Effect of Protestant Reforms on Local Labor Markets

In addition to the effects on church and worship, the Reformation also had a potential supply-side impact on local labor markets. Catholic tradition specified a large number of religious festivals, feast days, and pilgrimages to honor saints and historical religious events. Ironically, despite its condemnation of "pagan" festivals based on seasons or nature, the Roman Catholic Church replaced pagan practice with Christianized festivals and holy days. Town and monastery communities typically championed particular (often minor) saints, who were regularly entreated to bestow special favors on the faithful.36 Proper observance of feast days and holy days in commemoration of saints and historical events required church attendance, feasting, and celebration—which required time off of work. This religious, social, and economic observance and its consequences were described by historian Hutton Webster:

As the Roman passion for holidays and their attendant spectacles increased, we find the number of days devoted to them rising from sixty-six in the reign of Augustus to eighty-seven in that of Tiberius, and, under Marcus Aurelius, to a hundred and thirty-five. [At the end of the Roman empire, the number was even larger, perhaps reaching 175-200 days per year]____Many of the holy days in the religious calendar of Christendom were borrowed... from the public festivals of ancient paganism. This must be the chief reason for the observance of so many non-working days during the Middle Ages. Their number was largely reduced in Protestant Europe as the result of the Reformation, which did away with the majority of saints' days.37

Of course, one must not confuse labor input with labor output. Historians are divided on the question of whether Protestant reforms increased the number of work days in medieval Europe. Regional variance is a persistent complicating factor. On the one hand, economic historian Earl J. Hamilton claimed, "In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Protestantism afforded little relief from the plethora of religious holidays that afflicted most Catholic countries. Puritans prohibited markets on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays. Numerous church services were held during the week.''38 On the other hand, Vatican historian Eamon Duffy puts the number of feast days in England at between forty and fifty, noting, in addition to regional variance:

The observance and the status of holy days were much contested issues, since holy days were also holidays. Workers sought to secure days free from secular toil, landowners and employers sought to extract the maximum work from their tenants or employees, and a particular bone of contention was the question of whether servants or lords should bear the expense of the loss of a day's work involved in each feast. . . . This trend achieved its starkest and most drastic expression after the break with Rome, when in 1536 the Crown abolished most of the local and national festa ferianda ...on the grounds that the excessive numbers of holidays were impoverishing the people by hindering agriculture.39

While there is some dispute over the effects of increased labor input upon aggregate output in particular areas,40 it appears most likely that growth ensued in Protestant areas. Clearly, feast days created a reduced average workweek when Europe was under Catholic monopoly. Combined with other medieval Roman Catholic practices, the four or five day medieval workweek41 suggests that the emergence of Protestantism gave a boost to productivity and output. Weber failed to recognize this and other supply-side aspects of the religious reforms embraced by Protestantism. Indeed, a study of contemporary practice that restricts itself to only the major Christian-related festivals by country reveals that those countries remaining predominately Catholic retain a significantly larger number of general saint and feast days than those that became largely Protestant.42

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