The Market and the Temple

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    [title] => The fracture of the ora et labora generated two different forms of individualism
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The market and the temple/20 - In a few decades, the Reformation and Counter-Reformation consumed the ethical ground conquered by the merchants between the 14th century and 16th century.

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 21/03/2020

The 17th century was more "religious" than the 14th century, but perhaps not necessarily more "Christian". And after the friendship between friars and merchants, a distant suspicion began to re-emerge between clerics and entrepreneurs.

With the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation, the ethical ground that the Italian and European merchants had conquered between the 13th and 16th centuries disappeared in a few decades. The economic ethics of the Counter-Reformation returned to that of four centuries earlier, as if Olivi, Duns Scotus, Boccaccio, Francesco Datini and Benedetto Cotrugli had ver written or worked at all; as if the miracles of beauty and civilization of Florence, Genoa and Venice had been erased from the collective consciousness. The virtues to be praised were once again the aristocratic, noble and agricultural ones of the past, and no longer those of the market. The great clock telling the time of history was turned back to the feudal society of the eleventh century. The encyclical Vix pervenit of Benedict XIV in 1745, which declared the interest on mortgages legitimate, presented the exact same theses put forth by the Franciscans but almost half a millennium later. The medieval pages of economic ethics of the Franciscan Bernardino of Siena or of the Dominican Antonino of Florence are still studied and meditated on today; on the other hand, no one remembers the homilies of Geronimo Garimberto or the Lenten days of Paolo Segneri, the great economic moralists of the age of Counter-Reformation. The 17th century, with its Baroque explosion of devotion, was more religious than the 14th century, but perhaps not necessarily more Christian.

[fulltext] =>

The most important economic and civil effects of the Counter-Reformation were the unforeseen and collateral ones. The first one is the one that is best known. The fight against usury became a hot topic again. Any contract could be seen as implicitly usurious. Dealing with economics and trade therefore became a dangerous profession; better to devote oneself to the liberal professions and above all to agriculture, since the attitude of the Church was much softer on agricultural income and usury (the "censuses"). Hence, the progressive distance that was created between the merchant class and the Catholic Church. Something similar to what was happening with theology happened with trading: since dealing with theology could be risky and even lead to the stake in the shadow of the Alps, after the Reformation Italian and Latin scholars began to devote themselves to other things (music, art, literature and theater), and modern theology became a predominantly Protestant affair. To get an idea of the situation, just take a look at the most popular Handbook for confessors by Abbot Gaume and its very long list of special cases to be carefully checked during confession (1852, p.163). Anyone who knows entrepreneurs knows very well that if there is something that this category of people detests, it is external interference in the choices of the "internal forum" of their companies. Hence, better to entrust the ordinary practice of the sacraments to one’s wife or sisters, and thus avoid penance, excommunication, infamy or even dishonour.

The conquered autonomy of earthly things was gradually reabsorbed by a new clericalization of life and people’s conscience in general. In the late Middle Ages, the Franciscan and Dominican friars were in charge of watching over the ethical vigilance of the merchants. This was done within the frames of an ordinary acquaintance and friendship, and was a participatory and supportive accompaniment of people of flesh and blood observed in the squares, not imagined inside confessionals. The trauma of the Reformation-Counter-Reformation devoured this heritage of trust and confidence, and re-created the mutual suspicion and general distance typical of the first Christian millennium.

The role played by the religious orders is another important indirect effect of the Counter-Reformation. The climate created by the Reformation generated a general suspicion towards the ancient religious orders (Luther was an Augustinian monk) in the Catholic world. From being considered virtual cradles of spirituality and culture monasteries and convents, especially the male ones, began to be looked upon as potential dens of heretics, because the monks and friars were scholars of Scripture and from a "charismatic" perspective open to the winds of reform. A fair number of monks and friars were investigated and subsequently condemned. Some Franciscans, for example, accused of Lutheranism were executed around the middle of the sixteenth century: Giovanni Buzio, Bartolomeo Fanzio, Girolamo Galateo, Cornelio Giancarlo and Baldo Lupatino. The Tridentine Reform was not based on the ancient orders (monks and Mendicants), but on the new orders, in particular the Jesuits, but also the Barnabites, the Theatines, the Somascans, the Capuchins and the diocesan priests. The new suspicion and disdain towards the ancient monks not only held back the development of those economic, cultural and technological laboratories that the monasteries had been for many centuries; it also greatly complicated the economic and social action of the Franciscans and their pastoral care of merchants and artisans within the cities. The development that the Monti di Pietà had experienced thanks to the action of the Friars Minor, went through a crisis from the second half of the 16th century. The Monti, which continued to be founded, gradually separated from the Franciscans to become municipal institutions or dioceses. Thus, they lost their nature as banks that also supported the activity of small and medium-sized entrepreneurs to transform into mere organizations of assistance and charity: «The Council of Trent placed the Monte di Pietà between the Pious Institutes and between the places that the bishops were required to visit regularly» (Maria G. Muzzarelli, entry on the "Monti di Pietà in the Dictionary of Civil Economy/ Dizionario di Economia Civile).

A third indirect effect of the Counter-Reformation was the progressive "feminization" of the sacred and of religion: «Men could confess, women had to» (Adriano Prosperi, The tribunals of conscience/ I tribunali della coscienza), because public attendance of the sacraments was a precondition for access to the marriage market and for the public honour of married couples. The economic and political sphere was increasingly understood as a male affair, while sacred and religious practices became the realm of women, married or nuns - "home and church". Religious practices and virility were a complicated combination and an increasingly feminine popular piety produced devotional practices where males felt uncomfortable and therefore deserted - this process self-nurtured itself in churches furnished by (and for) female sensibility, with related language, prayers and songs, a femininity that was not felt in the Protestant churches. The practice of the Catholic religion began to become a "profession" of women governed entirely by males. Armies with female soldiers and male officers. Women also became the main entrance for the Church into the life of families and therefore society: «Men are naturally pagan and it is up to the Christian wives not so much to convert him as to save his soul. The wild male drinks, plays, blasphemes, harasses women, fights with his hands; the missionary bride does not contradict these customs of his, but pays attention what is essential, that is the minimum number of Masses, sacraments and devotions that are sufficient to remain fundamentally at peace with heaven. At that point, all that remains to be done is to collect the soul directly on the deathbed» (Luigi Meneghello, Libera nos a malo). The theology of vicarious suffering, then, worked perfectly in this oikonomia of the family: women could save their husbands, fathers and children by offering their penances and sacrifices.

Confession also served the side of "demand" well: women, especially consecrated women, found the only contact with the outside world and with males in their priests, which often evolved into friendship and confidence. So much so, that the management of the confessionals, which spread during the Counter-Reformation was particularly accurate and disciplined, in part due to the repeated crimes of sollecitatio and solicitation in the confessionals, and the many conflicts between nuns. Like those reported in Ferrara in 1623, when a «confessor, showing concern for only a dozen young nuns, had created a rift among the nuns: most of them, out of spite, had abstained from practicing the sacrament for months» (Mario Sanseverino, A dangerous ministry: confessing nuns in the city of Naples of the Counter-Reformation 1563-1700/ Un pericoloso ministero: confessare le monache nella Napoli della Controriforma 1563-1700). This is why after the Council of Trent, the practice of a single confessor for an entire monastery was introduced and Pope Gregory XIII introduced the limit of three years of mandate.

It is interesting to note that while at the beginning of the application of the three-year rule it was the nuns who asked for the rotation to be respected, a few decades later the attitude had changed and many nuns asked for an extension of the three-year period. It is not surprising then that, in order to avoid the trade in gifts and tips between individual nuns and confessors, confessors began to be paid in various cities towards the end of the 16th century. A further intersection between economy and religion: the payment of a fair monetary wage (for example, the salary was 60 ducats at the monastery of Santa Croce in Lucca) used as a tool to discourage the creation of relational goods for an inappropriate or at least imprudent use. The common good of the monastery (or at least what was perceived as such by the leaders, but perhaps not so by the nuns) was pursued with the introduction of public money instead of private gifts. Telling us that money almost always drives out and replaces gifts, but the evaluation that the effects of this replacement has on all parties involved is not that obvious - even clientelist systems and mafia organizations are defeated with the introduction of transparent contracts.

Finally, one last effect concerns the confrontation with Protestant countries. In the world of the Reformation - Max Weber reminds us - the laity essentially became the place of the working profession understood as a vocation (beruf). When the monasteries were closed by Luther and Calvin, the idea developed that the new place in which to cultivate the Christian vocation was civil work: the convent became the city. The Protestants picked up the labora of the monks' ora et labora, which also became a new form of prayer. The Catholic world of the Counter-Reformation also experienced a migration from the monastic world, but they kept the ora, prayer, from the monastic formula, which also became a new form of work, especially for women, within the monasteries or in their homes. In fact, the monastic religious practices (the ideal of perfection, accompaniment, spiritual struggle, penance...) became the ideal of life for the laity, especially for women. Hence, it is not true that individualism is the cipher of Protestantism alone. There was also a Catholic individualism, albeit a very different one. Nordic individualism developed on the basis of rights and freedoms and became the individualism of the external forum. The Latin and Catholic one became an individualism of the internal, private, family and feminine forum, with women employed in the care of the soul and the home, but excluded from the external forum, which remained an exclusive male domain (in Catholic countries more than in Protestant ones).

However, there is good news. The ancient spirit of the art of trading is not dead. The fire stayed alive under the ashes. Even if they are not aware of it, many Italian and Spanish entrepreneurs have the same ethical DNA as the merchants who once made our cities and churches splendid, their very virtues, their same civil love. They are not aware of it, but it is true. A good merchant spirit that is still warm, alive and vivifying.
***
The series of twenty articles dedicated to the origin of mercantile ethics comes to an end today. An exciting journey full of surprises, as has always been the case in many of the series of articles that I have written for "Avvenire", thanks to the courageous trust of its Chief Editor. As of next Sunday, I have agreed to return to my second line of research and passion: biblical commentaries. Together once again, we will begin with the Book of Ruth.

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The market and the temple/20 - In a few decades, the Reformation and Counter-Reformation consumed the ethical ground conquered by the merchants between the 14th century and 16th century.

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 21/03/2020

The 17th century was more "religious" than the 14th century, but perhaps not necessarily more "Christian". And after the friendship between friars and merchants, a distant suspicion began to re-emerge between clerics and entrepreneurs.

With the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation, the ethical ground that the Italian and European merchants had conquered between the 13th and 16th centuries disappeared in a few decades. The economic ethics of the Counter-Reformation returned to that of four centuries earlier, as if Olivi, Duns Scotus, Boccaccio, Francesco Datini and Benedetto Cotrugli had ver written or worked at all; as if the miracles of beauty and civilization of Florence, Genoa and Venice had been erased from the collective consciousness. The virtues to be praised were once again the aristocratic, noble and agricultural ones of the past, and no longer those of the market. The great clock telling the time of history was turned back to the feudal society of the eleventh century. The encyclical Vix pervenit of Benedict XIV in 1745, which declared the interest on mortgages legitimate, presented the exact same theses put forth by the Franciscans but almost half a millennium later. The medieval pages of economic ethics of the Franciscan Bernardino of Siena or of the Dominican Antonino of Florence are still studied and meditated on today; on the other hand, no one remembers the homilies of Geronimo Garimberto or the Lenten days of Paolo Segneri, the great economic moralists of the age of Counter-Reformation. The 17th century, with its Baroque explosion of devotion, was more religious than the 14th century, but perhaps not necessarily more Christian.

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The fracture of the ora et labora generated two different forms of individualism

The fracture of the ora et labora generated two different forms of individualism

The market and the temple/20 - In a few decades, the Reformation and Counter-Reformation consumed the ethical ground conquered by the merchants between the 14th century and 16th century. By Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire 21/03/2020 The 17th century was more "religious" than the 14th c...
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    [title] => And with the pain of women the market became divine
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The market and the temple/19 - The Counter-Reformation was also a decisive time for the economic and social culture of Italy and Southern Europe.

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire  15/03/2021

The nuns gave a high sense of being imprisoned victims of even extreme penances, and for the Church and society those locked up but 'productive' lives had a real value.

The age of the Counter-Reformation was a decisive time for the economic and social culture of Italy and the other countries of southern Europe. Something was interrupted in the evolution of the ethics of trading that had made cities like Florence, Venice and Avignon extraordinary places of economic and civil wealth. Among the many faces of the modern age there is also that of women, in particular that of female monastic life, little known because it was hidden, and even deliberately kept hidden.

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The Council of Trent had reintroduced highly strict enclosure for nuns. Roman bishops and congregations tightened controls and regulations on female monasteries. Faced with a reformed Church which announced salvation by grace alone, and criticized consecrated life to the point of abolishing it, greatly reducing the role of the sacraments, and radically refuted the theology of merits and therefore of indulgences, abolishing the concept of Purgatory ... the Church of Rome strongly relaunched the importance of human work for salvation, multiplying the institutes dedicated to consecrated life and strengthening the pastoral care of the sacraments, including that of confession, putting merit, indulgences and Purgatory at the center.

In this great theological battle, the first and most numerous victims were once again, women, especially those imprisoned in monasteries and convents. A huge movement, if we think that with choristers, converse nuns, and third orders in some Italian regions, put together, nuns reached a 10-15% of the "adult" (that is, at the time, over twelve years old) female population in the seventeenth century. Hence, understanding a little about the lives of these women also means understanding more about the history of Europe and our present as well.

However, how is there a relationship between the life in the female monasteries and the economy? What first comes to mind is the concept of ora et labora, but it is not the most interesting or correct one in this case. Instead, paradoxically, economic logic largely entered the life of the nuns in spirituality, asceticism and mysticism. The Middle Ages had already produced its own "economic religion". The paid penances of the monks, where each sin corresponded to a penalty with a relative tariff, became marketable as a sort of commodity after the thirteenth century. Penance was objectified and separated from the sinner, therefore a sin or culpability could be paid for by someone else than the actual guilty person. This was the beginning of the trade of prayers, pilgrimages, up to the famous market of indulgences.

The Counter-Reformation experienced a strong recovery in the economic-retributive dimension of Catholicism, albeit with important innovations. One directly concerned women. While, in fact, in the Middle Ages the actors of the religious trade were almost exclusively male, in the early modern age women were the first operators of this strange version of the Catholic religion. The main domains of these original stock exchanges were the monasteries and convents, especially the female ones, and so Latin capitalism became divine. Let us look at how it happened. Everything revolves around a particular (and extravagant) interpretation of the meaning and use of human pain, read in relation to the pain of Christ. We know that in the New Testament there is a tradition that reads the passion and death of Jesus as the payment of a price to the Father to gain the forgiveness for our sins. This idea of ​​a God-Father who needed the blood of his Son to be "satisfied" (because only a price of infinite value could pay off an infinite debt), spanned the first millennium and was put into system by Saint Anselm of Aosta.
It remained, however, a mere matter for theologians, until the Counter-Reformation turned it into something more spectacular and unexpected in the monasteries, a column of the Baroque age. The ancient theology of the atonement was transformed into a real culture of atonement, which pervaded religious practices and popular piety. Human pain thus became the main currency for paying one's own and others' debts/faults. The trade of indulgences and pilgrimages of the Middle Ages, became the trade of pain in the age of the Counter-Reformation, in the form of penances, humiliations and mortification. Mainly a female pain. The language of the manuals for confessors, which exploded during this time and age, reveals this turning point: "penal works", "satisfactory works", "reparation", "souls-victims". The confessional became the main mechanism of transmission for this trade in pain.

The following expression stands out in particular: vicarious suffering. That is, one begins to think (and act) that one could suffer for the benefit of others, that someone could pay himself to atone for the sins of others, while still alive or in Purgatory. On the basis of some quotations from scripture (for example, from the Deutero-Pauline letters to the Colossians: «I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church» Col 1,24), and an original use of the concept of Church as a "mystical body" (where what happens to one member affects all the others), an immense market for pain and suffering was created. Hence, while Northern Europe developed "real" markets, in the South, economic concepts were being applied to both religion and women. An ingredient of this highly original trading system was the so-called "Treasure of Merits" of Christ and Mary, merits so great as to overcome the debt of human sins; thus the Church could "sell" the surplus part of that treasure to remit other debts of sinners, through indulgences. But the theological stroke of genius was to think that penances and the offering of human sufferings could increase the Treasury and therefore the surplus part making it available for living sinners and even more so for those in Purgatory: «God wishes for debt to be paid» (The Divine Comedy, Purgatory X,108). That is how female monasteries were transformed into "production centers" of this spiritual wealth: with the objective to increase the Treasury with and through their pain. As Veronica Giuliani loved to put it: «Many souls go to hell because there is no one who will a sacrifice for them».

Hence, the proliferation increasingly extreme penances in female monasteries, often ordered by confessors thanks to the enormous power they held over the nuns. However, the system reached its peak when the nuns internalized the value of their pain and therefore began self-inflicting humiliations and various means of mortification on themselves, thereby procuring in perfect good faith all sorts of pain in order to save themselves and above all others. A perfect balance: the nuns attributed a meaning and value to their being "recluse victims" because they interpreted their sacrifice as an offer pleasing to both God and men; while the Church and society attributed a social and religious value to those confined but also "productive" existences. Reading the biographies or autobiographies written by nuns from that era make quite an impression: «The confessor agreed that two hours of sleep a night, with a torn sheet as my only blanket, would be sufficient. Giving her a new sackcloth fitted with more than five hundred quills and an iron-tipped whip, and he did not object to the fact that Mary Magdalene wore serrated chains on her arms and legs» (Anne J. Schutte, Horrid and strange penances, p.159; 266). In another biography: «He received a similar answer from God when, during a night in Christmas time, Sister Margerita asked to be admitted between the ox and the donkey to adore the Christ Child: there is no place for you in the crib, because compared to you the animals have much greater and more meritorious qualities» (Mariano Armellini, "Margherita Corradi, Benedictine nun" (1570-1665), 1733). Furthermore, in the famous story of Sister Maria Crocifissa: «Before lunch, while the sisters were in the refectory, I went in like a Beast, that is chained on all fours, kissing the feet of the sisters» (Francesco Ramirez, 1709).

The spiritual books for nuns are another essential source of information: «As soon as you wake up, imagine that you are an offender chained, and led to the court to be judged, or a leper, full of wounds; and with these or other similar thoughts in your mind, proceed to get dressed» (Giovanni Pietro Pinamonti, The religious woman in solitude/ La religiosa in solitudine, 1697, p.31). And the following words can be read in a very widespread Handbook for confessors, written in the eighteenth-century by Alfonso Maria de' Liguori: «Hence, penance must not only be a medicinal remedy for a future life, but also a penal and vindictive one for a past life. Entering a congregation is generally a penance useful to everyone» (Alfonso Maria de’ Liguori, The Wise Priest/ Il sacerdote provveduto, p. 240). Entering a congregation and becoming part of it is therefore seen as a form of penance that is useful to all. These ideas and practices lasted for centuries, in many cases up to the Second Vatican Council. The following can be found in a text from the last century: «In the Dominican convent of Vercelli, there was, among others, a rule that forbade drinking between meals without the permission of the superior, who however rarely allowed it, inciting the sisters to this small sacrifice in memory of the thirst that Jesus suffered on Calvary» (Luigi Carnino, Purgatory in the revelation of the Saints/ Il purgatorio nella rivelazione dei Santi, ch.17, 1946). It was not easy at all for me to think about and write this article. I wrote it with the spirit with which a tombstone is written, a stele in memory of those women-victims that have almost always remained unknown. To linger in front of them, reflect and cry. And the writing, in part to apologize to them centuries later - vicarious apologies that I make as a man on behalf of other men of the past.

