First . It should be known that in our times (of which the ApostlePaul prophesied that they would be perilous) avarice and usury have not only taken a mighty hold in all the world, but have undertaken to seek certain cloaks under which they would be considered right and could thus practice their wickedness freely, and things have gone almost so far that we hold the holy Gospel as of no value. Therefore, it is necessary, in this perilous time, for everyone to see well to himself, and in dealing with temporal goods, to make true distinctions and diligently to observe the holy Gospel of Christ our Lord.
Second . It should be known that there are three different degrees and ways of dealing well and rightly with temporal goods. The first is that if anyone takes some of our temporal goods by force, we shall not only permit it, and let the goods go, but even be ready to let him take more, if he will. Of this our dear LordJesusChrist says, in Matthew 5:40, “If anyone will go to law with you to take your coat, let him take your cloak also.” This is the highest degree of this kind of work, and is not to be understood to mean, as some think, that we are to throw the cloak after the coat, but rather that we are to let the cloak go, and not resist or become impatient about it, or demand it back again. For He does not say, “Give him the cloak also,” but “Let him take the cloak also.” So Christ Himself, before Bishop Annas, when He received a blow on the cheek, offered the other cheek also and was ready to receive more such blows; nay, in His entire Passion we see that He never repays or returns an evil word or deed, but is always ready to endure more.
Third . It is true, indeed, that He said to the servant Malchus, who struck Him, “If I have spoken evil, prove the evil; but if well, why smitest thou me?” Some even of the learnedstumble at these words, and think that Christ did not offer the other cheek, as He taught that men should do. But they do not look at the words rightly; for in these words Christ does not threaten, does not avenge Himself, does not strike back, does not even refuse the other cheek; nay, He does not judge or condemn Malchus, but as Peter writes of Him, He did not threaten, or think to recompense evil, but committed it to God, the just Judge, as if to say, “If I have spoken rightly or you are right in smiting me, God will find it out, and you are bound to prove it.” So Zechariah said, when they killed him, Videat dominus et judicet, “God will see it and judge.” So He did also before Pilate, when He said, “He that hath given me over to thee hath a greater sin than thou.” For that is Christian and brotherlyfidelity, to terrify him, and hold his wrongdoing and God’s judgment before him who does you wrong; and it is your duty to say to him, “Well, then, you are taking my coat and this and that; if you are doing right, you will have to answer for it.” This you must do, not chiefly because of your own injury, and also not to threaten him, but to warn him and remind him of his own ruin. If that does not change his purpose, let go what will, and do not demand it back again. See, that is the meaning of the word that Christ spoke before the court of Annas. It follows that, like Christ on the cross, you must pray for him and do well to him who does evil to you. But this we leave now until the proper time.
Fourth . Many think that this first degree is not commanded and need not be observed by every Christian, but is a good counsel, laid upon the perfect for them to keep just as virginity and chastity are counseled, not commanded. Therefore they hold it proper that everyone shall take back what is his own, and repel force with force according to his ability and his knowledge; and they deck out this opinion with pretty flowers, and prove it, as they think, with many strong arguments; namely, First, the canon law (to say nothing of the temporal) says, Vim vi pellere jura sinunt, that is, “The law allows that force be resisted with force.” From this comes, in the second place, the common proverb about self-defense, that it is not punishable for what it does. In the third place, they bring up some illustrations from the Scriptures, such as Abraham and David and many more, of whom we read that they punished and repaid their enemies. In the fourth place, they bring in Reason, and say, Solve istud (explain that); if this were a commandment, it would give the wicked permission to steal, and at last no one would keep anything; nay, no one would be sure of his own body. In the fifth place, in order that everything may be firmly proved, they bring up the saying of St. Augustine who explains these words of Christ to mean that one must let the cloak go after the coat, secundum praeparationem animi, that is, “he shall be ready in his heart to do it.” This noble, clear exposition they interpret and darken with another gloss, and add, “It is not necessary that we give it outwardly and in deed; it is enough that we be inwardly, in the heart, ready and prepared to do it.” As though we were willing to do something that we were not willing to do, and yes and no were one thing!
Fifth . See, these are the masterpieces with which the doctrine and example of our dear LordJesusChrist, together with the holy Gospel and all His martyrs and saints, have hitherto been turned around, made unknown, and entirely suppressed, so that nowadays those spiritual and temporal prelates and subjects are the bestChristians who follow these rules, and yet resist Christ’s life, teaching, and Gospel. Hence it comes that lawsuits and litigations, notaries, officia1es, jurists, and that whole noble race, are as numerous as flies in summer. Hence it comes that there is so much war and bloodshed among Christians. Suits must also be carried to Rome, for there much money is the thing most needed; and throughout the Church the greatest and holiest and commonest work these days is suing and being sued. That is resisting the holy and peacefullife and doctrine of Christ, and the cruel game has gone to the point where not only is a poor man, whom God has redeemed with His blood, cited many miles for the sake of a trifling sum of three or four groschen, put under the ban, and driven away from wife and children and family, but the bright young boys look on this as a good thing to do, and regard it with equanimity. So shall they fall who make a mockery of God’s commandments; so shall Godblind and put to shame those who turn the brightness of His holy Word into darkness with Vim vi repellere licet and with letting the cloak go secundum praeparationem animi! For thus the heathen, too, keep the Gospel; nay, the wolves and all the unreasoning beasts; men need no longer be Christians to do it.
Sixth . Therefore, I want to do my part and, so far as I can, to warn everyone not to be led astray, no matter how learned, how mighty, how spiritual, or how much of all these things at once, they may be who have made, and still make a counsel out of this decree, no matter how many are the flowers and the colors with which they decorate it. No excuses help! This is simply a commandment that we are bound to obey, as Christ and His saints have confirmed it and exemplified it. God does not care that the laws — spiritual or temporal — permit force to be resisted with force.
