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History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom by Andrew Dickson White

Part 16 out of 19

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on land, but places in the sea; thus he shows where Jonah was
swallowed by the whale, and "where St. Peter caught one hundred
and fifty-three fishes."

As to the Dead Sea miracles generally, he does not dwell on them
at great length; he evidently felt that Quaresmio had exhausted
the subject; but he shows largely the fruits of Quaresmio's
teaching in other matters.

So, too, we find the thoughts and words of Quaresmio echoing afar
through the German universities, in public disquisitions,
dissertations, and sermons. The great Bible commentators, both
Catholic and Protestant, generally agreed in accepting them.

But, strong as this theological theory was, we find that, as time
went on, it required to be braced somewhat, and in 1692 Wedelius,
Professor of Medicine at Jena, chose as the subject of his
inaugural address The Physiology of the Destruction of Sodom and
of the Statue of Salt.

It is a masterly example of "sanctified science." At great
length he dwells on the characteristics of sulphur, salt, and
thunderbolts; mixes up scriptural texts, theology, and chemistry
after a most bewildering fashion; and finally comes to the
conclusion that a thunderbolt, flung by the Almighty, calcined
the body of Lot's wife, and at the same time vitrified its
particles into a glassy mass looking like salt.[437]

[437] For Zvallart, see his Tres-devot Voyage de Ierusalem,
Antwerp, 1608, book iv, chapter viii. His journey was made
twenty years before. For Father Boucher, see his Bouquet de la
Terre Saincte, Paris, 1622, pp. 447, 448. For Heidmann, see his
Palaestina, 1689, pp. 58-62. For Belon's credulity in matters
referred to, see his Observations de Plusieurs Singularitez,
etc., Paris, 1553, pp. 141-144; and for the legend of the peas
changed into pebbles, p. 145; see also Lartet in De Luynes, vol.
iii, p. 11. For Rauwolf, see the Reyssbuch, and Tobler,
Bibliographia. For a good acoount of the influence of Montaigne
in developing French scepticism, see Prevost-Paradol's study on
Montaigne prefixed to the Le Clerc edition of the Essays, Paris,
1865; also the well-known passages in Lecky's Rationalism in
Europe. For Quaresmio I have consulted both the Plantin edition
of 1639 and the superb new Venice edition of 1880-'82. The
latter, though less prized by book fanciers, is the more
valuable, since it contains some very interesting recent notes.
For the above discussion, see Plantin edition, vol. ii, pp. 758
et seq., and Venice edition, vol. ii, pp. 572-574. As to the
effect of Quaresmio on the Protestant Church, see Wedelius, De
Statua Salis, Jenae, 1692, pp.6, 7, and elswehere. For Eugene
Roger, see his La Terre Saincte, Paris, 1664; the map, showing
various sites referred to, is in the preface; and for basilisks,
salamanders, etc., see pp. 89-92, 139, 218, and elsewhere.

Not only were these views demonstrated, so far as
theologico-scientific reasoning could demonstrate anything, but
it was clearly shown, by a continuous chain of testimony from the
earliest ages, that the salt statue at Usdum had been recognised
as the body of Lot's wife by Jews, Mohammedans, and the universal
Christian Church, "always, everywhere, and by all."

Under the influence of teachings like these--and of the winter
rains--new wonders began to appear at the salt pillar. In 1661
the Franciscan monk Zwinner published his travels in Palestine,
and gave not only most of the old myths regarding the salt
statue, but a new one, in some respects more striking than any of
the old--for he had heard that a dog, also transformed into salt,
was standing by the side of Lot's wife.

Even the more solid Benedictine scholars were carried away, and
we find in the Sacred History by Prof. Mezger, of the order of
St. Benedict, published in 1700, a renewal of the declaration
that the salt statue must be a "PERPETUAL memorial."

But it was soon evident that the scientific current was still
working beneath this ponderous mass of theological authority. A
typical evidence of this we find in 1666 in the travels of
Doubdan, a canon of St. Denis. As to the Dead Sea, he says
that he saw no smoke, no clouds, and no "black, sticky water"; as
to the statue of Lot's wife, he says, "The moderns do not believe
so easily that she has lasted so long"; then, as if alarmed at
his own boldness, he concedes that the sea MAY be black and
sticky in the middle; and from Lot's wife he escapes under cover
of some pious generalities. Four years later another French
ecclesiastic, Jacques Goujon, referring in his published travels
to the legends of the salt pillar, says: "People may believe
these stories as much as they choose; I did not see it, nor did
I go there." So, too, in 1697, Morison, a dignitary of the
French Church, having travelled in Palestine, confesses that, as
to the story of the pillar of salt, he has difficulty in
believing it.

The same current is observed working still more strongly in the
travels of the Rev. Henry Maundrell, an English chaplain at
Aleppo, who travelled through Palestine during the same year.
He pours contempt over the legends of the Dead Sea in general:
as to the story that birds could not fly over it, he says that he
saw them flying there; as to the utter absence of life in the
sea, he saw small shells in it; he saw no traces of any buried
cities; and as to the stories regarding the statue of Lot's wife
and the proposal to visit it, he says, "Nor could we give faith
enough to these reports to induce us to go on such an errand."

The influence of the Baconian philosophy on his mind is very
clear; for, in expressing his disbelief in the Dead Sea apples,
with their contents of ashes, he says that he saw none, and he
cites Lord Bacon in support of scepticism on this and similar

But the strongest effect of this growing scepticism is seen near
the end of that century, when the eminent Dutch commentator
Clericus (Le Clerc) published his commentary on the Pentateuch
and his Dissertation on the Statue of Salt.

At great length he brings all his shrewdness and learning to bear
against the whole legend of the actual transformation of Lot's
wife and the existence of the salt pillar, and ends by saying
that "the whole story is due to the vanity of some and the
credulity of more."

In the beginning of the eighteenth century we find new
tributaries to this rivulet of scientific thought. In 1701
Father Felix Beaugrand dismisses the Dead Sea legends and the
salt statue very curtly and dryly--expressing not his belief in
it, but a conventional wish to believe.

In 1709 a scholar appeared in another part of Europe and of
different faith, who did far more than any of his predecessors to
envelop the Dead Sea legends in an atmosphere of truth--Adrian
Reland, professor at the University of Utrecht. His work on
Palestine is a monument of patient scholarship, having as its
nucleus a love of truth as truth: there is no irreverence in
him, but he quietly brushes away a great mass of myths and
legends: as to the statue of Lot's wife, he treats it warily,
but applies the comparative method to it with killing effect, by
showing that the story of its miraculous renewal is but one among
many of its kind.[438]

[438] For Zwinner, see his Blumenbuch des Heyligen Landes,
Munchen, 1661, p. 454. For Mezger, see his Sacra Historia,
Augsburg, 1700, p. 30. For Doubdan, see his Voyage de la Terre-
Sainte, Paris, 1670, pp. 338, 339; also Tobler and Gage's Ritter.
For Goujon, see his Histoire et Voyage de la Terre Saincte,
Lyons, 1670, p. 230, etc. For Morison, see his Voyage, book ii,
pp. 516, 517. For Maundrell, see in Wright's Collection, pp. 383
et seq. For Clericus, see his Dissertation de Salis Statua, in
his Pentateuch, edition of 1696, pp. 327 et seq. For Father
Beaugrand, see his Voyage, Paris, 1701, pp. 137 et seq. For
Reland, see his Palaestina, Utrecht, 1714, vol. i, pp. 61-254,

Yet to superficial observers the old current of myth and marvel
seemed to flow into the eighteenth century as strong as ever, and
of this we may take two typical evidences. The first of these
is the Pious Pilgrimage of Vincent Briemle. His journey was made
about 171O; and his work, brought out under the auspices of a
high papal functionary some years later, in a heavy quarto, gave
new life to the stories of the hellish character of the Dead Sea,
and especially to the miraculous renewal of the salt statue.

In 172O came a still more striking effort to maintain the old
belief in the north of Europe, for in that year the eminent
theologian Masius published his great treatise on The Conversion
of Lot's Wife into a Statue of Salt.

Evidently intending that this work should be the last word on
this subject in Germany, as Quaresmio had imagined that his work
would be the last in Italy, he develops his subject after the
high scholastic and theologic manner. Calling attention first
to the divine command in the New Testament, "Remember Lot's
wife," he argues through a long series of chapters. In the ninth
of these he discusses "the impelling cause" of her looking back,
and introduces us to the question, formerly so often treated by
theologians, whether the soul of Lot's wife was finally saved.
Here we are glad to learn that the big, warm heart of Luther
lifted him above the common herd of theologians, and led him to
declare that she was "a faithful and saintly woman," and that she
certainly was not eternally damned. In justice to the Roman
Church also it should be said that several of her most eminent
commentators took a similar view, and insisted that the sin of
Lot's wife was venial, and therefore, at the worst, could only
subject her to the fires of purgatory.

The eleventh chapter discusses at length the question HOW she
was converted into salt, and, mentioning many theological
opinions, dwells especially upon the view of Rivetus, that a
thunderbolt, made up apparently of fire, sulphur, and salt,
wrought her transformation at the same time that it blasted the
land; and he bases this opinion upon the twenty-ninth chapter of
Deuteronomy and the one hundred and seventh Psalm.

Later, Masius presents a sacred scientific theory that "saline
particles entered into her until her whole body was infected";
and with this he connects another piece of sanctified science, to
the effect that "stagnant bile" may have rendered the surface of
her body "entirely shining, bitter, dry, and deformed."

Finally, he comes to the great question whether the salt pillar
is still in existence. On this he is full and fair. On one
hand he allows that Luther thought that it was involved in the
general destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and he cites various
travellers who had failed to find it; but, on the other hand, he
gives a long chain of evidence to show that it continued to
exist: very wisely he reminds the reader that the positive
testimony of those who have seen it must outweigh the negative
testimony of those who have not, and he finally decides that the
salt statue is still in being.

No doubt a work like this produced a considerable effect in
Protestant countries; indeed, this effect seems evident as far
off as England, for, in 172O, we find in Dean Prideaux's Old and
New Testament connected a map on which the statue of salt is
carefully indicated. So, too, in Holland, in the Sacred
Geography published at Utrecht in 1758 by the theologian
Bachiene, we find him, while showing many signs of rationalism,
evidently inclined to the old views as to the existence of the
salt pillar; but just here comes a curious evidence of the real
direction of the current of thought through the century, for,
nine years later, in the German translation of Bachiene's work we
find copious notes by the translator in a far more rationalistic
spirit; indeed, we see the dawn of the inevitable day of
compromise, for we now have, instead of the old argument that the
divine power by one miraculous act changed Lot's wife into a salt
pillar, the suggestion that she was caught in a shower of sulphur
and saltpetre, covered by it, and that the result was a lump,
which in a general way IS CALLED in our sacred books "a pillar
of salt."[439]

[439] For Briemle, see his Andachtige Pilgerfahrt, p. 129. For
Masius, see his De Uxore Lothi in Statuam Salis Conversa,
Hafniae, 1720, especially pages 29-31. For Dean Prideaux, see
his Old and New Testament connected in the History of the Jews,
1720, map at page 7. For Bachiene, see his Historische und
geographische Beschreibung von Palaestina, Leipzig, 1766, vol. i,
pp. 118-120, and notes.

