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Freedom of a Christian: the Lutheran Reformation as Revolution

John Witte Jr.

Emory University School of Law


Journal of the Historical Society, Vol. 2, No. 3, pp. 109-121, Summer 2001

The Protestant Revolution began as a religious reform in Germany, and ended in a political revolution on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. The Reformation ideals of human freedom, equality, and dignity paved the way for democratic revolutions. The Reformation was a call for freedom of the church from the tyranny of the pope. Ecclesiastical authority was denunciated, the laity was freed from the clergy, and the Bible was translated to a vernacular language in a culmination of reformist ideas.

The Lutheran Reformation was the birthplace of several theological principles, the best examples of which was Luther’s “Freedom of a Christian.” Luther attacked the false dignity of leadership of church and state, claiming that nobles were blinded by arrogance. Luther’s work was a declaration for human freedom, regardless of rank, because every person is a saint and a sinner, righteous and reprobate, lord and servant.
Luther did not go so far as to advocate political freedom. Spiritual freedom can exist with political bondage due to Luther’s theory of two kingdoms. Christians are citizens of both the earthly and spiritual kingdom. People are sinful by nature and prone to evil; thus, they need the deterrence from evil and incentive to repentance. Power must therefore be distributed among the branches of government to prevent abuses.

Harold J. Berman defined the Protestant Revolution as a fundamental change. Even though the Revolution did not affect everyone in Germany at the time the Revolution occurred, its effects are still felt today. The Protestant Revolution created ripples that led to the tidal waves of revolution that swept across the Western World.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 13

Keywords: Protestant Revolution, Lutheran Revolution, Germany, Martin Luther, political freedom, spiritual freedom

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Date posted: May 26, 2011  

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Witte, John, Freedom of a Christian: the Lutheran Reformation as Revolution (2001). Journal of the Historical Society, Vol. 2, No. 3, pp. 109-121, Summer 2001. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1851143

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John Witte Jr. (Contact Author)
Emory University School of Law ( email )
1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States
404-727-6980 (Phone)
404-712-8605 (Fax)
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