And are not those precious things that the laws permit! They permit common brothels, though they are against God’s commandment, and many other wicked things which God forbids; and they have to permit secretsin and wickedness. The things that human laws command and forbid matter little; how much less the things that they permit or do not punish. Thus self-defense is before the human law unpunishable, but before God it has no merit. Suing at law is condemned by neither pope nor emperor, but it is condemned by Christ and His doctrine. That some of the Old Testament fathers punished their enemies was never due to their own choice in the matter, and it was never done without God’s express command, which punishessinners, and punishes, at times, both good and bad, angels and men. For this reason they never sought revenge or their own profit, but only acted as obedientservants of God, just as Christteaches in the Gospel that at God’s command we must act even against father and mother, whom He has commanded us to honor. Nevertheless, the two commandments are not contradictory, but the lower is ruled by the higher. When God commands you to take revenge or to defend yourself, then you shall do it; and not before then.
Thus things would be conducted in a kindly, Christian and brotherly way, with more regard to the sin than to the injury. Therefore Paulrebukes the Corinthians, in 1 Corinthians 6:16, because they went to law with one another, and did not rather suffer themselves to be injured and defrauded, though because of their imperfection, he did permit that they appoint the least of themselves as judges. He did this to shame them into a knowledge of their imperfection. In like manner we must still tolerate those who sue and are sued, as weak and childish Christians whom we must not cast off, because there is hope for their improvement, as the same Apostleteaches in many places. We ought to tell them, however, that such conduct is not Christian or meritorious, but human and earthly, a hindrance to salvation and not a help.
Eighth . Christ gave this commandment in order to establish within us a peaceful, pure, and heavenly life. Now for everyone to demand what is his and be unwilling to endure wrong, that is not the way to peace, as those blind men think of whom it is said, in Psalm 13:1, “They know not the way to peace,” which goeth only through suffering. The heathen, too, know this by Reason, and we by daily experience. If peace is to be kept, one party must be quiet and suffer; and even though quarrels and litigations last for a long while, they must finally come to an end, after injuries and evils that would not have been, if people had kept this commandment of Christ’s at the start and had not allowed the temptation, with which God tries us, to drive them from the commandment and overcome them. God has so ordered things that he who will not let a little go because of the commandment, must lose much, perhaps everything, through lawsuits and war. It is fair that a man should give to the judges, proctors, and clerks, and receive no thanks for it, twenty or thirty or forty gulden in serving the devil, when he will not let his neighbor, for God’s sake and for his own eternal credit, have two gulden, or six. Thus he loses both his temporal and eternal goods, when, if he were obedient to God, he might have enough for both time and eternity. It happens, at times, that in this way great lords must lose a whole land in war and consume great sums of money on soldiers for the sake of a smalladvantage or a smallliberty. That is the perverted wisdom of the world; it fishes with golden nets and the cost is greater than the profit; there are those who win the little and squander the much.
Ninth . It would be impossible to become pure of our attachment to temporal goods, if God did not decree that we should be unjustly injured, and exercised thereby in turning our hearts away from the false temporal goods of the world, letting them go in peace, and setting our hopes on the invisible and eternal goods. Therefore he who requires that which is his own, and does not let the cloak go after the coat is resisting his own purification and the hope of eternalsalvation, for which God would exercise him and to which He would drive him. And even though everything were taken from us, there is no reason to fear that God will desert us and not provide for us even in temporal matters; as it is written in Psalm 37:25, “I have been young and have grown old, and have never seen that the righteous was deserted or his children went after bread.” This is proved in the case of Job also, who received in the end more than he had before, though all that he had was taken from him. For, to put it briefly, these commandments are intended to loose us from the world and make us desirous of heaven. Therefore we ought peacefully and joyfully to accept the faithfulcounsel of God, for if He did not give it, and did not let wrong and unhappiness come to us, the human heart could not maintain itself; it entangles itself too deeply in temporal things and attaches itself to them too tightly, and the result is satiety and disregard of the eternal goods in heaven.
Tenth . So much for the first degree of dealing with temporal goods! It is also the foremost and the greatest, and yet, sad to say! it has not only become the least, but it has come to nothing and, amid the mists and clouds of human laws, practices and customs, has become quite unknown.
Now comes the second degree. It is that we give our goods freely to everyone who needs them or asks for them. Of this also our LordJesusChrist speaks in Matthew 5, “He who asks of thee, to him give.” Although this degree is much lower than the first, it is, nevertheless, hard and bitter for those who have more taste for the temporal than for the eternal goods; for they have not enough trust in God to believe that He can or will maintain them in this wretchedlife. Therefore, they fear that they would die of hunger or be entirely ruined if they were to do as God commands, and give to everyone that asks them. How, then, can they trust Him to maintain them in eternity? For, as Christ says, “He who does not trustGod in a little thing never trusts Him in a great.” And yet they go about thinking that God will make them eternally blessed, and believing that they have good confidence in Him, though they will not heed this commandment of His, by which He would exercise them, and drive them to learn to trust Him in things temporal and eternal. There is reason to fear, therefore, that he who will not hear the doctrine and obey it will never acquire the art of trusting, and as they do not trustGod for the little temporal goods, so they must at last despair about those that are great and eternal.
Eleventh . This second degree is so small a thing that it was commanded even to the simple, imperfect people of the Jews, in the Old Testament, as it is written in Deuteronomy 15:4, “There will always be poor people in the land, therefore I command thee that thou open thy hand to thy poor and needy brother, and give to him.” Besides, He commanded them severely that they must allow no one to beg, and says, in Deuteronomy 15:4, “There shall be no beggar or indigent man among you.” Now if God gave this commandment in the Old Testament, how much more ought we Christians be bound not only to allow no one to suffer want or to beg, but also to keep the first degree of this commandment, and let everything go that anyone will take from us by force. Now, however, there is so much begging that it has even become an honor; and it is not enough that men of the world beg, but the spiritualestate of the priesthood practices it as a precious thing. I will quarrel with no one about it, but I consider that it would be more fitting that there should be no more begging in Christendom under the New Testament, than among the Jews under the Old Testament; and I hold that the spiritual and temporal rulers would be discharging their duty if they did away with all the beggars’ sacks. f36 Twelfth . There are three practices or customs among men that are opposed to this degree of dealing. The first is that men give and present things to their friends, the rich and powerful, who do not need them, and forget the needy; and if they thus obtain favor, advantage, or friendship from these people, or are praised by them as pious folk, they go carelessly along, satisfied with the praise, honor, favor, or advantage that comes from men, and do not observe, meanwhile, how much better it would be if they did these things to the needy, and obtained God’s favor, praise, and honor.
