Thursday, November 8, 2018

Thomas Pink on “official theology” (Updated)


At the National Catholic Register, Edward Pentin recently interviewed philosopher Thomas Pink on the subject of the failure of the Church’s leaders to teach and defend her doctrines.  (The interview is in two parts, here and here.)  Pink is interesting and insightful as always, and in general I agree with the substance of his analysis.  However, it seems to me that the way he expresses his main point is potentially misleading and could needlessly open him up to unfair criticism.
 
Pink draws a distinction between the “magisterial teaching” of the Church and what he calls the “official theology” of churchmen.  The problem with many current leaders in the Church, in Pink’s view, is that their official theology effectively smothers magisterial teaching without explicitly contradicting it.  Explaining what he means by “official theology,” he says:

They are statements that are official – made by officeholders in their public role – but they simply explain what the magisterial teaching means, or what the Church’s policies and practices are, without those statements of themselves imposing any obligation on our part to believe them.

End quote.  Now, it’s this expression “official theology” and Pink’s gloss on it here that I find problematic.  Again, I don’t disagree with the substance of what Pink is saying.  I think his main point is absolutely correct and important.  But the literal meaning of the expression “official theology” might lead an unsympathetic reader wrongly to accuse Pink of drawing a distinction without a difference, with a view to rationalizing a rejection of doctrines he doesn’t like.  

After all, what Pink calls “magisterial teaching” is also theological in content, and it is put forward officially insofar as it is to be found in authoritative documents such as the decrees of Church councils, papal encyclicals, instructions issued by the CDF, and so forth.  So isn’t magisterial teaching itself a kind of “official theology”?  Furthermore, doesn’t the Church tell us that it is the job of popes and bishops to “explain what the magisterial teaching means,” and that the faithful are obliged to give religious submission of intellect and will to this teaching (even if, as I have explained elsewhere, the Church allows that there can be circumstances in which such submission may legitimately be withheld)?  So, when churchmen acting “in their public role” rather than as private theologians “simply explain what the magisterial teaching means, or what the Church’s policies and practices are” isn’t there at least a presumption that Catholics do have an “obligation… to believe them”?

So, again, if you go just by the literal meaning of the expression “official theology” and the explanatory remark from Pink quoted above, it may seem that he hasn’t made it clear either how this is distinct from “magisterial teaching,” or why Catholics are not obligated to accept the former despite being obligated to accept the latter.

However, when you look at the specific examples Pink discusses, his meaning is clear.  For instance, he says:

Official theology often changes over time, and not in a constant direction.  The to-ing and fro-ing over unbaptised children [the doctrine on limbo] shows that the official theology of one time can contradict the official theology of another time.  And if past official theology of the Church can be mistaken, so too can modern official theology. 

End quote.  Another example Pink discusses at greater length is Jacques Maritain’s political theology of democratic pluralism, which has never been magisterial teaching but has nevertheless had an enormous influence on how contemporary Catholic theologians think about matters of Church and state.  An example Pink does not give but which is another instance of the sort of thing he has in mind is Hans Urs von Balthasar’s view that there is a realistic hope that all human beings will be saved. 

Other examples could be given, but these three – the rejection of the idea of limbo, the affirmation of the pluralistic non-confessional state as a positive good, and the “empty hell” hypothesis – provide a representative sample.  Here are three observations about them.  First, and again, none of these ideas is magisterial teaching, and no Catholic is obligated to agree with them.  

Second, these ideas are nevertheless widespread even among contemporary Catholic churchmen and theologians who have reputations for orthodoxy, and they reflect more general theological tendencies that are even more widespread.  For example, Maritain’s position reflects the influence of modern personalist philosophy, and personalism was also a major influence on the thinking of Pope St. John Paul II.  Von Balthasar was a major figure within the nouvelle théologie or resourcement movement in twentieth-century Catholic theology, and Pope Benedict XVI was another major figure in that movement.  No Catholic is obligated to endorse either personalism or the nouvelle théologie, but the fact that two popes widely admired among faithful Catholics were influenced by these movements has given them enormous prestige and influence within Catholicism. 

As I say, I think it would be misleading to call either these general movements or the specific theological ideas referred to parts of an “official theology.”  But they might plausibly be regarded as parts of a “dominant theology” or a “prevailing theology,” which I think would be better labels than the one Pink uses.

A third observation is that these three specific examples of prevailing theological ideas – again, the rejection of limbo, the affirmation of the non-confessional state as a positive good, and the “empty hell” hypothesis – all reflect a kind of optimism about the human condition that is novel, and indeed foreign to the Catholic tradition.  Magisterial Catholic teaching holds that without baptism we cannot be cleansed of the stain of original sin, and without sacramental confession we cannot be cleansed of the stain of mortal sin committed after baptism.  Thus, without baptism and confession we cannot be saved.  Hence the urgency of the Great Commission.  Now, it is true that there are qualifications to be made to these doctrines, having to do with the notions of baptism of desire, invincible ignorance, and the like.  But to think that this makes the need for baptism and confession less urgent is somewhat like thinking that a diagnosis of cancer needn’t prompt urgent action, since there are rare cases where cancers disappear without treatment; or like thinking that to prepare to have a large family and put the kids through college, it will suffice to buy a few lottery tickets.

Now, the rejection of limbo is hard to square with the urgency of infant baptism, and the “empty hell” hypothesis is hard to square with the urgency of conversion, of repentance, and of confession of mortal sin.  Celebration of the pluralistic non-confessional state as a positive good (as opposed to a necessary evil) is also in tension with this urgency.  If conversion is an urgent matter, then it can hardly fail to be an urgent matter to dispel theological error.  But if religious pluralism is a positively good thing, then it is hard to see how dispelling theological error can be an urgent matter, and thus hard to see how conversion can be an urgent matter either.  It is no surprise that latitudinarianism in theology and pluralism as a political ideal tend to go hand in hand.  (The connection goes back to the beginning of the liberal tradition, as I discuss in my book on John Locke.)

These novel theological opinions are often formulated in a way that attempts to make them consistent with the letter of Catholic magisterial teaching.  That is, for example, why “empty hell” theorists don’t deny either that hell exists or that some people might in theory end up there, but confine themselves to arguing that there is at least good reason to think that perhaps few if any in fact do.  I think these attempts at harmonization with past teaching are dubious at best.  (Pink has written much on the problems facing attempts to harmonize the affirmation of the non-confessional state as a positive good with traditional Catholic teaching, most recently at Public Discourse.  See the articles linked to above for discussion of limbo and the “empty hell” hypothesis.)  But even if these novel theories could be made consistent with the letter of traditional Catholic doctrine, they are manifestly in conflict with its spirit.  

Pink’s main point is that it is precisely because such theological opinions are at the very least in conflict with the spirit of traditional Catholic teaching that many churchmen beholden to these opinions do not proclaim and defend that teaching.  Why bother preaching the urgent need for conversion and baptism, or the urgency of repenting of and confessing mortal sins (such as the variety of sexual sins that are today not only widely indulged in but widely celebrated), if most people are going to be saved anyway?  Especially when doing so will only bring down upon you the opprobrium of the dominant secular liberal culture?  

In this way, the “official theology” (or better, the “prevailing theology” or “dominant theology”) makes magisterial teaching of no effect, without explicitly denying it.  And part of the remedy, as Pink goes on to argue, is for Catholic scholars to criticize this prevailing theology – to show how it not only differs from actual magisterial teaching, but either explicitly or at least implicitly and in practice conflicts with it.  To carry out such criticism is in no way to be disloyal to the Church or her leaders.  On the contrary, it is precisely to defend the Church’s magisterial teaching and to assist her leaders in doing the same.  (It is also to exercise a right and duty that the Church herself recognizes.)

