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Papal and Royal Attitudes Toward Jewish Lending in the Thirteenth Century

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 October 2009

Kenneth R. Stow
Department of History, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel


The question of Jewish usury is usually perceived in straightforward terms. The Church unilaterally opposed Jewish lending, and the kings did all they could to promote it. In the long run, however, the utility of Jewish lending diminished, and the forces of the Church were thus able to prevail. The kings, too, soon began to outlaw Jewish lending.

Research Article
Copyright © Association for Jewish Studies 1981

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1. The classic position may be seen clearly in Sasson, H. H. Ben, Toledo am Yisrael biyemei ha-beinayim (Tel Aviv, 1969), pp. 94–96; but cf. S. W. Barons judicious strictures, Social and Religious History of the Jews, 17 vols. to date (New York and Philadelphia, 1952–), 12: 132–38.Google Scholar

2. The basic discussions of this subject are found in McLaughlin, T. P., The Teachings of the Canonists on Usury (XII, XIII, XIV Centuries), Medieval Studies 1 (1939): 81147 and 2 (1940): 1–22;CrossRefGoogle ScholarNoonan, J. T., The Scholastic Analysis of Usury (Cambridge, Mass., 1957); and Benjamin Nelson, The Idea of Usury, 2d ed. (Chicago, 1969), esp. pp. 3–28.Google Scholar

3. See the general discussion of churchmen and their economic views in Baldwin, J. W., Masters, Princes and Merchants, 2 vols. (Princeton, 1970), esp. chaps. 13–15. See too the decree of Alexander III of 1179 at the Third Lateran Council, in J. D. Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum Collectio, 59 vols. (Venice, 1779–82), 22: 343–46 (on usury) and 355–57 (on Jews).Google Scholar

4. See the text of Post miserabilem (Liber Extra = X. 5, 19, 12) in Solomon Grayzel, The Church and the Jews in the Xlllth Century (Philadelphia, 1938), p. 86. For the views of the twelfth century churchmen, see Nelson, Idea, pp. 9–12, and particularly the letter of Bernard of Clairveaux in J. P. Migne, ed., Patrologia Latina (PL), 182: 567, as well as the letter of Peter the Venerable of Cluny in PL, 189: 368.

5. Usury was usually the province of church courts; see McLaughlin Teachings, pp. 18–19 and Emil Friedberg, Dejinium inter ecclesiam el civitatem judicio (Leipzig, 1861; reprint ed., Aalen, 1965), pp. 102–3. On the secular arm as coactive power, see the articles of Stickler, A. M. and Maccarrone, Michele in Sacerdozio e regno da Gregorio VII a Bonifacio VIII (Rome, 1954), pp. 126 and 27–48.Google Scholar

6. Ad liberandom (Liber Extra = X. 5, 6, 17). The full conciliar texts appear in Mansi, 12: 1063, with brief extracts in Grayzel, Xlllth Century, p. 313.

7. X. 5, 19, 18. See too, Grayzel, Xlllth Century, p. 306, and the comments of McLaughlin, Teachings, p. 99 and Nelson, Idea, p. 16. The latter raise the issue of the inconsistency between practice and canonistic theory, and they do refer to Quanto amplius. But they never ask that which is a fundamental question of this essay, namely, was the implied permission of Quanto amplius to accept moderate interest the result of a consciously followed policy based on clearly defined principles. On the contrary, McLaughlin and Nelson both indicate that the inconsistencies between the usury canons were determined by the exigencies of the moment.

