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Usury by Calvin Elliott

Letter of Calvin De Usuris Responsum


Beza and others are accounted against usury.

The decisions of Ecclesiastical Councils were numerous and emphatic until the seventeenth century. Since that time interest taking has become common, all but universal, but there is no record found anywhere of its direct approval by any ecclesiastical body. The Church has come to tolerate it but has never given it official approval.

Usury has not been included in any creed or confession of faith, nor has it been directly approved by any council or general assembly.

The truth has not been left in any age without its witness. There have always been those more or less prominent in the Church who contended that it was unjust and oppressive. Some of them have been of world-wide distinction. The writer has a letter written him by John Clark Ridpath, the historian, expressing his agreement with the views presented in these pages. Another of these is brilliant John Ruskin, recently deceased. Quotations from him will close this review.

"I have not so perverted my soul nor palsied my brain as to expect to be advantaged by that adhesion (usury). I do not expect that because I have gathered much to find Nature or man gathering more for me; to find eighteen pence in my box in the morning instead of the shilling as a reward of my continence, or to make an income of my Koran by lending it to poor scholars. If

I think he can read it and will carefully turn the leaves by the outside, he is welcome to read it for nothing."

"Thus in all other possible or conceivable cases, the moment our capital is increased by having lent it, be it but the estimation of a hair, that hair-breadth of increase is usury, just as much as stealing a farthing is theft no less than stealing a million."



A mere hint of encouragement to the usurer came from Calvin. In a letter, to a friend, he hesitatingly expressed opinions that have ever since been quoted in defense of the practice. He alone of all the reformers took a doubtful stand. He has often been referred to and given great credit for his opinion, even by those who utterly reject all the doctrines he most earnestly advocated. The fear that he expressed near the opening, that some word might be seized to take more license than he would allow had reason, for this letter has been the basis for all the apologies for usury that have ever been attempted. In these last days all who have tried to present fully the moral law as comprehended in the ten commandments have felt called upon to make some apology for the prevailing practice of usury in connection with the eighth command. They all refer to this letter. Sometimes there is a brief quotation, given in Latin and left untranslated, to convince the ignorant, for Calvin wrote in Latin.

Letter of Calvin: _De Usuris Responsum_.

"I have not yet essayed what could fitly be answered to the question put to me; but I have learned by the example of others with how great danger this matter is attended. For if all usury is condemned tighter fetters are imposed on the conscience than the Lord himself would wish. Or if you yield in the least, with that pretext, very many will at once seize upon unlicensed freedom, which can then be restrained by no moderation or restriction. Were I writing to you alone I would fear this the less; for I know your good sense and moderation, but as you ask counsel in the name of another, I fear, lest he may allow himself far more than I wish by seizing upon some word, yet confident that you will look closely into his character and from the matter that is here treated judge what is expedient, and to what extent, I shall open my thoughts to you.

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