Biblical, Patristic and Magisterial Teaching on Usury (Michael Hoffman, 2013)

NOTE: The following article is excerpted from, Usury in Christendom: The Mortal Sin that Was and Now is Not, 2013.

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No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.1 (Matthew 6:24)

Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill?…He that does not ask interest on his loan, and cannot be bribed to victimize the innocent. (Psalm 15:1, 5)

The upright man is law-abiding and honest…He never charges usury on loans, takes no interest, abstains from evil…It is Yahweh who speaks. (Ezekiel 18:5, 8-9)

Orthodox icon of Thucidides & Aristotle (Transfiguration Monastery, Meteora)
Orthodox icon of Thucydides & Aristotle (Transfiguration Monastery, Meteora)

“The natural form therefore, of the art of acquisition is always, and in all cases, acquisition from fruits and animals. That art, as we have said, has two forms: one which is connected with retail trade, and another which is connected with the management of the household. Of these two forms, the latter is necessary and laudable; the former is a method of exchange which is justly censured, because the gain in which it results is not naturally made, but is made at the expense of other men. The trade of the petty usurer is hated most, and with most reason: it makes a profit from currency itself, instead of making it from the process (i.e., of exchange) which currency was meant to serve. Currency came into existence merely as a means of exchange; usury tries to make it increase (as though it were an end in itself). This is the reason why usury is called by the word we commonly use (the word tokos, which in Greek also means breed or offspring); for as the offspring resembles its parent, so the interest bred by money is like the principal which breeds it and it may be called ‘currency the son of currency.’ Hence we understand why, of all modes of acquisition, usury is the most unnatural.” (Aristotle, Politics, Book I, Part 10, 350 BC)

To understand how extreme is usury, let us recall that God did not intend that His people would be indebted for ten or twenty years even if the loans were interest free. Under the Biblical concept of Jubilee, no indebtedness would last longer than the sabbatical seventh year. In the year after the last of seven such sabbatical years (7 x 7 = 49 years + 1), a Jubilee was to be declared and all debts cancelled. Jesus Christ declared that He came to proclaim the Jubilee (the “acceptable year”).

Usury is derived from the Latin word usura, defined as “a sum paid for the use of money” (Oxford Latin Dictionary). The Fathers are unanimous in regarding all interest as usury, and, therefore as a species of robbery: “Whatever exceeds the amount owed is usury” (St. Ambrose, De Tobia).The condemnation of interest taking was part of the unanimous consensus partum…It was not until the 16th century that ‘usury’ was redefined as high interest rates.

USURY AND THE FATHERS OF THE EARLY CHURCH

St. Clement of Alexandria: The issue of usury made its first appearance in Christian literature in Clement’s Paidagogos (circa 197 AD), an instruction for new converts on Christian conduct in daily matters. Concerning the ‘just man,’ Clement quotes Ezekiel: ‘His money he will not give on usury, and he will not take interest.’ This subject is taken up again some years laeter in the second book of his major work Stromateis.2

Tertullian: He considers the subject of interest in his treatise on the theology of the New testament, Adversus Marcionem, where he teaches that the Gospel does not abolish the law of the Old Testament, it exceeds it. Tertullian writes of the just man, “He hath not…put out his money at interest, and will not accept any increase—meaning the excess amount due to interest, which is usury.”3

St. Cyprian of Carthage: Offers proofs in his Testimoniorum (Ad Quirinum) that interest taking is prohibited by the law of God.4

Council of Elvira: In the early fourth century, Canon 20 of this Council prohibited all clerics and laymen from participating in the sin of taking interest on loans, under penalty of excommunication.5

St. Jerome: In his Commentaria in Ezechielem he stated that the prohibition against usury among the Israelites had been made universal by the New Testament. He affirmed that all interest on money is forbidden. “One should never receive more than the amount loaned.”6

St. Hilary of Poitiers: In his Tractatus in Psalm XIV: “If you are a Christian, why do you scheme to have your idle money (otiosam pecuniam) bear a return and make the need of your brother, for whom Christ died, the source of your enrichment?”7

St. Basil the Great: In his second Homily on Psalm 15 (LXX): “This sin is denounced in many places in Scripture. Ezekiel accounts the taking of interest and receiving back more than one gave as being among the greatest evils,8 and the Law specifically forbids this practise: ‘You shall not charge interest to your relative or your neighbor.’9 And again the Scripture says, ‘Guile upon guile, and interest upon interest.’10 A certain Psalm says, regarding a city that prospers amidst a multitude of evils, ‘Interest-taking and guile are never absent from its snares.’11 And now the prophet identifies this very thing as the characteristic of human perfection, saying, ‘They do not lend money at interest.’

