Martin Luther King

A Discussion and Analysis Of some of his Contributions As Well as their Social,
Political and Economic Impacts.


Since the Thirteen Colonies first united, the United States has had one of
the strongest economies in the world. Over the years, many theorists have had
varying opinions concerning the reason for this nation’s strong economic
standing. One reason that has often been overlooked is that a great many of this
nation’s workers have been influenced by the Protestant work ethic. The
philosophy behind this work ethic has driven many workers to attain as much as
possible at their jobs during their lifetimes. If one man were to be given
credit for the development of the Protestant work ethic it would have to be
Martin Luther. In the course of the next several pages this researcher will
examine the ethic that has had such a great impact on the United State’s economy
and on the economies of other nations. It has been suggested by such writers as
Weber and Smith that the Protestant work ethic first developed around the word
“calling.” Basically, this term has a religious connotation which is a
task set by God. However, gradually this term was expanded to the point where it
covered many of man’s activities. During the Protestant Reformation, the term
“calling” started to take on a new meaning. Fulfilling one’s duty in
worldly affairs became a task of extreme importance. gradually, fulfilling one’s
duty was not only important but it became the moral obligation of every
individual (the highest form of moral activity). Before the Reformation, the
Catholic Church did not believe that everyday world activities had a religious
significance. As a result of Luther these world activities were quite important
in adhering to God’s wishes. Rather than devote one’s life to worshipping God
through prayer, and instead of sacrificing all worldly goods to follow Christ,
the Protestants believed that the task of every person is to fulfill (to the
best of his/her ability) their tasks on earth. This unique conception of the
word “calling” was developed by Luther during his first active decade
as a reformer. At first he believed, like many other theologians, that everyday
world activities were activities of the flesh. Although these activities were
willed by God, they were nonetheless morally neutral. However, gradually Luther
began to protest against the life of the monks. He criticized them as leading a
life “devoid of value as a means of justification before God, but he also
looks upon its renunciation of the duties of this world as a product of
selfishness, withdrawing from temporal obligations.” This was in direct
contrast to the everyday labors of man. These worldly activities were outward
expressions of man’s love for others and for God. Thus, according to Luther, the
only way to live up to the expectations God has for us is to fulfill our worldly
duties. A very important point that Luther makes in reference to callings is
that each calling has the same worth in the eyes of God. The effect of the
Reformation that was initiated by Luther was that worldly labor was given
religious sanction. This stands opposed to the Catholic tradition which did not
give such worldly matters any moral emphasis. Luther stated that people may
attain salvation in any walk of life. it did not matter what a person did during
their lifetime as long as they worked as hard as possible. In hard work and
dedication to one’s calling, salvation could be achieved. Before Luther
professed these beliefs, people placed little emphasis on the daily tasks they
had to complete. Jobs had little meaning except that they placed bread on the
table to eat. However, with Luther’s concept of the “calling” people
now had a moral reasons to work as hard as they could. The jobs of people were
given religious sanction and this lead to workers striving to attain more in
their jobs. Thus, there can be no doubt that Luther changed the attitudes of
people toward their roles in society. People placed a new emphasis on their work
roles. In the following pages the effect that this had on the economy will be
examined. The Foundation of Capitalistic Thought As a result of Luther placing
such emphasis on a person’s calling, people began to take pride in their work.

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Instead of placing all of one’s emphasis on religious matters, people began to
think of earning a living in the best way possible in order to serve God. Luther
instilled in these people the concept that time is money. If a person spends his
time at meaningful work he will earn money and become successful. However, if
that person decides to sit idly or take a rest, money that could have been
earned is lost forever. thus, Luther’s emphasis on the fact that people should
work as hard as possible lead many to the conclusion that time should not be
wasted. The fact that money can “grow” was realized by the workers of
this time. Increasing one’s assets is a sign of a successful businessman, thus
it is also a sign of someone who is successful in the eyes of God. If money is
invested properly, a person can receive interest and increase his financial
status. If a person has an animal that is breeding, that animal’s offspring will
increase that person’s financial status. In order to become a successful
businessman it is often necessary to borrow money. However, in order to insure
that a steady flow of money is guaranteed, a person must build up a reputation
as a prompt payer. If one is late in paying debts, there will come a day when
that person will not find a lender. If one is a prompt payer, there will always
be a steady flow of cash for that person. Since success is necessary to please
God, and money is necessary to achieve success, people made sure that they paid
their debts promptly. Since credit is so important, people began to realize the
importance of impressing their creditors. If a person builds a reputation of a
worker that labors from early in the morning to late each evening, that person
will be able to attain credit. If, however, a person has a reputation of
relaxing and not taking his job seriously, then that person will not be lent
money when he needs it to expand his business. The above examples depict the
spirit of capitalism (the true development of capitalistic thought among the
masses). Luther emphasized that men should work their hardest at their
particular calling. It became obvious that hard work often resulted in higher
earnings. Therefore, workers began to figure out all of the possible ways by
which they could increase their earnings.k Luther’s thoughts on work resulted in
the development of a capitalistic mentality among workers. One example of a man
who is dedicated to serve God through fulfilling his calling is a man of this
era who (being elderly) was asked to retire. he had made a sizeable sum of money
in his lifetime and his friends wondered when he would give the chance to
younger workers to accumulate their fortunes. The elderly man rejected this
suggestion because he wished to earn money as long as he could. this man felt
that he could serve God as long as he continued answering his calling. If he
retired, he would no longer be fulfilling that calling, thus, he decided not to
retire. In some people the following of their calling preceded all other
pursuits in life. The goal of these people was to earn as much money as possible
and often this meant that they would not take time out to enjoy life (for to do
so would mean to divert from one’s calling). To followers of Luther, the earning
of money was an end in itself, through earning money one could find happiness by
pleasing God (through following the calling). Luther has caused man to be
dominated by the making of money. through following the calling the ultimate
purpose of our lives is to work hard and earn money. This principle, while
difficult for people not influenced by capitalism to understand, is easy for
capitalists to comprehend. The earning of money as long as it is done legally is
the result and the expression of virtue and proficiency in a calling; and this
virtue and proficiency are goals of Luther’s ethic. Although today this idea is
not that important to us (one’s duty in a calling) it is the fundamental basis
of capitalism. Luther’s Impact on the Social Classes Late in March of 1526,
several years before the Hanseatic cities of Lubeck and Luneberg became
Protestant, the burgomaster and council of the former sent the burgomaster and
council of the latter a copy of a letter from a Lubeck merchant in London,
calling attention to the danger that faced persons who brought Lutheran books to
the Steelyard. The letter from London points to the seriousness of the situation
by stating that “a certain knight, Thomas More,” had arrested eight
persons in the Steelyard for having Lutheran books in their possession. This and
many other similar instances illustrate the fact that merchants played an
important part in spreading the ideas of Luther to European commercial centers.


