Appendix to Psalm 15: concerning usury.
What Usury Is
Lest anyone should call me one of those who defend usury as a right, I will produce a definition of usury that I have not devised but has been advanced previously in several ages by those whose piety has obtained more authority in the church of Christ than can be uprooted by the usurers or their patrons. Jerome writes in his sixth book on Ezekiel [18:5-9] in this way, "Indeed some think that usury is only upon money, which divine scripture foresees as the theft of the superabundance of everything, so that you may not take back more than you have given. (2) Likewise, others customarily accept a small interest of various kinds for borrowed money, and they do not realize that Scripture also calls interest a superabundance, whatever it may be, which they have received from what they have given. This is what Ambrose says concerning Naboth: "The majority of those fleeing the commandment of the law, when they have given money to wholesale traders do not exact usury on the money, but they gain from their merchandise just as if they gained from the benefits of usury. For this reason, let us hear what the law says: "Neither," it says, "will you accept usury on food nor on all other things. Therefore on food, it is usury; on clothes it is usury, and whatever approaches a share as well as whatever else you wish to place a name upon, it is usury." Thus, for Ambrose. Augustine, on Psalm 36, defines usury also in this way: "If you lend to a person, that is, you give your money for a return, from which you expect to receive more than you have given, not the money only, but anything more than you gave, whether that may be wheat or wine or oil or whatever it is--if you expect to receive more than you gave, you are a money-lender and in this must be condemned."(3) Therefore, according to the opinion of those, usury is not only the reception but also the hope and expectation for something beyond your share as they say: "this is beyond what has been given, in whatever name it may at last be disguised. For a change of the name does not destroy the malice of the remaining vice." Ezekiel 18[:8, 13, 17] sufficiently proves its guilt. Usury is what is received beyond one's share, when the prophet says, "you will not give for usury, and you will not take the superabundance." For as [Rabbi] D[avid] Kimhi rightly exposits, "what is it to give for usury is exposited by the following particle, when it is added, 'and he will not accept a superabundance.'"(4) Also Leviticus 25:[36-37] reads in the following manner, "You will not take from him usury and a superabundance, but you will fear your God. You will not give your gold to him for usury, and you will not give your food so that you may receive a superabundance." Also Caesar's Laws in the Codex concerning usury in a similar way call usury what is received beyond one's share.5 Yet, they permit the use of it in a certain way, concerning which we will afterward speak. Additionally, the Latins have called usury what is received for the use of the money as though it were some sort of compensation, where one returns to the lender some benefit. The Greeks call it tokon, so to speak, as a certain gain of a monetary share. In Hebrew, it is called [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] from stinging, because at the last it stings whoever pays the usury. Up to this point, is what has been said concerning what usury is.
Whether Usury Is Lawful?
Here, we are not inquiring about usury upon usury (usura usurarum), which the Jews employ, concerning which no one hesitates that that is unlawful and detestable (nor in any way should it be endured), but rather about simple usury, in which more is received than what is given, whether it is much or little; whether it is attached to money or other things. Some think this is not unlawful in itself, unless it becomes illicit through illicit circumstances. Do not be infected with this. This kind of usury can be found that is not only not unlawful but also not useful. This is the sort of usury that they call erd vucher, that is, a usury of the ground through which much more is received than has been committed to the earth by the sowing of seed. The one who gives everything to everyone renders this usury and yet does not have less as a result. That usury is given in such a way to the recipients that no harm is given and conveys the most benefit; and yet--God forbid!--that it could be condemned as avarice, that it would be preached against more on account of a manifest benevolence and very clear beneficence. Look! Here is a lawful, useful, and divine interest for you through which Abraham and Isaac became wealthy. Through this means at one time thirtyfold, at another time sixtyfold, at another time even a hundredfold, and it is given without sin by God, and it is received by man. At one time, this kind of interest was most studiously protected by our ancestors, which is now considered even worthless, and is confined to the monetarily criminal. There is also another kind of interest through which it is lawful to receive back a hundred for one without sin. Christ personally promises this kind to his own believers as a guarantor in the place of his Father, saying: "And everyone who leaves behind a house, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or fields on account of my name will receive a hundredfold, and will possess eternal life" (Matt. 19[:29]). See the other, heavenly kind of interest to which we are also called is so far removed that we may be frightened off. How few, I pray, are there who cast their soul to collect heavenly wealth with such interest?
