Fall 2009

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.