Images of the Sin of

WEALTH

 

Saint-Fort-sur-Gironde: Mr Moneybag displaying his wealth.

 

From the Psychomachia (War between Virtues and Vices) series of capitals at Notre-Dame-du-Port, Clermont-Ferrand:
Generosity (Caritas) with helmet, mail and sword challenges Greed-for-Wealth (Avaritia)
who is portrayed paradoxically as a Wild Man.


A much cruder corbel-sculpture at Graimbouville (Seine-Maritime)


Sainte-Croix, Bordeaux (with gold rings) (before cleaning).


Rich man (carrying a single gold ring) falling into Hell, Melbourne (Derbyshire)

Lucheux (Somme)


photo by Joel Jalladeau

Saint-Parize-Le-Châtel (Nièvre) - a wonderful snake whispers obscenities into the ear
of a naked moneylender with two dug-like (or a pair of scrotum-like) bags of gold.
The sins of Concupiscentia and Avaritia were perhaps combined in the sin of Luxuria.


The phallic resonance is more obvious at St. Philippe d'Aiguille (Gironde).

 

Rebolledo de la Torre (Burgos):
A splendid lion-maned devil taunts the rich man in Hell.


Male exhibitionist with moneybag, Domfront (Orne) France:
the sin of wealth leading to the sins of licentiousness and concupiscence.


In the Old Testament, the charging of interest by Israelites was forbidden to fellow-Israelites - but not to Gentiles. (Exodus XXII,25; Deuteronomy XXIII,19-20; Leviticus XXV, 36-37; Ezekiel XVIII,8; Psalm XV,5.) The authors of Deuteronomy desired remission of debts every seven years in order to prevent the debt-slavery which unfailingly accompanies usury.

While usury is not condemned as such in the New Testament, Jesus was obviously concerned about the exploitation of the poor by the rich, about continuing, crippling debt and its remission. Moneylenders and wealth are both condemned in the Gospels, and money itself denounced byJames and Timothy. The chief and most certain source is wealth is by lending money - whether to the poor or to 'entrepreneurs', 'venture capitalists' or to already-rich companies and corporations.

The early 'Church Fathers' condemned Usury as the opposite of Charity, Augustine regarded it as a crime, and the Council of Carthage banned it in 345 AD. The Third Lateran Council of 1179 denied moneylenders Christian burial.

But there was a commercial revolution during the period from 1100 to 1348(The Black Death) brought about by the general use of the bill of exchange (essentially paper money) which avoided sacks of coins being transported and sunk in boats or seized by brigands. Each bill was a loan that also performed a currency conversion. A merchant would use local currency to purchase a bill of exchange. That bill was then made payable at a future moment in time, in another location, and in a different currency. The interest rate charged by the lender was not recorded but rather subsumed under the currency-exchange conversion. (Visa and Mastercard used the same trick until litigation required them to disclose foreign transaction fees on customers’ statements.) This was interpreted as usury, which led to wealth, luxury and depravity - and the economic decline of the monasteries and monastic orders.

In 1524 Martin Luther condemned usury as grossly contrary to God's Word - but just 20 years later, Calvin, the Whited Sepulchre of Geneva, started to write apologies for money-lending. From that point modern Capitalism began to take over the world.

Today, even 'Bible-based' Christians see nothing wrong with the charging of interest - which they would call making money make money. They continually and ever-more irrelevantly condemn private behaviour such as harmless homosexuality on the basis of dubious interpretation of very few texts, but conveniently ignore the prohibition of usury in both Old and New Testaments... They are akin to the anti-Darwinists who are the most avid exponents of "Social Darwinism".

 

A fine capital at Cunault (Maine-et-Loire) showing a devil claiming
a king or prince with impressive moneybag.

photo by Julianna Lees


photo by Peter Hubert

And an amazing depiction of the subject at Tarragona in Spain, which links this motif with tongue-stickers, mouth-pullers and Gorgons.


The theme of wealth, greed, and ungenerosity features large on the left side of the famous portal at Moissac (Tarn-et-Garonne).
Below the most descriptive of all the depictions of the parable of
Dives and Lazarus
is this panel. On the left, a tongue-sticking demon sits on the shoulders of a rich, beautifully-dressed aristocrat seated on a chair
and holding a large bag (grey with white staining). The devil's talons grip his forehead.
On the right - Scene 2 - another devil sits on his shoulders while gripping the bag.
The rich., vainglorious man is now a pauper and will be a pauper in Hell.

 

On the W door of Lincoln Cathedral in England, a rich woman wearing pearls is handing a box (containing jewels ?)
to a rich man with a satchel, who may be a moneylender or a tax-collector.

 

 


 

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