[f1139] From these examples of interest, it is at least established that by itself it is not unlawful to render more than you receive or even to receive more than you gave. Indeed, can it be that the same reason for this sort of usury, which prevails in our era and concerning which we presently ask, which is either earthly or heavenly by which both God himself is the greatest lender of all, at last that must be considered by simple and pure eyes. Whoever defends customary usury devises many things to protect it and from which they assert that it is not unlawful. They bring forward the law from the Codex in the treatment concerning usury, in which one percent, a half percent, and other such things are permitted--no, more correctly--established, and they think it is done by the authority of civil law so that what they do is either not usury or, if it is usury, it is not unlawful usury. We respond that the legislator was compelled by necessity, not so that he might protect usury, but so that he might impose some rule upon the increasing avarice, which the text of the law itself demonstrates. For it raises the gravity and enormity of usury [as a crime], and prescribes certain methods beyond which nothing may be asked. It is by far doubtful that [a law] should be wished for among Christians to obtain charity, so that there may be no place for usury. Indeed, because avarice used to thrive to such an enormous extent, he judged it necessary that by a certain predetermined [rate] it is hindered as if by a bbarrier, and in that way he cut back at every point the enormity of usury to half of its [previous size]. Therefore, it is so far removed from the fact that the law is protecting usury and renders it illicit so that it bears more witness to the fact that charity has grown cold among Christians and that the most base and detestable avarice has burst forth continuously up to the point that in order to restrain it, the imperial authority was necessary. Just as Moses brought forth the law for the repudiation and divorce [of a wife], it was not excusing the Jew before God, who employed it so that [divorce] may not be liable to wound marriage [Deut. 24:1-3]. Likewise, the civil law did not make usury lawful so that a Christian, by using it, may be rendered guiltless before God just as Christ spoke to the Jews about the law of divorce [applies here that] "From the beginning it was not so," and "on account of the hardness of your heart Moses permitted to you a certificate of divorce" [Matt. 19:3-8]. In this way, he sent them back to the commencement of legitimate marriage to which they ought to conform themselves. We also must consider the purity of the Christian religion, the beginning, righteousness (iustitia), and justice ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] mishpat) in this case of usury. Concerning usury, therefore, one should look at Matthew 5[:42] and Luke 6[:30-36] and not civil laws. For [civil laws] are not produced on account of Christians, for whom there is not any need for a civil law for this, so that they may be restrained in their zeal for avarice, lest they leap across the rule. Christians are led by the Spirit in such a way that they love their neighbor from their heart and would provide, not only their money for [their neighbor] if it should be necessary, but also, they would expend their very life [for their neighbor]. When that kind of love prevails, there is no place for any striving after avarice, nor is there a reason that laws of this sort should be fixed by which a method of avarice is established. Therefore, the intent of the legislator was not so that he might protect someone who demands usury in return for lending money but so that he might look out for the one taking the loan, lest, since that person is pressed by a necessity, he is compelled to take money by a loan (because charity has grown cold he does not find anyone who freely and without usury will give him a loan), and through the unquenchable avarice of the usurers he is plundered. Therefore, that law given by the Christian emperor concerning usury has the argument where, to the shame of the Christian name, it is proven that the love of neighbor has grown cold. It is so far from the point that he absolves usury so that it is [now] lawful. Christians, on one hand, are led internally by the Holy Spirit and, on the other hand, are called by the light and authority of the word of God from all those things that displease God, so that the constraint of the imperial law is not necessary either to compel or to deter them. Civil laws do not forbid all things that are illicit before God, and besides those things that they do not forbid they also do not punish. For that reason, it does not follow that all those things that are not forbidden by civil laws are lawful before God. [Civil laws] do not prohibit wrath, indignation, impatience, envy, hatred, pride, evil concupiscence, avarice, and if there are other things of this sort that the apostle calls the works of the flesh (Gal. 5[:19-21]) and he calls them things that exclude those who are thus inclined from the kingdom of God. Therefore, for this reason no one doing such things is excused in the sight of God, because it is not condemned by any civil law. On the contrary, civil laws do not command all those things that are required for true justice. No civil law prescribes faith, hope, and love of God and neighbor, patience in adversity, kindness, gentleness, humility and modesty, and other such things. Yet, no one ought to think that they are not held to those things for the reason that he is not condemned by any civil law if he has been motivated by a [disposition] contrary [to those things]. In addition, to some extent they permit with certain reasons those things that are nevertheless unlawful before God and are condemned by his word. Moreover, they permit not only things right and lawful in themselves but also that they may exclude those things which are rather wicked. Thus, [civil laws] also permit usury to a certain extent so that a rule for avarice is laid down. They do not punish fornication, (6) they do not destroy brothels. No one excuses a fornicator before God, nor is what the apostle says in Hebrews 13[:4] rendered void--"marriage is honorable and sacred, moreover, the Lord will judge fornicators and adulterers." In a similar manner, all those threats that condemn usurers in the Holy Scriptures are not rendered void because they are not condemned by the civil laws. Rather, the goal of the civil law must be considered. Nor must it be supposed that [civil laws] have been produced so that they may render [people] just before God but so that they may make the state of human society in some way at all times tolerable and may put down human malice. I have wished to touch upon these things so that I may respond to those who defend the usury of our times under the pretext of civil law in such a way that they deny that it is unlawful before God.
How a Loan Ought to Be Given According to the Teaching of Christ
Because we are inquiring in this place about usury, whether or not it is lawful or unlawful, not before the world, but before God, the pretext of civil law and whatever sort of human arrangement [may exist] cannot have a place in this question. The rationale of a Christian profession constrains us that we should listen to Christ the very Son of God and that we should learn from his mouth how Christians ought to lend in such a way that they do not sin in the sight of God. It is suitable to convince us that whatever struggles against the doctrine of our Savior cannot be lawfully practiced. Therefore, we must consider which kind of usury is consistent with the words of Christ. Moreover, I assert first and foremost that I do not speak to the children of this age but to believing persons who [f1140] have been convinced that the teaching of Christ is, as follows, divine, and contains the norm of true piety and righteousness, so that all those who do not adapt themselves to it, from their heart, necessarily displease God.
We read in Matthew 5[:42], "You may not deny someone wishing to take a loan from you." Luke 6, "Give a loan, hoping nothing from it, Even if you should give a loan from which you hope to receive something, what credit is that to you? For even sinners give a loan to sinners so that they may receive a settlement [of a debt]." With these words, Christ has established how [Christians] ought to conduct themselves in this case. Additionally, he distinguishes between [believers] and the sons of this age. First, he commands that they may not deny those wishing to take a loan. Understand that this is if someone has the means to give a loan. If someone does not have [the money] himself, how could he give a loan to another person? He does not permit his own people who have the substance of this world the freedom to give or not to give. In other words, this shows that whoever refuses to give a loan to needy persons asking for a loan are strangers to the kingdom of God and also that true justice is [a mark] of the sons of God. Thus, he admonishes his own that they may not do that, if it pertains to them and they wish to be numbered among the sons of God. The sons of this age do not acknowledge this commandment nor are they bound to it by civil laws, but they wish to be free to give a loan or not to give a loan. Nor do they believe that they sin if they deny someone who asks, when they could help someone. Therefore, if someone is pleased to profess the Christian religion, he must take care that he is motivated differently than [the sons of this age]. It is more than enough of a sin insofar as we may deny our wealth to a person wanting to take a loan. That is actually excessive that just as if we were unbelievers, we do not believe it to be sin for us not to discharge the duty of charity to a brother seeking a loan, as if those things that Christ says are trivial, "you may not deny a person wanting to receive a loan from you." Some say that those things are not commanded, but it is expressly commanded in the Jewish counsels in Deuteronomy 15[:7-8] to this rule, "If one of your brethren who dwells within the gates of your city in the land which the Lord your God will give to you should come to poverty, you will not harden your heart, nor will you draw back your hand but you will open it to a poor man, and you will give a loan to him whom you notice in need." Therefore, how is it fitting that the justice of the law of Moses is more complete than the gospel of Christ? Are we free to perform or omit a work of charity that [even] the Jews were not free [to do]?
