HOW THE MED1/EVAL TRADER OBEYED THE CHURCH

IN one aspect of life in which we might expect to find legal theories more influential than religious concepts we actually find the reverse to be true; for in the Middle Ages economics was a branch of moral philosophy, and accordingly economic life was dominated by ethical considerations, and even by religious or quasi-religious organisations. The teachings of the Church .and its authorised spokesmen condemned the taking of interestthat " breed of barren metal "as usurious and unchristian. An important postulate was " The Just Price "; this idea that there was a morally justifiable price for commodities provides an interesting contrast to modern theories of price, based on supply and demand. We have ample evidence that practical commercial morality was no better in the Middle Ages than at any other time, but evidence is equally abundant that there was a code of economic morality, recognised if not universally observed, of a much wider scope than was known in the succeeding period. In practice this code finds its outstanding expression in the Gilds.

The origin of the Gilds is obscure, but they first appear in medieval history as religious fraternities devoted to works of piety and charity. In the eleventh century we begin to hear of Gilds of merchants in the towns which, at that period, were beginning to free themselves, by means of the purchase of charters, from the control of feudal overlords, and to manage their own affairs. The Gild Merchant laid down regulations or when its great Councils, such as the Lateran Council of 1216 and the Council of Constance in 1414, were synods of the whole of Western Christendom. Its might in moving men to action as well as to the devotional life is seen in the Crusades, which, although we think of them as being chiefly directed towards the recapture of the Holy Land, were also carried on against heretics such as the Albigenses and their leader, Raymond of Toulouse, at whose rich court the troubadours and Courts of Love flourished. Religion could sometimes keep men at peace as well as inspire them to fight for their faith, as we may see in that curious phenomenon, the Truce of God (Treuga Dei), appearing in Guienne in the eleventh century and spreading through France to other parts of Europe; there was to be a truce to all feuds during Christian festivals and from Wednesday evening to Monday morning every week I