Commerce, Christian Views of
Commerce, Christian Views Of It would be difficult to find in the Bible a passage that disparages trade, whether with or without a handicraft. In the Old Testament as the calling of Bezaleel and Aholiab puts the highest honor on the skill of the artisan, so the ordinary processes of trade are no less sanctified by connecting them with God and his law (Le 19:35-36; De 25:13-15; Proverbs 40:1; 16:10, 23; 31:24; Mic 6:11). Nor is it amiss to observe that the Jewish custom, still prevalent, of bringing up every boy, without exception, to a business, trade, or handicraft, appears to be immemorial, and may serve to explain both the calling by our Lord of fishermen as apostles, and his own training as a carpenter (Mr 6:3), as well as the tent-making of Paul, Aquila, and Priscilla (Ac 18:3). No incompatibility, therefore, between the exercise of a trade and the Christian calling, whether among the laity or the clergy, can be coeval with the Church, and all legislation to this effect must belong to what may be termed the secondary, not the primary, aera of its development. The places in which the gospel seems to have preferably taken root were busy commercial cities, such as Antioch, Corinth, Ephesus. The age in which Christianity forced itself on the notice of the pagan world, and was honored with imperial persecution, the time of Nero, was also one of great commercial activity. Under the later emperors trade was looked upon as an occupation of inferior dignity. A constitution of Theodosius and Valentinian (A.D. 436) required all bankers, jewellers, dealers in silver or clothing, apothecaries, and other traffickers to be removed from provincial offices, "in order that every place of honor and official service (militia) should be cleared of the like contagion." Traders generally, except the metropolitan bankers, were again excluded from the militia by a constitution of Justin.. Soldiers, conversely, were, by a constitution of Leo (A.D. 458), forbidden to trade; and a constitution of Honorius and Theodosius forbade men of noble birth, conspicuous dignity, or hereditary wealth, to exercise a trade. The exercise of the smaller trades and handicrafts often differed little from slavery. A constitution of the emperor Constantine (A.D. 329) speaks of freedmen — artificers belonging to the state — and desires them to be brought back, if enticed out of the city where they reside. The bakers seem to have been in an almost lower condition still, since their status is expressly treated as servile. Curiously enough, the swineherds of the capitals, as carrying on a labor for the benefit of the Roman people, were specially exempted from all sordid duties. Ironworkers were to be marked in the arm, and formed also a hereditary caste, the admission to which was regulated with especial care. In. the interior of the empire trade was not only restricted by monopolies which under Justinian were carried to a cruel height, but by the reservation of various articles for imperial use, as gold and silver tissue or embroidery, and the dye of the "holy murex." Buying and selling seems to have been in a great measure carried on at fairs and in markets. Fairs were often held on saints' days, though St. Basil condemns the practice; thus, there was a fair in Lucania on the birthday of St. Cyprian; a thirty days' fair free of toll in Edessa at the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, etc. Notwithstanding the low estimation in which trade was held it seems clear that, until Justinian's time, at least, it was not held civilly incompatible with the clerical office. Hippolytus (3d century) shows us the future pope Calixtus, set up by Carpophorus as a banker, holding his bank in the "Piscina Publica," and receiving deposits from widows and brethren. A law of Constantine and Julian, indeed (A.D. 357), sought to compel trader clerics, among others, to devote their gains to charitable uses. The. next passage indicates a custom still more strange to us that of workshops, and even taverns, being kept for the benefit of the Church. Other enactments indicate to us the extent of the trade which was carried on in the eastern capital on this behalf, and the singular character of a portion of it. In consideration of the cathedral undertaking what in modern French parlance would be termed the "Pompes Funebres," Constantine granted to it nine hundred and eighty workshops, of the various trades of the city, to be held free of all tax; Anastasius added one hundred and fifty more. The guilds of the city complained that the number of tax-free establishments was ruining them. It is clear that in the 6th century a very considerable amount of trade, including the liquor traffic, was carried on on behalf of the Church and its charitable establishments in the capital of the eastern empire. If we turn from the Roman to the barbarian world, the codes of the latter till the time of Charlemagne scarcely contain an allusion to trade.
One form of trade was always forbidden by the Church — that of earning a livelihood by usury. SEE USURY. In other respects it was long before trade was deemed by the Church itself incompatible with clerical functions, though the fathers might inveigh against it as a form of worldliness. The growth of some general feeling on the subject is, however, to be traced in the Council of Elvira (A.D. 305), which forbids bishops, priests, and deacons to depart from their places for the sake of trade, or to go round the provinces seeking lucrative markets. To obtain their livelihood they may, indeed, send a son, a freedman, an agent, or any one else; and if they wish to trade let them do so within the province. The main object clearly was to preserve to their flocks the benefits of their ministrations, not to put dishonor on trading itself. A collection of decrees of very doubtful authority, attributed to the Nicene council, contains among its "statutes for priests," a provision that the priest shall not be a barber, a surgeon, or a worker in iron, the two former prohibitions turning, probably, on blood- letting in its most literal form, the latter on the providing instruments for bloodshed.
