Did You Know -- Sins that became virtues.

A first of a series

by John Houk

What was a sin sometimes becomes a virtue. Our new pope Benedict XVI used the phrase “Our Church is Alive” six time in his recent homily. To be alive means to be in motion, to interact with your environment and to be forever adapting - or you die. Our pope is correct. This is the great unknown reality of our Church. Some people like to refer to our Church as a “rock”. It is comforting that our Church does not change (adapt) with every new idea. It should change cautiously, but it does change. This “Did You Know” begins a series that will recount how the Catholic Church’s position on important matters has changed.

The purpose of the series will be to show how wise , and alive, we Catholics can be when faced with new knowledge and understanding. We do change, often completely reversing our earlier position. People who feel threatened by change need to remember that to change, when given new information, is a sign of mental/institutional health. It is also a sure sign that our Church is alive as our new pope seems clearly aware.

Our first example will be the sin of usury that became the virtue of good stewardship of money. Charging interest on money loaned is called usury. People may use this word today to indicate exorbitant interest rates which can indeed be sinful, but for centuries charging any interest was the sin of usury. Let us examine a brief history of our Church’s teaching on this sin.

Council of Nicea, 345 -- Any cleric who loaned money at interest was to be “deposed and removed from his order”.

Council of Aix, 789 -- Laymen who make money lending at interest were called “reprehensible”.

Second Lateran Council, 1139 -- Money lenders were “denounced”, “stigmatized” and “deprived of Christian burial”.

Code of Canon Law 1917 -- Anyone convicted of usury was to be excluded from holding church offices.

Pope Pius XII, 1950 -- Accepted the “social function of the bank” to lend money at interest.

Code of Canon Law, 1983 -- “All (Church) administrators are bound to fulfill their office with the diligence of the good house holder” and invest “money left over after expenses” so that it can earn interest.

Amata Miller, IHM is quoted in “Rome Has Spoken” as follows. “Acceptance of changed economic realities and a new understanding of the function of money finally broke through centuries-old philosophical constructs and moral precepts that once, but no longer, fit the situations being judged.” So usury ( charging interest on money loaned) was a sin that became a virtue. It would indeed seem strange to us today if interest on money loaned was not the norm. Our Church read the signs of the times and wisely reversed this teaching.