Human pain can make sense. Perhaps some, or many, of these nuns were greater than their destiny and the wrongful and violent theologies aimed at the bodies of women. Maybe. However, first Job and then the Gospels had told us that only idols like the blood of their faithful. The biblical God is different. Only a wrongful view of men and especially women can think of using their suffering as a currency that is acceptable to any kind of God. One last note. All this trade in blood and female pain was completely free. The Church sold indulgences for its men and asked the laity for alms to compensate for their sins: «The rule is: for the sins of avarice, alms» (Alfonso Maria de' Liguori, cit.) The religious trade that took place on the body of women was all a gift, and therefore free. Women as icons of free sacrifice, to protect them from mercenary trade. Many decades and centuries have passed since then. The nuns and sisters who enter monasteries and convents today are very different, and rarely even know these stories. Those ancient penances were eliminated by the Second Vatican Council, even if the theological idea that our pain can be a "currency" that the God-creditor of men willingly accepts, is still rooted in many Christians, and that God therefore accepts the pain of his children, thus making him worse than us. In civil and economic life, however, women still much too often continue to practice various forms of vicarious atonement, to pay in their flesh for their families and for society, while their work is still not recognized but often devalued, often in the name of giving/a gift. Very distant and different women, but their sufferings are still much too similar.

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The market and the temple/19 - The Counter-Reformation was also a decisive time for the economic and social culture of Italy and Southern Europe.

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire  15/03/2021

The nuns gave a high sense of being imprisoned victims of even extreme penances, and for the Church and society those locked up but 'productive' lives had a real value.

The age of the Counter-Reformation was a decisive time for the economic and social culture of Italy and the other countries of southern Europe. Something was interrupted in the evolution of the ethics of trading that had made cities like Florence, Venice and Avignon extraordinary places of economic and civil wealth. Among the many faces of the modern age there is also that of women, in particular that of female monastic life, little known because it was hidden, and even deliberately kept hidden.

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And with the pain of women the market became divine

And with the pain of women the market became divine

The market and the temple/19 - The Counter-Reformation was also a decisive time for the economic and social culture of Italy and Southern Europe. By Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire  15/03/2021 The nuns gave a high sense of being imprisoned victims of even extreme penances, and for the ...
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    [title] => But not all possible "ours" are a good communion
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The market and the temple/18 - Monastic lockup was about "shutting in" women and "shutting out" male interference.

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire  07/03/2021

The social and economic life of female monasteries between the Middle Ages and modern times was richly blessed in «ora et labora», collective sins and «cheerful» disobedience.

«In 1602 there was a trial in Rome after the discovery of an open hole in the apothecary room from which one could look out in the street. A young converted woman, Sister Damiana, emerged as the only responsible, who admitted to having made the opening with a large roasting spit. When asked about the reasons, she replied that it had been "nothing else but seeing the rubble, which was crumbling, from the outside, I wanted to see where it came out"» (Alessia Lirosi, The female monasteries in Rome in the age of the Counter-Reformation/I monasteri femminili a Roma nell’età della Controriforma, Viella 2012).

The social and economic life of female monasteries between the Middle Ages and modern times is immensely rich in history. Within those collective clauses, Human activities and procedures that have almost been entirely forgotten, even by the female and feminist movements, today took place within the walls of those, more than often forced, collective enclosures. My first wish for this 8th of March goes out to them, and to their present-day sisters.

[fulltext] =>

Female monasteries have always been institutions with limited freedom and supervised by males. Usually celibate men, who based on an image of what constituted being a woman, proceeded to create rules to govern the lives of real women of flesh and blood: «Since the vow of chastity is such, the nuns are all the more held accountable to it because of the fragility of their sex». And in order to protect this fragile sex which, according to those theologians, exposed them more easily (than males!) to carnal sin, «the Mother Superior must ensure that the bars of the speakers' grates are narrow enough that no hand can fit between them» (Giovanni Pietro Barco, Religious mirror for nuns/Specchio religioso per le monache, 1583). This is why the cloister was not only a "lockdown" for women but also, as my Carmelite friend Antonella reminds me, a "locking out" of males and their interference in the monastery, despite never having fully succeeded in this endeavor.

Female monasteries also experienced their own ora et labora. Together with and alongside the work of female scribes (the amanuensis, still not sufficiently written about or emphasized), veritable schools of embroidery (according to the Italian school and technique) were born within the monasteries. Another "classic" sector were bakery and sweets (and in part, liqueurs): «The city of Bologna does a notable trade in quince jelly or jam. The nuns compete to overtake each other in this production of sweets» (Jean-Baptiste Labat, Diary/Diario, 1706). Throughout Sicily, nuns specialized in sweets and delicacies. The rarest cookbooks were considered a sort of secret monopoly of female monasteries –"martorana fruit", traditional marzipan sweets, comes from the female monastery of Martorana. Wax processing was also famous Sicily (Noto) in the female monasteries, and reached a remarkable level of quality. They also produced vinegar, perfumes, cultivated flowers, created silk roses, soaps, but also cilices, flagella, chains, as well as bracelets and necklaces for girls (Antonino Terzo di Palazzolo and Lina Lupica, I Lavori delle claustrali/The works of cloistered women, 1991).

The artistic work was equally important, although not very well known. In addition to playing various instruments and being highly esteemed and sought-after as singing teachers, the nuns wrote poems and plays that were staged during religious celebrations (Elissa B. Weaver, Convent Theater in Early Modern Italy, 2002). After the Council of Trent, the abbesses opposed great resistance against the bishops who tried to apply various restrictions on theater, music and singing activities in the monasteries: «There should be no theatre or performances» (in Angela Fiore, The musical tradition of the monastery of the Poor Clares of Santa Chiara in Naples/La tradizione musicale del monastero delle clarisse di Santa Chiara in Napoli, 2015). Prohibitions that were largely disregarded. The figure of Sister Plautilla Nelli (1524-1588) is particularly interesting, remembered by Vasari who pointed out that the saints of Sister Plautilla were very "feminine": «Instead of Christ, Nelli painted Christa» (Vincenzo Fortunato Marchese, Memorie dei più insigni pittori/Memories of some the most distinguished painters, 1854).

In fact, reading the documents, and in particular the books recounting the chronicles written by the nuns themselves, what emerges immediately - because evident and obvious - is that the social structures and hierarchies that had generated them were also reflected within the monasteries: the differences between rich and poor, patricians and plebeians, and between males and females. The nuns were divided between choristers (or veiled) and conversed (or serving), sometimes called "ladies" and "servants" (the Poor Clares of Naples). The choristers, who prayed in the choir and had taken their vows, were the nuns with full rights. They could vote to elect the abbess, who had to be chosen from among the choristers themselves, and could be "officials", that is, hold top positions in the government of the monasteries – such as apothecary, choir teacher, novice teacher, concierge, vicar, chamberlain, sacristan, treasurer, cellarer - and only they could be part of the council of the Abbess (the so called "discreet" nuns). The conversed nuns were often illiterate, socially inferior and treated as such, they slept in collective dormitories and had to take care of housework, take care of other sick nuns and take on all the humbler jobs in the monastery. Thereby, helping to unveil the most earthly occupations. Moreover, if any conversed nun was able to read, she still had to refrain from doing so and keep her distance from the "high-ranking" chorister nuns.

After the Council of Trent, the conversed nuns were moved to separate buildings, although they continued to be the personal maids of individual chorister nuns. In 1665, at San Silvestro in Capite (Rome), the choristers complained that the conversed in the infirmary refused to carry out the humblest jobs and did not move over and free up their spot at the grates. The social disdain for any care related job, which still marks our civilization today, does not only depend on its being a largely female and therefore domestic matter; it also arises from the social hierarchy among women themselves. Noble women were noble also because they did not have to carry out any nursing or care activity, thanks to other poor women (back in the day, in monasteries and patrician palaces, today, in our homes). Yet, within these paradoxes, which seem incomprehensible to us today if we do not make a considerable effort of understanding the historical context in question, something new was being born.

One area, equally unlikely and paradoxical, is that of criminal law. The conception of punishment, understood as re-education and rehabilitation, is largely attributed to the enlightenment and utilitarian movement of the eighteenth century (Beccaria and Bentham). The role of the monasteries, however, is rarely mentioned. Sentences developed into long-term protracted imprisonment inside a monastery prison, something that practically did not exist in the ancient world, in part to punish monks and nuns. For example, in the monastery of the Augustinians of Santa Marta in Rome, any nun who committed a truly serious offense «should be locked up and held in seclusion, with discretion and charity, always making sure that she would repent and return to penance». The prison had as its objective the recovery of the guilty, something that comes close to the modern vision of a prison sentence. The language of prisons was born as a development of the monastic one - "cells" and "locutories".

Furthermore, the economic life of female monasteries is an almost completely unexplored mine. Above all, a great surprise (at least for me): at the nuns' resistance to the "communion of goods", which the Council of Trent tried to reintroduce. While reading the documents, it becomes abundantly clear that, despite the visits, letters and documents from the bishops, the female monasteries were largely disobedient on the subject of the private property of individual nuns. Why? An episode, also reported in Alessia Lirosi's fundamental work on Roman monasteries, is of particular importance. In 1601, the cardinal protector asked for the abolition of personal private property: «After the cardinal had finished his speech, the nuns replied in unison that in the past they had had the same desire; but the monastery did not have enough capacity to be able to maintain the commune, so the nuns were each required to take back their own things». They had therefore tried, said the abbess, but the joint management had not worked. The cardinal however insisted, so the nuns «without replying anything else and with unspeakable glee, each brought their cloths of linen and wool to the stale of the crucifix, and everything else that they held dear". Nevertheless, adds Lirosi, «after such a sudden turn of pressure, something slowly started to loosen up. In fact, a few years later, in 1607, the instructions given by the cardinal were reaffirmed, still banning embroidery and silks on the tablecloths of each altar or on the bed curtains». The abbesses and their nuns hence resisted the order of communion of goods. Was that disobedience an expression of those rich noblewomen's attachment to their things? Sometimes it will probably have been just that, perhaps most of the time. I think, however, that some abbesses disobeyed due to something far more important. And in those few different nuns, even if it was only one, all women in the world can be found.

When life leads you into any kind of seclusion, and one day you get to take the big roasting spit to make a hole in the wall to see life flowing beyond the walls holding you in, suddenly you discover the true value of things. They light up just like and even more than the altar and the statues in the chapel. They talk to you, they tell you truly exist, that you are here. And you understand or sense that forcing you to take out your things out of your trunk, "the embroideries and silks on the tablecloths of the altar", to give up the few things that enable you to say "mine" is an act of violence («Let no one say mine of anything, but of everything say: ours, only for evil say: mine», Monastic Constitution/Costituzione monastica quoted in Lirosi). An excess of violence, to which the nuns and their abbesses resisted (what a beautiful case of solidarity between women, at least here), for that all-female vital instinct. There is an entirely feminine and different aspect of "things" that we have yet to understand.

The true and just meaning of private property perhaps did not arise only in the treatises of Locke or Duns Scotus; a few lines were also written within the walls of those cloisters, when a number of women refused to say "ours" because they sensed that "us" was simply going to kill them. To remind us that not all "ours" are good, but only those that arise from free encounters among many "mine" which have been freely given. Both back in the day as well as today. The good communion of goods is the end of a journey, it is the culmination of a process of communion of life that one day flourishes in the communion of goods, never imposed or requested ex officio, like a payment due today for a blank check signed yesterday. The "mine" that rises in "ours" can only be the fruit of my own choice that becomes yours as well. Both inside and outside the monasteries. However, too many "ours" are in fact mere ideological covers for abuse of power and violence. Just as there is a private property that arises from individual sin – as recalled by Duns Scotus - there is also a common property that arises from collective sin. Sister Damiana's hole in the wall, the repeated "no" to the destruction of their theatrical works, the abbesses' "cheerfully" disobeying the cardinals, must be counted among the acts of freedom that generated the modern spirit, the spirit of men and of women. But secular modernity ignores it.

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The market and the temple/18 - Monastic lockup was about "shutting in" women and "shutting out" male interference.

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire  07/03/2021

The social and economic life of female monasteries between the Middle Ages and modern times was richly blessed in «ora et labora», collective sins and «cheerful» disobedience.

«In 1602 there was a trial in Rome after the discovery of an open hole in the apothecary room from which one could look out in the street. A young converted woman, Sister Damiana, emerged as the only responsible, who admitted to having made the opening with a large roasting spit. When asked about the reasons, she replied that it had been "nothing else but seeing the rubble, which was crumbling, from the outside, I wanted to see where it came out"» (Alessia Lirosi, The female monasteries in Rome in the age of the Counter-Reformation/I monasteri femminili a Roma nell’età della Controriforma, Viella 2012).

The social and economic life of female monasteries between the Middle Ages and modern times is immensely rich in history. Within those collective clauses, Human activities and procedures that have almost been entirely forgotten, even by the female and feminist movements, today took place within the walls of those, more than often forced, collective enclosures. My first wish for this 8th of March goes out to them, and to their present-day sisters.

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But not all possible "ours" are a good communion

But not all possible "ours" are a good communion

The market and the temple/18 - Monastic lockup was about "shutting in" women and "shutting out" male interference. By Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire  07/03/2021 The social and economic life of female monasteries between the Middle Ages and modern times was richly blessed in «ora et la...
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The temple and the market/17 - The negative stigma placed on unwed women gradually led to the birth of new Monti, entities of credit and charity.

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire  28/02/2021

The dowry system as a means of excluding women from inheriting was established by the Italian citizen statutes as early as the thirteenth century and grew in force with the growth of the merchant class.

The dowry market is one of the most relevant economic and social phenomena between the Middle Ages and modern times, which makes us understand the high price paid by women, victims sacrificed on the altar of mercantile society. The dowry was the portion of the paternal inheritance that a daughter received at the time of marriage. Once she had obtained her dowry, a woman no longer had any rights to the assets of her family of origin. Hence, the dowry was the price to pay in order to exclude ones daughters from the paternal inheritance, establishing an all-male succession line. The dowry system as a means of excluding women from inheriting was established by Italian citizen statutes as early as the thirteenth century, and its weight grew together with the wealth of the new merchant families. Marrying away ones daughters became an increasingly serious problem for the patrician families, to the point that Dante missed the pre-mercantile Florence of his ancestor Cacciaguida, back then «when born, a daughter did not frighten her father» (Paradiso XV, 103). Here, Dante encapsulates in a single verse the essence of the dowry phenomenon in his city Florence, where the arrival of a daughter was merely a future cost for the parents. Discrimination against women has always been perpetrated directly in the face of women, the midwives, who had to give the sad news to another woman who had just given birth to a girl - experiences and pains that, thank God, we no longer are able to understand and have long forgotten. Bachelorhood for men was like a sign of nobility, while "civil" singlehood for women was socially stigmatized and generally discouraged.

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An inflation of what had become the "cost of having daughters" for the new aristocracy began in Italy from the end of the fourteenth century: in Venice, the rate of 800 ducats at the end of the fourteenth century became 2000 ducats at the beginning of the sixteenth century, and in Rome, the dowry went up from 1400 to 4500 scudi during the sixteenth century (Mauro Carboni, The dowry of "poverty"/ Le doti della "povertà", p.30). An inflation mainly due to positional competition between rich families, who used their daughters as a status asset, in a dynamic now known as the "Prisoner's Dilemma", where the increase in the price of dowries did not benefit any of the "competitors" - except , in some cases, the wives who saw their economic weight increase within their future husband's family.

Then, with the arrival of the Renaissance, the Roman institution of fideicommis, in terms of "majorat" i.e. inheritance by the elder brother, and "primogeniture" i.e. inheritance by the firstborn, was resumed among the Italian patrician families. In other words, inheritance was left entirely to a single male heir, generally the firstborn, the "eldest" brother. This allowed for the conservation of patrimonies, which if fragmented among a number of heirs risked being dispersed. However, this "innovation" produced two major side effects. The cadet sons (that is, all but the firstborn) were gradually discouraged by their families from marrying, so much so that in the eighteenth century these children were in fact precluded from any possibility of marrying, and the two careers that remained to them were a military career or an ecclesiastical one. The second effect concerned the fate of wealthy daughters. The scarcity of males of the same rank meant that the demand for husbands far exceeded the supply. However, if a patrician father gave his daughter in marriage to a non-patrician, he would lose his dowry and compromise the good name of his house. Once again, the "common good" of the family was much more important than the good of the single individuals, especially that of women. Hence, what should be done?

First of all, families had to bestow their daughters with dowries, at almost any cost. Hence, in 1425 the Municipality of Florence created a fund for girls "without dowry", il Monte delle doti/the Monti of dowries. This was followed by many other similar institutions, including the Monti of marriage, "Monte dei maritaggi" in Naples (1578) and the "Monte del matrimonio" in Bologna (1583). They were both credit institutions and charitable institutions, because in addition to guaranteeing interest on deposits, they also managed bequests and donations, private and public, for the benefit of girls without or with insufficient dowries. Approximately 30000 girls were enrolled in the Monte delle doti In Florence between 1425 and 1569. The first Florentine to use the Monte, Federigo di Benedetto di Como, deposited 200 florins for his daughter Diamante, when Diamante got married in 1440, the dowry fund he withdrew had become 1000 florins. How can we not come to think of the effort of the Franciscans to get the Church to accept the 5% annual payment in their Monti di Pietà!? The families that we find registered in the Monte registers are above all those of the wealthy merchants of Florence - Acciauoli, Pazzi, Rucellai, Medici, Bardi, Strozzi - who clearly resorted to the Monte to make their investments more profitable. Half of the rich girls in Florence had an account ("libretto") at the Monte, something that is not surprising in the least. What is surprising is that many daughters of modest artisans also had an account. A parent with a modest fortune and of poor origins would do anything possible and even impossible to obtain a dowry account for his daughter, because he knew that it could be the only chance to give her a decent future (Anthony Molho and Paola Pescarmona, Investments in the Monte of dowries of Florence/Investimenti nel Monte delle doti di Firenze, Historical notebooks, 21).

The noblewoman Alessandra Macinghi negli Strozzi wrote about the upcoming wedding of her daughter Caterina: «I am giving her a dowry of one thousand florins, that is five hundred that she has to have in 1448 from the Monte [of dowries]; and the other five hundred, which I have to hand over, between money and wedding trousseau, when she leaves with her husband». Then she adds: «But he who takes a wife wants money, and I could not find anyone who wanted to wait for her dowry until 1448, and then get the rest in 1450. Hence, having given him these five hundred, between money and wedding trousseau, if she lives, the rest expected in 1450, will be handed to me» (Alessandra Macinghi negli Strozzi, Letters of a Florentine gentlewoman/Lettere di una gentildonna fiorentina, 1877, p.4). The early settlement of the dowries was in fact a risk, because in the event of the death of the holder, the sum returned by the Monte was greatly reduced.

The economic value of a bride's dowry was therefore an indicator of her social value as a woman. Formally, the dowry remained the property of the wife but administered by her husband, and returned in the woman's possession in the event of widowhood. A woman, who remained without a dowry, because her family had become impoverished or had fallen in disgrace, was considered "dangerous" and exposed to vice. Hence the birth of the many assistance institutions for women without dowry, often named after Mary Magdalene, for young girls and/or for the recovery of women who had fallen into sin (for example, prostitutes). "Conservatories" and "reclusories" who, while detaining women at risk in forced seclusion, collected donations to guarantee them a dowry at the moment of their engagement - which took place by the "touching of the hand" of the woman in front of other witnesses - or at the entrance of the convent (Luisa Ciammitti, How much does it cost to be normal. The dowry in the women's conservatory of Santa Maria del Baraccano/ Quanto costa essere normali. La dote nel conservatorio femminile di Santa Maria del Baraccano, 1630-1680, Historical notebook, 18).