Accordingly, one of the most fruitful areas of study with respect to the rapid
spread of Luther’s ideas is the interest of the merchants and other urban
classes in Germany, especially in the free imperial cities. Although scholars
have analyzed various aspects of city life at the close of the Middle Ages in
great detail, they have done relatively little by way of explaining why
representatives of the different urban classes (especially the middle classes)
embraced Luther’s ideas from its very beginnings. Because there were a lot of
differences among the German cities with respect to their political,
constitutional, religious, social and cultural developments, historians have
found it advisable to begin a study of the reception of Luther’s ideas by the
various urban classes by examining the free imperial cities which had much in
common. More than fifty (of 85) cities recognized the Reformation in the
sixteenth century and more than half of these accepted and retained
Protestantism. To arrive at an understanding of why the dissatisfied social
groups of the cities so readily accepted the Reformation, one must evaluate
their positive heritage. This consisted of three important elements: first, the
medieval ideals, attitudes and experiences of the free members of urban communes
who had worked out a method of government among themselves and with their feudal
lords; second, the practical, late-medieval mysticism with its emphasis on inner
spirituality and ethics; third, humanism, which many educated townsmen embraced
as a culture reflecting their urban interests and giving them a social status
they had lacked during the height of feudal chivalry. The society of the
medieval German city was not divided into classes in the modern sense of the
term. Luther and his contemporaries spoke of the various urban groups as
“estates,” each having its special interests and duties but all
contributing to the general welfare of the community. To speak of a capitalist
class or of a proletariate, for example, would lead to a complete
misunderstanding of social conditions in late-medieval German cities. The
citizens of the earliest communes were free persons who had banded together to
seek independence from their feudal lords, often bishops. To retain their
independence, the citizens and the city councils of many communes instituted the
annual oath which persisted into the sixteenth century. Furthermore, citizenship
was obtained by swearing an oath to maintain the general welfare. Although it is
impossible to connect the Reformation world of thought with any particular
social class, as many historians point out, there is an indirect connection with
bourgeois growth in the cities, and it will prove helpful to the readers of this
paper to examine the interests of the various groups within the cities. In the
typical imperial city, leadership soon fell into the hands of the patricians,
usually wealthy landowners or merchants who devoted their time and talents, with
little or no remuneration, to the welfare of their fellow citizens. it was
natural that those who carried the chief burdens of government should constitute
smaller councils within the larger ones and then perpetuate themselves and their
families in office and social status. That the movement from ordinary
citizenship to the patrician class was relatively easy, however, can be seen by
the situation in Nuremberg, where in 1511 only 57 honorable families had been
represented among the hundred and eighty listed in 1390. In Augsburg, some of
the new patricians came from the artisan class, including the Fuggers and
Hochstetters. After 1500, however when the medieval cities started to decline,
the status of the patricians became much less flexible. BIBLIOGRAPHYAtkinson,
James. Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. (Baltimore, MD: Penguin
Books, 1968).Richard L. DeMolen. The Meaning of the Reformation. (Boston:
Houghton Mifflin Co., 1974).Arthur Dickens, Martin Luther and the Reformation.

(London: Oxford University Press, 1967).Richard Marius, Luther. (New York:
Erdicott Press, 1973).Olin, John C. Luther, Erasmus and the Reformation. (New
York: Fordham University Press, 1969).Parsons, Talcott. The Theory of Social and
Economic Organization. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1947).Thompson,
Craig. Christian Humanism and the Reformation. (New York: Macmillan and Co.,
1965).Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. (New York:
Charles Scribner and Sons, 1958).