In the previous part of this series, we mentioned how money was thought by Christians for centuries. You can read the entire article here. In turn, all editions of this series are published at this link. Today, however, we will remain in the Christian world, but we will focus on Protestants. Their view of what money is has revolutionized our world, and some even think that it has made the West become at one time the strongest region of the world in political and economic terms.
Money is all right
As you have probably already noticed, over the centuries, money was thought more and more liberally. Why? Actually, on the “pages” of this story we have already responded to it several times. Just people are interesting creatures that often say one thing, but then they do the other. Anyway, the development of money and credit was necessary for the development of the economy. Although in the Middle Ages our ancestors supposedly thought mainly about eternal life, in practice they preferred here down below on earth, to cry in a well-kept chamber in a large castle, and not in a crumbling cottage. Today we all have similar, right?
Let us now look at the historical background of the events we describe. First, from the fourteenth century there was a slow decline of the Church. Initially, popes had more power than kings, but this began to change over time. During the so-called Avignon captivity (it took place in the years 1309-1377) Church leaders had to reside not in Rome, but in France. For this they were forced to act in accordance with the instructions of local rulers.
People – and especially intellectual elites – began to think differently about earthly reality. Here, the key role was played by Awettoes. He was an Arab researcher in the philosophy of Aristotle, who preached the theory of the existence of two truths: divine and human. To put it simply, he decided that God let him do his and we here on earth. Humanism, a philosophical current that was already putting man instead of God in the center, was becoming more and more popular. It is not difficult to guess that it was very liked by those people who did well in the markets – bankers and buyers. Until now, Christian doctrine hampered their lives in business. It could change now.
I will buy an office, I pay in cash!
The church also somehow committed its collective image suicide. The point is that the clergy themselves were living – as we would say today – for show. They did not hide their property, and the Church itself traded in offices. Magdeburg Bishop, Albrecht Hohenzollern (cousin and namesake of the then Grand Master of the Teutonic Order) at some point, for example, wanted to buy the bishopric of Mainz. Thanks to this, he could become the most powerful priest in Germany! So there was something to fight for!
There was only one problem. Canon law forbade his joining two episcopal positions. Well, unless he first got a dispensation from the pope. Albrecht was doing well, but not enough to get such a document (yes, the dispensation was bought!). However, he turned for help to the then most powerful European banker, Jakub Fugger. This was to lend him funds for the entire operation.
Hohenzollern not only took the loan, but also came to the conclusion that it is worth treating it as payday loan and pay off quickly. So he prepared a wide pilgrimage offer for the faithful. For a fee you could include to buy the blame of his family members (living and deceased – so as to shorten the tortures in Purgatory for the latter). Not only that, in the most expensive package there was even the option of forgiveness of sins, which … has not yet been committed! It’s better than buying flowers for my wife after a sinful leap!
In the terms of the loan agreement, Fugger himself wrote that Dominican Johaness Tetzl should be the plenipotentiary for indulgences. And maybe if it wasn’t for this decision, the story would have been different …
We are also at the moment when Martin Luther enters the arena of history.
Luther was interested in the activities of the sinful Tetzel. Unaware of his connections with Albrecht, he even wrote to him an official letter in which he criticized the activities regarding the sale of indulgences. As you can guess, Hohenzollern did not answer the letter. According to legend, Luther nailed the famous 95 theses to the local church (historians believe that nothing really happened, and Luther himself only began to spread his views and with the help and financial support of enemies of corrupt clerics). In any case, in the mentioned document he attacked the then Church for its financial excesses
Who was behind Luther? Let’s face it: these were not the times of the Internet, when you can reach thousands or tens of thousands of people with one post and paid promotion on Facebook. No, someone had to deal with the thesis distribution. The invention of printing helped, but it was very expensive. So some historians suggest that behind the distribution of thoughts of the rebel clergyman stood the banker’s lobby, which saw in them a chance to combat the church’s conservative views on usury.
The above makes some sense, but it is strange, since the activities of the church’s controversial clergy were financed by Jakub Fugger himself, the largest banker in Europe and thus in the world. In addition, Luther himself in a sermon about usury published in 1520:
“The greatest misfortune of the German people is undoubtedly borrowing at interest […]. The devil invented them, and the Pope did a great deal of damage to the world by sanctioning it. “
However, this does not change the fact that Protestantism changed thinking about usury. Filip Melanchton, a follower of Luther, thought usury was permissible, but only when borrowing money to the rich.
Jan Calwin, the creator of Calvinism, considered the interest on the loan to be fair, but also only when it was not higher than the interest rate set by the authorities. However, already his theory of predestination changed the general attitude to wealth. These were an act of God’s grace for his followers. According to some historians and economists, this approach to money has led to a rush to earn money in Protestant countries that laid the foundation for capitalism. Anyway, it’s the perfect religion for business people and bankers! So maybe there is something in the mentioned conspiracy theory?
Modernity also brought the first secular economic doctrine. It is about mercantilism, which was based on the subordination of state policy to economic development. It was thought that power should, through its instruments – establishing monopolies, interference with the market or even forces – act so that the entire state would grow rich and develop.
However, economic problems have not disappeared. Early mercantilists, the so-called the brothists, for they claimed that for the country to get richer enough, as much ores would flow into it as possible. As we know, these were the times of early colonialism. The Spaniards began to import tons of gold from America, which flooded Europe. The effect was high inflation.