8. See Grayzel, p. 317 (Mansi, 23: 21) and p. 332 (Mansi, 23: 701), for the French Councils and Baer, Y. F., Die Juden im christlichen Spanien, 2 vols. (Berlin, 1936), 1: 147, for the Aragonese text.Google Scholar

9. See below for the reason why the popes preferred the negative terminology.

10. Grayzel, Xlllth Century, pp. 132, 134 and 136

11. Grayzel, Xlllth Century, pp. 180 and 218; cf. the similar wording in the Milhemet misvah of Meir b. Simeon, MS Parma 2749, fol. 72v. A related issue is the collection of revenues from Jews who had been given to monasteries by their secular lords. (See Aryeh Grabois, The St. Denis Jews and their Role in the Development of the Monastery, Zion 30 [1965]: 115–19). Some of this money, if not all, derived from interest. Accordingly, in his De regimine Iudaeorum, in A. P. DEntreves, ed. and trans., Aquinas Selected Political Writings (Oxford, 1959), p. 85, Thomas of Aquinas forbade princes to tax Jewish income. Nevertheless, Gregory IX attacked Frederick II (Grayzel, Xlllth Century, p. 192) for withdrawing Jewish revenues from the monks of Mt. Cassino. The dispute was over these revenues alone; whence, Gregory must have been operating on the basis of the theory now being argued that Jewish lending at interest could be legitimate.

12. Grayzel, Xlllth Century, pp. 126–27.

13. Grayzel, p. 150.

14. Julius Aronius, Regesien zur Geschichte der Juden im Frankischen und Deutschen Reiche (Berlin, 1902), p. 313, no. 741. This rate also appears in Baer, Spanien, 1: 147; and the Milhemet mifvah (= MM) of Meir b. Simeon, MS Parma 2749, fol. 71/–. It equals 86 2/3 percent, which seems high. The matter needs clarification, especially because Meir b. Simeon does not state the time period for calculating the rate. However, Doc. 109, pp. 170–71 in R. W. Emery, The Jews of Perpignan in the Thirteenth Century (New York, 1959), refers to ratione libre IV den. per mensem. That equals 20 percent only, which is surely what Meir b. Simeon meant; and perhaps the bishop did too. Cf. n. 35 below for more information on Meirs work.

15. Grayzel, pp. 182 and 207.

16. On the usury policies of thirteenth century French kings, see Chazan, Robert, Medieval Jewry in Northern France (Baltimore, 1973), pp. 110–21.Google Scholar

17. Grayzel, Xlllth Century, p. 200 and cf. pp. 268 and 272 where Innocent IV insists that legitimate contracts be fulfilled, obviously with the interest paid. It should be noted that in 1320, John XXII prohibited above principal payments on contracts in Macerata. But here, the contracts contained an obligation to pay the huge hidden interest of 300 percent. See Solomon Grayzel, References to the Jews in the Correspondence of John XXII, Hebrew Union College Annual 23 (1950–51), pt. 2: 58–59

18. These cases are discussed in Emery, Perpignan, pp. 88–94. The conclusions for the out of court settlements are mine. It is worth adding that Perpignan was hardly the only place where Jews were tried for usury by Church courts. Each instance must be studied separately to understand the motivation of the prosecution.

19. McLaughlin, Teachings, p. 99 and McLaughlins comments therb. Cf. Nelson, Idea, p. 16 and my comments in n. 7 above.

20. This is McLaughlins central thesis, which has been unfailingly accepted; cf. Baldwin, Masters, note, p. 299.

21. See Friedberg, Emil, ed., Quinque Compilaliones Antiquae (Leipzig, 1882; reprint ed., Graz, 1956), p. 131, for the text; and Emil Friedberg, ed., Corpus Juris Canonici (Leipzig, 1879–81), X. 5, 19, 12: Post miserabilem, for the editorial process.Google Scholar

22. See the texts in McLaughlin, p. 99. The canonists asked if the prohibition of immoderite implied the permission of the opposite, moderate. It did not, they concluded, because of:he blanket prohibition of the edited Post miserabilem. Obviously, this is a word game; the canonists were expert in the history and fortunes of near contemporary texts, especially those which began as conciliar decrees. Conclusions other than those dealing with the method of the:anonists and their theory of usury may be drawn here only with great care.

23. Innocent III studied law at Bologna and Innocent IVs Apparatus on the Decretals is one of the major commentaries on that text.