It seems to me that a helpful parallel here might be drawn with a distinction made in the philosophy of science.  In his recent book on quantum mechanics, Peter Lewis draws a distinction between (1) the phenomena a physical theory is meant to explain, (2) the theory itself, and (3) alternative possible interpretations of the theory.  In the case of quantum mechanics, the phenomena would include the interference phenomena of the two-slit experiment, and quantum entanglement phenomena.  The theory would include the mathematical representation of the physical systems central to quantum phenomena, and a law describing the changes of such systems over time.  The interpretations would include accounts of how the mathematical representation relates to concrete physical reality, such as the Copenhagen interpretation or the many worlds interpretation.

I would suggest that a parallel distinction can be drawn between (i) the data of divine revelation found in scripture and tradition, (ii) authoritative magisterial statements found in the decrees of councils, papal encyclicals, etc., and (iii) theological theories and systems that provide alternative interpretations of the sources of revelation and of magisterial statements.

Now, in the case of science, especially in popularized accounts, the distinction between (1) and (2) on the one hand and (3) on the other is often blurred.  For example, one sometimes hears sensationalistic claims to the effect that quantum mechanics has established the existence of parallel universes, or that it has vindicated the idealist view that physical reality depends on the observer.  In fact, quantum mechanics per se does not establish any such claims.  Rather, it is only certain interpretations of quantum mechanics – or even only certain extrapolations from certain interpretations of quantum mechanics – that make such claims, albeit they are interpretations and extrapolations that are sometimes endorsed by scientists.

Similarly, in Catholic contexts, the distinction between (i) and (ii) on the one hand and (iii) on the other is sometimes blurred.  For example, one sometimes hears claims to the effect that Catholic teaching no longer accepts the idea of limbo, or that it now requires that one affirm the non-confessional state as the ideal political arrangement.  In fact, Catholic magisterial teaching makes no such claims.  It is only certain theological theories that make such claims, albeit they are theories that are often endorsed by churchmen.  

What Pink is getting at, I would suggest, is precisely this point.  What he calls “official theology” is what I am referring to as category (iii) theological claims, or as examples of “prevailing theology” or “dominant theology.”   And he is right to say both that these ideas are not binding on the faithful, and that they often tend at least implicitly to undermine magisterial teaching and to discourage churchmen from proclaiming and defending it.

UPDATE 11/10: Pink's views are developed further in a recent three-part article at The Josias on the topic "Vatican II and Crisis in the Theology of Baptism": Part I, Part II, and Part III.

47 comments:

  1. This tactic is of course nothing new. As detailed by John Noonan in The Scholastic Analysis of Usury, this tactic of the theology of the prominent churchmen overriding magisterial teaching has been very much the case since the 16the century and much of Noonan's claim to change in Church teaching on usury derives from changes in the "dominant theology" rather than magisterial statement.
    Noonan writes, "[Late Scholastic writers had] a far greater willingness to recognize the good intentions, honesty, and social utility of financiers and to find moral justification for practices which are accepted without complain by persons more directly affected by them. If practices flourish and bring prosperity and are accepted by the common conscience, it is generally reasoned that there must be some objective foundation for the profits gained from them." (199)
    Actual Magisterial statements on usury such as Cum Onus of Pius V (237-238) or Detestabilis avaritia of Sixtus V (220-221) were dismissed as statement of positive rather than natural law and the condemnations of Innocent XI (Denzinger 1190-1192) were interpreted to apply to almost nothing (355-356).
    The dominant theology of extrinsic titles grew and expanded to the point where various theologians take it as part of Church teaching, though for example, in Vix Pervenit Benedict XIV states that he does not deny the theory of extrinsic titles, rather than positive endorsing the theory.

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  2. Exactly right, Dr Feser. It is a shame that the dominant theology you refer to seems heavily influenced by Modernism. These novel ideas do not arise from the tradition, but rather precisely in reaction against it. It is a particularly insidious thing to note that the Balthasarian approach to salvation does not deny the doctrine of hell outright; for that would be a straightforward case of condemnable heresy. It merely reduces the import of the doctrine down to almost nothing. This is a favourite tactic of the Modernists. It amounts to a dilution of Church teaching down to a harmless, acceptable level. A good and necessary adaptation of the Church to modern sensibilities How much do we need the rigour and sternness of Scholasticism at the core of theological speculation, I think.

    I eagerly look forward to your book on the subject, in which I hope you draw out the relationship between the historical heresy and the Catholic intellectual life today.

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  3. That is a great analogy, Dr. Feser, when you compared the data/theory/interpretation of Quantum Theory with Revelation/orthodox dogma & magisterial teaching/individual theological opinions of Catholic Theology.

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  4. "This tactic is of course nothing new."

    Yes, it's new. Apart from clear differences between the theological work on usury that you are criticizing (based upon a Modernist author who justified changing Catholic doctrine), note that none of that theological work was published by bishops to their flocks. It was all the private work of individuals. The big issue today, that is for the past fifty years, has precisely been that the "prevailing heresy" is apparently "official" in that "churchmen" are the ones spreading it (and condemning those who fail to go along quietly).

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    1. I agree that much of Noonan's commentary is wrong and he is in happy agreement with the progressive treatment of usury, however, his history is corroborated with others, for example Fr. Patrick Cleary's The Church and Usury.
      It is hard for me to believe that Juan Cardinal De Lugo, Thomas Cardinal Cajetan, Fr. Martin de Azpilcueta, Fr. Luis De Molina among clergy in the schools of Salamanca and Tubingen are not to be considered "churchmen" like Balthasar, Ratzinger or other in the "New Theology" school.
      Even more recently churchmen such as Cleary attempt to make the position sound reasonable by supposing that there has simply been a change in economic circumstances presupposed by the medieval Church's condemnations. Indeed, the silence in the 19th century responses to question of laxity of confessors on usury (Denzinger 1609-1612) is taken by some as Church approval of these practices contrary to actual teaching.
      So, no this isn't something new and it's been going on for awhile.

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    2. Perhaps the solution is simply to acknowledge that, if the popes really did intend to teach that charging interest on a loan was intrinsicallty sinful, they were simply wrong. Such a teaching cannot be justified by sound natural law reasoning or from the Scriptures. This idea doesn't belong to the deposit of faith, and is a product of economic illiteracy, i.e., the failure to understand what interest is in the first place: a subjective valuation of time preference.

      In other words, popes saying things that are incorrect is not an exclusively post-Vatican II phenomenon.

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    3. "This idea doesn't belong to the deposit of faith, and is a product of economic illiteracy..."
      Much like the excuses given for Feser's examples that its defenders didn't understand the depths of God's mercy or the dignity of the human person.

      "a subjective valuation of time preference."
      What a person wants to be owed is insufficient grounds for what he is actually owed.

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    4. The argument against usury, as I heard it, regards it as essentially a rent charge on money - which is wrong because money, as a medium of exchange, is lost as it's used and thus can't be rented.

      Which would be valid, if that's what was happening with a loan. In fact, however, what's being rented isn't the money, but the things the borrower buys with the money. The money's role is merely to make a complicated transaction understandable to everyone involved. (Which is true of all other uses of money - that's what money is for.)

      And "time preference" doesn't refer to opinions on what one's owed. It means that the promise of an apple tomorrow is worth less than an apple in front of me now. And there's nothing subjective about that; it's the common opinion of all humanity, and has as much claim to be objective truth as the statement "2 + 2 = 4".

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    5. I very strongly recommend a read of Zippy Catholic's Usury FAQ (easily found on Google). You may already be familiar with it, but others won't be.

      It's the only coherent and orthodox attempt to tackle the subject I've ever found. He argues, first, that interest on a full-recourse loan is something entirely different from interest on a non-recourse loan; second, that the latter is permissible, but the former is contrary to both natural law and revealed religion. Finally, he shows how Catholics who want to re-define usury and thereby defend (full-recourse) interest often use almost identical arguments to those who want to defend contraception.

      The best thing is he actually reads St Thomas, takes him at his word, and treats him as though he has something serious to say about the subject. Most modern Catholic defenders of usury assume the guy knows nothing about money or interest.

      Highly, highly recommended.

