Category: Publications

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, February 19, 2015

Graeme Wood’s excellent piece in The Atlantic has justly been making the rounds for the past week or so. It is well worth reading with a number of insights and points that strike at the heart of the contemporary conflict between modernity and religious violence. I commend “What ISIS Really Wants” to your reading. (Rasha al Aqeedi’s “Caliphatalism,” which looks more closely at the situation in Mosul, makes a great companion read.)

MolinaCover - CopyCLP Academic has now released A Treatise on Money, a newly translated selection from Luis de Molina’s larger work, On Justice and Right (De iustitia et iure). The release is part of the growing series from Acton: Sources in Early Modern Economics, Ethics, and Law.

Molina (1535–1600) was one of the most eminent theologians of the Jesuit order in the sixteenth century. Known widely for developing a theory of human freedom of action (and in turn, a new religious doctrine now known as Molinism), Molina was also the first Jesuit to make major contributions to economic thought through a major treatise (On Justice and Right).

In the book’s introduction, Rudolf Schuessler offers more on the historical context and Molina’s contribution therein. As Schuessler explains, Molina’s views on freedom impacted his entire approach to economics and helped “set the pace for Jesuit economic thought.”

Jesuit economic thought in the seventeenth century gravitated toward individual freedom and displayed a keen appreciation of the market economy while upholding moral restrictions for market activities in a flexible and low-profile form. These features of Jesuit economic thought are of great—although not universally recognized—importance because the Jesuits were the teaching order par excellence in early modernity. Almost all early modern economic thinkers in Catholic countries were taught by the Jesuits, and Molina had the privilege to set the agenda for his order’s economic thought…

…By summarizing and discussing the state of the art of his time, Molina sets the pace for Jesuit economic thought. After the demise of the scholastic tradition and the temporary abolition of the Jesuit order in the eighteenth century, the respective doctrines traveled on back roads into the nineteenth century where they influenced the Austrian school and the marginalist revolution in economics. Molina and his contemporaries were the first to apply the laws of supply and demand systematically to money markets, and as a result conceived the quantity theory of inflation. They began to understand the role of risk, of liquidity, and of time preference in economic contexts, as well as the institutional role of property rights. For this they still deserve our attention.


A friend of mine recently shared this short clip of Thomas Merton’s last lecture. He has some interesting things to say about communism and monasticism, as well as what is clearly a sly promo for Coca-Cola at the end.

“From now on, brothers, everybody stands on his own feet.” This would be a great summary statement of what the monastic vow of poverty actually meant to most monks, historically. With regards to monasteries being the only places that have ever fulfilled the socialist ideal “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” I would add that they were able to do this because they valued the division of labor and the potential good of enterprise.

Monasteries, ancient and medieval, were centers of production, invention, and exchange, in addition to faith and worship. We may often think of the Scriptures and works of literature, philosophy, or theology that they copied in their scriptoria, but these same communities have also left us volumes of financial records, documenting extensive holdings in land and capital, as well as ventures in banking, lending, and long distance trade.

For one monk’s take on the good of commerce, see my recent Acton Commentary, “The Monk as Merchant,” here.

Also, I’ll be lecturing again on “Markets & Monasticism” at this year’s Acton University, our summer conference. If you haven’t done so already, take the time to learn more about it here.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, January 22, 2015

As Luis de Molina (1535-1600) writes in A Treatise on Money (forthcoming):

It is clearly evident that petty exchange is useful to the republic, as it is often that men need coins of a lesser value in order to buy the things they need daily, or to give alms, or for other such things in which the coinage of a higher value is of no use.

Blog author: dpahman
Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Not Abba Pistamon

Today at Ethika Politika, I examine some ancient economic wisdom from one of the desert fathers: Abba Pistamon. Far from the newest of Nintendo’s Pokemon monsters (despite the sound of his name), Abba Pistamon was one of the first Christian monks. The dialogue between him and an unnamed brother that I examine from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers has a lot to say about production, labor, profit, and exchange.

I write,

Far from a gnostic allergy to any involvement with the material world, Abba Pistamon acknowledges the good of production and exchange, appealing to past precedent of other revered monks before him (“Abba Sisois and others”). Commerce, he says, was common. In fact, according to the size and expansive enterprise of ancient monastic communities, we can say that his assessment is more than anecdotal. In ancient Christian sources, contempt for the merchant and trader is common, but the reality is more complicated. Sometimes traders and merchants went by a more respectable name: monks. We should not be surprised, then, that Abba Pistamon displays a certain natural business sense. But he does not stop at the merely economic aspects of production and exchange.


The most recent issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality, volume 17, no. 2, has been published. The full content is available online now to subscribers and will be in the mail in the next few weeks. This issue features another fine slate of scholarship on the morality of the marketplace and Christian social thought more broadly.

As is our custom, this issue’s editorial by executive editor Jordan Ballor is open access (here), as are the first two installments of our Controversy section (here and here). This issue’s controversy centers on the role of labor unions in a free and flourishing society.

Our Reviews section features reviews of 16 books in the categories of Christian Social Thought, Ethics and Economics, and History and Philosophy of Economics.

This issue also features a Scholia translation of a selection from the Danish Lutheran theologian Niels Hemmingsen, “On the Law of Nature in the Three States of Life,” including an important introduction by E. J. Hutchinson and Korey D. Maas on Hemmingsen’s influence on the development of the Lutheran natural law tradition.

Lastly, for those looking to peruse the past year of scholarship in the Journal of Markets & Morality, this issue also includes the volume 17 index, which is also open access (here).

For those of you interested in an individual or institutional subscription, detailed instructions explaining how to subscribe through our website can be found here.


Russell Kirk

Russell Kirk

To kick off this special Summer/Fall 2014 double issue of Religion & Liberty, we talk with scholar Bradley J. Birzer whose new biography of Russell Kirk examines the intellectual development of one of the most important men of letters in the twentieth century. We discuss the roots of Kirk’s thought and how it developed over time, in a characteristically singular fashion. Kirk, the author of The Conservative Mind, was not easily pigeonholed into ideological categories – fitting for a man once described as “the most individual anti-individualist of his day.”

I want to thank Bradley Birzer, a Hillsdale College prof who is currently Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado Boulder, for offering Religion & Liberty an advance look at his forthcoming book on Kirk. A special thanks also to Annette Y. Kirk for her gracious help locating photos of her late husband in the archives of The Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal in Mecosta, Michigan, and sharing these with our readers. Be sure to check out the website of the Kirk Center for news about its academic programs and publications.

Kirk was a long time advisor to the Acton Institute. Here is the audio from his last public lecture, hosted by Acton in 1994, on “Lord Acton and Revolution.”

In this issue of Religion & Liberty, we review two new books. Economist David Hebert tells us that Russ Roberts’ How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life – An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness is a helpful reminder about the “limits of pure economics.” Even though the books and film adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythic fantasies are phenomenally popular today, John Zmirak points out that his “bourgeois virtues were widely sneered at” by his contemporaries. He reviews The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom that Tolkien Got and the West Forgot by Jonathan Witt and Jay Richards. (more…)