Open main menu

Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 10.djvu/591

This page needs to be proofread.


MONTES


J.S5


MONTES


called montes, as, for example, the "mons alurnina- rius", which operated the alum deposits of Tolfa. The same was true of insurance societies and of the banks of exchange or of credit that for the greater part were in the hands of Jews or of the so-called Lombards. As these banks often lent money on objects delivered to them in pawn, the charitable institutions which were created for transactions of tluit class also took the name of mons, pietalis being added to express the fact that the establishments in question were beneficent and not speculative.

In the Middle Ages it was very difficult to obtain money, as much on account of its scarcity as of the prohibitions by which Christians were bound in re- lation to usury, which second condition gave a spe- cies of monopoly of the credit business to the Jews, who were excluded from all other kinds of trade or industry, and who were often accorded great priv- ileges by the towns, on condition of the establishment of pawn banks. They lent money at excessive rates of interest — as much as 60 per cent — or, when that was prohibited, as at Florence, where they were not allowed to charge more than 20 per cent, they re- sorted to subterfuges that made it possible for them to obtain as high rates as elsewhere. And in this way, they soon became rich and hated. Not less hated, however, were the so-called coarsini (named not after the city of Cahors in France, but after thatof Cavour in Piedmont); likewise the Lombards, who were a kind of travelling bankers, and whose ex- tortions were often even greater than those of the Jews, their usual rate of interest being 433^ per cent, and frequently as high as SO per cent. It was often a question, during the Middle Ages, of finding a remedy for this exploitation of the misfortune of others; although it is not true that St. Anthony of Padua founded a mons pietatis. The celebrated Doctor Durand de Saint Pourgain, Bishop of Mende, proposed that the magistrates of cities be compelled to lend money at low rates of interest. It is not known whether this proposition was accepted or not, but, in either event, it did not suggest the idea of the monte, for there lacked the condition of objects pawned, which was the case, also, in the institution of the " Mont de Salins", established later than 1350. The first true mons pietatis was founded in London, where Bishop Michael Nothburg, in 1361, left 1000 marks of silver for the establishment of a bank that should lend money on pawned objects, without interest, providing that the expenses of the institution be defrayed from its foundation capital. In this way, of course, the capital was eventually consumed, and the bank closed. In 1389 Philippe de Maizieres published his project for the estabUshment of an institution that should lend money without in- terest, but should receive remuneration from those who might profit by its loans; this project, however, was not realized. Finally (1462), the first mons pietatis was established at Perugia, and in a few years there were similar institutions throughout Italy. The establishment and dissemination of montes pietatis is one of the brightest glories of the followers of the "Poverello" of Assisi, for the mons pietatis of Perugia was founded in consequence of the preaching at that city of the Franciscan Michele Carcano of Milan, who "inveighed against the usury of the Jews (1461). The fund for that charitable establishment was made up in part by voluntary con- tributions and in part by money lent by the Jews themselves. But the idea of the mons pietatis was dci'ised by the Franciscans Barnab6 da Terni and Fortunato Coppoli of Perugia. In fact it seems that for a long time the preachers of the Franciscan Order had considered the problem of applying an effectual remedy to the evils of usury (cf. Holzapfel, 32 sq.). The assistance and the influence of the Apostolic delegate to Perugia, Ermolao Barbaro, Bishop of


Verona, greatly facilitated the work at the former town, and it was soon repeated at Orvieto (1463) through the action of the Franciscan Bartolommeo da Colle, and also at Gubbio and at other towns of Unibria. In the Marches the first mons was es- tabhshed at Monterubbiano, in 1465, through the efforts of the Franciscan AntonuzEO and the Domini- can Cristoforo; the first city of the Papal States that established a mons pietatis was Viterbo (1469); in Tuscany, Siena (1472); in Liguria, Savona, and Genoa (1480), and in the Milanese territory, Milan (1483); everywhere it was the Franciscan Observants who took the initiative. But the greatest develop- ment was given to this work by Blessed Bernardino da Feltre, whose apostolic journeys were marked by montes pietatis, either instituted or re-established; he introduced them at Mantua (1484) and at various cities of the Venetian Republic, where they had to struggle against the ill-will of the Government; he carried them also to the Abruzzi, to Emilia, and to Romagna.

The montes pietatis were either autonomous es- tabhshments, or, as at Perugia, municipal corpora- tions; they had a director, called depositarius, an appraiser, a nolarius or accountant, salesmen, and other employees; and all were paid either with a fixed salary or with a percentage in the profits of the establishment. It should be noted that in the be- ginning the montes did not lend money gratuitously, but, on the contrary, the expressed intention of the founders was that the money should be lent at interest, varying from 4 per cent to 12 per cent. After opposi- tion had been shown to these establishments monies gralniti were instituted in some places, especially in Lombardy, but as these charities were not self-support- ing they were altered to establishments that lend with interest, for Blessed Bernardino da Feltre always in- sisted on the necessity of interest to ensure the per- manency of the institution. At the end of each month or of each year the net profits were applied to the capital, and if they were considerable, the rate of interest was lowered. In order to increase the funds of these institutions in some cities, collections were regularly taken on appointed days — at Padua on Easter day — or boxes were set up for contributions, as at Gubbio and Orvieto. At Gubbio there was a tax of 1 per cent on all property bequeathed by will, and at Spello the notary was required to remind the testator that he should leave something to the monte.

At first the sums loaned were very small, the maximum limit at Perugia being six florins, and at Gubbio four. Thus it was hoped that speculation and extravagance would be avoided, but little by little the limit was increased in some places to 100 and even to 1000 ducats. The amount of a given loan was equal to two-thirds the value of the object pawned, which, if not redeemed within the stipulated time, was sold at pubhc auction, and if the price ob- tained for it was greater than the loan with the in- terest, the surplus was made over to the owner.

The opposition to the montes which has been referred to came in the first place from those whose interests were affected, the Jews and the Lombards, who were able to prevent the introduction of these char- ities into some cities, as Venice and Rome, until 1539. At Florence their efforts were directed to the same end, but the people rising in tumult obtained the recall of Blessed Bernardino da Feltre to the city. At Aquila the Jews sent a commission to Blessi'd Bernardino to ask him not to appear in the pulpit. But the most serious opposition the montes encoun- tered was from certain theologians and canonists, who censured these establishments because they lent money at interest, which in those times was ('on- sidered illicit even by the promoters of the montes. The controversy was lotTgand bitter, 'i'hc oppusition was not directed against the montes pietatis as such,