Copyright © 1994, Word & World, Luther Seminary.
Word & World, Supplement Series 2, pp. 83-95.
First published in Luther and Culture, ed. George Forell, Harold
Grimm, and Theodore Hoelty-Nickel (Decorah, Iowa: Luther College
Press, 1960) and delivered first as a lecture presented at the 1959
"Luther Lectures" at Luther College.
Used with permission.
 Any discussion of the subject of Luther and politics must be
guarded against a number of quite obvious pitfalls. First of all,
it should be kept in mind that Luther was not a professional
politician. When he abandoned the study of the law and entered the
monastery he had given up the primary concern with politics. As far
as he was concerned, the political life was the special
responsibility of the lawyers. The government of the world was one
of the most important responsibilities which God had entrusted to
humankind, but it was not the direct responsibility of the church.
In his Sermon on Keeping Children in School of 1530 he showed how
important he considered both the political task of the lawyer and
the theological task of the pastor. Excoriating the greed of his
compatriots, which made them satisfied with only the rudiments of
an education for their children, Luther said,
And do not be disturbed
because the run-of-the-mill miser despises learning so deeply and
says, "Ha, if my son can read and write German and do arithmetic,
that is enough. I am going to make a businessman of him." They will
soon quiet down; indeed, they will be glad to dig twenty feet into
the earth with their bare hands just to get a scholar. For if
preaching and law should fail, the businessman will not be a
businessman for long; that I know for sure. We theologians and
jurists must remain or everything else will go down to destruction
with us; you can be sure of that.
 The work of the jurist as well as the work of the theologian
is vital to the life of the community, yet each is also clearly
different, and Luther knew himself to be called to serve God in the
 In spite of this distinction it must be remembered that
Luther did become constantly involved in politics. No Christian has
ever been more of a political football than Luther. From the
beginning Luther and the reformation were inextricably involved in
the maelstrom of sixteenth-century politics. Politics was at the
bottom of the sale of the indulgences which became the occasion for
the reformation, and thirty years later when Luther died in
Eisleben, he had just exhausted himself in the successful attempt
to find a settlement to a complicated legal dispute of the counts
of Mansfeld. Never during his eventful life was he allowed to lose
sight of politics. From the domestic crisis of the Peasant War to
the international conflict with the Turks, Luther was always in the
center of the political controversies of his time, forced by the
exigencies of the situation to choose sides and to express his
position in public.
 It would, therefore, lead nowhere if one would discuss
"Luther and Politics" in the light of his theoretical advocacy of
the separation of church and state without reference to his actual
involvement in the political ferment of his time. But, conversely,
to discuss only this political participation without regard to his
effort to distinguish the two realms and keep them separate would
be equally fruitless.
 Luther became willingly involved in politics if one of two
circumstances were given. Sometimes he felt that the political
issue could not really be understood without explaining its
theological implications. Here Luther, who knew himself called by
God to be a doctor, a teacher of the church, would try to instruct
the Christian people on the basis of God's word in respect to their
responsibilities in the great political decisions which confronted
them. This form of political participation brought about his
writings in the Peasant War and in regard to the conflict of the
empire with the Turks. Of course, in many of these struggles he did
not merely volunteer his counsel but was asked for his opinion by
rulers who respected his judgment and his influence.
 The second situation which might involve Luther in politics
arose when he believed that the respect which he enjoyed among some
of the great of this world might enable him to influence for peace
and justice people who would not listen to anyone else. Here he
acted as an individual Christian citizen. He might deal with
questions of inheritance and property not because he felt that he
possessed any special legal competence, but rather because he knew
that some people would listen to him who would reject the judgment
of the most competent lawyer. This is the reason why as an old and
sick man he went to Eisleben to settle the complicated dispute
among the counts of Mansfeld. Luther was too much concerned with
living persons rather than written propositions to let
ever-so-valid theories about the separation of the functions of the
lawyer and the pastor stop him from helping people if he seemed to
be the one who could do it. It was never an attempt to vindicate
his theological theories which motivated Luther's life but rather
the readiness to serve the word of God, be that as a doctor of the
church or as a Christian individual for some reason able to help
where others might not have the same opportunity.
