The Church and Usury: Error, Change or Development?

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As far as dogma in the technical Catholic sense is concerned, there is only one dogma at stake.... that usury, the act of taking profit on a loan without a just title, is sinful.... it is taught by the tradition of the Church, as witnessed by papal bulls and briefs, conciliar acts, and theological opinion. This dogmatic teaching remains unchanged. What is a just title, what is technically to be treated as a loan, are matter of debate, positive law, and changing evolution. The development on these points is great. But the pure and narrow dogma is the same today as in 1200.1

The wild roller-coaster ride is over, and in the end few are left standing. After a thorough examination which covered areas from Scripture and Patristics to economic theory and banking, there is one clear conclusion: Any change in the Church's teaching has been a real and legitimate development, not a reversal, error or contradiction. The moral principle of justice in the making of loans still exists as the Church has always taught, even if it no longer applies the same as it did in the past. "We prefer to speak of the change as a development of doctrine, and presume to maintain that in the process there has been no contradictory step of vital importance."2

This particular development in the Church's doctrine is not the type of change which would allow for change in the other areas of the Church's teaching on faith or morals. The example of usury simply shows how the Church must always adapt its teaching to the conditions and needs of the time, just as its application of usury to the particular economic conditions of our time has changed. In no way does this diminish the Church's ability to teach without error and without change in matters of faith and morals. In particular, not when it definitively proclaims a teaching based on divine revelation or human nature, for the basis of such teachings cannot change.

Now I have confidence to answer those critics I meet, and my faith in the Church remains solid, even when confronted with the thorny issue of usury. The Church indefectibly and infallibly preserves everything taught by Christ and the apostles. Throughout time, it will always continue to do so, for this authority and promise were given by Jesus Christ to the first pope:

I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.3

1 Noonan, Usury, 399-400.

2 Cleary, 201.

3 Matthew 16:18-19.

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