How Catholics invented capitalism

Fair Use
Il monaco camerario di San Mattia riscuote i denari del monastero al banco dei Procuratori di San Marco / Venezia, Seminario Patriarcale, Biblioteca

The birth of capitalism is often associated with Protestantism. But the roots of capitalism are slightly different.

Martin Luther as a rebel against the wealthy Italy

When, according to the legend, Martin Luther, a German Augustinian friar, nailed his 95 Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on 31st October 1517, he actually opposed the early capitalism of the very wealthy and progressive Italy.

Luther, who was not keen on the early capitalist rich (neither was German banker Jakob Fugger) and rejected shareholding as an unacceptable financial speculation, was not considered a promoter of capitalist development by Weber.

The role of Calvinism

As far as Weber was concerned, French theologian Jean Calvin, the founder of Calvinism, was much more important. Weber never claimed that Calvin really wanted to methodically promote capitalist economy. According to him, this was a coincidental consequence of his teaching, which somehow forced Calvinists to seek self-affirmation in economic success.

But the rise of the formerly poor European North over the once wealthy Mediterranean South is not as much a consequence of Protestantism as it is a consequence of great changes after the discovery of America (which, ironically, was discovered mainly by Italian sailors).

The decline of Italy caused by the discovery of America

These discoveries slowly pushed the early-capitalist Italy, cut off from the world oceans, into a slow economic decline and shifted the centre of economy to the countries close to the Atlantic Ocean, mainly to the Protestant England and the Netherlands.

This article was originally published in the Slovenian Edition of Aleteia. It’s been translated from Slovenian into English by Mojca Masterl Štefanič. 

Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.