Given by His
Holiness Pope Benedict XIV
November 1, 1745
To the Venerable Brothers, Patriarchs, Archbishops, Bishops and
Ordinary Clergy of Italy.
Venerable Brothers, Greetings and Apostolic Benediction.
Hardly had the new controversy (namely, whether certain contracts
should be held valid) come to our attention, when several opinions
began spreading in Italy that hardly seemed to agree with sound
doctrine; We decided that We must remedy this. If We did not do so
immediately, such an evil might acquire new force by delay and silence.
If we neglected our duty, it might even spread further, shaking those
cities of Italy so far not affected.
Therefore We decided to consult with a number of the Cardinals of the
Holy Roman Church, who are renowned for their knowledge and competence
in theology and canon law. We also called upon many from the regular
clergy who were outstanding in both the faculty of theology and that of
canon law. We chose some monks, some mendicants, and finally some from
the regular clergy. As presiding officer, We appointed one with degrees
in both canon and civil law, who had lengthy court experience. We chose
the past July 4 for the meeting at which We explained the nature of the
whole business. We learned that all had known and considered it
2. We then ordered them to consider carefully all aspects of the
matter, meanwhile searching for a solution; after this consideration,
they were to write out their conclusions. We did not ask them to pass
judgment on the contract which gave rise to the controversy since the
many documents they would need were not available. Rather We asked that
they establish a fixed teaching on usury, since the opinions recently
spread abroad seemed to contradict the Church's doctrine. All complied
with these orders. They gave their opinions publicly in two
convocations, the first of which was held in our presence last July 18,
the other last August 1; then they submitted their opinions in writing
to the secretary of the convocation.
3. Indeed they proved to be of one mind in their opinions.
I. The nature of the sin called usury has its proper place and origin
in a loan contract. This financial contract between consenting parties
demands, by its very nature, that one return to another only as much as
he has received. The sin rests on the fact that sometimes the creditor
desires more than he has given. Therefore he contends some gain is owed
him beyond that which he loaned, but any gain which exceeds the amount
he gave is illicit and usurious.
II. One cannot condone the sin of usury by arguing that the gain is not
great or excessive, but rather moderate or small; neither can it be
condoned by arguing that the borrower is rich; nor even by arguing that
the money borrowed is not left idle, but is spent usefully, either to
increase one's fortune, to purchase new estates, or to engage in
business transactions. The law governing loans consists necessarily in
the equality of what is given and returned; once the equality has been
established, whoever demands more than that violates the terms of the
loan. Therefore if one receives interest, he must make restitution
according to the commutative bond of justice; its function in human
contracts is to assure equality for each one. This law is to be
observed in a holy manner. If not observed exactly, reparation must be
III. By these remarks, however, We do not deny that at times together
with the loan contract certain other titles-which are not at all
intrinsic to the contract-may run parallel with it. From these other
titles, entirely just and legitimate reasons arise to demand something
over and above the amount due on the contract. Nor is it denied that it
is very often possible for someone, by means of contracts differing
entirely from loans, to spend and invest money legitimately either to
provide oneself with an annual income or to engage in legitimate trade
and business. From these types of contracts honest gain may be made.
IV. There are many different contracts of this kind. In these
contracts, if equality is not maintained, whatever is received over and
above what is fair is a real injustice. Even though it may not fall
under the precise rubric of usury (since all reciprocity, both open and
hidden, is absent), restitution is obligated. Thus if everything is
done correctly and weighed in the scales of justice, these same
legitimate contracts suffice to provide a standard and a principle for
engaging in commerce and fruitful business for the common good.
Christian minds should not think that gainful commerce can flourish by
usuries or other similar injustices. On the contrary We learn from
divine Revelation that justice raises up nations; sin, however, makes
V. But you must diligently consider this, that some will falsely and
rashly persuade themselves-and such people can be found anywhere-that
together with loan contracts there are other legitimate titles or,
excepting loan contracts, they might convince themselves that other
just contracts exist, for which it is permissible to receive a moderate
amount of interest. Should any one think like this, he will oppose not
only the judgment of the Catholic Church on usury, but also common
human sense and natural reason. Everyone knows that man is obliged in
many instances to help his fellows with a simple, plain loan. Christ
Himself teaches this: "Do not refuse to lend to him who asks you." In
many circumstances, no other true and just contract may be possible
except for a loan. Whoever therefore wishes to follow his conscience
must first diligently inquire if, along with the loan, another category
exists by means of which the gain he seeks may be lawfully attained.
