An Essay on Mediaeval Economic Teaching eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 233 pages of information about An Essay on Mediaeval Economic Teaching.

In conclusion, Oresme insists that no alteration of any of the above kinds can be justified at the mere injunction of the prince; it must be accomplished per ipsam communitatem.  The prince exercises the functions of the community in the matter of coinage not as principalis actor, but as ordinationis publicae executor.  It is pointed out that arbitrary changes in the value of money are really equivalent to a particularly noxious form of taxation; that they seriously disorganise commerce and impoverish many merchants; and that the bad coinage drives the good out of circulation.  This last observation is of special interest in a fourteenth-century writer, as it shows that Gresham’s Law, which is usually credited to a sixteenth-century English economist, was perfectly well understood in the Middle Ages.[1]

[Footnote 1:  The best edition of Oresme’s Tractatus is that by Wolowski, published at Paris in 1864, which includes both the Latin and French texts.]

This brief account of the ground which Oresme covered, and the conclusions at which he arrived, will enable us to appreciate his importance.  Although his clear elucidation of the principles which govern the questions of money was not powerful enough to check the financial abuses of the sovereigns of the later Middle Ages, they exercised a profound influence on the thought of the period, and were accepted by all the theologians of the fifteenth century.[2]

[Footnote 2:  Biel, op. cit., IV. xv. 11; De Monetarum Potestate et Utilitate, referred to in Jourdain, op. cit., p. 34.]



We have now passed in review the principal economic doctrines of the mediaeval schoolmen.  We do not propose to attempt here any detailed criticism of the merits or demerits of the system which we have but briefly sketched.  All that we have attempted to do is to present the doctrines in such a way that the reader may be in a position to pass judgment on them.  There is one aspect of the subject, however, to which we may be allowed to direct attention before concluding this essay.  It is the fashion of many modern writers, especially those hostile to the Catholic Church, to represent the Middle Ages as a period when all scientific advance and economic progress were impeded, if not entirely prevented, by the action of the Church.  It would be out of place to inquire into the advances which civilisation achieved in the Middle Ages, as this would lead us into an examination of the whole history of the period; but we think it well to inquire briefly how far the teaching of the Church on economic matters was calculated to interfere with material progress.  This is the lowest standard by which we can judge the mediaeval economic teaching, which was essentially aimed at the moral and spiritual elevation

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