“…for those who set rates of interest, their money is loaned and bears interest and produces even more…It is from this tendency to multiply that this kind of greed derives its name …loans are said to ‘bear’ interest on account of the great fecundity of evil…The offspring of interest one might even call a ‘brood of vipers’…you should have nothing to do with this monstrous creature.”12

St. Basil then launches into an extended admonition against borrowing money, on the responsibility to repay a loan, and the virtues of frugality and living within one’s means. He further states: “Listen, you rich people, to the kind of counsel I am giving…on account of your inhumanity…If you must seek a return on your investment, be satisfied with what comes from the Lord…You should expect the characteristics of philanthropy from the true Philanthropist. As it is, the interest you receive back shows every characteristic of extreme misanthropy…”

“Do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you,’ and ‘do not lend your money at interest;’ these commandments from the Old and New Testaments13 were given so that you might learn what is for your benefit, and thus depart to the Lord with a good hope, receiving there the interest upon your good works, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and dominion forever and forever.”14

St. Gregory of Nyssa: In Contra usurarios (ca. 379 AD), he calls down on him who lends money at interest the vengeance of the Almighty. He further states, “…lending at interest can be called ‘another kind of robbery or bloodshed…since there is no difference in getting someone else’s property by seizing it through covert housebreaking and acquiring what is not one’s own by exacting interest.” St. Grgeory describes the lender at interest as a “poisonous serpent” and an evil, beast-like spirit. Referring to the words of the Pater Noster prayer of Jesus Christ—“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”—Gregory asks, “How can you pray like this, oh usurer? How can you make a request from God in good conscience since he has everything and you do not know how to give?”

In De beneficentia, St. Gregory excoriates evil-doers who hypocritically practice outward acts of piety such as fasting. In doing so he employs terms associated with usurers: “Renounce dishonest profits! Starve to death your greed for Mammon! Let there be nothing in your house that has been acquired by violence or theft. What good is it to keep meat out of your mouth if you bite your brother with wickedness…What kind of piety teaches you to drink water while you hatch plots and drink the blood of a man you have shamefully cheated?”

St. Gregory of Nazianzus: For this saint, the usurer is a sinful parasite, “gathering where he had not sowed and reaping where he has not strawed” (Oratio). Cataloguing a list of mortal sins, Gregory of Nazianzus states, “One of us has oppressed the poor, and wrested from him his portion of land, and wrongly encroached upon his landmark by fraud and violence, and joined house to house, and field to field, to rob his neighbor of something, and been eager to have no neighbor, so as to dwell alone the earth. Another has defiled the land with usury and interest, gathering where he had not sowed…” (Oration 16)

St. Ambrose of Milan: In his aforementioned work De Tobia, written in 380 AD, he declared that the taking of interest on loans of money is equivalent to murder. He declared usury to be a mortal sin in De officiis ministrorum and De Nabuthe. In De bono mortis Ambrose stated that usurers will suffer eternal damnation. In De Tobia  Ambrose described the usurer as a “monster” and “devil” even when lending at 1% interest (“the hundredth”): “Money is given, it is called a loan; it is termed money at interest, it is designated capital; it is written down as debt; this huge monster of many heads causes frequent executions; the usurer names the bond, he speaks of the signature, he demands security, he talks of a pledge, he calls for sureties; he claims the legal obligation, he boasts of the interest, he praises the hundredth…The devil is a usurer…the Savior owed nothing but He paid for all…The usurer of money…exacts his hundredth…the Redeemer came to save the hundredth sheep, not to destroy it.”

