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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The church changing its mind

Listening to a BBC Radio 4 podcast - Last Rites for the Church of England? Andrew Brown asks if the Church of England has become fatally disconnected from society.

What Andrew Brown says about the C of R is also true for the Catholic Church, not just in the UK but in the US as well ... The English do still believe in God, almost as much as they did 40 years ago - what they no longer believe in is the Church of England ... new research has shown that there's a chasm which separates the attitudes and values of the national church organization from those of ordinary churchgoers. It's called the values gap.

There were a number of people on the show besides Brown, including Bishop Alan Wilson and Diarmaid MacCulloch. Some of the more conservative church guys on the show averred that the church of course couldn't change core beliefs just to fit in with what a majority of people believed, but as historian MacCulloch pointed out, the church has done so many times, usury being a good example.

Usury, the charging of interest on loans, was really verboten to the early Christian church and the medieval Catholic church, and yet today the Vatican actually runs its own international (and pretty corrupted) banking system. Why did this change come about? It came about because usury was to the advantage of the church and to governments. From Wikipedia ...

The First Council of Nicaea, in 325, forbade clergy from engaging in usury (canon 17). At the time, usury was interest of any kind, and the canon merely forbade the clergy to lend money on interest above 1 percent per month (12.7% APR). Later ecumenical councils applied this regulation to the laity. Lateran III decreed that persons who accepted interest on loans could receive neither the sacraments nor Christian burial. Pope Clement V made the belief in the right to usury a heresy in 1311, and abolished all secular legislation which allowed it. Pope Sixtus V condemned the practice of charging interest as "detestable to God and man, damned by the sacred canons and contrary to Christian charity." ....

[T]he Jews became an element in a vicious circle. The Christians, on the basis of the Biblical rulings, condemned interest-taking absolutely, and from 1179 those who practiced it were excommunicated. Catholic autocrats frequently imposed the harshest financial burdens on the Jews. The Jews reacted by engaging in the one business where Christian laws actually discriminated in their favor, and became identified with the hated trade of moneylending .... In England, the departing Crusaders were joined by crowds of debtors in the massacres of Jews at London and York in 1189–1190. In 1275, Edward I of England passed the Statute of Jewry which made usury illegal and linked it to blasphemy, in order to seize the assets of the violators. Scores of English Jews were arrested, 300 were hanged and their property went to the Crown. In 1290, all Jews were expelled from England, and allowed to take only what they could carry; the rest of their property became the Crown's. The usury was cited as the official reason for the Edict of Expulsion.


And then this, also from Wikipedia ...

Vix Pervenit: On Usury and Other Dishonest Profit was an encyclical, promulgated by Pope Benedict XIV on November 1, 1745, which condemned the practice of charging interest on loans as usury .... The Holy Office applied the encyclical to the whole of the Roman Catholic Church on July 29, 1836, during the reign of Pope Gregory XVI.

[... but ...]

By the 19th century, the debate over lending within the Catholic Church disappeared, as the provision of credit had become viewed as political economy issue rather than a theological one. In 1830, following the widespread acceptance of the Napoleonic code, which allowed interest, throughout Europe, with the approval of Pope Pius VIII, the Inquisition of Rome, distinguished the doctrine of usury from the practice of usury, decreeing that confessors should no longer disturb the latter ....

The Code of Canon Law, promulgated in 1917, allowed those responsible for the church's financial affairs at the parochial and diocesan levels to invest in interest-bearing securities "for the legal rate of interest (unless it is evident that the legal rate is exorbitant), or even for a higher rate, provided that there be a just and proportionate reason."

A specialist in Catholic social doctrine argues, circa 1994, that "the words 'bank' and 'banking' are almost nonexistent in the documents of modern Catholic social teaching. Perhaps because the medieval teaching was never formally retracted that money was unproductive and therefore money lending at interest was therefore immoral, yet the church itself became an active investor.... Or perhaps it was because the church was deeply involved in financial matters at the highest levels that it was in no position to criticise."


The Vatican Bank was founded by Pope Pius XII in June 1942.

Further reading ...

Medieval Sourcebook: Thomas Aquinas: On Usury, c. 1269-71

Change for the Church: Jews and Banking in Renaissance Italy

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