 As a result, Luther's life supplies us with a multitude of
political acts, some wise and some foolish, some of great
international significance and some of no public consequence at
all. It would be of little use to us in the twentieth century to
study each of these acts. Whether they were at one time wise or
foolish, significant or inconsequential, after more than four
hundred years they have obviously no longer any political
significance for us. Luther's views on the east-west struggle of
his time are historically interesting but they do not immediately
shed light on the east-west struggle which confronts us in our
time. Similarly his writings on the political problems of the
farmers of his time do not help us solve our own very real and very
political farm problems.
 Should we grant, however, that Luther was one of the great
prophetic minds which God has been pleased to give the church, we
might still be able to learn something for our own political
decisions from the principles which guided Luther in his. In order
to discover the principles which undergirded Luther's political
action we shall look at some of his writings for what they may
reveal about Luther and politics.
The Political Use of the Law
 The well-known methodological device which characterizes
Luther's Christian proclamation is the distinction between God's
demand and God's gift, the law and the gospel. This distinction is
a constant feature of his theological thought. As early as the
Heidelberg Disputation of 1518 Luther insisted that "the law
humbles, grace exalts. The law effects fear and wrath, grace
effects hope and mercy." In a
sermon preached on September 14, 1522, he illustrated the
distinction by using the example of an illness. "The law," he said,
"reveals the illness, the gospel offers the
 But it is in his great commentary on St. Paul's epistle to
the Galatians that he deals with the question of law and gospel
most thoroughly. This commentary is of special significance for our
study since it is based on lectures which Luther delivered in 1531.
By that time he was in a position to speak not only against the
perversion of the Christian understanding of politics as he saw it
among the followers of Rome, but also against the equally serious
distortion of the political task by those whom Luther called the
"enthusiasts," but whom we shall call more politely if less
accurately the "left wing" of the reformation.
 His main concern in this commentary is the clearest
possible distinction between law and gospel, but in order to make
this distinction as intelligible as possible he deals
parenthetically also with the law as a resource for the political
life. Commenting on Gal 3:2 (where St. Paul writes, "Let me ask you
only this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law
or by believing what you heard?") Luther adds:
Therefore the Law and the
Gospel are two altogether different doctrines....For the Law is a
taskmaster; it demands that we work and that we give. In short, it
wants to have something from us. The Gospel, on the contrary, does
not demand; it grants freely; it commands us to hold out our hands
and to receive what is being offered. Now demanding and granting,
receiving and offering, are exact opposites and cannot exist
together. . . Therefore, if the Gospel is a gift and offers a gift,
it does not demand anything. On the other hand, the Law does not
grant anything; it makes demands on us, and impossible ones at
 The fundamental concern which motivates Luther's sharp
distinction between law and gospel is the reformer's eagerness to
make sure that salvation is proclaimed as the free gift of God's
grace and not as humankind's achievement. Even the slightest
concession to the law as a means to establish a human claim upon
God completely falsifies the relationship and endangers one's
 While this distinction of law and gospel is crucial for
Luther, he has no illusions that it is easily accomplished. In the
same commentary he says in another place: "Therefore whoever knows
well how to distinguish the Gospel from the Law should give thanks
to God and know that he is a real theologian. I admit that in the
time of temptation I myself do not know how to do this as I
should." And this is the method he
The way to distinguish the
one from the other is to locate the Gospel in heaven and the Law on
earth, to call the righteousness of the Gospel heavenly and divine
and the righteousness of the Law earthly and human, and to
distinguish as sharply between [them] . . . as God distinguishes
between heaven and earth or between light and darkness or between
day and night. . . . Therefore, if the issue is faith, heavenly
righteousness, or conscience, let us leave the Law out of
consideration altogether and let it remain on the earth. But if the
issue is works, then let us light the lamp of works and of the
righteousness of the Law in the night.
 The gospel determines our relationship to God in Christ,
while the law guides our life in relationship to the social order.
Lest we ascribe no theological significance to the law at all,
Luther insists that the law, while not making us God's children,
does reveal our estrangement from God and thus makes us aware of
our need for the gospel. Luther distinguishes two functions of the
law. Its theological function is to make us aware of our need of
salvation, to reveal our desperate plight. The gospel is the good
news, but it would not really be good news unless humankind were in
fact in a bad way. It is liberation from the bonds of sin and
death, but only because people are in fact chained by these bonds.