But, from the middle of the eighteenth century, the new current
sets through Christendom with ever-increasing strength. Very
interesting is it to compare the great scriptural commentaries of
the middle of this century with those published a century

Of the earlier ones we may take Matthew Poole's Synopsis as a
type: as authorized by royal decree in 1667 it contains very
substantial arguments for the pious belief in the statue. Of
the later ones we may take the edition of the noted commentary of
the Jesuit Tirinus seventy years later: while he feels bound to
present the authorities, he evidently endeavours to get rid of
the subject as speedily as possible under cover of
conventionalities; of the spirit of Quaresmio he shows no

[440] For Poole (Polus) see his Synopsis, 1669, p. 179; and for
Titinus, the Lyons edition of his Commentary, 1736, p. 10.

About 1760 came a striking evidence of the strength of this new
current. The Abate Mariti then published his book upon the Holy
Land; and of this book, by an Italian ecclesiastic, the most
eminent of German bibliographers in this field says that it first
broke a path for critical study of the Holy Land. Mariti is
entirely sceptical as to the sinking of the valley of Siddim and
the overwhelming of the cities. He speaks kindly of a Capuchin
Father who saw everywhere at the Dead Sea traces of the divine
malediction, while he himself could not see them, and says, "It
is because a Capuchin carries everywhere the five senses of
faith, while I only carry those of nature." He speaks of "the
lies of Josephus," and makes merry over "the rude and shapeless
block" which the guide assured him was the statue of Lot's wife,
explaining the want of human form in the salt pillar by telling
him that this complete metamorphosis was part of her punishment.

About twenty years later, another remarkable man, Volney,
broaches the subject in what was then known as the "philosophic"
spirit. Between the years 1783 and 1785 he made an extensive
journey through the Holy Land and published a volume of travels
which by acuteness of thought and vigour of style secured general
attention. In these, myth and legend were thrown aside, and we
have an account simply dictated by the love of truth as truth.
He, too, keeps the torch of science burning by applying his
geological knowledge to the regions which he traverses.

As we look back over the eighteenth century we see mingled with
the new current of thought, and strengthening it, a constantly
increasing stream of more strictly scientific observation and

To review it briefly: in the very first years of the century
Maraldi showed the Paris Academy of Sciences fossil fishes found
in the Lebanon region; a little later, Cornelius Bruyn, in the
French edition of his Eastern travels, gave well-drawn
representations of fossil fishes and shells, some of them from
the region of the Dead Sea; about the middle of the century
Richard Pococke, Bishop of Meath, and Korte of Altona made more
statements of the same sort; and toward the close of the
century, as we have seen, Volney gave still more of these
researches, with philosophical deductions from them.

The result of all this was that there gradually dawned upon
thinking men the conviction that, for ages before the appearance
of man on the planet, and during all the period since his
appearance, natural laws have been steadily in force in Palestine
as elsewhere; this conviction obliged men to consider other than
supernatural causes for the phenomena of the Dead Sea, and myth
and marvel steadily shrank in value.

But at the very threshold of the nineteenth century Chateaubriand
came into the field, and he seemed to banish the scientific
spirit, though what he really did was to conceal it temporarily
behind the vapours of his rhetoric. The time was propitious for
him. It was the period of reaction after the French Revolution,
when what was called religion was again in fashion, and when even
atheists supported it as a good thing for common people: of such
an epoch Chateaubriand, with his superficial information, thin
sentiment, and showy verbiage, was the foreordained prophet.
His enemies were wont to deny that he ever saw the Holy Land;
whether he did or not, he added nothing to real knowledge, but
simply threw a momentary glamour over the regions he described,
and especially over the Dead Sea. The legend of Lot's wife he
carefully avoided, for he knew too well the danger of ridicule in

As long as the Napoleonic and Bourbon reigns lasted, and indeed
for some time afterward, this kind of dealing with the Holy Land
was fashionable, and we have a long series of men, especially of
Frenchmen, who evidently received their impulse from

About 1831 De Geramb, Abbot of La Trappe, evidently a very noble
and devout spirit, sees vapour above the Dead Sea, but stretches
the truth a little--speaking of it as "vapour or smoke." He
could not find the salt statue, and complains of the "diversity
of stories regarding it." The simple physical cause of this
diversity--the washing out of different statues in different
years--never occurs to him; but he comforts himself with the
scriptural warrant for the metamorphosis.[441]

[441] For Mariti, see his Voyage, etc., vol. ii, pp. 352-356.
For Tobler's high opinion of him, see the Bibliographia, pp. 132,
133. For Volney, see his Voyage en Syrie et Egypte, Paris, 1807,
vol. i, pp. 308 et seq.; also, for a statement of contributions
of the eighteenth century to geology, Lartet in De Luynes's Mer
Morte, vol. iii, p. 12. For Cornelius Bruyn, see French edition
of his works, 1714 (in which his name is given as "Le Brun"),
especially for representations of fossils, pp. 309, 375. For
Chateaubriand, see his Voyage, etc., vol. ii, part iii. For De
Geramb, see his Voyage, vol. ii, pp. 45-47.

But to the honour of scientific men and scientific truth it
should be said that even under Napoleon and the Bourbons there
were men who continued to explore, observe, and describe with the
simple love of truth as truth, and in spite of the probability
that their researches would be received during their lifetime
with contempt and even hostility, both in church and state.

The pioneer in this work of the nineteenth century was the German
naturalist Ulrich Seetzen. He began his main investigation in
1806, and soon his learning, courage, and honesty threw a flood
of new light into the Dead Sea questions.

In this light, myth and legend faded more rapidly than ever.
Typical of his method is his examination of the Dead Sea fruit.
He found, on reaching Palestine, that Josephus's story regarding
it, which had been accepted for nearly two thousand years, was
believed on all sides; more than this, he found that the
original myth had so grown that a multitude of respectable people
at Bethlehem and elsewhere assured him that not only apples, but
pears, pomegranates, figs, lemons, and many other fruits which
grow upon the shores of the Dead Sea, though beautiful to look
upon, were filled with ashes. These good people declared to
Seetzen that they had seen these fruits, and that, not long
before, a basketful of them which had been sent to a merchant of
Jaffa had turned to ashes.

Seetzen was evidently perplexed by this mass of testimony and
naturally anxious to examine these fruits. On arriving at the
sea he began to look for them, and the guide soon showed him the
"apples." These he found to be simply an asclepia, which had
been described by Linnaeus, and which is found in the East
Indies, Arabia, Egypt, Jamaica, and elsewhere--the "ashes" being
simply seeds. He looked next for the other fruits, and the
guide soon found for him the "lemons": these he discovered to be
a species of solanum found in other parts of Palestine and
elsewhere, and the seeds in these were the famous "cinders." He
looked next for the pears, figs, and other accursed fruits; but,
instead of finding them filled with ashes and cinders, he found
them like the same fruits in other lands, and he tells us that he
ate the figs with much pleasure.

So perished a myth which had been kept alive two thousand
years,--partly by modes of thought natural to theologians, partly
by the self-interest of guides, and partly by the love of
marvel-mongering among travellers.

The other myths fared no better. As to the appearance of the
sea, he found its waters not "black and sticky," but blue and
transparent; he found no smoke rising from the abyss, but tells
us that sunlight and cloud and shore were pleasantly reflected
from the surface. As to Lot's wife, he found no salt pillar
which had been a careless woman, but the Arabs showed him many
boulders which had once been wicked men.

His work was worthily continued by a long succession of true
investigators,--among them such travellers or geographers as
Burckhardt, Irby, Mangles, Fallmerayer, and Carl von Raumer: by
men like these the atmosphere of myth and legend was steadily
cleared away; as a rule, they simply forgot Lot's wife

In this noble succession should be mentioned an American
theologian, Dr. Edward Robinson, professor at New York.
Beginning about 1826, he devoted himself for thirty years to the
thorough study of the geography of Palestine, and he found a
worthy coadjutor in another American divine, Dr. Eli Smith.
Neither of these men departed openly from the old traditions:
that would have cost a heart-breaking price--the loss of all
further opportunity to carry on their researches. Robinson did
not even think it best to call attention to the mythical
character of much on which his predecessors had insisted; he
simply brought in, more and more, the dry, clear atmosphere of
the love of truth for truth's sake, and, in this, myths and
legends steadily disappeared. By doing this he rendered a far
greater service to real Christianity than any other theologian
had ever done in this field.

Very characteristic is his dealing with the myth of Lot's wife.
Though more than once at Usdum,--though giving valuable
information regarding the sea, shore, and mountains there, he
carefully avoids all mention of the salt pillar and of the legend
which arose from it. In this he set an example followed by most
of the more thoughtful religious travellers since his time.
Very significant is it to see the New Testament injunction,
"Remember Lot's wife," so utterly forgotten. These later
investigators seem never to have heard of it; and this constant
forgetfulness shows the change which had taken place in the
enlightened thinking of the world.

But in the year 1848 came an episode very striking in its
character and effect.

At that time, the war between the United States and Mexico having
closed, Lieutenant Lynch, of the United States Navy, found
himself in the port of Vera Cruz, commanding an old hulk, the
Supply. Looking about for something to do, it occurred to him
to write to the Secretary of the Navy asking permission to
explore the Dead Sea. Under ordinary circumstances the proposal
would doubtless have been strangled with red tape; but,
fortunately, the Secretary at that time was Mr. John Y. Mason, of
Virginia. Mr. Mason was famous for his good nature. Both at
Washington and at Paris, where he was afterward minister, this
predominant trait has left a multitude of amusing traditions; it
was of him that Senator Benton said, "To be supremely happy he
must have his paunch full of oysters and his hands full of

The Secretary granted permission, but evidently gave the matter
not another thought. As a result, came an expedition the most
comical and one of the most rich in results to be found in
American annals. Never was anything so happy-go-lucky.
Lieutenant Lynch started with his hulk, with hardly an instrument
save those ordinarily found on shipboard, and with a body of men
probably the most unfit for anything like scientific
investigation ever sent on such an errand; fortunately, he picked
up a young instructor in mathematics, Mr. Anderson, and added to
his apparatus two strong iron boats.

Arriving, after a tedious voyage, on the coast of Asia Minor, he
set to work. He had no adequate preparation in general history,
archaeology, or the physical sciences; but he had his American
patriotism, energy, pluck, pride, and devotion to duty, and these
qualities stood him in good stead. With great labour he got the
iron boats across the country. Then the tug of war began.
First of all investigators, he forced his way through the whole
length of the river Jordan and from end to end of the Dead Sea.
There were constant difficulties--geographical, climatic, and
personal; but Lynch cut through them all. He was brave or
shrewd, as there was need. Anderson proved an admirable helper,
and together they made surveys of distances, altitudes, depths,
and sundry simple investigations in a geological, mineralogical,
and chemical way. Much was poorly done, much was left undone,
but the general result was most honourable both to Lynch and
Anderson; and Secretary Mason found that his easy-going patronage
of the enterprise was the best act of his official life.

The results of this expedition on public opinion were most
curious. Lynch was no scholar in any sense; he had travelled
little, and thought less on the real questions underlying the
whole investigation; as to the difference in depth of the two
parts of the lake, he jumped--with a sailor's disregard of
logic--to the conclusion that it somehow proved the mythical
account of the overwhelming of the cities, and he indulged in
reflections of a sort probably suggested by his recollections of
American Sunday-schools.

Especially noteworthy is his treatment of the legend of Lot's
wife. He found the pillar of salt. It happened to be at that
period a circular column of friable salt rock, about forty feet
high; yet, while he accepts every other old myth, he treats the
belief that this was once the wife of Lot as "a superstition."
One little circumstance added enormously to the influence of this
book, for, as a frontispiece, he inserted a picture of the salt
column. It was delineated in rather a poetic manner: light
streamed upon it, heavy clouds hung above it, and, as a
background, were ranged buttresses of salt rock furrowed and
channelled out by the winter rains: this salt statue picture was
spread far and wide, and in thousands of country pulpits and
Sunday-schools it was shown as a tribute of science to Scripture.

