Monday, June 11, 2012

Saint Basil on Usury and Debt

Today consumer debt is 2.5 trillion dollars indicating how far we have moved from Gospel traditions.  In Scripture we are taught not to enslave others through usury, contracts and interest, but to give those in need without expectation of return.  On the other hand we are also not encouraged to seek loans to support a lifestyle of luxury beyond our current means to pay.  But, in today's culture, we find the poor being charged exorbitant interest rates, and those with means seeking to satisfy unconstrained desires for material goods, taking on loans they often have difficulty repaying. This is a tragedy of our times.

Saint Basil the Great wrote about this some seventeen hundred years ago in his commentary on Psalm 14.
He writes:
The Lord has laid a clear command on us, saying: 'And from him who would borrow of thee, do not turn away" (Matt 5:42)... the avaricious person... does not pity one who is suffering misfortune beyond his desert; he takes no account of his nature; he doe not yield to his supplications; but, rigid and harsh he stands, yielding to no entreaties, touched by no tears, preserving in his refusal... But when he who is seeking the loan makes mention of interest and names his securities, then, pulling down his eyebrows, he smiles and remembers somewhere or other a family friendship, and calling him associate and fried, he says, 'We shall see if we have any money at all reserved.'.. he binds them with contracts.
As the poor in need of necessities seek to find means to relieve their immediate difficulty, they are faced with hard hearts, disdain, and numerous money sharks willing to extract high interest rates to capitalize on their plight, followed by unscrupoulous credit collectors when their payments falter.

Saint Basil writes:
If he had been able to make you richer, why would he have sought your doors?  Coming for assistance he found hostility... It was your duty to relieve the destitution of the man, but you, seeing to drain the desert dry, increased his need.  Just as is some physician, visiting sick, instead of restoring health to them would take away even their little remnant of bodily strength, so you also would make the misfortunes of the wretched an opportunity of revenue... Do you know that you are making an addition to your sin greater that the increase to your wealth, which you are planning from the interest? 
Christ tells us, "do good, and lend,  not hoping for any return" (Luke 6:35). When we follow this commandment we gain true interest, benefits in heaven.

Saint Basil writes:
Whenever you have the intention of providing for a poor man for the Lord's sake, the same thing is both a gift and a loan, a gift because of the expectation of no repayment, but a loan because of the great gift of the Master who pay in his place, and who, receiving trifling things through a poor man, will give great things in return for them. "He that hath mercy on the poor length to God." (Prov. 19:17)... Give the money,... without weighing it down with additional charges, and it will be good for both of you.... The Lord will pay the interest for the poor... The interest, which you take, is full of extreme inhumanity.  You make a 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...
We expected are to give freely with love and compassion to help those in need. The Lord has told us, "And from him who would borrow of thee, do not turn away" (Matt 5:42).
Saint Basil says,
...Do not give your money at interest, on 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.
He also speaks to those who are not poor out of necessities but seek to gain more out of their greed or unchecked desires. Warns them about enslaving theme selves with debt.

He writes:
'Drink water out of thy own cistern.' (Prov. 5:15) that is, examine your own resources... Borrowing is the beginning of falsity; an opportunity for ingratitude, for senseless pride...  When you have borrowed you will not be rich, and you will be deprived of freedom. He who borrows is the slave of his creditor, a slave serving for pay...
He who owes is both poor and full of worries, sleepless by night, sleepless by day, anxious at all times; now he is putting a value on his own possessions, now on the costly houses, the fields of the rich, the clothing of chance comers, the table furnishing  of those entertaining....
How many men, after building castles in the air , have as their only benefit, a loss beyond measure?
We should not seek to borrow just to acquire the goods of those who are wealthier than we are as this only puts us under slavery to those whom we borrow from. This includes larger houses, fancy cars, entertainment system, stylish clothes and so forth.  Can't we see the problem this causes in the current mortgage crisis with the many foreclosures, people losing their homes they bought that were beyond their means, fulfilling unrealistic dreams, hoping for a lifestyle of those who were much richer?  Is this not the sin of gluttony, of wanting more than what we need. Why jeopardize our future, why put such undue strains on our family fearing the payment of our many creditors?  This has become a common problem adding to the anxiety of modern life and separating us from God.