Next, even if the counsel in that passage (locus) would have said, "you may not refuse a person wanting to take a loan from you," in what way is it appropriate for Christians to turn Christ's counsel, which has been set forth so earnestly, upside down and think it can be condemned with impunity? Moreover he says, "I say to you who hear" [Luke 6:27]. Therefore, whoever want to be hearers of Christ are held to the obedience of this counsel, nor can they turn their back upon it without sin and detriment to their own salvation, just as the sick cannot neglect the counsels of a doctor without damage to their health. Indeed, Deuteronomy 15[:9] is clear--whoever refuses a loan to a brother seeking a loan sins against the will of God. "Let him not cry out against you to the Lord," he says, "and it be done to you according to your sin."
Additionally, Christ prescribes to his own how they ought to give a loan. "Give a loan," he says, "hoping for nothing from it" [Luke 6:35]. Some think in this way that no advantage, no gain, or no profit beyond that which is given in the loan must be hoped for and received--that is what indeed is required from him who desires to keep his hand back whole from the impurity of usury. Indeed, that does not do justice to the intention of Christ, who demands from us in this place that we should give a loan to those from whom we can hope to receive back nothing. It is sufficiently clear from those things, which he attached, when he says, "If you should give a loan which you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners give a loan to sinners so that they may receive a settlement" [Luke 6:34]. See he does not say, "so that they may receive usury, a superabundance, something beyond the sum given as a loan," but "so that they may receive a settlement." Therefore, he also distinguishes here between his own and the rest not pertaining to him. He requires from his own that they help their neighbor and brother not only without [reference to] their own advantage when they make [the loan] to someone and sinners but also [without reference] to their own loss and the expense of the money given as a loan. In this manner, they are to give the loan so that they procure credit for themselves from God. This also must be distinguished between the Gentiles and the Christians. The Gentiles give a loan: (1) to the sort who can make good on whatever they received, (2) to those who gave or can give a loan to someone and to themselves, (3) to friends and relatives, and (4) to those from whom they can hope for some credit. For in these kinds of giving there is no sin. To be sure, however, the justice of the spirit of Christ and of his kingdom are not yet expressed. Therefore, whoever are Christ's give a loan as follows: (1) to those who do not have hardly the means to be able to make good [on the loan], (2) to those who neither ever gave a loan to anyone nor could give a loan in return, (3) not only to friends but also to enemies and not only to relations but also to strangers and foreigners, and (4) when there is even no thanks given still less can thanks be hoped for in some way. As long as they do those things, they declare again that they are his sons of the one who makes the son to shine upon the good and the evil and the rain to fall upon the grateful and the ungrateful. Christ also demands it from his own, "so that you may be sons of your Father ..." [Luke 6:35].
Compare also those who give a loan for usury to this norm of Christian righteousness, and see how far removed it is from the standard of Christ's words. Those words that have been set forward nevertheless to all Christians, so that unless they conform themselves to it, they ought to be counted among sinners, not among the children of God--no indeed, they do not even possess the righteousness of sinners! It is attributed even to sinners so much righteousness that they may give a loan without usury and desire to receive no gain in its place, but only what they should give as a loan. Even from this comparison to ourselves, who consider the righteousness of the kingdom of Christ, the precept of the words of Christ, and the profession of the Christian religion, it is most easy to give a judgment about usury that it is unlawful for those who ascribe their name to Christ and wish to appear as Christians. Concerning [unbelievers], we may not judge. A Christian is responsible to answer for his own profession, neither to judge about things--whether they may be lawful or unlawful--differently than it is ordered according to the teaching of Christ nor to set his own boundary in the pursuit of justice, by which he can escape the guilt of injustice in a secular court, but rather [the boundary is set where] he can escape the guilt of injustice in the sight of God. Therefore, we likewise conclude with the holy [f1141] Scriptures and the words of Christ that usury, which in a remarkable way at last in this era grows up even in the church of Christ, not that it is lawful, but rather that it is damnable and most foreign to a profession of Christian justice.
Indeed, how great is the iniquity of usury considered in itself! It is not truly difficult to learn, except by those for whom the stench of profit in whatever way they have concocted the matter, whose minds the pursuit of avarice has blinded. First, the vice of avarice is the basest disposition not only among Christians but even among the Gentiles. That is the root of usury. Remove this love of money ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) [1 Tim. 6:10] together with covetousness (pleouexiai) [Ez. 22:27; Rom. 1:29; Eph. 4:19; 5:3; 2 Pet. 2:3], we will not have usurers in the church of Christ.
Second, who does not see how unjust it is to run after the gain from another's work and hard-earned savings? As a matter of fact, the usury, which is given, not from a usurer but the usury of the one paying, comes about [only] by his worry and concern.
Third, it is also foreign to equity, because the usurer without any expense of his own money and without distinction receives a profit, so that he is not liable for any loss however the dice fall; rather only the poor wretch who pays the usury is compelled to endure the cost of a misfortune. The whole of this [matter] concerns what loss occurs. Indeed, nothing concerns the moneylender except only that the profit from his share is received intact.
Fourth, and it pertains to that because however much usury there is and although the debtor should pay for many years without any interruption yet the greatest [part] of the share remains untouched, nor is any of it filed away. Moreover, those things torture a soul of the one paying usury and diminish his resources. It is not useful to admonish regarding it when that is the well-known experience. When there is someone of this sort, experiencing this inescapable plague, by means of a dejected soul, he forsakes his wife and children, and what is left of his resources, he relinquishes to the insatiable avarice of the moneylender who is taking possession of them. We read that kind of thing overthrew those who, oppressed by foreign money, took themselves to David who was in exile (1 Sam. 22[:2]). The pious daily see spectacles of this sort right before their very eyes with sorrow and a sigh, while magistrates turn a blind eye. Meanwhile, what is the most oppressive of all, when these sorts of moneylenders ought not even to have a place in a state; nevertheless, they acquire ecclesiastical as well as civil honors.
