- Jakob Strauss und der reformatorische Wucherstreit. Die soziale Dimension der Reformation und ihre Wirkungen ed. by Joachim Bauer and Michael Haspel
The social-ethical dimension of the Reformation, a neglected subject in most of the Reformation commemorations, prompted the 2016 Eisenach conference, "From Usury to the International Financial Crisis: The Social Dimension of the Reformation and its Effects." The twofold purpose of the conference was to relate the reforming efforts in Eisenach to the wider Reformation and its historiography; and to relate these reformation social concerns to contemporary social debates. Interestingly, unbeknownst to either group, a symposium with similar concerns was held almost a year earlier at the Church of the Reformation in Washington, D.C. (see C. Lindberg & Paul Wee, eds., The Forgotten Luther: Reclaiming the Social-Economic Dimension of the Reformation, Lutheran University Press, 2016). [End Page 220]
Luther's vehement attacks on the exploitative practices of early modern capitalism and his appeals for government regulation of business practices and exorbitant interest rates inspired his more radical followers not only to condemn usurious interest rates but also to proclaim that those who paid interest shared in the usurer's sin. The most notorious instance of this development was Jakob Strauss (c.1480–after 1527), a former Dominican from Basel forced from his position due to his evangelical preaching. After some months in Wittenberg (1522), Strauss was installed as preacher in Eisenach. Strauss soon created controversy with his preaching and tracts against usury and paying interest. The tracts themselves are reprinted in facsimile with a modern German version on the facing page along with an extensive introduction and commentary by Carlies Maria Raddatz-Breidbach (173–311). Expositions of Strauss's life, work, and relations with other Reformers are threaded throughout the chapters, most comprehensively in the contributions by Thomas Müller and Bauer.
Müller, "Wucherstreit im Pfaffennest. Anmerkung zur Vor-und Frühreformation in Eisenach" (17–30), argues that the fever pitch of the usury controversy in Eisenach was related to the financial burdens placed upon the people by Eisenach's high number of clergy and ecclesial landlords. The relation of the controversy to political authority is treated by Dagmar Blaha, "Die Beziehungen Eisenachs zum Weimarer Hof unter Johann dem Beständigen" (31–49). The interaction of political-social-ethical-economic issues with the Reformation is explored by Siegrid Westphal in "Die Soziale Frage in der Reformationszeit" (50–63). Population growth by the eve of the Reformation led to decreasing wages and increasing prices which pressed impoverished rural folk into the cities and led to an increase of indebtedness and begging. The response to these conditions is highlighted by Joachim Bauer's historiographical observations in "Die Bedeutung von Jakob Strauss in der frühen ernestinischen reformatorischen Bewegung" (64–107). Duke Johann, more active than his brother Friedrich in the reforming of his territory, was interested in his preachers' formulation of issues and resolutions. In this context, Strauss's theological reflections and convictions regarding reform of worship, the sacraments, and the church as well as usury were a significant contribution to the early reform movement [End Page 221] in the Ernestine territory. Stefan Michel pursues this latter aspect in relation to economically rooted pre-Reformation anti-clericalism in "Die Diskussion um die Wucher in ihrer Bedeutung für die von Wittenberg ausgehende Reformation" (108–124). The sordid underside of these Reformation critiques of early modern capitalism is the widespread linking of usury to the stereotype of the "Jewish usurer." As Fritz Backhaus, "Die Entwicklung des Wuchertopos zur antijüdischen Polemik" (125–138), points out, this stereotype of the "Jewish usurer" as a negative foil was present in spite of the reality that German Jews played little role in the developing money economy; a point also made by Kalus (141). Maximilian Kalus's chapter "Vom Wucherstreit zur aktuellen Krise der globalen Finanzwirtschaft" (139–166) relates the historical-theological discussion to the present. Rainer Kessler follows with an exegesis and commentary on a central biblical text for the time, "Wucher...