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    6. I don't meant to be threadjacking Feser's post on something only tangentially related to usury, so I'll try to make this my last comment specifically on usury unless our beneficent host permits otherwise.

      @Michael Brazier
      "In fact, however, what's being rented isn't the money, but the things the borrower buys with the money."
      Even if this were true, and its not, the lender could not rent to me the groceries I bought and consumed.
      In any case, the term "loan" in modern jargon means many different equivocal types of contracts differing in the essential structure of authorizations and property claims. Usury has always been about the mutuum contract (see Vix Pervenit in the Latin).

      "And "time preference" doesn't refer to opinions on what one's owed."
      You may wish to consider the "preference" part of "time preference."
      That is not to deny that "time preference" has some relevance in economics and finance when there is real property and property claims, just that it doesn't excuse taking usury. Read Innocent XI cited above.

      @English Catholic
      Thanks. I've read through the FAQ and Aquinas a few times. I actually read St. Thomas first and was more confused, taking usury to be about the money rather than the mutuum. Reading Zippy brought to the forefront the different property claims that can exist particularly around the usufruct and how the usufruct cannot not exist and therefore charged for in the mutuum.

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    7. I don't find the FAQ quite so convincing... Vermeersch gives a good explanation of interest in the CE - which article is not the one the FAQ critiques - that seems to address the core problem...

      The power to use a store of value (money) is "ontologically real" (to take that bizarre phrase from the FAQ). The lender deprives himself of it when he gives someone money. Because today there are habitually more or less reliable syndicates which can accrue wealth through ("societas") investment - which did not exist in the 13th century, at least nearly to the same extent - one could justly demand the rough opportunity cost of lent capital. The question of excess will be with respect to the lender's status vis-a-vis such opportunities in a general way... a difficult judgment no doubt, but this seems more plausible than the FAQ or even St. Thomas taken wholesale for today's economy. Further, it seems that a business which habitually engages in such lending (like a bank) incurs an habitual risk of total loss of any given investment, thus justifying a further fee for the use of their stored value (money) than the one-time lender who is in a position of needing to evaluate one risk only one time and whose livelihood is guaranteed by other means than the business of lending. Usury would seem to occur when the lender exceeds the appropriate interest with respect to his own circumstances. And it seems that "oppression" occurs when the poor are lent to, especially for consumed goods (like food), when some other means of livelihood is readily available to the lender.

      I could be wrong... happy to be shown how. But that someone calls some position "progressive" is not enough - St. Thomas was "progressive" too. And it certainly seems the Church has practically completely disagreed with him for quite a while... in its "official theology" at least!

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    8. @CRS
      On the FAQ read Q14 for being deprived of one's opportunity cost and Q19 for risk.

      The key question in all of this is what are you charging for. Aquinas, in the De Malo, acknowledges that you can charge for a temporary transfer of the usufruct, as in a lease, transferring the ownership while retaining the usufruct, as in what we call a sale-and-leaseback, or the ownership and usufruct as in a sale. In a mutuum, the ownership is transferred, but under the terms of the mutuum there is no usufruct for the property given and therefore the lender retains no property claims. His charge of something more than is a double charge for the usufruct which is identical to the ownership or the charge for nothing since he does not possess the usufruct. All he has is a promise of return in kind from the borrower, which is not property because it is not the sort of thing that can be alienated from the borrower such that the lender becomes the owner.

      "...one could justly demand the rough opportunity cost of lent capital."
      The problem is that one cannot charge for the investments he could have made had he not engage in a mutuum. This opportunity cost is not something real that can be charged for because it is a counterfactual and doesn't exist. It the "what he could have done had things been otherwise" which is not something vendible. The lender has no claim over the property lent and consequently has no claim to any profits that could have been made from them.
      Again that is not to say that opportunity cost plays an important role when there are real property claims, but specifically in the mutuum, the lender gives up all claims to the property.
      The reality of investment was something that Aquinas was aware of and he acknowledged that one could wisely use money to make a profit. However, this is irrelevant to the argument.

      "habitual risk of total loss of any given investment"
      Risk is not something that can be charged for in itself. It is not property and is only a potential loss. Risk is not vendible, because it is not the sort of thing that is property.
      Some people will claim insurance as a counter example, but this simply begs the question. It is wrong to think of insurance as a “transfer of risk” where the insured pays for the insurer to take on the risk. This is proved for example in property insurance, because the insured still suffers the risk of loss and the insured simply agrees to pay him if he should so suffer. Insurance is really a contingent claim against some property put up for security, which Aquinas says is licit as a sort of hiring out in the De Malo.

      The interesting historical point is that these titles were historically argued from real property claims and contracts. Opportunity cost was justified when a borrower was late in payment, that is a violation of the contract, and the lender lost the profit to the property he actually had a claim to.

      Moreover, usury was considered to be making a profit on a mutuum. Consequently, contracting a mutuum is only ever licit as an act of charity which is much broader than oppression of the poor. To use a friend as a security to produce profits or protect property or as hedge against inflation or the various other excuses given is intrinsically evil as contrary to charity and friendship in addition to unjust.

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    9. "All he has is a promise of return in kind from the borrower, which is not property because it is not the sort of thing that can be alienated from the borrower such that the lender becomes the owner."

      Let's suppose that, in exchange for a lump sum of money, a person agrees to labor at the payer's direction for a period of several years at lower compensation than he'd otherwise receive. By the rule stated this would have to be called usury - you can't physically separate a man from his labor. And yet such contracts are made often and have never been objected to in principle, as usury has.

      That is, the argument proves too much - you would have to outlaw signing bonuses in employment contracts. You might also reject any contract in which one party engages to provide something that doesn't exist yet, because they intend to make it, in exchange for a payment now. Here too, the promise to perform and the person who promises can't be physically separated, making such contracts akin to usury. And here too, such contracts are routinely made with no serious objections - I'm thinking here of book publishers and the practice of advances.

      Having read through the Usury FAQ, the idea is that in a mutuum the borrower promises to return the same money that the lender gave him, plus a little over, and the objection is that the "little over" is being paid for nothing. But that's not how economic theory would describe it. The money paid by the lender and the money paid later by the borrower are not the same money at different times - they're two packets of money, and no material connection leads from one to the other. The borrower's' packet is just being traded away before he's earned it.

      And in other contexts this sort of trading in future goods, that exist only potentially, raises no moral issue. It's only potential money that can't be traded, apparently. I don't think this has been adequately explained.

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    10. "I don't think this has been adequately explained."

      Right. In Michael #1's response, there are a number of undefended assertions made which are actually at issue... For example, "The problem is that one cannot charge for the investments he could have made had he not engage in a mutuum. This opportunity cost is not something real that can be charged for because it is a counterfactual and doesn't exist."

      Or:

      "Risk is not something that can be charged for in itself."

      Thomas got some things wrong. I think his treatment of usury is, basically, wrong. So do most contemporary moralists, just as most dogmatists would disagree with his theory of sacramental intention. We have an easy way of explaining away the lacuna - not only was 13th century Europe very different in its economic structure, but our theologian was a mendicant. (Yes, his family was wealthy, but... weak sauce if you ask me.) There could be other motivations for his treatment as well, such as an overly zealous tendency to defend the Fathers' opinions.

      Let's take his wine-bottle example and muddy the waters. Suppose the bottle of wine is determined by the market to be worth $10. I, the vendor, charge people who come to my wine store, all of whom are wine-drinkers, $20. My customers trust my judgment on prices, so I exploit this trust and overcharge them.

      Another wine vendor charges $10 for the same bottle of wine, but then $10 if the bottle is consumed. In both cases, the consumption of the wine costs $20… What you pay to drink this bottle of wine, from either vendor, is the same. The difference is only when the payments are demanded. A buyer could easily give $20 to the second vendor up front. So it seems the second vendor’s pricing structure is not actually any different from mine in practice, since our customers are wine drinkers.

