To follow-up on the link I posted to Professor Brian McCall’s 2013 talk on usury, let me direct your eyes to Professor Stephen Bainbridge’s recent web-log post, “Catholic Social Thought and the Law: Usury.” Though not as comprehensive as one might hope (it’s only a blog post), Bainbridge’s comments, along with those of his students, shed some needful light on the tensions between the modern financial system and Catholic Social Thought (CST). Bainbridge does not engage with McCall’s work at all, and his assessment of the Church’s teaching on usury is limited to two encyclicals — one by Benedict XIV and one by Benedict XVI.
Regardless, Professor Bainbridge reveals that he has at least one very sharp student. Consider the following:
Given that reality, as one of my students asked, “What can be gained by continuing to talk about usury and how it should influence individual moral decisions, even when it will only have a marginal influence on the broader society?” His answer was that “it may lead individuals as Christians to approach their business affairs with more a grain of salt, shattering what is all too often a complacency with which Christians engage in the affairs of the world and the assumptions the demands of justice do not conflict with our behaviors as workers, business people, and consumers in a capitalist economy.” He also noted that “A return to a traditional understanding on usury might provide an impetus to restore Catholic charitable civic institutions, which can provide a more Christian alternative to the corrupt institutions of a secular society.” Indeed.
I think there is a larger question to ask here as well, which is, “Does CST condemn our contemporary financial system?” And if CST does condemn it, what should be put in its place? Keep in mind that reforming the present system does not mean the end of investment. The Church has never condemned productive loans where repayment is linked to the use of the loaned capital.