While I was in Louisiana last week I received the following email on usury from the theologian, Dr. John Lamont. He sent it to a list of people he thought he would be interested. With his kind permission, I am sharing it with our readers because it is something of general interest to those frequenting Catholicism.org.
It is quite amazing to find how one can be ignorant of the most basic things, if they have been dropped down the memory hole in the Church. Have look at these:
I only came across the issue of usury after reading a paper of Elizabeth Anscombe’s in which she argued that philosophical objections to usury made by Aristotle and St. Thomas were in fact correct. This led me to researching the Church’s teaching on usury, and finding a) that its history exactly parallels the history of her teaching on religious liberty and the planned future of her teaching on sexual morality and marriage, with an infallible condemnation being nibbled away at by unscrupulous theologians and then dropped in practice by the Church, and b) that this history was used with good effect to argue for the abandonent of Catholic teaching on religious liberty and contraception by the American judge John T. Noonan. Noonan did his doctoral thesis on Catholic theology and teaching on usury in the 1950s, and published it as the book referenced above. His conclusion, to the effect that the Church’s traditional teaching on usury was not authoritative and should be rejected as false, was accepted by everyone. He then applied exactly the same line of reasoning to Catholic teaching on religious liberty and contraception as he did to the teaching on usury, and drew the same conclusion about these teachings. There was scarcely any resistance to his conclusions on religious liberty, but as you know his conclusions about contraception were disputed. Quite illogically; for if his reasoning about usury was sound, as his opponents took for granted, then his conclusions about contraception could not be objected to. The only basis for objection was a papal positivism that assumed some for of modernism, since it holds that current papal pronouncements have to be accepted but earlier ones can be flatly contradicted in theory and in practice.
In fact, Anscombe is right about usury and it is condemned by the Catholic faith. This history indicates that the process of theological corruption in the Church goes back much further than is commonly recognized (to the beginning of the 19th century, when the teaching on usury was quietly abandoned by the hierarchy). It also means that the rejection of this corruption by Catholics requires more than is commonly recognized as well; it requires abandoning the practice of usury. Fortunately Muslims have worked out a number of financial methods and institutions that do this, which we can adapt or adopt.