      A third vendor has an identical pricing structure as the second vendor, but he runs a prop lending business based in Hollywood, and the wine bottle must be returned by a certain time or even more payment must be made (moratory interest). Surely, this would not be unjust… And while producers could go to a market-price vendor for the same bottle, the convenience of the prop lender is enough to sway their choice.

      A fourth vendor charges $10 - the market price. He will rake it in, soon enough.

      It does not seem to me so much that the second vendor is doing something unjust, except in some extreme cases where monopoly meets inelasticisty (such as a life-saving medicine). It is practically the same as the first vendor – it is a bad price, not an unjust price. And eventually it will also hurt the vendor in most cases.

      The value of money is extrinsic to the cash itself. It is only so valuable because of future contingents (viz., people accepting this currency in such and such a way), so the very forum of our consideration is the realm of possible future contingents. So an appeal to things “not existing” and therefore being “unsaleable” seems off. So too does the claim that risk is not something one can sell… Of course, risk always comes with an accompanying action, in this case, putting one’s own capital in the hands of another with the possibility of partially or even totally losing it. Do we not pay people for doing dangerous work in proportion with the danger, especially when they are not morally obliged to do that work? That seems just to me. You take a gratuitous (non-obligatory) risk in order to reap a just and proportionate reward. Of course there can be excesses and abuses, but usually the market will eventually punish such people on its own.

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    11. @CRS
      "The value of money is extrinsic to the cash itself. It is only so valuable because of future contingents (viz., people accepting this currency in such and such a way), so the very forum of our consideration is the realm of possible future contingents. So an appeal to things “not existing” and therefore being “unsaleable” seems off."
      If you are unconcerned about the existence of what you are buying, I have a bridge to sell you.
      Certainly future contingents play a role in valuation, you'll pay more for capital you expect will produce more, but you aren't buying future contingents. You are buying the actual property that may be more or less valuable in virtue of future contingents. No one actually owns the future contingents, because they are not the sort of thing that can be owned.

      "Do we not pay people for doing dangerous work in proportion with the danger, especially when they are not morally obliged to do that work?"
      Again there is a distinction between valuation and what you are paying for. The laborer is paid for the actual work he does. That labor may be more or less valuable because of the risk involved, it is not the risk that he sells. The employer does not become the owner or take possession of the risk of the laborer.

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    12. @Michael Bazier
      "By the rule stated this would have to be called usury - you can't physically separate a man from his labor."
      By a man's labors he actualizes some state of affairs. This is alienable from the laborer. See Q17 in the FAQ.

      "the idea is that in a mutuum the borrower promises to return the same money"
      You may wish to consider that "in kind" differs from "the same" as in identically the same property. This is discussed in Q2 of the FAQ.

      "And in other contexts this sort of trading in future goods, that exist only potentially, raises no moral issue."
      One would have to actually consider the matter of what the terms of contract are in order to determine if the matter is usury or not or unjust more generally. For example, consider Q46 on futures contracts. The problem that most consider usurious contracts licit is what is at issue.

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    13. I'm writing in a hurry, so apologies if my answers seem a little curt.

      "And yet such contracts are made often and have never been objected to in principle, as usury has."

      Such contracts may or may not be objectionable in principle (because they may or may not constitute a disguised full-recourse loan at interest). It would depend on the details. This is not a counter-argument.

      "That is, the argument proves too much - you would have to outlaw signing bonuses in employment contracts."

      A signing bonus is an inducement to enter a job. It is specifically different from lending money at interest. No interest is payable. Nobody is pretending to rent money. A penalty for non-performance of a contract is, of course, different from interest.

      The same applies to book advances.

      "Having read through the Usury FAQ, the idea is that in a mutuum the borrower promises to return the same money that the lender gave him, plus a little over, and the objection is that the "little over" is being paid for nothing."

      Actually, this is a mis-reading. In a societas, the borrower promises to return this or that specific asset to the lender, plus a little over. The asset is a really-existing thing, though not necessarily tangible. In a mutuum, the borrower promises to return an amount in kind to the lender, plus a little over. The trouble is, an amount in kind doesn't really exist; it's merely an idea, or an abstraction. Hence money is being taken for nothing, and we see a kind of theft.

      Modern people, by the way, love to invent abstractions and pretend they're real; much evil follows from this. It originates, I think, with Descartes' mechanical philosophy, and the implication that meaning is just in the mind.

      "But that's not how economic theory would describe it."

      Modern economic theory is (I would argue) based on nominalism and utter subjectivism about value, as the FAQ explains.

      "The money paid by the lender and the money paid later by the borrower are not the same money at different times - they're two packets of money, and no material connection leads from one to the other. The borrower's' packet is just being traded away before he's earned it."

      I don't understand how this overcomes the 'money for nothing' claim.

      "And in other contexts this sort of trading in future goods, that exist only potentially, raises no moral issue. It's only potential money that can't be traded, apparently. I don't think this has been adequately explained."

      Question 35 attempts to answer this -- what about it is inadequate?

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    14. "Right. In Michael #1's response, there are a number of undefended assertions made which are actually at issue..."

      Michael H defends these assertions in his comment @ 2.59pm, paragraphs beginning "the problem is that one", and "risk is not something". The assertions are also defended in the FAQ, questions 14, 15 and 18. (If you're Catholic, note that the magisterium has formally condemned the practice of charging for the 'time value of money' -- see Q14 for details.)

      "Thomas got some things wrong..."

      Skipping this paragraph as it seems to be ad-hominem.

      "Another wine vendor charges $10 for the same bottle of wine, but then $10 if the bottle is consumed."

      In this case, the payment of $10 does not bring about full ownership of the bottle, since the 'vendor' is reserving certain rights and preventing the 'buyer' from doing with his property as he pleases. In a full-recourse loan, the borrower does gain ownership rights of the money. We know he gains ownership rights because he is allowed (and expected) to dispose of it, and you can only dispose of something that you own. Therefore, he is paying rent for something he owns. So the parallel does not hold, and St Thomas's argument is not refuted.

      The third vendor is simply renting bottles and applying penalties to a contract. Whether or not it's called 'interest', he's not charging for money, he's charging for failing to return his property. Completely different thing. It's not names or labels that matter, but the substance of the thing. Interest on a non-recourse loan, whatever label you apply to it, is not immoral.

      "The value of money is extrinsic to the cash itself. It is only so valuable because of future contingents (viz., people accepting this currency in such and such a way), so the very forum of our consideration is the realm of possible future contingents."

      I don't know if this is true. In any case, many things are good (ie, valuable) only because they can bring about other things; I don't see how this affects the argument.

      "So an appeal to things “not existing” and therefore being “unsaleable” seems off."

      A house exists in and of itself. So does a patent, or a bundle of assets called a company. These thing can be alienated from their owner. A promise to repay exists only as a property of a person. It can't be alienated from him, and therefore can't be sold or rented.

      "So too does the claim that risk is not something one can sell…"

      Please see above.

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    15. "By a man's labors he actualizes some state of affairs. This is alienable from the laborer."
      That state of affairs is not alienable before it's become actual - which is when the man gets the money, in the cases I gave. It's no more possible to separate a man's promise to work from the man than it is to separate his promise to pay from him. Thus on the principle as stated, it's intrinsically immoral to pay for labor before it's been done - which is absurd.

      "A signing bonus is an inducement to enter a job."
      A signing bonus is, objectively, compensation for labor that has yet to be performed - a trade for something that doesn't exist, at the time of the trade. (Whether the parties think of it that way doesn't matter.) Book advances are the same.

      I put it to you that a mutuum contract differs from these only because the potential good that's sold is money - and yes, that's a difference, but I fail to see how it affects the moral question.

      "I don't understand how this overcomes the 'money for nothing' claim."
      A mutuum is a trade of an actual thing (the money in hand) for a potential thing (also money - but not the same money.) And a potential thing is not nothing; potentialities are real, though not actual - "ontologically real" as Zippy put it. (Otherwise change would be impossible and Parmenides' "block universe" would be the truth.)