The clear teaching from Saint Basil the Great is simple.  Give to those in need without expectations of return out of your heartfelt compassion for their plight and you will gain interest and repayment in heaven.  Do not borrow from others to meet your earthly desires, but instead adjust your expectations to what you can afford and be satisfied with securing the necessities of life based on what you have saved, and not some fairytale ideal of what it means to have the "good life," hoping that at sometime in the future you will be able to pay for it.  This lifestyle that has become common in this age only leads to a life biased on anxiety and ever  increasing desires.

The credit card is a relatively new phenomenon. The visa card was established in 1966 which hosted in the idea of a universal credit system with revolving accounts.  Before that loans were hard to come by and were only taken out in large sums based on collateral. But with the Banks invention of the finical instrument of the credit card, anyone could now purchase without having to repay. Initially the early credit cards required payment within a month.  But with Visa consumers could buy beyond their means and repay only a small amount each month, with, of course, a hefty interest rate of 18%.   Also, a short time later, auto loans were created with multiple year terms. Then came house mortgages with smaller and smaller down payments required, and even most recently with zero down patent!  Beware of the dangers of this system of loose credit which permeates the modern way of life. It can trap you relying on your pride, greed and unchecked desires. It undermines your freedom and can lead to  high anxiety and stressful relationships when you are not able to make the payments. Worst, it leads to conditions where you are no longer connected with God.

Reference: Homily 12 on the Psalms, Saint Basil the Great


  1. Something that so many need to hear these days.

    On a related point, what can be said of those who have taken on significant debt, not out of greed, but simply to pay basic bills (food, rent, etc.) during this recession?

  2. St. Basil: Do not give your money at interest, on 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.
    Jct: And he didn't even have access to the Gospel of Thomas that had been suppressed: 95: Jesus said: If you have money, do not lend it out at interest.
    From are bible verses:
    In Matthew chapter 13:10, it tells where he was asked,
    Why did he speak in parables so meanings they were masked?
    "The reason for disguise of message," note the words he said:
    "It all comes down to interest, the theme affects the head.
    To those who have abundance will be given even more,
    From those without abundance will be taken from their store."
    This mathematical equation states the function best,
    This Biblical description of the function interest.
    To those with spare, the positives, they'll get some extra perks,
    And those with none, they'll have to pay, that's how the system works.
    The rich get richer, poor get poorer. It's not brotherhood.
    It's obvious that interest is Reverse-Robin-Hood.
    This rule of more abundance was repeated down the line,
    In Matthew 13:12 and 25 verse 29,
    In Luke 19 verse 26, with 8:18 as well,
    In Marc 4:25, five times Christ used these words for Hell.
    In Thomas 41 from Nag Hammadi scrolls anew,
    Apocalypse of Peter 83:27 too
    So Luke, Marc, Matthew, Thomas, Peter, seven times do cite
    What most preoccupied the Christ: the Beast he had to fight.
    Death-gamble mort-gage was oppression yoke of slavery,
    To battle loansharks for the world was why his bravery.

    Omitted from the Bible but in Gnostic Text is found,
    The greatest of all Christian laws for economics sound.
    St. Thomas in verse 95's where Jesus said it best:
    "If you have money, do not lend it out at interest,
    But rather give it to one from whom you won't get it back,"
    Thus helping out the poorest saves us from financial lack.
    So Paul to the Corinthians 2, Chapter 8, 14,
    We find abundance matched to need with charity foreseen,
    "Your own abundance now should be supplying for their need,
    That their abundance later will supply you your own seed.
    And in this way, who gathers much will not have over-fill,
    And he who gathers little will be taken care of still.
    And in this way there soon will be a rich equality,
    Where people help each other with great productivity."

  3. Here is what Saint Basil says in his commentary on the Psalm

    Drink water out of thy own cistern/10 that is, examine your own resources, do not go to the springs belonging to others, but from your own streams gather for yourself the consolations of life. Do you have metal plates, clothing, beasts of burden, utensils of every kind? Sell them; permit all things to go except your liberty...Do not go to another's doors. 'For truly another's well is narrow'. It is better to relieve the necessity gradually by various devices, than, after having been suddenly lifted up by others' resources, to be later deprived of all your belongings at once...Borrowing is the beginning of falsity; an opportunity for ingratitude, for senseless pride, for perjury. When you have borrowed, you will not be rich, and you will be deprived of freedom. He who borrows is the slave of his creditor, a slave serving for pay, who endures unmerciful servitude...For, the loan does not provide complete deliverance, but a short delaying of your hardship. Let us suffer the difficulties from want today and not put it off until tomorrow.


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