economics

The science of the application of the principles of justice to social life.

From the time of the Apostles this application has been a subject of thought and of regulation among the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, the great Schoolmen of the Middle Ages, popes, bishops, and lay as well as clerical leaders in social reform and advancement. In the time of the Apostles many of the new groups of Christians held their goods in common. Owners of property or wealth acted on the principle that but One had absolute right of ownership, God, and that all human owners are His stewards. The obligations to give alms was assumed as a matter of course. The Fathers accepted the right of property as lawful, but they considered it as a means to an end, which was partly to use it for the benefit of others in need. This duty they deduced from the fact that Christians are brothers in Christ. Lactantius was the first Christian sociologist. He opposed economic teaching that ignored ethics; piety, i.e., properly regulated human affection, and equity, are for him essentials of justice; the only solid basis of justice is the Fatherhood of God; almsgiving is of obligation because of brotherly love and brotherly equality. Augustine looked upon private ownership as the determination by civil authority of the Divine or natural right of the individual. Some of the Fathers of the 4th century regarded private ownership as the result of sin, as a means of avoiding violence and confusion, and almsgiving obligatory, because charity is part of justice.

The principle of private ownership is a concept of the Middle Ages, derived from a study of the Law of Nations, which gradually came to be re- garded as the Law of Nature. As an institntion, it became fixed in Christian usage by the experiences of monasticism and feudalism. The Law of Nations, the common element in the laws of all nations foreign to Rome, an element recognized by Roman Law as expressive of the common consent of peoples generally, was looked upon as the Law of Nature. Monasticism fixed forever in men's minds a sense of the dignity of labor, and of the consequent necessity of ownership of the soil so as to cultivate and dispense its fruits. Feudalism depended essentially on land tenure. Saint Thomas considered ownership as a consequence of man's dominion over creatures, and, with other SchooImen, believed that whatever is above one's necessary outlay should be given in alms. With the development of trade by the Crusades on a large scale in Europe new questions came up for discussion concerning particularly the lawfulness of barter and the worth of an article in trade. Because trade is for the common good, it should not benefit one to the disadvantage of another, and it must therefore be controlled by some principle to detetmine value, or, as it was termed, the just price. This, of course, depended on two elements, the value of the thing in itself, and its value to the owner and purchaser. The principles then enunciated are those which prevail still, howsoever difficult they may be of application. The guilds which then had become the arbiters of good workmanship, values, and prices, had much to do with working out in practise what the experts submitted to them in theory.

The development of capital injected new subjects into the study of economics, chiefly that of usury, first of the justice of requiring any interest at all for borrowed money and then of excessive interest. It is difficult for us at this day to appreciate the views of the economists at that time on this subject, though even today there are laws in every country fixing the rate of legal interest. The evils then were so great on the part of the reckless borrower and of the exacting usurer that the Church authorities had to intervene to check both. Even Luther stood for the position of the Church in this matter, and he believed in the control of business by religious principles; but Calvin was different. For him the pursuit of wealth was a sign of the elect. To him and his followers are due the abuses of modern capitalism, starting with the Huguenots and Puritans of Holland, England, and America. The seizure of the monasteries in England, the sale and pledge of the lands as a basis of trade by purchase and credit, was one of the principal factors in creating what Belloc calls "The Slave State." It was this situation which, affecting as it did economic conditions in every European country, particularly in England, France, Germany, and Austria, occasioned the socioligal labors of men like Hefele and Comte de Mun, and resulted in the Encyclical of Leo XIII, "Rerum Novarum," the expression of the principles governing economic conditions at the present day, and particularly the matter of just wage.

New Catholic Dictionary

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