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The Protestant And The Merchant Essay

2030 words - 9 pages

The Protestant Reformation was integral in shaping Western Europe from a religious perspective, but arguably, the resulting divergence of Christianity was just as important to the development of Western Europe's political and economic climate. The adoption of Protestant beliefs would serve as a catalyst for the sharp rise in capitalist, mercantilist, and democratic thought and practice. The process by which democracy, capitalism and to an extent nationalism and mercantilism would come to fruition is a multistep path that begins with the Reformation, and Martin Luthers ninety-five theses. By distinguishing the factors that led to widespread dissatisfaction with the the Roman Catholic ...view middle of the document...

Finally, the ‘universal priesthood of believers’ implies the duty of the Christian is not only to read the Bible, but to also take part in all the public affairs of the Church. It is opposed to the hierarchical system which puts the essence and authority of the Church in an exclusive priesthood.

The Protestant tenets of faith that are of primary importance to the discussion are the questioning of a central power (Catholic Church) and the stress placed on individual interpretation and practice of religion, and the emphasis on ‘good works.’ The link to capitalist ideology is better understood by examining the individual interpretation of religious scripture, and ‘good works.’ As Weber illuminates in The Protestant Ethic “those qualities of ascetic Protestantism, from the doctrine of predestination , to sectarian forms of discipline, had an elective affinity with the spirit of capitalism.

The open interpretation of ‘good works’ is the most significant precursor to capitalism. If one was to interpret any occupation that contributed to the greater wealth of society as ‘good works,’ it is clear that abstaining from the payment of indulgences to the Catholic church, an equal or greater ‘good work’ could be produced with the saved capital. It has been argued that Protestantism in no way encouraged a profit system as it would run counter to the Protestants aversion to covetousness. This interpretation falls short in part because of the universalist theory of ethics applied herein - an action is right if it leads to the most benefit for the greatest number of people. Therefore, by stimulating an economy, the ethical principles of the Protestant should remain unsullied.

The lower-cost alternative offered by the Protestant church was especially attractive to the rising middle class that relished the opportunity to retain more of their wealth that prior had been taken by the Catholic church in the form of indulgences. The practice of indulgences was central to Catholic practice, and historical evidence suggests that the medieval church behaved as a price-discriminating monopoly over a highly inelastic market (demand for redemption was affected very little by price change.) Price discrimination involved charging consumers a price based on their income, a policy the Catholic church actively pursued. This was a key factor in the emergence of a Protestantism (a rival firm,) that offered a modified product, at a lower price. Additionally, an intrinsic correlation is found between the initial adoption of Protestantism in urban centers, and the increased opportunity for emerging markets in urban centers that tended to create wealth by offering great profit opportunities. The distribution of wealth in such societies was constantly changing, making it more difficult for the church to engage in effective price discrimination. Political and economic power decentralization therefore presented impediments to the ongoing profitability of the Catholic church...

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