Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

Appendix to Psalm 15: Concerning Usury

Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

Appendix to Psalm 15: Concerning Usury

Article excerpt

Among the remaining evils of this present age, the plague of usury has also continuously grown up, and has become ripe for divine vengeance, so that I may clearly testify that whatsoever I say on this topic is--to as great a degree as you like with as much [f1138] earnestness and even with a singular zeal--in vain. If, in fact, we have been acquainted with it by experience, this evil moreover only the ancient men accepted; whereas, in our age it has begun to be led forth and restrained in the opinions and writings of pious and learned men. It is almost like having a surgery applied to a cancer only in its destructive stage rather than previously in its growing stage. [And this surgery occurs only] after a just and fitting diagnosis (reprehensio) that the cancer is now entirely destructive and incurable. (1) Therefore, it is not without cause [that I consider this] undertaking a vain work, and, as the proverb goes, "I appear to wash a brick," if it were not that I am restrained by the bond of a promise, and I am yielding to the will of the brethren. For this reason, I am speaking about usury, insofar as it might be conducive for pious persons and those not yet hopelessly seized by this pestilential disease. I know that when it has been debated, even by those [learned and pious men], concerning usury, it is not argued in the German manner but, actually, in the manner of the schools of foreign nations. To be sure, the scholastic decisions are no less complex than the intricate nature of this sort of avarice, but I will by no means touch upon that [topic], but, rather, I will simply mention those things that, it seems to me, must be said without any sort of thorny debate. To that end, in the first place, I will say what usury is. Next, as it seems [to me] whether it is lawful for Christians, I will compare that [practice] with the teaching (doctrina) of Christ and with the profession of the Christian religion.

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. …

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