24. For the text, see Grayzel, XUIth Century, p. 92; on the merits of Sicut, see Grayzel, , The Papal Bull, Sicut Iudaeis, in Studies and Essays in Honor of A. A. Neuman (Leiden, 1962), pp. 243–80.Google Scholar

25. On the common observance of the Jews customary rights, see Thomas Aquinas, De Regimine ludaeorum, in A. P. DEntreves, Aquinas Selected Political Writings, pp. 85–86, where Thomas argues that the defense of customary rights in Sicut precludes novel and arbitrary taxation of Jews, even by the secular princes to whom the Jews were servi camerae. Cf. the remarks of Gregory IX, in Grayzel, XHIth Century, p. 200, of Innocent IV, in Grayzel, p. 272, and most explicitly of Clement IV, cited in Peter Browe, Die Judenmission im Mittelalter und die Pdpsle (Rome, 1942; reprint ed., Rome, 1973), p. 76: Sed in quantum concessa eis a sede apostolica privilegia patiuntur, thus informing James I of Aragon in 1266 that the papal order given him to censor the Talmud was not to be used as a pretext for abritrary confiscations, etc. Grayzel, however, in Popes, Jews and Inquisition from Sicut to Turbato in Essays on the Occasion of the Seventieth Anniversary of the Dropsie University (Philadelphia, 1979), pp. 151–88, now claims that, at most, the popes paid lip service to Sicut, while their other actions negated any potentially positive effects of the bull. Whether this or Grayzels more optimistic view in his first Sicut article is the more valid one must now be decided.

26. See Browe, Judenmission, p. 76 for Clement IVs letter. For Innocent IV on the Talmud, see Grayzel, XHIth Century, p. 274; and cf. August Potthast, Regesta Pontiflcum Romanorum, 2 vols. (Berlin, 1875), no. 20081/82, for two similar letters of 1267 between the same parties.Google Scholar

27. Grayzel, p. 272. Honest loans is a transparent euphemism for interest bearing loans, as its context makes obvious.

28. See this point in Amos Funkenstein, Changes in Patterns of Christian Anti-Jewish Polemic in the Twelfth Century (Hebrew), Zion 33 (1968): 125–44 and a revised English version, Basic Types of Anti-Christian Polemics in the Late Middle Ages, Viator 2 (1971): 373–82.

29. For the texts, see McLaughlin, Teachings, pp. 138–39. The subject of the canonists and direct papal jurisdiction over Jews has been treated by Pakter, Walter in De his quiforis sunl. Ph.D. diss., John Hopkins University, 1974.Google Scholar

30. Walter Ullmann, A Short History of the Papacy (London, 1972) is a good place to begin reviewing the growth of the papal office and papal self-awareness. Needless to say, the works on this subject are legion. See Ullmanns notes for references.

31. On the dissolution of such oaths, see McLaughlin, pp. 15–16.

32. X. 2,24,6, and see Baldwins comments, Masters, p. 273. The canonists also had to deal with ab Mo (C.I4, q. 4, c.12), also known as the Ambrosian exception, which permitted the taking of usury from enemies, and which, to be sure, they claimed (e.g., Raymond of Pennaforte and Hostiensis, cited in McLaughlin, pp. 138–39 and cf. the complete summary of opinions presented by Marquardus de Susannis, De ludaeis el aiiis Infidelibus [Venice, 1558], pt. 1, chap. 11, pars. 3–6) in no way applied to Jews receiving interest of any kind from Christians.