The law reveals this bondage. Luther describes this function as
follows: "Therefore the proper use and aim of the Law is to make
guilty those who are smug and at peace, so that they may see that
they are in danger of sin, wrath, and death, so that they may be
terrified and despairing, blanching and quaking at the rustling of
 It is the function of the law, "to render us naked and
guilty"; "to lead us forth from our
tabernacles, that is, from our peace and self-confidence, to set us
into the sight of God, and to reveal the wrath of God to
us." The Law produces worry
(perturbatio) and anxiety (anxietas). This is, indeed, the mental
prison from which only Christ can make us free.
 We note that the law is not some specific legal code but
rather the demand of the living God which confronts all people at
all times in some way and produces the fearful captivity from which
Christ alone can save.
 While this "theological" or "proper" use of the law is from
the point of view of the Christian proclamation its most
significant function, it is by no means its only function. Luther
clearly teaches a second use of the law, a civil or political use.
It is this use which is crucial for his understanding of politics.
This is how he states it:
Here one must know that
there is a double use of the Law. One is the civic use. God has
ordained civic laws, indeed all laws, to restrain transgressions.
Therefore every law was given to hinder sins. Does this mean then
when the Law restrains sins, it justifies? Not at all. When I
refrain from killing of from committing adultery or from stealing,
or when I abstain from other sins, I do not do this voluntarily or
from the love of virtue but because I am afraid of the sword and of
the executioner. This prevents me, as the ropes or the chains
prevent a lion or a bear from ravaging something that comes
 This political use is an essential function of the
law, "For the devil reigns in the whole world and drives men to all
sorts of shameful deeds. This is why God has ordained magistrates,
parents, teachers, laws, shackles, and all civic ordinances, so
that, if they cannot do any more, they will at least bind the hands
of the devil and keep him from raging at will."
 It is apparent to Luther that were it not for the law
sinful human beings would act like wild animals. The law,
therefore, must be strictly enforced by the political powers. "In
society (politia). . . obedience to the Law must be strictly
If there were no worldly
government, one man could not stand before another; each would
necessarily devour the other, as irrational beasts devour one
another. Therefore as it is the function and honor of the office of
preaching to make sinners saints, dead men live, damned men saved,
and the devil's children God's children, so it is the function and
honor of worldly government (weltlichen Regiments) to make men out
of wild beasts and to prevent men from becomingwild
 In view of this pessimistic description of humanity and of
the destructive forces released by sin, it is not surprising that
some of Luther's critics have claimed that he underestimates the
human possibilities for justice and equity and that his "political
use of the law" is actually a call for the ruthless exercise of
power by a tyrannical government. Luther has been compared to the
British philosopher Thomas Hobbes who, starting with a similarly
realistic analysis of the human situation as a war of all against
all, came to the conclusion that only an absolute, powerful
government could guarantee a measure of peace and justice in the
world. Hobbes said,
The Sovereign Power, whether
placed in One Man, as in Monarchy, or in one Assembly of men as in
Popular and Aristocraticall Commonwealths, is as great, as possibly
men can be imagined to make it. And though of so unlimited a Power,
men may fancy many evill consequences, yet the consequences of the
want of it, which is perpetuall warre of every man against his
neighbour are much worse.
 Lumping Luther and Hobbes together, Professor
Reinhold Niebuhr has said, "Human intelligence is never as pure an
instrument of the universal perspective as the liberal democratic
theory assumes, though neither is it as purely the instrument of
the ego, as is assumed by the anti‑democratic theory, derived
from the pessimism of such men as Thomas Hobbes and Martin
 A very important distinction has here been overlooked.
While for Hobbes it is the ruler of the absolute state who
restrains others from giving free reign to their self-destructive
sinful desires, Luther's understanding is quite different. For him
it is God who, by establishing the structures of this world to
which humans respond with their codes of law, who has created the
possibility for a life of relative peace and justice. For Hobbes
and Machiavelli before him, only the subjects are under the law
while the ruler is not bound by it. Machiavelli said,
A prudent ruler cannot and
should not observe faith when such observance is to his
disadvantage and the causes that made him give his promise have
vanished. If men were all good, this advice would not be good, but
since men are wicked and do not keep their promises to you, you
likewise do not have to keep yours to them.
 Less cynically but to the same effect, Hobbes said, "A
fourth opinion, repugnant to the nature of a Commonwealth is this,
That he that hath the Sovereign Power, is subject to thecivill
Lawes." Against this "absolutism"
Luther insists that rulers are indeed bound by their word. He said,
"If it should happen that we sign a treaty or pact with our enemies
or the Turks, then the emperor and the princes could both give and
receive an oath-even though the Turk swears by the devil or
Mohammed, whom he regards and worships as his god, the way we
worship our Lord Christ and swear by him."
