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"Money Is a Sterile Thing": Martin Luther on the Immorality of Usury Reconsidered

John Singleton

History of Political Economy, 2011, vol. 43, issue 4, 683-698

Abstract: In the history of economic thought, Martin Luther is frequently identified with medieval Scholastic doctrine. His belief that “money is sterile” is offered in support of this assessment. However, this obscures the fact that Luther rarely invokes this line of reasoning in his writings on usury and that his argument for its immorality is not dependent upon the proposition. These facts, which differentiate Luther from the Scholastic writers, are consistent with his opposition to Aristotelian natural philosophy and the influence of nominalism on his thought. In order to establish the immorality of the census contract, condoned by the German Scholastic theologians, Luther reconstitutes the argument. The unappreciated significance of Luther's thought is therefore twofold: (1) there exists a burgeoning degree of independence between the positive analysis of usury and the reasons for its immorality; and (2) individual conscience and personal interpretation are left the arbiters in determining ethical practice.

Keywords: Martin Luther; usury; Scholasticism (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2011
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Handle: RePEc:hop:hopeec:v:43:y:2011:i:4:p:683-698