33. Grayzel, Xllllh Century, p. 272.

34. Grayzel, p. 200.

35. Milbemet misvah (M.M.), MS Parma 2749. For a general description of this book, see Stein, Siegfried, Jewish-Christian Disputations in Thirteenth Century Narbonne (London, 1964). Robert Chazan has translated portions of this tract in a number of articles, e.g., A Jewish Plaint to St. Louis, Hebrew Union College Annual 45 (1974): 287–306. A Jewish appreciation of Christian teachings on usury may also be seen in the polemic, Sefer Yosef Ha-meqanne, ed. Judah Rosenthal (Jerusalem, 1970), esp. p. 32, where the Bishop of Sens insists on the return of the principal of a loan which had been disguised as a business partnership, together with a reasonable profit. In this case, the Jew had avoided taking manifest interest.Google Scholar

36. MM, fol. 228v.

37. Kuttner, Stephen, Harmony from Dissonance (Latrobe, 1960).Google Scholar

38. See esp. Grundmann, Herbert, Religiose Bewegungen im Miltelalter, 2d ed. (Darmstadt, 1961), pp. 135–56. It is not out of place to note here the parallel with the activities of R. Tarn. Most well known is his decision concerning the prohibition on business dealings with idolators three days prior to and after their feast days (B.T. Avodah Zarah 2a). Here he circumvented the mishnaic prohibition in practice, while maintaining the theoretical status of Christians as idolators. See further Jacob Katz, Exclusiveness and Tolerance (New York, 1962), pp. 24–26.Google Scholar

39. Gilchrist, John, The Church and Economic Activity in the Middle Ages (London, 1969), pp. 6269.Google Scholar

40. Roover, Raymond De, The Concept of the Just Price: Theory and Economic Reality, Journal of Economic History 18 (1958): 418–34 andCrossRefGoogle ScholarBaldwin, J. W., The Medieval Theories of Just Price (Philadelphia, 1959).Google Scholar

41. On these see McLaughlin, pp. 125–44.Google Scholar

42. Gilchrist, Church and Economic Activity, p. 66Google Scholar

43. For the opinions and texts, see McLaughlin, Teachings, p. 99Google Scholar

44. These opinions are summarized by de Susannis, De ludaeis, pt. l.chap. 11, pars. 13–14 In particular, Andreas Siculus, Consilia, 5 vols. (1516), 4: no. 16; Antoninus of Florence, Summa, 3 vols. (1740), 2: cols. 74–79; and Conradus Summenharth, Tract, de contractibus illicitis (1580) bk. 2, q. 27, who emphasizes the notion of dissimulatio.Google Scholar Cf. Poliakov, Leon, Jewish Bankers and the Holy See, trans. Kochan, M. (London, 1977), pp. 2932, for the dissenting view of Alexander de Nevo, although it must be noted that even de Nevo is worried most about manifest usury.Google Scholar

45. On these banks see Ermanno Loevinson, La concession des Banques de pret aux Juifs par les papes des XVIe et XVIIe siecles, Revue des etudes juives 92 (1932): 1–30; 93 (1932): 27–52, 157–78; 94 (1933): 57–72, 167–83; 95 (1933): 23–40.

46. MM, fols. 33vand 72v; and similar remarks on fols. 70vand71v. The sources of Meirs knowledge likely included the original text of Post miserabilem, which had been addressed to the archbishop of Narbonne, the edicts of the Fourth Lateran Council, the decrees of the 1227, 1246 and 1254 regional councils of Narbonne/Beziers, and perhaps an acquaintance with the Decretals. Had Meir known, specifically, Debitores, it is doubtful that he would have cited it in support of his contentions, except in the unlikely case that he was familiar with only the first half of the canon.

47. MM, fols. 64v–83v.

48. For their policies, see Chazan, Medieval Jewry, pp. 110–21.

49. Chazan, Ibid., on Louis IX.

50. See Rigg, J. M., Select Pleas (London, 1902), pp. xlix–li and Statutes of the Realm, 11 vols. (London, 1810), 1: 220–21.Google Scholar

