BENEDICT XIV 1740-1758

Usury*

 

[From the Encyclical “Vix pervenit” to the bishops of Italy, Nov. 1, 1745]

 

1475 (Sec. 3), T. That species of sin which is called usury, and which has its proper seat and place in a contract of lending, consists in this: that someone, from the loan itself, which of its very nature demands that only as much be returned as was received, wishes more to be returned to him than was received, and therefore contends that some profit beyond the principal, by reason of the lending, is due to him. Therefore, all profit of this sort, which surpasses the principal, is unlawful and is usurious.

 

1476 2. Nor may any defense be summoned to justify that guilt, either from this fact, that the gain is not excessive and over much, but moderate, is not great but meager; or from this, that he from whom that profit is asked, because of the loan itself, is not a poor man but rich, who is not going to leave the sum given to him as a loan idle but is going to spend it advantageously to increase his fortune either by buying new estates or by transacting profitable business. Indeed, that person is convicted of acting contrary to the law of lending, which necessarily is concerned with the equality of what is given and returned, who, although that same equality has already once been rendered, does not fear to demand something more from someone, by reason of the lending itself, for which satisfaction has already been made on equal terms; and hence, if he should receive it, he will be obligated to restitution by reason of his obligation in justice, which they call commutative justice, and whose purpose it is both to preserve inviolably in human contracts the equality proper to each one, and to repair it exactly when it is not observed.

 

1477 3. But by this it is not at all denied that sometimes there can perhaps occur certain other titles, as they say, together with the contract of lend ing, and these not at all innate or intrinsic in general to the nature of a loan, from which titles there arises a just and entirely legitimate cause of rightly demanding something more above the principal than is due from the loan. Likewise, it is not denied that many times one’s own money can be rightly invested and expended in other contracts of a different nature from the nature of lending, either to secure an annual income for oneself, or also to practice legitimate commerce and business, and thus procure an honest profit.

 

1478 4. But, just as in so many different kinds of contracts of this nature, it is well known that if the equality of each one is not observed, whatever is received more than is just, pertains, if not to usury (for the reason that there is no loan either open or secret), certainly does pertain to some other real injustice carrying likewise the burden of retribution; so, also, if all things are rightly transacted and carried out according to the scale of justice, there is no doubt that in these same contracts there occurs a multifold lawful manner and method of maintaining and carrying on human commerce and profitable business itself for the common good. For, far be it from Christian minds that they should think that, by making use of usury or similar harmful injustices, there could flourish a profitable commerce; since, on the contrary, we should learn from the divine proverb that “justice exalteth a nation, but sin maketh nations miserable” [ Prov. 14:34].

 

1479 5. But this must be diligently borne in mind, that one would falsely and certainly rashly persuade himself that there is always found and is everywhere present, either some legitimate titles together with a loan, or, even excluding a loan, other just contracts, by the aid of which titles or contracts, it is permitted, as often as money, grain, or something of that kind is lent to another, just so often to receive a moderate increase beyond the whole and sound principal. And so, if anyone thinks in this manner, he will without any doubt be in opposition not only to the divine Scriptures and to the judgment of the Catholic Church about usury, but even to human common sense itself, and to natural reason. For, this at least cannot escape anyone, that in many cases a man is bound to succor another with a pure and simple act of lending, especially when Christ the Lord teaches: “From him that would borrow of thee, turn not away” [ Matt. 5:42]; and that, similarly, in many circumstances, besides the loan itself, there can be place for no other just and true contract. Whoever, therefore, is willing to consult his conscience, ought first to inquire whether, with a loan there is truly any other just title, or, apart from a loan there is a just contract, by reason of which the profit which he seeks may be returned immune and free of all guilt.

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