Nor was this influence confined to American Sunday-school
children: Lynch had innocently set a trap into which several
European theologians stumbled. One of these was Dr. Lorenz
Gratz, Vicar-General of Augsburg, a theological professor. In
the second edition of his Theatre of the Holy Scriptures,
published in 1858, he hails Lynch's discovery of the salt pillar
with joy, forgets his allusion to the old theory regarding it as
a superstition, and does not stop to learn that this was one of a
succession of statues washed out yearly by the rains, but accepts
it as the originaL Lot's wife.

The French churchmen suffered most. About two years after
Lynch, De Saulcy visited the Dead Sea to explore it thoroughly,
evidently in the interest of sacred science--and of his own
promotion. Of the modest thoroughness of Robinson there is no
trace in his writings. He promptly discovered the overwhelmed
cities, which no one before or since has ever found, poured
contempt on other investigators, and threw over his whole work an
air of piety. But, unfortunately, having a Frenchman's dread of
ridicule, he attempted to give a rationalistic explanation of
what he calls "the enormous needles of salt washed out by the
winter rain," and their connection with the Lot's wife myth, and
declared his firm belief that she, "being delayed by curiosity or
terror, was crushed by a rock which rolled down from the
mountain, and when Lot and his children turned about they saw at
the place where she had been only the rock of salt which covered
her body."

But this would not do at all, and an eminent ecclesiastic
privately and publicly expostulated with De Saulcy--very
naturally declaring that "it was not Lot who wrote the book of

The result was that another edition of De Saulcy's work was
published by a Church Book Society, with the offending passage
omitted; but a passage was retained really far more suggestive of
heterodoxy, and this was an Arab legend accounting for the origin
of certain rocks near the Dead Sea curiously resembling salt
formations. This in effect ran as follows:

"Abraham, the friend of God, having come here one day with his
mule to buy salt, the salt-workers impudently told him that they
had no salt to sell, whereupon the patriarch said: `Your words
are, true. you have no salt to sell,' and instantly the salt of
this whole region was transformed into stone, or rather into a
salt which has lost its savour."

Nothing could be more sure than this story to throw light into
the mental and moral process by which the salt pillar myth was
originally created.

In the years 1864 and 1865 came an expedition on a much more
imposing scale: that of the Duc de Luynes. His knowledge of
archaeology and his wealth were freely devoted to working the
mine which Lynch had opened, and, taking with him an iron vessel
and several savants, he devoted himself especially to finding
the cities of the Dead Sea, and to giving less vague accounts of
them than those of De Saulcy. But he was disappointed, and
honest enough to confess his disappointment. So vanished one of
the most cherished parts of the legend.

But worse remained behind. In the orthodox duke's company was
an acute geologist, Monsieur Lartet, who in due time made an
elaborate report, which let a flood of light into the whole

The Abbe Richard had been rejoicing the orthodox heart of France
by exhibiting some prehistoric flint implements as the knives
which Joshua had made for circumcision. By a truthful statement
Monsieur Lartet set all France laughing at the Abbe, and then
turned to the geology of the Dead Sea basin. While he conceded
that man may have seen some volcanic crisis there, and may have
preserved a vivid remembrance of the vapour then rising, his
whole argument showed irresistibly that all the phenomena of the
region are due to natural causes, and that, so far from a sudden
rising of the lake above the valley within historic times, it has
been for ages steadily subsiding.

Since Balaam was called by Balak to curse his enemies, and
"blessed them altogether," there has never been a more unexpected
tribute to truth.

Even the salt pillar at Usdum, as depicted in Lynch's book, aided
to undermine the myth among thinking men; for the background of
the picture showed other pillars of salt in process of formation;
and the ultimate result of all these expeditions was to spread an
atmosphere in which myth and legend became more and more

To sum up the main points in this work of the nineteenth century:
Seetzen, Robinson, and others had found that a human being could
traverse the lake without being killed by hellish smoke; that
the waters gave forth no odours; that the fruits of the region
were not created full of cinders to match the desolation of the
Dead Sea, but were growths not uncommon in Asia Minor and
elsewhere; in fact, that all the phenomena were due to natural

Ritter and others had shown that all noted features of the Dead
Sea and the surrounding country were to be found in various other
lakes and regions, to which no supernatural cause was ascribed
among enlightened men. Lynch, Van de Velde, Osborne, and others
had revealed the fact that the "pillar of salt" was frequently
formed anew by the rains; and Lartet and other geologists had
given a final blow to the myths by making it clear from the
markings on the neighbouring rocks that, instead of a sudden
upheaval of the sea above the valley of Siddim, there had been a
gradual subsidence for ages.[442]

[442] For Seetzen, see his Reisen, edited by Kruse, Berlin, 1854-
'59; for the "Dead Sea Fruits," vol. ii, pp. 231 et seq.; for the
appearance of the sea, etc., p. 243, and elsewhere; for the Arab
explanatory transformation legends, vol. iii, pp. 7, 14, 17. As
to similarity of the "pillars of salt" to columns washed out by
rains elsewhere, see Kruse's commentary in vol. iv, p. 240; also
Fallmerayer, vol. i, p. 197. For Irby and Mangles, see work
already cited. For Robinson, see his Biblical Researches,
London,1841; also his Later Biblical Researches, London, 1856.
For Lynch, see his Narrative, London, 1849. For Gratz, see his
Schauplatz der Heyl. Schrift, pp. 186, 187. For De Saulcy, see
his Voyage autour de la Mer Morte, Paris, 1853, especially vol.
i, p. 252, and his journal of the early months of 1851, in vol.
ii, comparing it with his work of the same title published in
1858 in the Bibliotheque Catholique de Voyages et du Romans, vol.
i, pp. 78-81. For Lartet, see his papers read before the
Geographical Society at Paris; also citations in Robinson; but,
above all, his elaborate reports which form the greater part of
the second and third volumes of the monumental work which bears
the name of De Luynes, already cited. For exposures of De
Saulcey's credulity and errors, see Van de Velde, Syria and
Palestine, passim; also Canon Tristram's Land of Israel; also De
Luynes, passim.

Even before all this evidence was in, a judicial decision had
been pronounced upon the whole question by an authority both
Christian and scientific, from whom there could be no appeal.
During the second quarter of the century Prof. Carl Ritter, of
the University of Berlin, began giving to the world those
researches which have placed him at the head of all geographers
ancient or modern, and finally he brought together those relating
to the geography of the Holy Land, publishing them as part of his
great work on the physical geography of the earth. He was a
Christian, and nothing could be more reverent than his treatment
of the whole subject; but his German honesty did not permit him
to conceal the truth, and he simply classed together all the
stories of the Dead Sea--old and new--no matter where found,
whether in the sacred books of Jews, Christians, or Mohammedans,
whether in lives of saints or accounts of travellers, as "myths"
and "sagas."

From this decision there has never been among intelligent men any

The recent adjustment of orthodox thought to the scientific view
of the Dead Sea legends presents some curious features. As
typical we may take the travels of two German theologians between
1860 and 1870--John Kranzel, pastor in Munich, and Peter Schegg,
lately professor in the university of that city.

The archdiocese of Munich-Freising is one of those in which the
attempt to suppress modern scientific thought has been most
steadily carried on. Its archbishops have constantly shown
themselves assiduous in securing cardinals' hats by thwarting
science and by stupefying education. The twin towers of the old
cathedral of Munich have seemed to throw a killing shadow over
intellectual development in that region. Naturally, then, these
two clerical travellers from that diocese did not commit
themselves to clearing away any of the Dead Sea myths; but it is
significant that neither of them follows the example of so many
of their clerical predecessors in defending the salt-pillar
legend: they steadily avoid it altogether.

The more recent history of the salt pillar, since Lynch, deserves
mention. It appears that the travellers immediately after him
found it shaped by the storms into a spire; that a year or two
later it had utterly disappeared; and about the year 1870 Prof.
Palmer, on visiting the place, found at some distance from the
main salt bed, as he says, "a tall, isolated needle of rock,
which does really bear a curious resemblance to an Arab woman
with a child upon her shoulders."

And, finally, Smith's Dictionary of the Bible, the standard work
of reference for English-speaking scholars, makes its concession
to the old belief regarding Sodom and Gomorrah as slight as
possible, and the myth of Lot's wife entirely disappears.


The theological effort to compromise with science now came in
more strongly than ever. This effort had been made long before:
as we have seen, it had begun to show itself decidedly as soon as
the influence of the Baconian philosophy was felt. Le Clerc
suggested that the shock caused by the sight of fire from heaven
killed Lot's wife instantly and made her body rigid as a statue.
Eichhorn suggested that she fell into a stream of melted bitumen.
Michaelis suggested that her relatives raised a monument of salt
rock to her memory. Friedrichs suggested that she fell into the
sea and that the salt stiffened around her clothing, thus making
a statue of her. Some claimed that a shower of sulphur came
down upon her, and that the word which has been translated "salt"
could possibly be translated "sulphur." Others hinted that the
salt by its antiseptic qualities preserved her body as a mummy.
De Saulcy, as we have seen, thought that a piece of salt rock
fell upon her, and very recently Principal Dawson has ventured
the explanation that a flood of salt mud coming from a volcano
incrusted her.

But theologians themselves were the first to show the inadequacy
of these explanations. The more rationalistic pointed out the
fact that they were contrary to the sacred text: Von Bohlen, an
eminent professor at Konigsberg, in his sturdy German honesty,
declared that the salt pillar gave rise to the story, and
compared the pillar of salt causing this transformation legend to
the rock in Greek mythology which gave rise to the transformation
legend of Niobe.

On the other hand, the more severely orthodox protested against
such attempts to explain away the clear statements of Holy Writ.
Dom Calmet, while presenting many of these explanations made as
early as his time, gives us to understand that nearly all
theologians adhered to the idea that Lot's wife was instantly and
really changed into salt; and in our own time, as we shall
presently see, have come some very vigorous protests.

Similar attempts were made to explain the other ancient legends
regarding the Dead Sea. One of the most recent of these is that
the cities of the plain, having been built with blocks of
bituminous rock, were set on fire by lightning, a contemporary
earthquake helping on the work. Still another is that
accumulations of petroleum and inflammable gas escaped through a
fissure, took fire, and so produced the catastrophe.[443]

[443] For Kranzel, see his Reise nach Jerusalem, etc. For Schegg,
see his Gedenkbuch einer Pilgerreise, etc., 1867, chap. xxiv.
For Palmer, see his Desert of the Exodus, vol. ii, pp. 478, 479.
For the various compromises, see works alredy cited, passim. For
Von Bohlen, see his Genesis, Konigsberg, 1835, pp. 200-213. For
Calmet, see his Dictionarium, etc, Venet., 1766. For very recent
compromises, see J. W. Dawson and Dr. Cunningham Geikie in works

The revolt against such efforts to RECONCILE scientific fact
with myth and legend had become very evident about the middle of
the nineteenth century. In 1851 and 1852 Van de Velde made his
journey. He was a most devout man, but he confessed that the
volcanic action at the Dead Sea must have been far earlier than
the catastrophe mentioned in our sacred books, and that "the
overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah had nothing to do with this." A
few years later an eminent dignitary of the English Church, Canon
Tristram, doctor of divinity and fellow of the Royal Society, who
had explored the Holy Land thoroughly, after some generalities
about miracles, gave up the whole attempt to make science agree
with the myths, and used these words: "It has been frequently
assumed that the district of Usdum and its sister cities was the
result of some tremendous geological catastrophe....Now,
careful examination by competent geologists, such as Monsieur
Lartet and others, has shown that the whole district has assumed
its present shape slowly and gradually through a succession of
ages, and that its peculiar phenomena are similar to those of
other lakes." So sank from view the whole mass of Dead Sea myths
and legends, and science gained a victory both for geology and
comparative mythology.

