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V Lateran Council

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  • INTRODUCTION
    • SESSION 10 - 4 May 1515
      • [On the reform of credit organisations (Montes pietatis)]
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SESSION 10 - 4 May 1515

[On the reform of credit organisations (Montes pietatis)]

Leo, bishop, servant of the servants of God, with the approval of the sacred council, for an everlasting record. We ought to give first place in our pastoral office, among our many anxious cares, to ensuring that what is healthy, praiseworthy, in keeping with the christian faith, and in harmony with good customs may be not only clarified in our time but also made known to future generations, and that what could offer matter for scandal be totally cut down, wholly uprooted and nowhere permitted to spread, while at the same time permitting those seeds to be planted in the Lord's field and in the vineyard of the Lord of hosts which can spiritually feed the minds of the faithful, once the cockle has been uprooted and the wild olive cut down. Indeed, we have learnt that among some of our dear sons who were masters in theology and doctors of civil and canon law, there has recently broken out again a particular controversy, not without scandal and disquiet for ordinary people, with regard to the relief of the poor by means of loans made to them by public authorities. They are popularly called credit organisations and have been set up in many cities of Italy by the magistrates of the cities and by other Christians, to assist by this kind of loan the lack of resources among the poor lest they be swallowed up by the greed of usurers They have been praised and encouraged by holy men, preachers of God's word, and approved and confirmed also by a number of our predecessors as popes, to the effect that the said credit organisations are not out of harmony with christian dogma, even though there is controversy and different opinions regarding the question .

Some of these masters and doctors say that the credit organisations are unlawful. After a fixed period of time has passed, they say, those attached to these organisations demand from the poor to whom they make a loan so much per pound in addition to the capital sum. For this reason they cannot avoid the crime of usury or injustice, that is to say a clearly defined evil, since our Lord, according to Luke the evangelist, has bound us by a clear command that we ought not to expect any addition to the capital sum when we grant a loan. For, that is the real meaning of usury: when, from its use, a thing which produces nothing is applied to the acquiring of gain and profit without any work, any expense or any risk. The same masters and doctors add that in these credit organisations neither commutative nor distributive justice is observed, even though contracts of this kind, if they are to be duly approved, ought not to go beyond the bounds of justice. They endeavour to prove this on the grounds that the expenses of the maintenance of these organisations, which ought to be paid by many persons (as they say), are extracted only from the poor to whom a loan is made; and at the same time certain other persons are given more than their necessary and moderate expenses (as they seem to imply), not without an appearance of evil and an encouragement to wrongdoing .

But many other masters and doctors say the opposite and, both in writing and in speech, unite in speaking in many of the schools in Italy in defence of so great a benefit and one so necessary to the state, on the grounds that nothing is being sought nor hoped for from the loan as such. Nevertheless, they argue, for the compensation of the organisations -- that is, to defray the expenses of those employed and of all the things necessarily pertaining to the upkeep of the said organisations -- they may lawfully ask and receive, in addition to the capital, a moderate and necessary sum from those deriving benefit from the loan, provided that no profit is made therefrom. This is in virtue of the rule of law that the person who experiences benefit ought also to meet the charge, especially when there is added the support of the apostolic authority. They point out that this opinion was approved by our predecessors of happy memory, the Roman pontiffs Paul II, Sixtus IV, Innocent VIII, Alexander VI and Julius II, as well as by saints and persons devoted to God and held in high esteem for their holiness, and has been preached in sermons about the gospel truth .

We wish to make suitable arrangements on this question (in accord with what we have received from on high). We commend the zeal for justice displayed by the former group, which desires to prevent the opening up of the chasm of usury, as well as the love of piety and truth shown by the latter group, which wishes to aid the poor, and indeed the earnestness of both sides. Since, therefore, this whole question appears to concern the peace and tranquility of the whole christian state, we declare and define, with the approval of the sacred council, that the above-mentioned credit organisations, established by states and hitherto approved and confirmed by the authority of the apostolic see, do not introduce any kind of evil or provide any incentive to sin if they receive, in addition to the capital, a moderate sum for their expenses and by way of compensation, provided it is intended exclusively to defray the expenses of those employed and of other things pertaining (as mentioned) to the upkeep of the organisations, and provided that no profit is made therefrom. They ought not, indeed, to be condemned in any way. Rather, such a type of lending is meritorious and should be praised and approved. It certainly should not be considered as usurious; it is lawful to preach the piety and mercy of such organisations to the people, including the indulgences granted for this purpose by the holy apostolic see; and in the future, with the approval of the apostolic see, other similar credit organisations can be established. It would, however, be much more perfect and more holy if such credit organisations were completely gratuitous: that is, if those establishing them provided definite sums with which would be paid, if not the total expenses, then at least half the wages of those employed by the organisations, with the result that the debt of the poor would be lightened thereby. We therefore decree that Christ's faithful ought to be prompted, by a grant of substantial indulgences, to give aid to the poor by providing the sums of which we have spoken, m order to meet the costs of the organisations .

It is our will that all religious as well as ecclesiastical and secular persons who henceforth dare to preach or argue otherwise by word or in writing, contrary to the sense of the present declaration and sanction, incur the punishment of immediate excommunication, notwithstanding any kind of privilege, things said above, constitutions and orders of the apostolic see, and anything else to the contrary .




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