Debt or Sin? Legal-theological Roots of the Moral Confusion in the EU Debt Crisis
In the wake of the financial crisis, citizens across the EU have been hit by austerity measures that are supposed to boost market confidence by ensuring that debtors pay back their debts. Yet what are the historical roots of the tenet that debt must be repaid? "Debt or sin" assumes that this principle stems from the moral theological origins of the law of obligations. Neglect of these roots has created moral confusion in Europe’s management of the crisis. In English, a different meaning could be attached to “debt” in the economic or legal sense, and “sin” in the religious or moral sense. But the German and Dutch languages are perfectly capable of denoting religious “sin” and legal “debt” through one and the same word: Schuld/schuld.
The objective of this project is to understand the symbiosis of morality, law and finance in a formative albeit neglected stage in the development of European legal and economic thought. This objective will be achieved through the analysis of writings by Catholic and Protestant jurists and theologians from the early modern period (ca. 1500-1700). Even if the moral roots of the principle that debt must be repaid reach back to Antiquity, never did the affinity between debt and sin become so close as in their work. They have vested the principle that debts must be repaid with authority from faith.Even if the religious ancestors of European legal and economic thought have been buried, they still rule us from their graves.