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A Letter on Credit Sales and Usury
by Thomas Aquinas
translated by Alfred O'Rahilly,
"Notes on St. Thomas III - St. Thomas on Credit." Irish Ecclesiastical
Record, 5th series, 31 (1928): 159-68
reprinted by Vernon J. Bourke in The Pocket Aquinas, 223-25, New York:
Pocket Books, 1960.

html-formated by Joseph Kenny, O.P.

Prooemium Opening

Carissimo sibi in Christo fratri Iacobo To his very dear brother in Christ, James of
Viterbiensi lectori Florentino, frater Viterbo, Lector at Florence, from Brother
Thomas de Aquino salutem. Thomas of Aquin: Greetings.

Caput 1 Chapter 1

Recepi litteras vestras cum quibusdam I received your letter containing some
casibus super quibus electi Capuani et cases concerning which you requested
meam sententiam petebatis. Super quibus the opinion of the Archbishop Elect of
collatione habita cum eodem Capuano Capua and myself. After a discussion
electo et postmodum cum domino Hugone thereon with the aforesaid Archbishop
cardinali, duxi ad primum casum taliter Elect and afterwards with Cardinal
respondendum: Hugh, I decided that the following reply
should be made to the first case.

quod supposito quod illa consuetudo de Assuming that the custom of deferring
dilatione solutionis usque ad spatium trium payment for three months, as is set forth
mensium, sicut proponitur, sit ad commune in the case, has been introduced for the
bonum mercatorum, scilicet pro common good of merchants, that is, for
expediendis mercationibus, et non in facilitating commerce, and not for
fraudem usurarum introducta videtur esse fraudulent usury: then a distinction must
distinguendum. Quia aut vendit venditor be made. For the vendor, while granting
suas mercationes ad terminum praedictum credit for the aforesaid interval, sells his
ultra quantitatem iusti pretii propter goods either (1) for an amount
expectationem, aut secundum iusti pretii exceeding the just price on account of
quantitatem. his waiting for payment, or (2) for an
amount equal to the just price.

Si primo modo, non est dubium usurarium In the first alternative there is no doubt
esse contractum, cum expectatio temporis that contract is usurious, inasmuch as
sub pretio cadat. Nec potest esse excusatio the waiting for a certain time is included
si secundus venditor sit primi minister, cum in the price. And this is not excused by
ob nullam causam liceat pro termino the fact that the second vendor may be
expectationis pecuniae pretium augeri. employed by the first, since for no cause
whatever may the price be increased on
account of the interval for which
payment is deferred.

Si autem secundo modo, non est usura. In the second alternative, there is no
Nec obstat si pro minori pretio daret si usury. Nor does the fact that he would
statim pecunia solveretur. Quod per simile sell for less were payment made
potest in aliis debitis videri; quia si alicui immediately make any difference. This
debeatur aliquid ad certum terminum, can be seen by comparison with other
quandocumque de eo quod est sibi debitum debts. If an amount due to a person is
dimitteret si sibi citius solveretur, in quo payable after a certain date, even
casu constat eum cui debetur ab usurae though he might remit a portion of the
peccato omnino esse immunem. Licet enim debt if it were paid him sooner, still in
plus accipere de debito propter temporis this case it is clear that the creditor is
dilationem usuram sapiat, minus tamen entirely immune from usury. For though
accipere ut sibi citius solvatur usuram non it smacks of usury to take more than is
sapit, maxime ex parte eius qui minus due on account of delay in payment, to
recipit, quamvis ex parte eius qui minus dat take less than one may be paid sooner
ut citius solvat, videatur esse aliquis modus does not smack of usury, especially on
usurae cum spatium temporis vendat. Unde the part of him who gets less, though on
etiam in casu proposito plus esset de usura the part of him who gives less on paying
timendum emptori qui ubi ante tres menses sooner, there seems to be some kind of
solvat, minus iusta extimatione pannos usury since he sells an interval of time.
emit, quam venditori qui minus accipit ut Hence also in the case proposed there
citius ei solvatur. is no more fear of usury in connection
with the buyer who, when he pays
before three months, buys the cloth for
less than the just value, than in
connection with the seller who takes less
that he may be sooner paid.

