In the previous part of our series on how money was thought for centuries, we analyzed how money was thought in the past by Jews. Today is time for a topic much closer to us – Christians.
Usury is not cool!
As you know from the previous section, Christians could not grant interest-bearing loans, let alone usury. Where did this thinking come from? You can read about money in the Gospel of St. Luke:
“If you give loans to those you expect to return, how much gratitude for you? And sinners lend to sinners to receive the same amount. Instead, love your enemies, do good and borrow without expecting anything. “
One can see in this thinking the condemnation of usury, but also the praise of alms. Another thing is that for Christians, eternal life, or existence after death, counted from the beginning, so thinking about money here on earth didn’t fit that well.
The above can already be seen in the writings of the Church Fathers. For them, money was evil, and wealth was born of dishonesty. It is quite scary, because it is strangely similar to the thinking of the extreme left or Poles from the times of … PRL. By the way, love of money was condemned, in which Christians resembled the pagan Plato. However, while the Greek philosopher did not like mammon lovers, because they bored him during talks, so the church founders claimed that worshiping wealth leads to miserliness (anyway, it’s quite logical, right?). In practice, the money was to be used to help others and the weak, and not to multiply wealth. How far, however, from what later many pages of clergy did in history, including the popes!
However, it is worth adding that despite the above, bankers were distinguished from loan sharks. Why? This is another proof that people bend their ideas for real needs. Simply hitting the bankers would hinder economic development. Malicious would add that the latter was already needed by the church at this stage, because rich believers mean higher donations during Holy Mass. However, we are not so sarcastic, so we will not write …
Trade … yes, it’s not ok either
A business man would not have done well in an early church. The institution did not trust traders for all this. Actually, here again you can see the echo of the thinking of the ancient Greeks. Just as Aristotle said that money should not be borrowed because money alone produces nothing, so Christians felt that merchants were not socially useful, because they traded in things that they did not produce themselves. It meant that they did not create real value themselves. It is a bit reminiscent of a contempt for sales people, which again! – can be seen in the Polish mentality. The question is whether it came from Christianity or from the pro-Polish mentality, where the worker was always valued more than the intellectual or the so-called prywaciarza.
Such unfavorable thinking for business people changed only in the Middle Ages. Saint Albert the Great (1190-1280) admitted that money is needed, and Saint. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) added that traders can add their mark-up to goods, but only if, for example, they transported it to another place.
In addition, thinking about a fair price appeared in the discussion. Henry of Ghent in the 13th century argued that a mark-up could appear in trade, but mainly in three cases:
- when the goods have been transported somewhere, e.g. to another city,
- in the event that the trader bought it when it was cheap, sold it when it was expensive; so the general market conditions have changed,
- when a trader knows what he sells, so when we buy goods from him, we know that we are buying something solid. In other words, he gives us some added value through his knowledge.
Money eventually began to be treated as a tool for trade. Why? The easiest way would be to answer: because he had to! People simply cannot exist without money in their economic dimension. More precisely: the economy cannot function without this “disgusting” mammon (let’s skip here crazy visions of communists who thought it could be different, as practice shows, such ideas could never be realized on a large scale). Scholastics have adopted the theory of money sterility from Aristotle himself. Let us remind you that this Greek philosopher was a pagan! However, as you can see, Christians were able to turn a blind eye to this.
However, the official usury ban was still maintained. Although only on paper. In practice, it was cleverly bypassed. Instead, high interest rates were calculated compensation for losses incurred late repayment. In other words, money was borrowed for such a short period to be able to calculate interest immediately. Another method was to charge fees related to the borrowing of money.
As you can see, usury and credit functioned within Christian societies, but under different concepts. Moneylenders were officially condemned, but all in all they were known to be needed on the market (just like companies offering so-called payday loans). Dante, however, assigned these unfortunates a place in the seventh circle of Hell.
Everything is changing
Everything changed, however, only in the fourteenth century. The science of money has made significant progress. Antonin of Florence talked a lot about the physical nature of money. He claimed that it was better for it to be in the form of ore than, for example, leather. He emphasized that only then presents actual value. He would certainly be terrified if he saw that today you pay with papers …
St. Bernardine of Siena, in turn, noted that money can also generate profits in and of itself. It was a great breakthrough and a departure from the idea of Aristotle, who was able to put a cow above money (if you still do not know what’s going on, you must read the first part of this series!).
Nicholas of Oresme was another big fan of metallic money. In his course about coins, he clearly stated that these should only be made of ores. He condemned the spoiling of coins by rulers, as this led to the destruction of the economy. Even then it was a huge risk, but at the same time it was a common practice. His teachings later inspired Thomas Gresham to create his famous law of good and bad money.
It is worth adding, however, that all the money-related pathologies of the Church later led to the emergence of Protestantism, which, however, we will deal with in the next installment of this cycle. Unfortunately, the clergy may have officially condemned the money, but they themselves probably loved it more than life. At least some of them were so greedy that they traded in indulgences or church offices, while in the Middle Ages relics were also extremely popular. Of course, these “gadgets” were almost always faked …