      "Modern economic theory is (I would argue) based on nominalism and utter subjectivism about value, as the FAQ explains."
      Well, the FAQ does say that. And to do it justice, economists very often speak as if value exists nowhere but the human mind. But it isn't necessary to accept nominalism to accept modern economic theory. All we have to accept is that value is a function of the final causes of things.

      Which, if you think about it, is clearly true. If a tool isn't fit for any purpose, it doesn't matter how much labor went into making it or how excellent its materials were - it has no value, because it has no purpose, and everything used up in making it was wasted.

      I remind you, incidentally, that final causes have to exist in some mind before they can exist in matter; that's one of the classic proofs that God exists, and that He is rational.

      Finally, Q. 35 in the FAQ. Really I have covered this already: the argument there is just that a "pledge to return in kind" is pledging to surrender a thing that exists only potentially, which is supposedly impossible. As I've said already, it proves too much. Any contract whatsoever in which a thing is paid for before it's made would have to be outlawed as mutuum and usurious.

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    16. "the argument there is just that a "pledge to return in kind" is pledging to surrender a thing that exists only potentially, which is supposedly impossible. As I've said already, it proves too much. Any contract whatsoever in which a thing is paid for before it's made would have to be outlawed as mutuum and usurious."
      The pledge is something actual. The borrower actually makes it and it really empowers the lender to exact his principle at the time of return.

      "By the rule stated this would have to be called usury..."
      The rule (i.e. the inalienability of a promise) stated is only a part of the whole. In the mutuum, the lender has no property claim against which to charge more over the return in kind he receives back. In that context, the promise is itself not a piece of property the lender can charge for.

      "A mutuum is a trade of an actual thing (the money in hand) for a potential thing (also money - but not the same money.)"
      The lender does not receive potential money, he receives a promise of return in kind which empowers him to exact his principle at some future date.

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    17. "The pledge is something actual. The borrower actually makes it and it really empowers the lender to exact his principle at the time of return."
      But the money that was pledged is not actual - it will exist only if the borrower works to earn it.

      "The lender does not receive potential money"
      Ah, but he does - he receives part of the borrower's potency for earning money.

      I think the most acute argument in the Usury FAQ is the claim that interest on a mutuum is really a claim to own shares in a person, which is akin to slavery. It has the merit of being in line with what modern economic theory says on the subject. But it's still wrong because (this is rather a theme) it proves too much: the principle, if valid, applies to any arrangement by which a worker is paid for labor he hasn't yet done. For here too, what the employer owns is a claim on the worker's future services, which can't be alienated from him until he's done them. A normal mutuum states the claim in terms of money, but (as the FAQ and Aquinas both mention) any good whatever might be the matter of the promise, including the borrower's labor.

      That things which aren't actual are unreal, can't be transferred from one person to another, and therefore must not be treated as property, is the central assumption in the Usury FAQ. But that assumption, taken seriously, leads to ridiculous conclusions (authors must not receive advances against royalties from their books?) and therefore can't be correct.

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    18. @Michael Brazier
      "But the money that was pledged is not actual - it will exist only if the borrower works to earn it."
      This is exactly true. The pledge however is in fact actual as a moral power to obligate the borrower.

      "Ah, but he does - he receives part of the borrower's potency for earning money."
      You have provided no reason to believe this.

      "For here too, what the employer owns is a claim on the worker's future services, which can't be alienated from him until he's done them."
      Depending on the terms of the agreement the employer receives the promise of the laborer to complete the services promised. The employer does not however own the future services nor does he own part of the workers power to actualize those services.

      "But that assumption, taken seriously, leads to ridiculous conclusions"
      Since you've adopted ridiculous premises about what an employer owns with respect to his employees or what an employer obtains from granting a signing bonus, for example, you'll certainly arrive at ridiculous conclusions. This can be corrected.

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    19. Lots of ideas... This is why the discussion took off after Thomas. And it was finally more or less settled - on the "liberal" side.

      The argument, as Michael #2 points out, proves too much. It destroys the possibility of capitalism as a system... risk should entail reward, over and above what was actually "given" in an objective sense. It is up to the market to determine subjectively what things are worth.

      Just a few observations... Unfortunately I can't be dragged into this too much!

      "If you're Catholic, note that the magisterium has formally condemned the practice of charging for the 'time value of money' -- see Q14 for details."

      I am Catholic, and I know the documents well enough. I also know that prooftexting the popes does not make for good theology. I can show you three popes who thought that presbyters could ordain priests! What must be shown is that lending money at interest is infallibly condemned by the ordinary magisterium, which I think it pretty clearly is not. And yes, treating the magisterium as a list of infallible propositions and nothing more is also a path to bad theology, but there is also a centuries old discussion which we are dealing with here. So, yes, I think the pope was wrong, if I am understanding him correctly, which perhaps I am not. But elsewhere - even in Denzinger - this position against usury is not so uniform. So we need to reflect on what is there, what isn't, and the whole discussion, in context.

      "In this case, the payment of $10 does not bring about full ownership of the bottle..."

      I do not see how this is possible - if I own the money, it is not lent to me. In fact, the person who buys the wine bottle but not the right to drink it owns it more than the one borrowing money... The money must be returned entirely, while the wine bottle need not be.

      "The third vendor is simply renting bottles and applying penalties to a contract. ...."

      And the penalty in the case of lending money might apply immediately and compound with time. There are uses for wine bottles, which are valuable mostly in consumption, and there are uses for money, mostly in exchange, store of value, and having a unit of account. You could also burn it to make a fire, or make a money pit to dive in like Scrooge McDuck. Whatever the case, the cost of ME giving YOU the money I earned through work or taking risk comes with the just expectation that you will compensate me for giving you what I do not owe you in justice, what reasonable other investments (elsewhere in the market) I could have made with that money, and the risk of losing such loans entirely or partially. And this system of lending has created the healthiest economies in world history. (The comparison with contraception is, frankly, puerile - no, good outcomes do not justify bad means, but good outcomes do not mean the act was bad.)

      "In any case, many things are good (ie, valuable) only because they can bring about other things; I don't see how this affects the argument."

      Because there is this notion that what is bought must be able to be seen or touched, which is false. What is bought in a monetary loan is the right to use power, namely, through a medium of exchange, a store of value, and a unit of account we call currency. This right of the borrower did not exist with him before the money was lent... It was with the lender. The lender momentarily deprives himself of this good for the borrower so that the borrower might better himself or the community, or at least have a good time at his own discretion.

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    20. @CRS
      "...risk should entail reward, over and above what was actually "given" in an objective sense."
      The argument is that risk as such cannot be sold. An investor may require that a riskier capital investment provide a higher expected return, but it is a property claim against the capital that is sold and not the risk as such.
      In the mutuum, the lender transfers ownership and usufruct claims to the borrower for a promise of return in kind. The lender has no further property claim from which he can expect a return regardless of the risk involved in the contract.
      One may ask why someone would take that risk or give that money for no profit. The answer is that the mutuum is a naturally gratuitous contract and therefore an act of charity. To exact more is to abuse a friend in addition to an act of injustice.

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    21. Michael B,

      I still think your parallel between prepayment for labour and interest on a mutuum is invalid.

      We should return to our premises, which are different. Michael H @ 2.59pm summarises our fundamental disagreement: "The key question in all of this is what are you charging for... In a mutuum, the ownership is transferred, but under the terms of the mutuum there is no usufruct for the property given and therefore the lender *retains no property claims*. His charge of something more than is a double charge for the usufruct which is identical to the ownership or the charge for nothing since he does not possess the usufruct..."

      If Michael H is right -- and this key point hasn't really been discussed -- then your parallel between prepayment for labour and interest on a mutuum does not work. This is because prepayment for labour creates a claim to something, while a mutuum loan creates no claim.

      To illustrate. Suppose I pay a man in advance to build a fence round my garden. My claim is to a particular, defined benefit -- which the man may be closely involved with, but which is nonetheless distinct and separable from him. Certainly his labour brings this about, but it is only accidentally connected, in the manner of an efficient cause. I make no claim to his labour as such. This is clear from the fact that if he hires a sub-contractor to complete the work, he has still fulfilled the contract.

