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THE CHARGING OF MBIT (INTEREST) IN THE ROMAN CATHOLIC TRADITION: THEN AND NOW[1]

[2]

Professor Christopher Kaczor teaches (at the time of preparing this research installment) at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California. The board of directors of LARIBA contracted him in March 2002 to author a research paper that summarizes the prohibition of charging interest on loans in the Roman Catholic tradition, with an eye toward the history of the relaxation by the Church of the original prohibition. The following is an abbreviated summary of his work.[3]

Lending to the Poop

Jesus (pp) said, as stated in the Bible:

When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, “Come, О blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”[4] Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee? ” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:30-42)

In his Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas writes:

To take usury for money lent is unjust in itself, because this is to sell what does not exist, and this evidently leads to inequality which is contrary to justice. In order to make this evident, we must observe that there are certain things the use of which consists in their consumption: thus we consume wine [grape juice] when we use it for a drink, and we consume wheat when we use it for food. Wherefore in such like things the use of the thing must not be reckoned apart from the thing itself, and whoever is granted the use of the thing, is granted the thing itself and for this reason, to lend things of this kind is to transfer the ownership. Accordingly if a man wanted to sell wine [grape juice] separately from the use of the wine [grape juice], he would be selling the same thing twice,[5] or he would be selling what does not exist, wherefore he would evidently commit a sin of injustice. In like manner he commits an injustice that lends wine [grape juice] or wheat, and asks for double payment[6] viz. one, the return of the thing in equal measure, the other, the price of the use, which is called usury.[7]

St. Thomas Aquinas draws a distinction between the use of a thing and the thing in itself. Some items one can use without the item being destroyed by its very use — for instance, a house can be rented out and returned in good condition. However, the use of other things, like an apple, destroys the very thing used. Thus, you could not rent the eating of an apple, but only sell the apple, and in selling it, the transaction would be complete. Since money, on this model, is a thing consumed in its use, to charge a person interest on a loan is to demand payment for selling the money (principal) and another payment for renting the money (interest).[8]

Usury is condemned by St. Ambrose (d. 397), St. Jerome (d. 420), St. Augustine (d. 430), and Pope St. Leo the Great (d. 461), characteristically in connection with taking advantage of the poor. Bishops condemned usury at the Council of Elvira (305 or 306), the Council of Arles (314), and the First Council of Nicea (325). Canon 13 of the Second Lateran Council (1139 c.e.) reads:

Furthermore, we [Catholics] condemn that practice. It is looked upon as despicable and blameworthy by divine and human laws, denounced by Scripture in the old and new Testaments. Namely; the ferocious greed of usurers; and we sever them from every comfort of the church, forbidding any archbishop or bishop, or an abbot of any order whatever or anyone in clerical orders, to dare to receive usurers, unless they do so with extreme caution; but let them be held infamous throughout their whole lives and, unless they repent, be deprived of a Christian burial.[9]

Several popes also condemned usury, including Alexander ΠΙ, Gregory IX, Urban III, Innocent III, and Clement V. Condemning usury is reflected in the first universal compendium of Catholic teaching in more than 400 years, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, written with the input of all the bishops of the Catholic Church and published by the authority of John Paul II. The Catechism mentions usury in a condemnatory way:

The acceptance by human society of murderous famines, without efforts to remedy them, is a scandalous injustice and a grave offense. Those whose usurious and avaricious dealings lead to the hunger and death of their brethren in the human family indirectly commit homicide, which is imputable to them.[10]

  • [1] Professor Kaczor states: “I make no claim to original historical research in this article, but have drawn upon many sources in coming to a deeper understanding of the issues at hand. I have especially drawn upon A. Vermeersche, “Usury,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XV, 1912, which is available online at: newadvent.org/cathen/15235c.htm and was downloaded on March 5, 2002; A. Vermeersche, “Interest,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VIII, 1912, which is available online at newadvent.org/cathen/08077a.htm and was downloaded on March 5, 2002; David J. Palm, “Usury,” Encyclopedia of Catholic Apologetics (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002); and John Noonan, The Scholastic Analysis of Usury (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1957).
  • [2] Professor Christopher Kaczor (bellarmine.lmu.edu/~ckaczor/), Department of Philosophy, Loyola Marymount University; private communication: A paper presented at the LARIBA Annual Symposium and Awards, Pasadena, California, March 2002.
  • [3] Published by permission from Professor Christopher Kaczor, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, California.
  • [4] In Islamic literature, there is a Qudsi Hadeeth, or the words of God spoken to Prophet Muhammad, that says exactly the same meanings of the words described here.

  • [5] Two sales in one sale is also prohibited, according to some but not all scholars in Islamic law.
  • [6] The Qur'aan has a verse about those who raise debts in many multiples: 3:130 O ye who believe! Devour not usury, doubled and multiplied; but fear Allah that ye may (really) prosper.
  • [7] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II — II, question 78, article 1.
  • [8] Riba in Islamic law can be defined as the act of renting money at a price called the interest rate; according to the law, money cannot be rented, but fungible and rentable assets and services can.
  • [9] N. P. Tanner, ed., Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, vol. 1, (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1990), 200.
  • [10] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (New York: Random House, 1997), #2269.
 
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