Monastic asceticism and the rationalization of beer-making in the Middle Ages
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Citation of Original PublicationElliott, Michael A. 2011. "Monastic Asceticism and the Rationalization of Beer-Making in the Middle Ages." AVISTA Forum Journal, 21 (1/2), 55-61.
SubjectsBrewing -- History
Monasteries -- History -- To 1500
Asceticism--History--Middle Ages, 600-1500
Christianity and capitalism
Weber, Max, 1864-1920. Protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus
[From Introduction] [...] what appears to be unique about the relation-ship between the Church and beer is both the scale and skill that were applied to its production by monks in the Middle Ages. As Unger (2004, 26) reports, the first large-scale produc-tion of beer in medieval Europe took place in the monasteries of the eighth and ninth centuries: “Large monasteries were institutions typical of the Carolingian Empire, and they were nearly always centers of brewing.” Likewise, Horn and Born (1979, Vol. II, 261) surmise that “[b]efore the twelfth and thir-teenth centuries when brewing first emerged as a commercial venture, the monastery was probably the only institution where beer was manufactured on anything like a commercial scale.” Their famous study of the ideal Benedictine commu-nity in the Plan of St. Gall strongly suggests that monks of this era not only produced beer on a large scale but seem to have done so with considerable technique and organizational skill. [...] Prominent historical sociologist Max Weber offers helpful clues to this mystery, particularly with his concept of “ascetic rationalism” that he used to explain the transformation of economic behavior during the Reformation and the rise of modern capitalism. Following the lead of contemporary Weberian scholars (Adair-Toteff 2010; Collins 1986a, 1986b, 1997; Kaelber 1996), a similar transformation was fostered by monastic communities centuries before the Reformation and can help explain why monks displayed a kind of mastery over productive endeavors like beer brewing.