Usury

Aristotle took the view that money is a 'barren' means of exchange and not capital that can produce wealth. Catholic teaching up to the Middle Ages and the Reformation followed suit and normally forbade any lending of money at interest. In 325 the First Council of Nicaea condemned the practice (canon 17), as did several later councils down to the Council of Vienne (1311/12). Bishops and theologians judged that charging interest on loans stemmed from greed and led to the poor being exploited. Money should be lent gratuitously. As late at 1745, Pope Benedict XIV in his encyclical Vix Pervenit endorsed this teaching, even though many Catholic teachers (and confessors of businessmen) had long recognized that money could be lent for productive purposes and at a just interest. Nineteenth-century official Catholic moral teaching came to accept such lending at reasonable rates of interest, while continuing to condemn usury or charging excessive interest for the use of money. One might cope with this shift by arguing that the nature of money itself had changed, that therefore just interest on loans became acceptable, and that usury or lending money at unfairly high interest rates has never ceased to be a sinful practice.216

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