The purpose of this paper is to discuss a unique principal–agent dilemma, one that is very much off the beaten track.
The purpose of this paper is to discuss a unique principal–agent dilemma, one that is very much off the beaten track. The relationship of the Popes pre-1500 and God was one full of emptiness and strain. The Catholic Church was saved by a positive externality of the printing press (technology) that guided the Papacy to act more ethically and, thus, we presume in the best interest of God. We utilize a historical and an economic analysis to probe the phenomenon that the goals of the principal and the agent are not always congruent. How the former entices the latter to do his bidding is an issue on which economists have long focused. We apply it to an unusual historical episode. There were numerous corrupt popes during the medieval times of the Catholic Church and the number seemed to lessen and then even approach zero asymptotically after the printing press was invented. The Protestant reformation was a driving force, and this too, we argue, would have been nearly impossible were it not also for the printing press. This is a contribution to the economic subfield of the economics of religion. It explores how the dismal science can make a contribution to our understanding of matters of faith. It looks at religion not from a theological point of view, the more usual departure, but from the perspective of economics.