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Work Ethics During the Christian and Age of Reformation

Posted on the 31 January 2013 by Hreric @myhreric

The kind of work man holds was related to his social status. St. Thomas Aquinas developed a hierarchy of profession and trades where agricultural works ranked first, handicrafts next and commerce as the third. St. Aquinas referred these works as the work of the world as compared to those of the church clergy whose task is considered a higher category. It was the monastic life that was considered as the most ideal occupation one has to dream for. For St. Aquinas, no matter what work you have, worldly or monastery works, each persons endeavor is a result God’s calling, and it is the responsibility of the person to work and remain in his class and pass it down to his family. A father who is a carpenter has to pass on to his son his calling as a carpenter. Thus, the son’s occupation as he grows up will have to be a carpenter.

The medieval period considered work as just mere work with the purpose of providing for the needs of the family and community. The people thought that having no work means being idle and having no work is a sin. They believed that work is part of God’s plan.

The period of Reformation, is characterized by religious and political outcry. Not only it changed the history of the church but as also brought new revolution to the concept and how we view work. Two religious leaders influenced this era, Martin Luther and John Calvin.

Luther who was an Augustinian friar who was dissatisfied with the Catholic Church led the Protestant movement. He believed that man can better serve God with the kind of work they have or the kind of profession and that work is a primary element in the society. He likewise believed that men should work diligently and earnestly and not change his profession to which he was born. And doing so would be to go against God’s law since God gave us a specific place in this world.

Luther also believed that what the medieval period believed that the monastic and contemplative life as egoistic on the part of the monks or people working in the monastery. Luther argued that a person’s vocation was equated as his calling and all callings are of spiritual dignity.

Moreover , Luther believed that a person into a business is not considered as a work. Men should earn a living enough only to meet his basics needs believed that “man” should not accumulate or horde wealth as it is considered as a sinful act.
A new revolution took place when John Calvin, another counterpart of Martin Luther that introduced theological doctrines combined with those ideas of Martin Luther. John Calvin, a French theologian believed on the concept of predestination. He believed that God chooses those persons to inherit eternal life and all other people were damned and nothing can change that since god is unchanging.
Calvin believed that it’s impossible to know with certainty whether the person in one of the Elect, but rather, a person can sense it based on his personal experiences and encounters with God and all his successes in life. Calvin believed that the person’s daily life and deeds, and his success in the worldly endeavors was a sign that he is possibly included as one of the chosen Elect. A person who shows indifferent and is idle was certainly damned.

Calvin said that man has to work because to work is God’s will. It was mans duty to serve and serve as God’s instrument and reshape the world in the manner God fashioned his Kingdom. Men should not crave and lust over wealth or possessions or easy living but rather to reinvest over and over again. Using the profits to help other people and to rise from an oppressor. . He likewise believed that men who help other people rise from a lesser level of subsistence is to violate God’s will. Moreover, using profits to help others rise from a lesser state violates God’s will since people who want to be among the Elect should do it out of their own hardwork.

Calvinist believed that selecting an occupation and pursuing it in order to achieve profit is a religious duty. Unlike Martin Luther, john Calvin believed that it is proper for man to look for an occupation which will give him greater income. If the pursuit means abandoning the family trade or profession, the change will not be allowed.  The teachings and beliefs of Luther and Calvin lead to a greater understanding and meaning of work ethics.

The next article will present more historical background on how it evolved over the years.

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