51. Whether the on-again off-again usury prohibition of James I of Aragon, who was also attentive to Dominican wants with respect to censorship of the Talmud, public disputations and forced preaching, place him in the same category as Louis IX and Edward I is a moot point. See the texts in Y. F. Baer, Die Juden im christlichen Spanien, 1:148. Philip the Fair, too, established a policy that is not easily grasped. In 1292, he prohibited all usury, an order he repeated in 1299, when he also specified that he was returning to the policy of Louis IX; yet he did agree at those times and again, in 1303, to allow the collection of the principal, at least on nonusurious loans, roughly parallel to the formal position of the canonists. See the texts in Gustave Saige, Les Juifs du Languedoc (Paris, 1881), pp. 227–29 (1292); and Lauriere, E. J. de et al., eds., Ordonnances des rois de la troisieme race, 22 vols. (Paris, 17231849), 1: 333–34 (1299) and p. 545 (1303); cf. the comments of Chazan, Medieval Jewry, pp. 163–65.Google Scholar

52. See Robert, Ulysse, Catalogues dactes relatifs aux Juifs pendant le Moyen Age, Revue des etudes juives 3 (1881): 223, no. 92 (29.6.1299); and De Blossiers Tovey, Anglia Judaica (Oxford, 1738), p. 240 (18.7.1290).Google Scholar

53. Mansi, 22, 785 (Grayzel, p. 304).

54. Mansi, 23, 850 (Grayzel, pp. 334–35).

55. Mansi, 23, 882 (Grayzel, p. 336).

56. Mansi, 22, 849–52 (Grayzel, p. 306).

57. On Coursons activities and their censure by Innocent III, see Baldwin, Masters, pp. 297–98 and the letter of censure in PL, 217: 229–30 (14.5.1214).

58. Mansi, 22, 681, 683 and 685 (Grayzel, p. 300)

59. See Nahon, Gerard, Le credit et les Juifs dans la France du XHIe siecle, Annales 24 (1969): 1138–39, on Louis successful campaign to force Jews to restitute usuries already collected.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

60. Luard, H. R., ed., Roberti Grosseteste Epistolae (London, 1861; reprint ed., Wiesbaden, 1965, no. V. pp. 3334.Google Scholar

61. Mansi, 23, 1172 {Grayzel, p. 314).

62. Roth, Cecil, A History of the Jews in England (Oxford, 1964), p. 40, citing Patent Role, 1218, pp. 1516.Google Scholar

63. Rigg, Select Pleas, pp. liv–lxi.

64. Ibid., p. xli.

65. Martin, C. T., ed., Registrum epistolarum Fratris Johannis Peckham (London, 1885; reprint ed., Nendeln, Liechtenstein, 1965), no. DCLXXIV (13.13.1286).Google Scholar

66. Baldwin, Masters, p. 299.

67. Cited in Mundy, J. H., Europe in the High Middle Ages (New York, 1973), p. 175.Google Scholar

68. Reuther, R. R., Faith and Fratricide (New York, 1974), has dealt with this theme in great depth.Google Scholar

69. Mansi, 22, 850; cf. the truncated version in Grayzel, Xlllth Century, p. 306, esp. for Grayzels interpretation of synagogas. Cf. too Poliakov, Bankers, p. 15.

70. Mansi, 22, 850; and cf. the decision of the Council of Vienne, incorporated in Clem. (Constitutions of Clement V) 4,5 ex gran. There, the failure to condemn usury is equated with heresy.

71. See, e.g., the remarks of Hadrian I, PL, 98: 1255–56, summarized by Bernhard Blumenkranz, Les Auteurs Chretiens latins du Moyen Age sur les Juifs el le Judaisme (Paris, 1963), pp. 142–43; Rabanus Maurus, PL, 108: 409 (Blumenkranz, p. 174), and Odo of Cluny, PL, 133: 670 (Blumenkranz, p. 218).