      It is not so with usury. My claim to 'rent' on the money I lent him is for something that doesn't exist, so it is invalid, a pretence. But this pretence leads to further absurdity. If he doesn't pay, I make a claim to his 'future labour'. But this is invalid for the same reason: the 'future labour of the worker' _as such_ also doesn't exist. Or rather, it doesn't exist separately from the man; it exists only as a power (potential operation) of the man. Therefore I can't claim it, any more than I can claim him.

      In the one case, my claim is to a benefit which is only accidentally related to the man who brings it about. In the other, my (pretended) claim is to labour as such, and therefore to the man as such.

      This, of course, assumes that there is no claim in justice to interest on a mutuum. If St Thomas and Zippy were wrong about this, and a mutuum really does provide me with a claim on a thing, your reductio ad absurdum would hold. But they aren't, so it doesn't. As far as I can see, the counter-argument requires an entirely subjective theory of value. Hence the subjectivim and nominalism (good/value is in the eye of the beholder) of modern economics, which tries to justify a practice that was once universally seen as wicked.

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    22. What is bought in a monetary loan is the right to use power, namely, through a medium of exchange, a store of value, and a unit of account we call currency.

      If I might point out a way in which the argument seems to be bogging down: As Michael Humphreys and (I think) English Catholic pointed out earlier, this sense of 'buying' (and the sense of owning on which it is based) stretches the term so far that you need to justify not treating it just as a legal or accounting fiction or as a loose metaphor. Loan contracts are not obviously sales contracts; most loans (for instance, just everyday borrowing among ordinary people) are not structured as any kind of buying at all. It's only in the context of a large system of financial institutions that one would even be tempted to think that something is "bought" in a monetary loan. It's certainly possible that ordinary people are really buying and selling without realizing it, or that the buying was discovered by advances in financial institutions; but that it is so, and that the whole thing is not a fiction for certain legal and accounting purposes, is precisely one of the things that needs to be established.

      And this is particularly important here since the old strict interpretations like Aquinas's own directly imply that any attempt to analogize between loan and sale will break down at several ethically relevant points -- any argument against such a strict position that just assumes that the analogy is adequate is logically question-begging. In effect, you are arguing in the wrong place; yes, given all the assumptions you are allowing yourself, it no doubt shapes up as you say. But the analogies those assumptions express have not been conceded, and the question is why does anyone have to concede them?

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    23. "Depending on the terms of the agreement the employer receives the promise of the laborer to complete the services promised."
      The best reply I can make is to quote the Usury FAQ itself. From Q. 7: "Usurious contracts pretend to be a property interest in something – in some thing – but the property over which they assert a claim doesn’t actually exist at the time it is 'sold'." That statement can be paraphrased as a syllogism: In a mutuum the lender claims a property interest in something that exists only potentially; no such property interest is possible, as only actual things can be owned; therefore a mutuum is inherently fraudulent.

      Now my point is that the major premise of that syllogism, that only actual things can be owned, applies outside the context of finance, to contracts that nobody objects to. For instance, an artist working on commission often receives partial payment before starting work. Who thinks that's immoral? Yet it must be, under this assumption.

      And it doesn't help you to say "but the promise is real!" That doesn't distinguish a mutuum from other ways of dealing in futures - the promises are just as real, and the property is just as unreal, in both. That line of thinking is just muddled.

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    24. @Michael Brazier
      "That statement can be paraphrased as a syllogism: In a mutuum the lender claims a property interest in something that exists only potentially; no such property interest is possible, as only actual things can be owned; therefore a mutuum is inherently fraudulent."
      If you replace "mutuum" with "usury" you are getting closer. The mutuum does not include a property interest in something that exists potentially. The lender has a claim against the person in the form of a promise, this is specifically not property, because a person cannot be property.
      The purported fraudulence of a mutuum derives principally from a mischaracterization of what is actually being exchanged. Your other complaints about the implications of the usury doctrine follow from a similar false premise.

      @Brandon
      This is typically the reason I prefer to phrase the mutuum as an exchange of such and such to make explicit the terms of the exchange.
      In the case of a mutuum of money, the lender is exchanging his money now for a promise of return in the future. That the usufruct, or the claim to use (or "power") of the money in exchange, goes with it is at the core of Aquinas' explanation of the evil of usury.
      CRS's hang up seems to be that the lender can have a property claim on future contingents. He suggests this is proved because people value property on the expectation of future contingents given that it is used it in such and such a way. However, since the lender gives the usufruct as well as the ownership, he has no claim to the profits that might be derived from its use.
      Relatedly, the profits he could have made from its use had he not engaged in the mutuum is something by definition that will never exist. It exists only in the despair of the lender for those never-to-be-had-profits. To charge for this is to charge for what will never exist or for something inalienable from the lender. This is not a loss for something he should have for the exact reason that he gives the property away in the terms of the mutuum.

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    25. “The argument is that risk as such cannot be sold.”
      Granted. The right to use temporarily my own money is being sold, and because I take the risk of not regaining it, I get to determine the conditions of my loan – to which the borrower may agree or not. If not, then we have no deal. If so, we have a deal, regardless of whether it is market price or not. (And yes, there are excesses to this, such as seeking out and taking advantage of the neediest or most foolish people – but typically those people are not bettering the commonwealth as normal borrowers would.)

      “One may ask why someone would take that risk or give that money for no profit. The answer is that the mutuum is a naturally gratuitous contract and therefore an act of charity.”
      It could be charity, in the case of a gratuitous loan without interest – or a loan out of justice, which one is bound to make – or a middle-path, where both parties stand to benefit financially. We are talking about the third kind, unless you wish to dispute its possibility.
      “To exact more is to abuse a friend in addition to an act of injustice.”
      Well, we are not normally making interest-loans to friends, are we. But I wonder if we could put this in more familiar terms… I need a rake to clean my yard. You lend me a rake, and say that I owe you a beer, as a condition. I agree, rake my yard, return the rake, and get you the beer which I promised you from my refrigerator. We both got something good out of the transaction, and no harm was done. Is this usury? I would certainly think not… In fact, if I refused the deal, it seems I would pretty much be a total jerk who is way too attached to my beers. My valuation of the rake is based not only on the good of the rake, but the good of the rake to me at this point in time in which I actually need to use it. I want the rake for the sake of a further good – a clean yard, which I obtain by using the rake for a time – the worth of which is at least equivalent to a beer from my refrigerator. I give what I am willing to give for obtaining the thing I want more, so we come closer to some kind of pareto optimality, as everyone is now better off than he was before.

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    26. “this sense of 'buying' (and the sense of owning on which it is based) stretches the term so far that you need to justify not treating it just as a legal or accounting fiction or as a loose metaphor.”
      Okay – but “money” is a kind of fiction too… Ultimately, so is private ownership. It’s just pre-eminently useful for now, for keeping peace, order, and motivation to better our community. This is where Thomas seems to be going against himself… In the end, the wine bottle isn’t “mine,” it is part of God’s creation.

      And this is particularly important here since the old strict interpretations like Aquinas's own directly imply that any attempt to analogize between loan and sale will break down at several ethically relevant points -- any argument against such a strict position that just assumes that the analogy is adequate is logically question-begging. In effect, you are arguing in the wrong place; yes, given all the assumptions you are allowing yourself, it no doubt shapes up as you say. But the analogies those assumptions express have not been conceded, and the question is why does anyone have to concede them?
      I think a lot of the problem is coming down to what “money” is, as I intimate above. But tell me what you think of my rake example above.
      Thanks for the discussion (to all) – it’s great. I am now thinking about doing my STL thesis on the history of this problem. I’ve discovered that Thomas wrote several personal letters on the topic applying his thought… and then the whole history of the reception of Vix Pervenit is fascinating, up to the more recent decrees of the Holy Office.