 He opposed the notion that anybody, even the pope, had the
right to free a ruler from a treaty. And he was convinced that God
through judgments in history would punish the ruler as well as the
subjects for their disobedience to law. God uses the princes to
punish the subjects and uses other rulers to punish faithless
princes. Thus Luther saw in the defeat and death of King Ladislas
of Hungary in the battle of Varna (November 10, 1444) a judgment of
God over this ruler for the breach of a peace treaty which he had
signed in 1443 and which he had broken upon the advice of the
papacy, with tragic results for himself and his
people. The law is binding for
rulers as well as the ruled because even in its political use it is
ultimately rooted in God's will. Thus it has an inherent validity
quite apart from the sanctions with which the government enforces
it. It is, indeed, the task of the government to enforce the law,
but should it fail to do so, such a failure would ultimately not
destroy the neglected law but the neglectful government. Luther
said, "For every kingdom (Reich) must have its own laws and
statutes; without law no kingdom or government can survive, as
everyday experience amply shows."
 It is apparent that Luther has a great deal of respect for
the political function of the law. But what specifically does he
mean by this law as it operates in the area of politics? Obviously
it is not a code which could be substituted for the positive laws
as they are part of the social structure of every civilized nation.
Luther never claimed that he had at his disposal some superior
legal code which could be substituted for the existing statutes and
thus bring about political improvement. He suggested rather that
God had revealed the law to all people and that "what the law
requires is written on their hearts" (Rom 2:15) and thus undergirds
all positive laws and is their permanent criterion.
 When he attempted to define this underlying law he used the
so-called "golden rule." He said, "All men have a certain natural
knowledge implanted in their minds (Rom. 2:14-15), by which they
know naturally that one should do to others what he wants done to
himself (Matt. 7:12). This principle and others like it, which we
call the law of nature, are the foundations of human law and of all
 Another form in which this basic demand which undergirds
all human society can be expressed is the command "You shall love
your neighbor as yourself." Luther commented:
It is a brief statement,
expressed beautifully and forcefully: "You shall love your neighbor
as yourself." No one can find a better, surer, or more available
pattern than himself; nor can there be a nobler or more profound
attitude of the mind than love; nor is there a more excellent
object than one's neighbor. . . . Thus if you want to know how the
neighbor is to be loved and want to have an outstanding pattern of
this, consider carefully how you love yourself. In need or danger
you would certainly want desperately to be loved and assisted with
all the counsels, resources, and powers not only of all men but of
all creation. And so you do not need any book to instruct and
admonish you how you should love your neighbor, for you have the
loveliest and best of books about all laws right in your own
 To Luther all this is not a particularly Christian insight
but actually available to all people. I do not have to be a
Christian in order to understand the "golden rule." Neither do I
have to be a believer to be impressed by the inherent logic of
evaluating my responsibility for others in the light of my obvious
and demonstrable concern for myself. This is a better and more
universal standard than any ever-so-detailed code of laws, which of
necessity will sooner or later be out of date. Luther says, "For if
you seek to take an advantage of your neighbor which you would not
want him to take of you, then love is gone and natural law
 The existing statutory laws must be evaluated with the help
of the underlying standards here described and in view of the needs
of the contemporary situation. This re-examination involves the law
of Moses as well as the ethical teachings and codes of law that
come to us from pagan writers. Luther stated that we are free from
the political laws of the Mosaic code but subject to the laws of
the government under which we happen to live. But he added that the
German monarchs could, if they so desired, utilize some of these
Mosaic political laws for the administration of their empire. They
would then become binding for the citizensof the
empire. Of course, he
Moses' law cannot be valid
simply and completely in all respects with us. We have to take into
consideration the character and ways of our land when we want to
make or apply laws and rules, because our rules and laws are based
on the character of our land and its ways and not on those of the
land of Moses, just as Moses' laws are based on the ways and
character or his people and not those of ours.
 His judgment concerning the pagan laws was quite similar.
