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[–]KoKansei 55 points 7 hours ago R5 tl;dr: Double entry accounting was never "literally heresy". What the church disliked was usury. On Usury
Just another article that demonstrates how powerful the extended metaphor of the modern state/bureaucracy as medieval clergy really is. I can't even imagine how someone who saw the awesome potential of double-ledger bookeeping back in the 13th century, when it was literally considered "heresy," must have felt.
Usury means charging interest. It's in Deuteronomy 23:19-20* "Thou shalt not lend upon interest to thy brother: interest of money, interest of victuals, interest of any thing that is lent upon interest. Unto a foreigner thou mayest lend upon interest; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon interest; that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all that thou puttest thy hand unto, in the land whither thou goest in to possess it."*, and in many other versicles of both the old and the new testment.
The catholic church was against usury from the start. The First Council of Nicaea forbade the clergy from engaging in usury. In the beggining of the 12th century, the 3rd Lateran Council decreed that persons who accepted interest on loans could receive neither the sacraments nor christian burial. Later, Pope Clement V made the belief in the right to usury a heresy in 1311, and abolished all secular legislation which allowed it.
The thing is, these restrictions only applied to the catholics. The jewish interpretation of the scriptures allowed them to charge interest, as long as they are lending money to a non-jew. And the theological view of the church did nothing to reduce the demand for banking services such as money exchange or loans. From the void of banking services and the desire to stay faithful to Church doctrine arose the niche of economic opportunity for the Jews. The first modern banks were merchant banks. The italian jews could not hold land, so they would lend money to farmers against the crops in the fields, a high risk loan that catholics could never provide due to the church laws against usury. Eventually they started to provide other financial services, like advancements and underwriting.
Using the Jews for money services did not go against theology. No sin was committed by letting the Jews do usury, as Jews’ "souls were probably lost in any case" and Jewish presence could be tolerated for the benefit of extracting their taxes. Furthermore, the papacy was cognizant of the fact that Judaism did not consider it sinful to take interest. As Frederick II of Sicily noted, usury was “not illicit for them.” Therefore the Jews were able to supply labor for an industry blocked to Christians as per the influence of the Catholic Church.
The papal influence and control of the money services of Jews continued even after it was deemed permissible for Jews to undertake acts of usury. Jewish moneylending and exchange services began in Rome as least as early as the beginning of the twelfth century, with the catholic pilgrims who were in need of currency exchange. Other pilgrims sought loans so that they could offer indulgences. The papacy used the Jews for the transfer of money, in addition to some occasional loans from Jewish moneylenders — though the papacy would never openly admit to such a reliance on the Jews. The practice of employing Jewish moneylenders spread from Rome to other cities and a significant rise in the number of Jewish moneylenders occurred during the second half of the twelfth century.
This doesn't mean that catholics never practiced banking. Outlawing usury did not prevent investment, but stipulated that in order for the investor to share in the profit he must share the risk. In short he must be a joint-venturer. Usury was to simply to invest the money and expect it to be returned regardless of the success of the venture. In other words, to make money simply by having money and not by taking any risk or by doing any work or by any effort or sacrifice at all. St Thomas quotes Aristotle as saying that "to live by usury is exceedingly unnatural"
. St Thomas allows, however, charges for actual services provided. Thus a banker or credit-lender could charge for such actual work or effort as he did carry out e.g. any fair administrative charges. The Catholic Church, in a decree of the 5th Lateran Council, expressly allowed such charges in respect of credit-unions run for the benefit of the poor known as "montes pietatis
Also, there were plenty of catholics looking for theological loopholes in order to charge interest. For instance, in the middle of the 13th century, groups of italian christians, particularly the Cahorsins and Lombards, invented legal fictions to get around the ban on Christian usury. It was not forbidden to take collateral on loans, so pawn shops thus operate on the basis of a contract that fixes in advance the 'fine' for not respecting the nominal term of the 'interest free' loan, or alternatively, may structure a sale-repurchase by the 'borrower' where the interest is implicit in the repurchase price.
The christians effecting these legal fictions became known as the pope's usurers, and reduced the importance of the jews to european monarchs. Later a distinction evolved between things that were consumable (such as food and fuel) and those that were not, with usury permitted on loans that involved the latter. The Medici bank used a system of bills of exchange that was legal according to the majority of theologians. On Bookkeeping
Bookkeeping started while society was still in the barter and trade system rather than a cash and commerce economy. Ledgers from these ancient times were kept in narrative form, with dates and descriptions of the trades made or services rendered. These transactions were kept in individual ledgers, and could provide proof in case of a dispute. This system is terribly inneficient and tiresome, but worked in small volumes or for personal ledgers.
The bookkeeping art really developed during the 13th century among merchants, traders and clothmakers of Florence. Their business showed a high degree of continuity from year to year (in contrast to those of Venice and Genoa, which were concentrated on separate trading ventures), and they were carried on by stable partnerships, who needed to ascertain and divide profits and share deductions from time to time. These partnerships were short lived, being wound up and reformed every 4 or 5 years, and the assets and liabilities transfered to a new book. Sadly, there are very few surviving books from this time, because there was very little interest in preserving the old books once the new ones were opened, and parchment was very expensive.
The first set of books kept in double entry that survived until today are the books of Rineri Fini & Brothers (1296-1305) and of Giovani Farolfi & Co. (1299-1300). Both set of books are from florentine merchant firms operating in France. Of these two, the Farolfi books are closed by means of a balance account. These books however contain several erros of principle and arithmethics, which indicates that the proper yearly profit or loss was found by a refinement of single entry methods, and thus these books were in fact kept in 'quasi-double-entry'.
Eventually, double-entry bookkeeping was properly developed and spreaded among Tuscany, and eventually, Italy. The first record of a complete double entry is the Messari accounts of the Republic of Genoa in 1340. By the end of the 15th century, even merchants in Lubeck used the double entry system.
Luca Pacioli, a Franciscan friar, published in 1494 the Summa de arithmetica, geometria. Proportioni et proportionalita
, a textbook written in the vernacular which includes a description of the bookkeeping practices of Venetian merchants during the renaissance, including double-entry bookkeeping. for this book he is considered the Father of Accounting and Bookkeeping. In Conclusion
Double-entry bookkeeping was not an heresy. Jewish money lenders operated with the approval of the church and the catholic kings, catholics also operated as bankers, especially in the 14th century Italy, where double entry bookkeeping developed and was adopted by catholic entities like the Medici bank and the Republic of Genoa. The "Father of Accounting and Bookkeeping" and author of the first published work on double-entry system of bookkeeping, Luca Pacioli, was a franciscan friar. No accountant was burned at the stake for the way they kept their books.
- Lee, Geoffrey Alan. The Development of Italian Bookkeeping 1211-1300
- Poliakov, Léon. Jewish Bankers and the Holy See.
- Shatzmiller, Joseph. Shylock Reconsidered: Jews, Moneylending, and Medieval Society.
- Gleeson-White, Jane. Double Entry: How the Merchants of Venice Created Modern Finance
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