But the Moneylender Objects
"It is well known," he says, "in everyone's mouth, that I do not want to do injury. I do not send for anyone, I compel no one to take money from me. Besides, money is sold and received from me by nothing other than a condition of usury, nor is anything else asked for. How do I sin in this matter? [After all,] my money is relinquished from me, if the damage of usury is so great." I respond, "Those sentiments are not those of a Christian person, but plainly of a Gentile--nay, more correctly--of an inhuman person. Compelled by that cruel spur of necessity, those people come to you as wretches, you, who are without any sense of humanity for their misery, you most shamefully render them lucrative for yourself."
Again the moneylender objects, "notwithstanding, when they take money from me under the condition of usury, they rejoiced and even gave thanks. Finally, what kind of injury is this that produces joy and goodwill?" I respond, "Because the wretches are rejoicing and giving thanks, it is not from the fact that they perceive it as a benefit, but because, with their need spurring them, they think that by the cost of usury they can avert being presently overwhelmed by [their necessity]. By all means, they prefer money simply in a loan than to accept along with it the cost of usury. Indeed, because such inhumanity prevails that they should find no kindness anywhere, they certainly rejoice over money received by usury, but this kind of joy in the end degenerates into the greatest woe. While it seems to them that they have avoided Charybdis [on one side] they fall into Scylla [on the other]."
Chrysostom most helpfully compares joy that received money subject to usury to the bite of an asp. (7) In the way that someone is stricken by the bite of an asp as though he were lying down in a pleasant sleep and dies by the sweetness of a lethal and deep sleep, in which the venom progresses through all his members during his sleep. Likewise, whoever accepts money by usury in this way certainly rejoices at the time [of the loan] as if [the moneylender] is moved by kindness. Yet, the usury races through all his resources, converting the whole of them into debt. (8) When Cato the Elder was asked what it is to lend money at usury, he responded that it is the very same thing as to kill someone. (9)
Third, those, especially who have some experience to some extent in the appearance of the gospel of Christ, not in which they emend themselves, but in which they disguise their own wickedness, retort, "notwithstanding, the whole summary of the law and the prophetic Scriptures, as Christ himself witnesses, is well-known that whatever I desire done to me, likewise I may also do to others [Matt. 7:12; Luke 6:31]. I would not choose even for myself any other condition than that for one hundred florins I will repay five florins every year. Therefore, what sin is committed in this because I receive the equivalent from others? I employ the same condition as often as it is necessary. I give the equivalent to others, and, in return, I take the equivalent from others." I respond, "This is a most unjust abuse of the words of Christ that have been set forth not to protect avarice but rather brotherly charity. Of course, you do the same thing to others that you ask from others! If you did this out of a spirit of charity, put yourself in the place of a poor and destitute person, and put on the condition of that necessity, thinking what you wish to be done to you by those who are wealthy if you were in their place? [Would you prefer that] they give you a loan with usury or without usury? I doubt by far that you would prefer the one with usury. For [a loan without usury] would be more advantageous to your own affairs than if you would endure the cost of usury. Therefore, what Christ says, 'What you wish done to you, do this also to others [Matt. 7:12; Luke 6:31],' you ought to understand that this is designated, 'If you were in the situation that your neighbor is, whatever you wish were done to you, you should do to those with the disposition as a friend of goodwill and benevolence, with which you are animated toward yourself.' Examine your own conscience and judge with equity whether you would speak truly that you have loved and helped your poor and destitute neighbor in such a way that you wish others would love and help you, just as if you were [f1141] situated in the same place. How [can you] when you cannot truly profess about yourself that what is relevant is that by deceit you mock Christ our Savior's meaning? Next, you personally give usury to others and you receive it from others. I accept that, but I implore you, tell me from what motive do you give [usury]? By what necessity? Are those things given to the person from whom you receive [usury]? No indeed! [Destitute people] undergo usury [because of] a disadvantage compelled by necessity. On the other hand, you undergo it not as a disadvantage but from the hope of greater profit, not by necessity, but with the disposition of avarice. You give five percent, so that you may receive ten, fifteen, or twenty. Thus, in this position, you give and you take usury, just as they were accustomed to do for a sacrificing priest, offering to the priest an obol (10) at the altars so that the [priests] may retain the gain of the offering in the church. By their own example, they call for the common people to offer it, and for this reason for one little piece of money they steal ten. Thus simony most beautifully harmonizes with usury. Obviously, both are produced from the same spirit of avarice!"
Fourth, when a moneylender senses that he is hemmed in and does not see by what rationale he can protect his usury, he flips to other wiles and says, "If the cause of usury is considered in this way so that I should sin by receiving it, I know what I will do. I will not give a loan from my money to anyone. I will save it for myself, lest I should be an usurer." I respond, "This is the flight of avarice, in which regard the laws of the emperor do not wish to prohibit usury in its entirety. Do you wish to save your money? Before a secular court it is lawful, but on the contrary in Christ's court, by whose commandment you are bound. You may not deny one wanting to take a loan from you, and you should give a loan hoping to receive nothing. Therefore, whatever you do, you declare that you are nothing but less than Christian, whether you should refuse to give a loan to a brother seeking one when you are able or you should give a loan in such a way that you take usury. From this cause, you sin both against Christ and against your neighbor. If you give absolutely no loans, at least, you do not preserve the vice of usury, yet you [still] cherish the true root of usury--avarice of course--in your heart and you are a transgressor of Christ's word. If you give [a loan] for usury, again you sin against the command of Christ. In summary, much is against you! You equally ruin your neighbor by not giving him a loan and also by giving him a loan for usury. If you should refuse to give a loan, you are worse than a Gentile sinner. Even sinners give a loan to sinners so that they may receive a settlement. If you give with respect to usury, even in that way you are more inferior than countless Gentiles, who avoid this vice by the law of nature."
