Epistola ad ducissam Brabantiae

Thomas Aquinas

translated as
Thomas Aquinas's Letter to Margaret of Flanders
Mark Johnson
Html-formated by Joseph Kenny, O.P.



  1. Whether it is allowable for you at some time and in what way to make an exaction upon the Jews.
  2. If a Jew should sin, should this person be punished with the financial penalty, since he seems to have nothing aside from usurious money
  3. If he should give money on his own accord, or some peace token, whether it is licit to accept it.
  4. If you receive more from a Jew than Christians require from him, what should be done with what is left over.
  5. About bailiffs and your officials, whether it is legitimate for you to sell them these offices or to receive a loan from them rated until they acquire the same amount in the offices assigned to them
  6. Whether it is legitimate for you to levy taxes upon your Christian subjects or to force loans
  7. If your officials without the order of law should extort something for the subjects which makes its way to your hands (or maybe not), what you should do
  8. Whether it is good that Jews throughout your province are compelled to wear a sign distinguishing them from Christians

Prooemium Introduction
Excellentiae vestrae recepi litteras, ex quibus et piam sollicitudinem circa regimen subditorum vestrorum, et devotam dilectionem quam habetis ad fratres nostri ordinis plenarie intellexi, Deo gratias agens qui vestro cordi tantarum virtutum semina inspiravit. Quod tamen in eisdem a me requirebatis litteris ut vobis super quibusdam articulis responderem, utique mihi difficile fuit: tum propter occupationes meas, quas requirit operatio lectionis, tum quia mihi placeret ut super his requireretis aliorum consilium magis in talibus peritorum. Verum quia indecens reputavi ut vestrae sollicitudini neglegens coadiutor inveniar, aut dilectioni ingratus existam, super propositis articulis vobis ad praesens respondere curavi absque praeiudicio sententiae melioris. I received Your Excellency's letters from which I have fully come to understand the pious care that you have concerning the rule of your subjects and the devout love you have towards the brethren of our Order, giving thanks to God who has breathed into your heart the seeds of such virtues. Nonetheless, what you asked of me in these self-same letters (that I should respond to you about certain items) was indeed difficult for me both because of my occupations, which the office of teaching requires, and because it would please me that on these things you would seek the counsel of others more expert in such matters. Still, because I considered it unbecoming that I be found out to be a negligent helper for your solicitude or that I be ungrateful of your love, I have taken care to respond to you about these proposed items without the prejudice of a better opinion.

