'Money is a Sterile Thing': Martin Luther on the Immorality of Usury Reconsidered

21 Pages Posted: 3 Jul 2009 Last revised: 13 Jun 2015

See all articles by John D. Singleton

John D. Singleton

University of Rochester - Department of Economics

Date Written: July 15, 2009


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 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, Protestant Reformation

JEL Classification: B11, B31, N43, Z12

Suggested Citation

Singleton, John D., 'Money is a Sterile Thing': Martin Luther on the Immorality of Usury Reconsidered (July 15, 2009). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1428625 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1428625

John D. Singleton (Contact Author)

University of Rochester - Department of Economics ( email )

Harkness Hall
Rochester, NY 14627
United States

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