Introduction: Money

The Fall, 2009 issue of Communio is dedicated to the theme of “Money.” In his Encyclical Letter Caritas in veritate, Pope Benedict XVI called for “further and deeper reflection on the meaning of the economy and its goals.” The “present economic situation” calls for “new efforts of holistic understanding and a new humanistic synthesis” that would “rediscover fundamental values.” Reflection on the role of money in relation to the common good is an essential part of this task of reconceiving a truly human economics. “Money is not ‘dishonest’ in itself,” writes Pope Benedict, “but more than anything else it can close man in a blind egocentrism.” Only when measured by the truth of the human person and human solidarity, as well as the “universal destination of goods” (cf. CCC, 2403), can money fulfill its function as a medium of authentic exchange.

D. C. Schindler begins our treatment of the theme of money with a reflection on “Why Socrates Didn’t Charge: Plato and the Metaphysics of Money.” Schindler shows how for Plato money is not neutral but is a symbol, “which is to say it is a meaning, a bearer of a particular logic: namely, the logic of mediation between the just soul and genuine goods. A symbol ‘brings together’ (sym-bol).” Because of its abstract universality, money is a potentially deceptive image of the true universality of the good. When, in the logic of an economic system, money “ceases to be subordinated to real goods and their true enjoyment, it no longer ‘brings together’ but now ‘keeps apart’ (dia-bol).”

Giorgio Buccellati, in “Value and Equivalence: The Role of Monotheism in Early Economic Systems,” explores the connection between monetary exchanges and the development of urban civilization. Noting the connection between the advent of highercivilization and the curse of slavery, Buccellati argues that monotheism introduced presuppositions regarding the nature and source of value that eventually would lead to a transformation of institutional practice. “The notion of redemption from sin was not, in and of itself, the solution to the bane of slavery. But it was, in a sense, the trigger of the solution: a human being could simply not be priced if the only equivalent was another human being.”

Thomas Storck, in “Is Usury Still a Sin?” recalls the classical understanding of usury as “the charging of any interest on a loan simply by virtue of the loan contract, that is, without any other justifying cause except that money is being loaned.” Storck suggests that the Church’s condemnation of usury, as articulated by patristic and medieval theologians and confirmed by the magisterium, is not simply an antiquated relic, but a principle that can and should be intelligently applied to contemporary financial arrangements.

Wendell Berry, in “Inverting the Economic Order,” shows that “when everything has a price, and the price is made endlessly variable by an economy without a stable relation to necessity or to real goods, then everything is disconnected from history, knowledge, respect, and affection—from anything at all that might preserve it.” What is needed, Berry argues, is an economic order that puts nature first, the economies of land use second, the manufacturing economy third, and the consumer economy fourth.

Mark Shiffman, in “An Ethic of Attentiveness: The Rediscovery of Oikonomia,” suggests that Wendell Berry’s fiction represents a rediscovery of the wisdom of Aristotle, who understood the intrinsic relation between economics, ethics, and politics. Aristotelean “oikonomia recognizes limits to acquisition, since it takes its measure by the standard of self-sufficiency with a view to a good life, which means a life embodying virtue and friendship.” Shiffman complements Berry’s cultural analysis with an account of how the disintegration of economics from the norms of the healthy household and community stems from the nominalism and individualism of Hobbes’ political philosophy.

Nathan Schlueter, in “Healing the Hidden Wound: The Theology of the Body in Wendell Berry’s Remembering,” uncovers the parallels and hidden connections between John Paul II and Wendell Berry. Common to both authors is a vision of the goodness of creation and the vocation to love which is inscribed into the very language of the human body. For both authors marriage simultaneously embeds human love within a concrete community and opens human beings to the mystery of God and the hope for the redemption of all creation.

Retrieving the Tradition features a selection from Charles Péguy’s 1913 essay “On Money,” which contrasts the ancient and Christian understanding of the dignity of work with the bourgeois and post-Christian mind. Hans Urs von Balthasar sums up Péguy’s depiction of modernity: “Its characteristics are these: a view of man as a mere calculating intellect, Kantian formalism, Hegelian systematizing . . . psychology and sociology in place of philosophy, the loss of relationship with God, the loss of all real nourishing roots, the quantifying of all value, the triumph of mathematics and technology all along the line, the shallow optimistic ideology of progress, and money as the only real force in the world.”

Finally, Notes & Comments closes the issue with Michael Hanby’s “A New Reformation?” which reflects on the significance of the Vatican’s decision to create personal ordinariates to receive Anglicans en masse into the Catholic Church. For the first time since the Reformation there is “a concrete bridge whereby ‘separated brethren’ in the Western Church can return to full communion without simply renouncing the last five hundred years . . . without feeling as if assent to the fullness of the faith means denying that their traditions and the people who nurtured them in those traditions have been real vehicles of grace.”