Of such men Christ says, “If thou make a midday or an evening meal, thou shalt not invite thy friends or thy brethren, or thy relatives, or thy neighbors, or the rich, so that they may invite thee again, and thus take thy reward; but when thou makest a meal, invite the poor, the sick, the lame, the blind; so art thou blessed, for they cannot recompense it to thee; but it shall be recompensed to thee among the righteous, when they rise from the dead.” Although this doctrine is so clear and plain that everyone sees and knows that it ought to be so, yet we never see an example of it among Christians anymore. There is neither measure nor limit to the entertaining, the high living, the eating, drinking, giving, presenting; and yet they are all called good people and Christians, and nothing comes out of it except that giving to the needy is forgotten. O what a horrible judgment will fall upon these carefree spirits, when it is asked, at the Last Day, to whom they have given and done good!
Thirteenth . The second custom is that people refuse to give to enemies and opponents. For it comes hard to our false nature to do good to those who have done it evil. But that does not help. The commandment is spoken for all men alike, “Give to him that asketh,” and it is clearly expressed in Luke 6:30, “To everyone that asketh of thee, give.” Here no exception is made of enemies or opponents; nay, they are included, as the Lord Himself makes clear in the same passage, and says, “If ye love only those that love you, what kind of a benevolence is that? The wicked, too, love those that love them. And if ye do good only to those that love you, what kind of a benevolence is that? The wicked also do that. But ye shall love your enemies, ye shall do good, ye shall lend to them and expect nothing from it; so shall your reward be great, and ye shall be children of the Highest, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” These wholesome commandments of Christ have so fallen into disuse that men not only do not keep them, but have made of them a “counsel,” which one is not necessarily bound to keep, just as they have done with the first degree. They have been helped in this by those injurious teachers who say that it is not necessary to lay aside the signa rancoris, that is, the signs of enmity, and bitter, angry attitudes toward an enemy, but that it is enough to forgive him in one’s heart. Thus they apply Christ’s commandment about external works to the thoughts alone, though He Himself extends it, in clear words, to works, saying, “Ye shall do good (not merely think good) to your enemies.” So, too, in Romans 12:20, Paul, in agreement with King Solomon, says, “If thine enemyhunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; for thereby thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head”; that is, you will load him with benefits, so that, overcome with good, he will be kindled to love for you. From these false doctrines has sprung the common saying, “I will forgive, but not forget.” Not so, dear Christian! You must forgive and forget, as you desire that God shall not only forgive and forget, but also do you more good than before.
Fourteenth . The third custom is pretty and showy, and does most injury to this giving. It is dangerous to speak of it, for it concerns those who ought to be teaching and ruling others, and these are the folk who, from the beginning of the world to its end, can never hear the truth or suffer others to hear it. The way things now go, they apply the high title of “alms,” or “giving for God’s sake,” to giving for churches, monasteries, chapels, altars, towers, bells, organs, paintings, statues, silver and gold ornaments and vestments, and for masses, vigils, singing, reading, testamentary endowments, sodalities, and the like. Giving has taken hold here, and the real stream of giving is on this side, to which men have guided it and where they wanted to have it; no wonder, therefore, that on the side to which Christ’s word guides it, things are so dry and desolate that where there are a hundredaltars or vigils, there is not one man who feeds a tableful of poor people, let alone gives food to a poor household. Not what Christ has commanded, but what men have invented, is called “Giving for God’s sake”; not what one gives to the needy living members of Christ, but what one gives to stone, wood, and paint is “alms.” And this giving has become so precious and noble that God Himself is not enough to recompense it, but has to have the help of breves, bulls, parchments, lead, metal, cords large and small, and wax, green, yellow and white. If it makes no show, it has no value; and it is all bought at great cost, “for God’s sake,” from Rome, and such great works are rewarded with indulgences, here and there, over and above the reward of God; but giving to the poor and needy, according to Christ’s commandment, this miserablework must be robbed of such splendid reward, and be satisfied with the reward that God gives.
Thus the latter work is pushed to the rear and the former is put out in front and the two, when compared, shine with unequal light. Therefore, St. Peter of Rome must now go begging throughout the world for the building of his church, and gather great heaps of “alms for God’s sake,” and pay for them dearly and richly with indulgences. And this work suits him well, and he can easily attend to it, because he is dead; for if he were alive, he would have to preach Christ’s commandments and could not attend to the indulgences. His lambs follow diligently after their faithfulshepherd, go about with the indulgences in every land, and wherever there is a dedication-day or a fair these beggarsgather like flies in summer, and they all preach the same song, “Give to the new building that God may recompense you, and the holy lord, St. Nicholas.” Afterwards they go to their beer or wine, also “for God’s sake”; and the commissaries are made rich, also “for God’s sake.” But there is no need for commissaries or legates to preach to us that we shall give to the needy according to God’s commandment.
Fifteenth . What shall we say to this? If we reject these works, the Holy See at Rome puts us under the ban and the high scholars quickly call us heretics, for the place to which the stream of money is directed makes a mighty difference. We would not prevent the building of suitable churches and the adornment of them, for we cannot do without them, and the worship of God ought rightly be conducted in the finest way; but there should be a limit to it, and we should have a care that the appointments of worship should be pure, rather than costly. It is pitiable and lamentable, however, that by these clamorous goings-on we are turned away from God’s commandments and led only to the things that God has not commanded, and without which God’s commandments can well be kept. It would be sufficient, if we gave the smaller portion to churches and the like, and let the real stream flow toward God’s commandment, so that among Christians good deeds done to the poor would shine more brightly than all the churches of stone or of wood. To speak out boldly, it is sheer trickery, dangerous and deceptive to the simple-minded, when bulls, breves, seals, banners, and the like are hung up for the sake of dead stonechurches, and the same thing is not done a hundred times more for the sake of needy, living Christians. Beware, therefore, O man! God will not ask you, at your death and at the Last Day, how much you have left in your will, or whether you have given so much or so much to churches; but He will say to you, “I was hungry and ye fed me not; I was naked and ye clothed me not.” Let these words go to your heart, dear man! Everything will depend on whether you have given to your neighbor and done him good. Beware of show and glitter and color that draw you away from this!
