The Political Use of Law

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.

[1] 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.[1]
[2] 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 church.

[3] 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.

[4] 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.

[5] 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.

[6] 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.

[7] 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.

[8] 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

[9] 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.”[2] 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 medicine.”[3]

[10] 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.

[11] 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 that.[4]
[12] 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 salvation.

[13] 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.”[5] And this is the method he proposes,

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.[6]
[14] 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 a leaf.”[7]

[15] It is the function of the law, “to render us naked and guilty”;[8] “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.”[9] The Law produces worry (perturbatio) and anxiety (anxietas). This is, indeed, the mental prison from which only Christ can make us free.[10]

[16] 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.

[17] 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 along.[11]
[18] 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.”[12]

[19] 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 (saeverissime) required.”[13] For,

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 beasts.[14]
[20] 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.[15]
[21] 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 Luther.”[16]

[22] 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.[17]
[23] 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.”[18] 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.”[19]

[24] 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.[20] 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.”[21]

[25] 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.

[26] 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 good works.”[22]

[27] 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 heart.[23]
[28] 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 broken.”[24]

[29] 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.[25] Of course, he said,

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.[26]
[30] His judgment concerning the pagan laws was quite similar. Luther said:

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 others did.[27]
[31] These people were gifted with heroic virtues, ruled their countries well and in the interest of the common good.[28] 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,”[29] 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 situation.

[32] 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.”[30]

[33] For Luther the area of law is the area of reason, “Human reason has the Law as its object.”[31] 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.[32]
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 reason.”[33]

[34] 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].”[34] 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.[35]
[35] ‘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.”[36] “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 says.”[37]

[36] 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 is useless.[38]
[37] 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 law.”[39]

[38] 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.[40]
[39] 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. Luther says,

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.[41]
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 God.”[42]

[40] 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 of grace.[43]
[41] 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.[44] 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.”[45]

[42] All people, Christians and non‑Christians alike, are subject to the political use of the law.

[43] 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 Him.[46]

[44] 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 granted.

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 5:21‑6:9.[47]
[45] 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.”[48]

[46] 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 necessary.[49]
[47] 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[50] and domestic [51]politics.

[1] LW 31:51.

[2] LW 31:51.

[3] WA 10/3:333.

[4] Lectures on Galatians (1535), LW 26:208-209.

[5] Ibid., 115.

[6] Ibid., 115-116.

[7] Ibid., 148.

[8] Ibid., 149.

[9] Ibid., 150.

[10] Ibid., 338-339.

[11] Ibid., 308.

[12] Ibid., 308-309.

[13] Ibid., 308-309.

[14] A Sermon On Keeping Children in School, LW 46:237.

[15] Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. A. R. Waller (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1935) 146.

[16] Reinhold Niebuhr, The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1946) 45.

[17] N. Machiavelli, The Prince and Other Works (New York: Farrar, Straus, 1941) 148.

[18] Hobbes, Leviathan, 235.

[19] The Sermon on the Mount (1530-1532), LW 21:102.

[20] Defense and Explanation of All the Articles (1521), LW 32:90.

[21] Temporal Authority (1523), LW 45:105.

[22] Lectures on Galatians, LW 27:53.

[23] Ibid., 57.

[24] Trade and Usury, LW 45:307.

[25] Lectures on Galatians, LW 26:447.

[26] On Marriage Matters (1530), LW 46:291.

[27] Lectures on Galatians, LW 26:123-124.

[28] Ibid., 354.

[29] Psalm 101 (1534-1535), LW, 13:199.

[30] Christmas Postil (1522), WA 10/1/1:531.

[31] Lectures on Galatians, LW 26:88.

[32] Ibid., 174.

[33] A Sermon on Keeping Children in School, LW 46:242

[34] Lectures on Galatians, LW 26:183.

[35] Ibid., 261.4

[36] Ibid., 262.

[37] Ibid., 256.

[38] Lectures on Galatians, LW 27:23.

[39] Temporal Authority, LW 45:119.

[40] Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved (1526), LW 46:102-103.

[41] Defense and Explanation, LW 32:24.

[42] Lectures on Galatians, LW 26:232.

[43] Ibid., 340-341.

[44] Temporal Authority, LW 45:89.

[45] 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).

[46] Lectures on Galatians, LW 26:11-12.

[47] Temporal Authority, LW 45:94.

[48] Ibid., 94.

[49] Lectures on Galatians, LW 27:62-63.

[50] [See below, “Luther’s Theology and Foreign Policy,” 96-107. Ed.]

[51] [See below, “Luther’s Theology and Domestic Politics,” 108-122. Ed.]