In a fragment of the original notebooks for the Critique of Political Economy of 1858, known as the Grundrisse, Karl Marx referred in passing to Martin Luther as ‘the oldest German political economist’.1 His remark was based upon Luther’s observation in his Sermon on Trade and Usury (1524): ‘It cannot be denied that buying and selling are necessary. They cannot be dispensed with, and can be practiced in a Christian manner, especially when the commodities serve a necessary and honorable purpose.’2 Thereby Luther acknowledged that production for exchange alongside production purely for consumption was a necessary feature of human life. In uttering his bon môt, however, Marx was sacrificing accuracy to apophthegm. While his verdict may possibly hold true for the German lands themselves, it ignores the decisive contribution of late medieval scholastic writers, principally though not exclusively in Italy, to the development of economic thought.3 For the subsequent historiography of the German Reformation, however, Marx’s description of Luther has had particularly unfortunate consequences. First, it has subjected Marxist economists and historians to the compulsion to construct an unbroken and dialectically ineluctable tradition stretching from Luther’s initial attack on the feudal Catholic Church and his objective embodiment of the interests of an emerging bourgeoisie to modern free-market economies under capitalism. Secondly, it has encouraged non-Marxists either to ignore the contribution of the German Reformation in general and Luther

* Expanded, corrected, and revised version of the paper delivered to the Historisches Kolleg, Munich, May 1999. For critical comments I am grateful to Peter Blickle, Tom Brady, Erik Midelfort, and Manfred Schulze.