification — the post I link to explains what kinds of contract are usury in simple terms.

    It is important to point out that understanding usury is actually quite simple – as simple as understanding adultery, contraception, stealing, or other moral categories. You don’t have to be a financial whiz and the category of contracts which constitute usury is clear. It has been made to appear complex through centuries of sophistry, rationalization, and misdirection. In the end the Magisterium just stopped talking about usury without making any alteration to or development of the doctrine (despite contrary insistence by some people, who never seem to actually produce an actual Magisterial citation asserting the putative changes).

    Most business-to-business “lending” transactions (e.g. corporate bonds) today are not usury. Many but certainly not all business-to-consumer “lending” transactions today (e.g. car loans, full-recourse home loans, credit card interest) are usury.

    The medievals understood “loan” to mean a mutuum — basically that there was an actual person on the hook for return of the full amount of the principal. It is always and without exception immoral usury to make a profit from a mutuum loan – even in a case where you are theoretically giving up an ‘opportunity cost’ by making the loan. Mutuum loans for profitable interest are always immoral without exception, independent of interest rate and independent of ‘opportunity cost’.

    Secured, nonrecourse ‘loans’ do not count as usury, as confirmed by Pope Calistus III in Regimini Universalis in 1455. They are what Aquinas called a ‘kind of society’ set up for business purposes — in modern terms you purchase a slot in the capital structure, but you can’t go after individuals for return of principal or profitable interest. This includes things like corporate bonds, for example – you can’t go after Larry Shareholder for return of principal, so the contract is not a mutuum loan.

    Now, you are correct that the medievals did consider there to be ‘just titles’ to compensation for actual costs above and beyond the principal in the case of loans made for charity. The Franciscans set up lending agencies for the poor precisely to help the poor avoid the usurers, and some of the actual costs involved in lending could be recouped in addition to the principal – if the borrower could afford to pay back the loan at all, of course, because the Franciscans, themselves living under vows of poverty, didn’t take borrowers who could not pay to court. These mutuum loans by definition could not be for profit, and the ‘just titles’ were in place simply to keep from depleting the charitable capital.

    Frequently a loan from the Franciscan societies (I forgot what they were called, but they were actually the precursors to modern pawn shops, believe it or not) helped someone get back on his feet. The generous Christian response to this would be to pay back the principal and, from your new state of good fortune, give additional alms to the Franciscans to help others who are now less fortunate than you. Some folks were not so generous, but Pope Benedict XIV made it clear that these folks at least in theory owed charitable lenders whatever it actually cost to make the charitable loan, above and beyond the principal.

    But in my view, shared by some medieval theologians (Noonan himself disagrees but I find his argument weak and inconsistent), these ‘just titles’ only apply to charitable lending, not to business enterprises. Profitable enterprises – when they don’t go as planned or go into default – must always terminate in real assets (the value of which can of course go to zero, when houses burn or customers desert a supplier), not in open-ended demands for return of principal and profitable interest from actual persons.

    More generally speaking, Aquinas’ view that mutuum lending for profit is a form of selling what does not exist has always been exactly right. Folks who think that modern conditions — more comprehensive commerce, changes in currency, opportunity costs, etc — have any bearing on the question are just flat wrong, in much the same way that people who think that scientific advances have any bearing on the immorality of contraception are just flat wrong.

    • Thanks. All sorts of questions, comments, and examples come to mind, but it seems I should bone up before taking anyone’s time. (Would it be worth someone’s time to write a usury FAQ or some such?)

      • This book is probably worth reading on the subject. The author (I’ve met him) is traddy as they come, he has glittering academic credentials, and he used to be a partner at a big Philly law firm specializing in international corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions, and private equity. So if you want someone who understands the subject and takes the doctrinal issues seriously, he should be your man.

      • Jim,

        I haven’t read Brian McCall’s book, but present-day traditionalists tend toward Belloc’s view that unproductive loans are usury. This complicates the picture with unnecessary ambiguity and results in a confused mess that undermines understanding and opposing usury.

