Religious contemporaries excoriated Italian Franciscan Observants for championing the Monti di Pietà, institutions offering interest-bearing loans for small pledges during the 1490s. How did Observants become proponents of what their critics denounced as usury? While scholars have traced a longstanding Franciscan economic ethos, I argue that Italian Observant Franciscans’ thought on canonical restitution of male ablata (ill-gotten gains) stemming from economic sin directly fed their discussions of loans at interest. By actively engineering an internal consensus on related canon law, Observants provided a legal justification for certain loans at interest while retaining the ability to condemn Jewish and Christian moneylenders for the same.
In medieval Europe, guilds were self-managing institutions which coordinated their activity using regulations. They were corporations of people who shared some common interests, such as religion, political convictions, cultural interests, military service, and economic profits. Most guilds in Europe in the Middle Ages and early modern period were formed by merchants and craftsmen. In Venice, guilds’ statutes provided a framework for guilds’ internal activities. As long as the statutes were registered and recognized by the Republic, their demarcation of trading interests was clear. Therefore, the guilds’ statutes functioned as a kind of ‘group contract’ which linked guildsmen, guilds and the outside world in medieval society. Since the majority of guild members in Venice were commoners, their statutes as a ‘group contract’ in practice organized them into a legally based relationship with the government of patricians.