When you think of people that have had a tremendous effect on the world of economics, my guess is that “the Franciscans” isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. And why would it? A ragtag bunch of poor men in the Church has got to be the least likely candidate to economic reform.
And yet, the more you think about it, the more you realize that we’re a perfect fit: we’re a bunch of men committed to charity, with no interest in money ourselves. Unlike most everyone else, there is zero chance of scandal, no worry of financial impropriety. There’s no conflict of interest. Just the welfare of society in mind.
Which is why, in the 15th century, the Franciscans lay claim to one of the most interesting economic developments in history. Seeing the rampant abuse of the poor at the hands of usury, the Franciscans decided to get into the money lending business, showing that it could be done in a moral way. Without profit as the highest goal, businesses like these could actually benefit the disenfranchised.
Long story short, the Franciscans developed the first pawn shops in Italy.
Surprising! I know! You can learn all about it in this week’s Catholicism in Focus, a tribute to Francis week. If you missed it, be sure to see my video from Monday highlighting some of our greatest contributions to the Church and world, and the podcast that Br. Tito and I posted on Tuesday about Franciscan movies.