Fortress Press

Charging Interest: Medieval Wisdom for a Modern Financial Crisis

Charging Interest

Medieval Wisdom for a Modern Financial Crisis

Martin Luther (Author), Michael T. Grzonka (Translated with commentary by), Carter Lindberg (Foreword by)


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Charging Interest explores current exploitative financial practices through the lens of Martin Luther's explosive treatise called "Exhortation to the Clergy to Preach Against Usury." Written in 1540 and translated anew by Michael T. Grzonka, this treatise tackles the growing problem of usury (money lending) in Luther's time and context. Wittenberg authorities claimed powerlessness in the face of poverty, famine, egregious hoarding, and price-gouging. Luther urged pastors to confront lenders who were charging exploitive interest rates, dooming many to a life of continual poverty and starvation.

Luther went so far as to ask exploitive lenders to repent of their practices, and if they refused to excommunicate them from worship, from participating in the sacraments, and refuse to provide burial services. Clergy who did not condemn these practices would risk facing God's judgment.

Michael Grzonka provides a detailed introduction and new translation of Luther's treatise as well as reflections on faithful and ethical responses to unfair financial practices in our own day. A detailed study guide raises key questions for review and helps readers reflect on how Luther's text still may address issues in the contemporary world. Renowned historian and Reformation scholar Carter Lindberg provides a forward to this topic, which Martin Luther addressed on more than one occasion.

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781506488462
  • eBook ISBN 9781506488479
  • Dimensions 5.5 x 8.5
  • Pages 114
  • Publication Date March 28, 2023


Who would have thought that Martin Luther, champion of the gospel of God's grace in Jesus Christ, would also be the prophetic voice of his time preaching vociferously against the idolatry of financial and market systems that exploit people and are destructive of the common good of society? What a gift for clergy and lay alike that Michael Grzonka has brought this "forgotten Luther" to the table not only in his excellent translation of Luther's "Exhortation to the Clergy to Preach against Exploitation," but in his contextual preface and the insightful Foreword by Carter Lindberg. Wrestling with this material will be a joy for many and difficult for others, for within it you will find Luther himself challenging any complacency of discipleship and tepidness of witness within the cultural Christianity of our own time. In this study of Luther you will find grace informing social responsibility, faith active in love.</

Rev. Conrad A. Braaten, retired senior pastor, Church of the Reformation, Washington, DC, and co-initiator of The Forgotten Luther Project

Usury seems like such an outdated concept, yet Grzonka's translation of this important (and oft-overlooked) treatise, coupled with his incisive commentary and thought-provoking questions for review and study, brings Luther's critique of greed firmly into the present day. As economic inequality continues to increase, Grzonka reminds readers that an economy based on inequality and exploitation is as reprehensible now as it was five hundred years ago. When practices and policies allow a small few to thrive and leave many fighting to survive, the church cannot remain silent. Luther's "Exhortation" starkly challenges us to confront economic injustice with the conviction that exploitation is an affront to both conscience and faith. One can hope that this new translation and set of study resources gain as much attention as the original writing did five centuries ago. As Grzonka makes clear, its fierce call to action is needed now more than ever.

Ryan P. Cumming, PhD, program director, hunger education, ELCA World Hunger

Brilliant! Bravo and thanks to Mick Grzonka for bringing to light such a profound "Exhortation" from Luther, a powerful Christian blueprint for a fair economic order then, and certainly this very helpful and timely translation now. Grzonka makes this user-friendly for academy and congregation alike, with study notes, discussion questions, and more. I had the pleasure of getting acquainted with Mick at the Forgotten Luther III Conference we hosted at Saint Luke. Mick's enthusiasm for justice, faith, grace for all, and, yes, Luther is infectious. Looking forward to using Charging Interest in the congregation.

Rev. Connie A. Miller, senior pastor, Saint Luke Lutheran Church, Silver Spring, Maryland

Perhaps you've met Martin Luther the theologian or biblical scholar. In this wonderful work, Michael Grzonka introduces us to Martin Luther the economic critic. By contextualizing and translating Luther's fiery text "Exhortation to the Clergy to Preach against Usury," Grzonka gives us a Luther who connects, at root, just economic practices and Christian identity. Readers will benefit not only from Grzonka's faithful translation of Luther, but also from his helpful glossary of terms and thoughtful list of discussion questions for each section. I heartily recommend this book for those seeking wisdom on faithful Christian life in the midst of our economically unjust times.

Rev. Dr. Justin Nickel, Frances and Baxter Weant Assistant Professor of Lutheran Studies, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary of Lenoir-Rhyne University, and author of The Work of Faith: Divine Grace and Human Agency in Martin Luther's Preaching

Many people think of Martin Luther as simply a "spiritual" authority. Michael T. Grozonka dispels that notion. His sprightly translation and introduction of Luther's "Exhortation to the Clergy to Preach against Exploitation" (1540) shows the reformer as a bold denouncer of public greed and a strong advocate of generosity toward the poor and unfortunate. In our own age of wretched excess, this is a welcome and bracing text.

Mark D. Tranvik, professor of Reformation history and theology, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota

Charging interest might sound innocent, but take a closer look. Mick Grzonka introduces us to a little-known Luther whose outspoken critique of early capitalism has as much relevance for today as it did when it helped shape the political economies of post-Reformation Europe. As a Luther scholar, Carter Lindberg makes clear in his Foreword that this book is nothing less than an exhortation to pastors and lay leaders of the church today to confront the greed-based practices that have produced the economic disparity we see in the world today. Read at your own risk.

Rev. Dr. Paul Wee, author of The Forgotten Luther: Reclaiming the Social-Economic Dimension of the Reformation (Fortress Press, 2016)