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The Lithuanian Evangelical Reformed Church as a credit institution in the 17th century

Table of Contents:

Introduction

As for present-day discussions on economic development, religion constitutes an important institution (Acemoglu & Robinson 2012; Rubin 2017). Protestantism, in this context, is of particular importance (Becker, Pfaff & Rubin 2016) as a significant element explaining differences between regions in Europe (van Zanden et al. 2012). Max Weber pointed it out in his well-known work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (2005) that Protestant theologians (in comparison with the Catholic Church) developed different attitudes towards the role of usury, work, and profit.

The aforementioned theses became arguments in the discussion aiming at answering the general question, if the changes in Christianity affected forming capitalism as a dominating economic system, or the economic transformations at the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the modern era affected the new religious currents.

In this discussion, so far, there has quite seldom been taken up an attempt to study activities of economic institutions of religious nature, functioning in religiously differentiated communities. Researchers try to compare countries dominated by reformed denominations with Catholic regions and if someone takes up studies including religiously complicated political structures, they do it with econometric methods using models which considerably simplify the historical past and consider phenomena in the macro scale (Nunziata Sc Rocco 2018). However, it is worth considering what signs of Weber’s protestant ethic can be traced in societies of diverse denominational composition in their day-to-day functioning. To what extent can we observe the ethic described by Weber in the countries where the Protestants made up a minority and had to adapt themselves to the socio-economic circumstances where other Christian denominations dominated? An example of such a country is the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (hereinafter: PLC) where basically existed freedom of religion, although not all religions or denominations enjoyed the same social status. In political sense, as well as regarding the number of followers, the Catholic Church dominated but,

in various regions of the country, denominations prevailing in the population were Lutherans (Pomerania), the Orthodox or the Uniates (Ukrainian lands, most of the territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania). An important element of the religious landscape was a very numerous Jewish minority settling all over the country.

Among Protestant denominations of the PLC, representatives of the Evangelical Reformed Church were of particular importance. They were not numerous but followers of this branch of Protestantism were representatives of the noble elite or, as in the case of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (hereinafter: GDL), also the wealthiest magnates: mainly the members of the extremely politically and economically powerful Radziwill family (whose members used the title of dukes) who protected and financially supported the Evangelicals.

The Evangelical Reformed Church in GDL (called Jednota) was organized within a synodal-presbyterian system, with the provincial synod as the principal authority, consisting of clergy and lay members of the community. For most of the 17th century, the provincial synod of the Lithuanian Calvinists gathered every year in Vilna and was attended by representatives of ca 110 parishes. The highest position in the clergy hierarchy occupied the so-called superintendents who supervised particular districts grouping a few parishes. The Jednota was organized in six districts: Vilnian, Zawilejski, Samogitian, Novogrodek, Ruthenian, and Podlasie. The actor, that is a lay officially responsible for legal, administrative, and financial management of the whole Calvinist community was of almost equally high importance.

The aim and sources

The objective of this chapter is an attempt to present the results of a search for Weber’s capitalist protestant ethic in the credit activities of the Calvinist Church in the GDL.

Financial settlements presented to the Synod annually by actor, bills and acts of provincial synods themselves constitute a source basis for this chapter (Akta synodow, 1915; Akta synodow, 2011; LLAS, f. 40, man. 1136). The latter show that economic problems concerned the Evangelical elite no less than theological or disciplinary questions. Nearly a half of canons referred to financial and economic questions and, in 1642, it was explicitly said ‘That bills are anima of all affairs discussed at the Synod’ (LLAS, f. 40, man. 1136, p. 48). Two financial documents were also analysed in more detail: to the canons of 1668 of the Vilna provincial synod, the register called ‘District sums of the churches of the GDL’ was added, containing data from four districts: Samogitian, Novogrodek, Zawilejski, and Ruthenian (LLAS, f. 40, man. 1136, pp. 303-6); therefore, another document called ‘Sums of the Vilna district’ of 1674 is an important supplement to our knowledge (LLAS, f. 40, man. 168, k. 59). Although we do not have data for the sixth district in the framework of the Jednota - Podlasie, we may outline a general financial situation of the Calvinist Church in the GDL.

 
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