Those who would say that moral theology and economics are completely separate fields of inquiry–and that they should stay that way–would have to make their case before Saint Bernardino of Siena (1380—1444), a Franciscan theologian and preacher, member of the Spanish Scholastics, and, long before Adam Smith, one of the founders of modern scientific economics.
Bernardino’s most significant contribution to the integration of theology and economics was his understanding of entrepreneurs. At a time when many viewed merchants suspiciously, Bernardino enumerated the virtues of entrepreneurs and their valuable contributions to society, describing how to be both good businessmen and good Christians. Entrepreneurship, he believed, requires a rare skill-set: diligence, attention to detail, and, perhaps most importantly, boldness in taking risks. And this capacity to take calculated risks justifies entrepreneurs’ right to profit from their labors, for in doing so they make fundamental contributions to the common good.
But such activity does not lessen entrepreneurs’ moral and religious responsibilities. Bernardino emphasized that merchants have a moral obligation to conduct their business in an orderly fashion; accounts are to be kept, books balanced, contracts honored, and commitments kept, lest confusion breed dishonesty. Most importantly, entrepreneurs must attend to the life of the church by tithing, worshiping, and honoring the Sabbath, among other religious duties. In this manner, entrepreneurs can conduct their business in a God-honoring fashion.
In reflecting on thinkers such as Saint Bernardino of Siena, the Acton Institute continues to foster the integration of economic thinking and theological insight among future religious leaders as well as entrepreneurs. I thank you for enabling us to convey the message that not only is a business vocation compatible with the calling to love God and serve one’s neighbor; it is also a way of actually fulfilling that call.
Fr. Robert A. Sirico