Weber, time and the economics of the eucharist

Upcoming presentation for the 23rd Biennial Conference of the European Society for Philosophy of Religion: God, Time and Change, September 3-5, 2022, Oxford, UK.

This paper revisits Max Weber’s thesis on the relation between protestantism and capitalism, by exploring an underlying theological and metaphysical dimension of his thesis in relation to time. Giving an economic reading to Anselm’s definition, God is that more valuable than which nothing can be thought (IQM). Assuming a metaphysics of participation, every single human action as valued by the agent shares in or receives value imputation from IQM. The question where and especially when the encounter with and hence fruition of IQM is expected to happen thereby becomes a crucial determining factor in the entire temporal orientation of economic life on an individual as well as societal level.

Weber notes the importance of Calvin’s double predestination theory, but that eschatological dimension of encountering IQM is arguably not a strongly varying factor in itself. However, what does crucially change relative to catholicism is the metaphysics of the transubstantiation whereby IQM can be substantially encountered in the presence of the eucharist in a way that is not, or gradually less possible for protestantism. The economic logic of monasticism to devote one’s life entirely to the fruition of IQM in the eucharistic present thereby migrates to the eschatological future, since the relative importance of one’s predestination increases in proportion to the decreased substantial encounter with IQM in the present.

Moreover, the metaphysics of the eucharist can itself be linked to the temporality of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. If the sacrifice of the mass is numerically identical with the one at Calvary, namely the total self-gift of IQM, there is economically speaking no difference in time between Calvary and every single mass. Time is money, but since the presence of IQM arguably obliterates all relative differences in monetary value, it also removes all temporal differences relative to IQM. Absent this link between the past self-gift of IQM at Calvary and the present self-gift of IQM in every eucharist, the encounter with and fruition of IQM shifts to the hoped for future. Congenial to this observation, Bruno Colmant has noted that an opposite arrow of time is operative in catholic versus protestant economic thinking, whereby a past-to-present logic of capitalisation dominates in catholicism, but a future-to-present logic of actualisation in protestantism.

The economic infrastructure of a society thereby also gradually (or drastically) shifts from monasticism as the focal point of economic rationality, to other economic activities whose value partially participates in IQM. A diachronic increase in economic success then becomes a step along the earthly pilgrimage towards the hoped for future eschatological encounter with, and fruition of, IQM, thereby motivating the typical work ethic and frugality relative to money and its future-directed potential for the acquisition of valuables. But since mankind’s restless heart will not find rest in any such partial value, it risks building up an unsustainable economic infrastructure in a pelagian effort towards an ever increasing participation of earthly goods (and ultimately mankind itself) in IQM. Capitalism as an ideology can then be understood as a shared faith and hope in the viability of that project, with transhumanism as an immanentization of human divinization as its logical endpoint.

Image: Prague’s astronomical clock, licence

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