Sophies Inheritance (Tudorland series Book 1)


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No one can read the discussions which took place between and on three burning issues— the rise in prices, capital and interest, and the land question in England — without being struck by the constant appeal from the new and clamorous economic interests of the day to the traditional Christian morality, which in social organization, as in the relations of individuals, is still conceived to be the final authority.


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It is because it is regarded as the final authority that the officers of the Church claim to be heard on questions of social policy, and that, however Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Calvinists may differ on doctrine or ecclesiastical government, Luther and Calvin, Latimer and Laud, John Knox and the Pilgrim Fathers are agreed that social morality is the province of the Church, and are prepared both to teach it, and to enforce it, when necessary, by suitable discipline.

By the middle of the seventeenth century all that is altered. After the Restoration, we are in a new world of economic, as well as of political, thought. The claim of religion, at best a shadowy claim, to maintain rules of good conscience in economic affairs finally vanished with the destruction of Laud's experi- ment in a confessional State, and with the failure of the work of the Westminster Assefhbly. The ground which is vacated by the Christian mioralist is quickly occupied by theorists of another order.

The future for the next two hundred years is not with the attempt to reaffirm, with due allowance for altered circumstances, the conception that a moral rule is binding on Christians in their economic transactions, but with the new science of Political Arithmetic, which asserts, at first with hesitation and then with confidence, that no moral rule beyond the letter of the law exists. Influenced in its method by the contemporary progress of mathematics and physics, it handles economic phenomena, not as a casuist, concerned to distinguish right from wrong, l3ut as a scientist, applying a new calculus to impersonal economic forces.

Its method, temper, and assumptions are accepted by all educated men, including the clergy, even though its particular conclusions continue for long to be disputed. Tucker, Dean of Gloucester. Some of the particular stages in this transition will be discussed later. But that there was a transition, and that the intellectual and moral conversion which it produced was not less momentous than the effect of some more familiar intellectual revolutions, is undeniable.

Nor is it to be refuted by insisting that economic motives and economic needs are ap old as history, or that thffe appeal to religion is often a decorous drapery for a triumphant materialism. Coulton does well to remind us that, even in the Age of Faith, resounding principles were compatible with very sordid practice. In a discussion which has as its subject social thought, not the history of business organization, it is not necessary to elaborate that truism. To appraise the merits of different theories of social organization must be left to those who feel confident that they possess an adequate criterion.

All that can be attempted in these pages is to endeavour to understand a few among them. For, after all, because doctrine and conduct diverge, it does not follow that to examine the former is to hunt abstractions. That men should have thought as they did is sometimes as significant as that they should have acted as they did, and not least significant when thought and practice are at variance. It -would be para- doxical to dismiss Machiavelli and Locke and Smith and Bentham as irrelevant to the political practice of their age, merely on the ground that mankind has still to wait for the ideal Prince or Whig or Individualist or Utilitarian.

There is an evolution of ideas, as well as of organisms, and the quality of civilization depends, as Professor Wallas has so convincingly shown, on the transmission, less of physical qualities, than of a com- plex structure of habits, knovjledge, and beliefs, the destruction of which would be followed within a year by the death of half the human race. Granted that the groundwork of inherited dispositions with which the individual is born has altered little in recorded history, the interests and values which compose his world have undergone a succession of revolutions.

The conventional statement that human nature does not change is plausible only so long as attention is focussed on those aspects of it which are least dis- tinctively human. The wolf is to-day what he was when he was hunted by Nimrod. But, while men are born with many of the characteristics of wolves, man is a wolf domesticated, who both transmits the arts by which he has been partially tamed and improves upon them. He steps into a social inheritance, to which each generation adds its own contribution of good and evil, before it bequeathes it to its successors.

There is a moral and religious, as well as a material, environment, which sets its stamp on the individual, even when he is least conscious of it.


