Martin Luther

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Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) was a German theologian whose writings heavily influenced the Protestant reformation. As a young man, Martin Luther dedicated himself to become a monk after a near-death experience, almost being struck by a lightning bolt on his way to school. Years later he was excommunicated by Pope Leo XI after publishing harsh criticism of the Catholic church and refusing to withdraw his statements. Lutheranism is based on Martin Luther's theological interpretation of the Bible.


Martin Luther was critical of Judaism. In 1543 he published On Jews and their Lies, in which he advocates intolerance, violence, theft, arson, and murder against Jews. His writings were used by Nazis in the twentieth century to support the Holocaust.

Political Thought

Initially the Protestant reformation had little to do with the expansion of political liberty. Martin Luther, who founded the first Protestant church, argues that government is ordained by God, and therefore, the subjects must obey the ruler, regardless of any extreme and harsh methods of rule the authority might employ. He argued for the ultimate authority of the king because he was extremely wary of his non-Christian neighbors. Christians are unquestioningly good because of their relationship with God. If the entire world were made up of Christians, there would be no need for government or law, because Christians inherently have the law of the Holy Spirit inside of them. The law, however, “is given for the sake of the unrighteous, that is, that those who are not Christians may through the law be externally restrained from evil deeds.” Even though Christians have no need for an external law, Luther argues that they must obey it, and even suffer any punishments and unjust laws decreed by the king, so as to serve as a model for how the non-Christians should act with regards to the law.

Secular authority

While Luther argued that government was ordained by God, he specifically argued against government having any authority over religion. Luther stated that “no one but God can have authority over souls,” and thus he put forth a doctrine that made religion and obedience to God a personal matter in which government could not change or infringe upon. By doing this, Luther set a system that would be built upon later by John Calvin, and many of the later figures in the American Revolution, such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, that was based on what today we may call nonoverlapping magisteria of government and religion. This idea was a radical separation from the traditional political thought advocated by earlier Catholic thinkers like St. Augustine and John of Salisbury who argued for a theocratic basis of governmental power.

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