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The Good of the Church, The Good of the State: The Popes and Jewish Money

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 March 2016

Kenneth R. Stow
University of Haifa


In the early thirteenth century the papal cardinal legate in France, Robert of Courson, painted the business of lending in wholly Utopian colours. Should the pope decree, he said, that lending must cease and all men must earn their sustenance by the sweat of their brow, ‘Thus would be removed all usurers, all factious men and all robbers; thus would charity flourish and the fabric of the churches again be builded; and thus would all be brought back again to its pristine state.’ The prospect that acting to eliminate lending would so smoothly result in social perfection, one might expect, should have propelled the Catholic Church, led by the popes, to have made a frontal assault on lending, especially that carried on by Jews. It did not. Only more than four centuries later, in 1682, did the papacy decide to end a policy of actually condoning Jewish lending, and only then did it irrevocably close down the Jewish loan banks in the Papal State.

Research Article
Copyright © Ecclesiastical History Society 1992

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21 Poliakov, Bankers, pp. 25–7.

22 See, e.g., Boesch, Sofia, ‘Il comune di Siena e il prestito ebraico nei secoli xiv e xv’, in Aspetti e problemi della presenza ebraica nell’Italia centro-settentrionale (Rome, 1983), pp. 175221.Google Scholar

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24 Boesch, ‘Il comune’, pp. 206-8.

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34 See Prodi, Paolo, Il Sovrano Pontefice (Roma, 1982).Google Scholar

35 J.T.S., mic. 9486, passim.

36 Ibid., fol. 62.

37 J.T.S., mic. 9486, fol. 9: Decretales, 5.19.12 (cols 814-15).

38 Ibid., fol. 95: ‘Quod si filii liberae … per flagella tribularionum sunt provocandi ad bonum, quanto magis servi et filii ancillae per laboriosam inopiam, incitandi sunt ad conversionem, subtracto praccipuo ad earn impedimento usurarum …’.

39 Cited in Stow, Catholic Thought, pp. 217–20.

40 See Stow, K. R., Taxation, Community and State (Stuttgart, 1982), p. 70.Google Scholar

41 J.T.S., mic. 9486, fol. 96.

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47 See, again, Bonfil, ‘Jewish lenders’.

48 See Stow, Taxation, ch. I. 248

49 See Pullan, Rich and Poor, pp. 510-38, 576-8.

50 J.T.S., mic. 9486, fol. 98: ‘Ne quis autem existimet dieta duntaxac recte procedere secundum Politicam Christianam, quam Pseudo politici vocant politicam de trivio, crassam, communem, omnibus obviam, ideo examinanda sunt edam secundum Politicam Ulani, quam ipsi vocant politicam de penetrali, subtilem, nobilem…. Apud pseudopoliticos scientia regnandi seu ratio status nihil honestate metitur; sed quicquid ad consequendam, tuendam, augendamque potentiam principis utile est, illud unum duntaxat est bonum, iustum, licitum atque honestum.’

51 J.T.S., mic. 9486, fol. 98. Oncejews worked ‘in fodinis, in agris, in mechanicis… [but] at hoc tempore divites facti ob transitum ab honesto corporis labore ad otium turpissimi questus, eo evaserunt, ut Hebraeorum gens quoad personas, sit statui non minus quam principi prorsus inutilis et infructuosa mane neque in aula, neque in magistratu, neque in militia, neque in mercatura, neque in mechanicis, neque in agricultura auget civile corpus huiusmodi artium et officiorum… unde … papa iudaeos ad laborandum manibus cogat.’

52 On this issue, see the articles by Arbel, Benjamin, Filippini, J. P., Ravid, Benjamin, and Toaff, Renzo, in Schwarzfuchs, Simon and Toaff, Ariel, eds., The Mediterranean and the Jews: Banking, Finance, and International Trade, Sixteenth to Seventeenth Centuries (Ramat-Gan, 1988)Google Scholar; and esp. Israel, Jonathan, European Jewry in the Age of Mercantilism, 1550-1750 (Oxford, 1985)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, chs 2 and 3.

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54 See Hertzberg, Arthur, The French Enlightenment and the Jews (New York, 1968), pp. 413 Google Scholar; Israel, European Jewry, pp. 218, 232.

55 J.T.S., mic., 9486, fol. 102.

56 Ibid., fol. 96. ‘Praecipitium Hebraeorum a Stato opulento, in quo nunc sunt… haudquaquam … praeponderare debeat malo, quod eadem Resp. patitur in Mutuatariis Christianis: quia malo certo, probabili, et absolute futuro, imo iam in sua causa adaequata existenti de facto, praeponderare non potest malum incertum, improbabile, futurum … Damnum enim mutuatariorum radicatur in ipsa natura usurae, tanquam dies in Sole.’

57 Tamilia, Donato, Il sacro Mottle di Pietà di Roma (Rome, 1900), p. 85.Google Scholar

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