Home / Luther Encyclopaedia / Poverty


For Luther it is important that there is no poverty or begging in the congregation of believers. According to Luther, nobody should be sentenced to the life of a pauper. This critique of Luther especially targets the church and the government. They cause begging through their structures, taxes and distributions of alms. Besides, Luther criticizes the so-called ‘mendicant friars’. He did not want to have anything to do with this ‘voluntary poverty’.

In Christological-ecclesiological terms all people are poor and dependent on God’s grace. The human cannot overcome sin and is dependent on God. Poverty here is also seen as ‘dependence’. The miracle is that God became poor for us. So we may also become poor in Christ’s footsteps. Separate from this is poverty in an anthropological-charitable sense. Poverty is here a living condition of lack, a condition in which many people in the Early modern period lived.

Begging can be seen as a way to earn money through alms. Alms can come from individuals, but also from institutes. The begging class was under criticism because many beggars feigned injuries and illnesses, while there was in reality nothing wrong with them. There was also many critiques of the mendicant orders of monks. For Luther, mendicancy did not belong in the church.

For Luther it is important that grace is already given. This in contrast to late medieval theology, where grace has to be earned. If the Christian is aware that grace is already given freely, then he can do his best to help any other person and he can so further the glory of God. Good works are not meaningless, but they have another motivation. They are motivated by God’s grace. Begging is not forbidden, but according to Luther it should not be necessary in a Christian congregation. The church has to change, then. They do not have to see good works as necessary to be participants in salvation. But good works serve as an expression of thanks to God as the first Giver, in the context of love for one’s fellow man.