New book from Sam Gregg of ACTON INSTITUTE: For God and Profit

I’ll be seeing my friend Sam Gregg during Acton U, which takes place next week in Grand Rapids, MI.

Acton U is run by ACTON INSTITUTE.  Hey Fishwrap!  That’s ACTON INSTITUTE.

In any event, Sam has a new book, with a delightful title:

For God and Profit: How Banking and Finance Can Serve the Common Good


I look forward to digging into this one.  His books are great.

Meanwhile, I was alerted to a piece at the aforementioned Fishwrap (aka National Schismatic Reporter) that at a confab of the liberal Catholic Theological Society of America Sam’s book was one of the best sellers.  heh heh  This at a conference which had Sr. Margaret Farley as the keynote speaker, so you can imagine what went on there (… or, given what she advocates, perhaps you shouldn’t).  Most of the books mentioned as having sold well were ridiculous, of course, given the crowd.  “Theologians”… right? I simply enjoy the fact that Sam’s books did so well.  Who knows?  Maybe some scales will fall from some eyes!

And did I mention ACTON INSTITUTE?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. vandalia says:

    In reference to a post a while back that “you never hear adultery mentioned anymore”, it is interesting that you “never hear usury” mentioned anymore.

    One can no more make a statement that the science of economics has changed our definition and use of money, any more than one can make the argument that “sex” was different in 1016 than it is in 2016. Or that the “adultery” that Jesus clearly prohibits in the NT is not the same as what we call “adultery” today. It is patently absurd to claim that the use of birth control, DNA testing, relaxed social stigmas, etc., etc. mean that “modern sex” is inherently different than “pre-20th century sex.” It is equally absurd to claim that “money” in 2016 is different than “money” in 1016.

    If one wants to make the argument that the Catholic Church is currently muddling clear teaching by making it incorrectly “appear” that adultery is permitted, we can equally state that the Church is in an era where it illegitimately teaches that usury (any interest on a loan) is licit. Likewise, the fact that “usury” makes our lives better is no more relevant than the claims that “adultery” makes some couples lives easier. Or that “abortion” helps children not be born into desperate situations. Even if those claims are true (and they are not), it is irrelevant.

    If something was a sin in 1016, it is a son in 2016. There is no “prudential judgement” involved with usury. The Church has Traditionally taught that usury is a semper et pro semper evil. Since there is no prudential judgement involved, one cannot argue that “our understanding has changed.” (As one can do with slavery, or monarchy, or many other things, for example.) The least damage is that you open up an incredible “slippery slope.” If one can remove such a sin by changing the definition, there is no reason why the Church cannot legitimately propose that the “adultery” of a “divorced and (re-married)” couple is not the same thing as the “adultery” condemned in the NT and by Church Tradition. Thus with the change of society and medical/legal advances in the modern world, it isn’t really “adultery.” Sorry, that doesn’t work. IF the Church can define its way out of an intrinsic evil once, it has the power to do so always.

    The best discussion of this from those of us who hold to traditional Catholic teaching on this matter:

    Or to put it differently, I am not going to hell over $200. That is why I keep my money in interest-free accounts. If it was good enough for St Thomas, it is good enough for me.

  2. Amateur Scholastic says:

    The Magisterium has condemned the following ideas (quotes below):
    – That it’s ok to take moderate interest on a full-recourse loan;
    – That it’s ok to make a full-recourse loan if it’s used productively, rather than for consumption;
    – That it’s ok to demand an opportunity cost for a loan.

    From the encyclical Vix Pervenit (promulgated by Benedict XIV in the mid-eighteenth century):

    “The nature of the sin called usury has its proper place and origin in a loan contract. This financial contract between consenting parties demands, by its very nature, that one return to another only as much as he has received. The sin rests on the fact that sometimes the creditor desires more than he has given. Therefore he contends some gain is owed him beyond that which he loaned, but any gain which exceeds the amount he gave is illicit and usurious. ”


    “One cannot condone the sin of usury by arguing that the gain is not great or excessive, but rather moderate or small; neither can it be condoned by arguing that the borrower is rich; nor even by arguing that the money borrowed is not left idle, but is spent usefully, either to increase one’s fortune, to purchase new estates, or to engage in business transactions. The law governing loans consists necessarily in the equality of what is given and returned; once the equality has been established, whoever demands more than that violates the terms of the loan.”

