Even while clergy such as Cardinal de Vitry preached fire and brimstone against usury, the Church was increasingly willing to borrow money itself. Debt became essential to fighting wars, which both monarchs and the Pope needed to fund.

Europe’s first real private bank had been founded in the 1100s by the Knights Templar, a Catholic military order that fought in the Crusades. The Knights protected pilgrims who travelled to the Holy Land, and this protection included safeguarding their funds by allowing pilgrims to deposit money in Europe and withdraw it in the Holy Land.

Over time, the Templars offered a greater range of financial services; one of their loans relied on Crown Jewels as collateral. The Knights Templar disbanded in 1312, but other bankers extended the practice of lending until, by the 1500s, merchants were buying and selling business debts in fairs across Europe.




preach fire and brimstone
fire and brimstoneで「地獄の責め苦(業苦)」を象徴する表現。preachがつけば、聖職者が信者に向けて「地獄の責め苦について説教する、力説する」という意味になり、これも慣用表現。


Eventually kings, politicians, and business people embraced usury wholesale, and the Church looked the other way.

In 1462, Franciscan monks in Italy created the first non-profit pawnshops or monti di pieta (‘banks of piety’), which went on to spread across Europe. The idea was to be like a Grameen Bank in Renaissance Italy ― a lender of last resort, displacing loan sharks who extorted desperate borrowers. The Pope went on to approve ever more kinds of financial instruments, until lending with interest was effectively allowed.





Despite the many loopholes and exceptions, usury laws still had teeth. ‘It would be a mistake to regard the Church’s sweeping prohibition as a sort of Volstead Act respected only by partisans, casually enforced, and lightly regarded,’ write the economic historians Sydney Homer and Richard Sylla in A History of Interest Rates (2005).

So why did the prohibition on usury fade away?

しかしどんなにたくさんの抜け穴や例外があろうとも、高利貸し禁止法は生きていた。経済学者のシドニー・ホーマーとリチャード・シラーは著書”A History of Interest Rates”(2005年)で「教会の徹底的な高利貸し禁制を、たまに適用され、軽く見なされるような禁酒法の一種、支持者のみが尊重する内輪の法と考えるのは間違いだろう」と指摘している。


理由1: 利子の禁止自体が一種のポーズだった

One interpretation is that it was simply dogma ― just like the belief that the Sun revolves around the Earth ― that diminished in force as the Catholic Church splintered and lost political authority.

Consider the Church like a business, whose core product was salvation, the economists Robert B Ekelund and Robert F Hebert have argued. When the Catholic Church held a monopoly in Europe, the clergy could ‘sell’ salvation at high prices ― including strict prohibitions and purchased ‘indulgences’, which usurious sinners could buy in order to be absolved.

But in the 1500s, during the Reformation, theologians such as Martin Luther denounced these practices. They advocated a more direct relationship with God that did not rely on priests as intermediaries, and founded new Christian movements such as Protestantism. The effect was that of a new company undercutting a monopoly.

As Christian factions competed for believers, it led to a faith-based ‘race to the bottom’. And to increase their appeal, sects made fewer demands on believers ― which meant weakening their stance on usury.






理由2: 経済発展が進み融資を制約する必然性がなくなった

Here’s another view on why usury became less sinful: economic development eventually meant it wasn’t worth the trade-off.

In 16th-century Europe, the economy was shifting from one defined by local agriculture to centres of commerce such as Florence. Global expansion made loans and investments more profitable, even as gold arriving from South America caused inflation. In these circumstances, the opportunity cost of not lending money grew higher and higher, as Scheinkman and Glaeser have argued.



In addition, the spread of banking ultimately transformed credit from a personal transaction between neighbours to a competitive, impersonal market.

In The Idea of Usury (1949), the sociologist Benjamin Nelson argued that this institutional shift led Europeans to view moneylending more favourably during the Reformation. Luther interpreted Bible passages about usury, especially those that condemned charging interest on the poor, as calls to act generously. Usurers commit a sin, Luther wrote, only when their actions violate the do-unto-others principle ― that is, only if ‘they do not want to be treated this way in return by others’. This reciprocity meant merchants and wealthy families were allowed to charge each other interest. Luther asked Christians to offer the needy charity rather than loans ― but he still accepted interest rates under 5 per cent.


社会学者ベンジャミン・ネルソンは著書”The Idea of Usury”(1949年)で次のように論じる。宗教改革の時代、このような信用制度の進展を通じて、ヨーロッパ人は金貸し行為を好意的に捉えるになっていった。ルターの解釈によれば、聖書の高利貸しを諫める章句、とりわけ貧者への利貸しに対する非難は、神による寛容性の要求なのである。





Surely we’re well rid of this moralising approach to finance. A world without interest payments would be one in which few people could access the funds they need to attend college, buy a house, or start a business.

John Calvin, the French Reformation leader, thought it was immoral that his countrymen raised prices in order to take advantage of a flood of Protestant refugees who arrived in Geneva; but, just as surge pricing can recruit more Uber drivers on New Year’s Eve, we know that high prices also work to send a signal so that goods can flow to where they are needed.

But this isn’t the full story. The rise of debt wasn’t the Church simply bowing to the inevitable. Members of the clergy played an active role in creating the mindset that allowed usury to become respectable.




bow to someone (something)
someone (something)に屈する」、「someone (something)を認めざるをえない」といった不本意な対応を意味する。




“I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs. Paper is poverty… it is only the ghost of money, and not money itself.”
(Thomas Jefferson, Founding Father, 3rd US President, and Author of the “Bill Against Usury”)


注意::ここでprivate banksといっているのは、現代スイスなどのプライベートバンクの意味ではなく、国有でない民間資本の銀行を指す。実際、現在のFRBは中央銀行ということばで煙に巻いているが、国有組織ではなく民間資本の銀行に過ぎない。金融緩和をすればするだけ株主には配当が支払われている。


“Banks have done more injury to the religion, morality, tranquility, prosperity, and even wealth of the nation than they can have done or ever will do good.”
(John Adams, Founding Father and 2nd US President)



“You (the bank) are a den of thieves and vipers, and I intend to rout you out, and by the Eternal God, I will rout you out.”
(Andrew Jackson, 7th US President)



“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country; corporations have been enthroned, an era of corruption in High Places will follow, and the Money Power of the Country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the People, until the wealth is aggregated in a few hands, and the Republic is destroyed.”
(Abraham Lincoln, 16th US President)



“The one aim of these financiers is world control by creation of inextinguishable debts.”
(Henry Ford American Industrialist, Founder of the Ford Company)



“The most hated sort, and with the greatest reason, is usury, which makes a gain out of money itself, and not from the natural object of it. For money was intended to be used in exchange, but not to increase at interest. . . Wherefore of all modes of getting wealth this is the most unnatural.”
(Aristotle, Greek philosopher and scientist)