Monday, February 27, 2012

Quotations on Usury and Historic Christianity

Below are a collection of quotes I used in a lecture today about usury and Christianity in Late Antiquity and Middle Ages.  The one by Philip Daileader is the most interesting one.

…towns-people could assuage the guilt—purge the guilt—caused by their own greed and their own obsession with time.  Medieval moralists condemned towns-people for being so concerned with money and profit—and, odd as this might seem to us today, [for whom] planning doesn’t seem like much of a sin…—Medieval moralists considered it bad for individuals to plan about the future, to care about the future too much.  Because if you plan actively what you are going to be doing tomorrow or the next day and a year from now, you are showing insufficient trust in God…
Philip Daileader.  High Middle Ages.  Lecture 10: Francis of Assisi and the Franciscan Movement.  The Teaching Company.

Many held that one simply could not be both a merchant and a Christian…
—David Graeber in Debt: The First 5,000 Years

If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest.
—Exodus 22:25 (New International Version)

Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary?
Who may live  on your holy hill?
…who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things will never be shaken.
—Psalm 15 (New International Version)

Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies?  I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain.  But let the exacting of usury stop!  Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the usury you are charging them…
—Nehemiah 5:9 (New International Version)

Who has withdrawn his hand from the poor And not received usury or increase, But has executed my judgments And walked in My statutes—He shall not die for the iniquity of his father; He shall surely live!
—Ezekiel 18:17 (New King James Bible)
“In you they take bribes to shed blood; you take usury and increase; you have made profit from your neighbors by extortion and have forgotten Me,” says the Lord GOD.
—Ezekiel 18:13 (New King James Bible)

Do not charge your brother interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest.  You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a brother Israelite…
—Deuteronomy 23:19 (New International Version)

What should the rich man do when receiving a visit from his troubled neighbor?  True, Jesus had said to give without expectation of return, but it seemed unrealistic to expect most Christians to do that.  And even if they did, what sort of ongoing relationships would that create?  St. Basil took the radical position.  God had given us all things in common, and he had specifically instructed the rich to give their possessions to the poor.  The communism of the Apostles—who pooled all their wealth, and took freely what they needed—was thus the only proper model for a truly Christian society.
—David Graeber in Debt: The First 5,000 Years

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life.
   And why do you worry about clothes?...So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things…Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself…
—Matthew 6:14 (New International Version)

The Lord gave His own injunction quite plainly in the words, “from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.”
     But what of the money lover?  He sees before him a man under stress of necessity bent to the ground in supplication.  He sees him hesitating at no act, no words, of humiliation.  He sees him suffering undeserved misfortune, but he is merciless.  He does not reckon that he is a fellow-creature.  He does not give in to his entreaties.  He stands stiff and sour.  He is moved by no prayers; his resolution is broken by no tears….
With pretences of this kind and talk like this he fawns on the wretched victim, and induces him to swallow the bait.  Then he binds him with a written security, adds loss of liberty to the trouble of his pressing poverty, and is off.  The man who has made himself responsible for interest that he cannot pay has accepted voluntary slavery for life.
Saint Basil.  Sermon on usury given in 365 A.D.  This sermon set the standard for the morality of usury for centuries.

…fathers forced to sell their children, debtors who hanged themselves out of shame.  Usury, he observed, must be considered a form of violent robbery, even murder.
—David Graeber in Debt: The First 5,000 Years