This post has 3,460 words.
Five hundred years ago, today, Pope Leo X, authorised usury (the charging of interest), terminating 1500 years of Catholic/Christian prohibition. This single act opened the gates of usury hell, from which the flood has since never abated. In this post I explain the event, give background information putting the decision into proper political context, and make comment on the “slippery slide” in which the Catholic church (and most of Christendom) and in due course the entire Western world has found itself.
Interest compounds (it is exponential by nature) and is therefore an unsustainable practice.
It is the mechanism by which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and enslavement can occur.
Biblical teaching back to the Old Testament is solid with the Torah specifically prohibiting the practice3, except as a tool in which to enslave God’s enemies 4. Of course Jesus too clearly denounced usury 5.
For fifteen hundred years the leaders of the Christian church had unanimously condemned usury as evil6. Participating in the practice (either as a lender or a borrower) was considered a mortal sin and had very serious consequences.7[Usury] is the mechanism by which … enslavement can occur
On the 4th April, 1515, Pope Leo X for the first time in the history of the Catholic church, approved the charging of interest for the Montes Pietatis. This Catholic social service was essentially a pawn shop in competition with the primarily Jewish money-lenders and following Leo’s endorsement it flourished, particularly in Italy as a direct result of the Papal Bull giving moral approval to the practice.
With this one act, usury as an immoral concept per se, was now formally redefined into a matter of degree. Usury thus became viewed as excessive interest and usurers as those who charged interest at excessive rates. No-one can ever define “excessive” of course!
Except for very small pockets of enlightenment, and the Islaamic banking world, the charging (and receiving) of interest is now normal across the globe.
The Papal bull, issued 500 years ago today, 4 May 1515, which sanctioned the charging of “moderate” interest for the Monti di Pietà, stands condemned as a ‘red letter’ document in history, the point at which mankind consciously stepped on the ‘slippery slope’. The influence of the Catholic church, and then the majority of the Protestant church8 of course has been profound.
Pope Leo X could be considered a ‘playboy’ pope. His lifestyle appears to have been loose. Responsibility with money was not his strong suit, having squandered substantial resources prior to the Fifth Lateran Council. As Michael Hoffman pointed out to me, not exactly a “pious” pope due to his:
He ruled as Pope from 1513 until his death in 1521 (45yo), and had the ignominy of being at the helm, perhaps even the one who generated the ire of Martin Luther when Luther took the Catholic church on and thereby started the Protestant Revolution. One of the key concerns Luther had was the practice of indulgences introduced by Leo X.
For eons the big names of the Catholic church had denounced usury as outright evil – viewed unanimously as an immoral and accursed conduct. The Money Power however exerted various forms of pressure on the church to authorise usury, but she resisted . . . until today 500 years ago.
The politics surrounding this Papal bull are well detailed in Michael Hoffman’s Usury in Christendom – The Mortal Sin that Was and Now is Not, but in essence there was extreme pressure on the Catholic church to deal with high interest rates from the Florentine bankers and others where interest rates of 45% were normal and 60% quite common.
With short monetary supply at the time the ‘nod’ given to the church’s own pawn shop to charge “moderate” interest (and only for the purposes of cost-recovery) must have seemed very reasonable to those involved.
The question of usury as an immoral, scripturally prohibited act in itself was not addressed specifically.
The question however applied to the purpose for which the usury was applied. Leo’s words are quite clear that the reason for charging interest was well intended therefore it was moral. This is the key factor in the decision and to many a serious investigator, a fundamental flaw in biblical exegesis.
Excommunication was threatened against anyone who spoke against the decree of April 1515.
In the 500 years since, no pope has done anything to change the status quo [that usury was now defined asexcessive interest, rather than any interest], although many have spoken out against the social consequences of the practice of charging interest.
Once no longer a mortal sin, the door was opened and all hell broke loose within the church, literally.
It’s easy to look back now and see the resultant damage to mankind . . . first the Catholic church ramped up it’s own lending services; then it worked with others in private enterprise through business partnerships supporting all manner of usurious practices.all hell broke loose
Although there were pockets of ‘resistance’, the bulk of the Protestant churches also took over the same practices of accepting it by assessing usury as a matter of degree, rather than as an absolute.
