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Of Usury, from Brant's Stultifera Navis (the Ship of Fools); woodcut attributed to Albrecht Dürer.

Usury from Medieval Latin usuria, "interest", or from Latin usura, "interest") originally was the charging of interest on loans; this included charging a fee for the use of money, such as at a bureau de change. In places where interest became acceptable, usury was interest above the rate allowed by law. Today, usury commonly is the charging of unreasonable or relatively high rates of interest. The term is largely derived from Christian religious principles; Riba is the corresponding Arabic term and ribbit is the Hebrew word.

The pivotal change in the English-speaking world seems to have come with the permission to charge interest on lent money: particularly the 1545 act "An Acte Agaynst Usurie" (37 H.viii 9) of King Henry VIII of England.


  • Those who devour usury will not stand except as stand one whom the Evil one by his touch Hath driven to madness. That is because they say: "Trade is like usury," but Allah hath permitted trade and forbidden usury. Those who after receiving direction from their Lord, desist, shall be pardoned for the past; their case is for Allah (to judge); but those who repeat (The offence) are companions of the Fire: They will abide therein (for ever).
    • Original: الَّذِينَ يَأْكُلُونَ الرِّبَا لَا يَقُومُونَ إِلَّا كَمَا يَقُومُ الَّذِي يَتَخَبَّطُهُ الشَّيْطَانُ مِنَ الْمَسِّ ذَلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ قَالُوا إِنَّمَا الْبَيْعُ مِثْلُ الرِّبَا وَأَحَلَّ اللَّهُ الْبَيْعَ وَحَرَّمَ الرِّبَا فَمَنْ جَاءَهُ مَوْعِظَةٌ مِنْ رَبِّهِ فَانْتَهَى فَلَهُ مَا سَلَفَ وَأَمْرُهُ إِلَى اللَّهِ وَمَنْ عَادَ فَأُولَئِكَ أَصْحَابُ النَّارِ هُمْ فِيهَا خَالِدُونَ
    • The Qur'an (القرآن), Sura 2:275 (The Cow, سورة البقرة), See also: Islamic banking.
  • No amount of money given in charity, nothing but the abandonment of this hateful trade, can atone for this great sin against God, Israel and Humanity.
  • Since the Jews may not licitly keep those things which they have extorted from others through usury, the consequence is also that if you [rulers] receive these things from them, neither may you licitly keep them.
  • It would be better if they [rulers] compelled the Jews to work for their living, as they do in parts of Italy, than that, living without occupation, they can grow rich only by usury (solis usuris ditentur).
  • Now what has been said about the Jews is also to be understood about Cahorsins, and anyone else depending upon the depravity of usury.
  • There are two sorts of wealth-getting, as I have said; one is a part of household management, the other is retail trade: the former necessary and honorable, while that which consists in exchange is justly censured; for it is unnatural, and a mode by which men gain from one another. The most hated sort, and with the greatest reason, is usury, which makes a gain out of money itself, and not from the natural object of it. For money was intended to be used in exchange, but not to increase at interest. And this term interest, which means the birth of money from money, is applied to the breeding of money because the offspring resembles the parent. Wherefore of an modes of getting wealth this is the most unnatural.
  • If our nation can issue a dollar bond, it can issue a dollar bill. The element that makes the bond good, makes the bill good, also. The difference between the bond and the bill is the bond lets money brokers collect twice the amount of the bond and an additional 20%, whereas the currency pays nobody but those who contribute directly in some useful way. It is absurd to say that our country can issue $30 million in bonds and not $30 million in currency. Both are promises to pay, but one promise fattens the usurers and the other helps the people.
  • Jewish usurers bleed the poor to death and grow fat on their substance, and I who live on alms, who feed on the bread of the poor, shall I then be mute before outraged charity? Dogs bark to protect those who feed them, and I, who am feed by the poor, shall I see them robbed of what belongs to them and keep silent?
  • To borrow upon Usury, bringeth on Beggary.
  • To speak of a usurer at the table mars the wine.
  • Usury laws that protected consumers against rapacious lenders existed until 1978. Now they are gone because of a Supreme Court decision. ...[O]ur government has set forth onerous new rules that reward those who prey on the poor. ...These lenders, or their fronts, can now charge rates and impose penalties that were illegal, even criminal, a generation ago.
    • David Cay Johnston, Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill) (2007) p. 18.
