Merchant Priests: Theologies of Commerce in Jesuit Denunciations

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Hursh, Kimberly, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Owensby, Brian, Department of History, University of Virginia

This paper argues that early modern denunciations of the Jesuit's commercial activity in the Iberian world should be explored in the context of centuries-long contestations over the morality and the theology of commerce. Denunciations and Jesuit responses are a window into the anxieties that commercial activity could provoke in relationship to morality. Within the genre, Jesuits and lay commercial actors argued for their own definitions of just commerce. A close reading of denunciations shows that, in the late 16th century, critics and Jesuits were speaking a common language based on the understanding that commerce, though potentially dangerous to the soul, could and should serve the common good. Critics argued against the specific ways in which the Jesuits went about their commercial activity, but did not reject their involvement in commerce as a whole. By the 1750s, however, critics in both the Church and lay communities began to rhetorically and then legally define clerical commercial participation in toto as immoral. Together, the discourses of Enlightenment thinkers and Church officials effectively marginalized and eventually suppressed the alternative theology of economy that the Jesuits articulated and lived.

MA (Master of Arts)
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