Sixteenth . Pope, bishops, kings, princes and lords ought to labor for the abolition of these intolerable burdens and impositions. It ought to be established and decreed, either by their own mandate or in a general council, that every town and village should build its own churches and care for its own poor folk, so that beggary would cease entirely, or at least that it would not be done in such a way that any place should beg for its churches and its poor in all other cities, according to the present unhappy custom; and the Holy See at Rome ought to be left to enjoy its own bulls, for it has enough else to do, if it will perform its office, without selling bulls and buildingchurches that it does not need. God has expressed it plainly in His law, in Deuteronomy 15:11, “There will always be poor people in your city.” Thus He has committed to every city its own poor, and He will not have men running hither and you with beggars’ sacks, as men now run to St. James and to Rome. Although I am too small a man to give advice to popes and all the rulers of the world in this case, and although I myself think that nothing will come of it; nevertheless, it ought to be known what the good and needful course would be, and it is the duty of the rulers to consider and to do the things that are necessary for the best ruling of the common people, who are committed to them.
It is, “No one is bound to give the needy unless they are in extreme want.”
Besides, they have reserved the right to investigate and decide what “extreme want” is. Thus we learn that no one is to give or help until the needy are dying of hunger, freezing to death, ruined by poverty, or running away because of debts. But this knavish gloss and deceitful addition is confounded with a single word which says, “What thou wilt that another do to thee, that do thou also.” Now no one is so foolish as to be unwilling that anyone should give to him until the soul is leaving his body or he has run away from his debts, and then help him, when he can no more be helped. But when it comes to churches, endowments, indulgences and other things that God has not commanded, then no one is so keen or so careful in reckoning out whether we are to give to the church before the tiles fall off the roof, the beams rot, the ceiling fall in, the dispensationletters mold, the indulgences decay — though all these things could wait more easily than people who are in need — but in these cases every hour is one of “extreme want,” even though all the chests, and the floor itself, were full, and everything well-built. Nay, in this case treasure must be gathered without ceasing, not to be given or lent to the needy on earth, but to the Holy Cross, to our Dear Lady, to the holy patron, St. Peter, though they are in heaven. All this must be done with more than ordinary foresight, so that if the Last Day never came, the church would be taken care of for a hundred or two hundredthousand years; and thus, in case of need, the canonization of a saint, or a bishop’s pallium, or other like wares can be bought at the fair in Rome. I truly think that the Romans are very great fools not to sell canonization, pallia, bulls, and breves at a higher price and not to get more money for them, since these fat German fools come to their fair and obligate themselves to buy them; though, to be sure, no Antichrist could collect these treasures more fittingly than the bottomless bag at Rome, into which they are all gathered and set in order.
It would grieve one to the heart, if these damned goods, taken from the needy, to whom they properly belong, were spent for anything else than Roman wares. St. Ambrose and Paulinus, in former times, melted the chalices and everything that the churches had, and gave to the poor. Turn the page, and you find how things are now. Well for you, dear Rome, that even though the Germans run short of money, they still have chalices, monstrances, and images enough; and all of them are still yours!
Eighteenth . We come now to the third degree of dealing with temporal goods. It is that we willingly and gladly lend without charges or interest.
Of this our LordJesusChrist says, in Matthew 5:42, “He that would borrow of thee, from him turn not,” that is, “do not refuse him.” This degree is the lowest of all and is commanded even in the Old Testament, where God says, in Deuteronomy 15:7, “If anyone of thy brethren in thy city become poor, thou shalt not harden thy heart against him nor shut thy hand; but that shalt open it and lend him all that he needs”; and they have allowed this degree to remain a commandment, for all the doctors agree that borrowing and lending shall be free, without charge or burden, though all may not be agreed on the question to whom we ought to lend. For as was said about the previous degree, there are many who gladly lend to the rich or to good friends, more to seek their favor or put them under obligation than because God has commanded it, and especially if it is given the high title, spoken of above, viz., “for God’s service,” or “for God’s sake.” For everybody gladly lends to the Holy Cross and our Dear Lady and the patron saint, but about those to whom God’s command points there is always trouble and labor, to them no one wants to lend, except in cases of extreme want, where lending does no good, as has been said above.
Nineteenth . Christ, however, excluded no one from His commandment; nay, He included all kinds of people, even one’s enemies, when He said, in Luke 6:34, “If ye lend only to those of whom ye expect that they will make return, what kind of benevolence is that? Even wickedsinnerslend one to another that they may have the same again”; and also “Ye shall lend and expect nothing in return.” I know very well that very many doctores have interpreted these words as though Christ had commanded to lend in such a way as not to make any charge for it or seek any profit by it, but to lend gratis. This opinion is, indeed, not wrong, for he who makes a charge for lending is not lending and neither is he selling; it must therefore be usury, because lending is, in its very nature, nothing else than to offer another something without charge, on the condition that one get back, after awhile, the same thing, or its equivalent, and nothing more. But if we look the word of Christ squarely in the eye, it does not teach that we are to lend without charge, for there is no need for such teaching, since there is no lending except lending without charge, and if a charge is made, it is not a loan. He wills that we lend not only to friends, the rich, and those to whom we are well disposed, who can repay us again, by returning this loan, or with another loan, or by some other benefit; but also that we lend to those who cannot or will not repay us, such as the needy and our enemies. It is just like His teaching about loving and giving; our lending is to be done without selfishness and without self-seeking. This does not happen unless we lend to our enemies and to the needy; for all that He says is aimed to teach us to do good to everyone, that is, not only to those who do good to us, but also to those who do us evil, or cannot do us good in return. That is what He means when He says, “Ye shall lend and expect nothing from it,” that is, “Ye shall lend to those who cannot or will not lend to you again.” But he who lends expects to receive back the same thing that he lends, and if he expects nothing, then, according to their interpretation, it would be a gift and not a loan. Because, then, it is such a little thing to make a loan to one who is a friend, or rich, or who may render some service in return, that even sinners who are not Christians do the same thing, Christians ought to do more, and lend to those who do not the same, i.e., to the needy and to their enemies. Thus, too, the doctrine falls which says that we are not bound to lay aside the signa rancoris, as has been said above; and even though they speak rightly concerning lending, yet they turn this commandment into a counsel and teach us that we are not bound to lend to our enemies or to the needy, unless they are in extreme want. Beware of this!