Before justification many
good men even among the pagans-such as Xenophon, Aristides, Fabius,
Cicero, Pomponius Atticus, etc.-performed the works of the Law and
accomplished great things. Cicero suffered death courageously in a
righteous and good cause. Pomponius was a man of integrity and
veracity; for he himself never lied, and he could not bear it if
 These people were gifted with heroic virtues, ruled their
countries well and in the interest of the common
good. Obviously, even the pagan
law expressed the undergirding structure of the divine will for the
preservation of humankind. But while Luther could say, "The [books
of the pagans] teach virtue, laws, and wisdom with respect to
temporal goods, honor, and peaceon earth," he never advocated merely
a return to these books. The political use of the law implies that
the statutes must be adjusted to present needs. It is not
sufficient for laws to be old; they must also meet the contemporary
 In order to achieve this goal Luther made suggestions which
always shock those who know only his great theological concerns. It
is well-known that in the relationship of human beings to God
Luther considered "reason" the very enemy of salvation. Yet while
reason is incompetent in our relationship to God and cannot reach
him, Luther is convinced that this very same reason is an essential
tool in the ordering of human affairs: "In the human affairs of
this world man's reason suffices. He needs no other light than
reason. God does not teach in scripture how to build houses and to
make clothes, marry, make war and similar things. For these the
natural light [of reason] is sufficient."
 For Luther the area of law is the area of reason, "Human
reason has the Law as its object." The
same person who is
drowned in wickedness and is
a slave of the devil has a will, reason, free choice, and power to
build a house, to carry on a governmental office, to steer a ship,
and to do other tasks that have been made subject to man according
to Gen. 1:28; these have not been taken away from man. Procreation,
government, and the home have not been abolished.
And, "In the worldly kingdom (weltlichen Reich) men must act on
the basis of reason-wherein the laws have their origin-for God has
subjected temporal rule and all of physical life to
 And the careful use of reason will produce some success in
its proper sphere. Luther says, "To some extent reason is able to
perform [civil righteousness]." Here
is room even for the efforts of the much-maligned Aristotle.
Luther's sharp criticism of the complete dependence upon Aristotle
of the scholastic theologians has often been quoted. He considered
the rule of Aristotle at the universities one of the reasons for
the sorry state of Christendom. But he was prepared to admit that
it is really the misuse of Aristotle for theological purposes which
is at fault.
The sophists [Luther's term
for scholastic theologians] . . . do not know of any other
righteousness than civil righteousness or the righteousness of the
Law, which is known in some measure even to the heathen. Therefore
they snatch the words "do," "work," and the like, from moral
philosophy and from the Law, and transfer them to theology, where
they act in a way that is not only evil but ungodly. Philosophy and
theology must be carefully distinguished.
 'To do' means one thing in philosophy and something else
again in theology. In moral philosophy 'to do' requires a good will
(bonam voluntatem) and right reason (rectam rationem). This is as
far as philosophy can go. Thus it will help the welfare and peace
of the commonwealth. But it is important to note that the pagan
philosophers do not claim that with their "right reason" and "good
will" they can achieve the remission of sins and everlasting life.
But, Luther says, this is exactly what the sophist and the monk
hope to achieve with their works. "Therefore a heathen philosopher
is much better than a self-righteous person." "In civil life . . . one
becomes a doer on the basis of deeds, just as one becomes a
lutenist by often playing the lute, as Aristotle
 In the realm of politics it is perfectly proper to
establish good habits by law. People may not become better before
God if they do not steal or murder in fear of the police and the
law, but their communities will become safer nevertheless. And as
the result of their restraint certain behavior patterns may become
established which will cover men and women with a thin coat of
civic decency. Here Aristotle's advice can be taken quite
seriously. Luther was aware how thin this veneer of civic justice
is at best and how difficult it is to maintain. Here wisdom and
courage are needed, and Luther can sound like a Greek philosopher
when he says,
In the political realm
(politia) prudence and fortitude are different....And yet they
stick together so closely that they cannot be easily separated. Now
fortitude is a steadiness of mind, which does not despair in the
midst of adversity but endures bravely and looks for better things.
But unless fortitude is directed by prudence, it becomes rashness;
on the other hand, unless fortitude is added to prudence, prudence
 In view of this prudential approach to matters political we
cannot be surprised that Luther wrote: "A prince must have the law
as firmly in hand as the sword, and determine in his own mind when
and where the law is to be applied strictly or with moderation, so
that the law may prevail at all times and in all cases, and reason
may be the highest law and the master of all administration of
 And in another book he wrote:
In Greek this virtue, or
wisdom, which can and must guide and moderate the severity of law
according to cases, and which judges the same deed to be good or
evil according to the difference of the motives and intentions of
the heart, is called epieikeia; in Latin it is aequitas, and
Billichkeit [justice] in German. Now because law must be framed
simply and briefly, it cannot possibly embrace all the cases and
problems. This is why the judges and lords must be wise and pious
in this matter and mete out reasonable justice, and let the law
take its course, or set it aside, accordingly. . . . All laws that
regulate men's actions must be subject to justice [Billichkeit],
their mistress, because of the innumerable and varied circumstances
which no one can anticipate or set down.