    And from Innocent XI:

    “[The following proposition is condemned as erroneous:] Since ready cash is more valuable than that to be paid, and since there is no one who does not consider ready cash of greater worth than future cash, a creditor can demand something beyond the principal from the borrower, and for this reason be excused from usury.” – Various Errors on Moral Subjects (II), Pope Innocent XI by decree of the Holy Office, March 4, 1679 (Denzinger)

    (See the zippycatholic FAQ in the previous comment for details, which is the best argued thing I’ve ever read on the topic. People tried to dissolve the seventh and tenth commandments through nominalism long before they had the idea of doing the same to the sixth and ninth.)

  3. Gilbert Fritz says:

    I agree with you, Amateur and Vandalia.

    To make this concrete; let’s say a hundred thousand dollars are loaned out to buy a house with. The lender will get back his hundred thousand, as well as interest; meanwhile, over the 40 years this takes, the house decreases in value unless: 1. the borrower spends his own money to maintain and improve it; and 2. The housing market continues to rise due to speculation.

    But by itself, the house will decrease in value; houses don’t grow a tennis court after 10 years, a new balcony after 20, etc. So a non-productive transaction has been made somehow “productive.”

    That is the problem with the modern era; we make sterile things fruitful, and fruitful things sterile, and both for the same reason; we demand instant gratification. And there are always those prowling around who will provide that gratification; for a price.

  4. Gilbert Fritz says:

    I’d also add that a Culture of Death is shored up by a Culture of Debt; families crushed by a “death debt” (mortgage) will struggle to have more children; both parents may have to work, etc.

  5. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Here’s what the Lord says about investments and interest:

    Mt. 25:14-30

    …A man going to a far country called his servants, and delivered to them his goods. And to one he gave five talents; and to another, two; and to another, one; to every one according to his own ability. And immediately he took his journey.

    And he that had received the five talents went his way, and traded with it, and gained five more. And in like manner, he that had received the two talents gained two more. But he that had received the one talent, going his way, dug into the earth and hid his lord’ s money.

    But after a long time the lord of those servants came, and went over the accounts with them.

    And he that had received the five talents, brought five more talents, saying, “Lord, you delivered five talents to me. Behold, I have gained five more, over and above.”

    His lord said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; because you have been faithful over a few things, I will place you over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.”

    And he that had received the two talents also came and said, “Lord, you delivered two talents to me. Behold, I have gained two more.”

    His lord said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; because you have been faithful over a few things, I will place you over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.”

    But he that had received the one talent, came and said, “Lord, I know that you are a hard man; you reap where you have not sown, and gather where you have not scattered. And being afraid, I went and hid your talent in the earth. Behold, here is what belongs to you.”

    And his lord answering, said to him, “Wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I do not sow, and gather where I have not scattered. Therefore, you ought to have committed my money to the bankers, and at my coming I should have received my own with interest!

    “So take away the talent from him, and give it to him that has ten talents!”

    For to everyone that has, more shall be given, and he shall have abundance. But from him that does not have, what he seems to have shall also be taken away. And cast out the unprofitable servant into the exterior darkness! Weeping and gnashing of teeth shall be there.

  6. Pingback: Maybe financial hermeneutics isn’t one of your talents | Zippy Catholic

  7. Benedicite says:

    Suburbanbanchee – Are you suggesting that our Lord was giving financial advice? Surely all scripture must be understood with reference to the timeless teachings of the Catholic Church ( and not personal interpretations which are influenced by secular ideas)?