As a protest against this sort of rationalism appeared in 1876 an
edition of Monseigneur Mislin's work on The Holy Places. In
order to give weight to the book, it was prefaced by letters from
Pope Pius IX and sundry high ecclesiastics--and from Alexandre
Dumas! His hatred of Protestant missionaries in the East is
phenomenal: he calls them "bagmen," ascribes all mischief and
infamy to them, and his hatred is only exceeded by his credulity.
He cites all the arguments in favour of the salt statue at Usdum
as the identical one into which Lot's wife was changed, adds some
of his own, and presents her as "a type of doubt and heresy."
With the proverbial facility of dogmatists in translating any
word of a dead language into anything that suits their purpose,
he says that the word in the nineteenth chapter of Genesis which
is translated "statue" or "pillar," may be translated "eternal
monument"; he is especially severe on poor Monsieur De Saulcy
for thinking that Lot's wife was killed by the falling of a piece
of salt rock; and he actually boasts that it was he who caused De
Saulcy, a member of the French Institute, to suppress the
obnoxious passage in a later edition.

Between 1870 and 1880 came two killing blows at the older
theories, and they were dealt by two American scholars of the
highest character. First of these may be mentioned Dr. Philip
Schaff, a professor in the Presbyterian Theological Seminary at
New York, who published his travels in 1877. In a high degree
he united the scientific with the religious spirit, but the trait
which made him especially fit for dealing with this subject was
his straightforward German honesty. He tells the simple truth
regarding the pillar of salt, so far as its physical origin and
characteristics are concerned, and leaves his reader to draw the
natural inference as to its relation to the myth. With the fate
of Dr. Robertson Smith in Scotland and Dr. Woodrow in South
Carolina before him--both recently driven from their
professorships for truth-telling-- Dr. Schaff deserves honour
for telling as much as he does.

Similar in effect, and even more bold in statement, were the
travels of the Rev. Henry Osborn, published in 1878. In a
truly scientific spirit he calls attention to the similarity of
the Dead Sea, with the river Jordan, to sundry other lake and
river systems; points out the endless variations between writers
describing the salt formations at Usdum; accounts rationally for
these variations, and quotes from Dr. Anderson's report,
saying, "From the soluble nature of the salt and the crumbling
looseness of the marl, it may well be imagined that, while some
of these needles are in the process of formation, others are
being washed away."

Thus came out, little by little, the truth regarding the Dead Sea
myths, and especially the salt pillar at Usdum; but the final
truth remained to be told in the Church, and now one of the
purest men and truest divines of this century told it. Arthur
Stanley, Dean of Westminster, visiting the country and thoroughly
exploring it, allowed that the physical features of the Dead Sea
and its shores suggested the myths and legends, and he sums up
the whole as follows: "A great mass of legends and
exaggerations, partly the cause and partly the result of the old
belief that the cities were buried under the Dead Sea, has been
gradually removed in recent years."

So, too, about the same time, Dr. Conrad Furrer, pastor of the
great church of St. Peter at Zurich, gave to the world a book
of travels, reverent and thoughtful, and in this honestly
acknowledged that the needles of salt at the southern end of the
Dead Sea "in primitive times gave rise to the tradition that
Lot's wife was transformed into a statue of salt." Thus was the
mythical character of this story at last openly confessed by
Leading churchmen on both continents.

Plain statements like these from such sources left the high
theological position more difficult than ever, and now a new
compromise was attempted. As the Siberian mother tried to save
her best-beloved child from the pursuing wolves by throwing over
to them her less favoured children, so an effort was now made in
a leading commentary to save the legends of the valley of Siddim
and the miraculous destruction of the cities by throwing
overboard the legend of Lot's wife.[444]

[444] For Mislin, see his Les Saints Lieux, Paris, vol. iii, pp.
290-293, especially note at foot of page 292. For Schaff, see
his Through Bible Lands, especially chapter xxix; see also Rev.
H. S. Osborn, M. A., The Holy Land, pp. 267 et seq.; also
Stanley's Sinai and Palestine, London, 1887, especially pp.
290-293. For Furrer, see his En Palestine, Geneva, 1886, vol. i,
p.246. For the attempt to save one legend by throwing overboard
the other, see Keil and Delitzsch, Biblischer Commentar uber das
Alte Testament, vol. i, pp. 155, 156. For Van de Velde, see his
Syria and Palestine, vol. ii, p. 120.

An amusing result has followed this development of opinion. As
we have already seen, traveller after traveller, Catholic and
Protestant, now visits the Dead Sea, and hardly one of them
follows the New Testament injunction to "remember Lot's wife."
Nearly every one of them seems to think it best to forget her.
Of the great mass of pious legends they are shy enough, but that
of Lot's wife, as a rule, they seem never to have heard of, and
if they do allude to it they simply cover the whole subject with
a haze of pious rhetoric.[445]

[445] The only notice of the Lot's wife legend in the editions of
Robinson at my command is a very curious one by Leopold von Buch,
the eminent geologist. Robinson, with a fearlessness which does
him credit, consulted Von Buch, who in his answer was evidently
inclined to make things easier for Robinson by hinting that Lot
was so much struck by the salt formations that HE IMAGINED that
his wife had been changed into salt. On this theory, Robinson
makes no comment. See Robinson, Biblical Researches in Palestine,
etc., London, 1841, vol. ii, p. 674.

Naturally, under this state of things, there has followed the
usual attempt to throw off from Christendom the responsibility of
the old belief, and in 1887 came a curious effort of this sort.
In that year appeared the Rev. Dr. Cunningham Geikie's
valuable work on The Holy Land and the Bible. In it he makes the
following statement as to the salt formation at Usdum: "Here and
there, hardened portions of salt withstanding the water, while
all around them melts and wears off, rise up isolated pillars,
one of which bears among the Arabs the name of `Lot's wife.'"

In the light of the previous history, there is something at once
pathetic and comical in this attempt to throw the myth upon the
shoulders of the poor Arabs. The myth was not originated by
Mohammedans; it appears, as we have seen, first among the Jews,
and, I need hardly remind the reader, comes out in the Book of
Wisdom and in Josephus, and has been steadily maintained by
fathers, martyrs, and doctors of the Church, by at least one
pope, and by innumerable bishops, priests, monks, commentators,
and travellers, Catholic and Protestant, ever since. In thus
throwing the responsibility of the myth upon the Arabs Dr.
Geikie appears to show both the "perfervid genius" of his
countrymen and their incapacity to recognise a joke.

Nor is he more happy in his rationalistic explanations of the
whole mass of myths. He supposes a terrific storm, in which the
lightning kindled the combustible materials of the cities, aided
perhaps by an earthquake; but this shows a disposition to break
away from the exact statements of the sacred books which would
have been most severely condemned by the universal Church during
at least eighteen hundred years of its history. Nor would the
explanations of Sir William Dawson have fared any better: it is
very doubtful whether either of them could escape unscathed today
from a synod of the Free Church of Scotland, or of any of the
leading orthodox bodies in the Southern States of the American

[446] For these most recent explanations, see Rev. Cunningham
Geikie, D. D., in work cited; also Sir J. W. Dawson, Egypt and
Syria, published by the Religious Tract Society, 1887, pp. 125,
126; see also Dawson's article in The Expositor for January,

How unsatisfactory all such rationalism must be to a truly
theological mind is seen not only in the dealings with Prof.
Robertson Smith in Scotland and Prof. Woodrow in South
Carolina, but most clearly in a book published in 1886 by
Monseigneur Haussmann de Wandelburg. Among other things, the
author was Prelate of the Pope's House-hold, a Mitred Abbot,
Canon of the Holy Sepulchre, and a Doctor of Theology of the
Pontifical University at Rome, and his work is introduced by
approving letters from Pope Leo XIII and the Patriarch of
Jerusalem. Monseigneur de Wandelburg scorns the idea that the
salt column at Usdum is not the statue of Lot's wife; he points
out not only the danger of yielding this evidence of miracle to
rationalism, but the fact that the divinely inspired authority of
the Book of Wisdom, written, at the latest, two hundred and fifty
years before Christ, distinctly refers to it. He summons
Josephus as a witness. He dwells on the fact that St. Clement of
Rome, Irenaeus, Hegesippus, and St. Cyril, "who as Bishop of
Jerusalem must have known better than any other person what
existed in Palestine," with St. Jerome, St. Chrysostom, and a
multitude of others, attest, as a matter of their own knowledge
or of popular notoriety, that the remains of Lot's wife really
existed in their time in the form of a column of salt; and he
points triumphantly to the fact that Lieutenant Lynch found this
very column. In the presence of such a continuous line of
witnesses, some of them considered as divinely inspired, and all
of them greatly revered--a line extending through thirty-seven
hundred years--he condemns most vigorously all those who do not
believe that the pillar of salt now at Usdum is identical with
the wife of Lot, and stigmatizes them as people who "do not wish
to believe the truth of the Word of God."

His ignorance of many of the simplest facts bearing upon the
legend is very striking, yet he does not hesitate to speak of men
who know far more and have thought far more upon the subject as
"grossly ignorant." The most curious feature in his ignorance is
the fact that he is utterly unaware of the annual changes in the
salt statue. He is entirely ignorant of such facts as that the
priest Gabriel Giraudet in the sixteenth century found the statue
lying down; that the monk Zwinner found it in the seventeenth
century standing, and accompanied by a dog also transformed into
salt; that Prince Radziwill found no statue at all; that the
pious Vincent Briemle in the eighteenth century found the
monument renewing itself; that about the middle of the nineteenth
century Lynch found it in the shape of a tower or column forty
feet high; that within two years afterward De Saulcy found it
washed into the form of a spire; that a year later Van de Velde
found it utterly washed away; and that a few years later Palmer
found it "a statue bearing a striking resemblance to an Arab
woman with a child in her arms." So ended the last great
demonstration, thus far, on the side of sacred science--the last
retreating shot from the theological rear guard.

It is but just to say that a very great share in the honour of
the victory of science in this field is due to men trained as
theologians. It would naturally be so, since few others have
devoted themselves to direct labour in it; yet great honour is
none the less due to such men as Reland, Mariti, Smith, Robinson,
Stanley, Tristram, and Schat.

They have rendered even a greater service to religion than to
science, for they have made a beginning, at least, of doing away
with that enforced belief in myths as history which has become a
most serious danger to Christianity.

For the worst enemy of Christianity could wish nothing more than
that its main Leaders should prove that it can not be adopted
save by those who accept, as historical, statements which
unbiased men throughout the world know to be mythical. The
result of such a demonstration would only be more and more to
make thinking people inside the Church dissemblers, and thinking
people outside, scoffers. Far better is it to welcome the aid of
science, in the conviction that all truth is one, and, in the
light of this truth, to allow theology and science to work
together in the steady evolution of religion and morality.

The revelations made by the sciences which most directly deal
with the history of man all converge in the truth that during the
earlier stages of this evolution moral and spiritual teachings
must be inclosed in myth, legend, and parable. "The Master"
felt this when he gave to the poor peasants about him, and so to
the world, his simple and beautiful illustrations. In making
this truth clear, science will give to religion far more than it
will take away, for it will throw new life and light into all
sacred literature.




