A Discussion and Analysis Of some of his Contributions As Well as their Social,Political and Economic Impacts.Since the Thirteen Colonies first united, the United States has had one ofthe strongest economies in the world. Over the years, many theorists have hadvarying opinions concerning the reason for this nation’s strong economicstanding. One reason that has often been overlooked is that a great many of thisnation’s workers have been influenced by the Protestant work ethic. Thephilosophy behind this work ethic has driven many workers to attain as much aspossible at their jobs during their lifetimes. If one man were to be givencredit for the development of the Protestant work ethic it would have to beMartin Luther. In the course of the next several pages this researcher willexamine the ethic that has had such a great impact on the United State’s economyand on the economies of other nations.
It has been suggested by such writers asWeber and Smith that the Protestant work ethic first developed around the word”calling.” Basically, this term has a religious connotation which is atask set by God. However, gradually this term was expanded to the point where itcovered many of man’s activities. During the Protestant Reformation, the term”calling” started to take on a new meaning. Fulfilling one’s duty inworldly affairs became a task of extreme importance. gradually, fulfilling one’sduty was not only important but it became the moral obligation of everyindividual (the highest form of moral activity).
Before the Reformation, theCatholic Church did not believe that everyday world activities had a religioussignificance. As a result of Luther these world activities were quite importantin adhering to God’s wishes. Rather than devote one’s life to worshipping Godthrough prayer, and instead of sacrificing all worldly goods to follow Christ,the Protestants believed that the task of every person is to fulfill (to thebest of his/her ability) their tasks on earth. This unique conception of theword “calling” was developed by Luther during his first active decadeas a reformer. At first he believed, like many other theologians, that everydayworld activities were activities of the flesh. Although these activities werewilled by God, they were nonetheless morally neutral. However, gradually Lutherbegan to protest against the life of the monks. He criticized them as leading alife “devoid of value as a means of justification before God, but he alsolooks upon its renunciation of the duties of this world as a product ofselfishness, withdrawing from temporal obligations.
” This was in directcontrast to the everyday labors of man. These worldly activities were outwardexpressions of man’s love for others and for God. Thus, according to Luther, theonly way to live up to the expectations God has for us is to fulfill our worldlyduties. A very important point that Luther makes in reference to callings isthat each calling has the same worth in the eyes of God. The effect of theReformation that was initiated by Luther was that worldly labor was givenreligious sanction. This stands opposed to the Catholic tradition which did notgive such worldly matters any moral emphasis.
Luther stated that people mayattain salvation in any walk of life. it did not matter what a person did duringtheir lifetime as long as they worked as hard as possible. In hard work anddedication to one’s calling, salvation could be achieved. Before Lutherprofessed these beliefs, people placed little emphasis on the daily tasks theyhad to complete.
Jobs had little meaning except that they placed bread on thetable to eat. However, with Luther’s concept of the “calling” peoplenow had a moral reasons to work as hard as they could. The jobs of people weregiven religious sanction and this lead to workers striving to attain more intheir jobs. Thus, there can be no doubt that Luther changed the attitudes ofpeople toward their roles in society.
People placed a new emphasis on their workroles. In the following pages the effect that this had on the economy will beexamined. The Foundation of Capitalistic Thought As a result of Luther placingsuch emphasis on a person’s calling, people began to take pride in their work.Instead of placing all of one’s emphasis on religious matters, people began tothink of earning a living in the best way possible in order to serve God. Lutherinstilled in these people the concept that time is money. If a person spends histime at meaningful work he will earn money and become successful. However, ifthat person decides to sit idly or take a rest, money that could have beenearned is lost forever.
thus, Luther’s emphasis on the fact that people shouldwork as hard as possible lead many to the conclusion that time should not bewasted. The fact that money can “grow” was realized by the workers ofthis time. Increasing one’s assets is a sign of a successful businessman, thusit is also a sign of someone who is successful in the eyes of God. If money isinvested properly, a person can receive interest and increase his financialstatus. If a person has an animal that is breeding, that animal’s offspring willincrease that person’s financial status.
In order to become a successfulbusinessman it is often necessary to borrow money. However, in order to insurethat a steady flow of money is guaranteed, a person must build up a reputationas a prompt payer. If one is late in paying debts, there will come a day whenthat person will not find a lender.
If one is a prompt payer, there will alwaysbe a steady flow of cash for that person. Since success is necessary to pleaseGod, and money is necessary to achieve success, people made sure that they paidtheir debts promptly. Since credit is so important, people began to realize theimportance of impressing their creditors. If a person builds a reputation of aworker that labors from early in the morning to late each evening, that personwill be able to attain credit. If, however, a person has a reputation ofrelaxing and not taking his job seriously, then that person will not be lentmoney when he needs it to expand his business. The above examples depict thespirit of capitalism (the true development of capitalistic thought among themasses). Luther emphasized that men should work their hardest at theirparticular calling.
It became obvious that hard work often resulted in higherearnings. Therefore, workers began to figure out all of the possible ways bywhich they could increase their earnings.k Luther’s thoughts on work resulted inthe development of a capitalistic mentality among workers. One example of a manwho is dedicated to serve God through fulfilling his calling is a man of thisera who (being elderly) was asked to retire. he had made a sizeable sum of moneyin his lifetime and his friends wondered when he would give the chance toyounger workers to accumulate their fortunes. The elderly man rejected thissuggestion because he wished to earn money as long as he could. this man feltthat he could serve God as long as he continued answering his calling.
