Late Medieval Catholic Theologians on Economic Profits

Juan De MarianaI’ve only grazed the surface on the subject of economic profits in light of Christian ethics. Alejandro Chafuen’s Faith and Liberty has helped me spawn some ideas about logical Christian thought on economic growth.

These moral theologians and economists of the late medieval Spanish Catholic scholastic tradition, followed in the footsteps of Thomas Aquinas. The ones I’m mainly referring to here are: Duns Scotus, Saint Bernardino of Siena, Luis Saravia de la Calle, Juan de Medina, Juan de Mariana, Francisco Garcia, Domingo de Soto, Saint Antonio of Florence, Conradus Summenhart, Martin de Azpilcueta, Antonio de Escobar y Mendoza, and Pedro de Aragon. In chapter 10 on “Profits,” the author demonstrates that these men developed the first Christian economic thought towards free market capitalism; and especially as it relates to morals and ethics.

They held the view that:–being a SALESMAN is

1. Good when selling at a just price (not charging too much).

2. Bad if your company relies on government bailouts (e.g., General Motors).

3. Bad if you have to lie, charge too much, or sell an immoral product.


Further, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, good motives for making a profit are to:

1. Provide for your family.

2. Help the poor.

3. Help your country maintain its supplies.

4. Pay employees for their work.

5. Improve your company’s merchandise.


Further Reading

Aquinas, St. Thomas. Summa Theologica. II-II, q. 77, art. 4, reply.

Bernardino of Siena, St. On Contracts and Usury.

Chafuen, Alejandro. Faith and Liberty: The Economic Thought of the Late Scholastics. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2003. Chapter 10: “Profits.”

De Roover, Raymond. San Bernardino of Siena and Sant’ Antonino of Florence: The Two Great Economic Thinkers of the Middle Ages. Cambridge, MA: Kress Library, 1967. Especially chapter V: “Business Ethics.”

John Duns Scotus. Political and Economic Philosophy, Introduction with Latin text and English translation and notes by (†) Allan B. Wolter, OFM, Franciscan Institute Publications, 2001.

Laures, John. The Political Economy of Juan de Mariana. Fordham University Press, 1928. Part 2, Section 2: “Problems and Principles of Money.” From the book summary:

“Juan de Mariana (1536-1624), a major thinker of the Spanish renaissance, was a founder of economic science. This study of his writings and legacy appeared in 1928 and has not been reprinted until now. Prof. Fr. Laures explores his thinking on value, commerce, money, entrepreneurship, labor, taxes, and more, and demonstrates that he is a major if overlooked founder of economic science and classical liberalism.

Trained in the tradition of Thomas Aquinas, Juan de Mariana made huge advances in not only economics but also in law and sociology.

He was famously jailed for going too far in his explorations of the illegitimacy of the state and what people might consider doing about it. But even in prison, he made major contributions. Tenacious, brilliant, innovative, and daring, Mariana provokes even today.

This is an essential volume for understanding the history of economic thought and the contribution of the Late Scholastics generally. Laures is thorough but critical of Mariana’s more extreme conclusions, and seeks to render his thought in a way that is more politically acceptable, but that doesn’t diminish the value of the exposition, which is rare and much welcome.”

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