There is, in fact, a close relationship between the dowry market and religious life. What "to do" with the daughters who could not be "placed" in the wedding market? Resigning oneself to a husband of lower social and economic rank was a humiliation and too high a "cost" for the patrician families to accept. So it came to pass that monasteries and convents offered the ultimate solution. For rich families, the confinement of a daughter became the main way to «eliminate women who remained excluded from the marriage market by placing them in a convent, making them institutionally sterile» (Susanna Mantioni, Forced Monastications and Forms of Resistance against Patriarchalism in Venice during Counter-Reformation/Monacazioni forzate e forme di resistenza al patriarcalismo nella Venezia della Controriforma, 2013). If an asset that was too precious (an aristocratic daughter) could not be adequately allocated on the market, it had to be destroyed by monastication. Because it was better to destroy than to sell off such a precious asset, since its sale to an inadequate family would have started a cumulative social decline with unpredictable costs. Elimination through enclosure was the best solution. Furthermore, the sacrifice of some patrician daughters placed in convents enabled a convenient marriage for some of their more fortunate sisters. In part because the monastic, or spiritual dowry, was much cheaper than the matrimonial one (up to twenty times less). This explains both the multiplication of female convents and monasteries after the fifteenth century, and why almost all the nuns and sisters in modern age came from noble or upper-bourgeois families, and why more than half of the daughters of patrician families became nuns or sisters.

There is more, however. The wealthiest families had private cells built for their daughters, real apartments within the monasteries, which were used exclusively by the nun in question throughout her life. These nuns often managed their dowry themselves, along with the revenues of their own capital. This highlights a complex relationship between common life, private property and the symbolic use of personal space inside the monasteries of the early modern age (Silvia Evangelisti, The use and transmission of cells in the monastery of S. Giulia in Brescia/ L’uso e la trasmissione delle celle nel monastero di S. Giulia di Brescia, Historical Notebooks, 30). These hints are enough to understand the real meaning of Teresa of Avila's reform of female religious life.

One last consideration. The use of a semantic register of gifts for similar operations is very significant. Giovanni Tiepolo, Patriarch of Venice, said the following about nuns: «Making one's freedom a gift not only to God, but also to the homeland, to the world, and to their closest relatives» (early 17th century). However, what gift was at stake, for those daughters who did not have the opportunity to choose the life they wanted to live? First of all, it was a gift made by their father, not their gift. It was a gift that their families and society asked of those women to save social order and their house. It was a gift similar to that of the potlach of the Pacific islands studied by Marcel Mauss (1925), where there was no gratuitous aspect to the "gift" whatsoever, instead it was a language of political and commercial power, which could even include the destruction of the object being gifted (dissipative potlach), in order to assert one's superiority.

Only the angels above know the pain of these donated-women, tokens paid to a society that was in the throes of being born. Oceans of female suffering, within monasteries and inside homes. These tears were the first water with which we mixed the foundation of the modern cities. The only small, partial, but not useless, consolation that remains is to think that some, perhaps many, of those nuns and sisters were greater than their destiny. Like their "spouse", they too found themselves, unwittingly, nailed to a cross, and once there some of them decided to experience that innocent pain, not chosen by them, as a gift, a different and in the end free gift. Sometimes they have even been resurrected and come back. If so many women can live their lives in convents and monasteries as a true gift and truly free today, those ancient resurrections can be found somewhere within those gifts and freedoms as well.

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The temple and the market/17 - The negative stigma placed on unwed women gradually led to the birth of new Monti, entities of credit and charity.

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire  28/02/2021

The dowry system as a means of excluding women from inheriting was established by the Italian citizen statutes as early as the thirteenth century and grew in force with the growth of the merchant class.

The dowry market is one of the most relevant economic and social phenomena between the Middle Ages and modern times, which makes us understand the high price paid by women, victims sacrificed on the altar of mercantile society. The dowry was the portion of the paternal inheritance that a daughter received at the time of marriage. Once she had obtained her dowry, a woman no longer had any rights to the assets of her family of origin. Hence, the dowry was the price to pay in order to exclude ones daughters from the paternal inheritance, establishing an all-male succession line. The dowry system as a means of excluding women from inheriting was established by Italian citizen statutes as early as the thirteenth century, and its weight grew together with the wealth of the new merchant families. Marrying away ones daughters became an increasingly serious problem for the patrician families, to the point that Dante missed the pre-mercantile Florence of his ancestor Cacciaguida, back then «when born, a daughter did not frighten her father» (Paradiso XV, 103). Here, Dante encapsulates in a single verse the essence of the dowry phenomenon in his city Florence, where the arrival of a daughter was merely a future cost for the parents. Discrimination against women has always been perpetrated directly in the face of women, the midwives, who had to give the sad news to another woman who had just given birth to a girl - experiences and pains that, thank God, we no longer are able to understand and have long forgotten. Bachelorhood for men was like a sign of nobility, while "civil" singlehood for women was socially stigmatized and generally discouraged.

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The market of donated-women somewhere between inheritance and social cost

The market of donated-women somewhere between inheritance and social cost

The temple and the market/17 - The negative stigma placed on unwed women gradually led to the birth of new Monti, entities of credit and charity. By Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire  28/02/2021 The dowry system as a means of excluding women from inheriting was established by the Italian...
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The market and the temple/16 - The great Duns Scotus interpreted the version of the "golden rule" of the Gospels as a rule of economic sociality.

By Luigino Bruni

Published 21/02/2021 in Avvenire.

Private property is fair when it is about preserving peace, safeguarding Abel, that is, defending what is "yours" before what is "mine", especially that which belongs to the poor.

The main protagonists of the great change that the European economic "spirit" underwent between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries were the Franciscans and Dominicans, who transformed the image of the merchant from an enemy of the common good to its first builder. From the heart of the cities, the Mendicants saw things differently from what could be seen from the green valleys of the abbeys. They saw that good work was not only what was performed in the monasteries and holy time was not only the liturgical one, because there was also a holiness in the time and hours of all, and the lay bell of the municipal towers was no less noble and Christian than the sundial of the monks. Observing the hours and days of artisans, artists and merchants, they discovered another ora et labora, different but not inferior to that of the monasteries. Hence, the concept of "brother work" ("fratello lavoro") was born. Humanism and the Renaissance flourished from this continuous dialogue-dialectic between a very important heaven and an equally important earth, between a very present life-beyond and an equally present life-on-this-side, between the expectation of the not-yet and the commitment to the already here.

[fulltext] =>

Vocation-work did not just come out of the monasteries with the Protestant Reformation; it had already emerged in the thirteenth century thanks to the work of the mendicant orders. These were not important for the birth of the new economy merely as confessors, preachers and pastors of merchants and artisans, but also and perhaps above all, as theologians. Among the greatest of them, we find Duns Scotus, the great Scottish Franciscan, a magister in Oxford, Cambridge, Paris and Cologne. A genius of absolute value, one of the greatest talents that has ever moved across theology and philosophy. Scotus (1265/1266-1308) also dealt with economics - this was the Middle Ages: the very great were interested in the Trinity and money, because they knew that after the Word made flesh a quaestio on the right price had the same theological dignity as one on the redemption.

His Commentary on the Sentences of Pietro Lombardo, known as Ordinatio (1303-1304), states the following: «The forms of exchange are practically based on the laws of nature: do to others what you would have them do to you» (quoted in Leonardo Sileo, Elements of economic ethics in Duns Scotus/Elementi di etica economica in Duns Scoto, p.6). Here Scotus interprets the version of the "golden rule" of the Gospels (Matthew 7,12 and Luke 6,31) as a rule of economic sociality. Reciprocity in commercial exchange is seen as a way in which evangelical reciprocity is expressed. To those first qualified observers, the market did not appear only as a new form of civil relations, but also as a new concretization of the law of mutual love. In fact, in essence, market exchange can be seen as a form of "mutual assistance", as Antonio Genovesi would go on to repeat in the eighteenth century, where people satisfy each other's needs through goods. If we were able to look from above and with a non-ideological gaze at what happens in the markets of the world, as those first theologians in fact did in part, we would see an immense, highly dense network of relationships that allow men and women to get the things they need. Things that without the existence of markets they could only obtain by gift or robbery, the former too scarce and the latter thoroughly uncivilized.

While they kept "pauper prestige" to themselves and observed the absolute prohibition on handling money, those Franciscans found themselves at the right spiritual distance from the markets and wealth to understand and explain them both in their essence. The positive and generous gaze on their world did not ignore the sad fate of those who were excluded from that network of reciprocal exchange, and for whom the Mendicants worked very hard, giving life to thousands of assistance initiatives. However, they were also able to view market exchange not as an enemy of the poor, but as an opportunity for everyone. So much so, that Scotus even advises the princes of cities with few merchants to do everything to attract them: «In a poor country of merchants, a good legislator should attract merchants; even by paying them handsomely, and finding the necessary sustenance for their families as well» (Ordinatio, IV).

The theological esteem of the impoverished Franciscans and Dominicans for the merchants arises from their life in the heart of the cities and adheres to the idea on ​​the limit of private property

​Catalan Franciscan Francesc Eiximenis (1330-1409), scholar and follower of Duns Scotus, thought along the same lines. The Twelfth book (El Dotzè) of his Summary of Theology (Summa Theologica), The Christian (Lo Crestià, in his language), written between 1385 and 1392, contains a broad and original treatment on political economy and money, in which he develops and strengthens the civilizing aspect and function of the market - civilitas. It contains several highly important and original concepts. One of these touches the pillar of every civil economic ethics, namely the conflict between revenues and profits: «It must be forbidden for all those who can carry out commercial activities to buy perpetual and life annuities», since revenues destroy the good and civil earnings of merchants, which are essential for the community. The competence that merchants have with «words and contracts», their discursive and relational art and skill favours «every kind of qualified and friendly relationship» (I,1). This is why Barcelona (which he saw as a civitas perfecta) must not «excessively promote honorific office», but rather encourage the development of the merchant class. On the opposite side to that of the merchant, we find the "miser", the main enemy of a city, because he prevents currency from circulating thereby spreading development and civilization: «He must not have the right to live in the city, nor to no reason should he be allowed to hold a position or an office in the community, since he is a dissipator of civilitas, an integral enemy of the truth, a falsifier of friendship» (I,1). It is interesting to note that avarice here is seen as a vice of those who earn a revenue, not as a merchant's disease.

Picking up on a thesis by Ugo di San Vittore, Eiximenis affirms that merchants must be rewarded, because they are «the life of the earth, the treasure of public affairs. Without merchants, communities fall, princes become tyrants. Merchants alone are great almsgivers, fathers and brothers of public affairs and God shows great wonders through them» (Regiment de la cosa pública, quoted in the Introduction to the critical edition of the work, edited by Paolo Evangelisti). His many pages dealing with the issue of money are also highly interesting, a precious public good and "good of the community", the first sign of public trust and essential for all social pacts, symbol of communitas, of commutatio (exchange) and communicatio (communication) between citizens. His arguments on credit and the role played by public debt are also important - unfortunately stained by an anti-Jewish controversy, which was common among many Franciscans of the time (and not only them). He emphasizes the urgency of setting up civil credit institutions, in particular a "casa de la comunitat", a forerunner of the Monti di Pietà of the following century and of the rural and cooperative banks of the twentieth century. An institution destined to impoverished young people who, thanks to credit, could then start a productive life, or to girls without a dowry, anticipating the "Monte of the dowries" (Monte delle doti) of Florence in 1425. However, it was also destined «for the redemption of prisoners, for the recovery of men who have fallen into ruin, to prisoners in conditions of poverty" (F. Eiximenis, El Dotzè, I, 1).

While we are struck and enchanted by the esteem and admiration that these theologians of the highest poverty had for the civil role of merchants, money and credit, once again we are also taken by surprise by other theses developed by these same authors, which complicate the discourse and bring us back into the generative ambivalence of the Middle Ages. One such theses, a very important one, concerns the origin and nature of private property. The following words can be found in Duns Scotus: «When did the property of things begin to be distinguished so that this was called "mine" and that was "yours" and how did this distinction come about? By the laws of nature, it is by no means established that the possession of things includes such distinction, since in our state of innocence there was no such distinction at all regarding the possession and ownership of things, but everything common to all» (Reportata parisiensia, quoted in Francesco Bottin’s, Giovanni Duns Scotus on the origin of property).

While just leaving the times and the world of the merchants that built and crated civilitas and Christian charity, we now come across a line of thought that viewed the private ownership of goods, the pillar of that market economy, as the fruit of sin. According to Scotus, in line with much medieval theology on the subject, the rule in primordial innocence, that is, in the Adamic condition, was the communion of goods, "mine" and "yours" did not exist. The only "ours" coincided with that of all humanity, which in any case did not see itself as the owner of goods but only as their user. We must not interpret the Adamic condition in a historical or chronological sense (it would not make much sense to speak of communion in an Eden with only Adam, and without Eve), but in a theological and anthropological sense. Always keeping in mind that in the biblical vision, what comes first is truer and deeper than what comes later, because it expresses vocation and destiny, and thereby indicates what one day will or could be. Hence, when Scotus states that private property arises after or following sin, he is telling us something important, namely that the private appropriation of goods was not in God's original plan for humanity. It was a deviation, a corruption, a decay, a mistake. «From the beginning it was not so». Because the communion of goods is part of the image and likeness with God. The economy of what is "mine" and "yours" was not the economy of Adam, but it became the economy of Cain. Then what will the economy of the new Adam be like?

Finally, the function that Scotus attributes to private property is very interesting, once men have fallen in sin they can no longer do without it: «This became necessary in order to maintain peaceful coexistence among men since after their sins the wicked would have demanded things for themselves not only for their own indispensable use but also to satisfy their greed for possession». Private property is in fact a safeguarding of peace, it is a guarantee for Abel against the abuses of Cain, and it has its reason in protecting the weak from the strength of the powerful, who would have a tendency to increase their "mine" without acknowledging what is "yours". In this case, private property is fair if it defends above all what is "yours", especially that which "belongs" to the poor.

Private property is fair if it protects the peace, safeguarding Abel, that is defending "yours" before what is "mine", especially that which belongs to the poor

The thesis that we find in Fratelli tutti is therefore largely Franciscan: «The right to private property can be considered only as a secondary natural right derived from the principle of the universal destination of created goods» (n.120). The great medieval theologians remind us that our destiny, even in economic terms, is communion. We fail to live up to our vocation, and are satisfied with the economy of "mine" and "yours". However, it is that Adam, he who came first reaching much deeper into us than Cain, who continues to give us no peace, and to feed that infinite nostalgia for a different economy.

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The market and the temple/16 - The great Duns Scotus interpreted the version of the "golden rule" of the Gospels as a rule of economic sociality.

By Luigino Bruni

Published 21/02/2021 in Avvenire.

Private property is fair when it is about preserving peace, safeguarding Abel, that is, defending what is "yours" before what is "mine", especially that which belongs to the poor.

The main protagonists of the great change that the European economic "spirit" underwent between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries were the Franciscans and Dominicans, who transformed the image of the merchant from an enemy of the common good to its first builder. From the heart of the cities, the Mendicants saw things differently from what could be seen from the green valleys of the abbeys. They saw that good work was not only what was performed in the monasteries and holy time was not only the liturgical one, because there was also a holiness in the time and hours of all, and the lay bell of the municipal towers was no less noble and Christian than the sundial of the monks. Observing the hours and days of artisans, artists and merchants, they discovered another ora et labora, different but not inferior to that of the monasteries. Hence, the concept of "brother work" ("fratello lavoro") was born. Humanism and the Renaissance flourished from this continuous dialogue-dialectic between a very important heaven and an equally important earth, between a very present life-beyond and an equally present life-on-this-side, between the expectation of the not-yet and the commitment to the already here.

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Why Adam's economy is not Cain's economy

Why Adam's economy is not Cain's economy

The market and the temple/16 - The great Duns Scotus interpreted the version of the "golden rule" of the Gospels as a rule of economic sociality. By Luigino Bruni Published 21/02/2021 in Avvenire. Private property is fair when it is about preserving peace, safeguarding Abel, that is, defending what ...
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    [title] => When knowledge was a common and free good
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The Market and the Temple/15 - Theological prohibitions have been able to generate means of freedom for merchants and intellectuals such as insurance companies and universities.

by Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 14/02/2021

Ancient Christian culture knew that knowledge was a precious, indeed divine, good and protected it from profit. Now, with the logic of capitalism, all we really see are costs and profit.

In the Middle Ages the limit of generative capacity was very evident. The ban on lending money at interest produced a great biodiversity of financial instruments and contracts, from the commendams to the exchange letters, from limited partnership to the birth of insurance policies. Maritime trade could not develop without risk remuneration through some form of interest on the capital lent to the ship owner. Hence, the theological prohibition regarding usury led to the invention of a new contract, that of insurance, splitting the loan into two components: «On the one hand, the pure and simple repayment of a loan, on the other the promise of reward in exchange for the risk involved» (Armando Sapori, "Digressions on insurance", in Studies of economic history III, p. 144). Thus, a theological limit ended up generating a great economic and social innovation.

Another area in which theologically set limits played a decisive role was in the birth of universities. The development of teaching and student communities in the universities is a twin phenomenon of the emergence of merchant companies. The thirteenth century was the century of merchants and the century of universities, which together created Humanism. Both places of freedom, both institutions of the new European spirit. Goliards and merchants put the values ​​of the institutions of the first millennium in crisis. Both supported and animated by the new mendicant orders, who were both scholars in the universities and friends of the merchants. The students were mainly laymen, «to study and even before to live and move in the wake of the teachers, they resorted to the strangest means such as being an acrobat, a juggler or a fool and even putting some occasional small scams into practice » (Sapori, p. 366).

While referring to the holders of ancient knowledge, Pietro Abelardo defined them «the Philistines who keep their knowledge a secret only for themselves, while preventing others from taking advantage of it. Instead, we want to dig wells of living water, and so many and on all public squares, and so rich in water that they will overflow and everyone will be able to quench their thirst» (quoted in Sapori, The universities over the centuries, p. 368). European democracy was born in the government buildings of the new cities, in the companies of merchants and in the universities, where knowledge was created dialectically thereby becoming a public good, if it is indeed true that democracy is «governing by discussing» (in the words of John Stuart Mill and Amartya Sen). The role of this new, more popular knowledge was immense, infinitely greater than we could ever imagine today.

It is not surprising then that these new intellectuals encountered the same hostility already encountered by the merchants, both new groups of people, too free and different to be understood: «Oh Paris, to what extent you fascinate and deceive souls! On the contrary, a happy school is one in which one speaks only of wisdom, and without the need for courses of lessons one learns how to reach eternal life: here one does not buy books» (Pierre de Celles, quoted in Sapori, p. 369). These same detractors of the new universities and the goliards also hated the free municipalities and cities, defined as a "new Babylon", because God does not love cities, as Cain was the founder of the first one (Rupert of Deutz).

The merchant-intellectual analogy, however, does not stop there. In the first millennium, time was not the only thing that belonged to God, something that gave rise to the oldest justification for the prohibition of interest-based loans. Knowledge was also considered a gift from God and as such non-marketable, but to be given freely. Hence, we can easily see how the debates on the prohibition of interest on money were very similar and parallel to the disputes over the prohibition for scholars to be paid for their lessons. Even in the transmission of knowledge, gratuitousness, sine-merit, was the norm, and payment, pro-pretio, the anomaly.

The most authoritative medieval source of this prohibition was Bernard of Clairvaux, who in his commentary on the Song of Songs had written: «Scientia donum Dei est, unde vendi non potest» (science is a gift from God, therefore it cannot be sold). A thesis that had been adopted by the third (1179) and then by the fourth (1215) Lateran Council, then by Pope Gregory IX in 1234 (in the Liber Extra) - the papacy was a great defender of the new universities, which were pontifical institutions. A prohibition that had a great weight in the practice of medieval universities and schools; although the practice (as with usury) often moved in different directions. The canonist Roffredo da Benevento wrote: «In our days it is customary for teachers to take the students’ books as a pledge in order to pay proceeds». The reference to the authority of St. Bernard in matters of gratuity was not accidental. The gratuitous aspect of teaching was in fact a legacy of the great monastic tradition. For many centuries, monasteries were the main, if not the only, schools in Europe. These schools taught faith, but also grammar, music and mathematics, to monks as well as lay people, especially young people. This is where the practice of gratuitousness was affirmed. In a document from 888, we can read the following about the issue of schools: «Ut turpi lucro et negotiationibus non inserviant» (so that shameful profit and business will not be needed). And the Council of London in 1138 reiterated: «Ut scholas suas magistri non locent legendas pro pretio» (teachers in their schools shall not give lessons for a fee, § XVII).