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    27. I make no ownership claims when I prepay for labour. I make no claim to property. I do something different: I create an obligation on the man to work. The latter does not imply the former. So the major premise does not apply to this example.

      Not every transfer of money involves a claim of ownership in return. Your argument assumes that it does.

      If I make a mutuum loan, I do claim an ownership right. But it is a false claim, for the reasons given in Q7.

      Admittedly my previous comment didn't make this point as clearly as it should have.

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    28. @CRS
      "The right to use temporarily my own money is being sold, and because I take the risk of not regaining it, I get to determine the conditions of my loan – to which the borrower may agree or not."
      In a sense, you can determine the terms of the mutuum as in what you put on paper. However, this only begs the question if demanding more is in fact licit whether you want to make the deal or not.
      The core of the argument is that you cannot exchange the usufruct or claim to use of the money as separate from the ownership which you receive back. You would have to actually engage that aspect of the argument to make any head way, otherwise you're simply begging the question.

      "It could be charity, in the case of a gratuitous loan without interest – or a loan out of justice, which one is bound to make – or a middle-path, where both parties stand to benefit financially. We are talking about the third kind, unless you wish to dispute its possibility."
      Again this is question begging or equivocating. Precisely what is at issue is whether engaging in a mutuum for profit is licit. The modern term "loan" refers to many different contracts and is therefore equivocal. Some "loans" are mutua and therefore charging for profit is illicit. Others are not and may be licit or illicit for other reasons.

      "Is this usury?"
      No because it is not a mutuum. The lender receives back identically the same property he gave and not a return in kind. This is more like a lease where the leasor holds the ownership of the thing while temporarily transferring the usufruct. For the usufruct of the rake he charges a beer and receives it back after the term of the lease.

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    29. "To illustrate. Suppose I pay a man in advance to build a fence round my garden. My claim is to a particular, defined benefit -- which the man may be closely involved with, but which is nonetheless distinct and separable from him. Certainly his labour brings this about, but it is only accidentally connected, in the manner of an efficient cause. I make no claim to his labour as such. This is clear from the fact that if he hires a sub-contractor to complete the work, he has still fulfilled the contract."

      Well, if you look at it that way ... it's not even hard to recast a mutuum in those terms. After all, the lender isn't really interested in the borrower's labor as such. What he wants is a particular defined benefit (the sum of money specified) which, though the borrower is closely involved with, remains distinct from him and can be separated from him, once he's earned it. Heck, even with non-recourse loans, what the FAQ calls societas, the lender almost never wants the security for the loan - he wants the regular payments. And the lender doesn't care, has no reason to care, how the borrower gets the money, as long as he has it before the loan expires. So again, the attempted distinction fails.

      The real difference between a mutuum and a straightforward advance payment for labor is this: in a mutuum the two things being exchanged happen to be of the same kind, while wages are paid for services that are not money. Nothing but this distinguishes the cases.

      So the issue of usury ultimately depends on one question: Are a thing which is available now, and a physically identical thing which will be available only after time has passed, really equivalent in value? If they are, the lender in a mutuum has a just claim on the principal and not a penny more. If not - if the future good is worth less in the present - then the lender may ask for more in the future (numerically) than he gives in the present, and the difference is the interest.

      I'll mention in passing that the Usury FAQ's premise (sale of potential things is impossible) is not in the Summa or Vix Pervenit. What is there is the simple assumption that a unit of money now and a unit of money in the future are equivalent in value; and this is not stated in either, but taken for granted. Zippy misread his sources.

      Having got this far, let's examine the question. Is it actually true that a present good and a future good of the same kind must be of equal value? Bearing in mind that the value of things depends on their use, that is their purpose, natural end, and final cause. More on this later.

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  5. Solid article and good analogy with scientific theories at the end!

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  6. I wrote a response to the article on limbo you linked to. I would be interested to hear your thoughts, Dr. Feser. http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2017/06/14/the-catechism-is-right-we-do-not-need-limbo/

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    1. The argument here presented claims that God's mercy gives us reason to think that God gives the children sanctifying grace and the beatific vision. Now, this is certainly a reasonable thing to hope for, as the Catechism points out. Moreover, given that we know God is love, this conclusion ought not to be dismissed lightly. Perhaps the fact that so few in Church history have thought that unbaptized babies are saved is a result of an unfortunate dismissal of a weighty argument (viz. the argument you present in the article).

      That said, we have to be cautious in presenting an argument of this sort. If God's character strictly entailed that he save unbaptized babies, it would then follow that the supernatural order is not entirely gratuitous. Additionally, it would seem to imply that God is such that he must create rational creatures capable of the beatific vision. For if God's character entails he save the unbaptized babies, how can there be a possible world in which God creates man but doesn't elevate him to the supernatural order? Or a possible world in which God does not create man at all?

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  7. Can we not just call heresy heresy, and a spade a spade? I think it is not constructive to view the mentioned examples isolated from their context, be it limbus or empty hell. What I mean is: The Nouvelle Théologie was a movement directly opposed to Thomism, and Scholasticism (as well as their "neo" variants). Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac, and even Joseph Ratzinger, heavily criticized Thomism as a stiff, and even dead system that cannot give answers to hodiernal questions. Also they claimed that Thomism ignored history and the development of dogma. Nouvelle Théologie is the reincarnation of the 19th century Modernism, in this new variant called Neo-Modernism. The exact same (and may I add: crazy) heresy that Pius X so valiantly fought against. When von Balthasar argues that Hell might be empty, he does not do it as an adherent to the traditional Catholic doctrine, but he does it in direct defiance thereof. When a theologian speaks, he does not speak objective words of Truth, but he can only speak from his own point of view - in this case the heretical Nouvelle Théologie, expressively condemned by Pius XII under the influence of Saint Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange.
    But letting that aside, how could a Catholic accept an "official theology" that does not explain dogma, but seems to contradict it?! This might not per se be heresy, but at the very least skandalon, or proxima haeresi.
    To accept this view means to accept Modernism with its sentence that every time needs to find its own ways of expressing the Church's doctrine - which is opposed to the beautiful clause: "eodem sensu eademque sententia": Theological comments are obligated to represent dogma "in the same meaning and in the same sense" as it is understood by the perennial teaching of the Church. Transsubstantiation does not mean Transfinalisation or Transsignification. Hell exists, and there are souls in there. The Catholic religion is the only true religion, and no one who stands outside of Holy Mother Church can attain the forgiveness of sins, nor life eternal.
    What pertains to limbus, there is no definite answer. Limbus has never been part of the Church's teaching. To suppose that there is a place like limbus, is recommended by the Church (as many older dogmatic manuals attest), and to reject it is seen as foolish. Nevertheless, a theological discussion may occur, and is encouraged by the Church. To say there was no limbus is still very different to saying hell was empty.

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  8. Complaining about Von Balthasar is so tedious.

    God gives sufficient grace to all men to be saved. Contra the heresy of Calvin the Church teaches Sufficient Grace is truely sufficient so that salvation is a real possibility for the recipiant. So it's not a stretch to conclude because all men recieve sufficient grace then salvation for all men is a real possibility. Now unlike the true heresy of Universalism one cannot say it is an absolute certainty & Hell is still a real possibility. One need not say it is likely everyone will be saved. Also "realistic" isn't a term of Art in theology. Certainly if one can hope for one's own salvation (without being absolutely certain about it as Baptists claim) then I really don't see the problem with merely hoping that everybody is saved? I think people get too butthurt over Von Balthasar when they should acknowledge in his speculations one can still go to Hell. Indeed under Von Balthasar's scheme there is no reason why everbody could be saved but moi so there is no reason to presume.
    In the end Presumption or Dispair will lead us to Hell. As to wither the number of saved will excede the number of the damned. We are not meant to know IMHO dispite the majority opinion being that the majority of humanity will be lost.

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  9. You are part of a search and rescue for lost Catholics.