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And the effect of changes in this environment is not less profound. The economic categories of modern society, such as property, freedom of contract and competition, are as much a part of its intellectual furniture as its political conceptions, and, together with religion, have probably been the most potent force in giving it its character. To examine how the latter grew out of the former; to trace the change, from a view of economic activity which regarded it as one among other kinds of moral conduct, to the view of it as dependent upon impersonal and almost automatic forces ; to observe the struggle of individualism, in the face of restrictions imposed in the name of religion by the Church and of public policy by the State, first denounced, then palliated, then triumphantly justified in the name of economic liberty ; to watch how ecclesiastical authority strives to maintain its hold upon the spheres it had claimed and finally abdicates them — to do this is not to indulge a vain curiosity, but to stand at the sources of rivulets which are now a flood.

Has religious opinion in the past regarded questions of social organization and economic conduct as irrelevant to the life of the spirit, or has it endeavoured not only to christianize the individual but to make a Christian civilization? Can religion admit the existence of a sharp antithesis between personal morality and the practices which are permissible in business? Men were asking the same questions, though in different language, throughout the sixteenth century.

It is a commonplace that modern economic history begins with a series of revolutionary changes in the direction and organization of commerce, in finance, in prices, and in agriculture, To the new economic situation men brought a body of doctrine, law and tradition, hammered out during the preceding three centuries.

Since the new forces were bewildering, and often shocking, to conserva- tive consciences, moralists and religious teachers met them at first by a re-affirmation of the tra- ditional doctrines, by which, it seemed, their excesses might be restrained and their abuses corrected. As the changed environment became, not a novelty, but an established fact, these doctrines had to be modified.

As the effects of the Reformation developed, different Churches produced characteristic differences of social opinion. But these were later developments, which only gradually became apparent. The new economic w'orld was not accepted without a struggle. Apart from a few extremists, the first generation of reformers were rarely innovators in matters of social theory, and quoted Fathers and church councils, decretals and canon lawyers, in complete unconsciousness that changes in doctrine and church government involved any breach with what they had learned to regard as the moral tradition of Christendom.

Hence the sixteenth century sees a collision, not only between different schools of religious thought, but between the changed economic environment and he accepted theory of society To understand it, one must place oneself at the point from which it started. One must examine, however sum- marHy, the historical background. The formal teaching was derived from the Bible, the works of the Fathers and Schoolmen, the canon law and its commentators, and had been popularized in sermons and religious manuals.

The informal assumptions were those implicit in law, custom, and social institutions. Both were complex, and to speak of them as a unity is to sacrifice truth to con- venience. It may be that the political historian is justified when he covers with a single phrase the five centuries or more to which tradition has assigned the title of the Middle Ages. For the student of economic conditions that suggestion of homogeneity is the first illusion to be discarded.

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The mediaeval economic world was marked, it is true, by certain common characteristics. They sprang from the fact that on the west it was a closed system, that on the north it had so much elbow-room as was given by the Baltic and the rivers emptying themselves into it, and that on the east, where it was open, the apertures were concentrated along a comparatively short coast-line from Alexandria to the Black Sea, so that they were easily commanded by any naval power dominating the eastern Mediterranean, and easily cut by any military power which could squat across the trade routes before they reached the sea.

While, however, these broad facts determined that the two main currents of trade should run from east to v? In spite of the ubiquity of manor and gild, there was as much difference between the life of a centre of capitalist industry, like fifteenth- century Flanders, or a centre of capitalist finance, like fifteenth-century Florence, and a pastoral society exporting raw materials and a little food, like medieval England, as there is between modern Lancashire or London and modern Denmark.

To draw from English conditions a picture of a whole world stagnating in economic squalor, or basking in economic innocence, is as absurd as to reconstruct the economic life of Europe in the twentieth century from a study of the Shetland Islands or the Ukraine. The elements in the social theory of the Middle Ages were equally various, and equally changing. Even if the student confines himself to the body of doctrine which is definitely associated with religion, and takes as typical of it the Summcs of the Schoolmen, he finds it in con- stant process of development.

