Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Religion as a Major Institution in the Emergence and Expansion of Modern Capitalism. from Protestant Political Doctrines to Enlightened Reform

Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Religion as a Major Institution in the Emergence and Expansion of Modern Capitalism. from Protestant Political Doctrines to Enlightened Reform

Article excerpt


Martin Luther (1483-1546) proclaimed that the Church must not be conducted by any artificial, technical or corrupt hierarchy, underlying the claim that the "radical doctrine of the 'priesthood of all believers' empowered individual believers."1 With bureaucracy annihilated, the princes, electors or social groups, considered good Christians in the German Calvinist space, became bishops of conjecture. They had to manage the Church, ius circa sacrum, namely to establish and defend the law that allowed everyone to tend and attend to the holy matters. In this context, the German states conceived of the organic concept of the state church as a duopoly in which the political foundation for the Church's institutional structure becomes a fact. The modern concept of state was not yet in existence; the government did not cohabit what is today called a "state", but the Obrigkeit, i.e. authority.2

Luther argued that the civil government should apply Christian ethics (the Ten Commandments of Moses) to law enforcement, rather than swerve to theocracy, as championed by some Protestant sects such as the Anabaptists, Spiritualists or Zwinglians. As historian Emile Leonard notes, Luther wavered between, on the one hand, the authoritative organization of the Catholic Church and, on the other hand, the "anarchy" of the redistribution of wealth as enforced by the civil authorities.3

It is considered that the Reformation was a socio-religious mass movement, but with special amendments related to the specific political and economic circumstances. In a sermon delivered to the House of Commons in mid seventeenth century, the idea of reform was delivered and subsequently assumed unequivocally. Reformation should be profound and inclusive. Moreover, a change of direction had to take place from the original form to that of revolution.

"Reformation must be universal [argued Thomas Case in a Puritan pastoral manner] (...) reform all places, all persons and professions; Reform the court benches, inferior magistrates (...) reform universities, cities, regions, reform primary school, reform rituals, reform the worship of God (...) you have more to do than I can tell you (...) Each plant that was not planted by my heavenly father will be plucked."4

Max Weber demonstrated that Puritanism sprang from Calvinism, defending the unjust distribution of wealth, as ruled and represented by the hierarchy of the divine order. The egalitarian perspective was from the start doomed to fail. The individual had to be religiously obedient and accept his role and place in society. Religious discipline came first, and religious obligations were mandatory. The providential interpretation of the economic order, by way of medieval scholasticism, was for the Puritans an absolute fact. This class ideology of economic inequality, and ultimately, the anti-egalitarian concept in society originated under Catholicism in medieval Europe.5

It is considered that the first manifestations of Calvinism and Puritan proto-movements in England built a system of beliefs that laid the foundation for modern capitalism, defining a new and singular vision about the world of business, entrepreneurship and enterprise institution. "Basically, the whole modern world has been read in Calvinism: liberal politics and voluntary association, capitalism and social discipline that it supports; bureaucracy, with its systematic procedures and its diligent and devoted officials; and finally, all routine forms of repression, lack of joy and un-relaxed aspiration."6 It is considered that the lack of joy and unrelaxed perspectives are part of the controlled behavior as inspired by the Puritans. In this direction, Urdank (1991) emphasizes that early modern Calvinism "generally embraced a high-tone Puritanism that greatly prized the control of affect."7

The next step in the evolution of history is the Enlightenment which, although itself the internal outcome of the activity of the institutions of monarchical absolutism, it later even cooperated with, ultimately became their very foe and remorseless demolisher. …

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