The Political Economy of the Medieval Church

Robert B. Ekelund, Jr., Robert F. Hébert and Robert D. Tollison

in The Oxford Handbook of the Economics of Religion

Published in print January 2011 | ISBN: 9780195390049
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 The Political Economy of the Medieval Church

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The exact starting and ending dates of the Middle Ages may be difficult to specify, but historians are virtually unanimous that the period, however demarcated, represented the high tide of Christianity in Western Europe. Medieval Europe provides an interesting case study, not only of religion and politics, but of the overlap between them, which was far greater in medieval society than it is today. The medieval Roman Catholic Church, as an economic and political entity, attempted to accomplish its otherworldly goals in this world by acquiring power and influence. Most large corporations need access to capital markets to grow and prosper. The medieval Church was no exception, but it was constrained by its own admonitions against “laying up earthly treasure” and “serving Mammon instead of God.” This article discusses the political economy of the medieval Church, focusing on its response to the Crusades and also considering purgatory, indulgences, and the Protestant Reformation, as well as marriage as a sacrament.

Keywords: Roman Catholic Church; political economy; Middle Ages; marriage; capital markets; Europe; Crusades; purgatory; indulgences; Protestant Reformation

Article.  6687 words. 

Subjects: Economics ; Economic History ; Econometrics and Mathematical Economics

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