Starting from the thirteenth century, the new masters began to make a distinction. Bartholomew of Brescia argued that a teacher should not teach for money, but could still accept a payment from his students as long as it is offered as a gift and not compulsory. A similar solution, one will recall, to the one that led to the lawfulness of the interest on public debt, understood as a free gift. Still others distinguished between rich and poor teachers and students: where only poor students do not have to pay and only rich teachers should teach for free. The famous canonist from Bologna, Tancredi, for example, specified: «When the teacher receives a safe and protected benefice, he must not ask for money for the education that he provides» (in Emma Montanos Ferrín, "Scientia donum Dei est"). Raimondo de Peñafort, a Dominican, instead defended and reiterated the thesis that science, being a divine gift, cannot be sold, and hence he saw even jurists and doctors, who generally were paid, as antagonists.

The gratuitous aspect of knowledge was further strengthened and relaunched, when Franciscans and Dominicans entered the new universities en masse around the middle of the thirteenth century and founded their studia, often connected with those universities. Of the 447 known masters in theology in Bologna between 1364 and 1500, 419 were Mendicants. The Dominicans were at a greater "charismatic" ease with their studies, due to their preaching charism. The issue was more complex and less linear the Franciscans. A soul of the order has never calmly accepted studies and universities: «We do not see Parisi, who has destroyed Asisi» (Jacopone da Todi, "La Laude", 92). The fact is that the Franciscans also generated scholars of great value, among the major theologians of the Middle Ages. Dominicans and Franciscans made universities privileged places for the recruitment of new vocations, and some teachers (for example, Alexander of Hales) took up the habit. It did not stop there however. Those early Mendicants were very attracted and seduced by the new universities. Before becoming the holders of theology faculties, at first they went to Paris or Oxford to learn, fascinated by that new world and that freedom of teachers and students that felt so similar to theirs. They were sons and propagators of the same spirit. The very happy encounter between these two different and similar worlds gave rise to an extraordinary and decisive process for European civilization.

The side effects of the arrival of the mendicants in the universities were many. Regarding books, for example. The pricing of books was subject to careful regulation (due to the pauper related prestige) especially among the Franciscans. This limit meant that books were no longer just illuminated sets of code, highly expensive and reserved for a few. The ancestor of manuals was born, a book oriented towards teaching and learning, and therefore less expensive and accessible to many more readers and students. Furthermore, since the Franciscan and Dominican masters were incardinated in their orders who endowed them with a prebend to live, the ancient tradition of free teaching returned, (initially lay masters were paid). Something that then continued with the creation of thousands of schools of female and male religious orders in modern and contemporary times, as well as with the public school of the twentieth century.

What about today? What remains of this great legacy? First, we must recognize that in the twentieth century something in the transition of teaching from monks-friars-nuns to lay teachers did not work. That gratuity, especially on the side of the teachers, was accompanied by institutions (orders, convents, congregations) that guaranteed them subsistence and a decent life. When teachers became laypeople, the wonderful idea of ​​free knowledge translated into salaries that were much too low, especially in elementary, middle and high schools (and in the first years of university careers), especially in countries where the Church's free educational legacy was stronger. Therefore, once again, we have not been able to politically transform an ethical heritage into a civil justice, for "lack of thought". That ancient Christian culture knew all too well that knowledge is such a precious asset as to be considered divine; and hence viewed it with great attention, removing it from the logic of shameful profit, in order to protect it. Today capitalism knows the economic value of knowledge all too well, and while leaving teachers and PhD students destitute, it is making for-profit education (pro-pretio) one of its most profitable new global industries.

Finally, we arrive at the most precious message of that ancient debate. Those canonists knew that the reason behind the gratuitousness of knowledge is not the absence of value, but rather that it is worth so much to be considered bonum dei: a good from God. A return to the ancient idea that gratuity does not correspond to a price equal to zero but rather to an infinite price. People in ancient times knew that knowledge has a "cost of production", and a very elevated one at that. Hence, making it accessible without paying a price means recognizing that the nature of knowledge is that of a common good, it is not a private market good, but a well of living water, a public square. And as in all common goods, it is the community that bears the costs of production and management, because it recognizes a strategic value in it, and does not want to possibly exclude anyone from its use, especially not the poor. We must not forget that every time a community creates a common good, it is making its poor less poor. Monks, nuns and friars have preserved the nature of knowledge as a common good for a millennium and a half. An infinite legacy, it is up to us to continue to guard the "wells of living water" of yesterday, and dig new ones today.

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The Market and the Temple/15 - Theological prohibitions have been able to generate means of freedom for merchants and intellectuals such as insurance companies and universities.

by Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 14/02/2021

Ancient Christian culture knew that knowledge was a precious, indeed divine, good and protected it from profit. Now, with the logic of capitalism, all we really see are costs and profit.

In the Middle Ages the limit of generative capacity was very evident. The ban on lending money at interest produced a great biodiversity of financial instruments and contracts, from the commendams to the exchange letters, from limited partnership to the birth of insurance policies. Maritime trade could not develop without risk remuneration through some form of interest on the capital lent to the ship owner. Hence, the theological prohibition regarding usury led to the invention of a new contract, that of insurance, splitting the loan into two components: «On the one hand, the pure and simple repayment of a loan, on the other the promise of reward in exchange for the risk involved» (Armando Sapori, "Digressions on insurance", in Studies of economic history III, p. 144). Thus, a theological limit ended up generating a great economic and social innovation.

Another area in which theologically set limits played a decisive role was in the birth of universities. The development of teaching and student communities in the universities is a twin phenomenon of the emergence of merchant companies. The thirteenth century was the century of merchants and the century of universities, which together created Humanism. Both places of freedom, both institutions of the new European spirit. Goliards and merchants put the values ​​of the institutions of the first millennium in crisis. Both supported and animated by the new mendicant orders, who were both scholars in the universities and friends of the merchants. The students were mainly laymen, «to study and even before to live and move in the wake of the teachers, they resorted to the strangest means such as being an acrobat, a juggler or a fool and even putting some occasional small scams into practice » (Sapori, p. 366).

While referring to the holders of ancient knowledge, Pietro Abelardo defined them «the Philistines who keep their knowledge a secret only for themselves, while preventing others from taking advantage of it. Instead, we want to dig wells of living water, and so many and on all public squares, and so rich in water that they will overflow and everyone will be able to quench their thirst» (quoted in Sapori, The universities over the centuries, p. 368). European democracy was born in the government buildings of the new cities, in the companies of merchants and in the universities, where knowledge was created dialectically thereby becoming a public good, if it is indeed true that democracy is «governing by discussing» (in the words of John Stuart Mill and Amartya Sen). The role of this new, more popular knowledge was immense, infinitely greater than we could ever imagine today.

It is not surprising then that these new intellectuals encountered the same hostility already encountered by the merchants, both new groups of people, too free and different to be understood: «Oh Paris, to what extent you fascinate and deceive souls! On the contrary, a happy school is one in which one speaks only of wisdom, and without the need for courses of lessons one learns how to reach eternal life: here one does not buy books» (Pierre de Celles, quoted in Sapori, p. 369). These same detractors of the new universities and the goliards also hated the free municipalities and cities, defined as a "new Babylon", because God does not love cities, as Cain was the founder of the first one (Rupert of Deutz).

The merchant-intellectual analogy, however, does not stop there. In the first millennium, time was not the only thing that belonged to God, something that gave rise to the oldest justification for the prohibition of interest-based loans. Knowledge was also considered a gift from God and as such non-marketable, but to be given freely. Hence, we can easily see how the debates on the prohibition of interest on money were very similar and parallel to the disputes over the prohibition for scholars to be paid for their lessons. Even in the transmission of knowledge, gratuitousness, sine-merit, was the norm, and payment, pro-pretio, the anomaly.

The most authoritative medieval source of this prohibition was Bernard of Clairvaux, who in his commentary on the Song of Songs had written: «Scientia donum Dei est, unde vendi non potest» (science is a gift from God, therefore it cannot be sold). A thesis that had been adopted by the third (1179) and then by the fourth (1215) Lateran Council, then by Pope Gregory IX in 1234 (in the Liber Extra) - the papacy was a great defender of the new universities, which were pontifical institutions. A prohibition that had a great weight in the practice of medieval universities and schools; although the practice (as with usury) often moved in different directions. The canonist Roffredo da Benevento wrote: «In our days it is customary for teachers to take the students’ books as a pledge in order to pay proceeds». The reference to the authority of St. Bernard in matters of gratuity was not accidental. The gratuitous aspect of teaching was in fact a legacy of the great monastic tradition. For many centuries, monasteries were the main, if not the only, schools in Europe. These schools taught faith, but also grammar, music and mathematics, to monks as well as lay people, especially young people. This is where the practice of gratuitousness was affirmed. In a document from 888, we can read the following about the issue of schools: «Ut turpi lucro et negotiationibus non inserviant» (so that shameful profit and business will not be needed). And the Council of London in 1138 reiterated: «Ut scholas suas magistri non locent legendas pro pretio» (teachers in their schools shall not give lessons for a fee, § XVII).

Starting from the thirteenth century, the new masters began to make a distinction. Bartholomew of Brescia argued that a teacher should not teach for money, but could still accept a payment from his students as long as it is offered as a gift and not compulsory. A similar solution, one will recall, to the one that led to the lawfulness of the interest on public debt, understood as a free gift. Still others distinguished between rich and poor teachers and students: where only poor students do not have to pay and only rich teachers should teach for free. The famous canonist from Bologna, Tancredi, for example, specified: «When the teacher receives a safe and protected benefice, he must not ask for money for the education that he provides» (in Emma Montanos Ferrín, "Scientia donum Dei est"). Raimondo de Peñafort, a Dominican, instead defended and reiterated the thesis that science, being a divine gift, cannot be sold, and hence he saw even jurists and doctors, who generally were paid, as antagonists.

The gratuitous aspect of knowledge was further strengthened and relaunched, when Franciscans and Dominicans entered the new universities en masse around the middle of the thirteenth century and founded their studia, often connected with those universities. Of the 447 known masters in theology in Bologna between 1364 and 1500, 419 were Mendicants. The Dominicans were at a greater "charismatic" ease with their studies, due to their preaching charism. The issue was more complex and less linear the Franciscans. A soul of the order has never calmly accepted studies and universities: «We do not see Parisi, who has destroyed Asisi» (Jacopone da Todi, "La Laude", 92). The fact is that the Franciscans also generated scholars of great value, among the major theologians of the Middle Ages. Dominicans and Franciscans made universities privileged places for the recruitment of new vocations, and some teachers (for example, Alexander of Hales) took up the habit. It did not stop there however. Those early Mendicants were very attracted and seduced by the new universities. Before becoming the holders of theology faculties, at first they went to Paris or Oxford to learn, fascinated by that new world and that freedom of teachers and students that felt so similar to theirs. They were sons and propagators of the same spirit. The very happy encounter between these two different and similar worlds gave rise to an extraordinary and decisive process for European civilization.

The side effects of the arrival of the mendicants in the universities were many. Regarding books, for example. The pricing of books was subject to careful regulation (due to the pauper related prestige) especially among the Franciscans. This limit meant that books were no longer just illuminated sets of code, highly expensive and reserved for a few. The ancestor of manuals was born, a book oriented towards teaching and learning, and therefore less expensive and accessible to many more readers and students. Furthermore, since the Franciscan and Dominican masters were incardinated in their orders who endowed them with a prebend to live, the ancient tradition of free teaching returned, (initially lay masters were paid). Something that then continued with the creation of thousands of schools of female and male religious orders in modern and contemporary times, as well as with the public school of the twentieth century.

What about today? What remains of this great legacy? First, we must recognize that in the twentieth century something in the transition of teaching from monks-friars-nuns to lay teachers did not work. That gratuity, especially on the side of the teachers, was accompanied by institutions (orders, convents, congregations) that guaranteed them subsistence and a decent life. When teachers became laypeople, the wonderful idea of ​​free knowledge translated into salaries that were much too low, especially in elementary, middle and high schools (and in the first years of university careers), especially in countries where the Church's free educational legacy was stronger. Therefore, once again, we have not been able to politically transform an ethical heritage into a civil justice, for "lack of thought". That ancient Christian culture knew all too well that knowledge is such a precious asset as to be considered divine; and hence viewed it with great attention, removing it from the logic of shameful profit, in order to protect it. Today capitalism knows the economic value of knowledge all too well, and while leaving teachers and PhD students destitute, it is making for-profit education (pro-pretio) one of its most profitable new global industries.

Finally, we arrive at the most precious message of that ancient debate. Those canonists knew that the reason behind the gratuitousness of knowledge is not the absence of value, but rather that it is worth so much to be considered bonum dei: a good from God. A return to the ancient idea that gratuity does not correspond to a price equal to zero but rather to an infinite price. People in ancient times knew that knowledge has a "cost of production", and a very elevated one at that. Hence, making it accessible without paying a price means recognizing that the nature of knowledge is that of a common good, it is not a private market good, but a well of living water, a public square. And as in all common goods, it is the community that bears the costs of production and management, because it recognizes a strategic value in it, and does not want to possibly exclude anyone from its use, especially not the poor. We must not forget that every time a community creates a common good, it is making its poor less poor. Monks, nuns and friars have preserved the nature of knowledge as a common good for a millennium and a half. An infinite legacy, it is up to us to continue to guard the "wells of living water" of yesterday, and dig new ones today.

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When knowledge was a common and free good

When knowledge was a common and free good

The Market and the Temple/15 - Theological prohibitions have been able to generate means of freedom for merchants and intellectuals such as insurance companies and universities. by Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire 14/02/2021 Ancient Christian culture knew that knowledge was a precious, indeed ...
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The Market and the Temple/14 - Literature is a metaphor for the spirit of the past while also helping us to understand the mercantile ethics of the Middle Ages

by Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire  07/02/2021

The moral beauty of an entrepreneur does not only depend on his skill, because wealth is and will always be tragically fleeting. Virtue continues to fight mere luck.

Literature has the ability to reveal the spirit of the past. Moreover, if the literature in question is of great quality, then the spirit it reveals will transcend time and space. However, when literature is immense, its spirit is forever and for everyone. We can - and we should - read documents, archival materials and chronicles on mercantile ethics between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, to understand something. Then, one day, we reread the Divine Comedy and the Decameron, and suddenly we understand something else, something different, something that will throw a different light on all those documents and chronicles as well.

[fulltext] =>

Dante was great in many things, but not in understanding the new economy in which he was living: «He is completely blind to the sense of economics» (Ernesto Sestan, "Dante and Florence", 1967, p. 290). Although very close to the Franciscan movement, he did not follow the line of Pietro di Giovanni Olivi and the other theological-economist friars who, observing the merchants in the cities, were among the first to understand that not all trading was uncivilized, that not all interest-bearing loans were usurers. Dante, on the other hand, remained linked to Aristotle (and perhaps to Thomas), and thus did not enter the fourteenth century and the new economic dimension of Humanism, where the art of trading also became an issue closely related to civilization and Christian virtue.

Instead, Dante looked at the merchants with a rather aristocratic eye, with the regret of a noble Fiorenza that did no longer exist. In Dante’s eyes, the urbanized peasants, who had become rich thanks to trade and the banks, were the first cause of the moral decadence of his city, the abandonment of all "courtesy and valor": «The new people and the immediate profits have generated pride and excess, in you, Florence, that it already has you crying» (The Divine Comedy, Inferno, Song XVI, 73-75). His Comedy is filled with praise for agricultural work, for the values ​​of the countryside, for a social order based on the virtues of chivalry. Florence had by now been occupied by the arts, and politics was dominated by merchants. His city «brings forth and spreads abroad the cursèd flower» (Paradiso, Song IX, 131), the florin, which was corrupting customs and virtues. And with the expression "women for coin" (Inferno, Song XVIII, 66), Dante indicates prostitution or perhaps falsehood: «When one deceives another, that is called to coin» (Ottimo, Commentary on the Comedy/Commento alla Commedia, ca 1334).

Not even one single merchant can be found in his Paradise, and when Cacciaguida, his great-great-grandfather, praised Cangrande della Scala, a descendant of a family of merchants, he did so precisely because of «his virtue in not caring for silver or worries» (Paradiso XVII, 84). By now, however, his Florentines were devoted only to banking and commerce, and therefore no longer to honour and virtue: «this fact is Florentine as are trading and markets» (Paradiso XVI, 61).

Dante, as we know, puts the usurers in Hell, among the violent sinners "against God, nature and art" - the usurers add up to this triple violence: usury is a negation of God's law, it is against nature and it is a negation of ancient merchant art. He finds them sitting on the ground, as in life, but no longer on the pavement of the squares of Florence on those red carpets that characterized them, but on the fiery sand. And their hands, used incessantly in life to handle money, are now used to defend themselves from the lapilli of fire, like animals swatting away insects with their paws (Inferno XVII, 49-51). There, together with other Florentine usurers, Dante also finds Rinaldo degli Scrovegni, a famous usurer from Padua and a client who commissioned artwork from Giotto. Unlike Saint Augustine, to Dante the donations of the usurers at their moment of death were not enough to save them: in fact, they remained in hell; their gifts did not even gain them access to purgatory. A fortune earned the wrong way did not redeem a person’s life, even by donating it, at the very end, to charity.

Dante's vision of trading and wealth in relation to virtue is reiterated and further developed in the "Convivio": «Not virtue but trading» (Dante, Convivio I, 8). In it, merchants are called miserable: «How much fear is there in one who feels wealthy in himself, while walking, while staying, while not merely watching but also while sleeping, to not just lose what he has but to loose himself due to having! The miserable merchants who travel around the world know this well». The only virtue of money lies in depriving oneself of it, but during life: «Virtue... something which cannot be by possessing those [riches], but by letting go of the ones one possesses ... In which case usury is good, when, it is transmuted into others for a wider use, and it is no longer in one’s possession» (Dante, Convivio IV, XIII). This is all Boethius, but one can also discern Seneca and many of the Fathers of the Church in these words.

Dante, however, surprises us with a twist, even when it comes to economics - the greatest authors are always even greater than their own ideologies. Despised as an icon of the devil, the coin can even be found in Paradise as a metaphor for faith. The dialogue between Dante and St. Peter includes the following line: «"This coin’s weight and alloy has been well tried: but tell me if you have it in your purse.’ At which I said: ‘Yes, I have it there, so bright and round, that there is no perhaps for me in its stamp"» (Paradiso XXIV, 83-87). Here, we have a return of the medieval tradition of Christus monetarius, of Christ as an expert moneychanger capable of recognizing the true faith (money) from a false one. For some years now, we have known ("Dante's Diplomatic Code"/"Codice diplomatico dantesco", 2016), that Dante's father worked in Florence as a moneychanger and a lender, perhaps even as a usurer. Hence, perhaps, the reason behind Dante's negative view on coins and money. With Boccaccio, however, the landscape changed drastically. Unlike Dante, Boccaccio came from a family of merchants. He himself had practiced trading in Naples as a boy, and was closely acquainted with the mercantile world, its myths, its culture, its vices and its virtues (Vittore Branca, "The saga of the merchants"/"L’epopea dei mercatanti", 1956).