Fifth, the avarice of a moneylender also retorts in this way, "If I should give a loan without usury, it will occur that what is mine might not be restored to me, for the poor man does not have such resources to render the whole sum. Indeed, if he should give a certain [amount of] usury in a single year, at least some [amount of] my money is restored to me." I respond, "Well then, you recognize that your brother is so poor that he cannot repay the money given as a loan? Therefore, you do not yield to the words of Christ in Luke 6[:35] where he says, 'And your reward will be much in heaven and you will be sons of the Most High,' and in Luke 14[:14], 'And won't it be repaid to you in the regeneration of the just?' How do you receive nothing when eternal benefit is restored instead of an earthly one? Consequently, that pretext is absolutely contrary to the doctrine of Christ, who on account of this very cause teaches [us] to do good to a poor man, because he does not have [the resources] from which he may repay; for that reason one can acquire a heavenly reward. You, on account of that very fact that he is poor, do not wish to give a loan because he does not have the resources to restore to you what he takes from you. Therefore, either you do not believe that what Christ promises is true or you are influenced more by temporary profit than by an eternal one, by an earthly profit more than by a heavenly one."
Sixth, he says, "What I have, I amassed with great care and solicitude. By what rationale should I expend it for others in vain? What is it to me that others do not look out after their own affairs in the same way that I do? What do I owe to them?" I respond, "Does this measure up at all to Christ, who redeemed you with his own blood on the cross and for your sake became a poor person, so that he might make you a wealthy one?" Next, does that attain to Christ because we do not pay attention to our salvation better? In regard to what you owe to your brother, hear the apostle, "you are not to owe anything to anyone," he says, "except that you mutually love one another" (Rom. 13[:8]). Therefore, you owe love to a needy brother, and for this reason also not only your very own money. Why? Because as Christ loved and gave himself for us, we ought also to lay down our very souls for our brothers" (1 John 3[:16]). We all fail most in this matter because, short of the disposition of true love, we consider the poverty and humiliation of our brethren and not the greater will of God and his clear commandment, so that I will pass over in silence that immense esteem of His gratuitous redemption. Do you think a poor person is unworthy for you to give freely? Christ is not unworthy who requires this from you. Do you think a poor person undeserving of such a kindness? Christ does deserve it. Do you think a poor person cannot make good on what he takes? Christ can make good one hundredfold and likewise can give everlasting life just as he promised in Matthew 19[:29]."
Seventh, as avarice is the most pertinacious of all to turn one's back on someone, a usurer still objects, saying, "By what means will I live? By what means will I take care of myself and my family, if a loan must be given in such a way that I do not receive anything back?" I respond, "It has been said by the Lord, 'seek first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things will be added to you,' and 'all these things the Gentiles seek' [Matt. 6:32-33]. Therefore, this turning our backs [on someone] is not for Christians, nor is this fearful attitude, lest we should wrongly look out for our own things in helping our destitute brothers. In Proverbs 11:, we read as follows, 'Some distribute their own things and are made richer still, others seize what is not their own and are always in want.' The soul that blesses, that is, does well, will be made fat; and whoever may make drunk, he himself also will be made drunk. In Isaiah 58[:7-11], 'Break your bread for the hungry,' he says, 'and bring in the destitute and wandering into your home. When you should see the naked cover him, and you should not despise your own flesh. When you will stretch out your soul to the hungering and you will rebuild the afflicted soul, you will be like a well-watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose water will not run short.' The apostle in 2 Corinthians 9[:9] says, 'Scatter, [f1143] give to the poor, and his righteousness remains forever.' He bestows seed for sowing and will offer his bread for the chewing. Therefore, a faithful man must not fear penury because he helps the poor. Although I do not wish to pass judgment, if at least that passage of the apostle prevails, "the abundance of the wealthy should succor a brother's poverty" (2 Cor. 8[:14]). If the necessities are not communicated to others rather promptly, it could be tolerated, but it should not be excused. Rather, the weakness of faith should be recognized. Indeed, who will approve of this in the church of Christ, that poverty is not dreaded in such luxury of things? Indeed, is it dreaded when a brother must be helped with necessities? If we would follow the apostolic rule, which is prescribed in the 1 Timothy [6:8] according to this way, 'having what [we need] to eat and what [we need] to be clothed, we are content,' there is little place for that alarm. 'For nature,' as the [proverb] says, 'with a little is dismissed, but gluttony certainly desires an immense amount.' What is honest may be worked for, haste may be avoided, luxury may be abandoned, an abuse of all things eliminated, and we will be secure under the protection and the providence of God, nor will there be a need to dread the inevitability of penury. When so many costs are devoted to superb and splendid buildings, luxurious clothes, and all kinds of esculent delights--I pass over in silence the innumerable remainder of unnecessary things--is it any marvel that poverty is dreaded if the gain of usury is not abandoned? One who lavishly and splendidly ruins--he does not nourish--his own [family] does reasonably have a great need. One who determines to leave behind to his heirs a huge wealth does have a great need. Whoever needs much uses lawful and sinful means for this [endeavor] so that what he may obtain what he has planned. These things are highlighted and will not seem so difficult, not only to abandon this detestable usury but also to succor the needs of the brethren by whatever means."
Concerning the Usury of Those Who Give Their Own Money for Usury Either to Merchants or to Princes
Up to this point, we have examined that usury by which a poor man is obligated to the rather wealthy as well as the resources of the weak and destitute are devoured. After that, we spoke about that kind of loan to which Christ orders us to succor the needs of the brethren. Now I must speak about those who, using their own money that has been acquired by inheritance or from some other source, give it to the wealthy, to businessmen, or to princes, by that law, so that they may receive something in the place of usury either for a monthly or annual payment for a space of time, meanwhile keeping the share whole, so that whenever they wish they can call it back. Here this question arises, what is the sin in this kind of usury. They say that it is not burdensome, either for the person who gives or receives usury, and indeed it beautifully considers the advantages of both parties. Whoever gives usury uses the share of that well, and he gains so much from that [share] that he could give without any loss. On the other hand, whoever receives usury from his own money gathers certain fruit each year without any detriment to his share, and, for this reason, it can be preserved intact for the use of his heirs. Therefore because there is no disadvantage here, how is it a sin against charity? If there is no [sin], how can it be said about this kind of usury that it is unlawful?
