The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: Luther’s Conception of the Calling


Luther’s Conception of the Calling


Now it is unmistakable that even in the German word Beruf, and perhaps still more clearly in the English calling, a religious conception, that of a task set by God, is at least suggested.

if we trace the history of the word through the civilized languages, it appears that neither the predominantly Catholic peoples nor those of classical antiquity have possessed any expression of similar connotation for what we know as a calling (in the sense of a life-task, a definite field in which to work), while one has existed for all predominantly Protestant peoples.

Like the meaning of the word, the idea is new, a product of the Reformation.

The only way of living acceptably to God was not to surpass worldly morality in monastic asceticism, but solely through the fulfilment of the obligations imposed upon the individual by his position in the world. That was his calling.

The monastic life is not only quite devoid of value as a means of justification before God, but he also looks upon its renunciation of the duties of this world as the product of selfishness, withdrawing from temporal obligations. In contrast, labour in a calling appears to him as the outward expression of brotherly love.

However, this justification, which is evidently essentially scholastic, soon disappears again, and there remains, more and more strongly emphasized, the statement that the fulfilment of worldly duties is under all circumstances the only way to live acceptably to God.

The religious circles which today most  enthusiastically celebrate that great achievement of the Reformation are by no means friendly to capitalism in any sense. And Luther himself would, without doubt, have sharply repudiated any connection with a point of view like that of Franklin.

The pursuit of material gain beyond personal needs must thus appear as a symptom of lack of grace, and since it can apparently only be attained at the expense of others, directly reprehensible.

The individual should remain once and for all in the station and calling in which God had placed him, and should restrain his worldly activity within the limits imposed by his established station in life.

Thus for Luther the concept of the calling remained traditionalistic. His calling is something which man has to accept as a divine ordinance, to which he must adapt himself. This aspect outweighed the other idea which was also present, that work in the calling was a, or rather the, task set by God.

Thus, for the time being, the only ethical result was negative; worldly duties were no longer subordinated to ascetic ones; obedience to authority and the acceptance of things as they were, were preached.

A purely superficial glance shows that there is here (in Calvinism) quite a different relationship between the religious life and earthly activity than in either Catholicism or Lutheranism.

It was the power of religious influence, not alone, but more than anything else, which created the differences of which we are conscious to-day.

We shall thus have to admit that the cultural consequences of the Reformation were to a great extent, perhaps in the particular aspects with which we are dealing predominantly, unforeseen and even unwished-for results of the labours of the reformers. They were often far removed from or even in contradiction to all that they themselves thought to attain.

For we are merely attempting to clarify the part which religious forces have played in forming the developing web of our specifically worldly modern culture, in the complex interaction of innumerable different historical factors.

we only wish to ascertain whether and to what extent religious forces have taken part in the qualitative formation and the quantitative expansion of that spirit (the spirit of capitalism) over the world.

Weber probeer hier die saak uitmaak dat as gevolg van Luther se vertaling van die Bybel wat hy gemaak het en die woordjie roeping ‘n nuwe betekenis gegee het, heel onbewustelik, en so die nuwe manier van dink oor werk beinvloed het. Dat om jou roeping uit te voer ‘n manier is om God tevrede te stel en as jy nie jouself 100% daartoe commit om jou alles te gee vir jou werk nie, dan gee jy ook so nie jou alles vir God nie. Hierdie het gemaak dat met die Godsdiens wat die onderbou van die samelewing was dat die kapitalisme ‘n lelike en beheersende ding geraak het waaruit die mens nie kan ontsnap nie. Nou was dit nie meer kapitalisme wat die mens gedien het nie, maar die mens wat kapitalisme gedien het onder die dekmantel van Godsdiens. En dit was dan ook uitgebuit om mense so te verslaaf aan werk. Die mens kon later nie meer net terugsit en ontspan nie, want sodra jy ontspan minag jy die wil van God omdat jy nie jou roeping nakom nie. Eintlik ‘n baie bose manier van kyk na geloof. Maar daar moet besef word dat hierdie gladnie die doel van die Reformasie was nie, dit was bloot ‘n negatiewe byproduk wat onbewustelik gebeur het sonder dat dit die intensie van Luther was. Calvyn het egter die spyker verder in die kis ingeslaan, sonder Calvyn sou die Reformasie gladnie so sterk gewees het nie. Ons sal nou in die volgende hoofstukke kyk na die invloed van Calvinisme op die Kapitalisme.


Dit was dan Luther’s Conception of the Calling


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