72. PL, 182: 567.

73. Cited in Mundy, Europe in the High Middle Ages, p. 94.

74. Baldwin, Masters, p. 299.

75. Ibid., p. 300.

76. Thomas Rymer Foedera, 10 vols. (London, 1816), 1: 539; cited in Emil Friedberg, De finium, p. 103.

77. On these trends see Bras, Gabriel Le, Institutions ecclesiasliques de la chretiente medievale (Paris, 1964), pp. 565–96; E. H. Kantorowicz, The Kings Two Bodies (Princeton, 1957), chap. 5, passim; and Joseph Strayers studies in Medieval Statecraft and the Perspectives of History (Princeton, 1971), esp. France: The Holy Land, The Chosen People and the Most Christian King, pp. 300–15; and Georges de Lagarde, La Naissance de Iesprit laique au declin du Moyen Age, 3d ed., 5 vols. (Paris, 1956), 1: 183–88.Google Scholar

78. Corruption through contact with Jews was also a theme local officials dealt with, e.g., for southern French laws from the thirteenth century which viewed actual physical contact of any kind with Jews as a source of infection, see Kriegel, Maurice, Les Juifs a la fin du Moyen Age (Paris, 1979), pp. 4047.Google Scholar

79. Agobards charges against the Jews whom he called an impedimentum and threat to social foundations appear in E. Duemmler, ed., Agobardi Lugdunensis Archiepiscopi Epistolae, in Monumenta Cermaniae historica, Epistolae, 3 vols. (Berlin, 1899), Epistolae Karolini Aevi III, pp. 164–66, 179–82, 182–85, 185–99, 199–201. On Agobard and the kings, see Walter UUmann, The Carolingian Renaissance (London, 1969); Manfred Kneiwasser, Bischof Agobard von Lyon und der Platz der Juden in einer Sakral Verfassten Einheitsgesellschaft, Kairos 19 (1977): 203–27; and Ladner, Gerhard, The Idea of Reform(Cambridge, Mass., 1959).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

80. See Hollister, C. W. and Baldwin, J. W., The Rise of Administrative Kingship, Henry I and Philip Augustus, American Historical Review 83 (1978): 902–4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

81. Friedberg, De finium, p. 103.

82. See Saige, Juifs du Languedoc, Doc. XLIII, n. 18, pp. 231–34 (1293).Google Scholar

83. The subject of royal piety has been treated in depth by Gavin Langmuir in The Jews and the Archives of Angevin England, Traditio 19 (1963): 183–244, and reemphasized in his review of Bernard Bachrachs Early Medieval Jewish Policy in Speculum 54 (1979): 104. See too Kriegel, M., Mobilisation politique et modernisation organique: Les expulsions des Juifs au Bas Moyen Age, Archives des sciences sociales des religions 46 (1978): 5–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

84. See Prestwich, Michael, War, Politics and Finance under Edward I (London, 1972), pp. 178–80 and 204–10.Google Scholar

85. Mundy, Europe, p. 159; and cf. Prestwich, War, Politics and Finance, p. 218

86. Mundy, Europe, p. 159; and cf. Prestwich, War, Politics and Finance, p. 218. 86. See G. Langmuir, Mudaei Nostri and the Beginnings of Capetian Legislation, Traditio 16 (I960): 203–69; and cf. Langmuirs recent, slightly revised view, Tanquam Servi: The Change in Jewish Status in French Law about 1200, in Yardeni, Miriam, ed., Les Juifs dans I′histoire de France (Leiden, 1983), pp. 2454.Google Scholar

87. See Richardson, H. G., The English Jewry under the Angevin Kings (London, 1960), pp. 213–33.Google Scholar

88. Prestwich, War, Politics and Finance, p. 202; and esp. Elman, P., The Economic Causes of the Expulsion in 1290, Economic History Review 7 (1937): 145/CrossRefGoogle Scholar

89. Statutes of the Realm (London, 1810), pp. 200–24.Google Scholar

90. See the remarks of Louis IX in Martin Bouquet, Recueil des historiens des Gaules et de la France, 24 vols. (Paris, 1738–1865), 20: 34, cited in part by Grayzel, XUlth Century, p. 46, n. 25.Google Scholar

91. MM, fol. 78v.

92. MM, fol. 33v.

93. For a penetrating view of Bernardino da Feltre, see Segre, Renata, Bernardino da Feltre, i Monti di Pieta e i banchi ebraici, Rivista Storica ltaliana 90 (1978): 818–33.Google Scholar

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