4. This is how the Cardinals and theologians and the men most
conversant with the canons, whose advice We had asked for in this most
serious business, explained their opinions. Also We devoted our private
study to this matter before the congregations were convened, while they
were in session, and again after they had been held; for We read the
opinions of these outstanding men most diligently. Because of this, We
approve and confirm whatever is contained in the opinions above, since
the professors of Canon Law and Theology, scriptural evidence, the
decrees of previous popes, and the authority of Church councils and the
Fathers all seem to enjoin it. Besides, We certainly know the authors
who hold the opposite opinions and also those who either support and
defend those authors or at least who seem to give them consideration.
We are also aware that the theologians of regions neighboring those in
which the controversy had its origin undertook the defense of the truth
with wisdom and seriousness.
5. Therefore We address these encyclical letters to all Italian
Archbishops, Bishops, and priests to make all of you aware of these
matters. Whenever Synods are held or sermons preached or instructions
on sacred doctrine given, the above opinions must be adhered to
strictly. Take great care that no one in your dioceses dares to write
or preach the contrary; however if any one should refuse to obey, he
should be subjected to the penalties imposed by the sacred canons on
those who violate Apostolic mandates.
6. Concerning the specific contract which caused these new
controversies, We decide nothing for the present; We also shall not
decide now about the other contracts in which the theologians and
canonists lack agreement. Rekindle your zeal for piety and your
conscientiousness so that you may execute what We have given.
7. First of all, show your people with persuasive words that the sin
and vice of usury is most emphatically condemned in the Sacred
Scriptures; that it assumes various forms and appearances in order that
the faithful, restored to liberty and grace by the blood of Christ, may
again be driven headlong into ruin. Therefore, if they desire to invest
their money, let them exercise diligent care lest they be snatched by
cupidity, the source of all evil; to this end, let them be guided by
those who excel in doctrine and the glory of virtue.
8. In the second place, some trust in their own strength and knowledge
to such an extent that they do not hesitate to give answers to those
questions which demand considerable knowledge of sacred theology and of
the canons. But it is essential for these people, also, to avoid
extremes, which are always evil. For instance, there are some who judge
these matters with such severity that they hold any profit derived from
money to be illegal and usurious; in contrast to them, there are some
so indulgent and so remiss that they hold any gain whatsoever to be
free of usury. Let them not adhere too much to their private opinions.
Before they give their answer, let them consult a number of eminent
writers; then let them accept those views which they understand to be
confirmed by knowledge and authority. And if a dispute should arise,
when some contract is discussed, let no insults be hurled at those who
hold the contrary opinion; nor let it be asserted that it must be
severely censured, particularly if it does not lack the support of
reason and of men of reputation. Indeed clamorous outcries and
accusations break the chain of Christian love and give offense and
scandal to the people.
9. In the third place, those who desire to keep themselves free and
untouched by the contamination of usury and to give their money to
another in such a manner that they may receive only legitimate gain
should be admonished to make a contract beforehand. In the contract
they should explain the conditions and what gain they expect from their
money. This will not only greatly help to avoid concern and anxiety,
but will also confirm the contract in the realm of public business.
This approach also closes the door on controversies-which have arisen
more than once-since it clarifies whether the money, which has been
loaned without apparent interest, may actually contain concealed usury.
10. In the fourth place We exhort you not to listen to those who say
that today the issue of usury is present in name only, since gain is
almost always obtained from money given to another. How false is this
opinion and how far removed from the truth! We can easily understand
this if we consider that the nature of one contract differs from the
nature of another. By the same token, the things which result from
these contracts will differ in accordance with the varying nature of
the contracts. Truly an obvious difference exists between gain which
arises from money legally, and therefore can be upheld in the courts of
both civil and canon law, and gain which is illicitly obtained, and
must therefore be returned according to the judgments of both courts.
Thus, it is clearly invalid to suggest, on the grounds that some gain
is usually received from money lent out, that the issue of usury is
irrelevant in our times.
11. These are the chief things We wanted to say to you. We hope that
you may command your faithful to observe what these letters prescribe;
and that you may undertake effective remedies if disturbances should be
stirred up among your people because of this new controversy over usury
or if the simplicity and purity of doctrine should become corrupted in
Italy. Finally, to you and to the flock committed to your care, We
impart the Apostolic Benediction. Given in Rome at St. Mary Major,
November 1, 1745, the sixth year of Our Pontificate.