Articulus 1 First Response
Primo ergo vestra requirebat excellentia, si liceat vobis aliquo tempore, et quo exactionem facere in Iudaeos. First therefore, Your Excellency inquired whether it is allowable for you at some time and in what way to make an exaction upon the Jews.
Ad quam quaestionem sic absolute propositam responderi potest, quia licet, ut iura dicunt, Iudaei merito culpae suae sint vel essent perpetuae servituti addicti, et sic eorum res terrarum domini possint accipere tanquam suas, hoc tamen servato moderamine, ut necessaria vitae subsidia eis nullatenus subtrahantur; quia tamen oportet nos honeste ambulare etiam ad eos qui foris sunt, ne nomen domini blasphemetur, et apostolus fideles admonet suo exemplo, ut sine offensione simus Iudaeis, et gentibus et Ecclesiae Dei; hoc servandum videtur ut, sicut iura determinant, ab eis coacta servitia non exigantur quae ipsi praeterito tempore facere non consueverunt, quia ea quae sunt insolita magis solent animos hominum perturbare. To which question (proposed in this unqualified way) it can be answered that although, as the laws say, the Jews by reason of their fault are sentenced to perpetual servitude and thus the lords of the lands in which they dwell may take things from them as though they were their own - with, nonetheless, this restraint observed that the necessary subsidies of life in no way be taken from them, because it still is necessary that we "walk honestly even in the presence of those who are outsiders (I Thes. 4:11)," "lest the name of the Lord be blasphemed (I Tim. 6:1)," and the Apostle admonishes the faithful by his example that (I Cor. 10:32-33), "they be without offense in the presence of the Jews and the Gentiles and in the Church of God" - this seems to be what should be observed, that, as the laws have determined, the services coerced from them do not demand things that they had not been accustomed to do in times gone by, because those things that are unexpected more often rattle souls.
Secundum igitur huiusmodi moderationis sententiam potestis secundum consuetudinem praedecessorum vestrorum exactionem in Iudaeos facere, si tamen aliud non obsistat. Videtur autem, quantum coniicere potui ex his quae consequenter inquiritis, circa hoc dubitatio vestra augeri quod Iudaei terrae vestrae nihil videntur habere nisi quod acquisierunt per usurariam pravitatem: unde consequenter quaeritis si liceat aliquid ab eis exigere, cum restituenda sint sic extorta. Now, following the judgment of this sort of restraint, you can in accordance with the customs of your predecessors make an exaction upon the Jews, only if, however, nothing else stands in the way. For it seems that, as far as I was able to conjecture from those things which you subsequently asked, your doubt mostly concerned this, that the Jews of your land seem to have nothing except what they acquired through the depravity of usury. And, hence, consequently you ask whether it is not licit to require something from them, and to whom the things thus required are to be restored.
Super hoc ergo sic respondendum videtur, quod cum ea quae Iudaei per usuras ab aliis extorserunt non possint licite retinere, consequens est ut, si etiam vos haec acceperitis ab eis, non possetis licite retinere, nisi forsan essent talia quae a vobis vel antecessoribus vestris hactenus extorsissent. Si qua vero habent quae extorserunt ab aliis, haec ab eis exacta illis debetis restituere quibus Iudaei restituere tenebantur: unde si inveniuntur certae personae a quibus extorserunt usuras, debet eis restitui, alioquin debet in pios usus secundum consilium dioecesani episcopi et aliorum proborum, vel etiam in communem utilitatem terrae, si necessitas immineat vel exposcat communis utilitas, erogari. Nec esset illicitum si a Iudaeis exigeretis talia de novo, servata consuetudine praedecessorum vestrorum, hac intentione ut in praedictos usus expenderentur. On this matter therefore, it seems the response should be this, since the Jews may not licitly keep those things which they have extorted from others through usury, the consequence is also that if you receive these things from them neither may you licitly keep them, unless perhaps they be things that the Jews had extorted from you or from your ancestors hitherto. If, however, they have things which they extorted from others, these things, once demanded from them, you should restore to those to whom the Jews were bound to restore them. Thus, if certain persons are discovered from whom the Jews extorted usury, it should be restored to them. Otherwise, these usurious monies should be set aside for pious uses according to the council of the diocesan bishop and of other upright men, or even for the common utility of your land if a necessity looms and usefulness calls for it; nor even would it be illicit if you should require such usurious money from the Jews anew, preserving the custom of your predecessors, with this intention that the monies be expended for pious purposes.