I respond, "Indeed it must be entirely admitted that this kind of usury is not sin as much as that sin by which usury is received from the weak, something that is not only condemned as inhuman by the laws of Christ but also by the laws of nature. It is plainly inhumane to pursue a profit from the sweat and calamities of the poor. Therefore, that type of usury that we are about to speak now differs the most from the [previous type], which absolutely cannot be tolerated. Meanwhile, to be sure, it must not be thought that there is nothing in this usury of wealth that can be reprehended. In fact, the justice of a Christian man does not rest with the result that he does not burden anyone in any business. It must be considered what the circumstances of this usury are on account of which it is done, so that it cannot be commended. First, what I think is fitting is that both agree, inasmuch the one who gives as the one who receives usury, each having provided for his own advantage. As a matter of fact, neither does someone contract his own money to a wealthy businessman on account of brotherly charity but so that he may receive a monthly or annual benefit from it. Likewise, that [businessman] is not eager to give usury so that if he could delay it with his own advantage, he would. For as that proverb says, 'the love of money grows as the money itself grows,' yet he gives usury without delay, so that he may not be compelled to restore the whole share, and to incur a letter of bad faith. The signs of this business are well-known examples. When the root of this kind of usury is the pursuit of one's own advantage, I do not see how it could be suitable without any fault for Christians, to whom the pursuit of their own advantage ought to be most foreign. 'Let no one seek those things which are his own,' says the apostle, 'but those things which are for another' [1 Cor. 10:24]. Indeed it is rather ill-fitting however much it should be endured among the Gentiles who are eager for their own advantage to the detriment of others. Yet, in itself, even without the loss of others, desiring one's own advantage ought to be foreign to Christians, just as [it should be strange for Christians] to be luxurious or at leisure, although it can be done without disadvantage and loss of others. Therefore, just as they sin who are luxuriating in the houses of princes, magnates, and the wealthy, although they may perceive no loss, likewise a Christian errs, being greedy for his advantage, even if his intent is such that he seeks his own advantage not from the need of the poor but from the opulence of the wealthy."
Furthermore, we must investigate whether or not someone who receives usury is a slave to his own unbelief. For instance, it is not sufficient for a Christian person to act in such a way with his neighbor that he does not have what [his neighbor] may seek, but he must consider what faith is toward God and how what he does is suitable for or against sincere faith. In order that the experience of this matter is grasped, let him consider belonging to himself (whoever [f1144] takes usury), that it is better that he receives to himself his own money and recoils from the gain of usury. If someone lacks faith, immediately these thoughts arise, "If I must not live by usury, but from that share, it would not suffice for the necessary costs throughout my whole life. Next, what is left after my death for my children and posterity?" From there [he proceeds to], "what will I live upon, if I should consume it all?" Those thoughts are not from faith but from a lack of faith, and souls given in this way to usury argue that they think to themselves that they would not have the [resources] to live if they should relinquish usury. It is objected: "Do not test the Lord" [Deut. 6:6; Matt. 4:7; Luke 4:12] Just as if testing the Lord is to depend upon His providence with a firm faith according to the word of God, and refuse to live that kind of life, in which, idle from the pursuit of usury, those things that are necessary are obtained. If to be unwilling to live off of usury is to test the Lord, I ask how so many pious people among the Old and New Testament fathers, prophets, apostles, and others are defended, who underwent penury rather than to embrace the gain of usury? Therefore, does Christ teach his own to test the Lord when he commands that they are not to amass for themselves treasure vaults and that they are to give a loan hoping for nothing from it? To test the Lord is to have confidence in the Lord where there is no promise from the Lord, and to neglect the reasons for living and the prescriptions by God for acting, and to use other means. Moreover, nowhere do I find that the Lord has promised that he wishes us to preserve and nourish ourselves by usury in leisure and luxury. Therefore, rather what it is to test the Lord is to live in leisure, to dedicate one's children also to leisure, and meanwhile to hope for that money from which the annual usury is received, to be able to provide perpetually so that one may be a slave to not only necessary enjoyments but also to luxuries and delicacies.
Therefore, also, that objection of theirs is frivolous, who, as they cloak their own usury, say, "I must risk my gold." (11) That is, I commit my money for the sake of usury to a foreign trust; I contract it out with discrimination. It can happen that a merchant who uses my money for his own business either through a misfortune or by his own negligence may become poor, and thus my whole share may go to waste. Therefore by no means is this truly iniquity because I receive the usury from that [investment] while fortune smiles. Thus, a usurer fluctuates unsure and devotes his own affairs into risks (discrimina), which is foreign to those who labor with faith toward God, which is suitable for an honest man. Gamblers also subject their own money with an uncertain risk, from which nevertheless no sane person approves of a zeal for gambling in a Christian person. By this way, while they confess that they are unwilling to be the kind who test God, not only in deed but also in words, because they devote their money to uncertain events and risks, while they contract out their money for the sake of usury, and thus in such a way they do test God.
Third, it must also be considered how a wealthy man, a business man, or a prince, conduct themselves, from whom you take usury. You think it is enough to excuse usury that, even though [the recipient of the loan] is not poor, giving your own things for usury is not troublesome. Indeed if you will rightly think it over, you will understand that up to this point other things must be observed. Because if that one applies force with it so that he abuses your money, either seeking wealth or a contemptible thing and luxury, or for exercising tyranny, or for some bellicose business, even sometimes for the devastation and oppression of a country or region, I beseech you, how could you boast that the usury you accept is not culpable, when for the sake of usury you are a slave to another's sins while you make your money subject to the wantonness of such a person? Do you not think that you take part in that use for which you contract your money, but only how it goes with your profit? Should the luxuries of our age, the feasts that are more than the Gentiles, such shameful haste of multiple thousands, so many commotions and casualties of wars, the plundering of subordinates--should these daily increase [all] for [the sake of] usury? What now of that money that is contracted out by usury? If you are a Christian, how could you have no account for these things? It is just as if there is a certain conspiracy made between those who give and those who accept usury. They discuss among themselves the borrowed aid in which it may serve either their very own advantages or dispositions, and thus among themselves they are united for sinning. It is weighty if someone sins individually and privately. How much more weighty ought it seem if someone expends his own aid in such a way for his neighbor for the sake of his own advantage so that he may furnish the kindling for wickedness?
