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The World of the Town in Medieval History Case Study


The growth of towns had a particular influence on all domains of medieval life: economic, politic, religious, etc. The three discussed documents all focus on the relationships between religion and money, i.e. how individuals directly linked to Christianity (monks, pilgrims, hermits, for example) perceived money and engaged it in their everyday life. St. Francis and Thomas Aquinas have very different views on money and their role in the life of “the brothers”. According to St. Francis, “the brothers [are forbidden] to receive money in any form either directly or through an intermediary” (1). With the rise of the market economy in the medieval towns, the church had to provide its own regulations with money and the new form of economics. The followers of St. Francis called the Franciscans sought “voluntary poverty”; they rejected all belongings and wealth and became traveling preachers (Caraher). The emergence of such a “brotherhood” was only possible due to the new economics of medieval towns. Unlike St. Francis, Thomas Aquinas does not see lending as sinful (14). Considering that lending was one of the most widespread forms of monetary loans during the medieval times, it is clear why Thomas Aquinas defends usury. Furthermore, he also quotes both the Bible and the civil law to express his point of view: “Now civil law allows usury to be taken. Therefore it seems to be lawful” (Aquinas 14).

A somewhat similar approach to what St. Francis preached appears in the third document, where Reginald of Durham describes the life of St. Godric. Godric was a merchant who “made great profit in all his bargains, and gathered much wealth in the sweat of his brow” (Reginald of Durham 9). However, like St. Francis, Godric eventually gave up all his possessions and “took the cross as a pilgrim to Jerusalem” (Reginald of Durham 10). Thus, Godric also became a pilgrim and a hermit because he believed that earthly belongings and Christianity could not be combined, and the spirit could only be clean when it abandoned everything one earned.

According to Cone, in the Medieval society, those who had the power would “force [those who do not] to pay for all kinds of goods, institutions and developments” (9). As it can be seen, the Christian monks and pilgrims who abandoned their previous life and everything they had did not correspond with the existing hierarchy of power in the medieval society. Of course, each of the members had the chance to abandon his or her status for a while (during holiday festivals), but it was only temporary (Cone 117). The Franciscan order and St. Godric significantly transformed the scheme, whereby they were not applicable to any of the existing statuses since they were able to trespass the line between the two statuses: a wealthy individual and an ascetic hermit. I agree with student A that it was a break in the traditional societal structure. This break was encouraged (and in many ways emerged because of) the flourishing economies and the changing abilities for merchants and artisans. It was impossible for the church to ignore the state of affairs, which eventually led to such responses as the one given by Thomas Aquinas. Unlike the Franciscan order, the church had to adjust to the existing civil laws and economic developments. However, as it can be seen, the religious approaches towards money could be quite different, and depended on the “beholder”.

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1. IvyPanda. "The World of the Town in Medieval History." November 11, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-world-of-the-town-in-medieval-history/.


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IvyPanda. 2020. "The World of the Town in Medieval History." November 11, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-world-of-the-town-in-medieval-history/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'The World of the Town in Medieval History'. 11 November.

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