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The Promise and Peril of CreditWhat a Forgotten Legend about Jews and Finance Tells Us about the Making of European Commercial Society$
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Francesca Trivellato

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780691178592

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691178592.001.0001

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The Riddle of Usury

The Riddle of Usury

(p.49) 3 The Riddle of Usury
The Promise and Peril of Credit

Francesca Trivellato

Princeton University Press

This chapter argues that Étienne Cleirac's words locate him at an important and little understood historical junction, when the late medieval habit of treating money and the economy as part of the moral and theological universe intersected with the emerging “science of commerce.” This literature assigned multifarious meanings to the word usury. Church doctrines about usury were neither uniform nor uncontested. The most salient phase in these debates occurred in the sixteenth century, when Catholic theologians devised new and subtle arguments about the legitimacy of various financial contracts, including marine insurance and bills of exchange, in order to control but not hamper the expansion of European commercial society. By the eighteenth century, writers of the ars mercatoria (writings on commerce and economy) treated the term usury as a placeholder for all sorts of unsavory economic behaviors, and because of the enduring influence of an earlier discourse, they often assumed that Jews personified such behaviors.

Keywords:   Étienne Cleirac, commerce, usury, Church doctrines, Catholic theologians, financial contracts, European commercial society, ars mercatoria, economic behaviors, Jews

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