A while back on PrawfsBlawg, my colleague Marc DeGirolami wrote a very interesting post on usury. Although Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all condemn the practice, capitalism depends on lending money at interest. Christians, at least, draw a line between lending money at interest, which is acceptable, and charging an unreasonably high rate of interest, which is a kind of avarice. Christians used to take this very seriously, indeed. The famous Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, for example, executed by Giotto at the start of the Renaissance, was built to atone for the donor’s sin of usury.
Religion scholar Brenda Llewellyn Ihssen (Pacific Lutheran) has published a monograph, They Who Give from Evil: The Response of the Eastern Church to Moneylending in the Early Christian Era (Pickwick 2012), which discusses the treatment of usury in the Early Church. The publisher’s description:
They Who Give from Evil: The Response of the Eastern Church to Moneylending in the Early Christian Era considers St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory of Nyssa’s fourth-century sermons against usury. Both brothers were concerned with the economic and theological implications of destructive and corrosive practices of lending at high rates of interest and implications for both on the community and the individual soul of lender and debtor. Analysis of their sermons is placed within the context of early Greek Christian responses to lending and borrowing, which were informed by Jewish, Greek, and Roman attitudes toward debt.
And here is an interesting interview in which the author discusses what the Church Fathers would make of the current subprime mortgage crisis. The Fathers, it seems, would have admonished lenders and borrowers both.