Labor and Christianity

7 posts


I'm interested in seeing how the views of the church on labor and vocation have changed over time, and what varies according to geography. How should a Christian engage the world? Of what relevance to the Christian life is work and civil duty? Maybe more questions later.... but for now here's a passage for Calvin's Institutes:

If you know of any of writings on the subject, please post them.

mlad SteamshipTime Thomas777 niccolo and donkey CLAMOR Bronze Age Pervert President Camacho

The model of Calvin's view on labor and ethics was Calvin's stewardship of Geneva - the ''living laboratory'' if you will of Protestant government.

My own view is that Weber was incorrect in his theory, positing that Protestantism ''caused'' the development of Capitalism and an attendant sea-change (purportedly) in popular (and elite) views of labor. He misconstrues cause and effect - Protestant social ethics were reacting to punctuated developments in the world relating to the collapse of the medieval social and economic order and the advent of productive technologies, they weren't ''causing'' these things in any spontaneous capacity.

Back to Geneva - Calvin found himself charged with governing a ''city-state'' of sorts that was mired in public and private corruption, that was menaced by the revolutionary fervor of libertines , that was menaced by the penumbra of counter-reformation aggression by the Vatican and its forces, and that could not provide for the basic needs of its people.

Calvin's solution was to welcome poor people who had embraced the Biblical faith to come to Geneva with a guarantee of work by which every man would be able to provide for himself and his family - and until this type of equity was achieved, Calvin himself (out of his own pockets and the public coffers) provided for these people so they could have basic necessities of life until the nascent industries of the 'new Geneva' became profitable. Concomitant with this, Calvin dictated that people should learn to forego luxury items and services - as these things were no longer particularly viable as craftsmen were being supplanted by the early application of industry to productive processes, and because he viewed it as Godly for men to use their wealth to invest in new and better capital that would allow more people to benefit from labor and production and thus alleviate poverty. Luxury, thus, to good Protestants was viewed as a decadent and superfluous interest that didn't benefit anybody in any appreciable way.

This idea has been hijacked in America - especially in the wake of the War Between the States. The secular, capitalist/Deist perspective was and is that ''work'' is some kind of end in itself - it isn't and that's not the Biblical or the Calvinist perspective. ''Work'' also was, until the 20th century, considered to be activity that was productive and that provided essential things for people to live moral lives - or that provided services that people absolutely needed that they couldn't perform for themselves (advice on matters of law, medical treatment, soldiery for common defense, etc.)

The Christian view of ''capitalism'' thus is properly, ''how is the working man best provided for such that he can reap the most of which he is entitled to of his labor?'' The view isn't that the production of money is the purpose of ''labor'' or that simply performing work is an end in itself.

I've come to believe that non-Protestants of any stripe don't really understand the 'Protestant work ethic' - its something people cannot seem to apprehend from without for whatever reason.

FWIW, many (if not most) austrian scholars trace back their economic thinking to Aquinas.

In catholicism only the Opus Dei makes a strong emphasis on the value of work as a means to sanctify ordinary life. Here's its founder's view on work, from wikipedia:
Team Zissou

Opus Dei strikes me as somewhat 'prosperity Gospel in orient. Supposedly their members take a lot of pains with grooming, lifestyle. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Monks work. Often very hard but I don't think it's ever viewed as more than a means to an end. Necessary to support the time spent in prayer and worship in a world cursed with scarcity. I haven't read any commentary on this issue though.


The way I see it, Escriva de Balaguer intended excelence at work to be a means to an end as well. However, as it happens with what is commonly understood as the protestant work ethic, its easy to pervert this teaching, especially if this excelence is helping you make a lot of money. They have also gained political power, which can easily corrupt the soul. The file and rank members though strike me as industrious, humble, and God-loving.