  8. Imrahil says:

    This is going to be a bit long, but as I find it a useful reference:

    From The Textbook on Catholic Moral Theology, Rev. Prof. Ferdinand Elger, Ratisbon 1852, § 345 “On Usury”:


    4. Borderlines of Usury, or cases when something may be demanded or given on occasion of a loan.
    a) […] [as a freely given sign of gratitude]
    b) Furthermore it is allowed to demand something for a loan in exchange for the danger of losing the loan or for the toil and cost of getting it back. Thus teaches St. Liguori I 4. n. 765 when saying […] [that this is a sententia probabilior under certain conditions].
    c) It is allowed to the creditor to agree with the debtor on paying a certain penalty to the creditor, in case he does not pay back the loan on the appointed time. Thus teaches St. Liguori I 4. n. 766 […] [saying that this is common teaching].
    d) [!!] Especially it is the case that the creditor is entitled to demand, from the debtor, to demand a restitution for the damage he suffers from the loan. For St. Thomas, 2. 2. q. 98 a.2 ad 1 says [in Latin]: “This is not selling the use of money, but evading a damage […]”. For this reason, the publik lending institutions [i. e. the banks] have been entitled by the Lateran Council held under Pope Innocent X. to demand something beyond what was lent, in order to pay the costs of administrating themselves. […] Likewise it is allowed that the creditor may demand some restitution if when on occasion of the loan he foregoes a lawful profit [!!!] [*]. For failing to make a profit is a kind of damage as well, as St. Thomas explains 2. 2. q. 62. a. 4; though he adds [in Latin]: “This damage is not to be recompensated in full, because it is less to have something virtually than to have it actually.” [**] [… …]

    Hence he is an usurer who demands more than the legal interest rate [***] or who demands interest without one of these lawful justifications for doing so.

    On May 25, 1830, Dr. Denavit, professor for theology at Lyons, directed the following petition to the Penitentiary [the following is in Latin]: “When dubia concerning the matter of usury are referred to the S. Penitentiary, it always refers to the doctrin of H. F. Benedict XIV, which reverend doctrine is clear and obvious enough for those who want to examine it in good faith. There are however some priests [presbyteri] who hold it is licit to demand interest [auctarium] of no more than 5% by the force of the law given by the prince [in question – the same holds, of course, for republics], without any other title or to evade a damage or because they thus fail to make a profit: because – so they say – the law of the prince is a legitimate title, because he transfers the property [dominium] of the interest, as he transfers property “in praescriptione” [do not know how to translate that, but it probably means “otherwise by legal means” or so], and this way annihilates divine and ecclesial law which forbids usurys. [You can get that the inquire does not like taking interest.]
    These things being as they are, and the undersigned speaker estimating that nowise it is allowed to go back from the doctrine of Benedict XIV, he denies sacramental absolution to the priests that hold the law of the prince to be a sufficient title to take something other than “sortem” [?, I think it means “the amount lent”] without a special title or because of failing to make profit or because of incurred damage. For this reason, the undersigned humbly begs the following dubia to be solved:
    I. Whether he can, in conscience, deny absolution to suchlike priests.
    II. Whether he must.

    Answer by the Penitentiary:

    The sacred Penitentiary having diligently and maturely pondered the dubia that were referred to it, has decided to answer that the priests in question are not to be disturbed, until the Holy See shall issue a definitive decision, to which they have to be ready to submit, and therefore there is nothing in the way of absolving them in the Sacrament of Penance. [So that is “no” and “no” to the two doubts.] Given Rome, September 16 1830, [etc. etc.] …

    […] [One other dubium by the same, to the effect “Have I been too hard”, with the answer “Yes, you have”. One other note by the Grand Penitentiary.]

    On September 9, 1837, the Bishop of Nicaea [I guess that is a titular bishop, probably titular archbishop, perhaps a nuncio] asked the question: “Whether penitents who have accepted a moderate interest out of a loan solely on the title of the law [i. e. that it is lawful to do so] in doubtful or bad faith can be absolved sacramentally without imposing on them the duty of restitution, provided only that they asincerely repent of the sin committed done on account of the doubtful or bad faith [in which it was done], and are ready to stay with the mandates of the Holy See. [This is, I guess, to be understood that though they have certainly sinned because doing so in bad conscience, they need not restitute if they could have done the same thing in good conscience.]