The economic teach- ing of St. Thomas in the thirteenth, and down to the very end of the Middle Ages the best-established and most characteristic parts of the system— for in- stance, the theory of prices and of usury — so far from being stationary, were steadily modified and elaborated.

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There are, perhaps, four main attitudes which religious opinion may adopt toward the world of social institutions and economic relations. It may throw itself into an agitation for some particular reform, for the removal of some crying scandal, for the promotion of some final revolution, which will inaugurate the reign of righteous- ness on earth. It may at once accept and criticize, tolerate and amend, welcome the gross world of human appetites, as the squalid scaffolding from amid which the life of the spirit must idse, and insist that this also is the material of the Kingdom of God.

To such a temper, all activities divorced from religion are brutal or dead, but none are too mean to be beneath or too great to be above it, since all, in their different degrees, are touched with the spirit which permeates the whole.

Full text of "Illustrated English Social History Vol. 1"

Each meets us in the thought of the Middle Ages, as differences of period and place and economic environment and personal temperament evoke it. In the early Middle Ages the ascetic temper predominates. As one phase of it succumbed to ease and affluence, another rose to restore the primitive austerity, and the return to evangelical poverty, preached by St. If obscure sects like the Poor Men of Lyons are too unorthodox to be cited, the Friars are not, and it was not only Langland and that gentlemanly journalist, Froissart, who accused them — the phrase has a long history — of stirring up class hatred.

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Ideas have a pedigree which, if realized, would often embarrass their exponents. The day has long since passed when it could be suggested that only one-half of modern Christianity has its roots in medieval religion. There is a medieval Puritanism and rationalism as well as a mediaeval Catholicism.

In the field of ecclesiastical theory, as Mr. What is true of religion and political thought is equally true of economic and social doctrines. By the very nature of its task, as nauch as by the intention of its rulers, it had become the greatest of political institutions. For good or evil it aspired to be, not a sect, but a civilization, and, when its unity was shattered at the Reformation, the different Churches which emerged from it endeavoured, according to their different opportunities, to perpetuate the same tradition.

Asceticism or renunciation, quietism or indifferentism, the zeal which does well to be angry, the temper which seeks a synthesis of the external order and the religion of the spirit — all alike, in one form or another, are represented in the religious thought and practice of the Middle Ages. All are represented in it, but not all are equally representative of it. Of the four attitudes suggested above, it is the last which is most characteristic. The first fundamental assumption which is taken over bj " the sixteenth century is that the ultimate standard of human institutions and activities is religion.

The architectonics of the system had been worked out in the SummcB of the Schoolmen. In sharp contrast to the modern temper, which takes the destination for granted, and is thrilled by the hum of the engine, mediaeval religious thought strains every interest and activity, by however arbitrary a compression, into the service of a single idea. The lines of its scheme run up and down, and, since purpose is universal and all- embracing, there is, at least in theory, no room for eccentric bodies which move in their own private orbit.

That purpose is set by the divine plan of the universe. There is no absolute division, but there is a division of quality. There are — to use a modern plirase — degrees of reality. The distinctive feature of mefliieva! But the characteristic thought is different. It is that of a synthesis. The contrast between nature and grace, between human appetites and interests and religion, is not absolute, but relative.

It is a contrast of matter and the spirit informing it, of stages in a process, of pre- paration and fruition. And what is true of the individual is true of society.

permuegintranso.tk According to the law of the universe all things are not reduced to order equally and immediately ; but the lowest through the intermediate, the intermediate through the higher. Ideally conceived, society is an organism of different grades, and human activities form a hierarchy of functions, which differ in kind and in significance, but each of which is of value on its own plane, provided that it is governed, however remotely, by the end which is common to all.

Needless to say, metaphysics, however sublime, were not the daily food of the Middle Ages, any more than of to-day. The fifteenth century saw an outburst of commercial activity and of economic speculation, and by the middle of it all this teaching was becoming antiquated.

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