Sacred Trust: The Medieval Church as an Economic Firm

Hardcover | October 1, 1996

byRobert B. Ekelund, Robert D. Tollison, Gary M. Anderson

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Without meaning to be irreverent, it is fair to say that in the Middle Ages, at the height of its political and economic power, the Roman Catholic Church functioned in part as a powerful and sophisticated corporation. The Church dealt in a "product" many consumers felt they had to have: thesalvation of their immortal souls. The Pope served as its CEO, the College of Cardinals as its board of directors, bishoprics and monasteries as its franchises. And while the Church certainly had moral and social goals, this early antecedent to ATandT and General Motors had economic motives andmethods as well, seeking to maximize profits by eliminating competitors and extending its markets. In Sacred Trust: The Medieval Church as an Economic Firm, five highly respected economists advance the controversial argument that the story of the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages is in large part a story of supply and demand. Without denying the centrality--or sincerity--ofreligious motives, the authors employ the tools of modern economics to analyze how the Church's objectives went well beyond the realm of the spiritual. They explore the myriad sources of the Church's wealth, including tithes and land rents, donations and bequests, judicial services and monasticagricultural production. And they present an in-depth look at the ways in which Church principles on marriage, usury, and crusade were revised as necessary to meet--and in many ways to create--the needs of a vast body of consumers. Along the way, the book raises and answers many intriguingquestions. The authors explore the reasons behind the great crusades against the Moslems, probing beyond motives of pure idealism to highlight the Church's concern with revenues from tourism and the sale of relics threatened by Moslem encroachment in the holy lands. They examine the Church'sinvolvement in the marriage market, revealing how the clergy filled their coffers by extracting fees for blessing or dissolving marital unions, for hearing marital disputes, and even for granting permission for blood relatives to wed. And they shed light on the concept of purgatory, showing how this"product innovation" developed by the Church in the twelfth century--a form of "deferred payment"--opened the floodgates for a fresh market in post-mortem atonement through payments on behalf of the deceased. Finally, the authors show how the cumulative costs that the faithful were asked to beareventually priced the Roman Catholic church out of the market, paving the way for Protestant reformers like Martin Luther. A ground-breaking look at the growth and decline of the medieval Church, Sacred Trust demonstrates how economic reasoning can be used to cast light on the behavior of any complex historical institution. It offers rare insight into one of the great historical powers of Western civilization, ina analysis that will intrigue anyone interested in life in the Middle Ages, in church history, or in the influence of economic motives on historical events.

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From Our Editors

In Sacred Trust: The Medieval Church as an Economic Firm, five highly respected economists advance the controversial argument that the story of the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages is in large part a story of supply and demand. Without denying the centrality - or sincerity - of religious motives, the authors employ the tools of...

From the Publisher

Without meaning to be irreverent, it is fair to say that in the Middle Ages, at the height of its political and economic power, the Roman Catholic Church functioned in part as a powerful and sophisticated corporation. The Church dealt in a "product" many consumers felt they had to have: thesalvation of their immortal souls. The Pope s...

From the Jacket

In Sacred Trust: The Medieval Church as an Economic Firm, five highly respected economists advance the controversial argument that the story of the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages is in large part a story of supply and demand. Without denying the centrality - or sincerity - of religious motives, the authors employ the tools of...

Robert B. Ekelund is Lowder Eminent Scholar in Economics at Auburn University. Robert D. Tollison is Duncan Black Professor of Economics at George Mason University. Gary M. Anderson is Professor of Economics at California State University, Northridge. Robert F. Hebert is Russell Foundation Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies at Aubur...

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:224 pages, 9.57 × 6.5 × 0.87 inPublished:October 1, 1996Publisher:Oxford University Press

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0195103378

ISBN - 13:9780195103373

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Customer Reviews of Sacred Trust: The Medieval Church as an Economic Firm

Reviews

Rated 3 out of 5 by from DIFFICULT AND PRONE TO NEW ERRORS The Sacred Trust is interesting in its approach and execution. Unfortunately, the analysis starts with the train already rolling in the Middle Ages. In order to understand the force of religion, economists must start at the very beginning and study its economic doctrines and outcomes through time. To do this, a significant rewrite is necessary because much of the extant material is fraudulent. This is very difficult and prone to new errors. When I look at the conclusions in the Sacred Trust, Islam is staring at my face that there must be a paradox in claiming the Catholic Church as a driver in economic growth in its self interest to protect and expand its mercantile monopoly. It is like a husband beating up his wife and then claiming to having positively contributed to her growth by bringing her to the hospital. Hence, the value of the conclusions in Sacred Trust is limited. After exhaustively going through Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, The Great Leap-Fraud (my publication) comes to the conclusion that the economic growth was collateral damage from an increasing loss of authority. The church jump started the economy unintentionally and at a very specific time. I do not know whether this theory is closer to reality. Economists have a minefield ahead of them to explore. A.J. DEUS, author of the The Great Leap Fraud
Date published: 2011-08-26

Extra Content

From Our Editors

In Sacred Trust: The Medieval Church as an Economic Firm, five highly respected economists advance the controversial argument that the story of the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages is in large part a story of supply and demand. Without denying the centrality - or sincerity - of religious motives, the authors employ the tools of modern economics to analyze how the Church's objectives went well beyond the realm of the spiritual. They explore the myriad sources of the Church's wealth, including tithes and land rents, donations and bequests, judicial services and monastic agricultural production. And they present an in-depth look at the ways in which Church principles on marriage, usury, and crusade were revised as necessary to meet - and in many ways to create - the needs of a vast body of consumers. Along the way, the book raises and answers many intriguing questions. The authors explore the reasons behind the great crusades against the Moslems, probing beyond motives of pure idealism to highlight the Church's concern with revenues from tourism and the sale

Editorial Reviews

"Sacred Trust goes beyond the traditional spiritual, political, and social interpretations of the theory and practice of the medieval church to offer a provocative, if not somewhat controversial, economic interpretation."--Journal of Church and State