        Usually they have bought into the idea that “just titles” like lucram cessans and damnum emergens apply to loans as part of a business venture intended to produce profit. But as I explained above, I am pretty certain that that is just wrong: these ‘just titles’ only apply to mutuum loans, which are only licit as non-profit charity (e.g. the Franciscans who lent money to the poor, demanding principal and actual costs only from those who got back on their feet and could afford it). Mutuum loans are never morally licit as profit-producers, period, in my understanding – which I am convinced corresponds to Aquinas’ understanding. Almost everyone thinks that Aquinas got usury wrong in some way or another, but I don’t think so — any putative exceptions apply to charitable lending, not to business loans.

        And while it is true that productive nonrecourse loans are not usury, it is not true that all unproductive loans are usury. If I sell a share of my house to the bank (a “home equity loan”) to pay for a trip to disneyland (consumption), and then buy the share back (principal) and pay rent on the portion the bank now owns (interest) over time, that is not a usurious loan — as long as the debt is nonrecourse, that is, they can go after the house but they can’t come after me personally.

      • Jim:

        (Would it be worth someone’s time to write a usury FAQ or some such?)

        I suppose I should at some point. Right now I am taking a break from blogging, though I am still dropping comments here and there. Perhaps at some future time I will get to it though.

        Imagine that we are in the year 2300, that Humanae Vitae was the last authoritative Magisterial statement on contraception, that a pastoral fog has overcome all non-decorative opposition to contraception, that dissenting theologians have had a field day spreading all sorts of reasons why the world has moved on from the issue, and that subsequent generations have given Magisterial status to the body of work by those dissenting theologians (as slumlord does below by invoking the Catholic Encyclopedia as if it were a papal encyclical).

        That is our present-day situation with usury. Even the orthodox are confused and wrong, and have no real comprehension of the issue — despite the fact that it is extraordinarily easy to understand that it is always morally wrong to lend money at profitable interest. (Where “lend” means that you get to go after the person to whom you lent for principal and interest).

    • Hi Zippy. Is that me you were invoking!

      Google is your friend and things have moved on a bit since medieval times. Remember, the discussions of individual theologians do not amount to official Church doctrine.

      Here is the Catholic Encyclopaedia article I found on the subject,

      Lending money at interest gives us the opportunity to exploit the passions or necessities of other men by compelling them to submit to ruinous conditions; men are robbed and left destitute under the pretext of charity.Such is the usury against which the Fathers of the Church have always protested, and which is universally condemned at the present day.

      Once again, you’re complicating what is quite easy to understand. Usury is a specific instance of malice as expressed in an economic act.

      Using economic advantage to harm individuals is wrong, using economic advantage to benefit oneself and others is not wrong. It’s that simple.

      The problem is that the early Church lacked the intellectual machinery to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate forms of interest taking. With greater intellectual sophistication came a capacity to distinguish between the two. But that implies a certain intellectual acumen, something religious Puritans and Progressives sometimes lack. Bit like the way some people cant distinguish between capital punishment and murder.

      Intellectually Weak Traditionalists would have seen it as a cave in to Modernity. Weak Progressives would have seen it as a change in doctrine however, there was no change in change in the nature of Church’s doctrine but rather a recognition that in certain instances the doctrine was traditionally misapplied. What changed was the Church’s understanding of the nature of “interest”, not doctrine.

      Secondly, it appears that a big problem in the Church’s understanding of the loan process is that it saw it as an exchange where the borrower became an owner of capital once he was loaned it instead of recognising that the lender is actually sub-letting his capital to the borrower for a price.

      • slumlord:

        Hi Zippy. Is that me you were invoking!

        No. You are certainly a very special snowflake, but you are hardly alone among modernists who dissent from orthodox doctrine on contraception. And usury, for that matter.

        Here is the Catholic Encyclopaedia article I found on the subject, …

        That various people – including the authors of the Catholic encyclopedia – hold various opinions is a given.