Dante was looking at a new world, from the outside and with clear detachment, a world that he still did not understand and feared and in which he could see its many imbalances. A few decades later, in "The Decameron", Boccaccio, was looking at a world that had already changed, something that serves as an even greater proof of all its magnificence. He looks at it from within, and sees both its vices along with its virtues. The world of the merchants became the best representation of the comedy of its time, no longer a divine comedy, but now entirely human and market-like. With Bocaccio, "Virtue beats luck", which in the Middle Ages was the motto of both kings and knights, took a decisive step into the community of the merchants as well, the protagonists of almost all of his stories. His virtues are also and above all those of the merchants. During the course of the first day, while looking at the vices of the merchants, Bocaccio does not fail to praise the Jewish usurer Melchizedek (I, 3), for how he had managed to get out of the trap in which Saladin had put him with the help of his intelligence, (which one of the three great religions is the true one?). In the second story of the first day, the merchant Giannotto di Civignì is defined as «very loyal and honest and with a great trading deal in drapery work», who had a «singular friendship with a Jewish man, called Abraham, who likewise was a merchant of rather great honesty and loyalty» (The Decameron, I, 2,4). Giannotto sent Abraham to Rome hoping that he would convert by getting to know the life of Christians more closely. However, after having seen the worst vices of the Roman Church, Abraham returned to his friend and told him: «I see your religion continually increasing and becoming more lucid and clearer, it seems to me that the Holy Spirit is its foundation and support, and deservedly so. For this reason I tell you that I would not let myself not be a Christian for anything in this world (The Decameron I, 2,27). His conversion does not take place despite the sins he sees in Christians, but thanks to them.

The Novella of Messer Torello (Novella di Torello del Maestro Dino del Garbo, Anonymous, X, 9), with Saladin disguised as a merchant of Cyprus, arriving in Pavia to gather information regarding the preparation of the next crusade, also leaves us with a beautiful picture of generosity and mercantile virtues. Trading is shown as an alternative profession to the trade of arms, thus revealing a great vocation of the economy of all ages: the same ports from which weapons of war have sailed and still set sail, have seen and still see goods of peace set sail as well. And we could go on ... Boccaccio inhabits the ambivalence of his merchant time. He knows how to discover its vices, such as those of Musciatto Franzesi, «very rich and great merchant in France», who has no qualms about using the notary Ciappelletto, who «is called to help and wins so many quarrels while wrongly swearing to tell the truth in the name of his faith... He was perhaps the worst man to ever have been born» (I, 1,7-15).

However, while describing the vices of these new heroes, Boccaccio is also able to see their typical virtues. This too is greatness. With him, the classical idea, that goes back at the very least to Aristotle and was still central to Dante, comes to and end: namely that luck only affects external goods, and that therefore virtue must orient itself only to the interior goods of the soul, the only ones that are not vanitas. To Boccaccio, however, the commitment to external goods can indeed be virtuous precisely because of their vulnerability and fragility. Because committing to and being industrious about something uncertain and unsafe is more commendable than committing oneself only to unbreakable and safe things. So spending your life in the art of trading, a good thanks to its fragile nature, due to it being subject to misfortune and almost never governed by the law of merit, makes trading something worthy of praise. To depend on luck, to be aware of it, to accept this addiction and sometimes to fail because of it, is a merchant’s virtue. What we are faced with here is a veritable reversal of the classical Aristotelian ethics, of Cicero and of the first Christian century, which still have many things of importance to tell us today.

In the age of Boccaccio, the moral conscience of the Christian West transformed luck, and being exposed to it, from vice to virtue. Telling us something important: there is an ethical value in committing to fragile things. Almost all goods are, but above all those goods that we do not control, because they depend on the loyalty and honesty of our collaborators, on the fairness of our customers and suppliers, on the non-corruption of politics and on our fellow citizens, and on the infinite variables of the markets over which we have no control. This fragility, the ordinary condition of a merchant’s life, was seen as a moral quality. An entrepreneur has his own form of moral beauty precisely because he does not only depend on his skill, his wealth is and will always be tragically fleeting. Virtue continues to fight luck, but the first virtue of a merchant lies in the awareness of being radically dependent on that luck that he must contend with and which he cannot always conquer. One day in Europe, we realized that spending your life dedicated to things that we do not control and on which we depend in order to live is actually something morally precious, and that moving every day on the edge of the precipice is not only a technical skill, it is also an ethical excellence. And that the inevitable fragility of life, if we accept it, can become a civil virtue.

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The Market and the Temple/14 - Literature is a metaphor for the spirit of the past while also helping us to understand the mercantile ethics of the Middle Ages

by Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire  07/02/2021

The moral beauty of an entrepreneur does not only depend on his skill, because wealth is and will always be tragically fleeting. Virtue continues to fight mere luck.

Literature has the ability to reveal the spirit of the past. Moreover, if the literature in question is of great quality, then the spirit it reveals will transcend time and space. However, when literature is immense, its spirit is forever and for everyone. We can - and we should - read documents, archival materials and chronicles on mercantile ethics between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, to understand something. Then, one day, we reread the Divine Comedy and the Decameron, and suddenly we understand something else, something different, something that will throw a different light on all those documents and chronicles as well.

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When fragility became an economic and civil virtue

When fragility became an economic and civil virtue

The Market and the Temple/14 - Literature is a metaphor for the spirit of the past while also helping us to understand the mercantile ethics of the Middle Ages by Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire  07/02/2021 The moral beauty of an entrepreneur does not only depend on his skill, because wealth ...
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    [title] => Good trading will always be a tactile and visual art form
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The Market and the Temple/13 - The merchant writers hand down pages of life and economic stories in the name of competence, sobriety, beauty and faith to us.

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire le 31/01/2021

Our economy can only become civil and civilized when it becomes a relationship and learns how to unite different people and inhabit contradictions and ambivalences in a significant and generative way.

The spirit of the market economy between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance was different, at times very different, from that of modern capitalism. The reason that it is important to return to the questions of that economic period lies in this difference, because in the subsequent centuries capitalism did not answer those same questions differently, it simply changed the questions. That first mercantile ethic developed within a world which, while it saw the wealth of the great merchants grow and sought a way to keep them within the enclosure of the sheep of Christ, also saw the Franciscan movement struggling with Popes and theologians in order to obtain the privilege of the most high poverty, of being able to cross the world without becoming domini (masters) of the goods they used. A constant tragic tension ran between the Book of Commercial Reason and the Book of Religious Reason. One challenging and limiting the other, and so trading did not become an idol and religion did not turn into a cage.

[fulltext] =>

We cannot understand European economic ethics if we do not interpret it starting from these tensions and ambivalences, if we do not see the wealth within the poverty and the poverty within the wealth. Those merchants became very rich, but that wealth remained a wounded wealth, because, unlike what would happen in modern times, it was neither immediate nor evident that wealth was a blessing in itself, while it was immediate and evident that evangelical poverty was a blessing. However, even in this case, the paradoxes and ambivalences turned out to be highly generative.

We can also read it in the volume "Merchant writers" (“Mercanti scrittori” edited by Vittore Branca). Among these stories, "Memories"/“I ricordi” by Giovanni di Pagolo Morelli (Florence, 1371-1444) stands out in particular, where the reason for trading is perfectly integrated with the reason of family and with the reasons of state of the city of Florence. Morelli also gives advice and recommendations to his "pupils", children and grandchildren, a distillation of generations of mercantile wisdom ("Memories"/"I ricordi", III, p. 177). The first sense of a merchant, the really essential one, is touch. He must touch his products, because the decisive secrets behind mercantile knowledge are learned by touching the goods that are bought and sold. The clothes, the pieces of leather and the fabrics are known by picking them up in your hands, and handling them. The first meaning of a manager refers to the hands, to the stables, where a horse is tamed by the use of the hands. An entrepreneur who loses contact with the things he trades, who does not exercise touch (con-tact), who does not test them by touching them with his fingers, will lose competence and put himself in the hands of others, on whom he will end up depending entirely. In this, the division or delegation of labour does not apply: the entrepreneur must distribute the different roles, he can and must delegate extensively, but not the touch of his goods, this role he must keep for himself. The Italian entrepreneurs grew and developed by touching their goods. They were as, or even more, competent in the issues of their activity than their workers and technicians. This tactile competence was their first strength. Hence, it is obvious that this "capitalism" began its decline when it put companies in the hands of managers who no longer touched the things they bought and sold, because they were experts in tools, but almost never in the hands, touch and handling of the products of their business in question.

Furthermore, Sir Giovanni tells us that a good merchant must travel the world, visiting the markets of many cities in person. He will need staff and buyers, of course, but he will not become a good merchant if he does not acquire direct knowledge of the places and the people, if he does not associate with them directly. As long as an entrepreneur has the passion, energy, enthusiasm and desire to go to trade fairs in person, to see and meet with customers, suppliers and bankers "with his own eyes", he will still have control of his company, hold the reins in his hands, managing it ("Memories"/"I ricordi", III p. 178). If, on the other hand, he begins to spend his days only in meetings in an office and in five-star restaurants, even if he does not realise it, the end has already begun, because he has in fact lost the touch and the eyes for the art of trading.

Then, there is the second commandment of mercantile ethics: «Go ahead firmly and trust, but do not be gullible: the more someone shows himself in words to be loyal and knowledgeable, the less you trust them; and whoever speaks to you, making an offer, do not trust every point that he makes. The great talkers, braggarts and full of coaxing, enjoy hearing them word by word, but do not trust them at all. Those who have switched between multiple activities, companions or teachers, have nothing to do with them» (p. 178). When an entrepreneur begins to surround himself with "know-it-alls", chatterboxes, vain, great speakers, he has already entered his sunset avenue. But to recognize them you need to encounter them outside the golf courses and luxury hotels, because it is an ancient law of trading that you do not know a person until you see that person working. It is exceedingly naive to think that you will get to know clients or buyers in a conference. Work is the great sieve that discerns the chaff of mere chatter from the flour of good trade.

The third: «Never demonstrate wealth: keep it hidden and always give to understand in both words and deeds that you have half of what you own. By keeping this instinct and attitude, you will never be too deceived» (p. 178). Here, we are not so much faced with a tax evasion technique (but perhaps so, for some); there is more to it, an attitude, a whole lifestyle. Those early merchants were well aware that social envy is degenerative for everyone. Civil wealth must not produce envy, but emulation, that is, the desire for imitation. However, in a world of little social mobility, as the medieval one was after all, ostentatious wealth often only serves to create envy and conflict. Showing it off beyond any limits (and here the great theme of the lawful intensity of wealth returns) does not help anyone: «Do not brag about your great gains. Do the opposite: if you earn a thousand florins, then say you earned five hundred; if you trade a thousand, say the same, and if they are seen, say, "They belong to someone else". Do not cover yourself in expenses and bills. If you are rich of ten thousand florins, live as if you had five» (p. 189). Sobriety remained a great virtue for entrepreneurs and industrialists for centuries. Their children often went to school with the children of their workers, attending the same churches, weddings, and funerals. They were "gentlemen" but they were also com-panions, at least their children were companions of ours. When, a few decades ago, competition shifted from production to consumption, the centre of capitalism shifted from the entrepreneurs to the managers, and capitalism became a huge ostentatious mechanism producing a lot of social envy and frustration, especially in times of crisis.

In his "Book of good habits" ("Libro dei buoni costumi"), Paolo da Castaldo (1320-1370), gives a lecture on a fourth pillar of that same business ethics: «Always have the best and most sufficient elements. And do not look at the cost because "a good rent or wages for good staff was never expensive"; the bad ones are the expensive ones» (p. 34). Infinite wisdom, which we have forgotten in a capitalism where a manager's high salary is the first and often only indicator of his quality. Paul reminds us here that the "bad element" is expensive because he is generally more interested in money than in trading, and that a much too elevated salary can thus become a mechanism of adverse selection of people.

The fifth: «Make sure that what you have done well is written down in your books, do not forgive the pen and explain yourself well in the books. And you will live free, feeling safe and firm in your valsente (capital)» (p. 178-9). "Writing beautifully" is the merit of a merchant, in the words of the merchant and poet Dino Compagni ("The Chronicle and the Song of Merit"/("La Cronica e la Canzone del Pregio"). We would not have had Italian and European civil humanism without the beautiful writing of the merchants, and we would not have had their extraordinary commercial success without the care and esteem for writing and letters: «The pupil should strive to be virtuous, learn science and grammar, and let him learn a bit of abacus» (p. 192). This does not mean that the merchants were (or should be) teachers or professors. The fine writing of merchants is different from that of professors, but it is good and necessary for the common good. Florence was capable of centuries of extraordinary economy, because the merchants nourished poets and artists with their wealth, but Dante and Boccaccio nourished the merchants with their beauty, which thus entered the books of reason and that fascinating speech that enchanted the whole world. Merchants in turn enchanted them with beautiful fabrics, but also with poetic words, with their beautiful speaking and writing.

Finally: «In conclusion, these above-mentioned things are useful for becoming an expert and tending to the world, for making oneself well liked and being honoured and respected» (p. 196). Benevolence, good reputation, honour and esteem were invisible but essential goods, more so than profit. Wealth obtained with bad a reputation was worth nothing. The second paradise that those ancient merchants sought was a legacy of good reputation and honour to be left to their children. Dying rich and dishonoured was their real idea of hell. Without taking the matter of good reputation into consideration, we cannot understand the phenomenon of the sale of indulgences. When nearing death, those merchants and bankers donated a large part of their assets to the Church or the Municipality, they did not do it just to spend less years in purgatory; they also wanted to avoid the hell of bad fame on earth - for them and for their families. While we are leaving public debt to our children, the legacy of the ancient merchants was also fame and honour.

All the ambivalence of those first merchants, but also their "virtue" and their honour, lies behind our "capitalism" still supported by families, and despised because it sometimes risks becoming "familist". The conjunction "and" played a decisive role in our first economic and social humanism: money and God, spirit and merchandise, beauty and wealth, luxury and poverty. Words that collided and clashed, and somewhere in between life was born. We are still in need of a conjunction, certainly very different from the medieval one. Our economy, however, will become civil and civilized only when it becomes a relationship and learns how to unite different people and inhabit contradictions and ambivalences in a significant and generative way.

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The Market and the Temple/13 - The merchant writers hand down pages of life and economic stories in the name of competence, sobriety, beauty and faith to us.

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire le 31/01/2021

Our economy can only become civil and civilized when it becomes a relationship and learns how to unite different people and inhabit contradictions and ambivalences in a significant and generative way.

The spirit of the market economy between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance was different, at times very different, from that of modern capitalism. The reason that it is important to return to the questions of that economic period lies in this difference, because in the subsequent centuries capitalism did not answer those same questions differently, it simply changed the questions. That first mercantile ethic developed within a world which, while it saw the wealth of the great merchants grow and sought a way to keep them within the enclosure of the sheep of Christ, also saw the Franciscan movement struggling with Popes and theologians in order to obtain the privilege of the most high poverty, of being able to cross the world without becoming domini (masters) of the goods they used. A constant tragic tension ran between the Book of Commercial Reason and the Book of Religious Reason. One challenging and limiting the other, and so trading did not become an idol and religion did not turn into a cage.

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Good trading will always be a tactile and visual art form

Good trading will always be a tactile and visual art form

The Market and the Temple/13 - The merchant writers hand down pages of life and economic stories in the name of competence, sobriety, beauty and faith to us. By Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire le 31/01/2021 Our economy can only become civil and civilized when it becomes a relationship and lea...
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The Market and the Temple/12 - The Latin and pre-capitalist humanism of medieval cities and merchants and the critique of the spirit of capitalism.

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire  24/01/2021

Franciscans and Dominicans changed the world: being rich among those who praise poverty is very different from being rich among those who, even religiously, praise wealth.

The progressive emergence of mercantile ethics in the European Middle Ages was something much more complex than the simple secularization of ancient religious ethics. The process that led from medieval market economy to capitalism has not been linear; there were plenty of interruptions, deviations and leaps along the way. The medieval merchant was first medieval of nature then a merchant. Along with customers and suppliers on European trade routes, he also encountered demons, spirits and saints, and as he grew rich on earth, his mind turned to heaven. Inhabitants by vocation and in every season of the "middle ground", those merchants were both men of their time and men out of time, rooted in their age and yet anticipating new times. Like all innovators, they constantly moved between the already and the not-yet, the last representatives of a world and the first of another that did not yet exist. They stood on the crest of time, and from there they could look farther, anchored in the present while speculating about the future. The first and most important community in which they lived was not the societas mercatorum but the Christian community, their first law was not the lex mercatoria but that of the Church. In fact, a social mortgage weighed on their wealth, a spiritual fire that heated the money that burned in their hands if they did not share it with the community.

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In one of the first books on trading we find the following words: «What the true trading law must contain in itself: Always applying straightforwardness will benefit it, long providence will benefit it, and what it promises will not go amiss... Making use of the Church and donating to God. Prohibiting usury and games of hazard, writing of reason well and not erring. Amen» (Francesco Balducci Pegolotti,"The practice of trading"/, "La pratica della mercatura", c. 1340, p. XXIV). "True and merchant law" thus lived on an intertwining of commercial practices and fear of God, of economic reason and theological reason, of the ethics of guilt and the ethics of shame. The search for individual happiness made no sense, if it was not preceded, ordered and balanced by the search for felicitas publica. The one so dear to the Romans, which here encountered the Christian theology of the community as the body of Christ, and therefore with the philosophy of the Common Good. The pursuit of public happiness was a direct, intentional pursuit, which took concrete form by renouncing considerable parts and aspects of private goods (not 2% of profits...) in order to realize common goods. We are therefore on the opposite side of the modern philosophy of the "invisible hand", according to which public wealth arises, indirectly, from the individual search for private wealth. In medieval humanism common good was born by subtracting resources from private goods, in capitalism it would be born by adding up private interests (the greater my good, the greater the common good).

When a new economic spirit began to develop in Southern Europe with the second millennium, that spirit was certainly new but it was not yet the true capitalist spirit, if it is true that the latter consists in looking at "wealth as the most suitable means for an ever better satisfaction of all possible needs "(Amintore Fanfani,"Catholicism and Protestantism in the historical formation of capitalism"/"Cattolicesimo e protestantesimo nella formazione storica del capitalismo", 1934, pp. 15-16). Wealth was very present in Florence in the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, but it could not satisfy all needs; it did not give social esteem, inner peace, nor did it provide a path to paradise: or rather, wealth also satisfied (part of) these needs when the rich freed themselves from it, by giving it away. We must not forget that throughout the last part of the Middle Ages the influence of the Franciscans, the Dominicans and the religious orders on economic and civil life was great, at times very much so. The squares and fairs were all populated by friars and monks who, with their mere presence, reminded the merchants of hell and purgatory; they were their confessors, counselors and spiritual assistants, the preachers were imposing figures who did not leave any businessman indifferent - perhaps only the Lenten preachers managed to impress the people more than the wealth and beauty of the great merchants. The new mercantile riches were embedded in a religious and cultural context that praised poverty. The Franciscans and Dominicans had really changed the world, in a way and with a force that we can no longer even begin to imagine. Thanks to them, the Christian ideal was evangelical poverty, not wealth. It was the ideal for the friars and the nuns, but also for the laity, many of whom were included in their Third Orders.

