More on Interest


Canon 17 of the Council of Nicaea (325 AD)

Since many enrolled have been induced by greed and avarice to forget the sacred text, "who does not put out his money at interest", and to charge one per cent on loans, this holy and great synod judges that if any are found after this decision to receive interest by contract or to transact the business in any other way or to charge fifty per cent or in general to devise any other contrivance for the sake of dishonourable gain, they shall be deposed from the clergy and their names struck from the roll.

from: Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, edited by Norman P. Tanner.

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Canon V of the Council of Carthage (419)

Aurelius, the bishop, said: The cupidity of avarice (which, let no one doubt, is the mother of all evil things), is to be henceforth prohibited, lest anyone should usurp another's limits, or for gain should pass beyond the limits fixed by the fathers, nor shall it be at all lawful for any of the clergy to receive usury of any kind. And those new edicts (suggestiones) which are obscure and generally ambiguous, after they have been examined by us, will have their value fixed (formam accipiunt); but with regard to those upon which the Divine Scripture hath already most plainly given judgment, it is unnecessary that further sentence should be pronounced, but what is already laid down is to be carried out. And what is reprehensible in laymen is worthy of still more severe censure in the clergy. The whole synod said: No one hath gone contrary to what is said in the Prophets and in the Gospels with impunity.

Ancient Epitome of Canon V:

As the taking of any kind of usury is condemned in laymen, much more is it condemned in clergymen.

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St. Leo the Great:

And hence, whatever result follow, the money-lender's trade is always bad, for it is sin either to lessen or increase the sum, in that if he lose what he lent he is wretched, and if he takes more than he lent he is more wretched still. The iniquity of money-lending must absolutely be abjured, and the gain which lacks all humanity must be shunned. A man's possessions are indeed multiplied by these unrighteous and sorry means, but the mind's wealth decays because usury of money is the death of the soul . For what God thinks of such men the most holy Prophet David makes clear, for when he asks, "Lord, who shall dwell in thy tabernacle, or who shall rest upon thy holy hill9 ?" he receives the Divine utterance in reply, from which he learns that that man attains to eternal rest who among other rules of holy living "hath not given his money upon usury" and thus he who gets deceitful gain from lending his money on usury is shown to be both an alien from God's tabernacle and an exile from his holy hill, and in seeking to enrich himself by other's losses, he deserves to be punished with eternal neediness.

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Excursus on Usury

- - From: The Early Church Fathers; Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, editors: Volume XIV.

The famous canonist Van Espen defines usury thus: "Usura definitur lucrum ex mutuo exactum aut speratum;"(1) and then goes on to defend the proposition that, "Usury is forbidden by natural, by divine, and by human law. The first is proved thus. Natural law, as far as its first principles are concerned, is contained in the decalogue; but usury is prohibited in the decalogue, inasmuch as theft is prohibited; and this is the opinion of the Master of the Sentences, of St. Bonaventura, of St. Thomas and of a host of others: for by the name of theft in the Law all unlawful taking of another's goods is prohibited; but usury is an unlawful, etc." For a proof of usury's being contrary to divine law he cites Ex. xxii. 25, and Deut. xxiii. 29; and from the New Testament Luke vi. 34. "The third assertion is proved thus. Usury is forbidden by human law: The First Council of Nice in Canon XVII. deposed from the clergy and from all ecclesiastical rank, clerics who took usury; and the same thing is the case with an infinite number of councils, in fact with nearly all e.g. Elvira, ij, Arles j, Carthage iij, Tours iij, etc. Nay, even the pagans themselves formerly forbid it by their laws." He then quotes Tacitus (Annal. lib. v.), and adds, "with what severe laws the French Kings coerced usurers is evident from the edicts of St. Louis, Philip IV., Charles IX., Henry III., etc."

There can be no doubt that Van Espen in the foregoing has accurately represented and without any exaggeration the universal opinion of all teachers of morals, theologians, doctors, Popes, and Councils of the Christian Church for the first fifteen hundred years. All interest exacted upon loans of money was looked upon as usury, and its reception was esteemed a form of theft and dishonesty. Those who wish to read the history of the matter in all its details are referred to Bossuet's work on the subject, Traite de l'Usure, where they will find the old, traditional view of the Christian religion defended by one thoroughly acquainted with all that could be said on the other side.

The glory of inventing the new moral code on the subject, by which that which before was looked upon as mortal sin has been transfigured into innocence, if not virtue, belongs to John Calvin! He made the modern distinction between "interest" and "usury," and was the first to write in defence of this then new-fangled refinement of casuistry.(1) Luther violently opposed him, and Melancthon also kept to the old doctrine, though less violently(as was to be expected); today the whole Christian West, Protestant and Catholic alike, stake their salvation upon the truth of Calvin's distinction!

full text, with citations to Patristic texts.

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"Certainly, if the criterion of truth, as regards any doctrine, be that of St. Vincent of Lerins - that it has been held in the Church 'always, everywhere, and by all' - then on no point may a Christian of these days be more sure than that every savings institution, every loan and trust company, every bank, every loan of capital by an individual, every means by which accumulated capital has been lawfully lent even at the most moderate interest, to make men workers rather than paupers, is based on deadly sin." -- Andrew Dickson White, 1896. [White is a supporter of interest and a critic of the traditional Christian position.]

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"This hath been the generall judgment of the Church for above this fifteene hundred yeeres, without opposition, in this point. Poor sillie Church of Christ, that could never finde a lawfull usurie before this golden age wherein we live." -- Roger Fenton, A Treatise of Usurie, 1612.

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