Aquinas on Buying and Selling

The Josias

In his Summa Theologiae II-II, St. Thomas devotes two questions to unjust acts which are committed in buying and selling or lending.

The first of these questions (q. 77), divided into four articles, deals with fraud in the broad sense (fraudulentia), while the second (q. 78) concerns usury. A study of these questions reveals important differences not only between St. Thomas’ teaching on injustices committed in economic life and the ethical attitudes common today, but differences in basic evaluations of the place of commerce in society. In order to make this clear, I will look at the first question, no. 77, setting forth first what Aquinas taught and then contrasting it with commerce and business ethics as these exist in a capitalist society. (For a discussion of question 78, on usury, see “The Sin of Usury.”)

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