We all know that to assist in another sin is itself a sin, so would owning a credit card constitute assisting in the sin of usury? We can see that the modes of participation in another sin are the following: council, command, consent, provocation, praise, concealment, partaking, silence, and defense of the evil done. How can we go about figuring out wether it is sinful, to what degree it might be sinful, and if it is inherently sinful, to take out loans which charge interest.
First, I believe we should look at what usury is, and what it is not. Usury is defined as the lending of money, while charging interest. Not only excessive interest, but any interest. Usury is not committed when interest is not charged; therefore, one may argue that Charge cards (which are paid off in full each month, and do not charge interest) would be a separate category from credit cards. It may be possible that there could be a distinction, but that is another subject entirely. What I mean to stress is that giving a temporary loan is in no way sinful for anyone, unless interest is charged. We can look to the past and see non-profit Catholic organizations which would provide loans to those who needed them, without charging interest, but rather charging an upfront fee for the cost of keeping the organization afloat.
My point here is not to try to prove to you that usury is bad, because as Catholics we know that it is through divine revelation and because it violates not only divine law, but the natural law. In regard to it being a violation of the natural law, it may be worth mentioning that usury is not dissimilar to the medieval understanding of magic, which was a disproportionate result from a given action (ex. extending one’s hand resulting in a cup flying into it from across the room), in that one is receiving more than is owed. What I really want to get at is the question “am I culpable for sin if I take out a loan?” I think we can all agree that necessary loans, such as those taken out to buy shelter for ones family or to buy something that will help in their safety or well being, are in a different category of loans than credit card purchases. Owning a home is a necessary thing, unless you plan on renting for the duration of your life, which the average person would not have access to if it were not for loans. This places a person in a position where their freedom is severely limited, and would thus absolve them from, what I think to be, all culpability. So taking out usurious loans in order to make truly necessary purchases does not seem to be sinful, therefore we can say that borrowing money and being charged interest is not inherently sinful, while charging interest for a loan remains sinful. What about more frivolous purchases, like expensive clothing and vacations made with a credit card?
The truth is, I really don’t know about this one, but I have a bit of speculation. It would seem that these purchases would be sinful if one was fully aware that usury is sinful, and that they are participating in another’s sin by their actions, but what if the person making these purchases has the intent of paying off their balance before they are charged interest? Would this limit their culpability, or would they still be participating sinfully in a corrupt system? What about the common experience of using credit cards in order to build ones credit score so that they can eventually take a necessary loan to buy a home for their family? Or even student loans?
Just because you read this, don’t instantly run out and cancel every credit card you have. That could potentially ruin your family’s financial future by severely diminishing your credit score, and it would be a violation against prudence. However, you should probably read more about this issue from more authoritative sources, as well as examine your situation in regard to credit and loans more thoroughly, as I plan to do as myself. I would love to hear your take on some of these questions.
In the peace of Jesus and Mary,