 We have discovered that Luther identifies the law in its
political use rather broadly with the golden rule. It must be used
in this world with the help of reason, prudence, and equity. And it
is sound policy in dealing with it to take into account the wisdom
of the ages, be it the Mosaic law or the political philosophy of
the ancient Greeks and Romans. The question arises, "How does the
Christian fit into this 'political use' of the law?" In order to
find an answer to this question it has to be remembered that for
Luther nobody is ever a Christian in a static sense. The Christian
life is actually the process of becoming Christian. As such it is
an ongoing process completely dominated by the initiative of God.
This life, therefore, is not
godliness but the process of becoming godly, not health but getting
well, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not now
what we shall be, but we are on the way. The process is not
finished, but it is actively going on. This is not the goal but it
is the right road. At present, everything does not gleam and
sparkle, but everything is being cleansed.
In other words, it must be remembered that the Christian remains
all during her or his life simul justus et peccator. Thus the
Christian (homo Christianus) is righteous and sinner at the same
time, holy and profane, an enemy of God and a child of
 Luther suggested that the historical sequence of the age of
law and the age of grace is experienced by each individual
Christian simultaneously. Believers live at the same time in the
age of law and in the age of grace.
For what happened
historically and temporally when Christ came-namely, that He
abrogated the Law and brought liberty and eternal life to
light-this happens personally and spiritually every day in any
Christian, in whom there are found the time of Law and the time of
grace in constant alteration. . . . In the experience of the
Christian, therefore, both are found, the time of Law and the time
 Insofar as they are sinners, Christians are subject to the
law with all its restraining power and everything that Luther has
said about the political use of the law applies to Christians as
well. It is true, of course, that Luther did occasionally suggest
that no government would be necessary if all people were altogether
Christian. But since it is a
fundamental assertion of his theology that all Christians are still
in the process of becoming Christians, the law is obviously valid
for them also. As a result all special exemptions from the
political law for the clergy, so much a part of the political
pattern of the medieval world, were rejected by Luther. As early as
the Open Letter to the Christian Nobility of l520 Luther wrote: "I
say therefore that since the temporal power is ordained of God to
punish the wicked and protect the good, it should be left free to
perform its office in the whole body of Christendom without
restriction and without respect to persons, whether it affect pope,
bishops, priests, monks, nuns, or anyone else."
 All people, Christians and non‑Christians alike, are
subject to the political use of the law.
 But Luther did believe that the Christians as Christians
had a special relationship to the law. Believers know that God is
at work through the law. They will understand, praise, and support
the law in its political function as an instrument of God's
preserving grace. Thus Luther says,
When I have this
righteousness within me, I descend from heaven like the rain that
makes the earth fertile. That is, I come forth into another
kingdom, and I perform good works whenever the opportunity arises.
If I am a minister of the Word, I preach, I comfort the saddened, I
administer the sacraments. If I am a father, I rule my household
and family, I train my children in piety and honesty. If I am a
magistrate, I perform the office which I have received by divine
command. If I am a servant, I faithfully tend to my master's
affairs. In short, whoever knows for sure Christ is his
righteousness not only cheerfully and gladly works in his calling
but also submits himself for the sake of love (per charitatem) to
magistrates, also to their wicked laws, and to everything else in
this present life-even, if need be, to burden and danger. For he
knows that God wants this and that this obedience pleases
 Thus Christians are indeed under the law in its political
use, but knowing God in Jesus Christ they accept their political
duties in the light of their knowledge of God. Even these political
duties are then opportunities for greater service, not in order to
attain justification but rather because justification has been
Since a true Christian lives
and labors on earth not for himself alone but for his neighbor, he
does by the very nature of his spirit even what he himself has no
need of, but is needful and useful to his neighbor. Because the
sword is most beneficial and necessary for the whole world in order
to preserve peace, punish sin, and restrain the wicked, the
Christian submits most willingly to the rule of the sword, pays his
taxes, honors those in authority, serves, helps, and does all he
can to assist the governing authority, that it may continue to
function and be held in honor and fear. Although he has no need of
these things for himself-to him they are not
essential-nevertheless, he concerns himself about what is
serviceable and of benefit to others, as Paul teaches in Ephesians
 A Christian person does her or his political duty as all
other works of love: "He does not visit the sick in order that he
himself may be made well, or feed others because he himself needs
food-so he serves the governing authority not because he needs it
but for the sake of others, that they may be protected and that the
wicked may not become worse."