Defining excessive interest rates is impossible; for example justifying a 20% interest rate is easy in the context of others charging 45%, but even 0.25% interest compounding still enslaves totally eventually.
The Catholic church today is a major player on the international monetary scene and the charging and receiving of interest is now ‘normal’ throughout the Western world.
I find the decision of the Fifth Lateran Council and ratified by Pope Leo X to be contrary to the clear teaching of scripture and the date 4 April 1515 to be a significant one in the history of mankind.10
While currently widespread, usury, the practice of charging interest, is not NORMAL, nor is NECESSARY, nor is it NICE. It enslaves; runs contrary to clear biblical teaching and everything I know about the heart of God which is to LOVE & GIVE and to do so freely in the light of His Word and His example – Jesus.
The decision itself is akin to that of saying, it’s now OK to poison your children, but just do it if there’s too many of them to feed easily – essentially justifying evil as a means for an end, a concept that only ever comes from the pit of hell.a concept that only ever comes from the pit of hell
Those who claim to love God should study the events of 500 years ago, and revisit their perception of usury, what is in my opinion an immoral and according to scripture, an outright evil practice. 11
The book of Daniel; the book of Revelation to John; the growing recognition that something is seriously wrong with the global economy; the power of precedent by way of individually collapsed societies all point to an impending international trauma. I think that it is quite possible that the Lord knows and understands this all!
It’s our job then to read, to ask questions, to think, to work it out and to then act intelligently.It’s our job … work it out and to then act intelligently
While challenging, there are simple straight-forward ways to address this evil. Cold-turkey extraction from all usurious money is unrealistic for many but should the current usurious financial system collapse under its own weight (as the natural consequences of evil always does cause implosion, death and destruction) then people will be forced to consider alternatives. The sooner the better in my book. As they say, it’s better to be a year or two early than a day or two late!
I have blogged extensively and intend to continue blogging about the subject and those various alternatives. My free eBook Mistakes of the Monetary Reformers is a good place to start.
Thanks for stopping by. It hasn’t been much of a pleasure sharing with you today, because it is a sad day and a sad topic, but hopefully we can all proceed with our living today a little wiser.
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1. I consider the Wikipedia definition a poor definition, for it describes usury as “excessive interest” and only mentions that some people consider usury as ANY interest. This is the wrong way around – it should be rephrased that usury IS interest and some people (even the majority of people) consider it to be excessive interest.
2. The definition of usury was universally accepted as ANY charges additional to the amount loaned. Some defined it as theft of time, owned by God and therefore not commercialisable by man. This concept is foreign to modern Western man but this has not always been the case. In Samoa for example the repayment of debts has historically not been affected by time, so that a delay in repayment did not incur a required increase in payment (the essence of charging interest).
4. You must not charge interest on a loan to your fellow Israelite, whether on money, food, or anything else that has been loaned with interest. You may lend with interest to a foreigner, but not to your fellow Israelite
8. The Protestant take on usury is best outlined in Michael Hoffman’s book Usury in Christendom where he shows that the Catholic practices were generally, but not exclusively followed by the Protestants. It’s not a simple or black and white issue as some portray it to be. Regardless, usury is the basis of all Legal Tender money used across the globe today and the curse applies to all.
10. Prior to publication I sought opinion from others on the significance of this date. In discussion with Michael Hoffman he agreed, saying: “Leo X’s gradual relaxation of the immemorial divine law against any interest on loans of money was indeed a monumental betrayal and deserves to be commemorated as such.”
i) Widespread Old Testament prohibition & condemnation in both the Torah (Law) and wisdom literature;
Understanding that the one Old Testament scripture that authorised usury did so as a method to enslave God’s enemies removes any doubt that usury was prohibited. Claiming that this one exception permits wholesale usury brings scripture into conflict with scripture. God is not confused about the matter! Likewise with the New Testament teaching – Jesus came to fulfil the law, thus any scripture that appears to endorse something prohibited in the Old Testament must be being interpreted wrongly. The parables used to justify usury are interpreted in different ways – the traditional teaching and cursory assumption that the greedy unjust master is a type of God and that usury is a good thing, doesn’t ‘wash’ with me in the slightest. The parables speak of other matters, contrast the ‘way of the world’ not encourage us to act immorally and don’t condone usury for me – at all!
It’s a slam-dunk – Usury is evil, period.