This “devil” epithet is etymologically justified. As we have noted, in Old Testament Hebrew Neshek, from the root NShK means to “bite” and signifies usury; Nahash, from the root NkHSh denotes serpent.

St. John Chrysostom: The saint taught that usury was shameless: “What can be more unreasonable than to sow without land, without rain, without plows? All those who give themselves up to this damnable culture shall reap only tares. Let us cut off these monstrous births of gold and silver, let us stop this execrable fecundity.”

St. Leo the Great: In his encyclical Ut nobis gratulationem, of 444 AD: “Some people put out their money at usury in order to become wealthy. We have to complain of this, not only with regard to those in clerical office, but we likewise grieve to see that it holds true of lay people who wish to be called Christians. We decree that those who are found guilty of receiving this turpe lucrum (shameful gain) should be severely punished.”

St. Augustine of Hippo: The saint denounced the sin of interest on money in De consensus evangelistarum.

Charlemagne: In 789AD, Charlemagne in his Admonitio Generalis prohibited usury by all people, laymen as well as clerics, throughout the lands of the Holy Roman Empire, citing the following authorities: “(1) the Council of Nicea, (2) the above mentioned letter of Pope Leo, (3) the Canones Apostollorum, and (4) Scripture.” The Catholic Council of Aix-la-Chapelle promulgated Charlemagne’s Admonitio Generalis as church doctrine.

In Charlemagne’s Capitulary of Nijmegen of March, 806, he defines usury in clause 11 as “claiming back more than you give; for instance, if someone has given 10 solidi and asks for more than 10 in return, that is usury.” Clause 16: “Lending (foenus) consists in providing something; the loan is fair and just when one demands no more than what he provided.”

Charlemagne imposed heavy fines for usury.

King Alfred the Great: He ordered that the charging of interest on loans of money was illegal throughout England. Those who received revenue from usurious loans were to forfeit their property. Christian burial was denied to them.

St. Edward the Confessor, King of England: “Usury is the root of all evil”15 As monarch, St. Edward (ca. 1003-1066), the last Saxon King of England, banished all who charged interest on loans. Usurers who remained in England were subject to the confiscation of their property and declared to be outside the protection of the law (i.e., outlaws).16

Unanimous Teachings of Popes and Councils Before 1500

The unanimity of the Early Church Fathers brought about a crystallization of hostility to interest-bearing loans into numberless decrees of popes, councils, monarchs and legislatures throughout Christendom. The Canon law was shaped in accordance with these prohibitions, which were enforced by the Council of Arles in 314 and the Council of Nicea in 325: “Because many of the Ecclesiastical Order, being led away by covetousness and desire of base gain, have forgotten the Holy Scripture which saith, ‘He gave not his money upon usury,’ do exercise usury, so as to demand every month a hundredth part of the principal and one half of the principal for interest, or contrive any other fraud for filthy lucre’s sake, let him be deposed from the clergy and struck out of the list”17 (Council of Nicea, Canon XVII).18

Although it is claimed ny apologists for usury that the Nicean Council only condemned usury among clerics and not the laity, Canon XVII also quoted Psalm 15: “Lord, who shall dwell in thy tabernacle? He that hath not put out his money to usury.” Psalm 15 does not qualify God’s criterion for who shall dwell with Him. Anyone who practices usury will not be admitted. It was not by accident that the Council of Nicea referenced Psalm 15’s total rejection of any usury practiced by anyone.

The 12th Canon of the Council of Carthage (345) and the 36th Canon of the Council of Aix (789) declared it to be sinful for anyone to charge any interest on money. Every great assembly of the Church, from the Council of Elvira in 306 to that of Vienne in 1311, condemned lending money at interest. The fount of Canon Law in the Middle Ages totally banned all interest on loans.

A few months before his death, Edward’s usury-free England, “was a rich and prosperous kingdom… Later generations did right to appeal to the good old laws of life which refused to die…” King Edward was canonized in 1161. His feast day on the traditional Roman Catholic calendar is October 13.