 Luther believed that being a Christian will make a person a
better citizen, more alert and willing to do political duties as a
service to God and the neighbor. For the person saved by the
gospel, all the real and remaining obligations of the law are
suffused and redeemed by a new relationship to God. But Luther
realized also that his polemics against justification by the works
of the law might easily lead some of his listeners to claim that
the law did not apply to them at all. His claim that works do not
save might easily be misunderstood to mean that those who were
saved should do no works. No wonder he said,
It is difficult and
dangerous to teach that we are justified by faith without works and
yet to require works at the same time. Unless the ministers of
Christ are faithful and prudent here and are "stewards of the
mysteries of God" (1 Cor. 4:1), who rightly divide the Word of
truth (2 Tim. 2:15), they will immediately confuse faith and love
at this point. Both topics, faith and works, must be carefully
taught and emphasized, but in such a way that they both remain
within their limits. Otherwise, if works alone are taught, as
happened under the papacy, faith is lost. If faith alone is taught,
unspiritual men will immediately suppose that works are not
 Luther taught both faith and works. But he considered the
area of politics preeminently the area of law and of works. Human
beings' responsibility in the field of politics must be seen in the
light of their obligations under the law. Because no one can escape
the law, no one can escape political duties. A homo sapiens under
the law is homo politicus, the political person. As such, persons
are called to do their duty in foreign and domestic
© January 2002
Journal of Lutheran Ethics (JLE)
Volume 2, Issue 1
 LW 31:51.
 LW 31:51.
 WA 10/3:333.
 Lectures on Galatians (1535), LW
 Ibid., 115.
 Ibid., 115-116.
 Ibid., 148.
 Ibid., 149.
 Ibid., 150.
 Ibid., 338-339.
 Ibid., 308.
 Ibid., 308-309.
 Ibid., 308-309.
 A Sermon On Keeping Children in
School, LW 46:237.
 Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. A.
R. Waller (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1935) 146.
 Reinhold Niebuhr, The Children of
Light and the Children of Darkness (New York: Charles Scribner's
Sons, 1946) 45.
 N. Machiavelli, The Prince and
Other Works (New York: Farrar, Straus, 1941) 148.
 Hobbes, Leviathan, 235.
 The Sermon on the Mount
(1530-1532), LW 21:102.
 Defense and Explanation of All
the Articles (1521), LW 32:90.
 Temporal Authority (1523), LW
 Lectures on Galatians, LW
 Ibid., 57.
 Trade and Usury, LW 45:307.
 Lectures on Galatians, LW
 On Marriage Matters (1530), LW
 Lectures on Galatians, LW
 Ibid., 354.
 Psalm 101
 Christmas Postil (1522), WA
 Lectures on Galatians, LW
 Ibid., 174.
 A Sermon on Keeping Children in
School, LW 46:242
 Lectures on Galatians, LW
 Ibid., 261.4
 Ibid., 262.
 Ibid., 256.
 Lectures on Galatians, LW
 Temporal Authority, LW
 Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be
Saved (1526), LW 46:102-103.
 Defense and Explanation, LW
 Lectures on Galatians, LW
 Ibid., 340-341.
 Temporal Authority, LW 45:89.
 To the Christian Nobility (1520),
LW 44:130. For the Roman Catholic claims for special privileges for
the clergy see Karl Mirbt, Quellen zur Geschichte des Papsttums und
des römischen Katholizismus, 3rd ed. (Tübingen: Mohr,
1911) 161 and 285 (exemption from taxes); 112, 149, 285, 350, 54
(exemption from trial in secular courts).
 Lectures on Galatians, LW
 Temporal Authority, LW 45:94.
 Ibid., 94.
 Lectures on Galatians, LW
 [See below, "Luther's Theology
and Foreign Policy," 96-107. Ed.]
 [See below, "Luther's Theology
and Domestic Politics," 108-122. Ed.]