Luther (1483 - 1546), Calvin (1509 - 1564), the Reformation etc





                                                        Return to: Notes on Luther and Calvin


(i) Martin Luther:


The individual relationship with God:

"I, ashes...speak with the living God. This cannot but cause one to tremble."


Passive obedience:

"the princes of this world are gods, the common pepole are Satan, through whom God sometimes does what at other times he does directly through Satan, that is, make rebellion as a punishment for the peoples' sins."

"I would rather suffer a prince doing wrong than a people doing right."

[if a prince commands you to do wrong:] "it is not fitting that Lucifer should sit at the side of God", [i.e. you should disobey; but if you are punished for disobedience you must submit and:] "thank God that you are worthy to suffer for the divine word" [tyranny] "is not to be resisted, but endured"


Secular power cannot control the spiritual:

"Heresy cannot be kept off by force. For that another tool is needed, and it is another quarrel and conflict than that of the sword. God's word must contend here. If that avail nothing, temporal power will never settle the matter, though it fill the world with blood."


Luther's reply to questioning of his right to challenge orthodox views - the individual conscience is final:

"Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe....Here I stand. I can no other."


The "priesthood of all believers":

(on the alleged distinction between religious and secular)

"To call popes, bishops, priests, monks and nuns, the religious order, but princes, lords, artisans, and farm-workers the secular estate, is a specious device invented by certain time-servers; but no one ought to be frightened by it, and for good reason.


For all Christians whatsoever really and truly belong to the religious order, and there is no difference among them except in so far as they do different work... Hence we deduce that there is, at bottom, really no other difference between laymen, priests, princes, bishops, or, in Romanist terminology, between religious and secular, than that of office and occupation, and not that of Christian status... A shoemaker, a smith, a farmer, each has his manual occupation and work; and yet, at the same time, all are eligible to act as priests and bishops... Hence one says to the pope and his adherents, "Tu ora", Thou shalt pray; but to the emperor and his minister, "To protege", Thou shalt protect; and to the ordinary man, "Tu labora", Thou shalt work. Not as if praying and protecting and working were not each man's duty, for he who fulfils his own task, prays, protects and labours..."



Luther on sedition (aimed particularly at the anabaptists):

"any man against whom it can be proved that he is a maker of sedition is outside the law of God and Empire, so that the first who can slay him is doing right and well. For as when a fire starts, the first to put it out is the best man. For rebellion is not a simple murder, but is like a great fire, which attacks and lays waste a whole land... Therefore let everyone who can, smite, slay and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful or devilish than a rebel. It is just as when one must kill a mad dog; if you do not strike him, he will strike you, and a whole land with you...

          I will not oppose a ruler who, even though he does not tolerate the Gospel, will smite and punish these peasants without offering to submit the case to judgement... If he can punish and does not - even though the punishment consist in the taking of life and the shedding of blood - then he is guilty of all the murder and all the evil which these fellows commit...


(ii) Jean Calvin:


the separation of spiritual and political:

"Let us first consider that there is a twofold government in man: one aspect is spiritual, whereby the conscience is instructed in piety and in reverencing God; the second is political, whereby man is educated for the duties of humanity and citizenship that must be maintained among men... the former resides in the inner mind, while the latter regulates only outward behaviour."


obedience, and non-resistance, to secular authority:

"In a very wicked man utterly unworthy of honour, provided he has the public power in his hands, that noble and divine power resides which the Lord has by His Word given to the ministers of his justice and judgement. Accordingly, he should be held in the same reverence and esteem by his subjects, in so far as public obedience is concerned, in which they would hold the best of kings if he were given to them.

          I have heard that some are debating among themselves whether, if an atrocity is committed against them, they would resort to violence... you suffer in a righteous cause, and one in which God has promised that he will stand by you. But he has not armed you to resist those who are established to govern.

     [but] if a king or prince or magistrate conducts himself in such a way as to diminish the honour and right of God, he becomes nothing more than an ordinary man."




the role of the law in protecting the church:

"If we see it to be necessary in all companies of men that there should be some police to keep peace and concord between them, if in all things there must be some order, to preserve a public civility and even humanity among men, then these things ought most of all to be observed in the Churches, which are maintained primarily by good order, and by discord are altogether disintegrated.... But since there are such great contrarieties of mind and of judgement between men, no police could hold together among them if it were not determined by certain laws, and no order could well maintain itself without some certain form. So far from rejecting laws that tend to this end, we indeed assert that, without them, the Churches would be dissipated and deformed... Nevertheless, we must always take vigilant care in such observances, that they should not be held necessary to salvation, to bind men's consciences, and that the honour and service of God be not supposed to depend upon them, as though true piety resided therein."






man's sinfulness:

"Now, that our iniquity and condemnation is proven... this is not so that we should fall into despair and, having lost courage, abandon ourselves to ruin... God has imprisoned all in unbelief, not in order to destroy them or even to allow them to perish, but to grant mercy to all; namely, to the end that, putting away all vain thought of their virtue, they may realise that they are upheld only by his hand. Nay more, that, being altogether empty and destitute, they should fall back upon his mercy."