It is necessary, in the first place, to indicate precisely the extent of the subject with which we propose to deal; and with this end in view to give a definition of the three words, ’mediaeval, economic, teaching.’
Sec. 1. Mediaeval.
Ingram, in his well-known book on economic history, following the opinion of Comte, refuses to consider the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries as part of the Middle Ages. We intend, however, to treat of economic teaching up to the end of the fifteenth century. The best modern judges are agreed that the term Middle Ages must not be given a hard-and-fast meaning, but that it is capable of bearing a very elastic interpretation. The definition given in the Catholic Encyclopaedia is: ’a term commonly used to designate that period of European history between the Fall of the Roman Empire and about the middle of the fifteenth century. The precise dates of the beginning, culmination, and end of the Middle Ages are more or less arbitrarily assumed according to the point of view adopted.’ The eleventh edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica contains a similar opinion: ’This name is commonly given to that period of European history which lies between what are known as ancient and modern times, and which has generally been considered as extending from about the middle of the fifth to about the middle of the fifteenth centuries. The two dates adopted in old text-books were 476 and 1453, from the setting aside of the last emperor of the west until the fall of Constantinople. In reality it is impossible to fix any exact dates for the opening and close of such a period.’
[Footnote 1: History of Political Economy, p. 35.]
We are therefore justified in considering the fifteenth century as comprised hi the Middle Ages. This is especially so in the domain of economic theory. In actual practice the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries may have presented the appearance rather of the first stage of a new than of the last stage of an old era. This is Ingram’s view. However true this may be of practice, it is not at all true of theory, which, as we shall see, continued to be entirely based on the writings of an author of the thirteenth century. Ingram admits this incidentally: ’During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the Catholic-feudal system was breaking down by the mutual conflicts of its own official members, while the constituent elements of a new order were rising beneath it. The movements of this phase can scarcely be said to find an echo in any contemporary economic literature.’ We need not therefore apologise further for including a consideration of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in our investigations as to the economic teaching of the Middle Ages. We are supported in doing so by such excellent authorities as Jourdain, Roscher,