The medieval theorist condemned as a sin precisely that effort to achieve a continuous and unlimited increase in material wealth which modern societies applaud as a quality, and the vices for which he reserved his most merciless denunciations were the more refined and subtle of the economic virtues. “He who has enough to satisfy his wants,” wrote a Schoolman of the fourteenth century, “and nevertheless ceaselessly labors to acquire riches, either in order to obtain a higher social position, or that subsequently he may have enough to live without labor, or that his sons may become men of wealth and importance — all such are incited by a damnable avarice, sensuality, or pride.”  Two and a half centuries later, in the midst of a revolution in the economic and spiritual environment, Luther, in even more unmeasured language, was to say the same.  The essence of the argument was that payment may properly be demanded by the craftsmen who make the goods, or by the merchants who transport them, for both labor in their vocation and serve the common need.  The unpardonable sin is that of the speculator or the middleman, who snatches private gain by the exploitation of public necessities.  The true descendant of the doctrines of Aquinas is the labor theory of value.  The last of the Schoolmen was Karl Marx. (35-36)

R.H. Tawney | Religion and the Rise of Capitalism


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