Among questions on which the supporters of right reason in
political and social science have only conquered theological
opposition after centuries of war, is the taking of interest on
loans. In hardly any struggle has rigid adherence to the letter
of our sacred books been more prolonged and injurious.

Certainly, if the criterion of truth, as regards any doctrine, be
that of St. Vincent of Lerins--that it has been held in the
Church "always, everywhere, and by all"--then on no point may a
Christian of these days be more sure than that every savings
institution, every loan and trust company, every bank, every loan
of capital by an individual, every means by which accumulated
capital has been lawfully lent even at the most moderate
interest, to make men workers rather than paupers, is based on
deadly sin.

The early evolution of the belief that taking interest for money
is sinful presents a curious working together of metaphysical,
theological, and humanitarian ideas.

In the main centre of ancient Greek civilization, the loaning of
money at interest came to be accepted at an early period as a
condition of productive industry, and no legal restriction was
imposed. In Rome there was a long process of development: the
greed of creditors in early times led to laws against the taking
of interest; but, though these lasted long, that strong
practical sense which gave Rome the empire of the world
substituted finally, for this absolute prohibition, the
establishment of rates by law. Yet many of the leading Greek and
Roman thinkers opposed this practical settlement of the question,
and, foremost of all, Aristotle. In a metaphysical way he
declared that money is by nature "barren"; that the birth of
money from money is therefore "unnatural"; and hence that the
taking of interest is to be censured and hated. Plato, Plutarch,
both the Catos, Cicero, Seneca, and various other leaders of
ancient thought, arrived at much the same conclusion--sometimes
from sympathy with oppressed debtors; sometimes from dislike of
usurers; sometimes from simple contempt of trade.

From these sources there came into the early Church the germ of a
theological theory upon the subject.

But far greater was the stream of influence from the Jewish and
Christian sacred books. In the Old Testament stood various
texts condemning usury--the term usury meaning any taking of
interest: the law of Moses, while it allowed usury in dealing
with strangers, forbade it in dealing with Jews. In the New
Testament, in the Sermon on the Mount, as given by St. Luke,
stood the text "Lend, hoping for nothing again." These texts
seemed to harmonize with the most beautiful characteristic of
primitive Christianity; its tender care for the poor and
oppressed: hence we find, from the earliest period, the whole
weight of the Church brought to bear against the taking of
interest for money.[448]

[448] On the general allowance of interest for money in Greece,
even at high rates, see Bockh, Public Economy of the Athenians,
translated by Lamb, Boston, 1857, especially chaps. xxii, xxiii,
and xxiv of book i. For a view of usury taken by Aristotle, see
his Politics and Economics, translated by Walford, p. 27; also
Grote, History of Greece, vol. iii, chap. xi. For summary of
opinions in Greece and Rome, and their relation to Christian
thought, see Bohm-Bawerk, Capital and Interest, translated by
Smart, London, 1890, chap. i. For a very full list of scripture
texts against the taking of interest, see Pearson, The Theories
on Usury in Europe, 1100-1400, Cambridge (England), 1876, p. 6.
The texts most frequently cited were Leviticus xxv, 36, 37;
Deuteronomy xxiii, 19 and 26; Psalms, xv, 5; Ezekiel xviii, 8 and
17; St. Luke, vi, 35. For a curious modern use of them, see D.
S. Dickinson's speech in the State of New York, in vol. i of his
collected writings. See also Lecky, History of Rationalism in
Europe, vol. ii, chap. vi; and above all, as the most recent
historical summary by a leading historian of political economy,
Bohm-Bawerk, as above.

The great fathers of the Eastern Church, and among them St.
Basil, St. Chrysostom, and St. Gregory of Nyssa,--the fathers of
the Western Church, and among them Tertullian, St. Ambrose, St.
Augustine, and St. Jerome, joined most earnestly in this
condemnation. St. Basil denounces money at interest as a "fecund
monster," and says, "The divine law declares expressly, `Thou
shalt not lend on usury to thy brother or thy neighbour.'" St.
Gregory of Nyssa calls down on him who lends money at interest
the vengeance of the Almighty. St. Chrysostom says: "What can
be more unreasonable than to sow without land, without rain,
without ploughs? All those who give themselves up to this
damnable culture shall reap only tares. Let us cut off these
monstrous births of gold and silver; let us stop this execrable

Lactantius called the taking of interest "robbery." St. Ambrose
declared it as bad as murder, St. Jerome threw the argument into
the form of a dilemma, which was used as a weapon against
money-lenders for centuries. Pope Leo the Great solemnly
adjudged it a sin worthy of severe punishment.[449]

[449] For St. Basil and St. Gregory of Nyssa, see French
translation of their diatribes in Homelies contre les Usuriers,
Paris, Hachette, 1861-'62, especially p. 30 of St. Basil. For
some doubtful reservations by St. Augustine, see Murray, History
of Usury. For St. Ambrose, see De Officiis, lib. iii, cap. ii,
in Migne, Patr. Lat., vol. xvi; also the De Tobia, in Migne, vol.
xiv. For St. Augustine, see De Bapt. contr Donat., lib. iv, cap.
ix, in Migne, vol. xliii. For Lactantius, see his Opera, Leyden,
1660, p. 608. For Cyprian, see his Testimonies against the Jews,
translated by Wallis, book iii, article 48. For St. Jerome, see
his Com. in Ezekiel, xviii, 8, in Migne, vol. xxv, pp. 170 et
seq. For Leo the Great, see his letter to the bishops of various
provinces of Italy, cited in the Jus. Can., cap. vii, can. xiv,
qu. 4. For very fair statements of the attitude of the fathers
on this question, see Addis and Arnold, Catholic Dictionary,
London, 1884, and Smith and Cheetham, Dictionary of Christian
Antiquities, London, 1875-'80; in each, under article Usury.

This unanimity of the fathers of the Church brought about a
crystallization of hostility to interest-bearing loans into
numberless decrees of popes and councils and kings and
legislatures throughout Christendom during more than fifteen
hundred years, and the canon law was shaped in accordance with
these. At first these were more especially directed against the
clergy, but we soon find them extending to the laity. These
prohibitions were enforced by the Council of Arles in 314, and a
modern Church apologist insists that every great assembly of the
Church, from the Council of Elvira in 306 to that of Vienne in
1311, inclusive, solemnly condemned lending money at interest.
The greatest rulers under the sway of the Church--Justinian, in
the Empire of the East; Charlemagne, in the Empire of the West;
Alfred, in England; St. Louis, in France--yielded fully to this
dogma. In the ninth century Alfred went so far as to confiscate
the estates of money-lenders, denying them burial in Consecrated
ground; and similar decrees were made in other parts of Europe.
In the twelfth century the Greek Church seems to have relaxed its
strictness somewhat, but the Roman Church grew more severe. St.
Anselm proved from the Scriptures that the taking of interest is
a breach of the Ten Commandments. Peter Lombard, in his
Sentences, made the taking of interest purely and simply theft.
St. Bernard, reviving religious earnestness in the Church, took
the same view. In 1179 the Third Council of the Lateran decreed
that impenitent money-lenders should be excluded from the altar,
from absolution in the hour of death, and from Christian burial.
Pope Urban III reiterated the declaration that the passage in St.
Luke forbade the taking of any interest whatever. Pope
Alexander III declared that the prohibition in this matter could
never be suspended by dispensation.

In the thirteenth century Pope Gregory IX dealt an especially
severe blow at commerce by his declaration that even to advance
on interest the money necessary in maritime trade was damnable
usury; and this was fitly followed by Gregory X, who forbade
Christian burial to those guilty of this practice; the Council
of Lyons meted out the same penalty. This idea was still more
firmly fastened upon the world by the two greatest thinkers of
the time: first, by St. Thomas Aquinas, who knit it into the mind
of the Church by the use of the Scriptures and of Aristotle; and
next by Dante, who pictured money-lenders in one of the worst
regions of hell.

About the beginning of the fourteenth century the "Subtile
Doctor" of the Middle Ages, Duns Scotus, gave to the world an
exquisite piece of reasoning in evasion of the accepted doctrine;
but all to no purpose: the Council of Vienne, presided over by
Pope Clement V, declared that if any one "shall pertinaciously
presume to affirm that the taking of interest for money is not a
sin, we decree him to be a heretic, fit for punishment." This
infallible utterance bound the dogma with additional force on the
conscience of the universal Church.

Nor was this a doctrine enforced by rulers only; the people were
no less strenuous. In 1390 the city authorities of London
enacted that, "if any person shall lend or put into the hands of
any person gold or silver to receive gain thereby, such person
shall have the punishment for usurers." And in the same year the
Commons prayed the king that the laws of London against usury
might have the force of statutes throughout the realm.

In the fifteenth century the Council of the Church at Salzburg
excluded from communion and burial any who took interest for
money, and this was a very general rule throughout Germany.

An exception was, indeed, sometimes made: some canonists held
that Jews might be allowed to take interest, since they were to
be damned in any case, and their monopoly of money-lending might
prevent Christians from losing their souls by going into the
business. Yet even the Jews were from time to time punished for
the crime of usury; and, as regards Christians, punishment was
bestowed on the dead as well as the living--the bodies of dead
money-lenders being here and there dug up and cast out of
consecrated ground.

The popular preachers constantly declaimed against all who took
interest. The medieval anecdote books for pulpit use are
especially full on this point. Jacques de Vitry tells us that
demons on one occasion filled a dead money-lender's mouth with
red-hot coins; Cesarius of Heisterbach declared that a toad was
found thrusting a piece of money into a dead usurer's heart; in
another case, a devil was seen pouring molten gold down a dead
money-lender's throat.[450]

[450] For an enumeration of councils condemning the taking of
interest for money, see Liegeois, Essai sur l'Histoire et la
Legislation de l'Usure, Paris, 1865, p. 78; also the Catholic
Dictionary as above. For curious additional details and sources
regarding mediaeval horror of usurers, see Ducange, Glossarium,
etc., article Caorcini. T he date 306, for the Council of Elvira
is that assigned by Hefele. For the decree of Alexander III, see
citation from the Latin text in Lecky. For a long catalogue of
ecclesiastical and civil decrees against taking of interest, see
Petit, Traite de l'Usure, Paris, 1840. For the reasoning at the
bottom of this, see Cunningham, Christian Opinion on Usury,
London, 1884. For the Salzburg decrees, see Zillner,
Salzburgusche Culturgeschichte, p. 232; and for Germany
generally, see Neumann, Geschichte des Wuchers in Deutschland,
Halle, 1865, especially pp. 22 et seq; also Roscher, National-
Oeconomis. For effect of mistranslation of the passage of Luke in
the Vulgate, see Dollinger, p. 170, and especially pp. 224, 225
For the capitularies of Charlemagne against usury, see Liegeois,
p. 77. For Gregory X and the Council of Lyons, see Sextus
Decretalium liber, pp. 669 et. seq. For Peter Lombard, see his
Lib. Sententiarum, III, dist. xxxvii, 3. For St. Thomas Aquinas,
see his works, Migne, vol. iii, Paris 1889, quaestio 78, pp. 587
et seq., citing the Scriptures and Aristotle, and especially
developing Aristotle's metaphysical idea regarding the
"barrenness" of money. For a very good summary of St. Thomas's
ideas, see Pearson. pp. 30 et seq. For Dante, see in canto xi of
the Inferno a revelation of the amazing depth of the hostility to
the taking of interest. For the London law of 1390 and the
petition to the king, see Cunningham, Growth of English Industry
and Commerce, pp. 210, 326; also the Abridgment of the Records in
the Tower of London, p. 339. For the theory that Jews, being
damned already, might be allowed to practice usury, see Liegeois,
Histoire de l'Usure, p. 82. For St. Bernard's view, see Epist.
CCCLXIII, in Migne, vol. clxxxii, p. 567. For ideas and
anecdotes for preachers' use, see Joannes a San Geminiano, Summa
de Exemplis, Antwerp, 1629, fol. 493, a; also the edition of
Venice, 1584, ff. 132, 159; but especially, for multitudes of
examples, see the Exempla of Jacques de Vitry, edited by Prof. T.
F. Crane, of Cornell University, London, 1890, pp. 203 et seq.
For the canon law in regard to interest, see a long line of
authorities cited in Die Wucherfrage, St. Louis, 1869, pp. 92 et
seq., and especially Decret. Gregor., lib.v, lit. 19, cap. iii,
and Clementin., lib. v, lit. 5, sec. 2; see also the Corpus Juris
Canonici, Paris, 1618, pp. 227, 228. For the position of the
English Church, see Gibson's Corpus Juris Ecclesiastici
Anglicani, pp. 1070, 1071, 1106.