Twentieth . It follows that they are all usurers who lend their neighborwine, grain, money, or the like, in such a way that he obligates himself to pay charges on it in a year or at a given time; or that he burdens and overloads himself with a promise to give back more than he has borrowed, or something else that is better. And in order that these men may themselves perceive the wrong that they are doing — though the practice has, unfortunately, become common — we set before them three laws.
First, This passage in the Gospel commands that we shall lend. Now lending is not lending unless it be done without charge and without advantage to the lender, as has been said. Crafty avarice, to be sure, sometimes paints itself a pretty color and pretends to take the surplus as a present, but that does not help if the present is the cause of the loan; or if the borrower would rather not make the present, provided he could borrow gratis. And the present is especially suspicious, if the borrower makes it to the lender, or the needy to the wealthy; for it is not natural to suppose that the needy would make a present to the wealthy of his own free will; it is necessity that forces him to do so. Second, This is contrary to the naturallaw, which the Lord also announces in Luke 6:31 and Matthew 7:12 “What ye would that men should do to you, that do also to them.”
Now, beyond all doubt, there is no one who would that men should lend him rye to be repaid with wheat, bad money to be repaid with good, bad wares to be repaid with good wares; indeed, he would much rather that men should lend him good wares to be repaid with bad, or with equally good wares, but without charge. Therefore it is clear that these usurers are acting against nature, are guilty of mortalsin, and seek their neighbor’s injury and their own profit, because they would not put up with such treatment from others, and are thus dealing unfairly with their neighbor.
Twenty-first. Therefore no better or briefer instruction can be given about this, and about all dealing with temporal goods, than that everyone who is to have dealings with his neighbor set before him these commandments, “Whatsoever thou wilt that another do to thee, that do thou to him also,” and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” If, beside this, he were to think what he would have for himself, if he were in his neighbor’s place, he would learn for himself and find for himself all that he needs to know.
There would be no need for law books or courts or accusation; nay, all the cases would be quickly and simply decided. For everyone’s heart and conscience would tell him how he would like to be dealt with, what he would like to have remitted, what given and what forgiven, and from this he must conclude that he ought to do just that for everyone else. But because we leave these commandments out of view, and look only at the business, and its profit or loss, we must have all the countless books, courts, judges, law suits, blood, and all misery, and thus, upon the violation of God’s commandments, must follow the destruction of God’s kingdom, which is peace and unity, in brotherlylove and faithfulness. And yet these wicked men go about, begging at times and fasting, giving alms at times, but in this matter, on which salvation depends, they are quite heedless and carefree, as if this commandment did not concern them at all, though without it they cannot be saved, even if they did all the other works of all the saints.
Twenty-second. Here we meet two objections. The first is that if lending were done in this way, the interest would be lost, that is, the profit which they could make meanwhile with the goods that were lent. The second is the great example. Everywhere in the world it has become the custom to lend for profit, and especially because scholars, priests, clergy, and churches do it, seeing that the improvement of the church’s spiritual goods and of the worship of God is sought, and without these there would be very few Christians in the world, and everyone would be reluctant to lend.
Answer. There is nothing in all of that. In the first place, you must lose the interest and the profit if it be taken from you or if you give to someone outright; why, then, will you seek it and keep it in lending? He who decides to give and lend must give up the interest in advance, or it is neither giving nor lending. In the second place, whether it is a good custom or a bad custom, it is not Christian or divine or natural, and no example helps against that fact. For it is written, “Thou shalt not follow the crowd to do evil, but honorGod and His commandments above all things.” That the clergy and the churches do this is so much the worse. For spiritual goods and churches have neither authority nor freedom to break God’s commandments, rob their neighbor, practiceusury, and do wrong.
Moreover, the service of God is not improved by it, but corrupted.
Keeping God’s commandments is improving the service of God; even knaves can improve the church property; and even if the whole world had the custom of lending with this kind of a charge, the churches and the clergy should act the other way, and the more spiritual their possessions were, the more Christian should be the manner in which, according to Christ’s command, they would lend them, give them, and let them go. He who does otherwise, is doing so, not for the improvement of the churches or of their spiritual goods, but for his own usury-seeking avarice, which decks itself out with such good names. It is no wonder, then, that Christians are few; for here we see who they are that practice really good works, though many blind and deceive themselves with their own selfchosen good works, which God has not commanded them. But if anyone finds that this makes it hard for him to lend to his neighbor, it is a sign of his great unbelief, because he despises the comforting assurance of Christ, who says, “If we lend and give, we are children of the Highest, and our reward is great.” He who does not believe this comforting promise and does not make it a guide for his works, is not worthy of it.
PART TWO ON USURY
First . Beneath these three degrees are other degrees and ways of dealing with temporal goods, such as buying, inheriting, conveying, etc., and these are governed by temporal and spirituallaw. By these no one becomes better or worse in the sight of God, for there is no Christian merit in buying anything, getting it by inheritance, or acquiring it in some other honest way, since the heathen, Turks, and Jews can be this good.
But Christian dealing and the right use of temporal goods consist in the three above-mentioned degrees or ways — giving them away, lending them without charge, and quietly letting them go when they are taken by force.
Let us now leave all the other ways of dealing out of account, and give attention to the matter of buying, especially the buying of income, since this makes a pretty show and seems to be a way by which a man can burden others without sin and grow rich without worry or trouble. For in other dealings it is manifest to everybody if a man sells too dear, or sells false wares, or possesses a false inheritance, or wealth that is not his, but this slippery and newly inventedbusiness makes itself ofttimes the pious and faithful protector of damnablegreed and usury.
