Download this Paper Open PDF in Browser

Between Sanctity and Depravity: Human Dignity in Protestant Perspective

14 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2005  

John Witte Jr.

Emory University School of Law


This Article argues that Martin Luther's classic tract, Freedom of a Christian (1520) had a shaping influence on modern theories of human dignity, liberty, and equality. For Luther, the essence of human dignity lies in the juxtaposition of human depravity and human sanctity. Human dignity is something of a divine fulcrum that keeps our depravity and sanctity in balance. The essence of human freedom is our right and duty to serve God, neighbor, and self, and to do so with the ominous assurance of divine judgment. Human freedom is the divine calling that keeps our individuality and community in balance. While Luther did not draw out the radical implications of his theory for law, politics, and society, later Protestants did, eventually rendering Protestantism a formidable force for the construction of modern Western theories of law, liberty, and democracy.

Keywords: Martin Luther, human dignity, liberty, equality

Suggested Citation

Witte, John, Between Sanctity and Depravity: Human Dignity in Protestant Perspective. IN DEFENSE OF HUMAN DIGNITY: ESSAYS FOR OUR TIMES, Robert P. Kraynak and Glenn Tinder, eds., Notre Dame/London: University of Notre Dame Press, pp. 119-138, 2004. Available at SSRN:

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)

Paper statistics

Abstract Views