They Do Not Charge Interest

"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!"

“This interest, which you take, is full of extreme inhumanity. You make profit from misfortune, you collect money from tears . . . ” ~ St. Basil the Great

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.
(Psalm 15:5)

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.

40DAYSBLOG

This is day fifteen of the 40 Days of Blogging.
For more articles on avarice, check out these bloggers.

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About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
This entry was posted in 40 Days of Blogging, Money. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to They Do Not Charge Interest

  1. I make this my own personal policy. Money (if available) or personal assistance) is offered without charge, though contributions to assist with meeting actual costs is not refused. Such is our Christian moral duty while remaining wise as serpents in choosing how and when to give.

  2. tpkatsa says:

    I would agree with Deacon Finbarr. As a metter of personal policy, one ought not to charge interest. In fact Christ says to lend expecting nothing in return! However, these citations above lack the theme of personal responsibility of the borrower, and their implications are suspect. Allow me to explain.

    A borrowing arrangement is by definition an agreement between two parties free of coercision. One party, usually a financial institution, called a lender, and the other party, called a borrower, agree to terms and conditions of a loan. If a lender cannot charge interest, then the lender goes out of business. If the borrower cannot pay back the loan, he goes bankrupt. But the onus is on the borrower to ensure he can pay back the loan according to the terms and conditions therein. This arrangement is not in and of itself a sin, otherwise we should see more bankers and home buyers in the confession on Sundays.

    In the parable of the talents the Lord condemns the servant who buried his talent in the ground, saying that the servant could have at least put the money out at interest.

    The implication of this post is that everyone who is involved with lending at interest is guilty of some grievous sin. I reject this notion becuase nowhere is the borrower held accountable for exercising poor financial judgment. The borrower of money that one cannot afford to pay back is also at fault here.

    You fail to condemn those who borrow just to satisfy trivial material wants, for example the guy who puts $500 on his credit card just because he wants a new TV when his current TV will do. Why is that decision the fault of the credit card company? It isn’t. But you’d be the first to defend this guy when he can’t pay back the loan at 25% interest, even though he made a bad decision and/or didn’t read the T&C’s of the agreement.

    So, I reject the notion that God is going to condemn either borrowers or lenders, simply for doing the same. If one is condemned so is the other. But the fact is that most people living in a modern society need access to some kind of credit, e.g. for a car or for a house. Credit, which is usury, like most things in life, is neither moral nor immoral. It is how credit is used that is moral or immoral.

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and say I’m thankful that we do live in an age where we have access to credit. We put everything on our credit card. Of course we are careful to pay it off in full every month. But doing so allows us to see exactly what we spend every month. It also affords us a level of protection in case we buy a shoddy product. The credit card company will in many cases go to bat for us if there is some kind of a problem with a merchant.

    Generally speaking I reject a theology that cannot adapt itself to the conditions of modern life. Now I know that Orthodoxy is not such a theology but you go to great pains making it appear to be so. We don’t live in Biblical times or in the 6th century. Credit is a fact of modern life. The moral thing to do is not to condemn those who make possible the responsible purchase of needed goods, but rather to instruct people on the proper use of credit. Used wisely, credit is good. Used poorly, yes, credit can be sinful.

    One other thing I forgot to add. Interest is nothing more than the price of money. This is basic economics. So when you say that there should be no interest, you are really saying that money ought to be free. As we saw during the housing crisis free money – or nearly free money – can have devastating effects. If anything, interest rates ought to be somewhat higher to discourage irresponsible borrowing and encourage more saving.

    Finally, if money should be free then you’re really saying we should put lenders out of business. Setting aside for a moment the terrible ramifications of such a decision, what about all of the people employed by the lenders? Is it moral that they should lose their means of earning a living because you believe money should be free?

    I believe that there is no moral problem with the responsible use of credit – either by those who provide it or by those who use it.Hopefully something I’ve said here will sway you – or at least encourage some reflection.

    • Thomas, your argument is not with me. Your argument is with Scripture and with the Fathers. For many, many centuries, they consistently condemned the charging of interest, regardless of whether the borrower was rich or poor, regardless of whether the purchase was large or small, and regardless of whether the purchase was a necessity or a luxury. If you want to interact directly with what St. Leo and St. Basil said about interest, then please do so.

      I am only aware of a couple passages in Scripture which are commonly (mis)used to justify the charging of interest. Christ’s parable of the talents is one of them. Jesus was not condoning interest. Because the evil servant had accused the Master of being hard and austere, Jesus simply said that the servant should have acted accordingly, for lending-at-interest is precisely what hard and austere masters do. Suffice it to say that none of the Church Fathers ever interpreted that parable in the way you do.

      This article is directed at those who lend at interest. This article is not directed to those who, out of necessity, are forced into the difficult position of having to borrow at interest. Lenders and borrowers, while related, are two different classes of people, and need to be understood differently. The biblical and patristic condemnations are nearly always for the lenders, not for the borrowers.

      Am I saying that we should put lenders out of business? Yes, yes I am.

  3. Pingback: Interest is Theft | The Orthodox Life

  4. Need is a fierce driver. Our business world is built on satisfying both real and imagined needs. Christians ought not take advantage of need. Sadly there are others in the word giving a better example. We ought take from such the opportunity by example to be reminded of our true duties that by God’s help we may return to the true high standards of the name Christian.

  5. Pingback: The Banker’s Witching Hour | The Orthodox Life

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