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And further along, he shows he clearly has no libertarian scruples about the relationship between the magistrate and the economy:

Three special, distinct works all rulers might do in our times, particularly in our lands. First, to make an end of the horrible gluttony and drunkenness, not only because of the excess, but also because of its expense. For through seasonings and spices and the like, without which men could well live, no little loss of temporal wealth has come and daily is coming upon our lands....
Secondly, to forbid the excessive cost of clothing, whereby so much wealth is wasted, and yet only the world and the flesh are served; it is fearful to think that such abuse is to be found among the people who have been pledged, baptised, and consecrated to Christ, the Crucified, and who should bear the Cross after Him and prepare for the life to come by dying daily. If some men erred through ignorance, it might be borne; but that it is practised so freely, without punishment, without shame, without hindrance, nay, that praise and fame are sought thereby, this is indeed an unchristian thing.
Third, to drive out the usurious buying of rent-charges, which in the whole world ruins, consumes and troubles all lands, peoples and cities through its cunning form, by which it appears not to be usury, while in truth it is worse than usury, because men are not on their guard against it as against open usury. See, these are the three Jews, as men say, who suck the whole world dry. Here princes ought not to sleep, nor be lazy, if they would give a good account of their office to God.


I particularly like the second one. It really is odd that conservative Christians, who have moral scruples about just about everything else, should have no scruples about wasting obscene amounts of money on the vanity of "fashionable" clothes, by which they also contribute to the oppression of millions of Third World workers.

4 comments:

Ahh, nothing like some casual 16th century anti-Semitism to start off one's Sunday...

Comparisons of Jews to, er, wealth-sucking things aside, I think it would be interesting to know what Luther believed a wealthy person should spend his money on. It seems to me if you're not going the fancy-clothes-and-spices route, you're either going the Protestant-work-ethic route ("I've used my excess wealth to develop a slightly more efficient type of mill--huzzah!") or the give-money-to-the-poor route. Which would Luther have preferred?

October 18, 2009 at 6:35 PM  

(Just so you know, I am a Jew, hence I feel comfortable quoting casual anti-Semitisms)

Luther, I think, would tend much toward the "Don't waste your wealth--share it!" than the "Don't waste your wealth--hoard it and invest it!" route. The latter follows more from the Calvinist tradition, though evenhere, there was a heavy emphasis on social welfare far surpassing anything you see in modern Reformed churches.

October 19, 2009 at 11:40 AM  

I wonder how much of the difference between Luther and today's evangelical on state regulation of the economy is simply reactions to historical setting. Luther was writing toward the end of a 1500 year period of Constantinian Christendom taking it for granted that the State was a flawed but friendly actor.

Today we see the state after a century of horrific Marxist experiments, the rise of secularism, and in the US especially the fiat legalization of abortion with little room for even the barest common sense regulation. Therefore conservatives see the State as enemy and rightly fear any attempt to expand its regulatory powers, believing that the injustices of unconstrained individualism are less than those of unrestrained state power, especially in the hands of those who show hostility to the church.

October 20, 2009 at 4:00 PM  

Well-thought and well-put, Dad. My concern, though, is that we not repeat the same sort of mistake that Luther, et. al., fell into--namely, reacting violently against an abusive institution and in the process making ourselves utterly blind to the potential dangers in another direction. Luther and the Reformers saw the screwed-up policies of the Papacy, and assumed that a beefed-up State was the answer. 500 years later, we see the screwed-up policies of the State, and assume that a beefed-up Market is the answer.

October 20, 2009 at 11:06 PM  

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