Second . Although the buying of income is now established as a proper trade and a permitted line of business, it is, nevertheless, to be hated and opposed for many reasons. First, because it is a new and slippery invention, especially in these last, perilous times, where nothing good is invented anymore and the thoughts of all men are bent upon wealth and honor and luxury, without any limit. We cannot find any example of this business among the ancients, and Paul says of these times that many new, wicked practices will be invented. Second, because, as they must themselves admit, however right it is, it makes a bad show and has an offensive outward appearance, and St. Paul bids us avoid all evil and offensive appearances, even though the thing itself were right and proper — ab omni spetie mala abstinete (Thessalonians ult.), “Be on your guard against every evilappearance.” Now in this business the advantage of the buyer, or receiver of income, is always looked upon as greater and better, and is more sought after by everyone than that of the seller, or payer of income; and this is a sign that the business is never conducted for the sake of the seller, but always for the sake of the buyer, for every man’s conscience fears that it cannot be right to buy income, but no one has any doubt that he can sell it at any risk that he cares to take. So close does this business come to the conscience.
Fourth . Everyone must admit that whether this business be usury or not, it does exactly the same work that usury does; that is to say, it lays burdens upon all lands, cities, lords, and people, sucks them dry and brings them to ruin, as no usury could have done. We see this plainly in the case of many cities and principalities. Now the Lord taught, not that the fruit is to be known by the tree, but the tree by the fruit. Thus I cannot possibly think you a sweet fig-tree, when you bear nothing but sharp thorns, and I cannot reconcile the claim that this buying of incomes is right with the fact that land and people are ruined by it.
Sixth . Therefore it is not enough that this business should be rescued by canon law from the reproach of usury, for that does not rid it of or secure it against avarice and self-love; and from the canon law we find that it is not directed toward love, but toward self-seeking. Money won by gambling is not usury either, and yet it is not won without self-seeking and love of self, and not without sin; the profits of prostitution are not usury, but they are earned by sin; and wealth that is acquired by cursing, swearing and slander is not usury, and yet it is acquired by sin. Therefore I cannot conclude that those who buy income which they do not need are acting rightly and properly. I make bold to say and give warning that the rich, who use this business only to increase their incomes and their wealth, are in great danger. Moreover, I do not think it permissible to act as do some avaricious fellows (Geytzige blasen), who collect their incomes at stated times, and quickly invest it again in income — so that the one income always drives the other along, as water drives the millwheel. This is such open and shameless avarice that no man, however stupid, can deny that it is avarice; and yet all that is held to be right. If there were no other reason to regard this buying of income as usury or as wrong dealing (especially in such a case as I have mentioned), this one reason would be enough, viz., that it is a cloak for such manifest and shameless avarice, and allows men to do business without risk. Whatever is of Godavoidssin and every kind of evil; but this business gives avarice free rein; therefore it cannot be of God, as it is now conducted.
Seventh . We will now look at the arguments by which this tender business is justified. There is a little Latin word called interesse. This noble, precious, tender, little word may be rendered in German this way: If I have a hundred gulden with which I can trade, and by my labor and trouble make in a year five or six gulden or more, I place it with someone else, on a productive property, so that not I, but he, can trade with it, and for this I take from him five gulden, which I might have earned; thus he sells me the income — five gulden for a hundred — and I am the buyer and he the seller. Here they say, now, that the purchase of the income is proper because, with these gulden, I might perhaps have made more in a year, and the interest is just and sufficient. All that is so pretty that no one can find fault with it at any point. But it is also true that it is not possible to have such interest on earth, for there is another, counter-interest, which goes like this: If I have a hundred gulden, and am to do business with it, I may run a hundred kinds of risk of making no profits at all, nay, of losing four times as much besides. Because of the money itself, or because of illness, I may not be able to do business, or there may be no wares or goods on hand. Hindrances of this kind are innumerable, and we see that failures, losses, and injuries are greater than profits. Thus the interest on loss is as great as the interest of profits, or greater.
Eighth . Now if income is bought on the first kind of interest only, so that these risks and the trouble are not assumed, and it can never happen that the buyer loses more than he invests, and thus the money is invested as though all of it could always be without the other interest, then it is clear that the trade is based on nothing, because there cannot be any such interest, and it cannot be invented. For in this business, goods are always on hand, and one can transact it sitting still; a sick man can do it, a child, a woman; indeed, it matters not how unfit the person is, though no such persons can engage in trade, and earn profits, with bare money. Therefore those who regard only this kind of interest, and trade in it, are worse than usurers; nay, they buy the first interest with the second interest, and win in order that other people may lose. Again, since it is not possible to regulate, compute, and equalize the second interest (for it is not in man’s power), I do not see how this business can last. For who would not rather invest a hundred gulden for income than trade with it, since in trade he might lose twenty gulden in a year, and his capital besides, while in this business he cannot lose more than five, and keeps his capital? Moreover, in trade his money must often be inactive because of the market (Der wahr halben), or because of his own physical condition, while in this business it is moving and earning all the time.
Is it any wonder, then, that a man gets control of all the wealth in the world, when he has goods always at hand, with constant safety and less risk, and when his capital is protected in advance? One’s profits cannot be small at times when one can always procure goods, just as one’s losses cannot be small when one cannot get rid of goods, or cannot procure them.
Therefore, money in trade and money at interest are different things, and the one cannot be compared with the other. For money invested in income has a basis which constantly grows and produces profit out of the earth, while money in trade has no certainty; the interest it yields is accidental, and one cannot count on it at all. Here they will say, perhaps, that, because they place money on land, there is an “interest of loss,” as well as an “interest of profit,” for the income stands or falls according as the land stays or not. This is all true, and we shall hear more about it below. But the fact remains that money which one can place on land increases the “first interest” too much and decreases the “second interest” as compared with money that moves in trade; for, as was said above, there is more risk in trade than in land. Since, then, one cannot get ground with a definite sum of money, neither can one buy income with a definite sum.
Therefore, it is not enough to say, “With so much money I can buy so much income from a piece of ground, and therefore it is right for me to take so much income for it and let someone else look after the ground.”
For in that way one would assess a piece of ground at a definite value.
