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The Calvinists’ approach to usury

Although Weber himself in his book did not start a large discussion on usury and credit (Kaelber 2007, pp. 59-86), he mentioned, as a side note, Calvin’s little more liberal attitude towards the problem (Weber 2005, p. 149, note 29). The followers of his studies often underscored the significance of the turn in this matter which had taken place in the Geneva community. The progressing commercialization of economy required evolution in the moral assessment of banking. The Catholic Church throughout the Middle Ages was not able to cope with the problem of usury and despite the theoretically clearly negative attitude towards it, from the days of Thomas Aquinas onwards, there always remained a certain margin for free interpretation which enabled banking activities (Wood 2004). Lithuanian Evangelicals also dealt with a similar problem.

Protestants gathered in 1621 at the synod of Vilna expressed their opinion in the canon ‘On Usurers’: ‘It is certain that any usury is prohibited in the Word of God, and it does not become a Christian man to deal therewith; on the contrary, he should help his neighbor in need with his property and goods...’ (Akta synodow, 1915, p. 62). This statement shows an attempt to maintain the tradition, characteristic of all Christianity, of condemning usury activities, and simultaneously a will to leave a way out enabling running necessary lending activity which was visible in the views of Calvin (Schultze 2000, pp. 198-211; Kerridge 2002). Calvin’s seemingly precise guidelines left, however, much room for interpretation and the criteria of just profit did not have to be readable for an average follower of Reformation views in other countries. Members of the Polish-Lithuanian protestant community realized that economic life without credit would not have been possible, hence the synod did not reject the credit activity completely but only imposed certain restrictions. A potential moral dilemma of the Evangelicals was to be solved by a clergyman.

The financial situation of the Jednota in the 17th century

I 7th century

Over the 17th century, the situation of the Evangelical Reformed Church in the PLC worsened along with the political and demographic situation. The counter-Reformation action resulted in taking over Calvinist temples, especially those which used to be Catholic churches. The Catholics also took churches built from scratch which were located in the estates of their patrons who decided to convert into Catholicism. Those processes naturally resulted in the deterioration of the financial situation of the Lithuanian

Calvinist religious community. Therefore, affairs connected with the material functioning of the Jednota had to take quite a great deal of time during the debates of provincial synods.

The material and financial basis of the Jednota in the GDL were private foundations of churches, as well as material and financial legacies. Among the latter, there occurred land estates and urban immovable properties, and also smaller donations in the form of money or silver and gold items. A certain variety of such donations was fundraising (kolekta) among the faithful, initiated in synods and organized in particular intentions or for particular people. An additional position in the Jednota’s revenues was profits from managing immovable property: from leasing manor farms or renting town houses. Income, at least theoretically, also came from capital turnovers and providing loans.

The material situation of the Lithuanian Evangelical Reformed community in the 17th century is also reflected in two financial documents from 1668 and 1674. The resources registered in both are the sums to which the Jednota was legally entitled: foundation bequest, confirmation of the legacy (donation), a bond guaranteeing the return of the loan with the interest, or a mortgage loan collateral (Figure 18.2). A part of them are legacies (12.9% of the value) which were donated to particular churches and meant an obligation to pay a certain amount of money in the future in total or in instalments. In practice, donators could manage them as amounts of the capital from which the endowed churches were paid a yearly rent. The tentative analysis of the legacies for the Jednota in the files of provincial synods in 1611-1655 demonstrates that merely 32% of the declared donations were paid out immediately at the moment of the bequest (Liedke & Guzowski 2017, p. 124). Widowed spouses or children were often not very willing to give away the legacies of the dead spouses or parents. Realization of most of them required many years, efforts and legal operations.

The vast majority of the bequeathed sums (65.3%) were the loans secured in two ways (Figure 18.1): either on immobile property (27.4%) or a bond (37.9%). The former form of guarantee was derived from the concept of purchasing a rent which, in our case, meant a transaction, the result of which was that the immovable property owner sold the Jednota a particular regular income from the property for a certain amount of money. The other form meant an ordinary money loan secured by bond. Also, foundation bequests were secured by immovable property income (16% of the value of the bequeathed sums). Because of the laconic form of the source, it was impossible to reconstruct the nature of a group of bequests (5.8% of value).

The analysis of the two documents under scrutiny shows that bequests connected with the Vilna district were of the highest value, over 123,000 zlotys, which should not come across as surprising because of its exceptional, capital character, the importance of the Jednota, as well as a pursuit, so visible over the 17th century, of creating a central archive of the Evangelical

The nature of the sums to which particular districts were entitled

Figure 18.1 The nature of the sums to which particular districts were entitled.

Source: LLAS, fond 40, man. 1136, pp. 303-306; fond 40, man. 168, p. 59r.

Value of the sums to which particular districts were entitled

Figure 18.2 Value of the sums to which particular districts were entitled.

Source: LLAS, fond 40, man. 1136, pp. 303-306; fond 40, man. 168, p. 59r.

Reformed Church in Vilna (Figure 18.2). Monetary legacies for the Vilna church came from not only people who had their estates in that district. Many inhabitants of lands belonging to the other districts, beside donations for churches in their maternal district, made bequests for the community in Vilna. Nearly half as much of the value of legacies (65,100 zlotys) was noted in the case of the Samogitian District, to which belonged the churches of the magnates: the Radziwills (Kiejdany) or rich noblemen (Dziewaltow). After all, the affluent and middle Samogitian nobility remained religiously active in the period under examination, whereas, among the magnates, only the Radziwill family still protected Calvinism in Lithuania. Furthermore, a half of the value of Samogitian bequests were registered at the Novogrodek District (32,125 zlotys), and of considerably smaller value are the sums of the Ruthenian District (19,600 zlotys) and the Zawilejski District (4,512 zlotys). The particularly poor resources of the vast Ruthenian District could result from a considerably lower number of affluent Evangelical noblemen settled in the most easternmost areas of the GDL.

 
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