September 04, 2013
CSDC 24: The law of the sabbatical year and of the jubilee year
The second analytical index entry for “Law” in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church points to no. 24. This appears in chapter one (“God’s Plan of Love for Humanity”), section I (“God’s Liberating Action in the History of Israel”), subsection a (“God’s gratuitous presence”). Among other things, no. 24 points to two examples of divine positive law, “legislation … designed to ensure that the salvific event of the Exodus and fidelity to the Covenant represents not only the founding principle of Israel's social, political and economic life, but also the principle for dealing with questions concerning economic poverty and social injustices”:
24. Among the many norms which tend to give concrete expression to the style of gratuitousness and sharing in justice which God inspires, the law of the sabbatical year (celebrated every seven years) and that of the jubilee year (celebrated every fifty years)  stand out as important guidelines — unfortunately never fully put into effect historically — for the social and economic life of the people of Israel. Besides requiring fields to lie fallow, these laws call for the cancellation of debts and a general release of persons and goods: everyone is free to return to his family of origin and to regain possession of his birthright.
This legislation is designed to ensure that the salvific event of the Exodus and fidelity to the Covenant represents not only the founding principle of Israel's social, political and economic life, but also the principle for dealing with questions concerning economic poverty and social injustices. This principle is invoked in order to transform, continuously and from within, the life of the people of the Covenant, so that this life will correspond to God's plan. To eliminate the discrimination and economic inequalities caused by socio-economic changes, every seven years the memory of the Exodus and the Covenant are translated into social and juridical terms, in order to bring the concepts of property, debts, loans and goods back to their deepest meaning.
 These laws are found in Ex 23, Deut 15, Lev 25.
Is the Compendium suggesting that modern states accept these precise statutes? It seems to me that, if no debt were enforceable past seven years, it would be most unlikely for poor people to obtain loans like 30-year mortgages. Rather, creditors would demand full repayment before the next jubilee year, meaning that the repayment rates would likely be so high that poor people would be priced out of the market. Now, I understand that in Israel at the time there wasn't much of a credit economy so the pernicious effect I note above probably would not have arisen. Hence, perhaps one could charitably interpret the Compendium to mean simply that a decent society should have some provision for the forgiving of debts, which ours has in bankruptcy law.
Posted by: Damien Schiff | Sep 4, 2013 10:47:37 AM
The short answer is no. For the longer answer, perhaps we should ask Brian McCall (http://www.law.ou.edu/content/mccall-brian and http://www.amazon.com/The-Church-Usurers-Mccall/dp/1932589643 ).
Because I am mechanically proceeding through the analytical index, there will be much mixing and matching of perspectives on law. The next paragraph provides some additional context:
"25. The precepts of the sabbatical and jubilee years constitute a kind of social doctrine in miniature. They show how the principles of justice and social solidarity are inspired by the gratuitousness of the salvific event wrought by God, and that they do not have a merely corrective value for practices dominated by selfish interests and objectives, but must rather become, as a prophecy of the future, the normative points of reference to which every generation in Israel must conform if it wishes to be faithful to its God."
"These principles become the focus of the Prophets' preaching, which seeks to internalize them. God's Spirit, poured into the human heart — the Prophets proclaim — will make these same sentiments of justice and solidarity, which reside in the Lord's heart, take root in you (cf. Jer 31:33 and Ezek 36:26-27). Then God's will, articulated in the Decalogue given on Sinai, will be able to take root creatively in man's innermost being. This process of internalization gives rise to greater depth and realism in social action, making possible the progressive universalization of attitudes of justice and solidarity, which the people of the Covenant are called to have towards all men and women of every people and nation."
Posted by: Kevin C. Walsh | Sep 4, 2013 11:07:31 AM
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