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.

[Footnote 4:  Tit., ‘Political Economy.’]

[Footnote 5:  Vol. iii. p. 138.]

[Footnote 6:  Ibid.]

[Footnote 7:  See Laveleye, Elements of Political Economy (Eng. trans.), pp. 7-8.  On the general conflict between the ethical and the non-ethical schools of economists see Keynes, Scope and Method, pp. 20 et seq.]

The other road to the establishment of a society based on justice is the way of Christianity, and, if we wish to attempt this path, it becomes vitally important to understand what was the economic teaching of the Church in the period when the Christian ethic was universally recognised.  During the whole Middle Ages, as we have said above, the Canon Law was the test of right and wrong in the domain of economic activity; production, consumption, distribution, and exchange were all regulated by the universal system of law; once before economic life was considered within the scope of moral regulation.  It cannot be denied that a study of the principles which were accepted during that period may be of great value to a generation which is striving to place its economic life once more upon an ethical foundation.

One error in particular we must be on our guard to avoid.  We said above that both the socialists and the Christian economists are agreed in their desire to reintroduce justice into economic life.  We must not conclude, however, that the aims of these two schools are identical.  One very frequently meets with the statement that the teachings of socialism are nothing more or less than the teachings of Christianity.  This contention is discussed in the following pages, where the conclusion will be reached that, far from being in agreement, socialism and Christian economics contradict each other on many fundamental points.  It is, however, not the aim of the discussion to appraise the relative merits of either system, or to applaud one and disparage the other.  All that it is sought to do is to distinguish between them; and to demonstrate that, whatever be the merits or demerits of the two philosophies, they are two, and not one.


The opinion is general that the distinctive doctrine of the mediaeval Church which permeated the whole of its economic thought was the doctrine of usury.  The holders of this view may lay claim to very influential supporters among the students of the subject.  Ashley says that ’the prohibition of usury was clearly the centre of the canonist doctrine.’[1] Roscher expresses the same opinion in practically the same words;[2] and Endemann sees the whole economic development of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance as the victorious destruction of the usury law by the exigencies of real life.[3] However impressed we may be by the opinions of such eminent authorities, we, nevertheless, cannot help feeling that on this point they are under a misconception.  There is

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