Articulus 2 Second Response
Secundo vero requirebatis, si peccaverit Iudaeus, utrum sit poena pecuniaria puniendus, cum nihil habeat praeter usuras. Now, second you asked, if a Jew should sin, should this person be punished with the financial penalty, since he seems to have nothing aside from usurious money.
Respondendum videtur secundum praedicta quod expedit eum pecuniaria poena puniri, ne ex sua iniquitate commodum reportet. Videtur etiam mihi quod esset maiori poena puniendus Iudaeus, vel quicumque alius usurarius, quam aliquis alius, quantum pecunia quae aufertur ei minus ad eum noscitur pertinere. Potest etiam pecuniariae alia poena superaddi, ne hoc solum ad poenam sufficere videatur quod pecuniam aliis debitam desinit possidere. Pecunia autem poenae nomine ab usurariis ablata retineri non potest, sed in usus praedictos debet expendi, si nihil aliud habeant quam usuras. To which question it seems the response should be, in line with what has been said before, that it is expeditious that he be punished with a financial penalty, in order that he might not accrue some benefit from his iniquity; it also seems to me that the Jew should be punished with a greater fine (or anyone else who practices usury) than anyone else in a similar case, to make the point that the money taken from him be known to be less his entitlement. Another punishment can be added to this financial punishment, lest this seem to suffice for a penalty, that he cease to possess the money that is owed to others. Nonetheless, money taken from usurers in the name of punishment cannot be kept but should be expended for the aforementioned uses, if they do not have anything other than usurious money.
Si vero dicatur quod ex hoc principes terrarum damnificantur, hoc damnum sibi imputent, utpote ex negligentia eorum proveniens. Melius enim esset ut Iudaeos laborare compellerent ad proprium victum lucrandum, sicut in partibus Italiae faciunt, quam quod otiosi viventes solis usuris ditentur, et sic eorum domini suis reditibus defraudentur. Ita enim et per suam culpam principes defraudarentur reditibus propriis, si permitterent suos subditos ex solo latrocinio vel furto lucrari. Tenerentur nam ad restitutionem eius quodcumque ab eis exigerent. But if it be said that the princes of countries suffer loss from this, this loss should be imputed to them as coming from their own negligence; for it would be better if they compelled Jews to work for their own living, as they do in parts of Italy, than that, living without occupation they grow rich by usury, and thus their rulers be defrauded of revenue. In the same way, and through their own fault, princes are defrauded of their proper revenues if they permit their subjects to enrich themselves by theft and robbery alone; for they would be bound to restore [to the real owner] whatever they had exacted from them [the thieves].

Articulus 3 Third Response
Tertio quaerebatur, si ultro offerant pecuniam vel aliquod encenium, an recipere liceat. Third it was asked, if he (the Jew) should give money on his own accord, or some peace token, whether it is licit to accept it.
Ad quod respondendum videtur quod licet recipere, sed expedit quod sic acceptum reddatur his quibus debetur, vel aliter, ut supra dictum est, expendatur, si nihil aliud habeant quam usuras. To which the response is, that it seems that it is licit accept it. And it is helpful that money received in this way be returned to those to whom it is owed, or otherwise expended, as has been said before, if they have nothing other than usurious gain.

Articulus 4 Fourth response
Quarto quaeritur, si plus accipitur a Iudaeo quam ab eo Christiani requirant, quid sit de residuo faciendum. Fourth you asked, if you receive more from a Jew than Christians require from him, what should be done with what is left over.
Ad quod patet responsio ex iam dictis. Quod enim Christiani minus requirunt, potest esse propter duo. Vel quia forte Iudaeus aliquid habebat praeter usurarium lucrum, et in tali casu licet vobis illud retinere servato moderamine supradicto; et idem videtur dicendum si illi extorserint usuras eis qui postea bona voluntate donaverunt, cum tamen Iudaei prompte se offerrent ad restituendum usuras. Vel potest contingere quod illi a quibus acceperunt, sunt sublati de medio vel per mortem vel in terris aliis morantes: et tunc ipsi debent restituere. Si tamen non apparent certae personae quibus restituere teneantur, procedendum est ut supra. The response for this comes from what has been said before. For that Christians do not require from the Jew what is left over can happen in two ways: in one way perhaps because the Jew has things apart from usurious gain, and in this case it is legitimate for you to keep it, observing however the moderation mentioned above (and the same would seem to be said if they from whom usury had been extorted should it later make gifts to them [the Jews] in good will, but only when they [the Jews] show themselves ready to make restitution for usury); in another way it can happen that they from whom the Jews accepted usury have disappeared in the meantime, either through death, or that they are currently living in other countries, and then they are bound to make restitution; but when precise persons do not appear to who they are bound to make restitution, it seems that the procedure should in line with what has been said above.
Quod autem de Iudaeis dictum est intelligendum est de Cavorsinis, vel quibuscumque aliis insistentibus usurariae pravitati. Now what has been said about the Jews is also to be understood about Cahors, and anyone else depending upon the depravity of usury.

