Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/225

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of plotting to burn the great city with Greek fire. The great plague, which in 1348 swept over and depopulated all Europe, could only, it was easily known, proceed from the Jews. The fact that the sober and temperately living people were much less affected by the plague than the Christians, converted the bare suspicion into a certainty. They had everywhere, in consequence of a great conspiracy, in which the houses of lepers had also taken part, poisoned the springs and wells, and even the rivers. In Zofingen it was pretended that actual poison was found in one of the wells. On the rack some Jews and lepers confessed to the deed. There hence burst forth a storm of fanaticism, of bestial revenge and vulgar avarice, such as has never before nor since been seen in Europe. The victims were counted in single towns by thousands. Many anticipated the rage of the mob by taking their own lives. To no purpose did Pope Clement VI declare in two bulls that the Jews were innocent. Those who saved them-selves by a swift flight found an asylum only in distant Lithuania.

Still, not merely on account of religion and the fictitious crime did the popular hatred direct itself against the Jews; there was in addition a third motive, acting just as, if not more strongly. The Jews loaned money on interest, they were usurers; they carried on an indeed indispensable but none the less sinful business, and fleeced, so the saying was, the Christians. The accusation was not untrue, and yet unjust.

Popes and councils, supporting themselves upon an incorrect interpretation of Luke vi, 35,[1] have since the end of the eighth century with one voice and with a continually increasing rigor, condemned and visited with ecclesiastical penalties all taking of interest, in whatever form, on loaned capital. In the early Church, only the clergy were forbidden to take interest; but, as the influence of the Papal chair increased, the prohibition was extended to the laity also.

No distinction was made between interest and usury, but every stipulation for or taking of the slightest amount over and above the capital that had been loaned was forbidden by the Popes and councils, a prohibition from which there could be (as Alexis III, in 1179, declared) in no case a dispensation. To this Clement V at the Council of Vienna added the decision that it is heresy to assert that the taking of interest is not a sin.

Unendurable fetters were thereby placed upon all commerce and business; and Pope Gregory IX declared even the money advances, with interest stipulated, which maritime traffic requires, to be damnable usury. The Church had thereby placed itself in contradiction with the nature of things, with the indispensable requirements of civil life and of general trade; she might, indeed, prevent her own members from taking interest, but she could not command or compel

  1. The revised translation reads, "and lend, never despairing," in place of the old translation, il and lend* hoping for nothing again." (Translator.)