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by BWW News Desk
Usury is not generally regarded as a provocative subject and yet the amount of texts devoted to the subject-though primarily from an economic rather than a theological or even an historical perspective-suggest usury is still an extremely significant topic to a large number of people. Recently the rising interest in poverty studies and the social justice theologies of early Christian authors further suggests that there is a clear recognition that the troubling realities of debt remain a concern for modern day citizens as well as early Christians and their bishops.
The purpose of They Who Give from Evil is to consider the financial and salvific implications of usury on the community, and on the individual soul as it is addressed within the sermons of a selection of early Christian Greek authors writing in the historical context of the fourth century Roman Empire. Although focusing on two Greek texts, St. Basil's Homily on Psalm Fourteen and Against Those Who Practice Usury by St. Gregory of Nyssa, Ihssen is able to provide a fascinating insight into Roman life, and richly illustrate the social justice theologies of the patristic world.
Starting with a twentieth and twenty-first century historiography of usury scholarship that considers the social justice sermons on usury of the Cappadocian Fathers, Ihssen proceeds to investigate usury in Greek and Roman society, usury in Jewish and Christian scripture, and finally usury in the writings of a selection of early Greek Fathers who are foundational to the Byzantine and Eastern Christian theological and historical traditions. Ihssen offers a more nuanced understanding of sermons that addressed the reality of debt and the responsibility of wealthy Christians. In comparing these texts she explores their possible philosophical influences, the distinct ways in which they use The Common themes of theft, falsehood, anxiety, the natural world, and heavenly usury, and the possible motivations for the sermons.
This new work addresses the lacuna of early Christian attitudes towards lending and debt, respectfully supplementing and updating the work of several eminent scholars, and offering an in-depth analysis of the texts of early Christian authors cited in studies of usury, the theological content of which has been too often neglected.
Brenda Llewellyn Ihssen is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion at Pacific Lutheran University, where she teaches courses in the early and medieval history of Christianity and Islam, and Eastern Orthodox theology.