NOTES

  1. “Mammon is derived from the Aramaic word for riches (mamona) occurring in the Greek text of Matt. vi. 24 and Luke xvi. 9-13, and retained in the Vulgate. Owing to the quasi-personification in these passages, the word was taken by medieval writers as the proper name of the devil of covetousness…From the 16th century onwards it has been current in English, usually with more or less of personification, as a term of opprobrium for wealth regarded as an idol or as an evil influence” (Oxford English Dictionary).
  2. Ante-Nicene Fathers 2, pp. 233, 366.
  3. Ante-Nicene Fathers 3, pp. 372-373.
  4. Ante-Nicene Fathers 5 p. 546.
  5. If any clergy are found engaged in usury, let them be censured and dismissed.  If a layman is caught practicing usury, he may be pardoned if he promises to stop the practice.  If he continues this evil practice, let him be expelled from the church.” http://faculty.cua.edu/pennington/Canon%20Law/ElviraCanons.htm
  6. Commentary on Ezekiel, Translation by Thomas P. Scheck
  7. NPNF 02-09
  8. Ezekiel 22:12
  9. Deuteronomy 23:20
  10. Jeremiah 9:6 (Septuagint)
  11. Psalm 55:12 (Septuagint)
  12. On Social Justice: St. Basil the Great (SVS Press, 2009), pp. 89-90; 95 (emphasis added).
  13. Matthew 5:42; Psalm 15:5 (Septuagint).
  14. On Social Justice: St. Basil the Great (op. cit.), pp. 97-99.
  15. Leges ecclesiasticae.
  16. Leges Edwardi Confessoris (ca. 1130), cap. 37, De usaraiis.
  17. The phrase “a hundredth part of the principal” connotes a 1% interest rate.
  18. In The Rudder, Nikodemos the Hagiorite interprets this Canon: “Various Canons prohibit the charging of interest on money, but the present one expressly ordains this, to wit: Since many canonics, or clergymen, being fond of greed and shameful profits, have forgotten the saying in the Psalm of David which says that the chosen man is one “who hath not lent out his money at interest,” meaning the righteous man who is destined to dwell in the holy mountain of the Lord, or, in other words, in the heavenly kingdom, and in lending money have been exacting a percentage charge from their debtors, consisting, for example, of twelve cents, or pennies, say, per hundred (or per dollar), which was an excessive interest — because, I say, clergymen were actually doing this, this holy and great Council deemed it right and just that if hereafter any clergyman should be found to be charging interest, or treating the matter as a commercial proposition, or turning it to his own advantage in any other way (while pretending not to charge interest, that is to say, when lending his money to those in need of it, yet agreeing with them that he too is to receive some part of the interest and profit accruing from the money, thus calling himself, not a lender, but a sharetaker or partner), and be caught doing this, or demanding a commission (or half the percentage, which would amount, in this case, to six cents, or six pennies, instead of the twelve comprised in the full amount of total interest, i.e., of interest at 12%), or should invent any similar means of making a shameful profit, any such person shall be deposed from the clergy and shall be estranged from the canonical order. Read also Ap. c. XLIV.”

 

Against Embellishing the Body (St. Clement of Alexandria, d. 215)

NOTE: This is an early Patristic treatise against make-up, cosmetics, hair dye, etc. It is taken from The Paedagogus, Book III, Chapter 2:

"Wherefore neither are we to provide for ourselves costly clothing any more than variety of food... Dyeing of clothes is also to be rejected."
“Wherefore neither are we to provide for ourselves costly clothing any more than variety of food… Dyeing of clothes is also to be rejected.”

It is not, then, the aspect of the outward man, but the soul that is to be decorated with the ornament of goodness; we may say also the flesh with the adornment of temperance. But those women who beautify the outside, are unawares all waste in the inner depths, as is the case with the ornaments of the Egyptians; among whom temples with their porticos and vestibules are carefully constructed, and groves and sacred fields adjoining; the halls are surrounded with many pillars; and the walls gleam with foreign stones, and there is no want of artistic painting; and the temples gleam with gold, and silver, and amber, and glitter with parti-coloured gems from India and Ethiopia; and the shrines are veiled with gold-embroidered hangings.

