A few days ago, we analyzed how money was thought in ancient times. Finally, we mentioned that quite critical thinking about borrowing money had a positive impact on the fate of one of the nations. Today we will explain to you who we meant.
Jews and usury
Yes, we will deal with Jews in this part. However, before we answer the question exactly why they benefited from certain prohibitions that Christians introduced in the Middle Ages, let’s look at the very idea of money in the world of Judaism.
Jews used Persian, Greek and Roman money in their trade. This does not mean, however, that they did not have their coins. They had shekels – silver coins in the form of rings (interestingly, a similar form of coins was used in ancient China).
It can be said that Christianity and the Bible itself have revolutionized thinking about money as such. Almsgiving has thus become almost obligatory for a faithful follower. It was not so much about helping the poor, but also about donating the Church as an institution.
“Every tithe from the earth, from sowing from the earth or from the fruit of a tree belongs to the Lord, it is a thing dedicated to the Lord. If anyone wants to buy a portion of their tithe, they will add one-fifth to it. Every tithe of larger or smaller cattle that passes under a shepherd’s staff is a thing dedicated to the Lord. (…) You will tithe from all kinds of seeds, from what the earth gives birth every year. “
– taxes were written in the Bible.
An interesting aspect was also that the difference between borrowing money and almsgiving has already disappeared. Every seven years debt was also written off! The following passage can be found in Deuteronomy:
“At the end of the seventh year you will be debt relief. (…) Each creditor forgives a loan granted to his neighbor, he will not demand a return from his neighbor or his brother, because a donation in honor of the Lord is preached. You can demand a return from a stranger (…) “.
Apparently, something like this was supposed to pay off to the borrower:
“(…) you should not be poor. The Lord will bless you in the earth (…) “
Then it gets even more interesting.
“You will lend to many nations, and you will not borrow from anyone; you will rule over many nations, but they will not control you “
– it somehow explains the later openness of Jews to lending money to Christians.
Dreams and reality
Let’s remember one thing though. The above records constituted a theory. This was almost always bent for practice. God’s words about debt relief sounded beautiful and noble, but they meant one thing: suppressing market development. Jewish financiers were afraid of a certain obviousness: that borrowers would not pay their debts counting on their cancellation.
So something had to be done with the controversial, impractical record. Rabbi Hillel the Elder, one of the leaders of the Pharisees, i.e. one of the Jewish brotherhoods, found a solution. He presented such an interpretation of God’s recommendations that allowed him to continue to demand debt despite the Sabbath year.
In Tor, however, the ban on usury is still repeated. In the Book of Exodus there is a provision stating that no interest may be charged on borrowed amounts. Similarly, the book of Leviticus suggests helping the weaker and poorer without profit.
At the outset, we mentioned that the Jews enjoyed some restrictions imposed by Christianity. What is going on? We already translate. The topic of usury has been going on for centuries. In the previous part, we wrote about the fact that Aristotle had already argued that borrowing money at interest is not fair, because – as he argued – money did not produce anything of its own. You may have asked for a fee for lending a milk cow to someone, but not for a loan.
At the beginning of the Middle Ages, when the economy was rebuilt after the fall of the Roman Empire, no one discussed the idea of debt and usury – it was known that markets had to be boosted by investments. It also shows how people are quite flexible in approaching all ideologies and religions when they lack money …
Everything began to change slowly only in the eleventh century. At that time the economy was rebuilt for good, but it was accompanied by the development of loan sharks market and severely interest-bearing loans. This did not escape the clergy, who – like good shepherds – had to start fighting this practice to save the stray souls of loan sharks.
The Second Lateran Council in 1139 finally condemned usury but did not yet call it a crime. However, this was only an introduction to the open struggle of the Church against borrowing funds for interest. Pope Urban III with reference to verse 36 from chapter 6 of the Gospel according to St. Łukasz was no longer at all: he called usury a mortal sin.
Let us remember, however, that we are talking here about the Middle Ages, a period when the Church was above secular rulers, and people lived in the belief that the goal of change here is to be saved. Mortal sin – it sounded almost literal, could mean death to the soul, and thus the missed opportunity to live in Heaven.
However, this is not the end. In “Divine Comedy,” Dante compared the borrowers with interest to … sodomites. In turn, Thomas Aquinas noticed that this type of “money for money” transaction is pointless. He believed that a horse, a cow or a grain could have real value, but not a coin! From this he argued that usury does not make sense, but it is also unfair. Over time, he recognized that the moneylenders are not just sodomites, but even murderers.
It was crazy. In 1310, the city council of Mainz forced the cemetery authorities to dig up the bodies of recently deceased loan sharks. Why? It was about confirming that they were sinners. The evidence was supposed to be that the bodies were … rotten and partly already eaten by worms.
Ultimately, Pope Clement V announced a ban on usury and annulled secular laws that legalized such activities. It is as if today the Vatican has banned companies from the so-called market chwilówek!
All this, however, meant that the place of Christians-loan sharks was taken by Jews. Anyway, the Church had to do something about the latter. They were forbidden to cultivate land and a studio in trade. They could only engage in free professions, including borrowing money. Their religion, as we have already mentioned, allowed them to grant loans to other nations. Paradoxically, the church helped the Jews, though they did it inadvertently. Because he made them engage in business much more profitable than growing vegetables or raising cattle.
At the same time, it meant something else: the beginning of Jewish problems. They got rich on usury, which made them jealous, but also led to the fact that as a nation they were associated with greedy and destructive people in financial terms. They also competed with Christian bankers who, of course, were still active but did not call interest on interest. In the long run, this nascent animosity against Jews turned out to be tragic.