Are inventors or technologists in the Bible

500 years of Martin Luther: the inventor of the profession

Düsseldorf We go to school, receive training, maybe get a university degree. Then we find a great job and work our way up the career ladder for 40 years until we retire. This job description is dwindling. The working person has to constantly find himself anew, to develop further, in order not to lose touch. And there is a lot to suggest that this is unsettling for many people.

So it is a good thing that we are in the Luther year, to pause for a moment and take a step back: On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther published his 95 theses. From these emerged the Reformation, the Protestant Church and a new Europe. And by the way, what we now call “occupation” - or, in modern German, “job”. This term and the idea behind it did not exist in the form before.

But first things first: In the case of money matters, the Luther's wife had to say that. Katharina von Bora ran the household self-sufficiently and made sure with great skill that all the guests always found a set table. But that does not mean that the Wittenberg monk had no connection to economic issues - on the contrary. But for him the Christian life has to prove itself in three areas, of which the “economy” is one. In addition to the “Ecclesia”, ie the parish that is intertwined with the world, and the “Politia”, political action, the economy is the third force.

The time in which Luther lived was marked by a considerable increase in the population. People lived permanently on the brink of an economic crisis. Even the smallest crop failures could cause famine. In addition, the influx of South American silver fueled inflation. Luther regularly commented on the economic order, but according to these fundamental problems more with regard to the fundamentals - to derive a monetary theory from it would be too much of a good thing.

"Luther always referred to concrete and current contexts, which he did not regard in the context of a systematic economic or monetary theory, but as a problem of the Christian way of life", writes the historian Heinz Schilling in his groundbreaking biography "Martin Luther". From Luther's point of view, avarice and usury trampled on the evangelical commandment to love one's neighbor. He derived his economic advice from the Bible.

In 1519, 1520 and 1524 Luther published three tracts on interest and thus took part in the increasingly heated discussion about the prohibition of interest. In principle, under canon law, no interest could be charged, but there were exceptions. In Luther's time there was a dispute about the conditions under which the ban could be circumvented - if only because commercial capitalism increased sharply, especially in northern Italy.

Luther recognized that the framework conditions had changed and that “the differentiated reality of commercial capitalist monetary transactions could no longer be regulated by the unchanged adoption of the norms of early Christianity,” writes Schilling. But: Even economic activity has to be based on the justice of the Christian love law.

In 1525, Luther answered a request from the Danzig Council with the words: "For trading in the secular regime, interest is possible, yes necessary, but must be based on equity." The amount of the interest should therefore not be based on the market, but must be fair for both sides. The Gdansk Council then granted the right to receive interest and set a benchmark of five percent.

In this way Luther contributed to overcoming the rigid interest theory of the Middle Ages, long outdated by reality. However, an increase in the targeted interest rate of five percent was not long in coming - the 16th century was an era of rising prices. When Luther heard that the Emperor was already allowing an interest of twelve percent in the Netherlands, he replied: "Ugh, look at you."

What sounds natural from today's point of view was subject to the accusation of double standards in Luther's time. After all, the Bible says "loan without taking back". But for the historian Schilling, Luther's view is the monetary consequence of the “doctrine of the two regiments and the two empires”: The secular authorities are responsible for order in the secular empire and thus financial affairs do not fall within the scope of the church. This logic distinguished Luther from the Pope. "For him, the necessary economic reform was an indispensable part of the evangelical renewal of the church and society," says Schilling.


How a calling becomes a profession

This certain openness in economic questions did not mean that Luther lacked criticism against the capitalist activities of wealthy families - above all the Fuggers. The Augsburg clan made horrific profits in long-distance trade, publishing, mining and banking. Luther saw here the exploitation of people by anti-divine monopolists who would destroy the corporate social order. And he accused the government of not stopping this injustice. Throughout his life, the Wittenberg monk campaigned for a fundamental improvement in economic morale.

Here one can certainly reproach Luther for leaping too briefly: For him, economic crises were always based on unchristian behavior of people and not in the sharp increase in the population or changing economic conditions. His pessimistic worldview made him consider economic crimes ineradicable. “It does not occur to him to come to terms with it,” writes Schilling.

With the drastically increasing importance of trade and capitalism, a new way of thinking emerged: What we now call a “profession” or “job” only acquired a meaning through Luther that was to shape modern European times deeply. For him the “job” was also a “calling”. Every faithfully rendered service was a favor to God for Luther. What mattered was that the person acted and how he acted. His work theory was not aimed at increasing performance in the modern sense - that was what the Calvinists were later on.

Luther's view of things was still very conservative - especially with regard to the marginalized groups of society and his class thinking: the poor should “godly remain poor, at least not be allowed to raise capital in order to improve their economic situation through trade and change” writes Schilling . His ethics erected high barriers against the social advancement of the individual. This only changed in the course of the Reformation.

Heinz Schilling
Martin Luther. Rebel in a time of upheaval
C.H. Beck Verlag, 728 pages
Lyndal Roper
Luther. The man Martin Luther
S. Fischer Verlag, 730 pages

Udo di Fabio, Johannes Schilling (Eds)
The world impact of the Reformation
C.H. Beck Verlag, 213 pages

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