Usury, Interest, and the Rise of Capitalism
The controversy over usury, lending money at interest, raged throughout early modern Europe and became especially acute during the Renaissance. Usury was regarded as unchristian, and insofar as the Church exerted its influence and considerable power, it was prohibited for centuries, until the rise of capitalistic enterprise during the Continental Renaissance felt the need for interest- bearing loans to foster trade and other business enterprises. Italian bankers, such as the Medicis in Italy, were in the forefront of those who insisted on the practice of usury as necessary for business expansion. They worked hard, therefore, to gain control of the papacy whenever possible and to circumvent the laws against usury. Others naturally followed until the practice of usury became widespread in Europe, not only among Jews who were forbidden to own land (which was the basis of wealth in the Middle Ages), but also among Christians. The period 1300-1700 is well known for the growth of the banking industry and the expansion of trade as new markets were found, especially in India and the rest of Asia, during this age of exploration.
In the Renaissance much of the controversy over usury centered upon interpretations of Scripture, the prohibitions against certain kinds of usury stipulated in several books of the Bible, but discussions of the issue actually go as far back as Plato and Aristotle. St.
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Publication information: Book title: Understanding The Merchant of Venice:A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents. Contributors: Jay L. Halio - Author. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of publication: Westport, CT. Publication year: 2000. Page number: 115.