But if you enter the penetralia of the enclosure, and, in haste to behold something better, seek the image that is the inhabitant of the temple, and if any priest of those that offer sacrifice there, looking gave, and singing a pæanin the Egyptian tongue, remove a little of the veil to show the god, he will give you a hearty laugh at the object of worship. For the deity that is sought, to whom you have rushed, will not be found within, but a cat, or a crocodile, or a serpent of the country, or some such beast unworthy of the temple, but quite worthy of a den, a hole, or the dirt. The god of the Egyptians appears a beast rolling on a purple couch.

So those women who wear gold, occupying themselves in curling at their locks, and engaged in anointing their cheeks, painting their eyes, and dyeing their hair, and practising the other pernicious arts of luxury, decking the covering of flesh—in truth, imitate the Egyptians, in order to attract their infatuated lovers.

Archaeological evidence found the use of cosmetics in Ancient Egypt around 4,000 BC. Both the Ancient Greeks and Romans also used cosmetics. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beauty_and_cosmetics_in_ancient_Egypt
Archaeological evidence found the use of cosmetics in Ancient Egypt around 4,000 BC. Both the Ancient Greeks and Romans also used cosmetics. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beauty_and_cosmetics_in_ancient_Egypt

But if one withdraw the veil of the temple, I mean the head-dress, the dye, the clothes, the gold, the paint, the cosmetics,— that is, the web consisting of them, the veil, with the view of finding within the true beauty, he will be disgusted, I know well. For he will not find the image of God dwelling within, as is meet; but instead of it a fornicator and adulteress has occupied the shrine of the soul. And the true beast will thus be detected— an ape smeared with white paint. And that deceitful serpent, devouring the understanding part of man through vanity, has the soul as its hole, filling all with deadly poisons; and injecting his own venom of deception, this pander of a dragon has changed women into harlots. For love of display is not for a lady, but a courtesan. Such women care little for keeping at home with their husbands; but loosing their husbands’ purse-strings, they spend its supplies on their lusts, that they may have many witnesses of their seemingly fair appearance; and, devoting the whole day to their toilet, they spend their time with their bought slaves. Accordingly they season the flesh like a pernicious sauce; and the day they bestow on the toilet shut up in their rooms, so as not to be caught decking themselves. But in the evening this spurious beauty creeps out to candle-light as out of a hole; for drunkenness and the dimness of the light aid what they have put on. The woman who dyes her hair yellow, Menander the comic poet expels from the house:—

Now get out of this house, for no chaste
Woman ought to make her hair yellow,

Ancient Egyptian Cosmetics
Ancient Egyptian Cosmetics

nor, I would add, stain her cheeks, nor paint her eyes. Unawares the poor wretches destroy their own beauty, by the introduction of what is spurious. At the dawn of day, mangling, racking, and plastering themselves over with certain compositions, they chill the skin, furrow the flesh with poisons, and with curiously prepared washes, thus blighting their own beauty. Wherefore they are seen to be yellow from the use of cosmetics, and susceptible to disease, their flesh, which has been shaded with poisons, being now in a melting state. So they dishonour the Creator of men, as if the beauty given by Him were nothing worth. As you might expect, they become lazy in housekeeping, sitting like painted things to be looked at, not as if made for domestic economy. Wherefore in the comic poet the sensible woman says, What can we women do wise or brilliant, who sit with hair dyed yellow, outraging the character of gentlewomen; causing the overthrow of houses, the ruin of nuptials, and accusations on the part of children?

In the same way, Antiphanes the comic poet, in Malthaca, ridicules the meretriciousness of women in words that apply to them all, and are framed against the rubbing of themselves with cosmetics, saying:—

She comes,
She goes back, she approaches, she goes back.
She has come, she is here, she washes herself, she advances,
She is soaped, she is combed, she goes out, is rubbed,
She washes herself, looks in the glass, robes herself,
Anoints herself, decks herself, besmears herself;
And if anything is wrong, chokes [with vexation].

Ancient-Egypt-Beauty-Secrets-2Thrice, I say, not once, do they deserve to perish, who use crocodiles’ excrement, and anoint themselves with the froth of putrid humours, and stain their eyebrows with soot, and rub their cheeks with white lead.