Articulus 5 Fifth response
Quinto quaerebatis de balivis et officialibus vestris, si liceat eis officia vendere vel mutuo ab eis accipere aliquid certum donec tantum recipiant ex officiis. Fifth you asked about bailiffs and your officials, whether it is legitimate for you to sell them these offices or to receive a loan from them rated until they acquire the same amount in the offices assigned to them.
Ad quod dicendum videtur quod quaestio ista duas difficultates habere videtur: quarum prima est de officiorum venditione. Circa quam considerandum videtur, quod apostolus dicit quod multa licent quae non expediunt. Cum autem balivis et officialibus vestris nihil committatis nisi temporalis officium potestatis, non video quare huiusmodi officia non liceat vobis vendere, dummodo talibus vendatis de quibus possit praesumi quod sint utiles ad talia officia exercenda, et non tanto pretio vendantur officia, quod recuperari non possit sine gravamine vestrorum subditorum. In responding to this it seems that this question seems to contain two difficulties, of which the first is about the sale of offices. Concerning this question it seems to me that we should consider that the Apostle says (I Cor. 6:12), "many things are allowed that are not useful"; now since you hand over to bailiffs and to your officials nothing but the power of a temporal office, I do not see why it is not legitimate for you to sell offices of this kind, when you sell to such persons about whom it can be presumed that they are useful to the performance of these sorts of offices, and that the office not be sold at so great a price that they are not able to recuperate their money without burdening your subjects.
Sed tamen talis venditio expediens non videtur. Primo quidem quia contingit frequenter quod illi, qui essent magis idonei ad huiusmodi officia exercenda, sunt pauperes, ut emere non possint; et si etiam sunt divites illi qui meliores sunt, talia officia non ambiunt nec inhiant ad lucra ex officio acquirenda. Sequitur igitur quod ut plurimum illi officia in terra vestra suscipiant, qui sunt peiores, ambitiosi, et pecuniae amatores; quos etiam probabile est subditos vestros opprimere, et vestra etiam commoda non sic fideliter procurare. Unde magis videtur expediens ut bonos homines et idoneos ad suscipiendum vestra officia eligatis, quos etiam invitos, si necesse fuerit, compellatis: quia per eorum bonitatem et industriam maiora accrescent vobis et subditis vestris, quam de praedicta officiorum venditione acquirere valeatis. Et hoc consilium dedit Moysi eius cognatus. Provide, inquit, de omni plebe viros sapientes et timentes Deum, in quibus sit charitas et qui oderint avaritiam: et constitue ex eis tribunos, et centuriones, et quinquagenarios, et decanos qui iudicent populum omni tempore. But nonetheless such selling seems to be not altogether useful. First because it happens frequently that they who are most suited to performing the offices of this sort are poor, such that they would not be able to purchase the office; and even if they are rich, the best persons do not seek these offices nor do they long for the financial gain to be acquired from the office. The result would therefore be that mostly those individuals would get offices in your land who are lesser people, ambitious, and lovers of money; it is probable that they would both oppress your subjects and not so faithfully tend to even your interests. Hence it seems to be more expedient that you select good and well-suited men for such offices, whom you might even compel to serve against their will if it be necessary; because through their goodness and efforts more will accrue to you and your subjects than you would be able to acquire from the aforementioned sale of offices. The kinsman of Moses gave him this counsel (Ex. 18:21-22), "Provide," he said, "from each people wise men and those fearing God, in whom there is truth, and who hate avarice. And establish from them leaders of hundreds and fifties and tens, who will judge the people for all time."
Secunda vero dubitatio circa hunc articulum esse potest de mutuo. Circa quod dicendum videtur quod si hoc pacto mutuum daret, ut officium accipiant, absque dubio pactum est usurarium, quia pro mutuo accipiunt officii potestatem: unde in hoc datis eis occasionem peccandi, et ipsi etiam tunc tenerentur resignare officio taliter acquisito. Si tamen gratis officia dederitis, et post ab eis mutuum acceperitis, quod de suo officio possint recipere, hoc absque omni peccato fieri potest. But the second doubt surrounding this issue can to be about the loan. It seems that we should say that if, under this pact, they make a loan to receive an office, without doubt the pact is usurious because they receive the power of the office for a loan; hence in this affair you give to them the occasion for sinning, and they are even bound to resign their office acquired in this fashion. If however you give the office freely, and thereafter you receive a loan from them which they are able to recover from their office, this can take place without any sin.