    To this, the Congregation of the General Sacred Roman and Universal Inquisition gave, on January 17, 1838, the answer: “Affirmatively, only let them be prepared to stay with the mandates of the Holy See.”


    So, the taking of a moderate interest can be justified

    1. ad least supportively on the account of the danger that the loan might be lost (considering, in addition, that as modern debtors no longer go to the debtor’s tower),

    2. on the grounds that the creditor fails to make a profit with the money in another manner,

    3. because the Roman authorities have allowed the interest (probably on among other things the general assumption of these grounds) in the reign of Pius VIII. and onward and, though they added “unless the Holy See should decide otherwise in the future”, the Holy See never actually has decided otherwise from 1830 onwards.


    Annotations by me:

    * Such as buying shares on the stockmarket, receiving dividends and perhaps a gain in market value; investing into a company or syndicate in an other way, and so on.

    ** And, we might add, because the creditor does not have the risk and work of investing. – And indeed the gains are – as they should – normally higher on the stockmarket than the interests for loans are.

    *** Around here, 4 per cent. I do not think, however, that this rules out taking a slightly higher rate of interest, provided there is a particularly good cause for doing so, and provided that the State considers this still “interest” and has not outlawed it as usury.


    One final note: Rev. Prof. Johannes Messer summed up Catholic teaching on interest in the following formula (or something to that effect, taken from my memory of reading Social Ethics):

    “It is unlawful to charge money for the use of money as such (usury), but it is lawful to charge money for the use of capital (interest).”


    One very final note: Why should not our Lord’s sayings that give financial advice be taken as, though among other things, giving financial advice?

  9. Imrahil says:

    Dear vandalia,

    one can no more make a statement that the science of economics has changed our definition and use of money, any more than one can make the argument that “sex” was different in 1016 than it is in 2016.

    Well, yes, you can.

    Or that the “adultery” that Jesus clearly prohibits in the NT is not the same as what we call “adultery” today.

    The interesting thing is that He does clearly prohibit adultery, but not so much usury.

    That was Moses, and – more important, in fact, for the Church’s long time teaching on usury – Aristotle. Our Lord doesn’t say one word on interest, except that the fearful servant should rather have lent his talent to a bank on interest than bury it underground. The other statement on financial matters, viz. that it’s not a charitable deed to lend if that lending is restricted to those where we know to get the money back, but there’s no mention of usury.

    It is patently absurd to claim that the use of birth control, DNA testing, relaxed social stigmas, etc., etc. mean that “modern sex” is inherently different than “pre-20th century sex.”

    Indeed, because sex is inherently the same as it was before. (Though there may be arguments for the view that birth-control is indeed a new, but sinful, thing that has appeared in the world.)

    It is equally absurd to claim that “money” in 2016 is different than “money” in 1016.

    It isn’t, because the system of economy has changed, and the system of credits has changed. Oh and in 1972, even the definition of “money” has (somewhat) changed.

  10. Benedicite says:


  11. Imrahil says:

    Dear Benedicite,

    I don’t really see what you are referring to, but let me answer in a general way:


    is the art to apply moral rules to the actual actions and decisions of life in a correct manner. Yes?

    (The idea that thinking is only allowed if it leads to more, but not if it leads to less, difficulties is one of the forms of rigorism.)

  12. Benedicite says:

    Imrahil – what you are describing sounds like principle or rule based reasoning. For example the Catechism says that lying is always wrong (never do evil so that good may result from it(. This is meant to apply in every case.
    Casuistry is outcome based. For example you start with a case where the outcome of a lie is believed to be good ( maybe someone is saved from dead by ISIS). You then develop the rule that lying is ok in some circumstances. It depends on the situation. The difficulty is that the reasoning may be unsound or wrongly applied in different situations. Casuistry has a dodgy history.

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