Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The One Sin Greater Than Plague or Death

In our time, we are comfortable thinking about issues such as debt or bankruptcy as strictly practical or legal concerns. But in an earlier times, debt was a moral issue. This is starkly illustrated in Henry Knighton's contemporaneous account of the Black Death in England; Knighton reports that "the Bishop of London sent word throughout his whole diocese giving general power to each and every priest...to hear confessions and to give absolution to all persons with full episcopal authority, except only in case of debt. In this case, the debtor was to pay the debt, if he was able while he lived, or others were to fulfill his obligations from his property after his death." Knighton's report appears in Eyewitness to History, a fascinating 1988 compilation of first-hand accounts of historical events, edited by John Carey.


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