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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Blaise Pascal (1623–1662)

On Usury

From “Provincial Letters”

“LET us,” said my friend the casuist, “now speak about men of business. You are aware that our greatest difficulty with them is to prevent usury, for which purpose our fathers have exerted the utmost care; for such is their utter detestation of this vice, that Escobar says, ‘that to affirm of usury it is no crime, is to be guilty of heresy’; and our Father Bauny, in his Summary of Sins, has filled a number of pages with an account of the punishments due to usurers. He pronounces them ‘infamous when alive, and unworthy of burial when dead.’” “Indeed!” said I, “is Father Bauny so severe? I could not have imagined it.” “It is so, however,” said he, “when it is necessary; but then this learned casuist, observing that men are only induced to usury by the desire of gain, adds, in the same place, ‘the world would be very much obliged if, guaranteeing them against the bad effects of usury, and at the same time against its guilt, some expedient could be adopted of legally procuring as much or more pecuniary profit than is obtained by usurious practises.’” “Undoubtedly, father; then we should not have any more usurers.” “This he has accomplished by furnishing ‘a general method for persons of every description, gentlemen, presidents, counselors,’ etc.—and so easy, that it consists simply in pronouncing certain words when the money is lent, in consequence of which the profit may be taken without being guilty of a usurious transaction, which it would be without such a precaution.” “Pray, what are these mysterious words?” “Not at all mysterious; they are his own words, for you know that he wrote his Summary of Sins in French, as he says in his preface, ‘to be understood by all mankind.’ The person of whom you wish to borrow shall answer thus: ‘I have no money to lend, though I have some, to be sure, to place out for an honest and lawful profit. If you wish to improve the sum you request by honest industry, by a co-partnership of half and half, possibly I might be induced to accommodate you. But as it is a troublesome affair to settle the profits of trade, if you will insure me a certain gain and my whole principal, without any risk, we shall agree the sooner; and, in fact, you shall have the money immediately.’ Is not this an admirable method of acquiring money without committing sin? And has not Father Bauny good reason for saying in conclusion, ‘By this means, in my opinion, a great number of people who, by usury, extortion, and illegal contracts, provoke the Divine indignation, may save themselves, and acquire good, honest, and lawful profits’?”