Ninth . Therefore it is no wonder that the knights of income (Zins junckeren) quickly become rich above others, for since the others keep their money in trade, they are subject to the two kinds of interest, but the knights of income, by this little trick, get out of the second interest and come into the first; thus their risk is greatly reduced and their safety increased. It ought, therefore, not be permitted to buy income with cash money, without specifying and defining the particular piece of ground from which the income is derived, as is now the custom, especially among the great merchants, who place money on ground in general, without specification. By so doing they ascribe to the nature of money that which is only accidental to it. It is not in the nature of money that it buys ground, but it may happen that a piece of ground is for sale for income when some money is at one’s disposal; but that does not happen with all ground or with all money; therefore the ground ought to be named and exactly defined. If that were done, it would be evident how much money would be useless for income purposes and have to stay in trade or in the coffers, though it now produces income with neither right nor pretext except that one says (in a general way), “By placing it on a piece of ground, I can buy so much income with it, and that will be interest.” Yes, my dear fellow, my money can buy my neighbor’s house; but if it is not for sale, the ability of my money has no effect on his interest. In the same way, it is not the luck of all money to buy income from ground; and yet some people want to buy income from everything that can be used. They are usurers, thieves, and robbers, for they are selling the luck of the money, which is not theirs and is not in their power. “Nay,” you say, “it can buy income from a piece of ground.” I answer, It does not do so yet, and perhaps it never will. Hans can take a Gretchen, but he has her not yet, and so he is not yet married.
Your money can buy income; that is half of it, but the deal depends on the rest of it — the acceptance and the other half. But now the richmerchants want to sell the good fortune of their money, and that without any bad fortune, and sell the will and intentions of other people besides, because it rests with them whether the sale can be made. That is selling the thirteenth bear-skin. f56 Tenth . I say, further, that it is not enough that the ground be there and be named, but it must be described parcel by parcel and the money placed on it and the income to be got from it indicated, as, for example, the house, the garden, the meadow, the pond, the cattle, and all this free and unsold and unencumbered. They must not play the blind cow in the community and place a burden on the whole property. If this provision is not made, a town, or a poor man, must be sold in a sack and utterly ruined by the blind bargain, as we see happening now in many cities and states. The reason is this — the trade of a city may fall off, citizens become fewer, housesburn down, fields, meadows and all the ground run down and the goods and the cattle of every householder grow less, more children come; or it may be burdened with some other misfortune. Thus the wealth slips away, but the blind bargain, made with the whole property of the community, remains. Thus the poor and smallremnant of wealth must bear the burden and expense of the whole former lot; and this can never be right. The buyer is sure of his income and has no risk, and this is against the nature of any real bargain; and it would not be so, if the property were described parcel by parcel, and the income were to fluctuate with the value of the ground, as is right.
Eleventh . The only way of defending this business against the charge of usury — and it would do so better than all talk of interest — would be that the buyer of income have the same risk and uncertainty about his income that he has about all his other property. For with his property the receiver of income is subject to the power of God — death, sickness, flood, fire, wind, hail, thunder, rain, wolves, wildbeasts, and the manifold losses inflicted by wicked men. All these risks should apply to the buyer of income, for upon this, and on nothing else, his income rests; nor has he any right to receive income for his money, unless the payer of the income, or seller of the property, specifically agrees, and can have free and entire and unhindered use of his own labor. This is proved from nature, Reason, and all laws, which agree in saying that in a sale the risk lies with the buyer, f58 for the seller is not bound to guarantee his wares to the buyer. Thus when I buy the income from a particular parcel of ground, I do not buy the ground, but the labor of the seller upon the ground, by which he is to bring me my income. I therefore take all the risk of hindrance that may come to his labor, insofar as it does not come from his fault or neglect, whether by the elements, beasts, men, sickness, or anything else. In these things the seller of the income has as great interest as the buyer, so that if, after due diligence, his labor is unprofitable, he ought and can say freely to the receiver of the income, “This year I owe you nothing, for I sold you my labor for the production of income from this and that property; I have not succeeded; the loss is yours and not mine; for if you would have interest on my profits, you must also have an interest in my losses, as the nature of a bargain requires.” The owners of income, who will not put up with that, are just as pious as robbers and murderers, and wrest from the poor man his property and his living. Woe to them!
Twelfth . From this it follows that the blindtrade in incomes that are based not on a designated piece of property, but on the land of a whole community, or many properties taken together, is wrong. For although the purchaser of income cannot show on what property the charge rests, he has, nevertheless, no risk, never accepts the possibility that income may fail here or there, and wants to be sure of his income. But perhaps you will say, “If this were to be the case, who would buy income?” I answer: See there!
I knew very well that if human nature were to do the right thing, it would turn up its nose. Now it comes out that in this trade in incomes the only things that are sought are safety, avarice, and usury.
O how many cities, lands, and people must pay these charges, when it has long since been men’s duty to remit them! For if this risk is not taken, the purchase of incomes is simply usury. They go on endowing churches and monasteries and altars and this and that, and yet there is no limit to the trade in incomes, just as though it were possible for wealth, persons, luck, products, and labor to be alike in all years. However equal or unequal these things may be, the charge must go on at the same rate. Ought this not ruinland and people? I am surprised that the world still stands, with this boundless usury going on! It is thus that the world has improved! What in earlier days was called a loan, is now changed into the purchase of income.
Thirteenth . The income purchase is sometimes made in such a way that income is bought from those to whom the buyer ought to lend or give something. That is utterly worthless, for God’s commandment stands in the way, and it is His will that the needy shall be helped by loans or gifts.
Again it happens that both buyer and seller need their property, and therefore neither of them can lend or give, but they have to help themselves with such a bargain. If this is done without breaking the church-law which provides for the payment of four, five, or six gulden on the hundred, it can be endured; but respect should be always had for the fear of God, which fears to take too much rather than too little, in order that avarice may not have its way in a decent business deal. The smaller the percentage the more divine and Christian the deal.
It is not my affair, however, to point out when one ought to pay five, four, or six percent. I leave it for the law to decide when the property is so good and so rich that one can charge six percent. It is my opinion, however, that if we were to keep Christ’s command about the first three degrees, the purchase of incomes would not be so common or so necessary, except in cases where the amounts were considerable and the properties large. But the practice has got down to groschen and pfennige and deals with little sums that could easily be taken care of by gifts or loans in accordance with Christ’s command. And yet they will not call this avarice.