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  10. “Other examples could be given, but these three – the rejection of the idea of limbo, the affirmation of the pluralistic non-confessional state as a positive good, and the “empty hell” hypothesis – provide a representative sample. Here are three observations about them. First, and again, none of these ideas is magisterial teaching, and no Catholic is obligated to agree with them. “

    The doctrine of the Limbo of Infants was sufficiently “magisterial” for unbaptised infants to be buried in unconsecrated ground. That makes perfect sense, since it was taught (surely rightly) that as they had not been baptised, they had not been cleansed of original sin, and were therefore incapable of inheriting Heaven.

    Limbo makes sense, and the rejection of the doctrine was condemned. See Father Brian Harrison for the details: http://www.seattlecatholic.com/a051207.html

    There are no polite words for those, like Ratzinger in his 1984 Report, or the Theological Commission in 2007, who try to magic Limbo away merely because it has never been defined. It has been taught, theologised about, and has had real effects on the lives of Catholics, so it cannot be untaught or unbelieved just because it embarrasses some people today.

    The eagerness of the Church’s rulers to dilute or unsay uncomfortable or unecumenical Catholic doctrines & practices, is truly appalling. If the Church is ashamed of teaching and practicing her traditional Faith, what are Catholics supposed to do ? Where are they to go for Catholic teaching ? The following words seem to be all too applicable to the CC - especially the citation from C. S. Lewis:

    “The C of E might be healthier if it took the trouble to ensure that its clergy all believed all of what the Creed says. It is ridiculous, and far worse than merely ridiculous, to have vicars who don’t believe in (say) the Resurrection of Christ. If clergy do not believe, but retain their parishes and cures, they are thieves, frauds, and liars – as is the Church that inflicts them on Christians. Is that the sort of person whom the C of E thinks fit to be in the clergy, and to be ministers of God’s grace ? It is a long time since C. S. Lewis remarked on the oddity of a layman finding out that he believes more than his vicar. A Church of unbelieving clergy is not equipped to preach a Gospel it does not believe.”

    https://www.psephizo.com/life-ministry/can-bishops-save-the-church/

    Clergy and religious, regardless of rank or dignity, who do not accept, whole-heartedly & sincerely, the entirety of the traditional Faith of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, should be excommunicated as a matter of course. And in the case of clergy, not merely laicised, but publicly degraded from all their orders.

    What the Church seems to need, is the restoration of the Holy Roman and Universal Inquisition, to stamp out, repress & extirpate all heresy by all clergy & religious whatsoever, without fear or favour. The abolition of religious orders and communities that no longer perform their intended function might be a good first step.

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  11. The close of Fr. Harrison’s article is particularly interesting:

    “It should be clear from the above survey of relevant Catholic magisterial statements that those who now talk about Limbo as only ever having been a mere "hypothesis", rather than a doctrine, are giving a very misleading impression of the state of the question. They are implying by this that the pre-Vatican II Church traditionally held, or at least implicitly admitted, that an alternate 'hypothesis' for unbaptized infants was their attainment of eternal salvation — Heaven. Nothing could be further from the truth. Limbo for unbaptized infants was indeed a theological "hypothesis"; but the only approved alternate hypothesis was not Heaven, but very mild hellfire as well as exclusion from the beatific vision! In short, while Limbo as distinct from very mild hellfire was a 'hypothetical' destiny for unbaptized infants, their eternal exclusion from Heaven (with or without any 'pain of sense') — at least after the proclamation of the Gospel, and apart from the 'baptism of blood' of infants slaughtered out of hatred for Christ — this was traditional Catholic doctrine, not a mere hypothesis. No, it was never dogmatically defined. But the only question is whether the doctrine was infallible by virtue of the universal and ordinary magisterium, or merely "authentic".

    Recommended reading: Fr. Le Blanc's articles, "Childrens' Limbo: Theory or Doctrine?", American Ecclesiastical Review, September 1947, and "Salut des enfants morts sans baptéme", Ami du Clergé, January 15, 1948, pp. 33-43. (At that time, the liberal theologians criticized by Fr. Le Blanc were beginning for the first time in Church history to raise the possibility of Heaven for all unbaptized infants — a totally novel hypothesis which was soon censured by the Holy Office under Pope Pius XII as unsound and "without foundation".)”

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  12. So is (iii) part of the universal and ordinary magesterium? I sense equivocation in the definition of (iii) between private opinion/theological speculation and ordinary/universal magesterium. If it's the latter, then it follows that the church is teaching heresy.

    Also, how is "tradition" in (i) different from authoritative magisterial teaching (ii)?

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  13. I think Limbo is clearly a theory and not a doctrine. The Council of Trent had the opportunity to declare it's existence dogmatically but it didn't materialize. Also the Church has formally allowed speculations that God somehow saves un-baptized infants in some extra-ordinary manner. One book I have on the subject suggests Limbo might be emptied at the Second Coming.
    The church is not against the idea God can give some type of extra-ordinary grace to an infant to expunge his or her state of original sin but the error that original sin was not an impediment to recieving the beatific vision is what was at issue. Even Aquinas speculated God could make a way to salvation for infants who died during miscarrage (after ensoulment).

    Certainly prudence guided many of the Popes in suppressing this view since if one is wrong about Limbo existing no harm is done in insisting infants be baptized. If one is wrong about Limbo not existing then clearly it does great harm to neglect baptizing them.

    As for the charge of "novelty" well wasn't the idea of ensoulment at conception a "novelty" in that it wasn't taught before science showed human being recieved their seed form at conception with sperm and ovum and not months later when blood and semen formed into a human seed form according to the now discredited science.

    Limbo does show us God doesn't owe us Heaven so that is an argument for belief in it. OTOH God does will the salvation of all so why would he refuse it to those who do not resist it?

    I agree with Ratzinger/Pope Benedict. There isn't likey a Limbo but when I had my first born I acted as thought it existed ready to baptise my daughter in the Hospital at even the slightest hint she might be in danger.

    It's a win win view.

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  14. Ed, I like the guy, but given how his polemic works in the long essay it's very hard for me to see how much of this is accurate and how much of this is him trying to do mind reading.

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  15. I know this is off topic, but can anyone point me to any books/articles, etc. that elaborate on the Thomist account of brain damage/mental retardation, and so forth?

    Maybe I'm an idiot or something but I STILL can't understand this. Let's talk about say, the extremes of Isaac Newton and 'Charley' at the beginning of Flowers for Algernon. What accounts for their difference? Is it a material difference? If so, how can that be given the Thomist claim that the intellect is an immaterial power? I understand that on the Aristotelian account the intellect depends on qualia to abstract universals from particulars. Okay. Is the claim that qualia are being affected somehow? I'm baffled.

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  16. Hope that all might be saved is condemned:
    1. Predestination is dogma
    2. 1459 Pius II condemned "All Christians are to be saved"

    Look no further than the collapse of penitential life to see the evil caused by these influential thoughts.

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  17. A text without a context is a pretext.

    Pius II also condemned the follow as well.

    "That the world should be naturally destroyed and ended by the heat of the sun consuming the humidity of the land and the air in such a way that the elements are set on fire."

    Commentary: So the Sun won't become a Red Giant? That seems implausible?


    "That God created another world than this one, and that in its time many other men and women existed and that consequently Adam was not the first man."

    Commentary: Yet Cardinal Nicolas of Cuza openly speculated rational men might exist on other celestial spheres without condemnation? So we can't believe in Aliens or multiverse theory by dogma?


    Anyway Pius II was condemning a set of doctrinal propositions put forth by one Zanini de Solcia. Unless we know it was he was specifically teaching then we should take these condemnations with a grain of salt. After all the proposion ""All Christians are to be saved" is ambiguous. Is it saying Solina knows God will save all? Does it mean there is no potential at all for damnation? It it actually condemning the hope for the salvation of all (because that sounds like Calvinism?) or the dogmatic certainty all will be saved?

    Also based on the "no hope for the salvation of all" proposition the Fatima Jesus Prayer is clearly heterodox.

    So I remain skeptical.

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