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Christian Economic Ethics

History and Implications

By Daniel K. Finn

Publication Year: 2013

What does the history of Christian views of economic life mean for economic life in the twenty-first century? Here Daniel Finn reviews the insights provided by a large number of texts, from the Bible and the early church, to the Middle Ages and the Protestant Reformation, to treatments of the subject in the last century. Relying on both social science and theology, Finn then turns to the implications of this history for economic life today. Throughout, the book invites the reader to engage the sources and to develop an answer to the volume’s basic question.

Published by: Augsburg Fortress Publishers


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p. C-C

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

PART I Introduction

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1 Introduction: Well Water Deep Down

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pp. 3-18

In the poem “Out of This World,” the Irish poet Seamus Heaney describes a man who has lost his faith as a Christian but whose heart still resonates when he recalls the words host and thanksgiving and communion bread. Even after years of absence from any church, he finds that these “have an undying tremor and draw, like well water far down.”...

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2 How a Living Tradition Means

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pp. 19-30

The late poet and literary scholar John Ciardi wrote a wonderful little book titled How Does a Poem Mean? Ciardi’s title puts the reader on edge, since this is not the way we ordinarily talk about meaning. For those of us who have not grown up “inhaling” poetry, poems have meanings; there are meanings...

PART II From the Bible to the Reformation

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3 The Hebrew Scriptures

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pp. 31-50

The history of Christian views of economic life began long before Christianity existed. Like the first Christians, we today are deeply indebted to the Jewish tradition out of which Christianity has flowed. Jesus himself continually employed the wisdom of his own Jewish tradition. Even modern popes have referred to Jews today as elder brothers in the faith.1...

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4 The New Testament

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pp. 51-70

The Old Testament, what is today called the Hebrew Scriptures, is part of the body of Christian texts. Still, the New Testament—today typically called the Christian Scriptures—constitutes the most fundamental set of documents for Christians today. It includes a wide range of literary genres, from the oldest stories about Jesus to the sophisticated theological analyses of the Pauline epistles...

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5 The Early Church

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pp. 71-86

The New Testament recounts the spread of Christianity out of Israel and around the north side of the Mediterranean Sea, through what is now Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Greece, and Italy. This process owed much to the energies of the apostle Paul. However, the next few centuries saw developments that even Paul himself would not have dreamed of....

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6 The Early Church

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pp. 87-106

Readers today are sometimes shocked to discover how harshly the early church Fathers spoke about those wealthy Christians who did not share their wealth with the needy. From the beginning, the Christian community understood assistance for the poor as among the most fundamental of obligations....

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7The Beginnings of Monastic Life

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pp. 107-122

Every organization has some members who are more dedicated to its purpose than others. In the first three centuries of Christianity, the Christian community often found itself persecuted by the Roman authorities. With their lives in danger, there weren’t many halfhearted Christians. Even when persecutions weren’t raging, Christians were clearly a small group identified by a religion...

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8 The Medieval Period

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pp. 123-138

The medieval period in Christian history includes many thinkers and a number of different perspectives. The limitation of space here requires us to focus our treatment on only one of the most important of these figures, Thomas Aquinas. One indication of the importance of this man is that when scholars today refer to “Thomas,” it’s clear that they don’t mean Thomas Hobbes, Paine, Jefferson,...

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9 The Medieval Period

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pp. 139-158

Thomas Aquinas applies the natural law analysis to four major economic issues: personal ownership of property, the just price to charge for anything bought or sold, slavery, and the charging of interest when lending money (usury). We will examine these issues in this chapter and then in the next will investigate how Christian teaching about two of these (slavery and usury) changed in later...

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10 The Protestant Reformation

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pp. 159-178

One of the most important events in the history of Christianity was the Protestant Reformation, literally a protest by Christians in the sixteenth century against the rites, customs, and prevailing theology of the Roman Catholic Church. Historians have typically dated the start of the Reformation from the posting of ninety-five theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg,...