These, then, who are disgusting even to the heathen poets for their fashions, how shall they not be rejected by the truth? Accordingly another comic poet, Alexis, reproves them. For I shall adduce his words, which with extravagance of statement shame the obstinacy of their impudence. For he was not very far beyond the mark. And I cannot for shame come to the assistance of women held up to such ridicule in comedy.

Then she ruins her husband.

For first, in comparison with gain and the spoiling of neighbours,
All else is in their eyes superfluous.

Is one of them little? She stitches cork into her shoe-sole.
Is one tall? She wears a thin sole,
And goes out keeping her head down on her shoulder:
This takes away from her height. Has one no flanks?
She has something sewed on to her, so that the spectators
May exclaim on her fine shape behind. Has she a prominent stomach?
By making additions, to render it straight, such as the nurses we see in the comic poets,
She draws back, as it were, by these poles, the protuberance of the stomach in front.
Has one yellow eyebrows? She stains them with soot.
Do they happen to be black? She smears them with ceruse.
Is one very white-skinned? She rouges.
Has one any part of the body beautiful? She shows it bare.
Has she beautiful teeth? She must needs laugh,
That those present may see what a pretty mouth she has;
But if not in the humour for laughing, she passes the day within,
With a slender sprig of myrtle between her lips,
Like what cooks have always at hand when they have goats’ heads to sell,
So that she must keep them apart the while, whether she will or not.

woman2 woman1

I set these quotations from the comic poets before you, since the Word most strenuously wishes to save us. And by and by I will fortify them with the divine Scriptures. For he who does not escape notice is wont to abstain from sins, on account of the shame of reproof. Just as the plastered hand and the anointed eye exhibit from their very look the suspicion of a person in illness, so also cosmetics and dyes indicate that the soul is deeply diseased.

The divine Instructor enjoins us not to approach to another’s river, meaning by the figurative expression another’s riveranother’s wife; the wanton that flows to all, and out of licentiousness gives herself up to meretricious enjoyment with all. Abstain from water that is another’s, He says, and drink not of another’s well, admonishing us to shun the stream of voluptuousness, that we may live long, and that years of life may be added to us; (Proverbs 9:11) both by not hunting after pleasure that belongs to another, and by diverting our inclinations.

Love of dainties and love of wine, though great vices, are not of such magnitude as fondness for finery. A full table and repeated cups are enough to satisfy greed. But to those who are fond of gold, and purple, and jewels, neither the gold that is above the earth and below it is sufficient, nor the Tyrian Sea, nor the freight that comes from India and Ethiopia, nor yet Pactolus flowing with gold; not even were a man to become a Midas would he be satisfied, but would be still poor, craving other wealth. Such people are ready to die with their gold.

ermoumag_makeup_knossos-11And if Plutus is blind, are not those women that are crazy about him, and have a fellow-feeling with him, blind too? Having, then, no limit to their lust, they push on to shamelessness. For the theatre, and pageants, and many spectators, and strolling in the temples, and loitering in the streets, that they may be seen conspicuously by all, are necessary to them. For those that glory in their looks, not in heart, (1 Thessalonians 2:17) dress to please others. For as the brand shows the slave, so do gaudy colours the adulteress. For though you clothe yourself in scarlet, and deck yourself with ornaments of gold, and anoint your eyes with stibium, in vain is your beauty, (Jeremiah 4:30) says the Word by Jeremiah. Is it not monstrous, that while horses, birds, and the rest of the animals, spring and bound from the grass and meadows, rejoicing in ornament that is their own, in mane, and natural colour, and varied plumage; woman, as if inferior to the brute creation, should think herself so unlovely as to need foreign, and bought, and painted beauty?

Head-dresses and varieties of head-dresses, and elaborate braidings, and infinite modes of dressing the hair, and costly specimens of mirrors, in which they arrange their costume,— hunting after those that, like silly children, are crazy about their figures—are characteristic of women who have lost all sense of shame. If any one were to call these courtesans, he would make no mistake, for they turn their faces into masks. But us the Word enjoins to look not on the things that are seen, but the things that are not seen; for the things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).

