Capitalism, Protestant Ethics & Orthodox Tradition

By the Metropolitan of Nafpaktos and Saint Vlasios, fr. Hierotheos Vlachos

It must be underlined that Orthodoxy – Romanity (Romanity = Byzantine Tradition & Culture) has no affinity whatsoever to Protestant ethics – as realistically presented by Max Weber with regard to the capitalist spirit – nor is it expressed by Latin theology. For this reason, in what follows, we will examine as briefly as possible the views of the Orthodox Church on the central positions underlined by Max Weber. We will underline five basic points, without citing Patristic texts and related bibliography, because in my other studies, there is ample material.

a) It is characteristic that the spirit of Capitalism, i.e.. Capitalism as a system, was not born in the East, in Romanity, but the West. This is not unrelated to the theology and the way of life that prevailed in these two areas. In the Orthodox East there was no need to refute the feudalist system with its racist mentalitythe way this had prevailed in the West.
Apart from this, in the Orthodox East there prevailed the teachings of the Fathers of the Church on philotheia (the love of God) and philanthropy (the love of fellow-man), on kenosis (self-evacuating) and sacrifice, on philotimo (honourable reciprocation) and the sacrifice of one’s rights. In other words, there was a balanced social teaching, which was the fruit of genuine Christology, ecclesiology and anthropology. This social teaching was neither created nor implemented as a system, but was itself a way of life.
The par excellence centres of Romanity – where they applied the genuine social teaching, which was a result of the advent of the Grace of God and the spiritual rebirth of man – were the Monasteries. Within the confines of the Monasteries, the community functioned in the best possible manner, where the love of God and our neighbour prevailed; where philautia (self-love) was be repelled by ascetic labours. The life of the Monasteries influenced the Roman societies also; even the very palace.
Of course, neither was Socialism born in the Orthodox East; as we saw previously, even the socialist system had been organised on rationalist criteria and was subjugated to bureaucracy and the entire mentality of a man-centred system.
Indeed, Orthodoxy differs radically, both Capitalism as well as Socialism, from a philosophical, structural and organisational point of view, since both these systems are offspring of Western metaphysics. The social teaching of Socialism is related to the social teaching of Christianity, but we there are two basic differences. The one difference is that its implementation is achieved through revolutions and laws and not with freedom and love; the other difference is that Socialism, in most of its manifestations, is linked to a specific world theory and is thus an atheistic ideology. Most certainly however, while Orthodoxy may relate to Socialism from the aspect of social teaching, it is nevertheless in complete dialectic opposition to the spirit of Capitalism.
Both Capitalism and Socialism are transferred and imported systems. One could add here that the Socialist theories infiltrated the Orthodox East where Orthodoxy prevailed, because the views on justice, equality, love etc. were familiar here, years ago. Even today, the theories of Socialism – Marxism are difficult to prevail in the Western world, because the individual prevails there. And in these individualist perceptions, Capitalism flourishes.
Consequently, Capitalism cannot fit into the teaching and the way of life that prevails in Romanity. It is the offspring of Western man and is destined for him.

b) Orthodoxy is not linked to metaphysics. We saw in the previous analysis that the spirit of Capitalism, as analysed by Max Weber, is very closely linked to the theory of predestination, which is one of the characteristic marks of metaphysics. Of course, the term metaphysics includes many other aspects that will not be analysed here.
We could preferably say that Orthodoxy is anti-metaphysical. The centre of Orthodox anthropology is not the “orthos logos” (the appropriate word, reasoning). Without abolishing logic, Orthodoxy transcends it through a revelation by God, which is beyond all reasoning and not against reasoning.
The theory of predestination is rejected by the theology of the Fathers of the Church. God does not violate man’s freedom and those who wish can become sons of God. In Orthodoxy there is no “aristocracy of the pious”. When man follows a specific method of therapy, he can even reach the state of theoptia (the ‘sight’ of God). Thus, he comes to know God, he acquires selfless love and loves the entire world. Just as medical science cannot be metaphysical, so Orthodox theology cannot be metaphysical.