In Latin countries wealth was good only if it was shared, and only if it also became public wealth, because the centre of civil life continued to be the community. In the Latin Middle Ages, wealth was shared through donations and wills, in Latin modernity it would be shared through the welfare state. The notary ser Lapo Mazzei wrote the following to the very wealthy merchant Francesco di Marco Datini: «Seeing that the Rule of Saint Augustine was not observed in Siena and other villages, twelve friars, with one of their elders (a so called holy person), left Siena for a place in the near vicinity, a poor humble place in a wood, to live according to the Rule, in poverty. … They wish to let you know, if it pleases you, that be it on the coast, uphill or on a plain, it is nothing for them; because with a little bit of help, simple bread would be enough for them» ("Letters from a notary to a merchant"/("Lettere di un notaro ad un mercante", 1880, vol. 2, p. 132). In this and many other letters, Mazzei asks his "father", (as he calls him), to help convents, monasteries, and private families, economically, to buy sacred objects, and at the end of his life he has him write a new testament in 1410 where he leaves (almost) all his extraordinary wealth to the charitable foundation of the "Ceppo dei poveri" in Prato. In another letter, Mazzei lectures his merchant on the nature of true riches: «Those who are certainly disordered, and ignorant of what a man's wealth is, like blind people believe that wealth is to possess a lot of goods purchased in whatever way possible. They, as false instigators, call good evil and evil good» (L. Mazzei, p. 154). Mazzei was a layman, yet for Datini he was a true spiritual companion, the main protagonist of their conversion. Faith was culture, not just a religious matter - the Middle Ages were much more secular than we can imagine, even inside the walls of the monasteries and convents. The blessed Sister Chiara Gambacorti, a Dominican, always wrote the following to Datini: «We are poor; and yes, as poor people, for the love of Christ we beg that in our need you often give us the help which God inspires you to offer» (L. Mazzei, p. 319).

An essential aspect of the relationship between wealth and poverty in that humanism emerges from these letters. The poverty chosen by the sisters, which puts them in a necessary condition of help, creates a moral obligation in the rich to help them, which also performed a function of redistribution of wealth, turning it into something good. A mutual advantage at the center of the civil pact that supported the ethical system of the Middle Ages, which rendered its churches and cities splendid, and which still make us live. An unjustly imprisoned poet wrote the following to Datini, while asking him for a loan (not alms): «I am not ashamed of anything and even less of being poor» (Jacopo del Pecora, p. 345). Poverty in that world was not a source of shame; misery was, but not evangelical poverty, because it was an imitation of Christ (and of their saints), and getting to know it was considered a moral privilege.

There had always been merchants in Europe, since the Roman Empire; but the few great merchants of the thirteenth century were different. They operated on international markets, they knew the countries of the world, they were very rich, spectacularly so, and above all they helped to make their cities rich and splendid as well. They were rich, yes, but they were not yet capitalists, because they were possessed by a spirit still medieval in nature: «For a pre-capitalist, not only must one discriminate between licit and illicit means for the acquisition of wealth, (something that holds equally true, while applying different criteria, for a capitalist as well), but a discrimination must be made between a lawful versus an illegal intensity in the use of those lawful means. For a pre-capitalist, morality not only condemns the illegal means, but also limits the use of lawful ones» (Fanfani, p. 18). Pre-capitalist economic morality moved in a space marked by two pre-Cartesian axes: lawfulness and intensity. Two axes linked together, because the evolution from the 13th century of the lawfulness of interest and profit also had consequences in terms of intensity (if, within certain limits, making money with the help of money becomes legitimate, then indirectly it also confers a more positive ethical status on wealth itself). With the birth of the capitalist spirit, the second axis (intensity) disappeared and only the lawful-illegal axis remained, increasingly defined by the laws of the States and less and less by religion. Intensity was no longer subject to the judgment of lawfulness, and in the Protestant context of the time, wealth became an indicator of God's blessing. Hence, here we are, in the midst of the ethics of capitalism. It was consequently a radical change of spirit towards wealth that created capitalism, when, suddenly, individual enrichment became a blessing.

The ever-present, though not new, question is then: Was the spirit of modern capitalism a development of the economic spirit of the medieval merchants, or was it a betrayal of it? Was the DNA of the Bards and Datinis of the time the same as that of the Rockefellers and Bill Gates of our age? Or maybe there was a leap of species? The Catholic economic school of thought, which starting from Toniolo reaches Barbieri by way of Fanfani, has interpreted the birth of capitalism, and therefore the change of the economic spirit in the passage from the Middle Ages to Modernity, as a decline and moral decay of the economic spirit: «While the Reform released the bridle of suffered and less honest gains with its informative spirit, it informed and profoundly shook the Catholic scientific tradition and canonical legislation, snatching the moral discipline and aspect of economic relations from the Church, which had always aimed to keep man up in the face of capital. It is from that moment that the no longer counterbalanced evolution of capitalist economy began» (Giuseppe Toniolo, "The modern capitalist economy"/"L’economia capitalistica moderna", 1893, p. 221). Even with some distinctions between one author and another, these Catholic scholars interpreted modern capitalism as a betrayal of late medieval humanism. The dominant culture in the twentieth century considered this "Catholic" reading to be backward and altogether wrong. However, a capitalism that is no longer "counterbalanced" and which is deteriorating the planet and increasing inequalities, should it not make us reopen a new season of critique of the spirit of capitalism?

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The Market and the Temple/12 - The Latin and pre-capitalist humanism of medieval cities and merchants and the critique of the spirit of capitalism.

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire  24/01/2021

Franciscans and Dominicans changed the world: being rich among those who praise poverty is very different from being rich among those who, even religiously, praise wealth.

The progressive emergence of mercantile ethics in the European Middle Ages was something much more complex than the simple secularization of ancient religious ethics. The process that led from medieval market economy to capitalism has not been linear; there were plenty of interruptions, deviations and leaps along the way. The medieval merchant was first medieval of nature then a merchant. Along with customers and suppliers on European trade routes, he also encountered demons, spirits and saints, and as he grew rich on earth, his mind turned to heaven. Inhabitants by vocation and in every season of the "middle ground", those merchants were both men of their time and men out of time, rooted in their age and yet anticipating new times. Like all innovators, they constantly moved between the already and the not-yet, the last representatives of a world and the first of another that did not yet exist. They stood on the crest of time, and from there they could look farther, anchored in the present while speculating about the future. The first and most important community in which they lived was not the societas mercatorum but the Christian community, their first law was not the lex mercatoria but that of the Church. In fact, a social mortgage weighed on their wealth, a spiritual fire that heated the money that burned in their hands if they did not share it with the community.

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Where poverty is not a matter of shame and wealth is all about sharing

Where poverty is not a matter of shame and wealth is all about sharing

The Market and the Temple/12 - The Latin and pre-capitalist humanism of medieval cities and merchants and the critique of the spirit of capitalism. By Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire  24/01/2021 Franciscans and Dominicans changed the world: being rich among those who praise poverty is very di...
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The Market and the Temple/11 - The weaving of relationships that Tuscan Francesco Datini made great is exemplary. Pessimism, cynicism, envy and distrust are the great capital sins of any business.

by Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire  17/01/2021

Virtuous and successful trade belongs to those who work both for money and by vocation. Both those two things together. Wealth, like happiness, comes while (also) seeking something more.

Those who observe economic life from afar often end up missing the best elements of this aspect of life. They see incentives, meetings, offices, algorithms, rationality, profits and debts. They hardly ever realize, however, that behind the strategies, contracts and business schemes there are people, and among them, there are some who really put all the meat on the fire, all their passion and intelligence; their life into those companies. From afar and from the outside, we see the traces of that work, but we rarely see the body of those who leave those traces, and we almost never see their soul. Nevertheless, when we are able to see the souls, in those same enterprises we discern both spirits and demons, angels rising and falling from heaven.

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The letters, diaries and memoirs of Italian and European merchants of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries are precious sources because they let us enter the souls of the people inside the merchants in the auroral phase of this profession. The life and letters of Francesco di Marco Datini (1335-1410) feature some extraordinary and exciting elements. Francesco was the son of Marco (from Datino), a butcher from Prato who died, together with his wife and two of four children, during the plague of 1348. Francesco was raised by Piera, their neighbor – yes, the "dark" Middle Ages included things like this as well. After a short period working in Florence as an apprentice, at fifteen Francesco left for Avignon, where he first became a shop boy and then began his trade as a merchant. He founded a real multinational business, with companies in Prato, Avignon, Florence, Pisa, Barcelona and Valencia, boasting a patrimony of over 100 thousand florins by the end of his long life, which he left for charity. Europe was built above all by monks and merchants, spirit and commerce, who together ended up doing wonderful things.

In the thirty-two years he spent in Avignon, Datini therefore achieved a considerable wealth, so much so that when he returned to Prato he was called «Rich Francesco» (Paolo Nanni, Reasoning among merchants/Ragionare tra mercanti: for a reinterpretation of the personality of Francesco di Marco Datini). He gave life to an innovative business system, a real holding company. Each company had its own economic and legal autonomy, but the Florentine company "Francesco Datini and companions" held the majority shares of that complex corporate network, which unfolded in the main European town squares, centred on the production and trade of wool, silk and "anything one wished to trade". Such a mercantile network was based above all on an exceptionally complex and dense web of relationships. And it is in the art of trading understood as the art of relationships that Datini's true genius is revealed.

With him, the character of the merchant truly stands out, his habitus, very similar to the monk's habit, understood as an existential stance, a way of being in the world. Trading coincides with being a merchant, a profession with destiny. In one of his letters, Datini writes that if he were to continue to work only for the money it would not be worth it: «Our profession brings with it so many things that you end up paying more money than the castle is worth» (Datini, letter from 1378). In a letter from 1386, his young wife Margaret reproached him that the «good life» that he had promised her, never arrived: «You always preach that you will have a good life ... This has been said for ten years already and yet today I am less able to rest than ever: this is your fault». A merchant's activity ends up coinciding and merging with his life: «I am resolved to act as the medic who while he lives medicates» (1388).

Scrolling through his letters, preserved in the State Archives of Prato, one cannot help but to be struck by some of the aspects of that mercantile ethic. First of all, the relationship between the merchant and wealth. The virtues that he systematically teaches his associates are many and not all of us today would associate them with the trade of a merchant. He recommends risk («whoever would stop sowing for fear of flounder will never sow anything»), but at the same time he also recommends temperance («whoever hunts too many foxes ends up losing one while the other one gets away»). He praises speed and efficiency («he who does something quickly does it twice»), coupled with knowing how to be satisfied with what you have («better to have a pigeon in your hand than a thrush on a branch»). He encourages audacity («a man of arms will never suffer from a lack of horses»), but at the same time moderation («a wise merchant once said money will earn you ten per cent if you keep them in the trunk»).

A wisdom of commercial practice seasoned by ancient wisdom (Seneca, Cicero, the Bible), by popular proverbs, which together lead Datini to elaborate the golden rule of his business ethics: not to make the pursuit of wealth the only or the first goal of trading and the market. The exclusive desire to earn is a passion that can blind you. So much so that a wise merchant should occasionally look at himself with the eyes of an external and impartial observer; as in a game of chess, where a child who observes the players «sometimes sees more than they do, because the one who watches is not passionate about the fear of losing or of winning or gaining» (1402). For Datini, the great vice of a merchant, understood as a great mistake, is avarice, which also prevents him from really earning, since a wise merchant must be able to control his own greed for profit in order to be able to earn.

A business ethics that therefore refers directly to the ethics of virtues, (which Datini knew and taught). In that worldview, virtue is understood as an attitude to be cultivated to achieve excellence in a specific area of ​​life. In order to be virtuous, behaviours cannot be solely and entirely instrumental, a certain amount of intrinsic value is also required: an action must also be practiced because it is good in itself and not only as a means to obtain something external to that action. An athlete will not be virtuous (excellent) if he competes only to win and not for the love of the sport itself, nor will a scientist who does research only for fame and not for the love of science as well. In trade, however, this external or instrumental dimension is particularly important. It is difficult to imagine that a merchant would operate only for the sake of trading and the relationships with his customers and suppliers, because obtaining a gain external to the action is part of the nature of trade itself. Datini, however, reminds us that without a dose of love for the market and its related profession and mission, a "merchant" will only become distorted (change his nature) and turn into something else – a usurer, for example.

A virtuous merchant is hence someone who works both for money and by vocation. Only a bad merchant works only for money (or works only by vocation, which can be even worse than the first case). Furthermore, those who only do it for money will not even really make any money, because it goes against the very nature of their profession. It is an ancient merchant law that those who are merchants do not get rich only to get rich. As if to say that, like happiness, wealth arrives while (also) looking for something else. So much so that at the end of his life Datini wrote that he had dedicated to trading «soul and body, not out of avarice or out of desire to earn, but only because I was let down [disappointed] by everything else» (1410).

When one continues the reading of Datini's letters, a second element or virtue of the "civil merchant" begins to emerge: a positive gaze on the world and above all on other human beings, who remained his existential and commercial beacon. In a letter from 1398, Datini tells us about the first reason that led him to enter into society with other companions at the time of Avignon: «The love I had for the people of the world». A splendid phrase that tells us the pre-requisite to profitably carry out the trade-vocation of a merchant. An entrepreneur who does not have any "love for the people of the world" will not become a good entrepreneur. Without looking at the world and people with a good and positive outlook, without seeing an opportunity to grow together in a new meeting, without trust as a starting point, one cannot practice the art of trading. The entrepreneur is, above all, someone who looks at the world as a set of relational opportunities, who believes that people are his first wealth and that the wealth of others constitutes a possibility for himself. Here lies his generativity, which always originates in the generosity of his gaze on other human beings. Pessimism, cynicism, envy and distrust are the great capital sins of any business.

As a consequence of this second "anthropological" virtue, a third virtue emerges from the letters as well, a virtue that was fundamental in the life and success of Datini: his great care for his relationships. Datini was a great weaver of relationships, of friendship and even of fraternity: «When I accompanied Chon Toro di Bertto to Vignone, many mocked me, saying: "You were free and yet you made yourself a servant". I replied that I was happy to have a companion for two reasons: one, to have a brother, next to me to fear in order to guard me from the indiscretions of youth». And then he adds: «How much safer and more delightful would it be to be two companions in traffic, who love each other as brothers?!» (1402). Despite the many disappointments that his business companions had caused him in the course of his commercial activity - «there is not one who has not cheated you at least 12 times a day», his wife Margherita reminded him in 1386, - he concluded with the wisdom of ancient proverbs: «He who has company is a lord». For this Prato merchant, having or forming a company is «the greatest kinship there is» (1397), which he compares to a family and the relationship between brothers. When a friendship ended, Datini invited his associates to exercise forgiveness: «With the exception of treason or theft or murder or filth or adultery that cannot be forgiven, for every other thing a man has to always try to return the love of a friend» (1397).

The cardinal virtue of an entrepreneur is the art of cooperating, and the art of cooperating cannot last without learning the essential art of forgiveness. Even if today's business schools, all taken with techniques and tools and bewitched by the wrong metaphors, (mostly military or sports related), have forgotten the strength of the gentle virtues, the truly essential ones in order to be able to do this difficult job. Entrepreneurs have always lived and continue to live on many and different forms of mutual benefit, they are the creators and consumers of company and friendship, both within and outside their companies. Hence, first of all, they should educate and form themselves in these very virtues, this is the character that they must cultivate. Practicing kindness, amiability, investing time, a lot of time, in listening to people, developing all those arts that facilitate the creation and maintenance of relational goods, which make up the first essential, invisible and very real asset of one's own company, on which its first beauty depends. Francesco di Marco Datini knew this exceptionally well, we must learn it again. We will get out of this crisis, and away from this pain plaguing the entrepreneurial world, by going back to "loving the people of the world".

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The Market and the Temple/11 - The weaving of relationships that Tuscan Francesco Datini made great is exemplary. Pessimism, cynicism, envy and distrust are the great capital sins of any business.

by Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire  17/01/2021

Virtuous and successful trade belongs to those who work both for money and by vocation. Both those two things together. Wealth, like happiness, comes while (also) seeking something more.

Those who observe economic life from afar often end up missing the best elements of this aspect of life. They see incentives, meetings, offices, algorithms, rationality, profits and debts. They hardly ever realize, however, that behind the strategies, contracts and business schemes there are people, and among them, there are some who really put all the meat on the fire, all their passion and intelligence; their life into those companies. From afar and from the outside, we see the traces of that work, but we rarely see the body of those who leave those traces, and we almost never see their soul. Nevertheless, when we are able to see the souls, in those same enterprises we discern both spirits and demons, angels rising and falling from heaven.

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The «art of trading» is all about love for the people of the world

The «art of trading» is all about love for the people of the world

The Market and the Temple/11 - The weaving of relationships that Tuscan Francesco Datini made great is exemplary. Pessimism, cynicism, envy and distrust are the great capital sins of any business. by Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire  17/01/2021 Virtuous and successful trade belongs to those wh...
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    [title] => Forgiveness and second chance accounting in meridian capitalism
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The Market and the Temple/10 - In the first multinational companies that arose in the Christian cities of the fourteenth century, the poor were the representatives of God and took part in the earnings

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire  10/01/2021

Nostalgia for an imperfect form of capitalism, imperfect, but still capable of becoming a thing for the deathbed and making accounts payable to Lord God Almighty.

The osmosis between the cloisters and the market was much broader and deeper than is commonly thought. The wealthiest merchants had their children educated in monasteries, starting way back in the eleventh century, so much so that for many centuries ​​the word cleric was also used for clerk and business clerk in many European languages, (in fact clerk still has this meaning in English). It is no coincidence that both monks and the work of the laity were talked about in terms of profession. The merchants were by no means uneducated and illiterate, in their own way, they were an essential part of the same humanist movement as philosophers and writers were – today, as in the past, merchants begin their downfall when they stop being humanists, because they become slaves of whatever sophist happens to be in charge.

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We would not have had the extraordinary success of medieval merchants without the cultural role held by the monks: that new class was also able to impose itself thanks to the culture and knowledge that they had learned in the monasteries. From the 12th century and onwards the monks were joined by the new mendicant orders, who, unlike the monks, lived in the heart of the new cities, of which they helped to shape the culture, architecture, and the ethics. We cannot fathom that first form of "capitalism" without the daily contact between commerce and the mendicant charisms, which brought faith under the lodges of the merchants and the merchants inside the cloisters of the convents. Humanism and the Renaissance are the fruits of this often explicit alliance between merchants and the religious. It is within this unlikely alliance that the roots of the extraordinary successes of the Western economy, as well as its ambiguities, lie.

An alliance that was overseen by both theological books as well as accounting books. In those centuries, faith made an entrance into the items usually mentioned in financial statements, instead of being entrusted to social reports. The account in the name of "Lord God Almighty" was an account kept alongside any other. The following statement is found in the "secret books" of the company of the Bards of Florence: «We had 1876 Libra, and 10 florins, in debit to God in July 1310», and then one would refer to the Book of Reason, «where they were also registered» (Armando Sapori, Mercatores). Lord God Almighty's account was found not only in the "secret book", (that is, the book containing the interests on dividends, and the deposits of each individual member of the company), but also in the "Book of reason", which contained the items of "dare et habere" (debit and credit) and the accounts ledgers - hence the terms "accountant" and "accounting". The account dedicated to God was treated like any other ordinary account, and managed exactly like the other accounts of the partners: «We speak of the "shares" of Lord God Almighty as we speak of the "shares" of Lord Ridolfo, of Lord Nestagio, and of the shares of all the partners». In the budget of 1312, «the poor received 661 lire, that is the exact amount that Cino di Boninsegni, who had two shares in the company, received».

The representatives in Lord God Almighty's company were therefore the poor, and «the poor considered themselves to be shareholders in the company, and all the stipulations of the social contract regarding the division of earnings were valid for them as well» (Armando Sapori, Mercatores). Of course, this was a very different world from ours, but reading "debit to God" in the financial statements of those first multinational companies still makes an impact, unable to leave us indifferent. However, while they allocated part of their dividends to Lord God Almighty, those merchants practiced usury extensively. We know that usurers were an essential part of the medieval civil landscape. A new bank was opened on concession from the Municipality, that is, with a public contract between the city and the usurers in question, who must have had the reputation of "public usurers". They were both Christians and Jews, easily recognizable by their benches with the carpets on which they sat under their awning, perfectly visible in the central streets of the city.

