Luther & Labor

by Caleb Roberts

By clearly differentiating the concept of spiritual faith from that of earthly works, and by making one’s faith a precondition of the goodness of one’s works, Luther deradicalized the medieval distinction between concepts of works and of toil.  Work, of either kind, belongs solely to the temporal realm.  It is a religious duty, a calling.  Good works are a function of true faith.  The faithful individual is motivated to participate in the Church, to work well and to do good in this world out of love for God and gratitude for His grace.  By so making the individual’s God-given faith the criterion of the goodness of work in a calling, Luther necessarily undermined the idea that the goodness of work derives from its contribution to a common good.  One is called by God, not by one’s society, and the believer knows that the goodness of her work derives from God, not from her self or her share in humanity.  Responsible only to her God and her self, it is up to the individual to order her own life and work rationally and methodically.  In this way, Protestantism entered decisively into a historical process of Western rationalization by introducing the absolute imperative of individual self-discipline. (67)

Kelvin Knight | Aristotelian Philosophy: Ethics and Politics from Aristotle to MacIntyre