Is it a contradiction in terms for a Christian to be rich? If so, it’s a common contradiction and has been exhaustively studied ever since the Protestant Reformation. Some of the most informative research on the subject was compiled by the German sociologist, Max Weber, who studied the causal relationship of events in history. In 1904 Weber published The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. This book is his attempt to explain the causes of the seemingly diverse phenomena of capitalism and Protestantism.

Protestantism, of course, refers to those who broke away or were expelled from the Roman Catholic Church following the Protestant Reformation. For a definition of capitalism we must first explain what it is not. In his introduction to The Protestant Ethic Max Weber points out that greed and the desire for personal gain, as well as trading and other economic enterprises designed to make a profit, exist everywhere and have been true of people in all walks of life and in all cultures of the earth. This human impulse to acquire wealth does not necessarily have anything to do with capitalism.


Weber defines capitalism as an economic action that expects to make a profit based on peaceful and mutually beneficial exchanges. He suggests that religious piety and capitalistic acquisition are compatible, and that both traits are characteristic of many of the most important Churches and sects in the history of Protestantism. He notes that in French Huguenot Churches monks and business men were particularly numerous. And the Spaniards knew that the Calvinism of the Dutch promoted trade which coincided with the capitalistic development of the Netherlands.

There is an even more striking connection between religious lifestyles and the ...

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