Kellerm (Scyth Mirror).
Kellerm (Scyth Mirror).

But what passes beyond the bounds of absurdity, is that they have invented mirrors for this artificial shape of theirs, as if it were some excellent work or masterpiece. The deception rather requires a veil thrown over it. For as the Greek fable has it, it was not a fortunate thing for the beautiful Narcissus to have been the beholder of his own image. And if Moses commanded men to make not an image to represent God by art, how can these women be right, who by their own reflection produce an imitation of their own likeness, in order to the falsifying of their faces? Likewise also, when Samuel the prophet was sent to anoint one of the sons of Jesse for king, and on seeing the eldest of his sons to be fair and tall, produced the anointing oil, being delighted with him, the Lord said to him, Look not to his appearance, nor the height of his stature: for I have rejected him. For man looks on the eyes, but the Lord into the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

And he anointed not him that was comely in person, but him that was comely in soul. If, then, the Lord counts the natural beauty of the body inferior to that of the soul, what thinks He of spurious beauty, rejecting utterly as He does all falsehood? For we walk by faith, not by sight. Very clearly the Lord accordingly teaches by Abraham, that he who follows God must despise country, and relations, and possessions, and all wealth, by making him a stranger. And therefore also He called him His friend who had despised the substance which he had possessed at home. For he was of good parentage, and very opulent; and so with three hundred and eighteen servants of his own he subdued the four kings who had taken Lot captive.

Esther alone we find justly adorned. The spouse adorned herself mystically for her royal husband; but her beauty turns out the redemption price of a people that were about to be massacred. And that decoration makes women courtesans, and men effeminate and adulterers, the tragic poet is a witness; thus discoursing:

Queen Esther Revealing Her Identity from a stunning series of contemporary mosaics of the Purim story by Lilian Borca.
Queen Esther Revealing Her Identity from a stunning series of contemporary mosaics of the Purim story by Lilian Borca.

He that judged the goddesses,
As the myth of the Argives has it, having come from Phrygia
To Lacedæmon, arrayed in flowery vestments,
Glittering with gold and barbaric luxury,
Loving, departed, carrying away her he loved,
Helen, to the folds of Ida, having found that
Menelaus was away from home.

O adulterous beauty! Barbarian finery and effeminate luxury overthrew Greece; Lacedæmonian chastity was corrupted by clothes, and luxury, and graceful beauty; barbaric display proved Jove’s daughter a courtesan.

They had no instructor to restrain their lusts, nor one to say, Do not commit adultery; nor, Lust not; or, Travel not by lust into adultery; or further, Influence not your passions by desire of adornment.

What an end was it that ensued to them, and what woes they endured, who would not restrain their self-will! Two continents were convulsed by unrestrained pleasures, and all was thrown into confusion by a barbarian boy. The whole of Hellas puts to sea; the ocean is burdened with the weight of continents; a protracted war breaks out, and fierce battles are waged, and the plains are crowded with dead: the barbarian assails the fleet with outrage;wickedness prevails, and the eye of that poetic Jove looks on the Thracians:—

The barbarian plains drink noble blood,
And the streams of the rivers are choked with dead bodies.

Breasts are beaten in lamentations, and grief desolates the land; and all the feet, and the summits of many-fountained Ida, and the cities of the Trojans, and the ships of the Achæans, shake.

Where, O Homer, shall we flee and stand? Show us a spot of ground that is not shaken!—

Touch not the reins, inexperienced boy,
Nor mount the seat, not having learned to drive.

Heaven delights in two charioteers, by whom alone the chariot of fire is guided. For the mind is carried away by pleasure; and the unsullied principle of reason, when not instructed by the Word, slides down into licentiousness, and gets a fall as the due reward of its transgression. An example of this are the angels, who renounced the beauty of God for a beauty which fades, and so fell from heaven to earth.

Jacob's sons slaying the Shechemites
Jacob’s sons slaying the Shechemites

The Shechemites, too, were punished by an overthrow for dishonouring the holy virgin. The grave was their punishment, and the monument of their ignominy leads to salvation.

