Originally published in 1549, the section was included as one of four appendices to the Manual, offering commentary on Gregory IX’s prohibition of nautical usury. The release is part of the growing series, Sources in Early Modern Economics, Ethics, and Law.
Azpilcueta (1492-1586), also known as Doctor Navarrus, was a leading canonist and moral theologian of the early modern period. Although On Exchange was meant to provide moral guidance for pastors and penitents, it has drawn the attention of economic historians for its indirect analysis of 16th-century economic realities, including explorations on exchange practices, supply and demand, and the nature of money. As noted in the book’s overview, Azpilcueta’s “account of the fluctuation of the value of money marks a significant development in early modern economic thought.”
In the introduction, Rodrigo Muñoz offers more on this historical context, as well as Azpilcueta’s contribution:
Historians of economic thought have become increasingly interested in the moral literature of the second scholastic period, which looks into the economic practices of sixteenth-century commercial capitalism. Although such interest relates to the whole of scholasticism, it especially considers the authors of the late scholastic or second scholastic period, which peaked during the Spanish Siglo de Oro5 with the so-called School of Salamanca.
During the sixteenth century, there was a theological renaissance driven by the changes that gave way to a new social and cultural life that put an end to the medieval model. Together with specifically theological matters—the need for renovation and the later Protestant reforms that were the immediate antecedents to the Council of Trent—other factors were the new idea of man and society; the demographic expansion in Europe; the surge of modern national states; and the discovery of the New World, with a massive affluence of precious metals and new markets in the Indies. Circumstances in both the New World and the Indies soon had an effect on Spanish prices. These phenomena, together with the development of banking activities and new forms of payment, gave way to an increasing capital flow and to the growth of credit and speculative activity, all of which became a formidable challenge for moral theology…
The new theological genres included the works of the penitential pastoral and De iustitia et iure treatises, along with more specific ones such as Azpilcueta’s On Exchange. In them, we find observations on monopolies, just pricing, taxes, banking or credit practices, currency markets, and so forth… In this context, Azpilcueta’s work plays a singular role. Perhaps his most original contribution, and what has most attracted economists, is precisely the quality of his analysis regarding the value of money, which is reflected in On Exchange.
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