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There's a Reason the Catholic Tradition is Suspicious of Usury

Monday, December 13, 2010 3:00 AM Comments (102)

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English Major Alert:  The following remarks contain dangerously high levels of pedantry and trivia.

One of the interesting and unexpected connections Dante makes in his Inferno is that he links the sin of sodomy with the sin of usury.  Don’t see the connection?  That’s understandable.  You live in a civilization that no longer has a big problem with either.  However, Dante’s thinking is this: He regards human activity as oriented toward fruitfulness that must spring from only two sources: Nature and Art. So, for Dante, a man is legitimately wealthy if he, say, grows a crop and sells it or makes a hat (or a poem) and sells them.  Likewise, in the sexual realm, he is simply an ordinary orthdox Catholic who thinks that sex has the natural ends of union between husband and wife and the getting of children.  That’s what it is for, just as eating is for the twin ends of nutrition and conviviality.  So sexual acts, whether contraceptive or homosexual are “dead” acts that lead to no fruitfulness.

Okey doke, but what does that have to do with usury?

Well, for Dante, since fruitfullness can only proceed from Nature or Art (or, as we would say today, “raw natural resources and manufacture of goods and services”), it follows that mere chicanery by which dead gold or silver are made to “breed” by manipulation of interest rates by those who lend at interest is another form of perversion.  So he links the sins of sodomy and usury.  Both ignore Nature and both are forms of fruitfulness perverted to sterility and the attempt to “breed” something unnaturally.

Our civilization is currently undergoing the consequences of its addiction to usury and we still do not know where the bottom is.  God willing, his mercy will triumph over our folly.  Whether we will likewise figure out that our addictions to unnatural sex whether contraceptive or homosexual shall likewise end in sorrow is still to be seen.

Filed under pedantry

About Mark Shea

Mark Shea
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Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.