The fourth Council of Carthage (A.D. 397) forbids clerics to go to markets, except to buy, under pain of degradation, but at the same time enacts that "a cleric, however learned in the word of God, shall seek his livelihood by means of a handicraft;" that "a cleric shall provide for himself food and clothing by a handicraft or by agriculture, without detriment to his office;" and that "all clerics who have strength to work shall learn both handicrafts and letters." These enactments indicate that, at all events in this quarter of the Church, a distinction was made between trade and handicrafts, and that the exercise of the former by clerics was restrained, while the latter was enjoined.
By the time of the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) the line between "secular" and "religious" employments appears to have become much more sharply marked. The 3d canon speaks of clerics who for filthy lucre carry on secular business, and forbids them to do so — a prohibition which would seem to include every form of trade, but which cannot have been so considered, since the Council of Chalcedon is expressly named as one of the four to whose canons force of law is given by Justinian's code (A.D.
533), which expressly recognises both clerical trading and trading on behalf of the Church.
In the West, however, the feeling against clerical trading became continually stronger; a letter of pope Gelasius I. (A.D. 492-496) to the bishops of Lucania speaks of his having heard from Picenum that very many clerics there are occupied with dishonorable business and filthy lucre, and enjoins them to abstain from unworthy gain, and from every device or desire of business of any kind, or else from the fulfilment of clerical functions. The Council of Tarragona (A.D. 516) enacts that "whosoever will be in the clergy, let him not be careful to buy too cheap or sell too dear, or let him be removed from the clergy." A further provision implies a prohibition both of trade and of usury. The third Council of Orleans (A.D. 538) iln like manner forbids clerics from the rank of deacons upwards to carry on business like public traders, or to carry on a forbidden business under another's name. In spite of these enactments, we find in the letters of Gregory the Great (A.D. 590-603) mention made of a ship-building bishop in Campania.
The capitularies of Charlemagne (mostly, if not always, invested with the sanction of the Church) deal repeatedly with the subject of trade. The ecclesiastical capitulary of 789 enacts that measures and weights be equal and just, "whether in cities or whether in monasteries, whether for giving or whether for receiving." The Frankfort Capitulary of 794 is one of several which attempt to fix the prices of victuals. The pitch of actual cruelty is reached in the "Capitula de Judaeis," where every Jew is forbidden to have money in his house, to sell wine, victuals, or any other thing, under pain of confiscation of all his goods, and imprisonment, till he come into the imperial presence. The utter absence of all notion of a possible right to freedom in trading is well expressed in one of the Capitula published A.D. 803: "That no man presume to sell or buy or measure otherwise than as the lord emperor has commanded." Markets are not to be held on the Lord's day (various councils of the 9th century), except where they have been held of old and lawfully. Forestalling for covetousness' sake is forbidden (Capitulary of Aix- laChapelle of 809). The Council of Friuli (A.D. 791) even forbade generally the carrying on of secular business to an immoderate extent.
Presbyters were by one capitulary forbidden to trade, or gather riches in any wise by filthy lucre (A.D. 806). On the other hand the Council of Mayence (A.D. 813) more guardedly forbids clerics and monks to have unjust weights or measures, or to carry on an unjust trade; "nevertheless a just trade is not to be forbidden, on account of divers necessities for we read that the holy apostles traded," the rule of St. Benedict being referred to as a further authority. Trade was, however, forbidden to penitents, "because it is difficult that between the dealing of seller and buyer sin should not intervene." The exact meaning of some of the later texts above referred to is rendered somewhat doubtful through the gradual narrowing of the term negotium and its derivatives, from the sense of business in its widest meaning to the specific one of trade. They show, however, that while the vocations of the early apostles were still remembered, and the rule of St. Benedict had raised the dignity of labor itself, the growing Judaistic distinction between "secular" and "religious" acts and matters, so foreign to the true spirit of Christianity, had by the 9th century begun to render the very idea of trade incompatible with the clerical calling, not so much, as in early times, by reason of its distracting the minister from his sacred functions, as on account of a supposed inherent dishonor attached to it. A comparison with civil legislation shows that the distinction is in itself a result of the secularizing of the Church. The ultra-refined officialism of the later Roman empire, which made the sovereign the only source of honor, and excluded the independent trader (one specially rich class excepted) even from the merely civil militia, on the one hand the rude savagery of the barbarian on the other, which looked upon war and warlike sports as the only employments worthy of a man, and almost utterly ignored in legislation the very existence of the trader must both, whatever phenomena to the contrary may present themselves in Justinian's code, have reacted profoundly upon the spirit of the Church. The service of God, which soon claimed the title of a militia, must have the exclusiveness of one, whether the term were used in the Roman official sense or in the warlike barbarian one; whatever was incompatible with the dignity of the functionary of an earthly sovereign, of the soldier of an earthly chief, must be incompatible also with that of a minister of God, a soldier in his host. At the same time the influenice of this distinction had not gone so far as to exclude the whole realm of trade from Church solicitude, and it is remarkable to observe in the canons of French councils of the beginning of the 9th century similar enactments against dishonesty in trade to those of the Pentateuch. SEE COVETOUSNESS; SEE DEBTOR.