Also see the writings of Tertullian on The Apparel of Women, and Why Women are to Veil Themselves, below:

A woodcut illustration depicting Tertullian.
A woodcut illustration depicting Tertullian.

Geronda Ephraim & Ladies

On Laughter (St. Clement of Alexandria, 198 )

NOTE: This article is taken from The Paedagogus, Book II, Chapter 5, written in 198 AD:

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People who are imitators of ludicrous sensations, or rather of such as deserve derision, are to be driven from our polity [or society].

For since all forms of speech flow from mind and manners, ludicrous expressions could not be uttered, did they not proceed from ludicrous practices. For the saying, “It is not a good tree which produces corrupt fruit, nor a corrupt tree which produces good fruit,”1 is to be applied in this case. For speech is the fruit of the mind. If, then, wags are to be ejected from our society, we ourselves must by no manner of means be allowed to stir up laughter. For it were absurd to be found imitators of things of which we are prohibited to be listeners; and still more absurd for a man to set about making himself a laughing-stock, that is, the butt of insult and derision. For if we could not endure to make a ridiculous figure, such as we see some do in processions, how could we with any propriety bear to have the inner man made a ridiculous figure of, and that to one’s face? Wherefore we ought never of our own accord to assume a ludicrous character. And how, then, can we devote ourselves to being and appearing ridiculous in our conversation, thereby travestying speech, which is the most precious of all human endowments? It is therefore disgraceful to set one’s self to do this; since the conversation of wags of this description is not fit for our ears, inasmuch as by the very expressions used it familiarizes us with shameful actions.

Pleasantry is allowable, not waggery. Besides, even laughter must be kept in check; for when given vent to in the right manner it indicates orderliness, but when it issues differently it shows a want of restraint.

For, in a word, whatever things are natural to men we must not eradicate from them, but rather impose on them limits and suitable times. For man is not to laugh on all occasions because he is a laughing animal, any more than the horse neighs on all occasions because he is a neighing animal. But as rational beings, we are to regulate ourselves suitably, harmoniously relaxing the austerity and over-tension of our serious pursuits, not inharmoniously breaking them up altogether.

For the seemly relaxation of the countenance in a harmonious manner—as of a musical instrument—is called a smile. So also is laughter on the face of well-regulated men termed. But the discordant relaxation of countenance in the case of women is called a giggle, and is meretricious laughter; in the case of men, a guffaw, and is savage and insulting laughter. “A fool raises his voice in laughter,”2 says the Scripture; but a clever man smiles almost imperceptibly. The clever man in this case he calls wise, inasmuch as he is differently affected from the fool. But, on the other hand, one needs not be gloomy, only grave. For I certainly prefer a man to smile who has a stern countenance than the reverse; for so his laughter will be less apt to become the object of ridicule.

Smiling even requires to be made the subject of discipline. If it is at what is disgraceful, we ought to blush rather than smile, lest we seem to take pleasure in it by sympathy; if at what is painful, it is fitting to look sad rather than to seem pleased. For to do the former is a sign of rational human thought; the other infers suspicion of cruelty.

We are not to laugh perpetually, for that is going beyond bounds; nor in the presence of elderly persons, or others worthy of respect, unless they indulge in pleasantry for our amusement. Nor are we to laugh before all and sundry, nor in every place, nor to everyone, nor about everything. For to children and women especially laughter is the cause of slipping into scandal. And even to appear stern serves to keep those about us at their distance. For gravity can ward off the approaches of licentiousness by a mere look. All senseless people, to speak in a word, wine

“Commands both to laugh luxuriously and to dance,” changing effeminate manners to softness. We must consider, too, how consequently freedom of speech leads impropriety on to filthy speaking.

“And he uttered a word which had been better unsaid.”3

Especially, therefore, in liquor crafty men’s characters are wont to be seen through, stripped as they are of their mask through the caitiff licence of intoxication, through which reason, weighed down in the soul itself by drunkenness, is lulled to sleep, and unruly passions are roused, which overmaster the feebleness of the mind.

  1. vii. 18; Luke vi. 43.
  2. xxi. 20.
  3. Odyss., xiv. 463–466.