In 1417, for example, there were fifteen public usurers in Pistoia. Many artisan tools could be found among the pawns of the Banco dei pegni (pawn shops) of Pistoia, which were managed by a Christian. Piero, a miller, left, a «woman’s gray, old, worn-out underdress»; a tailor from Montepulciano «a bad, broken bag», and Bartholomeo di Filippo da Verona, a pair of «sad, old, black stockings»; and furthermore, saws, clubs, skins, plowshares, (L. Zdekauer, Inside a pawnbroker’s shop in 1417/ L’interno di un banco di pegno nel 1417). The pawns were hence various artisan objects and work tools; and, in the frequent case of gambling losses, (one of the most common reasons for having to borrow money), they ended up damaging the cities. What is striking from these pawn lists, is the origin of the debtors: they were almost exclusively foreigners and people from out of town, a sign that going to a usurer was considered a shameful action, to be done where no one knew you. This context, therefore, provides us with a better understanding of the social urgency of the birth of the Franciscans' Monti di Pietà, which arose in imitation of the existing pawnshops («as has been done for the Monti of the Jews», as was specified in 1471 in Siena, on the occasion of the institution of the Monte di Pietà).

Reading these ancient archives, what is striking is the absence of the families of the great merchant-bankers from the lists of usurers. If, in fact, a merchant also performed the function of banker, this second feneratizia activity, (usurious, from the Latin fenus: interest, usury), was considered auxiliary to the mercantile one, and hence not considered usury at all. That profound distinction, which spans the entire Middle Ages, made between large and smaller merchants, returned. The former, accepted and often praised, often connected to the figure of Mary of Magdala or the Magi, and the latter condemned as parasites, equated with Judas the bursar. In fact, «from the names of the usurers that we encounter in our books it does not appear that any belonged to the merchant and banking families of the Ammannati, Cancellieri, Visconti, Reali, Cremonesi... » (Armando Sapori, Usury in the 13th century in Pistoia/ L’usura nel Dugento a Pistoia). The great merchant-bankers gradually gained their right to a good citizenship in the Middle Ages, where wealth was held in low esteem, thanks above all to their donations and returns. In fact, one can begin to discern something important of that first spirit of capitalism in the wills of these great merchants.

The first provision that is found in those wills is the obligation of restitution, addressed to the heirs, of any usury or loot: «I Iacopo, a citizen of Siena, sane of mind, although infirm in body, order that every usury, every loot be returned to the people»; and then he adds: «The people and places in question are registered in my accounting books, which I now hand over to Friar Ugo di San Galgano». And then he concludes: «Since my liquid assets are certainly not sufficient to return the loot, precisely because the cases of usury and bad acquisitions are so many, I want and impose that my assets be sold» (Armando Sapori, Mercatores).

In addition, the guilds required that at the beginning of each year a commission, made up of merchants and friars, passed from shop to shop to ask, under penalty of expulsion, that the merchants forgive each other for their respective usury, in a sort of pact of mercy, (which, it cannot be ruled out, may have been introduced by the Franciscans). And so it becomes both surprising and moving to read the following in the accounting books: «In August 1319, we, Francesco del Bene and companions, forgave Duccio Giunte and Geri di Monna Mante, mayors of the Arts, and all those of the Arts who had had merit from us; and the aforementioned mayors in turn forgave us» (A. Sapori, Mercatores). It was a form of capitalism where the accounts of Lord God Almighty could be found in the books, forgiveness and mercy were frequently mentioned, and where usury was called "merit" and the Monti di Pietà "sine merit".

In those same years, the Franciscan theologians, (Olivi, for example), were busy working on legitimizing interest loans. However, not all merchants read the Latin treatises written by those masters, and above all, they knew perfectly well when the interest they applied was excessive, when their profits were wrongful, beyond what the law said or prohibited. And they took note and registered those different kind operations, mostly carried out abroad where they could not be observed by their friends or friars, in their souls and registers. And so, at the point of death, when other numbers and scores were being settled within other books of reason, those Christian merchants wanted to leave this earth putting things right, and therefore returned the stolen loot. These donations and restitutions at the moment of death ended up contributing to a large part of the works of art of our cities, hospitals and charity organisations. Common goods born out of this second chance accounting, out of the conscience of merchants who knew that a part of their wealth had to be corrected and converted; because they were convinced, or at least hopeful, that giving away a wrongfully acquired wealth in the end was the only possible alchemy to transform evil into good.

This first meridian "spirit of capitalism" did not consider all wealth a blessing, but only a good kind of wealth, that is, that which had been purified from usury and misappropriation. Hence, death became the first mechanism of redistribution of a wealth that produced private goods in life and public goods post-mortem. This is how the merchants, especially the great and the rich, managed to become accepted by the culture of their time, compensating for the sins of life in death. In that environment, this returned wealth was eventually considered to be much more deserving of the "merit" than what the merchant-usurers demanded on the money they lent. The benefits of those compensations outweighed the moral costs of usury. This is where the ethical rule at the basis of Western society begins to develop: private vices versus public virtues.

Moreover, if we want to get to the bottom of our reasoning, then we must recognize that those donations and returns are at the origin not only of the beauty of Florence and Venice, but also of many of the troubles of modern mercantile reasoning. Those ex-post regrets were not enough for the heirs, who continued to manage the companies, to make them change their business ethics and make less wrongful profits and practice less usury. Instead, they continued the same business ethics as their parents, entrusting the final settling of scores to their wills.

Many paradoxes of our capitalism are found in this game between what appears as ambiguous lives and holy deaths, its amnesties and pardons, the philanthropy of 2% of the profits silencing the questions on the remaining 98%, up to the donations of companies that deal in gambling and arms manufactory. Then, when a few decades ago, the fear of divine judgment definitively left the horizon of our disenchanted capitalism, the new and very rich merchants stopped feeling the moral duty to return the booty or loot to the community. Hence, that enormous wealth and usury generated less and less common goods and more and more private goods, and inequality was further amplified. And the nostalgia of the accounts in the name of Lord God Almighty and of the pacts of forgiveness between merchants keep growing within us, because the faith in paradise of those ancient merchants appears much more human and civil than faith in the tax havens of our modern capitalism.

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The Market and the Temple/10 - In the first multinational companies that arose in the Christian cities of the fourteenth century, the poor were the representatives of God and took part in the earnings

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire  10/01/2021

Nostalgia for an imperfect form of capitalism, imperfect, but still capable of becoming a thing for the deathbed and making accounts payable to Lord God Almighty.

The osmosis between the cloisters and the market was much broader and deeper than is commonly thought. The wealthiest merchants had their children educated in monasteries, starting way back in the eleventh century, so much so that for many centuries ​​the word cleric was also used for clerk and business clerk in many European languages, (in fact clerk still has this meaning in English). It is no coincidence that both monks and the work of the laity were talked about in terms of profession. The merchants were by no means uneducated and illiterate, in their own way, they were an essential part of the same humanist movement as philosophers and writers were – today, as in the past, merchants begin their downfall when they stop being humanists, because they become slaves of whatever sophist happens to be in charge.

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Forgiveness and second chance accounting in meridian capitalism

Forgiveness and second chance accounting in meridian capitalism

The Market and the Temple/10 - In the first multinational companies that arose in the Christian cities of the fourteenth century, the poor were the representatives of God and took part in the earnings By Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire  10/01/2021 Nostalgia for an imperfect form of capitalism...
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The Market and the Temple/9 - Analysis - The information held by those who deal in trading is the basis of a decisive and ambiguous ability to anticipate the future

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 03/01/2021

From the clear condemnation of mercantile speculation by ancient Roman culture and the fathers of the Church to the revaluation of the Franciscans and their commitment to the Lady of the Poor.

It is not an easy task to derive one single coherent economic ethics from biblical texts and the Gospels. The most correct word to describe the situation would perhaps be ambivalence, but those wishing to find a radical criticism of the economy and of money would certainly not be lacking pages supporting their claims. The very first Christians certainly found them, encouraged and supported by the Roman culture of late antiquity that had developed a profound distrust of trading and merchants.

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The anti-mercantile controversy of the Roman world was due to many factors, including the ability of merchants to identify and exploit whatever favorable moments to their advantage, a private virtue generally understood as a public vice. The farmer knows only the past and the signs it leaves on the earth, the merchant instead scrutinizes the stars with insidious reasoning, looking for an advantage to be grasped on the fly even by reading the movements of the stars, the winds and atmospheric disturbances (Pliny the Elder, Natural History).

A merchant's first capital was - and still is - a strange skill related to the future. His greatest asset is the ability to anticipate, rendering the future present in a mysterious alchemy. Herein lies his speculation, which in essence is to see better and more. The specula or observatory located up high from which one could look into the distance. Specula, however, also represented spies and spying, explorers, always mysterious and disturbing figures because they had special access to the secrets of reality. Hence, it was the relationship with that particular good called information, especially the invisible kind, which made the merchant both fascinating and often feared.

«A very wealthy merchant had the gift of understanding the language of animals» (The Tale of the Ox and the Donkey, in One Thousand and One Nights, where the word merchant/s appears no less than 211 times). In the Italian folk tale, The Maiden and the Magician, a magician pretends to be a merchant who transforms iron rings into silver rings. And in various medieval legends, the Three Wise Men were both magicians and merchants.

This private use of information was then linked to the special relationship between merchants and the spoken word, bordering on magic. A merchant is an expert in the world of Poros (the Greek god of courtship, one of Eros' parents), a seducer always tempted to use words to trick customers, to charm them by speaking - spell and incentive (incantesimo e incentivo ), are two similar terms. Only wizards and merchants (and perhaps priests) know how to use words differently, to charm us and enchain us. A mercantile word was therefore always open to the risk of manipulating reality. Both back in the day as well as today, there is a great ongoing trade of words in the markets, somewhere between truth and lies, and words are the main commodity displayed on the shelves.

Hence, people in the ancient world in general thought that merchants, thanks to the power of their words and information, and without ever adding anything to the goods and therefore without ever creating any real added value, in fact deceived customers by abusing their lack of information. Every seller was a liar, and the market a fiction where value was being attributed to essentially nothing.

The following story by Odo of Cluny from the 10th century is emblematic of the medieval attitude towards merchants' information in general. During a journey, Count Géraud d’Aurillac was approached by some Venetian merchants struck by one of his fabrics of particular value. They asked how much he had paid for it in Rome and exclaimed: "In Constantinople it costs much more!". This information threw the count into despair, and after a few days, the seller in Rome received a sum equal to the difference with the price requested in Constantinople, from Géraud (cit. Andrea Giardina, The goods, the time, the silence/ Le merci, il tempo, il silenzio).

A thousand years earlier, in On Duties or on Obbligations/De Officiis Cicero refers to a debate between two Stoic philosophers, Diogenes and Antipater. There is a severe famine in Rhodes and a merchant exports a large quantity of wheat from Alexandria to Rhodes. He knows that other merchants have sailed from Alexandria to Rhodes in ships loaded with grain, and that the price of grain in Rhodes will therefore soon drop. The question is: should he tell his customers about the arrival of the ships or keep quiet and sell his goods at the highest possible price? According to Antipater, everything you know must be divulged, the buyer must not remain in the dark about anything the seller knows; according to Diogenes, on the other hand, the seller is obliged to disclose the defects of his goods, but everything else he can keep to himself, as long as it does "not involve fraud". Diogenes replies to Antipater: «It is one thing to hide or withhold something, and another altogether to stay silent: I am not obliged to tell you everything that would be useful to you». Cicero concludes: «My opinion is therefore that the grain merchant should not keep anything hidden in Rhodes. And that the merchant who withholds the information «is a sly, shady, cunning, malicious, deceiver and fraudster» (De Officiis Cicero, III, 49-57). For Cicero, therefore, taking advantage of withheld information is not lawful, and since the merchant is making a profit thanks to this informative speculation, his activity is in essence dishonest.

These anti-commerce theses of Cicero (and Seneca) had an enormous weight throughout the Middle Ages, thanks also to Ambrose and many Western Fathers who took them up: «Whoever you are, as a man, you cannot but hate the character of the shopkeeper» (Gregory of Nyssa, Contra Usurarios, 4th century). The classic idea, that good work is agricultural work, was also strengthened through this, while that of the merchants, traders, and even the artisans, (as sellers, selling was always morally doubtful), was essentially immoral.

Furthermore, the qualities of the traders shifted from the realms of the earth to the Kingdom of Heaven, and all the mercantile virtues were metaphorically applied to spiritual and religious life, creating a kind of conflict between the good use of mercantile logic (for heaven) and a wrong one (for worldly affairs). The true merchant is the divine merchant, Christ, who paid the price of salvation with his blood. And so throughout the first millennium this negative view of trade and the market continued to grow and radicalize.

A (partial) commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, erroneously attributed to John Chrysostom, Opus imperfectum in Matthaeum (5th century), which had a great influence throughout the Middle Ages, played an important role in this. In the commentary on the episode of the "expulsion of the merchants and money changers from the temple", we read the following: «No Christian must be a merchant or, if he wants to be, he must be expelled from the church ... Those who buy and sell cannot do so without being guilty of perjury». Then he adds: «Therefore, whoever buys something to then resell it whole and unchanged for the purpose of making a profit, is exactly like the merchants expelled from the temple». Finally, he resumes the everlasting opposition of the city versus the countryside: «And they went, some to their fields, others to their businesses», these two words hence comprehended all human activity: before God, agriculture is honest, while a mercantile activity is instead dishonest. At this point, we should probably be asking ourselves how merchant activity was able to continue at all in the Middle Ages. Perhaps because life is greater than the books of theologians, and because normal people know that without commerce the world would be poorer, sadder and uglier, but also due to something else that began with the XII-XIII century.

The name of this novelty was Francis. A decisive role was played, among the Franciscan theologians, by Frenchman Pietro di Giovanni Olivi (1248-1298). Olivi is an important author in part due to a certain tension imbued in his story and biography. He belonged to the most radical branch of Franciscanism, a great exponent of the doctrine of the highest poverty. Some of his theses were condemned, his books were burned after his death, and in 1318 the Pope ordered the destruction of his tomb. At the same time, however, Olivi was decisive for an ethical change regarding the activity of merchants. Not using wealth for himself, he found himself in the right ethical position and distance to be able to understand it. In his Treatise on purchases and sales (late 13th century, Italian edition edited by A. Spicciani et al.), the first questio (question) reads as follows: «Can things be sold, lawfully and without sin, for more than they are worth or in fact bought for less?». For Olivi the «answer would seem to be affirmative», because «otherwise almost the entire category of sellers and buyers would sin against justice, since almost everyone wants to sell for more and buy for less». An answer of disarming simplicity, but one that in reality challenges the age-old thesis on which the condemnation of trade was based.

In questio 4 he addresses the issue of information directly: «Is the seller required to tell or show the buyer all the defects of the item being sold?». In line with classical doctrine, he then immediately says that «the answer seems affirmative», Then, in the development of his reasoning, he comes to admit exceptions, however, one of which is of great importance: «In fact, deceiving is something more than merely concealing. Therefore, those who keep silent about a truth are not always deceitful». Cicero was refuted, and with him his hostility towards the trade of the merchants.

Furthermore, in questio 6 he asks: «Those who buy something to then resell it at a higher price without having either transformed or improved it, as merchants usually do, are they committing a mortal or at least a venial sin?». His answer is: «We must not necessarily think that sin is inherently included in trading, although in practice this is very rare and difficult». And then he concludes: «In business there are various opportunities and occasions to sell and buy things at an advantage; and this too derives from the order of God's Providence, like all other human goods. So if someone makes a profit, it too comes from a gift of God rather than from evil». Commercial exchange and earnings seen as a sign of the presence of Providence in the world: this kind of economy can only be seen from the specula of the highest poverty.

He then concludes his reasoning by challenging the authority of Chrysostom’s commentary on Matthew (the courage!): «There is without a doubt no need to pay attention to this statement of his». And then he ends: «Surely an argument of this kind cannot be derived from the Gospel passage that it refers to: in it Christ lashes out against all those who sell and buy in the temple in general; however, we must not necessarily think that all these people were actually merchants».

How we would need theologians and intellectuals with this freedom of spirit today! Above all, we would need to ask questions that are almost the exact opposite of Olivi's: to what point is it legitimate to speculate on withheld information? To what extent is it lawful for merchants to enchant us with their words? Are we able to distinguish fiction from reality in our global market anymore? What if by dint of anticipating the future in our present we were running out of it, thus depriving our grandchildren of their present?

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The Market and the Temple/9 - Analysis - The information held by those who deal in trading is the basis of a decisive and ambiguous ability to anticipate the future

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 03/01/2021

From the clear condemnation of mercantile speculation by ancient Roman culture and the fathers of the Church to the revaluation of the Franciscans and their commitment to the Lady of the Poor.

It is not an easy task to derive one single coherent economic ethics from biblical texts and the Gospels. The most correct word to describe the situation would perhaps be ambivalence, but those wishing to find a radical criticism of the economy and of money would certainly not be lacking pages supporting their claims. The very first Christians certainly found them, encouraged and supported by the Roman culture of late antiquity that had developed a profound distrust of trading and merchants.

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That infinite controversy that pits what is honest and what is useful against one another

That infinite controversy that pits what is honest and what is useful against one another

The Market and the Temple/9 - Analysis - The information held by those who deal in trading is the basis of a decisive and ambiguous ability to anticipate the future By Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire 03/01/2021 From the clear condemnation of mercantile speculation by ancient Roman culture and...
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The Market and the Temple/8 - Analysis - A story where the Medici and other magnificent Florentines, St. Antonino, the common good and the Magi are the protagonists.

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire  27/12/2020

In the fourteenth-fifteenth century, the world quickly went from the common good to the good of the cities or municipalities: the Church justified the action of the new men of the market if it benefited the city.

Throughout history, the pacts formed between wealth and religion have always been complicated matters, with outcomes that often turn out to be very different from the initial intentions of their protagonists. The city of Florence of the fourteenth-fifteenth century was the stage for one of these replacements, where a game that would end up being decisive for modern economic ethics was played out. Its protagonists were the Medici, St. Antonino Pierozzi (1389-1459), the category of the common good and the Magi. Let us start with the common good. This fundamental theological category undergoes a profound semantic and practical switch between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In the matter of the condemnation of profit, the reasons put forth by the common good won out over the theological reasons presented against profit. This theology of the common good began to spread and increasingly became the new theology of the new cities. A common good that became more and more concrete, deeply linked to the other great category of community, so much so that the transition from the common good to the good of the community or municipality happened very fast. Almost every economic action of the new men of the market ended up being justified by the Church if it benefited the common good of the city. And since in those centuries the common good and that of the community were, in fact, that of the great merchant-bankers, the common good ended up being made to coincide with that of the merchant's guilds.

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St. Antonino, a Dominican, bishop, theologian and "economist", was well aware, as a pastor and expert in the accompaniment of lay people, that there is great complexity in these economic and financial matters. And thus, speaking of "forward" sales, he concluded: «However this is a very complicated and not very clear subject, which is why it should not be further explored» ("Summa theologica"). It should not be explored: it is in fact this "complication" that highlights something that by now has changed in Florence and in the new commercial cities. The birth of free Municipalities and cities, the affirmation of this new class of merchants, with their special laws and courts, were profoundly changing the relationship between theological principles and economic practice. The Scriptures and their condemnation of usury were always the same, and the distrust of the Fathers of the Church towards businesses and traders still remained an essential and unchanged teaching. But the emergence of a new and increasingly complex economic reality made ancient Scripture and theology unsuitable for disciplining and ruling in the many concrete cases of business that were appearing, which - and this is in fact the point - were doing so much good to the city and to the Church. The reality was superior to the idea. The "civil merchant" became the image of the negotium (business) that overcomes the otium (leisure) and denies it (nec-otium, the non-existence of leisure).