Fourteenth . There are some who not only deal in little sums, but also take too much return — seven, eight, nine, ten percent. The rulers ought to look into this. Here the poor common people are secretly imposed upon and severely oppressed. For this reason these robbers and usurers often die an unnatural and sudden death, or come to a terrible end (as tyrants and robbers deserve), for God is a judge for the poor and needy, as He often says in the Old Law.
But then they say, “The churches and the clergy do this and have done it, because this money is used for the service of God.” Truly if a man has nothing else to do than to justifyusury, a worse thing could not be said about him, for he would take the innocentchurch and the clergy with him to the devil and lead them into sin. Leave the name of the Church out of it, and say, “It is usury-seeking avarice that does not like to work to earn its bread, and so makes the name of the Church a cloak for idleness.”
Why talk of service of God? The service of God is to keep His commandments, so that no one steals, robs, overreaches, or the like, but gives and lends to the needy. You would tear down this service of God in order to build churches, endow altars, and have mass read and prayers sung; though God has commanded none of these things, and with your service of God you bring the true service of God to naught. Put in the first place the service of God that He has commanded, and let the service of God that you have chosen for yourself come along behind. As I said above, if all the world were to take ten percent, the church endowments should keep strictly to the law, and take four or five, with fear; for they ought to let their light shine, and give an example to the worldly. But they turn things around, and would have freedom to leave God’s commandments and His service in order to do evil and practiceusury. If you would serve God your way, then serve Him without injuring your neighbor, and without failing to keep God’s commandments. For He says in Isaiah 61, “I am a God that lovesjustice and I hate the sacrifice that is stolen.” The Wise Man also says, “Give alms of that which is thine.” But these overcharges are stolen from your neighbor, against God’s commandment.
Fifteenth . But if anyone is afraid that the churches and endowments will go down, I say that it is better to take ten endowments and make of them one that is according to the will of God, than to keep many against God’s commandment. What good does a service do you if it is against God’s commandment and contrary to the true serving of God? You cannot serve God with two kinds of service that contradict one another, any more than you can serve two masters.
There are also some simple folk who sell these incomes without having ground or security, or sell more than the ground can bear, and this leads to evident ruin. This matter is very dangerous and goes so far that it is hard to say enough about it. The best thing would be to turn back to the Gospel, approach it, and practiceChristian dealing with goods as has been said.
There is also in this business a dangerous tendency, from which I fear that none of the buyers of income — at least very few of them — are free. It is that they want their income and their property to be sure and safe, and therefore place their money with others, instead of keeping it and taking risks. They very much prefer that other people shall work with it and take the risks, so that they themselves can be idle and lazy, and yet stay rich or become rich. If that is not usury, it is very much like it. Briefly, it is against God. If you seek to take an advantage of your neighbor which you will not let him take of you, then love is gone and the naturallaw is broken. Now, I fear that, in this buying of income, we pay little heed to the success of our neighbor, if only our income and our property are safe, though safety is the very thing we ought not to seek. This is certainly a sign of greed or laziness, and although it does not make the business worse, it is, nevertheless, sin in the eyes of God. Back in Saxony and Lueneburg and Holstein, the thing is done so crudely that it would be no wonder if one man were to devour another.
There they not only take nine or ten percent, or whatever they can get, but they have also hitched a special device on to it. It goes this way — if a man lets me have a thousand gulden for income, I have to take instead of cash money, so many horses or cows, so much bacon, wheat, etc., that he cannot get rid of otherwise, or cannot sell for so high a price. Thus the money that I get amounts to scarcely half of the sum named, say, to five hundred gulden, though the goods and the cattle are of no use to me, or may bring me in scarcely one or two hundred gulden. These fellows are not highway robbers, but common housethieves. What shall we say about this? These men are not men at all, but wolves and senseless beasts, who do not believe there is a God.
In a word, for all this usury and unfair securing of income there is no better advice than to follow the law and example of Moses. We ought to bring all these charges under the ordinance that that which shall be taken or sold or given shall be a tithe, or in case of need a ninth, or an eighth, or a sixth.
Thus everything would be fair, and all depend on the grace and blessing of God. If the tithe turned out well in any year, it would bring the creditor a large sum; if it turned out badly, the creditor would bear the risk as well as the debtor, and both would have to look to God. In that case, the income could not be fixed at any given amount, nor would that be necessary, but it would always remain uncertain how much the tithe would yield and yet the tithe would be certain.
The tithe, therefore, is the best of all fixed charges and it has been in use since the beginning of the world, and in the Old Law it is praised and established as the fairest of all arrangements according to divine and naturallaw. By it, if the tenth did not reach, or were not enough, one could take and sell a ninth, or fix any amount that the land or house could stand.
Josephfixed the fifth as the amount to be taken, or found it so fixed and customary in Egypt. For by this arrangement the divinelaw of fairness constantly abides, that the lender take the risk. If things turn out well, he takes his fifth; if they turn out badly, he takes so much less, as God gives, and has no definite and certain sum.
But now that incomes are bought in definite and certain amounts, all years are equal, good and bad alike, and land and people must be ruined. The purchaser buys the same income for unequal and equal years, poor years and rich years; nay, he buys a blessing that God has not yet given for a blessing that is already given. That can never be right, for by that means one sucks another’s sweat and blood. Therefore it is no wonder that in the few years that the buying of incomes has been practiced, i.e., about a hundred years, all princedoms and lands have been impoverished and pawned and ruined.
But if the sale or income were based, not on produce, but on houses or places that were gained and acquired by manual labor, it could be justified by the law of Moses, by having a “jubilee year” in these things and not selling the income in perpetuity. For I think that, since this business is in such a disordered state, we could have no better examples or laws than the laws which Godprovided for His people, and with which He ruled them.
He is as wise as human Reason can be, and we need not be ashamed to keep and follow the law of the Jews in this matter, for it is profitable and good.
Emperor, kings, princes and lords ought to watch over this matter and look to their lands and peoples, to help them and rescue them from the horrible jaws of avarice, and things would be so much the better for them. The diets should deal with this as one of the most necessary things, but they let this lie, and serve, meanwhile, the pope’s tyranny, burdening lands and people more and more, until at last they must go to destruction because the land can no longer endure them, but must spew them out.