ISSUES OF FAITH: Give me credit, please

SOME BELIEVE CAPITALISM is God’s favorite economic system. It would follow that God also endorses the sophisticated financial system that makes capitalism work.

However, when we open the Bible, we read in Deuteronomy 23:19: “You shall not charge interest on loans to your brother, interest on money, interest on provisions, interest on anything that is lent.”

You have to be a really creative capitalist to make God’s law and God’s favorite economic system work together.

Or, you need to carefully cherry-pick those of God’s laws that you think are more binding than others. Namely, those laws you agree with are binding, those you don’t agree with, less so.

That would explain why many who insist God’s law to be the basis of our communities strongly oppose LGBTQ people, but they would never picket a bank.

In the Middle Ages, the church in Europe enforced the prohibition on taking interest on loans.

For most of that period, economy meant subsistence farming. Then trade became a major driver of change.

Every economy of scale needs access to credit or it can’t expand. That was as true for the merchant republics of the Mediterranean as it was for the Hanseatic league in Northern Europe.

Providing merchants with a reliable source of credit is difficult when the church opposes it. But thankfully, God gave us lawyers and theologians. They found a loophole.

Jews are bound by the same law of God. They can’t take interest on loans either, but that was interpreted to apply only to other Jews. Banking was born and an extremely tiny minority of Jews was able to prosper in an environment that otherwise had only persecution and bloodshed in store for them.

As Europe journeyed toward modernity, the prohibition on taking interest on loans was reinterpreted — ignored would be the better word.

The liquid assets that merchants, kings and even Popes needed were provided by the biggest bank of the Middle Ages, the Fugger bank in Augsburg. They were Christians with a keen sense for big business.

They became the biggest creditor in Europe. Everyone who was somebody owed them money. Money that the Fuggers wanted back with interest.

In some sense the Reformation is the result of one loan of 20,000 guilders the Fuggers made to Albert of Brandenburg.

Albert was a second son and so he would not inherit the title of Grand Elector. The electors are those territorial princes who elect the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. They expect huge bribes to elect the right Emperor. And the money for the bribes comes from, you guessed it, the Fuggers.

Albert bought the title of Archbishop of Mainz. Buying offices was a common practice at the time.

Albert was not more or less corrupt than his contemporaries. He was a liberal reformer in his own right, a patron of the arts, and he lived in concubinage with a couple of women with whom he fathered several children that he publicly acknowledged and cared for. That’s not really covered by canon law, but if the Pope does it too …

To pay the Fuggers back, Albert needed new potent sources of revenue. He found a veritable cash cow in the sale of indulgences. These are church documents that set souls free from purgatory, a state of limbo where you burn like in hell, but only for a time.

Purgatory is not mentioned in the Bible, but release from it made the money roll in from all directions. Albert’s salesmen scared the bejesus out of people with visions of hellfire and even the poorest people bought indulgences as if there was no tomorrow.

These abuses angered a monk called Martin Luther, who asked in 95 theses which he nailed to the church door in Wittenberg; “if the church can release people from purgatory, why wouldn’t they do so for free?”

They couldn’t, they owed their souls to the Fugger store.

If the church had taken the law of God seriously, Martin Luther might have never felt the need to reform the church. But our need for credit took us on a different path.


Issues of Faith is a rotating column by religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Rev. Olaf Baumann, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), is pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Port Angeles.,

More in Life

During the PSHA game show at the Crosby arena in Agnew last weekend, Duncan Parks, 18, and Ed ran a blazingly fast “A” division time of 8.45 in the Keyrace. (Karen Griffiths/for Peninsula Daily News)
HORSEPLAY: Olympic Peninsula equestrians beat the heat

ARE YOU FEELING beat by the heat? It’s sure had me feeling… Continue reading

Scribble Bots STEAM event for tweens at NOLS locations

Kids in grades 4–7 will build robots that scribble… Continue reading

Emma Weller
Former Port Angeles Roughrider graduates from Harvard

Port Angeles High School alumna Emma Weller recently graduated… Continue reading

Dan Peacock, on left, receives the 2024 Community Service Award from Lora Brabant, president of the Clallam County School Retirees Association.
Peacock receives retirees’ community service award

Dan Peacock has received the 2024 Community Service Award… Continue reading

The DAISY Foundation has recognized Thomas Batey with its DAISY award.
Thomas Batey recognized

The DAISY Foundation has recognized Thomas Batey with its DAISY award. Batey… Continue reading

A GROWING CONCERN: Gardening fun in the summer sun

SUMMER HAS OFFICIALLY begun, school is out, for a couple weeks the… Continue reading

ISSUES OF FAITH: Living honorably is a marathon, not a sprint

THE OPENING CEREMONY of the Paris Olympics is a week away. The… Continue reading

Jamal Rahman will discuss teaching stories and sacred verses that transformed his life at 11 a.m. Sunday. Rahman will be the guest speaker at Olympic Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.
Olympic Unitarian Universalist Fellowship speaker set

Jamal Rahman will present “Healing Extremism and Polarization” at… Continue reading

The Rev. Pam Douglas-Smith.
Unity in Port Townsend planning for Sunday services

The Rev. Pam Douglas-Smith will present “Maintain Peace of… Continue reading

The Rev. Donna Little will present “The View From Here - 2024” at 10:30 a.m. Sunday.
Unity speaker slated Sunday

The Rev. Donna Little will present “The View From… Continue reading

Repair jewelry, bicycles at Sunday event

Volunteers to show participants how to fix common items

Diane Fatzinger uses the wind phone in Sequim, located just north of the Olympic Discovery Trail on West Hendrickson Road. (Elijah Sussman/Olympic Peninsula News Group)
Wind phone offers a place for therapeutic discussion

Sequim woman constructs unwired booth to speak to lost loved one