Caput 2 Chapter 2
Ex quo etiam patet quid sit dicendum ad From this it is also clear what should be
secundum casum. Quia si mercatores said concerning the second case. For if
Tusciae portantes pannos de nundinis the merchants of Tuscany, bringing cloth
Latiniaci, ut eos usque ad tempus from the Fair of Lagny to wait until Easter
resurrectionis expectent, plus vendant [for payment], sell the cloth for more than
pannos quam valeant secundum it is worth in the general market, here is
communem forum, non est dubium esse no doubt that this is usury. But if they sell
usuram. Si autem non plus quam valeant it, not at more than its worth but at its
sed quantum valent, plus tamen quam worth, yet at more than they would take
acciperent si statim eis solveretur, non est for it if payment were made immediately
usura. to them, there is no usury.

Caput 3 Chapter 3

In tertio casu similiter dicendum videtur. In the third case a similar reply should be
Quia si illi qui pecuniam mutuo cum usuris made. For if those who accept money
accipiunt, illam usuram recuperare volunt with usury wish to recover that usury by
plus vendendo pannos quam valeant selling he cloth at more than its worth on
propter expectationem praedictam, non est account of the aforesaid delay, there is
dubium esse usuram cum manifeste no doubt that this is usury since time is
tempus vendatur. Nec excusantur ex hoc clearly sold. Nor are they excused by the
quod volunt se conservare indemnes, quia fact that they wish to indemnify
nullus debet se conservare indemnem themselves, for no one should indemnify
mortaliter peccando. Et licet expensas alias himself by committing mortal sin. And
licite factas, puta in portatione pannorum, although they can in selling the cloth
possint licite recuperare de eorum lawfully recover other expenses lawfully
venditione, non tamen possunt recuperare contracted, for example, the cost of
usuras quas dederunt, cum haec fuerit transporting the cloth, still they cannot
iniusta datio; et praesertim cum dando recover the usury they paid, for this was
usuras peccaverint tanquam occasionem an unjust payment; especially since by
peccandi usurariis praebentes, cum paying usury they sinned in giving the
necessitas quae ponitur - ut scilicet usurers an occasion for sinning, since
honorabilius vivant et maiores mercationes the necessary which is urgednamely
faciant - non sit talis necessitas quae that they may live more respectably and
sufficiat ad excusandum peccatum do a bigger tradeis not such a
praedictum. Patet enim a simili quia non necessity as suffices to excuse the
posset quis in venditione pannorum aforesaid sin. This is clear by
recuperare expensas quas incaute et comparison; for a man could not in
imprudenter fecisset. selling cloth recover expenses which he
might have incurred carelessly and

Caput 4 Chapter 4
Patet etiam ex praedictis quod in quarto From what has been said the query in the
casu quaerebatur. Nam ille qui ad certum fourth case is also clear. For if he who
terminum debet, si ante terminum solvit owes money payable on a certain date
ut ei de debito aliquid dimittatur, usuram pays before this date that a portion of the
committere videtur, quia manifeste debt may be remitted to him, he seems to
tempus solutionis pecuniae vendit. Unde commit usury, inasmuch as he sells time
ad restitutionem tenetur. Nec excusatur for paying the money. Hence he is bound
per hoc quod solvendo ante terminum to restitution. Nor is he excused by he fact
gravatur, vel quod ad hoc ab aliquo that he is inconvenienced by paying before
inducitur, quia eadem ratione possent the date or that he is induced to do this by
omnes usurarii excusari. someone, for all usurers could be excused
on the same ground.

Haec est mea et praedictorum, scilicet This is the firm and definite decision of
electi Capuani et Hugonis cardinalis, in myself and the aforesaid, namely, the
praedictis casibus firma et determinata Archbishop Elect of Capua and Cardinal
sententia. Vale. Hugh, concerning the aforesaid cases.