This theological hostility to the taking of interest was imbedded
firmly in the canon law. Again and again it defined usury to be
the taking of anything of value beyond the exact original amount
of a loan; and under sanction of the universal Church it
denounced this as a crime and declared all persons defending it
to be guilty of heresy. What this meant the world knows but too

The whole evolution of European civilization was greatly hindered
by this conscientious policy. Money could only be loaned in
most countries at the risk of incurring odium in this world and
damnation in the next; hence there was but little capital and
few lenders. The rates of interest became at times enormous; as
high as forty per cent in England, and ten per cent a month in
Italy and Spain. Commerce, manufactures, and general enterprise
were dwarfed, while pauperism flourished.

Yet worse than these were the moral results. Doing what one
holds to be evil is only second in bad consequences to doing what
is really evil; hence, all lending and borrowing, even for the
most legitimate purposes and at the most reasonable rates, tended
to debase both borrower and lender. The prohibition of lending
at interest in continental Europe promoted luxury and discouraged
economy; the rich, who were not engaged in business, finding no
easy way of employing their incomes productively, spent them
largely in ostentation and riotous living. One evil effect is
felt in all parts of the world to this hour. The Jews, so acute
in intellect and strong in will, were virtually drawn or driven
out of all other industries or professions by the theory that
their race, being accursed, was only fitted for the abhorred
profession of money-lending.[451]

[451] For evil economic results, and especially for the rise of
the rate of interest in England and elsewhere at times to forty
per cent, see Cunningham, Growth of English Industry and
Commerce, Cambridge, 1890, p. 189; and for its rising to ten per
cent a month, see Bedarride, Les Juifs en France, en Italie, at
en Espagne, p. 220; see also Hallam's Middle Ages, London, 1853,
pp. 401, 402. For the evil moral effects of the Church doctrine
against taking interest, see Montesquieu, Esprit des Lois, lib.
xxi, chap. xx; see also Sismondi, cited in Lecky. For the
trifling with conscience, distinction between "consumptibles" and
"fungibles," "possessio" and "dominium," etc., see Ashley,
English Economic History, New York, pp. 152, 153; see also
Leopold Delisle, Etudes, pp. 198, 468. For the effects of these
doctrines on the Jews, see Milman, History of the Jews, vol. iii,
p. 179; also Wellhausen, History of Israel, London, 1885, p. 546;
also Beugnot, Les Juifs d'Occident, Paris, 1824, pt. 2, p. 114
(on driving Jews out of other industries than money-lending).
For a noted mediaeval evasion of the Church rules against usury,
see Peruzzi, Storia del Commercio e dei Banchieri di Firenze,
Florence, 1868, pp. 172, 173.

These evils were so manifest, when trade began to revive
throughout Europe in the fifteenth century, that
most earnest exertions were put forth to induce the Church to
change its position.

The first important effort of this kind was made by John Gerson.
His general learning made him Chancellor of the University of
Paris; his sacred learning made him the leading orator at the
Council of Constance; his piety led men to attribute to him The
Imitation of Christ. Shaking off theological shackles, he
declared, "Better is it to lend money at reasonable interest, and
thus to give aid to the poor, than to see them reduced by poverty
to steal, waste their goods, and sell at a low price their
personal and real property."

But this idea was at once buried beneath citations from the
Scriptures, the fathers, councils, popes, and the canon law.
Even in the most active countries there seemed to be no hope. In
England, under Henry VII, Cardinal Morton, the lord chancellor,
addressed Parliament, asking it to take into consideration loans
of money at interest. The result was a law which imposed on
lenders at interest a fine of a hundred pounds besides the
annulment of the loan; and, to show that there was an offence
against religion involved, there was added a clause "reserving to
the Church, notwithstanding this punishment, the correction of
their souls according to the laws of the same."

Similar enactments were made by civil authority in various parts
of Europe; and just when the trade, commerce, and manufactures
of the modern epoch had received an immense impulse from the
great series of voyages of discovery by such men as Columbus,
Vasco da Gama, Magellan, and the Cabots, this barrier against
enterprise was strengthened by a decree from no less enlightened
a pontiff than Leo X.

The popular feeling warranted such decrees. As late as the end
of the Middle Ages we find the people of Piacenza dragging the
body of a money-lender out of his grave in consecrated ground and
throwing it into the river Po, in order to stop a prolonged
rainstorm; and outbreaks of the same spirit were frequent in
other countries. [452]

[452] For Gerson's argument favouring a reasonable rate of
interest, see Coquelin and Guillaumin, Dictionnaire, article
Interet. For the renewed opposition to the taking of interest in
England, see Craik, History of British Commerce, chap. vi. The
statute cited is 3 Henry VII, chap. vi; it is found in Gibson's
Corpus Juris Eccles. Anglic., p. 1071. For the adverse decree of
Leo X, see Liegeois, p. 76. See also Lecky, Rationalism, vol. ii.
For the dragging out of the usurer's body at Piacenza, see
Burckhardt, The Renaissance in Italy, London, 1878, vol. ii, p.
339. For public opinion of similar strength on this subject in
England, see Cunningham, p. 239; also Pike, History of Crime in
England, vol. i, pp. 127, 193. For good general observations on
the same, see Stephen, History of Criminal Law in England,
London, 1883, vol. iii, pp. 195-197. For usury laws in Castile
and Aragon, see Bedarride, pp. 191, 192. For exceedingly valuable
details as to the attitude of the mediaeval Church, see Leopold
Delisle, Etudes sur la Classe Agricole en Normandie au Moyen Age,
Evreux, 1851, pp. 200 et seq., also p. 468. For penalties in
France, see Matthew Paris, Chronica Majora, in the Rolls Series,
especially vol. iii, pp. 191, 192. For a curious evasion,
sanctioned by Popes Martin V and Calixtus III when Church
corporations became money-lenders, see H. C. Lea on The
Ecclesiastical Treatment of Usury, in the Yale Review for
February, 1894. For a detailed development of interesting
subordinate points, see Ashley, Introduction to English Economic
History and Theory, vol. ii, ch, vi.

Another mode of obtaining relief was tried. Subtle theologians
devised evasions of various sorts. Two among these inventions
of the schoolmen obtained much notoriety.

The first was the doctrine of "damnum emergens": if a lender
suffered loss by the failure of the borrower to return a loan at
a date named, compensation might be made. Thus it was that, if
the nominal date of payment was made to follow quickly after the
real date of the loan, the compensation for the anticipated delay
in payment had a very strong resemblance to interest. Equally
cogent was the doctrine of "lucrum cessans": if a man, in order
to lend money, was obliged to diminish his income from productive
enterprises, it was claimed that he might receive in return, in
addition to his money, an amount exactly equal to this diminution
in his income.

But such evasions were looked upon with little favour by the
great body of theologians, and the name of St. Thomas Aquinas
was triumphantly cited against them.

Opposition on scriptural grounds to the taking of interest was
not confined to the older Church. Protestantism was led by
Luther and several of his associates into the same line of
thought and practice. Said Luther. "To exchange anything with
any one and gain by the exchange is not to do a charity; but to
steal. Every usurer is a thief worthy of the gibbet. I call
those usurers who lend money at five or six per cent." But it is
only just to say that at a later period Luther took a much more
moderate view. Melanchthon, defining usury as any interest
whatever, condemned it again and again; and the Goldberg
Catechism of 1558, for which he wrote a preface and
recommendation, declares every person taking interest for money a
thief. From generation to generation this doctrine was upheld by
the more eminent divines of the Lutheran Church in all parts of
Germany. The English reformers showed the same hostility to
interest-bearing loans. Under Henry VIII the law of Henry VII
against taking interest had been modified for the better; but
the revival of religious feeling under Edward VI caused in 1552
the passage of the "Bill of Usury." In this it is said,
"Forasmuch as usury is by the word of God utterly prohibited, as
a vice most odious and detestable, as in divers places of the
Holy Scriptures it is evident to be seen, which thing by no godly
teachings and persuasions can sink into the hearts of divers
greedy, uncharitable, and covetous persons of this realm, nor
yet, by any terrible threatenings of God's wrath and vengeance,"
etc., it is enacted that whosoever shall thereafter lend money
"for any manner of usury, increase, lucre, gain, or interest, to
be had, received, or hoped for," shall forfeit principal and
interest, and suffer imprisonment and fine at the king's

[453] For Luther's views, see his sermon, Von dem Wucher,
Wittenberg, 1519; also the Table Talk, cited in Coquelin and
Guillaumin, article Interet. For the later, more moderate views
of Luther, Melanchthon, and Zwingli, making a compromise with the
needs of society, see Bohm-Bawerk, p. 27, citing Wiskemann. For
Melanchthon and a long line of the most eminent Lutheran divines
who have denounced the taking of interest, see Die Wucherfrage,
St. Louis, 1869, pp. 94 et seq. For the law against usury under
Edward VI, see Cobbett's Parliamentary History, vol. i, p. 596;
see also Craik, History of British Commerce, chap. vi.

But, most fortunately, it happened that Calvin, though at times
stumbling over the usual texts against the taking of interest for
money, turned finally in the right direction. He cut through the
metaphysical arguments of Aristotle, and characterized the
subtleties devised to evade the Scriptures as "a childish game
with God." In place of these subtleties there was developed
among Protestants a serviceable fiction--the statement that usury
means ILLEGAL OR OPPRESSIVE INTEREST. Under the action of this
fiction, commerce and trade revived rapidly in Protestant
countries, though with occasional checks from exact interpreters
of Scripture. At the same period in France, the great Protestant
jurist Dumoulin brought all his legal learning and skill in
casuistry to bear on the same side. A certain ferretlike
acuteness and litheness seem to have enabled him to hunt down the
opponents of interest-taking through the most tortuous arguments
of scholasticism.

In England the struggle went on with varying fortune; statesmen
on one side, and theologians on the other. We have seen how,
under Henry VIII, interest was allowed at a fixed rate, and how,
the development of English Protestantism having at first
strengthened the old theological view, there was, under Edward
VI, a temporarily successful attempt to forbid the taking of
interest by law.

The Puritans, dwelling on Old Testament texts, continued for a
considerable time especially hostile to the taking of any
interest. Henry Smith, a noted preacher, thundered from the
pulpit of St. Clement Danes in London against "the evasions of
Scripture" which permitted men to lend money on interest at all.
In answer to the contention that only "biting" usury was
oppressive, Wilson, a noted upholder of the strict theological
view in political economy, declared: "There is difference in
deed between the bite of a dogge and the bite of a flea, and yet,
though the flea doth lesse harm, yet the flea doth bite after hir
kinde, yea, and draweth blood, too. But what a world this is,
that men will make sin to be but a fleabite, when they see God's
word directly against them!"