Articulus 6 Sixth response
Sexto quaerebatis, si liceat vobis exactiones facere in vestros subditos Christianos. Sixth you asked whether it is legitimate for you to levy taxes upon your Christian subjects or to force loans.
In quo considerare debetis quod principes terrarum sunt a Deo instituti non quidem ut propria lucra quaerant sed ut communem populi utilitatem procurent. In reprehensione enim quorundam principum dicitur in Ezech. XXII, 27: principes eius in medio eius quasi lupi rapaces, positi ad effundendum sanguinem et ad quaerendas animas et avaritiae lucra sequenda. Et alibi dicitur per quemdam prophetam: vae pastoribus Israel, qui pascebant semetipsos. Nonne greges pascuntur a pastoribus? Lac comedebatis, et lanis cooperiebamini; quidquid crassum erat, occidebatis; gregem autem meum non pascebatis. Unde constituti sunt reditus terrarum principibus, ut ex illis viventes a spoliatione subditorum abstineant. Unde in eodem propheta, domino mandante, dicitur quod principi erit possessio in Israel, et non depopulabuntur ultra principes populum meum. In which matter you did consider that the princes of countries are instituted by God not, for sure, that they should seek their own gain but that they should procure the common utility of the people. For towards the blame of certain princes it is said in Ezekiel (Ez. 22:27) "Her princes in her midst are like wolves tearing at prey, hunting the spillage of blood, the destruction of souls, and ravenous gain." And elsewhere it is said through the same Prophet (Ez. 34:2-3) "Woe to the shepherds of Israel who pasture themselves! Shouldn't the flocks be pastured by the shepherds? You've fed off their milk, covered yourselves with their wool, and the fatted you have killed; but my flock you have not pastured!" And for this reason salaries were instituted for the rulers of countries so that, living off of the salaries, they would refrain from impoverishing their subjects. And hence in the same Prophet, with the Lord commanding, it is said (Ez. 45:8), "let there be for the prince a possession in Israel, and the princes will no longer oppress my people."
Contingit tamen aliquando quod principes non habent sufficientes reditus ad custodiam terrae et ad alia quae imminent rationabiliter principibus expetenda: et in tali casu iustum est ut subditi exhibeant unde possit communis eorum utilitas procurari. Et inde est quod in aliquibus terris ex antiqua consuetudine domini suis subditis certas collectas imponunt, quae, si non sunt immoderatae, absque peccato exigi possunt, quia secundum apostolum: nullus militat stipendiis suis. Unde princeps, qui militat utilitati communi, potest de communibus vivere, et communia negotia procurare vel per reditus deputatos vel, si huiusmodi desint aut sufficientes non fuerint, per ea quae a singulis colliguntur. Et similis ratio esse videtur si aliquis casus emergat de novo, in quo oportet plura expendere pro utilitate communi vel pro honesto statu principis conservando, ad quae non sufficiunt reditus proprii vel exactiones consuetae; puta, si hostes terram invadant, vel aliquis similis casus emergat. Tunc enim et praeter solitas exactiones possent licite terrarum principes a suis subditis aliqua exigere pro utilitate communi. Si vero velint exigere ultra id quod est institutum, pro sola libidine habendi aut propter inordinatas et immoderatas expensas, hoc eis omnino non licet. Unde Ioannes Baptista militibus ad se venientibus dixit: neminem concutiatis, nec calumniam faciatis, sed contenti estote stipendiis vestris. Sunt enim quasi stipendia principum eorum reditus, quibus debent esse contenti, ut ultra non exigant nisi secundum rationem praedictam et si utilitas est communis. Now it sometimes happens that princes do not have sufficient income for protecting the country and for those other things at hand that the princes reasonably have to pay for; and in such an instance it is right that the subjects provide that whereby their common utility can be procured. And so it is that in some countries, by an age-old practice, the lords impose levies upon their subjects, which, if they are not excessive, can be demanded without sin. According to the Apostle (I Cor. 9:7), no one goes into battle at his own expense; thus the prince who goes into battle for the common utility should also live off of the community's things or should procures from the businesses of the community, either through the established incomes or, if these sorts of things are lacking and will not be sufficient, through those things that are collected from individuals. And it seems to be similar thinking if some situation emerges anew in which it is necessary to expend much for the common utility or to preserve the genuine standing of the prince, for which his personal income or customary taxes do not suffice - like if enemies invade the land or some similar situation emerges - then also, over and above the usual taxes, the princes of lands can exact some things from their subjects for the common utility. But if they should wish to exact beyond that which has been set for them, solely for the desire of having it, or for disordered and immoderate expenditures, this is in no way allowed to them. Hence John the Baptist said to the soldiers who came to him (Lk 3:14): "Strike no one, cause no calumny, and be content with your wages" (for the income of the princes is like their 'wages,' which with they should be content such that they do not make further exaction, except in accordance with the reason given, for the sake of the common utility).