Fourth, it also ought to be considered how this kind of usury may impede the works of charity. A usurer tries to contract his own money that is idle and is not compelled by any present necessity for domestic uses, for some use so that it may not remain idle and fruitless, but that he may raise something profitable from it. Therefore, he contracts it out for usury, and for this reason he thinks that he looks out for his own business best. Provided with this spirit, I entreat you, when will he help neighbors who have become poor and destitute all around him? What he raises from usury, he partly assigns for necessary uses and partly for profit, to increase the share more each year by which it could grow. When do you think he will give to the destitute? When will he give a loan to a poor man seeking one freely and without usury? When does he nourish himself and his own from it? I do not think he does. "How might I give to others," he says, "for which I personally have need?" Paul says, "so that from your abundance, one may supply the lack of others" [2 Cor. 8:14] In this case, nothing is abundant. "That which I have is necessary--all of it. It must be arranged that I should adorn this standing that I have received from my ancestors, I should have the reckoning of my name and honor, I will bring up a wife and children not basely and meagerly but liberally as is suitable." This need is not a definite, moderate, and usual [amount], but an exceedingly great and splendid [amount of] money. Will he give from this what he plans for usury? By no means! He does not think these things strike at holy things. What therefore remains standing than that in such a person the works of charity are suppressed by the pursuit of amassing money--particularly if that usury is believed to be unlawful, so that the love of money ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) has seized his breast. He is stung by no sense of sin, but will he consider it that in a lawful thing there is no danger? From this cause, we hear those expressions where something is sought for a loan from such persons: "I would give," they say, "a loan if the money were available, but at the present there is no money, therefore I give nothing. I am looking out for my own good." Thus, they excuse their neglect of the need of charity [f1149]. But, why is there no money at hand? For the reason, of course, that part of it is for the domestic and daily expenses and the other part has been assigned to the enriching and accumulating of the share. From its use, we seem to come to the point that whoever has been devoted to usury for this cause that neither for [their expenses of] skills, nor for repairs, cobbling for which they owe a payment, do they render it in readiness, but they permit several years to grow great sums, so that they may not be compelled to cut from the money so much the principal of the loan. Meanwhile, somehow by the domestic need of the workers whom they owe, they oppress. In that matter, what could be thought more iniquitous?
If those things that I have examined up to this point are weighed, of course how that usury is a kindling for our own advantage, it serves unbelief and a lack of faith. Abuse attends to money that has been contracted out for usury, and just as works of charity are scuttled by the pursuit of collecting money, I believe that it is abundantly clear that not even that kind of usury that is practiced among the rather opulent, as if it is lawful, can be practiced by those who are cognizant of what is required by professors of the Christian faith, whose fraternal countersign is charity and a contempt of worldly resources, so that those who are without these [countersigns] cannot be judged as Christians.
Concerning Usury for Widows and Orphans
Whoever are protectors of either widows or orphans provoke this question in this place, whether it is lawful for them to contract out, not their own money, but the money of widows and orphans from the inheritance left by their ancestors, and to hand over their money to uses that compensate each year some gain without any of loss [to the widows and orphans]. "The money is not ours," they say, "but entrusted to us for safekeeping. What we do, we do not for ourselves but for the advantage of widows and orphans. Let us ask why we are culpable in this as if we received usury for ourselves. For we ask not for ourselves but for others--see it is all right for widows and for orphans, it is for their advantage--and, in such a manner, we fulfill a work of charity. Next we also satisfy our trust by which we are bound to them."
I respond, "It is not unknown to me, what was the custom of our ancestors, before the plague of usury profaned the church so that what previously was permitted to no one should [now] be permitted for widows and orphans. All usury was notorious, not just for widows and orphans. Finally, all the valves for this evil have been opened and the gain of usury has been permitted to everyone. Indeed, how well-advised it is for widows and orphans to follow the corruption of our times shows more clearly than the sun. A more harmful evil could not be introduced into the church of Christians, by which it begins to be troublesome in the affairs of widows and orphans in wretched ways. As a matter of fact, while the domestic fortunes are squandered in the fire by usury, I ask what is left remaining behind for the widows and orphans after the death of the head of the family because he could contract out for usury? Can it be that it would be a better decision for the widows and orphans if the license for usury has no place among Christians? Now, since the gain of usury is admitted under the pretext of being for widows and orphans, it could not be so great for those of this time to approach usury as suitable, however much evil and trouble arose from that grant to our ancestors."
Next, actually from that grant [to our ancestors] it is proven sufficiently enough how usury would not be permitted for widows and orphans by that title that it was lawful. Otherwise, to what end did it restrain the permitting and indulging of it if it had been lawful and irreprehensible? It was thought that it could be permitted to widows and orphans in this way although it was illicit for everyone else, especially because charity--that mother of all beneficence--began not only to grow cold and also sterile but to die off. If the apostolic prescription concerning widows in 1 Timothy 5[:3-16] is preserved, by all means it would look out for those both a great deal better and in a more Christian manner than through the grant of illicit usury. If as yet the widow were younger, she should work at something honest and either be a servant born from humbler birth or she should be subservient to her ancestors until an occasion is pleasantly given by the Lord to marry. If she were more advanced in age, she should live from her own [resources] simply, while her resources should last. Once those have been consumed, she should be supported either by her relatives or, if that cannot be done, by the provision of the church, in the custom of the apostolic church. At the beginning of the forming of the church of the faithful the resources of the church were amassed by contribution. How were they dispensed? They were divided exactly as anyone had need, they were not contracted out to usurers for revenue. That simplicity was suitable for the Christian faith, and it was commending that charity, with whose judgment the disciples of Christ are acquainted. Now how much more in this age of usury, should the necessity of widows and orphans be looked after by such faith, is declared daily by exceedingly many examples.
