Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/227

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

In addition, the physician's calling was as a rule closed to the Jews, although in Mohammedan countries it was precisely as physicians that they won high distinction; for the councils forbade a sick person, on pain of excommunication, to take medicine from a Jewish physician—it being better, as they declared, to die than to be healed by an infidel? They were further excluded from all schools, high and low. Whoever had a desire for knowledge must become a rabbi, and if, as a very rare exception, a prince, like Alfonso X of Castile, made use of Jewish mathematicians and astronomers, the education of these men was obtained in lands where the Koran ruled. The taking of interest on loans from strangers was permitted to the Jews by their law, and the supposed prohibition by Christ was believed at first by both parties not to be binding upon the Jews. The matter changed, however, after Innocent III. At the end of the twelfth century, theologians and canonical writers taught that, in accordance with natural law as well as the divinely revealed law of the Old and New Testaments, the taking of interest in general is forbidden and is a sin. Innocent III ordered, therefore, that the Jews should be compelled to give back the interest they had collected, and to this end introduced an expedient that had not been used before, viz., that Christians should be compelled, on pain of excommunication, to break off all intercourse with those Jews who refused to make the returns. This amounted, in case the programme was strictly carried out, to delivering them over to death by starvation. Hence arose sad confusion and conflicts of many kinds. The bishops, whose duty it was to pronounce excommunication, were disposed often to execute their task in good earnest; and the synods (for example, that at Avignon in 1209) urged them to do so. The princes, on the other hand, in whose interest and as whose servants the Jews carried on their money-lending, protected them; or, on the other hand, as happened in not a few cases, confiscated their entire property for their own use, on the plea that it had been gained by taking interest. Sometimes they even compelled Christian debtors to pay the outstanding interest into their own treasury.

Interminable confusion to clergy and laity was the result of the action of the hierarchy in forbidding the taking of interest, and the canonical writers vexed themselves to invent distinctions and find ways of escape out of the labyrinth. In innumerable cases they found them-selves helpless in face of the actual circumstances and practically abandoned the principle, although in theory no one could attack it on pain of death. In real consistency, the Christians should have been forbidden to borrow on interest, since by so doing they enticed the Jews to sin. But Popes, bishops, clergy, were themselves often in a situation in which they must seek for a loan and pay the interest; in fact, the whole organization of the curia, the management of the system of benefices, the taxation of the clergy by the Popes, were calculated to make bishops, clergy, monasteries, and chapters liable to the payment