Benedict XV: Celeberrima evenisse

The Josias

Introduction

Pope Benedict XV’s letter Celeberrima evenisse resulted from one of the diplomatic triumphs of his brief pontificate: the reëstablishment of diplomatic relations with Portugal. The anti-clerical revolutionaries, who in 1910 had overturned the Portuguese monarchy and established a republic, had soon passed laws on the “separation” of Church and state that in reality amounted to a programme of persecution of the Church. Monasteries and seminaries were closed, Catholic teaching in the schools was abolished, bishops were expelled from their dioceses, even the wearing of the cassock was forbidden. Pope St. Pius X vehemently protested these outrages in the encyclical Iamdudum in Lusitania. Such extreme anti-Catholic measures contributed to deep divisions in Portuguese society, and the country was torn by unrest in the years following the Revolution of 1910. By 1918 the government was ready to compromise with the Holy See, and it reëstablished diplomatic relations, asking that in…

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Embarrassing sins as a cure for pride

And I make bold to say that it is useful for the proud to fall into an open and indisputable transgression, and so displease themselves, as already, by pleasing themselves, they had fallen. For Peter was in a healthier condition when he wept and was dissatisfied with himself, than when he boldly presumed and satisfied himself. And this is averred by the sacred Psalmist when he says, Fill their faces with shame, that they may seek Your name, O Lord; that is, that they who have pleased themselves in seeking their own glory may be pleased and satisfied with You in seeking Your glory. (Saint Augustine, The City of God, XIV,13)

They say best men moulded out of faults;
And, for the most, become much more the better
For being a little bad; so may my husband. (Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, Act V, Scene 1)

The Harm Principle

A recent article by the brilliant Matthew Walther reminded me of the following passage of Saint Augustine’s City of God (II,20):

This is our concern [they say] that every man be able to increase his wealth so as to supply his daily prodigalities, and so that the powerful may subject the weak for their own purposes. Let the poor court the rich for a living, and that under their protection they may enjoy a sluggish tranquillity; and let the rich abuse the poor as their dependants, to minister to their pride. Let the people applaud not those who protect their interests, but those who provide them with pleasure. Let no severe duty be commanded, no impurity forbidden. […] Let the laws take cognizance rather of the injury done to another man’s property, than of that done to one’s own person. If a man be a nuisance to his neighbor, or injure his property, family, or person, let him be actionable; but in his own affairs let everyone with impunity do what he will in company with his own family, and with those who willingly join him. Let there be a plentiful supply of public prostitutes for every one who wishes to use them, but specially for those who are too poor to keep one for their private use. Let there be erected houses of the largest and most ornate description: in these let there be provided the most sumptuous banquets, where every one who pleases may, by day or night, play, drink, vomit, dissipate. Let there be everywhere heard the rustling of dancers, the loud, immodest laughter of the theatre; let a succession of the most cruel and the most voluptuous pleasures maintain a perpetual excitement.

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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The Sin of Usury

The Josias

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,

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