Thread ID: 3 At 4/1/2008 6:12:31 PM Alistair wrote:

Your comments on Jimmy Akin's take on usury.

Catholic Answers Live - July 20, 2006

Jerry Usher: We'll start with Eric, in Godfrey, Illinois.

Eric: I've got a question for Jimmy and it regards the usury issue. Every once in a while in my day-to-day apologetics work, I'll run into the usury question and, of course, the assertion from a non-Catholic would be that the Catholic teaching has changed over time and everything I've read about it seems to be fairly complicated. There's got to be some kind of a quick three-sentence answer I could give to the usury issue and I'm wondering what that might be.

Jimmy Akin: Well, there are different folks who take different interpretations of this.

1. I've read some folks who have said that it looks like to them that the Church infallibly defined the fact that usury is wrong and then what's happened is there's been a doctrinal development to go along with the economic development that's occurred. There's been a change in how our economy works. And as a result of that, what was previously considered usury would not be considered usury today. In other words, our economy has changed and we have sharpened, as a result, our understanding of what usury is so that we recognize that not all lending is usurious and therefore, even though usury is wrong, nevertheless, simply taking money at interest is not itself wrong, or lending money at interest is not itself wrong. There has to be something in addition to that for it to count as usury. And this is part of normal doctrinal development, as time goes along, we sharpen out understanding of the concepts we're dealing with. That's one interpretation.

2. I have looked at the relevant documents that are cited in favor of the idea that it's been infallibly defined that usury is wrong and I don't see that. The documents just do not use . . . they're very forceful at times but they do not use the kind of language that is needed in order to trigger an infallible definition. You need more than vehemence, you need more than railing against usurers in order to make something infallible, you need specifically language that indicates that the Pope is speaking, or a council is speaking, with the fullness of his authority and making a permanent binding resolution on everybody forever, this is settled, forget it. And you just don't see the traditional language that Popes and councils have used in making infallible declarations. You don't find a council saying "anathema sit." You don't find a Pope saying, "I define that usury is wrong." And so, as a result, it doesn't seem to me that this teaching was ever infallible. And consequently, with the progress of economic development so that we're no longer in a mercantilist economy, it's simply been recognized that usury . . . I don't want to say that usury is not wrong, but that lending money at interest is not always wrong, and while you can ask so much interest that it gravely harms the person that you're taking the interest from, you know, that's loansharking, well, that's wrong, but merely lending money at interest is not sinful and if previous Christians did not recognize that, then, at least, I don't want to say they're wrong in their economy because I don't have all the details about how their economy worked but they were wrong if they wanted to make a categorical statement to that effect and the Church has never said infallibly that they would be correct. That's a little discombobulated but I hope that gets the essence of it across.

Eric: To easily communicate it to a non-Catholic, is there some kind of an example of . . . maybe the economic market in biblical times or early . . . maybe the first five centuries, whenever this was considered sinful, comparative to today's economy and . . . some kind of a quick example . . . loansharking is a good example but I'm not sure it's super forceful and explains it well. Maybe we should just say it's the abuse of usury that's considered sinful, not usury itself.

Jimmy Akin: I wouldn't say that. What I would be inclined to say is that the lending of money at interest is not automatically sinful. The reason, or one reason that it's not sinful, it's hard to discuss economics on the radio and keep it simple but . . . is when you are giving them the money at an interest you are not only giving them the money itself, you are giving them something else that's intangible, the fact that they need it now in order to pursue whatever economic venture they're pursuing, you're giving them the ability to make money. And therefore, since you're giving them the ability to make money by giving them money, you are entitled to remuneration for the money that you could have made if you had kept the money but didn't. Okay, if I . . . let's say I've got a thousand dollars to invest and you want to borrow it, well, then you can make the money off the thousand dollars while you've got it but then I can't. Also, there's just a difference in how the economy worked back then and how it works now. They were living in what we today would call, or at least till the Middle Ages, they were living in a mercantilist economy. They had the idea that wealth consists in tangible assets, particularly things like gold. And the only way to increase wealth was to go dig it out of the ground somewhere and so, as a result, they had the idea that wealth was a largely static thing, you didn't create new wealth by doing work and so, in that system, to charge interest for money seemed like it was an evil, bad thing because it seemed like you were diminishing the other person by making them pay back not only what you loaned them, but also some extra. It seemed like that if wealth is static, that's leeching money out of a person. What we've figured out, though, over the course of time is that mercantilism is false. Gold is not intrinsically valuable just because it's gold, and wealth is not a finite, static thing. We create new wealth by cultivating the resources that God gave mankind and as a result there is more wealth being created all the time. And what you're really doing, when you loan somebody money, at least if they're going to do something productive with it, is you're loaning them the ability to go create new wealth and so that helps grow the economy overall and it helps increase the amount of wealth that's in existence, the amount of wealth that mankind has been able to cultivate out of what God has given us. And so as a result we're not in a static economy that people thought they were in the Middle Ages and so by taking interest you're not just leeching money out of somebody, you're helping them create new wealth. So that's a little complicated and it's probably more than what maybe we ought to do on the radio but let me give you one resource if you'd like to read more about this. There's a book called Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell, and it's a very helpful, very easy to read introduction to economics, in fact, I think it would be great if a lot more people read it, it's even got questions in the back for home schoolers to use as a text book but it is not theological at all but it will help you understand the issues that are involved economically.