PART III Resources for Interpretation

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11 The Development of Moral Teaching

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pp. 181-198

The basic aim of this book is to ask what Christian faith means for economic life today. To answer this question, it is essential to apply some of the most fundamental and ancient principles in the Christian tradition to our economic setting today, much different from the cultural and institutional circumstances...

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12 Engaging Controversies Today

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pp. 199-216

The final chapters of this book will focus on the implications for economic life today that flow from the history we have reviewed in previous chapters. There is considerable diversity in how Christians today understand what that history should mean for the twenty-first century. Within the Catholic tradition, for example, neoconservatives claim that capitalism is the only truly Christian...

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13 What We Should and Should Not Learn from Economics

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pp. 217-234

Economics is the discipline that sets out to understand economic life. Thus, this social science should play a critical part in any attempt to answer questions about morality in economic life today. It is essential to understand what is occurring in economic life and what will change if we try to improve it. Moral values and religious vision are necessary for any Christian approach to...

PART IV Modern Church Teaching on Economic Life

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14 Pope Leo XIII and Pope Pius XI

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pp. 237-256

Something quite dramatic occurred in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century economic life of Europe, and in 1891 it brought a pope—Leo XIII—to focus a formal encyclical on economic issues and “the social question” for the first time in the history of Christianity. That something was the Industrial Revolution....

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15 Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI

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pp. 257-274

The mid-twentieth century saw further development in this tradition of Catholic social thought by means of the encyclicals Mater et magistra (“Christianity and Social Progress”) and Pacem in terris (“Peace on Earth”) by Pope John XXIII and Populorum progressio (“On the Development of Peoples”) by Pope Paul VI. And it was in 1965 that the Second Vatican Council issued...

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16 Contemporary Protestant Thought on Economic Life

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pp. 275-300

The Protestant Reformation, as we saw in Chapter 10, was a challenge toRoman Catholicism on a wide range of fundamental issues, from sin andredemption to the character of the Christian church. Yet in spite of thesedi erences, we also saw a remarkable similarity in the understanding ofeconomic life in Protestant and Catholic traditions. Today that similarity...

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17 Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI

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pp. 301-326

As we have seen throughout history, church leaders in every century have asked themselves the same question: What does the history of Christian views of economic life mean in our time? Their best attempts at answering it became part of that same tradition, which other Christians then employed in answering...

PART V Coming to Conclusions

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18 Principles for an Economic Ethic Today

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pp. 329-348

The fundamental question raised in this volume is simply stated: What are the implications of the history of Christian views of economic life for our economic life today? We have now completed the historical survey that began with ancient Israel and concluded with the work of Pope Benedict XVI. In this...

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19 Implications for an Economic Ethic Today

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pp. 349-368

The basic convictions and elements for an economic ethic identified in the previous chapter can now be applied more directly to economic life. We can identify with some confidence a number of important implications about what the history of Christian views of economic life means for us today. These would still require a more concrete application in particular places and...

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20 Society, Government, and Market: Getting the Relationships Right

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pp. 369-382

Over the past two chapters we have seen an outline of an economic ethic for our day arising from the history of Christian views of economic life as understood within Catholic social thought. It will now be helpful to stand back and look at the basic contours of social, economic, and political life.
There is a strong tendency in contemporary life to engage this conversation as if it were simply about the relationship between markets and...

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21 Conclusion

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pp. 383-390

The aim of this volume has been to investigate the history of Christian views of economic life so the reader can better decide how to apply the insights of that tradition to economic life in the twenty-first century. An unfortunate byproduct of this focus is that many other important moral problems remain in the background, from biomedical and life issues, to sexism, racism, immigration,...


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pp. 391-404


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pp. 405-410

Praise, Back Cover

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pp. 411-BC

E-ISBN-13: 9781451452280
E-ISBN-10: 1451452284
Print-ISBN-13: 9780800699611
Print-ISBN-10: 0800699610

Page Count: 420
Publication Year: 2013