  • For at least another hundred years we must pretend to ourselves and to everyone that fair is foul and foul is fair; for foul is useful and fair is not. Avarice and usury and precaution must be our gods for a little longer still. For only they can lead us out of the tunnel of economic necessity into daylight.
  • Among the principal criticisms leveled against the merchants was the charge that their profit implied a mortgage on time, which was supposed to belong to God alone. For example, we have the following remarks of a lector-general of the Franciscan order in the fourteenth century concerning a disputed question: "Question: is a merchant entitled... to demand a greater payment from one who cannot settle his account immediately than from one who can? The answer argued for is no, because in doing so he would be selling time and would be committing usury by selling what does not belong to him."
    ...The whole of economic life at the dawn of commercial capitalism is here being called into question.
  • I, who ne'er
    Went for myself a begging, go a borrowing,
    And that for others. Borrowing's much the same
    As begging; just as lending upon usury
    Is much the same as thieving.
  • And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.
  • Usury lives in the pores of production, as it were, just as the gods of Epicurus lived in the space between the worlds.
    • Karl Marx, Capital, Volume III (1894), Chapter XXXVI, Pre-Capitalist Relationships, p. 598.
  • By means of the banking system the distribution of capital as a special business, a social function, is taken out of the hands of the private capitalists and usurers. But at the same time, banking and credit thus become the most potent means of driving capitalist production beyond its own limits, and one of the most effective vehicles of crises and swindle.
    • Karl Marx, Capital, Volume III (1894), Chapter XXXVI, Pre-Capitalist Relationships, p. 607.
  • Jewish usury was prohibited at common law, but no other.
    • Hale, C.B., Anonymous (1665), Hard. 420; reported in James William Norton-Kyshe, Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904), p. 244. The source notes: "according to Lord Coke, all usury is unlawful.—2 Inst. 89 ; 3 Inst. 151".
  • The true spirit of usury lies in taking an unjust and unreasonable advantage of their fellow creatures.
    • Burnett, J., Earl of Chesterfield v. Janssen (1750), 2 Ves. Sen. 141; reported in James William Norton-Kyshe, Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904), p. 244.
  • Since those who rule in the city do so because they own a lot, I suppose they're unwilling to enact laws to prevent young people who've had no discipline from spending and wasting their wealth, so that by making loans to them, secured by the young people's property, and then calling those loans in, they themselves become even richer and more honored.
    • Plato, The Republic, 555c, G. Grube and C. Reeve, trans., Plato: Complete Works (1997), p. 1166.
  • This inhumanity of mercenary commerce is the more notable because it is a fulfilment of the law that the corruption of the best is the worst. … And this is the ultimate lesson which the leader of English intellect meant for us … in the tale of the "Merchant of Venice"; in which the true and incorrupt merchant,—kind and free, beyond every other Shakespearian conception of men,—is opposed to the corrupted merchant, or usurer; the lesson being deepened by the expression of the strange hatred which the corrupted merchant bears to the pure one, mixed with intense scorn.
  • Profitless usurer, why dost thou use
    So great a sum of sums, yet canst not live?
    For having traffic with thy self alone,
    Thou of thy self thy sweet self dost deceive:
    Then how when nature calls thee to be gone,
    What acceptable audit canst thou leave?
  • He that by usury and unjust gain increaseth his substance, he shall gather it for him that will pity the poor.
  • Since they [usurers] sell nothing other than the expectation of money, that is to say, time, they sell days and nights. But the day is the time of clarity, and the night the time of repose. It is, therefore, not just for them to receive eternal light and eternal rest.
    • Tabula exemplorum, (13th century) as quoted by Till Düppe, The Making of the Economy: A Phenomenology of Economic Science (2011)
  • Frequently nowadays the use of highly sophisticated computers involves the 'selling' of time on them. In the Middle Ages this practice would have been severely frowned upon by the Church, for one of its main objections to the practice of usury was that it contravened natural law by 'selling time', and in its view time necessarily belongs to all creatures.
  • Bartley: Why dost laugh, Frank?
    Ilford. To see that we and usurers live by the fall of young heirs, as swine by the dropping of acorns.

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