Economics of the Afterlife: The Influence of Feudalism and Capitalism on Spanish Church Power

The feudalistic structure of Medieval and early Renaissance Spain afforded a very special position to the Church. The daily hardships of the average serf and peasant added credibility and desirability to the promise of a better life after death, cementing the importance of Catholic ideology. However, the capitalism that arose during the Renaissance and into the Baroque broke with this status quo. The populace began to shift towards the blossoming industry of the cities, leaving the physical churches behind. The basic capitalist tenet of the profitability of the individual brought into question the necessity of living such an impoverished life and waiting for rewards in the hereafter. This doubt of the importance of salvation threatened the security of the Church. As the Church increasingly used theatre as a propaganda tool, the afterlife became leverage against capitalism. In this paper, we will examine how Comedia Himenea from 1517, and El burlador de Sevilla from 1630, show this change clearly, as eternity is an accepted natural consequence for those from Himenea while hell is a looming certainty for the miscreants of El burlador. While the boom of theatre may owe a debt to capitalism, it nonetheless is manipulated into a tool to condemn it.



  • Spanish Peninsular Studies