The Sin of Usury

I. Introduction[1]

To the extent that usury is thought of or discussed today it is usually understood as the charging of excessive interest on loans, especially perhaps on a consumer loan as opposed to a business loan. Although the charging of high rates of interest is indeed a real social and political evil, this is not the classical understanding of usury. Rather usury, as that has been discussed for centuries in Catholic theology and condemned again and again by the Church, means the taking of any interest on any type of loan, simply by virtue of the loan contract. The most complete papal treatment of usury is found in the 1745 encyclical of Pope Benedict XIV, Vix Pervenit, the relevant portions of which run, Continue reading

Pius XII: La solennità della Pentecoste

Introductory Note

It remains one of The Josias’s aims to make available to Catholics some of the great statements of the Church on the social question. It is unfortunately the case that many important documents are either unavailable in English or very scarce. This series of documents continues with Pius XII’s June 1, 1941 radio address, La solennità della Pentecoste (“The Feast of Pentecost”), commemorating the 50th anniversary of Leo XIII’s great social encyclical, Rerum novarum.

Standing on its own, La solennità della Pentecoste is a significant intervention in the social magisterium. Despite the conflict raging when Pius spoke, the Pope focused primarily upon the social questions as they had developed between 1891 and 1941, expanding upon themes that he identified in Leo’s Rerum novarum and Pius XI’s 1931 social encyclical, Quadragesimo anno. The address would continue to have significance in the Church’s social magisterium in the following years, despite the disruption caused by the war. Pius himself returned to it at length in his 1952 apostolic constitution on migrants, Exsul Familia Nazarethana. His successor, St. John XXIII, relied upon it heavily for his own social encyclical, Mater et magistra, and his encyclical on peace and development, Pacem in terris. Despite the great importance that Pius XII and St. John XXIII attached to La solennità della Pentecoste, it became something of a missing link in the Church’s social teaching in later years. Neither Paul VI nor St. John Paul II relied upon it especially heavily in their own social encyclicals. Today, it is available on the Vatican’s website in Italian and Spanish. However, it has not been, to the editors’ knowledge, widely available in English before now. 

Pius’s address is first and foremost an act of “humble thanks” to God for the “gift” of Leo’s Rerum novarum. In the course of the address, Pius focuses intensely upon the right, which he describes as a natural right, “to make use of the material goods of the earth.” While this right may be implemented in positive law, Pius holds that “[t]his individual right cannot in any way be suppressed, even by other clear and undisputed rights over material goods.” It soon becomes plain that the great Pope saw this right as fundamental for the Church’s social teaching. It is connected, he tells us, not only with a just distribution of property, but also with the duty to support one’s family and the corresponding right to dignified work. Indeed, for Pius XII, the connection between the universal destination of goods and integral human development, especially the development of the family, was plain as day. 

The question of private property is one of the most difficult points in the Church’s social magisterium. On one hand, Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas taught that private property was necessary for life in society, if not a natural right per se. On the other hand, Leo taught that the right to private property was sacred and inviolable. Pius XI, in Quadragesimo anno, explained that the right to private property must be subordinated to the common good in some instances. In La solennità della Pentecoste, Pius XII expands upon this teaching and explains that the right to private property flows from the right to make use of the goods of the earth. But, by the same token, the right to private property must be ordered to the universal right to the fruits of the earth. It must also serve man’s fulfillment of his duties, particularly his duties to his family, and his development. 

It is in this same vein that Pius XII explores the question of migration. For the Pope, the family requires a “vital space”—a homestead of its own—for it to make use of the earth and to secure a living for itself. Pius looks to the diversity of the environment and sees opportunity for families to migrate across the face of the earth to find suitable land to carve out for themselves a vital space and to develop not only themselves but also the society of their new homes. The applicability of La solennità della Pentecoste to a question much debated by Catholics today—the question of migration—shows in one way the great value of Pius’s thought.  Continue reading

Online Reading Group: Andrew Willard Jones’s Before Church and State

The Josias is planning an online reading group to discuss Andrew Willard Jones’s new book, Before Church and State: A Study of Social Order in the Sacramental Kingdom of St. Louis IX.  Jones’s book is perhaps the most important recent work on a subject of great concern to The Josias: the relation of spiritual to temporal power. Jones argues that the understanding of the relation of spiritual and temporal power elaborated in the teachings of the popes of the High Middle Ages has been imperfectly understood by historians. Historians have tended to place that understanding, and the conflicts in which it was elaborated, in the context of the narrative of the rise of the sovereign, national state. Jones argues that that narrative, in which conflicts between spiritual and temporal power in the Middle Ages are viewed as conflicts between the “secular” power of “the state” and the “religious” power of the “church” for “sovereignty” within society obscures the way in which medieval society actually functioned and understood its own functioning. In the Middle Ages, he contends, there was no such thing as “religion” or “the secular” in the modern senses of those words, there was therefore no such thing as “the church” in its modern sense of a voluntary association with purely religious aims, and there was no such thing as “the state” or the “sovereign” monopoly of power that characterizes that modern institution. Before Church and State is not only an insightful treatment of an historical period; it is also an important contribution to the proper understanding of perennial Church teaching on the relation of the two powers. Continue reading

Notes on Right and Law

by Pedro José Izquierdo


 

1. The words right and law refer to related realities. Their meaning is derived from the Latin ius and lex. The more fundamental of these is ius, as regards both the nature of the virtue of justice generally, and the juridical order specifically. In English, this is obscured by the predominance of the words ‘law’ and ‘legal’ to designate that order and the framework within which ‘rights’ exist. Continue reading

Dyarchy is Dyarchical: A Reply to Meador

Over at Mere Orthodoxy, Jake Meador has written an article outlining six responses towards mainstream culture and liberalism. Among these six, he prominently includes integralism as expounded upon in The Josias by writers such as Pater Edmund and Elliot Milco. Although Protestant, Jake Meador gives a sympathetic account of integralism as a coherent rejection of the current post-enlightenment liberal ordo, dominating western thought. Particularly valuable is Meador’s analysis of the reasons that not merely integralists, but also various other strains of Protestant and Catholic thinkers, are now having to grapple more deeply with the inherent contradictions of liberalism. Continue reading

The Mirror of the Benedict Option

Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (New York: Sentinel, 2017).

One of the great sorrows that I encounter as a priest is the sorrow of parents whose children have abandoned the Faith. Their sorrow can be more bitter even than the sorrows of those parents who suffer the fata aspera of having to bury their children. To have given the gift of life, only to see that gift taken too soon, and to be able to give only the “unavailing gift” of funeral flowers, is a bitter fate indeed. But for those who have come to believe that true life is the eternal life of Christ, it is still more bitter to have brought a child to the waters of Baptism, hoping for that child to receive a share in the inheritance of infinite bliss, only to see that child trade the infinite good for the vain pomps of this world. If it were not for the hope of future repentance, this would be almost too much to bear. And yet, it is a sorrow that Christian parents have had to bear at all times. Children of believing parents have been abandoning the narrow way that leads to eternal life since the Church began. But the great falling away from the faith in Austria in the past five or six decades or so have given so many parents that sorrow. It is of course difficult to tell whether that is because hypermodern culture has actually led more children astray, or whether it has simply made straying more obvious— previous generations of worldly children were perhaps better at pretending to their parents that they were still in a state of grace. When I tell such parents that I come from a family of eight children they often ask me whether all of my brothers and sisters are still practicing Catholics. And when I answer affirmatively they invariably ask: “How did your parents do it?” Continue reading