c) The views of Orthodoxy on labour and profession are also different to those of the Protestants. The vast difference lies in the fact that Protestants link the profession to Divine Providence, to divine commandments, and especially to the predestination. In Protestant ethics, the profession, as well as the profit that originates from it, all take place within the framework of those saved by God. In Orthodoxy, since we do not believe in an predestination, it is to be expected that we do not link the profession to this inhuman theory.
After all, even though labour may have its value for man’s life in this world and can even be regarded as a spiritual task when conducted within genuine gnosiological and hesychastic frames, it nonetheless does not relate to a specialised profession. For example, medical science cannot become a profession, nor can any other humanitarian sciences; they are incorporated within the perspective of diaconia (ministering). We are all deacons (ministers). Job professionalism, and especially the mentality of professionalism, is linked to profit, to the increase in production by any means, to the exploitation of man and so many other terrible things.
The view that the profession of each person is predetermined by divine Providence is inhuman, since it abolishes man’s freedom or makes him even more audacious. Imagine what could happen if the merchant, the manufacturer and in general every businessman thought that their work was a profession determined by God. In this case, every kind of abuse, injustice and exploitation would be justified. This is why labour does not identify with the profession. After all, the tradition of our land in rural societies and communities and in the Monasteries has proved that one can work and offer much, without exercising a particular profession. But when man is obliged to exercise a specialised profession, he must perceive it as a labour that is performed within the framework of philotheia (love of God) and philanthropy (love of fellow man).
After all, each man’s labour is not an end in itself in his life. It is useful, essential, so that he does not fall into akedia (spiritual laxity), but also necessary for him to feed those who are under his protection; but it is not his sole purpose. It is regarded as a gift from God, and should be exercised eucharistically (in a spirit of thanksgiving). Man’s objective is neither justification, nor the reassurance of Grace existing in his heart, but his theosis (glorification).

d) Orthodox ascesis does not aspire to the fulfilment of our duties to God, or to the reassurance that one belongs in the aristocracy of the chosen, but to the liberation of our nous (mind) from its subjugation to creations.
In opposition to rationalism, according to which rational reason (orthos logos) is man’s centre, Orthodoxy accepts that man’s centres are two, nous (mind) and logos (word, reason). The nous relates to God and the divine, while the logos relates to our environment. When the nous is enslaved by creations, man is psychically, psychologically and spiritually ill. The ascetic effort aspires to liberating man’s nous from its subjection to logic, to passions and the world that surrounds him. This is achieved in Orthodox hesychasm.
Speaking of Orthodox hesychasm, we need to view it from two perspectives. Firstly, that it is a command of God. In other words, the commands of God do not only refer only to external works for the performance of one’s duty, but also to inner cleanliness, nepsis, hesychia etc. Secondly, Orthodox hesychasm is not possible within a climate of individualism. Because he has freed himself of existential and internal tyrannies, the hesychast is the par excellence free, genuine person, who loves all people truly.
Consequently, Orthodox hesychia (quiet) is closely connected to man’s therapy, and from the aspect of methodology it resembles modern psychiatry. We say “from the aspect of methodology” because there is a great difference between the two from the perspective of ontology and anthropology. In any case, no one can blame a psychoanalyst that with his effort, with the psychotherapy that he practises, he is not performing any social activity, or that he views man as isolated. On the contrary, one praises him because the psychoanalyst helps the already distant and antisocial person to learn how to confront other people and society in a proper manner, by healing his dysfunctional personality. The same and much more holds true for orthodox hesychia (quiet). Through hesychia, man discards his anti-social manner and becomes genuinely social; he cures his individualism and thus, in place of selfish love, he now acquires selfless love.
Orthodoxy similarly views both wealth and material goods in general within this perspective. It does not confront them idolatrously or manichaeically; that is to say, it neither worships nr rejects them. When man is spiritually complete and takes the proper stance towards them, he sees no regenerative power and value in money; he is not interested in using methods and ways of reproducing money. To him, offering, sacrifice, kenosis, or denying his own rights have a greater value.
Orthodox ascesis does not aspire to any state of blissfulness (eudaemonia), whether idealistic or materialistic. Idealistic bliss is dominated by the soul’s return to the world of ideas, while the materialistic bliss is dominated by the enjoyment of material goods in this life. In fact, Orthodox ascesis cures man from such bliss-oriented tendencies.
Also, in Orthodoxy we are not overcome by the obsession of accomplishing a duty. Western morality has taught us to speak of “our duties to God, to our neighbour and to ourselves”. We learned to speak of man’s natural course. Love is not a duty, nor can it be confined to this notion; it is the natural state of man. The lack of love is nothing more than the deviated course of man’s psychic (soul-related) powers.

e) Of course, there may be baptised Orthodox who are discerned in their lives by the Protestant morality and the spirit of Capitalism, and who belong to the category of the people analysed by Max Weber. These however are not genuine Orthodox Christians; they are not permeated by the atmosphere of Orthodox Tradition; they are not Romans, but Vaticanising and Protestantising Orthodox. The fact is that when we want to be informed about the life of the Church, we must approach those who breathe inside Her atmosphere; those who swim inside Her life-flowing river and who do not sink into stagnant and polluted waters, nor remain on the banks of the river.
Orthodoxy bears no relation to Protestant ethics or to the spirit of Capitalism. It has an entire life that is a transcending of all created realities; of deterioration and even of death itself.


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