Articulus 7 Seventh response
Septimo quaerebatis, si officiales vestri absque iuris ordine aliquid a subditis extorserint quod ad manus vestras devenerit, vel forte non, quid circa hoc facere debeatis. Seventh you asked, if your officials without the order of law should extort something for the subjects which makes its way to your hands (or maybe not), what you should do.
Super quo plana est responsio: quia si ad manus vestras devenerint, debetis restituere vel certis personis, si potestis, vel in pios usus expendere, sive pro utilitate communi, si personas certas non potestis invenire. Si autem ad manus vestras non devenerint, debetis compellere officiales vestros ad consimilem restitutionem, etiam si non fuerint notae vobis aliquae certae personae a quibus exegerint, ne a sua iniustitia commodum reportent; quinimmo sunt a vobis super hoc gravius puniendi, ut ceteri a similibus abstineant in futurum, quia, sicut Salomon dicit, pestilente flagellato stultus sapientior erit. On this matter the answer is clear, because, if it should come to your hands, you should give it back, either to known persons if you can, or also to expend it for pious uses or for the common utility, if you can't find the known persons. But if it does not make its way into your hands, you should compel your officials to a like restitution, even if known individuals aren't available to you from whom they extracted these things, lest from their injustice they should make off with some lucre; in fact these officials ought to be punished by you rather heavily, so that the rest will abstain from similar conduct in the future, because, like Solomon says (Prov. 19:25) "as the noxious man is whipped the imbecile becomes wiser."

Articulus 8 Eighth response
Ultimo quaeritis, si bonum est ut per provinciam vestram Iudaei signum distinctivum a Christianis deportare cogantur. Finally you ask whether it is good that Jews throughout your province are compelled to wear a sign distinguishing them from Christians.
Ad quod plana est responsio, et secundum statutum Concilii generalis, Iudaei utriusque sexus in omni Christianorum provincia et in omni tempore aliquo habitu ab aliis populis debent distingui. Hoc eis etiam in lege eorum mandatur, ut scilicet faciant fimbrias per quatuor angulos palliorum, per quos ab aliis discernantur. The reply to this is plain: that, according to a statute of the general Council, Jews of each sex in all Christian provinces, and all the time, should be distinguished from other people by some clothing. This is also mandated to them by their own law, namely that they make for themselves fringes on the four corners of their cloaks, through which they are distinguished from others.
Haec sunt, illustris et religiosa domina, quae vestris quaestionibus ad praesens respondenda occurrunt: in quibus vobis non sic meam sententiam ingero, quin magis suadeam peritiorum sententiam esse tenendam. Valeat dominatio vestra per tempora longiora. These are, illustrious and religious Lady, what occurs at present as answers to your questions, in which matters I do not impose my judgment upon you in such a way that I do not rather urge the judgment of the experts to be sustained. May your reign succeed even longer.