For 2000 years, Holy Scripture and the Church Fathers have spoken with one voice:
It is a sin to charge interest on a loan.
Charging interest is evidence of greed, and is a sign of avarice.
The Psalmist, among many others in Scripture, speaks out strongly against usury. For people to be righteous, Scripture says the following criteria are necessary:
They do not charge interest on money they lend
and do not take money to hurt innocent people.
Whoever does all these things will never be destroyed.
In his “Explanation of the Psalms”, Cassiodorus (a 6th century monk) commented on this passage of Scripture. He pointed out that “we are absolutely forbidden to put [money] out to usury, because it is the vice of greed to seek to demand what you know you have not lent.”
We are forbidden to collect interest, because it is money we have not earned, money we have not worked for. We did not lend that interest to the person in the first place, so by what right do we collect it?
St. Leo the Great makes similar comments regarding loans that accrue interest:
The evil of usury must be shunned, and the profit that lacks all human kindness must be avoided. The means for unjust and grievous gain is increased, but the essence of the soul is worn down, since usury in money is the ruin of the soul. The holy prophet David showed what God thinks about the people of this kind when he says, “Lord, who will dwell in your tent, or who will rest on your holy mountain?” Those are taught by the reply of the divine voice, and those know that they have a part in eternal rest if, among the other rules of a holy life, “they do not give their own money at usury.” They are shown to be strangers to the “tent” of God and foreign to his “holy mountain” if they seize a deceitful profit for their money by usury, and, while they want to be rich through another’s loss, they are worthy to be punished by eternal penury
~ St. Leo the Great
If a person cannot afford life’s necessities, then after loaning him the necessary money, how will he be able to repay the entire loan, and interest besides? Instead of seeking to profit from his misery, we would do better to give alms.
St. Ambrose observed, “Nations have often failed because of usury, and this has been the cause of public calamity. “
St. Basil the Great, in his Homilies on the Psalms, gives a more extended treatment of this passage of Scripture (Psalm 15):
Give the money, since it is lying idle, without weighing it down with additional charges, and it will be good for both of you. There will be for you the assurance of its safety because of his custody; for him receiving it, the advantage from its use. And, if you are seeking additional payment, be satisfied with that from the Lord. He himself will pay the interest for the poor. Expect kindly acts from him who is truly kind.
This interest, which you take, is full of extreme inhumanity. You make profit from misfortune, you collect money from tears, you strangle the naked, you beat the famished; nowhere is there mercy, no thought of relationship with the sufferer; and you call the profits from these things humane!
Woe to you who say that the bitter is sweet and the sweet bitter, and who call inhumanity by the name of humanity. … “People do not gather grapes from thorns or figs from thistles,” or humanity from interest. Every “bad tree bears bad fruit.”
Some are collectors of a hundredfold and some collectors of tenfold, names horrible indeed to hear; monthly exactors, they attack the poor according to the cycles of the moon, like those demons that cause epileptic fits.
It is wicked lending for both, for the giver and for the receiver, bringing loss to the one in money and to the other in soul.… It is not evident for whom you collect. It is indeed apparent who he is who weeps because of the interest, but it is doubtful who he is who is to enjoy the abundance that comes from it. In fact, it is uncertain whether you will not leave to others the gift of wealth, but the evil of injustice you have treasured up for yourself. “And from him who would borrow of you, do not turn away,” and do not give your money at interest, in order that, having been taught what is good from the Old and the New Testament, you may depart to the Lord with good hope, receiving there the interest from your good deeds, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and power forever. Amen.
~ St. Basil the Great
In both the Old Testament and the New Testament, many passages mirror the teaching of Psalm 15. Lending money is OK, but charging interest is prohibited.
And there is great consensus among the Fathers of the Church, agreeing with St. Ambrose, St. Leo, and St. Basil. Charging interest is a failure to love one’s neighbor.
Let us be the friends and protectors of the poor.
Let us not be their oppressors.