Yet, if the remaining chaos of usury and illicit contracts are to be destroyed from the community, [it will be] either by the authority of the word of God among those who wish to appear to fear God or by the power of the magistrates It should not be a worry in the next imperial elections, if in fact, as it is pretended, a reformation of the Christian church is sought! The usury that considers the necessities of widows, orphans, and those in poor-houses (ptochodochiorum) can be easily tolerated. Therefore, it must be chosen from this spirit so that if all usury in the whole world cannot be eliminated from the church of Christ, at least let those kinds be removed in which the substance of the weak are plundered in such miserable ways contrary to Christian charity. Nay more! Let [the lenders] be entirely consumed in such a way that they can endure the interest-bearing losses, out of a disposition of true love, according to the heart of Christ our Savior, either by bountifully giving or by giving a loan--a hand stretching out [to the destitute] responsible not to plunder but to assist.
Against this kind of usury the experts in canon law (Canonistae) assigned to usurers appropriate penalties more than [simply] the divine reproach. First, [usurers] are defamed by the disrepute of the law--even the civil law, not to speak of the canonical law. Next, they ought not to be admitted to the ecclesiastical communion. [f1146] Third, they ought to be excluded from ecclesiastical burial. Fourth, their wills are not to be ratified by any law, with several other just kinds of censures. Indeed those censures remained on the books without effect, and meanwhile honors of all kinds followed the usurers together with their unlawful wealth into the church. Moreover, such great impudence prevailed with impunity so that the majority of magistrates, princes, as well as the rest of the magnates, and also the Jews made a sum for their own dominions not through simple usury but by what the usurers call cultivating [usury]. They do not only make a sum, but they also contract out for temples, and by certain exactions contract with [the borrowers] something that they ought to pay out each year on account of the grant of usury. Finally, also most unjustly they compel their own subordinates in such a way that by paying such usury they are guilty. Here, those pontifical censures remain quiet, turning a blind eye to the siege engines and the tearing apart of doves.
At last we assign an end to these considerations upon usury. As I remembered the beginning, it can plainly be esteemed folly to be occupied in several things in such business, that in the fashion of a gout does not receive any doctor's hand. This evil has grown up continuously to such a degree that after the admonition of many good men has been made, it is incurable. For it corrupts those highest heads, in whose authority it was to oppose these kinds of corruptions and to direct and to guide their subjected members into the pursuit of true righteousness. The saying of Christ is "if the salt should lose its saltiness, how will it be made salty [again]?" [Matt. 5:13; Mark 9:50; Luke 14:34]. Likewise, "You are the light of the world. If the light which is in you should become dark, how great will be the darkness of the body?" [Luke 11:36]. The rest is that we should await the hand of the Lord who is soon about to destroy every kind of corruption from his church. In the end, he will come, and he will free his own. Amen and Amen. The end of the appendix concerning usury.
(1.) ... ut fere instar cancri morbi post adhibitam sectionem exitiosius quam antea excrescentis, post iustam ac condignam reprehensionem immedicabile & omnino exitiosum sit factum.
(2.) See S. Eusebii Hieronymi Stridonensis Commentariorum in Ezechielem Prophetam Libri Quatuordecim in J. P. Migne's Patrologia Latina (Paris: Garnier Fratres, 1884), 25:0176C: Putant quidam usuram tantum esse in pecunia. Quod praevidens Scriptura divina, omnis rei aufert superabundantiam, ut plus non recipias quam dedisti.
(3.) See Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1st series, 4th reprint (Peabody: Hendrikson Publishers, 2004), 8:99.
(4.) Rabbi David Kimhi (1160-1235, aka kdr) was a prolific and proficient biblical commentator, philosopher, and Hebrew grammarian. For a relatively accessible translation including Kimhi's comments on Psalm 15, see The Longer Commentary of R. David Kimhi on the First Book of Psalms (I-X, XV-XVII, XIX, XXII, XXIV), trans. by R. G. Finch (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1919), 69-73. For editions published within Musculus' lifetime, see Tehilim Mishle p'Kav ve-naki (Saloniki: Joseph ben Abraham Hayyun,1522); and Sefer Tehilim 'im perush Rabi David Kimhi (Iznah: Paul Fagius, 1542).
(5.) For the Latin text, see Corpus Iuris Civilis, vol. 2, ed. Paulus Kreuger, 11th ed. (Berolini: Weidmannsche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1954), Codex IV.xxxii.26, secs. 1-5, p. 173. For an English translation of the Codex, see The Code of Justinian, trans. Samuel P. Scott (Cincinnati: 1932), IV.xxxii.26, sec. 1-5.
(6.) scortatatio. Lit. "whoring," including all the aspects--client, prostitute, and pimp--as well as the general category of premarital and extramarital sexual practices; thus fornication. A scortator can be a prostitute, a pimp, a client, or a fornicator.
(7.) This is a common citation in the Western exegetical tradition of Christianity from the patristic period through the Reformation when commenting upon Matthew 5:20. For example, this citation of Chrysostom can be found in Thomas Aquinas' Catena Aurea in quatuor Evangelia Expositio Matthaeum, Lectio 20. The Latin and Greek text of Chrysostom is also available in Migne's Patrologia Graeca (Paris: Migne, 1859), 56:701, which attributes this quote to Pseudo-Chrysostom by its inclusion in the Opus imperfectum in Matthaeum.
(8.) Musculus employs a clever and subtle pun on the word facultates, which doubles for faculties and resources. On one hand, the poison of an asp dulls one's faculties coursing (cursus) through their veins, meaning their bodily faculties; likewise, interest poisons all of one's financial faculties or resources, racing (cursus) through their assets.
(9.) This is reported by M. Tullius Cicero in De Officiis, variously called Of Duties or Of Offices. For the Latin text and English translation, see the Loeb Classical Library Edition, De Officiis, trans. Walter Miller (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1938), bk. II.25, 265-67.
(10.) An obol is a Greek coin equal to 1/6 of a drachma.
(11.) "Ich mub mein gelt vuagen."
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||Commentary on Psalm 15 (1551)|
|Publication:||Journal of Markets & Morality|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2008|
|Previous Article:||Appendix to Psalm 15: concerning the oath.|
|Next Article:||The state of the question in religion and economics.|