If heretired, he would no longer be fulfilling that calling, thus, he decided not toretire. In some people the following of their calling preceded all otherpursuits in life. The goal of these people was to earn as much money as possibleand often this meant that they would not take time out to enjoy life (for to doso would mean to divert from one’s calling). To followers of Luther, the earningof money was an end in itself, through earning money one could find happiness bypleasing God (through following the calling). Luther has caused man to bedominated by the making of money.
through following the calling the ultimatepurpose of our lives is to work hard and earn money. This principle, whiledifficult for people not influenced by capitalism to understand, is easy forcapitalists to comprehend. The earning of money as long as it is done legally isthe result and the expression of virtue and proficiency in a calling; and thisvirtue and proficiency are goals of Luther’s ethic. Although today this idea isnot that important to us (one’s duty in a calling) it is the fundamental basisof capitalism. Luther’s Impact on the Social Classes Late in March of 1526,several years before the Hanseatic cities of Lubeck and Luneberg becameProtestant, the burgomaster and council of the former sent the burgomaster andcouncil of the latter a copy of a letter from a Lubeck merchant in London,calling attention to the danger that faced persons who brought Lutheran books tothe Steelyard. The letter from London points to the seriousness of the situationby stating that “a certain knight, Thomas More,” had arrested eightpersons in the Steelyard for having Lutheran books in their possession. This andmany other similar instances illustrate the fact that merchants played animportant part in spreading the ideas of Luther to European commercial centers.
Accordingly, one of the most fruitful areas of study with respect to the rapidspread of Luther’s ideas is the interest of the merchants and other urbanclasses in Germany, especially in the free imperial cities. Although scholarshave analyzed various aspects of city life at the close of the Middle Ages ingreat detail, they have done relatively little by way of explaining whyrepresentatives of the different urban classes (especially the middle classes)embraced Luther’s ideas from its very beginnings. Because there were a lot ofdifferences among the German cities with respect to their political,constitutional, religious, social and cultural developments, historians havefound it advisable to begin a study of the reception of Luther’s ideas by thevarious urban classes by examining the free imperial cities which had much incommon.
More than fifty (of 85) cities recognized the Reformation in thesixteenth century and more than half of these accepted and retainedProtestantism. To arrive at an understanding of why the dissatisfied socialgroups of the cities so readily accepted the Reformation, one must evaluatetheir positive heritage. This consisted of three important elements: first, themedieval ideals, attitudes and experiences of the free members of urban communeswho had worked out a method of government among themselves and with their feudallords; second, the practical, late-medieval mysticism with its emphasis on innerspirituality and ethics; third, humanism, which many educated townsmen embracedas a culture reflecting their urban interests and giving them a social statusthey had lacked during the height of feudal chivalry. The society of themedieval German city was not divided into classes in the modern sense of theterm. Luther and his contemporaries spoke of the various urban groups as”estates,” each having its special interests and duties but allcontributing to the general welfare of the community. To speak of a capitalistclass or of a proletariate, for example, would lead to a completemisunderstanding of social conditions in late-medieval German cities. Thecitizens of the earliest communes were free persons who had banded together toseek independence from their feudal lords, often bishops.
To retain theirindependence, the citizens and the city councils of many communes instituted theannual oath which persisted into the sixteenth century. Furthermore, citizenshipwas obtained by swearing an oath to maintain the general welfare. Although it isimpossible to connect the Reformation world of thought with any particularsocial class, as many historians point out, there is an indirect connection withbourgeois growth in the cities, and it will prove helpful to the readers of thispaper to examine the interests of the various groups within the cities. In thetypical imperial city, leadership soon fell into the hands of the patricians,usually wealthy landowners or merchants who devoted their time and talents, withlittle or no remuneration, to the welfare of their fellow citizens. it wasnatural that those who carried the chief burdens of government should constitutesmaller councils within the larger ones and then perpetuate themselves and theirfamilies in office and social status.
That the movement from ordinarycitizenship to the patrician class was relatively easy, however, can be seen bythe situation in Nuremberg, where in 1511 only 57 honorable families had beenrepresented among the hundred and eighty listed in 1390. In Augsburg, some ofthe new patricians came from the artisan class, including the Fuggers andHochstetters. After 1500, however when the medieval cities started to decline,the status of the patricians became much less flexible. BIBLIOGRAPHYAtkinson,James. Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. (Baltimore, MD: PenguinBooks, 1968).Richard L.
DeMolen. The Meaning of the Reformation. (Boston:Houghton Mifflin Co., 1974).Arthur Dickens, Martin Luther and the Reformation.(London: Oxford University Press, 1967).Richard Marius, Luther.
(New York:Erdicott Press, 1973).Olin, John C. Luther, Erasmus and the Reformation. (NewYork: Fordham University Press, 1969).
Parsons, Talcott. The Theory of Social andEconomic Organization. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1947).Thompson,Craig.
Christian Humanism and the Reformation. (New York: Macmillan and Co.,1965).Weber, Max.
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. (New York:Charles Scribner and Sons, 1958).