The same view found strong upholders among contemporary English
Catholics. One of the most eminent of these, Nicholas Sanders,
revived very vigorously the use of an old scholastic argument.
He insisted that "man can not sell time," that time is not a
human possession, but something which is given by God alone: he
declared, "Time was not of your gift to your neighbour, but of
God's gift to you both."

In the Parliament of the period, we find strong assertions of the
old idea, with constant reference to Scripture and the fathers.
In one debate, Wilson cited from Ezekiel and other prophets and
attributed to St. Augustine the doctrine that "to take but a
cup of wine is usury and damnable." Fleetwood recalled the law
of King Edward the Confessor, which submitted usurers to the

But arguments of this sort had little influence upon Elizabeth
and her statesmen. Threats of damnation in the next world
troubled them little if they could have their way in this. They
re-established the practice of taking interest under
restrictions, and this, in various forms, has remained in England
ever since. Most notable in this phase of the evolution of
scientific doctrine in political economy at that period is the
emergence of a recognised difference between USURY and
INTEREST. Between these two words, which had so long been
synonymous, a distinction now appears: the former being
construed to indicate OPPRESSIVE INTEREST, and the latter JUST
RATES for the use of money. This idea gradually sank into the
popular mind of Protestant countries, and the scriptural texts no
longer presented any difficulty to the people at large, since
there grew up a general belief that the word "usury," as employed
in Scripture, had ALWAYS meant exorbitant interest; and this in
spite of the parable of the Talents. Still, that the old
Aristotelian quibble had not been entirely forgotten, is clearly
seen by various passages in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice.
But this line of reasoning seems to have received its quietus
from Lord Bacon. He did not, indeed, develop a strong and
connected argument on the subject; but he burst the bonds of
Aristotle, and based interest for money upon natural laws. How
powerful the new current of thought was, is seen from the fact
that James I, of all monarchs the most fettered by scholasticism
and theology, sanctioned a statute dealing with interest for
money as absolutely necessary. Yet, even after this, the old
idea asserted itself; for the bishops utterly refused to agree to
the law allowing interest until a proviso was inserted that
"nothing in this law contained shall be construed or expounded to
allow the practice of usury in point of religion or conscience."
The old view cropped out from time to time in various public
declarations. Famous among these were the Treatise of Usury,
published in 1612 by Dr. Fenton, who restated the old arguments
with much force, and the Usury Condemned of John Blaxton,
published in 1634. Blaxton, who also was a clergyman, defined
usury as the taking of any interest whatever for money, citing in
support of this view six archbishops and bishops and over thirty
doctors of divinity in the Anglican Church, some of their
utterances being very violent and all of them running their roots
down into texts of Scripture. Typical among these is a sermon
of Bishop Sands, in which he declares, regarding the taking of
interest: "This canker hath corrupted all England; we shall doe
God and our country true service by taking away this evill;
represse it by law, else the heavy hand of God hangeth over us
and will strike us."


But about the middle of the seventeenth century Sir Robert Filmer
gave this doctrine the heaviest blow it ever received in England.
Taking up Dr. Fenton's treatise, he answered it, and all works
like it, in a way which, however unsuitable to this century, was
admirably adapted to that. He cites Scripture and chops logic
after a masterly manner. Characteristic is this declaration:
"St. Paul doth, with one breath, reckon up seventeen sins, and
yet usury is none of them; but many preachers can not reckon up
seven deadly sins, except they make usury one of them." Filmer
followed Fenton not only through his theology, but through his
political economy, with such relentless keenness that the old
doctrine seems to have been then and there practically worried
out of existence, so far as England was concerned.

Departures from the strict scriptural doctrines regarding
interest soon became frequent in Protestant countries, and they
were followed up with especial vigour in Holland. Various
theologians in the Dutch Church attempted to assert the
scriptural view by excluding bankers from the holy communion;
but the commercial vigour of the republic was too strong:
Salmasius led on the forces of right reason brilliantly, and by
the middle of the seventeenth century the question was settled
rightly in that country. This work was aided, indeed, by a far
greater man, Hugo Grotius; but here was shown the power of an
established dogma. Great as Grotius was--and it may well be held
that his book on War and Peace has wrought more benefit to
humanity than any other attributed to human authorship--he was,
in the matter of interest for money, too much entangled in
theological reasoning to do justice to his cause or to himself.
He declared the prohibition of it to be scriptural, but resisted
the doctrine of Aristotle, and allowed interest on certain
natural and practical grounds.

In Germany the struggle lasted longer. Of some little
significance, perhaps, is the demand of Adam Contzen, in 1629,
that lenders at interest should be punished as thieves; but by
the end of the seventeenth century Puffendorf and Leibnitz had
gained the victory.

Protestantism, open as it was to the currents of modern thought,
could not long continue under the dominion of ideas unfavourable
to economic development, and perhaps the most remarkable proof of
this was presented early in the eighteenth century in America, by
no less strict a theologian than Cotton Mather. In his
Magnalia he argues against the whole theological view with a
boldness, acuteness, and good sense which cause us to wonder that
this can be the same man who was so infatuated regarding
witchcraft. After an argument so conclusive as his, there could
have been little left of the old anti-economic doctrine in New

[454] For Calvin's views, see his letter published in the
appendix to Pearson's Theories on Usury. His position is well-
stated in Bohm-Bawerk, pp. 28 et seq., where citations are given.
See also Economic Tracts, No. IV, New York, 1881, pp. 34, 35; and
for some serviceable Protestant fictions, see Cunningham,
Christian Opinion on Usury, pp. 60, 61. For Dumoulin
(Molinaeus), see Bohm-Bawerk, as above, pp. 29 et seq. For
debates on usury in the British Parliament in Elizabeth's time,
see Cobbett, Parliamentary History, vol. i, pp 756 et seq. A
striking passage in Shakespeare is found in the Merchant of
Venice, Act I, scene iii: "If thou wilt lend this money, lend it
not as to thy friend; for when did friendship take a breed for
barren metal of his friend?" For the right direction taken by
Lord Bacon, see Neumann, Geschichte des Wuchers in Deutschland,
Halle, 1864, pp. 497, 498. For Salmasius, see his De Usuris,
Leyden, 1638, and for others mentioned, see Bohm-Bawerk, pp. 34
et seq.; also Lecky, vol. ii. p. 256. For the saving clause
inderted by the bishops in the statute of James I, see the Corpus
Juris Eccles. Anglic., p. 1071; also Murray, History of Usury,
Philadelphia, 1866, p. 49.

For Blaxton, see his English Usurer, or Usury Condemned, by John
Blaxton, Preacher of God's Word, London, 1634. Blaxton gives some
of Calvin's earlier utterances against interest. For Bishop
Sands;s sermon, see p. 11. For Filmer, see his Quaestio
Quodlibetica, London, 1652, reprinted in the Harleian Miscellany,
vol.x, pp. 105 et seq. For Grotius, see the De Jure Belli ac
Pacis, lib. ii, cap.xii. For Cotton Mather's argument, see the
Magnalia, London, 1702, pp. 5, 52.

But while the retreat of the Protestant Church from the old
doctrine regarding the taking of interest was henceforth easy, in
the Catholic Church it was far more difficult. Infallible popes
and councils, with saints, fathers, and doctors, had so
constantly declared the taking of any interest at all to be
contrary to Scripture, that the more exact though less fortunate
interpretation of the sacred text relating to interest continued
in Catholic countries. When it was attempted in France in the
seventeenth century to argue that usury "means oppressive
interest," the Theological Faculty of the Sorbonne declared that
usury is the taking of any interest at all, no matter how little;
and the eighteenth chapter of Ezekiel was cited to clinch this

Another attempt to ease the burden of industry and commerce was
made by declaring that "usury means interest demanded not as a
matter of favour but as a matter of right." This, too, was
solemnly condemned by Pope innocent XI.

Again an attempt was made to find a way out of the difficulty by
declaring that "usury is interest greater than the law allows."
This, too, was condemned, and so also was the declaration that
"usury is interest on loans not for a fixed time."

Still the forces of right reason pressed on, and among them, in
the seventeenth century, in France, was Richard Simon. He
attempted to gloss over the declarations of Scripture against
lending at interest, in an elaborate treatise, but was
immediately confronted by Bossuet. Just as Bossuet had mingled
Scripture with astronomy and opposed the Copernican theory, so
now he mingled Scripture with political economy and denounced the
lending of money at interest. He called attention to the fact
that the Scriptures, the councils of the Church from the
beginning, the popes, the fathers, had all interpreted the
prohibition of "usury" to be a prohibition of any lending at
interest; and he demonstrated this interpretation to be the true
one. Simon was put to confusion and his book condemned.

There was but too much reason for Bossuet's interpretation.
There stood the fact that the prohibition of one of the most
simple and beneficial principles in political and economical
science was affirmed, not only by the fathers, but by
twenty-eight councils of the Church, six of them general
councils, and by seventeen popes, to say nothing of innumerable
doctors in theology and canon law. And these prohibitions by the
Church had been accepted as of divine origin by all obedient sons
of the Church in the government of France. Such rulers as
Charles the Bald in the ninth century, and St. Louis in the
thirteenth, had riveted this idea into the civil law so firmly
that it seemed impossible ever to detach it.[455]

[455] For the declaration of the Sorbonne in the seventeenth
century against taking of interest, see Lecky, Rationalism, vol.
ii, p. 248, note. For the special condemnation by Innocent XI,
see Viva, Damnatae Theses, Pavia, 1715, pp. 112-114. For
consideration of various ways of escaping the difficulty
regarding interest, see Lecky, Rationalism, vol. ii, pp. 249,
250. For Bousset's strong declaration against taking interest,
see his Oeuvres, Paris, 1845-'46, vol. i, p. 734, vol. vi, p.
654, and vol. ix, p. 49 et seq. For the number of councils and
popes condemning usury, see Lecky,as above, vol. ii, p. 255,
note, citing Concina.

As might well be expected, Italy was one of the countries in
which the theological theory regarding usury--lending at
interest--was most generally asserted and assented to. Among
the great number of Italian canonists who supported the theory,
two deserve especial mention, as affording a contrast to the
practical manner in which the commercial Italians met the

In the sixteenth century, very famous among canonists was the
learned Benedictine, Vilagut. In 1589 he published at Venice
his great work on usury, supporting with much learning and vigour
the most extreme theological consequences of the old doctrine.
He defines usury as the taking of anything beyond the original
loan, and declares it mortal sin; he advocates the denial to
usurers of Christian burial, confession, the sacraments,
absolution, and connection with the universities; he declares
that priests receiving offerings from usurers should refrain from
exercising their ministry until the matter is passed upon by the

About the middle of the seventeenth century another ponderous
folio was published in Venice upon the same subject and with the
same title, by Onorato Leotardi. So far from showing any signs
of yielding, he is even more extreme than Vilagut had been, and
quotes with approval the old declaration that lenders of money at
interest are not only robbers but murderers.

So far as we can learn, no real opposition was made in either
century to this theory, as a theory; as to PRACTICE, it was
different. The Italian traders did not answer theological
argument; they simply overrode it. In spite of theology, great
banks were established, and especially that of Venice at the end
of the twelfth century, and those of Barcelona and Genoa at the
beginning of the fifteenth. Nowhere was commerce carried on in
more complete defiance of this and other theological theories
hampering trade than in the very city where these great treatises
were published. The sin of usury, like the sin of commerce with
the Mohammedans, seems to have been settled for by the Venetian
merchants on their deathbeds; and greatly to the advantage of
the magnificent churches and ecclesiastical adornments of the

By the seventeenth century the clearest thinkers in the Roman
Church saw that her theology must be readjusted to political
economy: so began a series of amazing attempts to reconcile a
view permitting usury with the long series of decrees of popes
and councils forbidding it.

