Money Talks

“It’s only money.” With those remarkable words a bank specializing in foreign-currency transactions began an ad in a big metropolitan newspaper. The cut showed a stack of Swiss 100-franc notes, and the copy argued that while they too are only money, some money is in effect more like real money than the rest.

It is interesting to notice the difference not only in what the franc and the U. S. dollar are worth but also in what they say. The currency of the United States suggests great solidity, building as it were for eternity. Americans enshrine past presidents and certain other leaders on the banknotes rather as the few remaining monarchies do with their reigning monarch. Impressive public buildings grace many of the notes, and the widely circulated but somewhat devalued one-dollar bill testifies to the Pharaonic and Roman elements in America’s spiritual heritage with the pyramid and eagle. The one-dollar bill also bears the legend, under the pyramid, “Novus Ordo Saeculorum” and the date 1776, suggesting, perhaps unwittingly, a comparison between the New Order of the Ages supposedly begun in 1776 and the New Covenant Era that began (approximately) 1776 years earlier.

The franc-notes have a different message. The fifty-franc note shows an old woman, a young woman, and a child amidst a harvest scene, perhaps suggesting that while the money may not be much by itself, it will buy food. The hundred-franc note shows a medieval knight cutting his cloak to share it with a beggar; many Christians will recognize this as an incident from the life of St. Martin, and anyone might see it as a suggestion that if you have a hundred francs ($23.80 in early 1971, and about $42.50 today), you ought to share with others.

It is the 1,000-franc ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.

Tags:
Issue: