John of Freiburg and the Usury Prohibition in the Late Middle Ages: A Study in the Popularization of Medieval Canon Law

Summa Confessorum - John of FreiburgJohn of Freiburg and the Usury Prohibition in the Late Middle Ages: A
Study in the Popularization of Medieval Canon Law

John A. Lorenc

University of TorontoDoctor of Philosophy, Graduate Department for the Study of Religion (2013)


In this dissertation I provide an edition of the treatise on usury (De usuris, bk. 2, tit. 7) contained in the Dominican friar John of Freiburg’s (d. 1314) Summa confessorum (ca. 1298) – a comprehensive encyclopedia of pastoral care that John wrote for the benefit of his fellow friar preachers and all others charged with the cure of souls. The edition is prefaced by a detailed biography of John of Freiburg, an account of the genesis of the Summa confessorum that places the work in the context of John’s other literary productions, a commentary on the contents of the treatise on usury, and a study of the influence of John’s treatise on subsequent confessors’ manuals up to the end of the fourteenth century with a special concentration on the history of the Summa confessorum on usury in England.

Based on an analysis of the social function of confessors’ manuals and the reception history of John’s treatise on usury, I contend that the Summa confessorum offers us a window into what many medieval men and women of all social classes in widespread areas of Europe might have known about the medieval Church’s prohibition of taking interest in a loan. As a prominent vehicle for the popularization of medieval canon law, then, the Summa confessorum occupies a significant place in the intellectual and social history of the Late Middle Ages. Finally, I argue that John’s choices in crafting his treatise on usury were ultimately influenced to a significant extent by the clash of economic interests between the old landed aristocracy and the rising burgher class in Freiburg, where John wrote the Summa confessorum and served as lector of the Dominican convent for over thirty years.

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