In Spain, the great Jesuit casuist Escobar led the way, and
rarely had been seen such exquisite hair-splitting. But his
efforts were not received with the gratitude they perhaps
deserved. Pascal, revolting at their moral effect, attacked
them unsparingly in his Provincial Letters, citing especially
such passages as the following: "It is usury to receive profit
from those to whom one lends, if it be exacted as justly due;
but, if it be exacted as a debt of gratitude, it is not usury."
This and a multitude of similar passages Pascal covered with the
keen ridicule and indignant denunciation of which he was so great
a master.

But even the genius of Pascal could not stop such efforts. In
the eighteenth century they were renewed by a far greater
theologian than Escobar--by him who was afterward made a saint
and proclaimed a doctor of the Church--Alphonso Liguori.

Starting with bitter denunciations of usury, Liguori soon
developed a multitude of subtle devices for escaping the guilt of
it. Presenting a long and elaborate theory of "mental, usury"
he arrives at the conclusion that, if the borrower pay interest
of his own free will, the lender may keep it. In answer to the
question whether the lender may keep what the borrower paid, not
out of gratitude but out of fear--fear that otherwise loans might
be refused him in future--Liguori says, "To be usury it must be
paid by reason of a contract, or as justly due; payment by
reason of such a fear does not cause interest to be paid as an
actual price." Again Liguori tells us, "It is not usury to exact
something in return for the danger and expense of regaining the
principal." The old subterfuges of "Damnum emergens" and "Lucrum
cessans" are made to do full duty. A remarkable quibble is
found in the answer to the question whether he sins who furnishes
money to a man whom he knows to intend employing it in usury.
After citing affirmative opinions from many writers, Liguori
says, "Notwithstanding these opinions, the better opinion seems
to me to be that the man thus putting out his money is not bound
to make restitution, for his action is not injurious to the
borrower, but rather favourable to him," and this reasoning the
saint develops at great length.

In the Latin countries this sort of casuistry eased the relations
of the Church with the bankers, and it was full time; for now
there came arguments of a different kind. The eighteenth
century philosophy had come upon the stage, and the first
effective onset of political scientists against the theological
opposition in southern Europe was made in Italy--the most noted
leaders in the attack being Galiani and Maffei. Here and there
feeble efforts were made to meet them, but it was felt more and
more by thinking churchmen that entirely different tactics must
be adopted.

About the same time came an attack in France, and though its
results were less immediate at home, they were much more
effective abroad. In 1748 appeared Montesquieu's Spirit of the
Laws. In this famous book were concentrated twenty years of
study and thought by a great thinker on the interests of the
world about him. In eighteen months it went through twenty-two
editions; it was translated into every civilized language; and
among the things on which Montesquieu brought his wit and wisdom
to bear with especial force was the doctrine of the Church
regarding interest on loans. In doing this he was obliged to
use a caution in forms which seems strangely at variance with the
boldness of his ideas. In view of the strictness of
ecclesiastical control in France, he felt it safest to make his
whole attack upon those theological and economic follies of
Mohammedan countries which were similar to those which the
theological spirit had fastened on France.[456]

[456] For Vilagut, see his Tractatus de Usuris, Venice, 1589,
especially pp. 21, 25, 399. For Leotardi, see his De Usuris,
Venice, 1655, especially preface, pp. 6, 7 et seq. For Pascal
and Escobar, see the Provincial Letters, edited by Sayres,
Cambridge, 1880, Letter VIII, pp. 183-186; also a note to the
same letter, p. 196. For Liguori, see his Theologia Moralis,
Paris, 1834, lib. iii, tract v, cap. iii: De Contractibus, dub,
vii. For the eighteenth century attack in Italy, see Bohm-Bawerk,
pp. 48 et seq. For Montesquieu's view of interest on loans, see
the Esprit des Lois, livre xxii.

By the middle of the eighteenth century the Church authorities at
Rome clearly saw the necessity of a concession: the world would
endure theological restriction no longer; a way of escape MUST
be found. It was seen, even by the most devoted theologians,
that mere denunciations and use of theological arguments or
scriptural texts against the scientific idea were futile.

To this feeling it was due that, even in the first years of the
century, the Jesuit casuists had come to the rescue. With
exquisite subtlety some of their acutest intellects devoted
themselves to explaining away the utterances on this subject of
saints, fathers, doctors, popes, and councils. These
explanations were wonderfully ingenious, but many of the older
churchmen continued to insist upon the orthodox view, and at last
the Pope himself intervened. Fortunately for the world, the seat
of St. Peter was then occupied by Benedict XIV, certainly one of
the most gifted, morally and intellectually, in the whole line of
Roman pontiffs. Tolerant and sympathetic for the oppressed, he
saw the necessity of taking up the question, and he grappled with
it effectually: he rendered to Catholicism a service like that
which Calvin had rendered to Protestantism, by shrewdly cutting a
way through the theological barrier. In 1745 he issued his
encyclical Vix pervenit, which declared that the doctrine of the
Church remained consistent with itself; that usury is indeed a
sin, and that it consists in demanding any amount beyond the
exact amount lent, but that there are occasions when on special
grounds the lender may obtain such additional sum.

What these "occasions" and "special grounds" might be, was left
very vague; but this action was sufficient.

At the same time no new restrictions upon books advocating the
taking of interest for money were imposed, and, in the year
following his encyclical, Benedict openly accepted the dedication
of one of them--the work of Maffei, and perhaps the most cogent
of all.

Like the casuistry of Boscovich in using the Copernican theory
for "convenience in argument," while acquiescing in its
condemnation by the Church authorities, this encyclical of Pope
Benedict broke the spell. Turgot, Quesnay, Adam Smith, Hume,
Bentham, and their disciples pressed on, and science won for
mankind another great victory.[457]

[457] For Quesnay, see his Observations sur l'Interet de
l'Argent, in his Oeuvres, Frankfort and Paris, 1888, pp. 399 et
seq. For Turgot, see the Collections des Economistes, Paris,
1844, vols. iii and iv; also Blanqui, Histoire de l'Economie
Politique, English translation, p. 373. For an excellent though
brief summary of the efforts of the Jesuits to explain away the
old action of the Church, see Lecky, vol. ii, pp 256, 257. For
the action of Benedict XIV, see Reusch, Der Index der Vorbotenen
Bucher, Bonn, 1885, vol. ii, pp 847, 848. For a comical picture
of the "quagmire' into which the hierarchy brought itself in the
squaring of its practice with its theory, see Dollinger, as
above, pp. 227, 228. For cunningly vague statements of the
action of Benedict XIV, see Mastrofini, Sur l'Usure, French
translation, Lyons, 1834, pp. 125, 255. The abbate, as will be
seen, has not the slightest hesitaion in telling an untruth in
order to preserve the consistency of papal action in the matter
of usury-- e.g., pp. 93, 94 96, and elsewhere.

Yet in this case, as in others, insurrections against the sway of
scientific truth appeared among some overzealous religionists.
When the Sorbonne, having retreated from its old position, armed
itself with new casuistries against those who held to its earlier
decisions, sundry provincial doctors in theology protested
indignantly, making the old citations from the Scriptures,
fathers, saints, doctors, popes, councils, and canonists. Again
the Roman court intervened. In 1830 the Inquisition at Rome,
with the approval of Pius VIII, though still declining to commit
itself on the DOCTRINE involved, decreed that, as to PRACTICE,
confessors should no longer disturb lenders of money at legal

But even this did not quiet the more conscientious theologians.
The old weapons were again furbished and hurled by the Abbe
Laborde, Vicar of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Auch, and by
the Abbe Dennavit, Professor of Theology at Lyons. Good Abbe
Dennavit declared that he refused absolution to those who took
interest and to priests who pretend that the sanction of the
civil law is sufficient.

But the "wisdom of the serpent" was again brought into
requisition, and early in the decade between 1830 and 1840 the
Abbate Mastrofini issued a work on usury, which, he declared on
its title-page, demonstrated that "moderate usury is not contrary
to Holy Scripture, or natural law, or the decisions of the
Church." Nothing can be more comical than the suppressions of
truth, evasions of facts, jugglery with phrases, and perversions
of history, to which the abbate is forced to resort throughout
his book in order to prove that the Church has made no mistake.
In the face of scores of explicit deliverances and decrees of
fathers, doctors, popes, and councils against the taking of any
interest whatever for money, he coolly pretended that what they
had declared against was EXORBITANT interest. He made a merit
of the action of the Church, and showed that its course had been
a blessing to humanity. But his masterpiece is in dealing with
the edicts of Clement V and Benedict XIV. As to the first, it
will be remembered that Clement, in accord with the Council of
Vienne, had declared that "any one who shall pertinaciously
presume to affirm that the taking of interest for money is not a
sin, we decree him to be a heiretic fit for punishment," and we
have seen that Benedict XIV did not at all deviate from the
doctrines of his predecessors. Yet Mastrofini is equal to his
task, and brings out, as the conclusion of his book, the
statement put upon his title-page, that what the Church condemns
is only EXORBITANT interest.

This work was sanctioned by various high ecclesiastical
dignitaries, and served its purpose; for it covered the retreat
of the Church.

In 1872 the Holy Office, answering a question solemnly put by the
Bishop of Ariano, as solemnly declared that those who take eight
per cent interest per annum are "not to be disquieted"; and in
1873 appeared a book published under authority from the Holy See,
allowing the faithful to take moderate interest under condition
that any future decisions of the Pope should be implicitly
obeyed. Social science as applied to political economy had
gained a victory final and complete. The Torlonia family at Rome
to-day, with its palaces, chapels, intermarriages, affiliations,
and papal favour--all won by lending money at interest, and by
liberal gifts, from the profits of usury, to the Holy See--is but
one out of many growths of its kind on ramparts long since
surrendered and deserted.[458]

[458] For the decree forbidding confessors to trouble lenders of
money at legal interest, see Addis and Arnold, Catholic
Dictionary, as above; also Mastrofini, as above, in the appendix,
where various other recent Roman decrees are given. As to the
controversy generally, see Mastrofini; also La Replique des douze
Docteurs, cited by Guillaumin and Coquelin; also Reusch, vol. ii,
p. 850. As an example of Mastrofini's way of making black appear
white, compare the Latin text of the decree on page 97 with his
statements regarding it; see also his cunning substitution of the
new significance of the word usury for the old in various parts
of his book. A good historical presentation of the general
subject will be found in Roscher, Geschichte der National-
Oeconomie in Deutschland, Munchen, 1874, under articles Wucher
and Zinsnehmen. For France, see especially Petit, Traite de
l'Usure, Paris, 1840; and for Germany, see Neumann, Geschichte
des Wuchers in Deutschland, Halle, 1865. For the view of a
modern leader of thought in this field, see Jeremy Bentham,
Defence of Usury, Letter X. For an admirable piece of research
into the nicer points involved in the whole subject, see H. C.
Lea, The Ecclesiatical Treatment of Usury, in the Yale Review for
February, 1894.

The dealings of theology with public economy were by no means
confined to the taking of interest for money. It would be
interesting to note the restrictions placed upon commerce by the
Church prohibition of commercial intercourse with infidels,
against which the Republic of Venice fought a good fight; to
note how, by a most curious perversion of Scripture in the Greek

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