        Here is a comprehensive list of all of the actual Magisterial pronouncements that modernist Catholics have produced to support the contention that times have changed, so usury mostly doesn’t apply in modern economies:

        […]

      • Slumlord writes:

        Secondly, it appears that a big problem in the Church’s understanding of the loan process is that it saw it as an exchange where the borrower became an owner of capital once he was loaned it instead of recognising that the lender is actually sub-letting his capital to the borrower for a price.

        Notice that for this narrative to work, one has to assume that the medievals were imbeciles who just didn’t get it, and anyway times have changed so much that their silly ideas just no longer apply, if they ever did.

        If this doesn’t sound familiar, it certainly should.

      • Here is a comprehensive list of all of the actual Magisterial pronouncements that modernist Catholics have produced to support the contention that times have changed, so usury mostly doesn’t apply in modern economies:

        Reframe. Where did I say usury does not apply to modern economies? Quotes please.

        Notice that for this narrative to work, one has to assume that the medievals were imbeciles who just didn’t get it, and anyway times have changed so much that their silly ideas just no longer apply, if they ever did.

        Reframe again.

        Newton was no imbecile but he did not discover relativity.

  6. In the comments of the post I linked I gave a brief explanation of why the objections Noonan catalogues do not hold up:

    There were a number of medieval objections to usury in the form of “you can’t sell X because X does not exist” that Noonan documents as having been shot down. But having read the putative shooting down I have become convinced that the arguments were sound and the counterarguments were leveled against straw men.

    “You can’t sell time” and “you can’t sell risk” were two of the big ones. Supposedly a wage earner refutes the former and an insurance bond refutes the latter. But they don’t. A wage earner isn’t paid for time-qua-time, he is paid for specific productive work — time is merely a convenient proxy that we use. Similarly the insurance bond isn’t a matter of sale of risk-qua-risk; it is (when licit) a pooling of real assets to make possible adverse events less of a disaster for individual participants.

    As I wrote at the Orthosphere, if risk qua risk were an ontologically real asset then gamblers would be entitled to profit. If time qua time were an ontologically real asset then slackers would be entitled to wages.

    Sorry if this is too much of a digression, but I do think it is pertinent. I could easily see other intrinsically evil acts ‘go the way of usury’, that is, become overrun by modernity in a cloud of capitulating pastoral fog. Usury was once despised as execrable wickedness; doctrine has not formally been changed, but condemnation of usury has disappeared into a void of ‘pastoral’ adaptation to the modern world and deafening silence on doctrine.

    The same sort of thing could easily happen with (e.g.) contraception, to the exultant joy of the modernists.

      • josh:

        Would it be a mortal sin for me to take out college loans when my children are older?

        Here is Aquinas’ answer (ST II-II, Q78, A4):

        Accordingly we must also answer to the question in point that it is by no means lawful to induce a man to lend under a condition of usury: yet it is lawful to borrow for usury from a man who is ready to do so and is a usurer by profession; provided the borrower have a good end in view, such as the relief of his own or another’s need. Thus too it is lawful for a man who has fallen among thieves to point out his property to them (which they sin in taking) in order to save his life, after the example of the ten men who said to Ismahel (Jeremiah 41:8): “Kill us not: for we have stores in the field.”

        My own answer is that since borrowing at usury is inherently scandalous, it probably depends on the extent of the need. But you’ve got pretty wide moral discretion to hand over your property to thieves, so you’ve probably got similar prudential latitude here.

  7. I realize that, strictly speaking, Mr. Kalb’s post must fall under the category of speculation, but it seems to me one of the more perceptive efforts in this direction. I also got a chuckle out of “…he finds it hard to take into account concerns and experiences different from his own. He prefers to insult those who differ…” because it reminded me of Obama.

  8. Pingback: This Week in Reaction | The Reactivity Place

  9. Pingback: Usury FAQ, or, money on the Pill | Zippy Catholic

  10. This is a great post….one of the most perceptive I have read on Francis. I especially appreciated the comments about his lack of interest in theology or history. Explains a lot and rings true.

  11. Pingback: The Obama papacy? w/Update | The Deus Ex Machina Blog

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