A similar observation may be made of Aquinas’s treatment of the
subject of usury. The history of the usury debates is complex and particularly subject to caricature. For our purposes, it suffices to note that while neither Judaism nor Christianity objected to people making honest profits, a question hovered over the matter of whether an honest profit could be earned by selling money: that is, charging a price for money or what we call ‘interest’. The early fathers of the Christian Church condemned the charging of interest on a money loan. It was unjust, they maintained, when the borrower was a poor person seeking ways to survive, while the lender was a wealthy person who had resources to help the poor man if he chose to do so. Usury was thus defined as a loan for subsistence, as opposed to a loan of capital (Charles, 1998: 95). This distinction is crucial, as it does not appear that there were any serious objections to people lending others capital (Chadwick, 1988: 15).
With the emergence of new commercial wealth in twelfth-century western Europe, there was a corresponding increase in the demand for money. This was not driven simply by increased consumption and the heightened processes of exchange. It was also based on the need for money as a measure and store of value Once money began to serve this purpose, more people began to realise that money could be used to create new and more wealth through investment. In other words, money could be capital. This raised the question of whether it was right to lend money to someone in order that they might use it for a business venture and charge interest on the loan.