Hence, we are facing an authentic ethical, theological, social and economic revolution here. The theology of ecclesiastics thus gradually begins to move away from the economic sphere, which has become too complex, and increasingly specializes in the personal and family sphere and in the life of religious institutions. The merchant is treated as an individual, who in the confessional lists his faults and obtains his penances, more and more easily traded for money through nascent indulgences; but the ethical gaze on public life, which had characterized the first two or three centuries of the second millennium, withdrew and was transformed into generic recommendations entrusted to the Lenten sermons. In the matter of usury, for example, the lawful exceptions were so abstract that they did not allow for any concrete and effective judgments. Almost any interest rate became potentially lawful (for generic loss of profit or emerging damage), especially if the interest was for the benefit of the common good and the good of the municipality (i.e. the city). Thus, in the case of the Florentine public debt, if the Municipality was the entity to issue debt, the legal rate of 5% per year increased to downright usurious rates of up to 10 and even 15%. How? «In order not to incur the censorship of the Church, the Municipality resorted to the ingenious system of the 'Monte dell’un due’' and the 'Monte dell’un tre': where anyone who brought 100 lire to the Monte had 200 or 300 listed in the registers instead» (Armando Sapori,"Houses and shops in Florence in the fourteenth century"/"Case e botteghe a Firenze nel Trecento", 1939). The reason for all this was certainly not the common good, but «the greed for large profits, which has led many astray from trading into usury" (Giovanni e Matteo Villani, "Villani’s Chronicle"/"Cronica" VIII).

The reasons for the common good and the good of the Municipality became so intertwined and central as to justify commercial practices that we cannot even begin to understand today. These include mercantile retaliation. That is, when the merchants of a city suffered acts of violence and damage in foreign territory, mercantile customs allowed retaliation, that is, acts of retaliation by the injured against any merchant of the city where the damage had occurred, regardless of any direct involvement of the interested parties in the episode in question. The common good of the merchant body prevailed over that of its individual members. Furthermore, in order for foreigners to be able to purchase public debt titles in Florence, they had to be granted citizenship first. When in the process of granting this ex privilege citizenship the most used rhetoric was that of friendship and the common good: «No business can exceed the value of friendship with a faithful friend, which is worth more than both gold and silver» (Lorenzo Tanzini," The foreigners and the public debt of Florence in the fifteenth century"/"I forestieri e il debito pubblico").

This alliance between the Church and the merchants in the name of the common good produced an explosion of magnificence. The device for turning wealth into something good and holy shifted its focus from the production to the consumption: what really mattered was not, as in the past, how wealth was generated but how it was used. A rich merchant would be blessed if he spent a good part of his possessions on helping the poor, but even more so if he invested in making the city, its palaces and churches magnificent. Florence was emblematic in all of this, in part thanks to the special friendship that developed between St. Antonino and the Medici family: «There are two virtues of money and its use: liberality and magnificence" (Antonino, "Summa theologica"). The relationship between the Florentine Church and its great merchants represented a perfect mutual benefit: the merchants were freed from a thousand theological snares on usury and profits, and the churches were made magnificent by their enormous wealth, also generated thanks to the liberation from religious bonds. However, even in this phase of affirmation of a new economic ethic, the religious element always remained central. In fact, rather than secularism, we need to speak of a new religiosity. Because the laity and merchants took possession of some religious images and codes. Becoming independent from religion was not enough for them; they wanted religion on their side. It was not enough to be rich and good: they also wanted to be saints.

We have already talked about how the image of Mary Magdalene spread, understood as an icon of the good public use of money by the rich. Another mercantile religious paradigm that was affirmed between the Middle Ages and Modernity is that of the Magi. The Dominican order contributed greatly to the spread of their cult in Europe. The prestigious "Confraternity of the Magi" or "of the Star" (la Compagnia de 'Magi) was already active in Florence towards the end of the 14th century, an association of merchants, of which many philosophers, humanists, writers, artists and various other exponents of the cultural world were also members, perhaps the most important lay congregation in fifteenth century Florence, which had its golden age with St. Antonino and the Medici (Monika Poettinger, "Merchants and Magi"/"Mercanti e Magi"). These rich merchants who, without having to become poor, worshiped Christ with gold and gifts, lent themselves perfectly to the new economic ethic of the city's wealthy class. In many Dominican churches of these centuries there are frescoes representing the Magi, including the Dominican convent of San Marco in Florence, the headquarters of the Confraternity of the Magi, where the spectacular procession of the Magi that was organized on the day of the Epiphany ended. But the "ride of the Magi" was also an essential part of other important city processions, such as the one on the occasion of the feast of St. John, presided over by St. Antonino: «Three magi with a cavalry of more than 200 horses adorned with many magnificent elements» (Matthew Palmieri, "The procession of 1454"). Spectacular!

In 1420 Palla di Noferi Strozzi, the richest merchant-banker in Florence, commissioned a painting of the Magi from Gentile di Fabriano, with Palla himself and his family in the front row of the procession. The Medici did a lot for the Dominicans in Florence, including taking care of the very expensive renovation of the Badia Fiesolana and the convent of San Marco, where Beato Angelico painted an Adoration of the Magi in the cell dedicated to Cosimo. Similar chapels dedicated to the Magi by merchants are also found in other Renaissance cities (in Turin, for example). The role of the Confraternity of the Magi or the Star became so important that, despite the blessing of St. Antonino, it transformed into a sort of new religion. Writing to Lorenzo the Magnificent in 1467 from Rome, Gentile de Becchi assured him that the cardinals of the Pope's college would grant «through your intercession a hundred favours» to anyone who attended the meetings of the Confraternity of the Magi, during which one could also receive the Eucharist by papal dispensation (Rab Hatfield, "The Compagnia de 'Magi"). Marsilio Ficino ("De stella Magorum", 1482), Pico della Mirandola and the neo-Platonists of Florence did the rest, transforming the Magi into icons of a pagan, pre-Christian and esoteric religiosity, on which to found the Renaissance of Europe. It was the end of civil humanism and the beginning of the decadence of Florence and the other Italian cities.

That pact between Church and merchants was the mature fruit of a great seduction of the magnificence that that first "capitalism" exercised on the Church (St. Antonino is one of the first theorists on "capital" related matters). In his Reformation, Luther was struck precisely by this alliance between the Church and merchants, which he considered a deviation from the logic of the Gospel. However, it was precisely the world born out of the Reformation that would, centuries later, give birth to a new capitalism of wealth, which, once again, is using the symbols and vocabulary ​​of the Christian religion. But how did the "merchants" of Florence manage to occupy the 'temple'? We no longer have the ability to understand what the impact of the wealth and immense luxury of the new merchants was on the citizens of Florence. Their wonderful clothes, the new sparkling colours, the impressive processions, palaces and churches such as had never been seen before, were something fantastic, new tales of the "Thousand and One Nights", which seduced and "converted". They were the new heroes, the heirs, even more beautiful than the knights of the Middle Ages, and they enchanted everyone. And Florence was the new promised land, where milk and honey flowed. Merchants conquered the world, converting ancient ethics, above all with beauty and amazement. They did not win everyone over with their florins, but with their magnificence. Will it be, then, a new form of beauty that will save us from this present-day capitalism, where too many Magi have allied themselves with King Herod, telling him where the Child is, thereby becoming accomplices in the many massacres of the innocent? Perhaps, it will be a new beauty, certainly of a very different kind, but still and always beautiful.

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The Market and the Temple/8 - Analysis - A story where the Medici and other magnificent Florentines, St. Antonino, the common good and the Magi are the protagonists.

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire  27/12/2020

In the fourteenth-fifteenth century, the world quickly went from the common good to the good of the cities or municipalities: the Church justified the action of the new men of the market if it benefited the city.

Throughout history, the pacts formed between wealth and religion have always been complicated matters, with outcomes that often turn out to be very different from the initial intentions of their protagonists. The city of Florence of the fourteenth-fifteenth century was the stage for one of these replacements, where a game that would end up being decisive for modern economic ethics was played out. Its protagonists were the Medici, St. Antonino Pierozzi (1389-1459), the category of the common good and the Magi. Let us start with the common good. This fundamental theological category undergoes a profound semantic and practical switch between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In the matter of the condemnation of profit, the reasons put forth by the common good won out over the theological reasons presented against profit. This theology of the common good began to spread and increasingly became the new theology of the new cities. A common good that became more and more concrete, deeply linked to the other great category of community, so much so that the transition from the common good to the good of the community or municipality happened very fast. Almost every economic action of the new men of the market ended up being justified by the Church if it benefited the common good of the city. And since in those centuries the common good and that of the community were, in fact, that of the great merchant-bankers, the common good ended up being made to coincide with that of the merchant's guilds.

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When and why merchants were able to occupy the temple

When and why merchants were able to occupy the temple

The Market and the Temple/8 - Analysis - A story where the Medici and other magnificent Florentines, St. Antonino, the common good and the Magi are the protagonists. By Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire  27/12/2020 In the fourteenth-fifteenth century, the world quickly went from the common good...
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The Market and the Temple/7 - Analysis. The different medieval conceptions, the debate that arose and the question that is arising today (not only) in Europe.

By Luigino Bruni

Published on Avvenire  20/12/20

If we want to understand how economic ethics developed through medieval Christianity and then in capitalism, we should try to inhabit its radical ambivalence, starting from the first Christian theology.

If we want to understand how economic ethics developed through medieval Christianity and then in capitalism, we should try to inhabit its radical ambivalence. Early Christian theology made extensive use of economic-commercial lexicon and metaphors to try to explain the Christian event, the incarnation and salvation. Starting from the very word oikonomia, which became fundamental in the first theological-philosophical mediation of Christianity: the economy of salvation, the economic Trinity. Jesus defines money (mammon) as his rival god, but Jesus himself is presented to us as a "divine merchant", whose blood had been the "price" of salvation, a redemption "paid" by the sacrifice of the cross. The whole Middle Ages, then, were a proliferation of economic-theological words: from "lucrative" souls to "earning" heaven or purgatory; up to the tradition, very dear to Augustine (Sermon 9) of man as the "coin of God", because it bears his effigy/image. One of the phrases often repeated by tradition, but not by the Gospels, neither canonical nor apocryphal, the so-called agrapha of Jesus, quoted by Clement of Alexandria, contains an important concept: «Scripture rightly urges us to be competent money changers, disapproving of some things, but being firm on what is good» (Stromateis 1,28,177, end of the 2nd century). Hence the tradition of the Christus monetarius, the "good money changer", because he is capable of distinguishing between good and bad "coins".

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With all this rich complexity in terms of coins and economics, it is not surprising to find ambivalence and moral uncertainty in the Middle Ages regarding the proper use of money and the economy in general. A premise. To understand the birth of European economic ethics we must never forget that while theologians argued about coins and loans, merchants all the while existed and had to work. Merchants always were and are pragmatic men, so pragmatic as to approach cynicism: money is needed, money changers are needed (there were many kinds of coin in circulation), bankers are needed. Everyone knew that these operators did not work for free, it was expensive to use their services, and the price to pay was called "interest", which was accepted as long as it was not excessive. Real merchants would never have called a mortgage (or a letter of exchange, or a contract of commendation) at an annual rate of 5%, but not even at 10%, a "usurer". They were well aware that there were good and bad bankers, as there was good and bad money, and that bad money and bankers only served to drive out the good ones. They operated and lived among these good and bad things, the ambivalence of life lived in the economy as well.

At that time, the presence of professionals with knowledge of coins and currency was very important for the stability of trade and therefore for the common good. Everyone knew this, as everyone knew that when the cities lacked official money changers/bankers who were periodically checked by the Municipality on their weights, scales, books and measures, the city was instead filled with clandestine stalls of bad lenders and "touts", which often ended up in bankruptcy. The expression in fact derives from the counter on which the money changer placed his coins, the silver table: when he could no longer pay his debts, his creditors came and broke the bank. Between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries Venice had more than a hundred banks, both Christians and Jews, Florence seventy, Naples forty, Palermo fourteen (Vito Cusumano, "History of the banks of Sicily"/"Storia dei banchi della Sicilia"). The banker was also a money changer, and not infrequently his office was the same as that of the notary. Bankers were in many ways equated with public officials, effectively sharing some aspects of their status, privileges and burdens. No respectable person could think of calling these public bankers "usurers," even if they were lending at interest. Everyone knew that bankers profited from money, first of all the bishops and popes, who on the one hand were the main customers of the banks and on the other hand made homilies and wrote texts condemning the interest loan based on the Bible and the Gospels.

The Church knew all this very well, the Church itself was an expert in various forms of ambivalence, including economic ones. It knew the great bankers well, because they were almost always linked to the great bourgeois and aristocratic families, and sat on the city councils. However, we must not think that the Church, in its various components, was unanimous in matters of money, trade, interest and usury. The Church back then was a plural and antagonistic reality, both in theology and in matters of civil practice, even more than it is in modern times. We should therefore not be surprised by the large number of books and homilies dedicated, especially between the 12th and 17th centuries, to financial and commercial issues. After theology, the subject that was most dealt with by theologians between the Middle Ages and Modernity, was economics. The monastic world still had a great influence in these debates, ancient, rich and powerful as it was. The ora et labora of monasteries and abbeys had created its own economic ethics, very attentive to the values ​​of work and earthly things. In particular, the monks were the great enemies of the capital vice of sloth, that is, of inactivity and laziness; consequently the first praise for the solicitude of the merchant, seen as the anti-sloth par excellence, was born in the monasteries, where the exegesis of the "parable of the talents" was also developed as praise of the undertaking of the first two servants and condemnation of the laziness of the third. The merchant was well liked because he put wealth into circulation, while the miser merely locked it up in his coffers.

The specific reflection on money, however, developed above all among the new mendicant orders, attentive observers, for their charisms, of city civilization. In this context, the birth of the public debts of the commercial cities, in particular Venice and Florence, played an important role in the theological reflection on the interest loan. A debate that involved some great theologians in Venice in the mid-fourteenth century is especially interesting in this regard, it centred on the lawfulness of paying interest on the public debt and selling those debt securities (at a price of about 60-70% of their value nominal). From the end of the twelfth century, the Italian trading cities found themselves faced with a sharp increase in public spending, also due to military spending. Those cities were in fact family consortia, a kind of cooperative society, where the citizens were also members and owners of a common good: the city. In the early stages, public expenditure was covered with various forms of contributions and taxes from citizens. However, faced with the explosion in public spending, citizens thought that instead of continuing to raise their taxes it might be more convenient to issue public debt securities. These securities had to pay periodic interest (the payment of interest was called pay) to creditors, at the rate of 5% per annum (the same percentage as the contemporary Monte di Firenze). That public debt was seen by citizens as a mutual advantage over taxes: unlike taxes, public debt paid periodic interest and the city covered its public expenses.

It is interesting to note that while theologians discussed and generally condemned the interest on private loans, so much so that a Papal bull was needed (in 1515) to make the interest, as always 5%, requested by the Franciscan Monti di Pietà legitimate, everyone instead remained very serene about the payment of interest on the public debt. The theological debate in Venice, in fact, did not focus on the lawfulness of the interest accepted as a fact, but on the reason that led to consider that interest lawful. The protagonists of the dispute were the Franciscan Francesco da Empoli, the Dominicans Pietro Strozzi and Domenico Pantaleoni, and the Augustinian Gregorio da Rimini. The Franciscan accepted the interest on the basis of the Franciscan theory of "emerging damage" and "loss of profit": if a citizen had to lend money to the city (sometimes the loans were forced), the city had to compensate for the damage suffered with the payment of interest (term used by Francesco). There was no need for anything else, interest was a price. Furthermore, the Franciscan very consistently did not question the legitimacy of selling debt securities either.

On the other hand, the discourse of the Dominican theologians was a bit more articulated. They were generally more critical than the Franciscans regarding the issue of interests. In the wake of Thomas Aquinas, the two Dominican theologians radically changed their argument and built their thesis on the lawfulness of interest on an entirely different basis: that interest should not be understood as a price for the money lent, but as a gift for those who acted out of civic love: «The Dominican does not dispute the lawfulness of the attribution of a 5% per year to the creditors of the Monte, but proposes an interpretation of it as a spontaneous gift, by the community, which thus expresses its gratitude to the citizen» (Roberto Lambertini, "The medieval debate on the consolidation of the public debt of municipalities"/"Il dibattito medievale sul consolidamento del debito pubblico dei Comuni", 2009). Interest which, consistently with its etymology (inter-esse), was intended as the link in a relationship of reciprocity between gifts. Nevertheless, if that 5% is a gift, then, unlike Francesco da Empoli, for the Dominicans the holder of the title cannot resell it, because gifts are not sold.

This is also where a decisive element comes into play, taken up and strengthened by the Augustinian Gregorio da Rimini: rightful intention. What makes that 5% lawful is the intention with which the city pays it and the citizen receives it. If the intention, of one or both parties, is private profit, then that interest is illegal; if it is the common good, it is lawful. Hence the non-admissibility of trading in securities, precisely because the aim in those who sell and buy is no longer the original common good, but only private profit. Finally, the explanation that Gregory gives to affirm that the city of Venice did not have the right intention in issuing those debt securities is interesting. For the Augustinian theologian, it is the payment of the same percentage of 5% to all, hence without taking into account the different subjective conditions of the lenders, their wealth and needs, which renders that public debt illicit, as if to say that the lack of differentiation highlights the intention for profit and not for the common good. It is the ancient idea that substantial equality, therefore justice, does not coincide with formal equality.

Today we are once again in a founding phase, at a European level, regarding the sense of debts, loans, taxes and interest. Those early ethical debates still have many important things to tell us. They tell us that intentions matter, they still matter in economics. European countries have accepted the issuance of a lot of public debt in this pandemic time because they interpreted the intentions of those who asked and who granted the loans. A common evil - the Covid-19 pandemic - has led to the rediscovery of the common good, and thereby a different kind of interest, the necessary link between debt and the common good. In this terrible 2020, we have also rediscovered the gift, the gifts made and those received, from the gift of life of doctors and nurses to the gift of a free and universal vaccine. What if this were also the beginning of a new economy?

 

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The Market and the Temple/7 - Analysis. The different medieval conceptions, the debate that arose and the question that is arising today (not only) in Europe.

By Luigino Bruni

Published on Avvenire  20/12/20

If we want to understand how economic ethics developed through medieval Christianity and then in capitalism, we should try to inhabit its radical ambivalence, starting from the first Christian theology.

If we want to understand how economic ethics developed through medieval Christianity and then in capitalism, we should try to inhabit its radical ambivalence. Early Christian theology made extensive use of economic-commercial lexicon and metaphors to try to explain the Christian event, the incarnation and salvation. Starting from the very word oikonomia, which became fundamental in the first theological-philosophical mediation of Christianity: the economy of salvation, the economic Trinity. Jesus defines money (mammon) as his rival god, but Jesus himself is presented to us as a "divine merchant", whose blood had been the "price" of salvation, a redemption "paid" by the sacrifice of the cross. The whole Middle Ages, then, were a proliferation of economic-theological words: from "lucrative" souls to "earning" heaven or purgatory; up to the tradition, very dear to Augustine (Sermon 9) of man as the "coin of God", because it bears his effigy/image. One of the phrases often repeated by tradition, but not by the Gospels, neither canonical nor apocryphal, the so-called agrapha of Jesus, quoted by Clement of Alexandria, contains an important concept: «Scripture rightly urges us to be competent money changers, disapproving of some things, but being firm on what is good» (Stromateis 1,28,177, end of the 2nd century). Hence the tradition of the Christus monetarius, the "good money changer", because he is capable of distinguishing between good and bad "coins".

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When public debt was a matter of giving

When public debt was a matter of giving

The Market and the Temple/7 - Analysis. The different medieval conceptions, the debate that arose and the question that is arising today (not only) in Europe. By Luigino Bruni Published on Avvenire  20/12/20 If we want to understand how economic ethics developed through medieval Christianity and ...