On Christian Liberty
The Roman Catholic Church has a long history of strife and reformation to establish its teachings as a legitimate instrument and reflection of God’s words. Perhaps the earliest major struggle which the Church experienced was the time when Martin Luther’s written works have been published. His work such as the 95 Theses became the first publication which was mass-produced with the help of the first printing press. This particular work of Martin Luther fearlessly expressed unfavorable views of the Church’s policies during the 16th century.
In light of this work, his advocacy for reformation became a commitment for Luther in attempt to correct and change the practices of the Catholic Church to enable the Christian faith to cater effectively to its followers. Throughout his advocacy, one of his most famous and controversial works would have to be On Christian Liberty. Written around 1520, this was an elaborative work in his pursuance for reformation. Aside from this, Luther’s advocacy played a significant role in the coming events within German society where his teachings have been derived as an inspiration.
One particular event was the uprising of the peasants whose motivation stemmed from Martin Luther’s preaching. In the course of this event it will be seen how influential the role of Martin Luther and his works have been for the changes occurring to the Church and to society at that time. The Christian Liberty became one of the main sources where the peasant upheavals emerged originated from the teachings indicated on the book and materialized their interpretation through the war. It would be essential before delving into the discussion On Christian Liberty that the origins of Martin Luther should be given attention first.
By relating these origins, the social condition during that time will be eventually discussed where the main analysis for the book On Christian Liberty are derived. After these have been pointed out in the discussion, the effects of this work and how it came to influence one of the bloodiest wars in German history will be taken into account. This is to have a further understanding of the reason why the war took place and to delve into how Martin Luther’s reaction changed from one point to the other regarding the upheaval.
Prior to the rise of Martin Luther’s advocacy, the Catholic Church had policies which were more of profit-building in nature to either establish or renovate religious infrastructures in order to strengthen and making their power more visible. Such policies include collecting “indulgences” where people pay the church in exchange for letters of indulgences which served as an individual’s evidence of gradually reducing his or her punishment for the sins committed (Oberman & Schwarzbart, 1982, p. 75).
Since the indulgence is a continuous cycle which individual should possess, the Church preached that sins will be forgiven by doing good deeds and one primary act of doing a good work is through charity given to the church. The money received for these were utilized as funds for construction and given as income for the Church officials. At the height of peddling indulgences in Germany, Martin Luther was not able to resist to voice out his distaste regarding this. He wrote a letter to the church officials saying about his opinion against indulgence in which developed to be known as the 95 Theses.
The manner in which he conveyed his views was not to attack the church itself but on the practices of the Church which Luther deemed as abusive and oppressive and do not have any foundation coming from the church’s dogma or the bible. The criticisms made by Luther towards indulgences had not been the first one, there were previous antagonism posed by other officials against these letters. However, what made Luther’s work famous was due to the help of mass-production of his letter made possible by the printing press.
The mass-production helped the Luther’s publication to spread across Germany and throughout Europe. He became recognized as the spear-header of reformation where his opinion regarding the church’s practices were considered as effective ways of bringing innovative changes to the church. Luther proceeded to preach around the country bringing new perspective to the church’s teachings which were being disregarded because of the personal interests clouding within the rulers of the church thus, polluting the faith with corruption.
Martin Luther felt that the corruption of the church lies on its focus on worldly goals such as the grand construction of churches and the indulgences. He wanted to somehow preach another perspective of the Christian concepts such as salvation, to be able to bring the Catholic teachings closer to the people. Luther became known because of his teachings which challenged not just the current church practices at that time but as well as the authority of the higher religious officials, especially the ones who benefited the most from the indulgences.
As his teachings got more recognized, the Reformation movement has been established in order to materialize the ideas which can be seen in his works such as Addressed to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation and On Christian Liberty. His fame and the growing number of people who opted to believe Luther’s teachings over the current practices enraged the Catholic Church. Luther’s continuous defense against the accusations of the Pope led to his excommunication on 1521. On Christian Liberty has been a significant work igniting the Reformation movement.
In 1520, Luther wrote the book at the height of his preaching. The book opened with Martin Luther’s letter to the pope at that time – Pope Leo X. Though a part of it was a form of retaliation to the pope’s personal criticism against Luther, the latter emphasized more on the corruption that was taking place all over the Catholic institution which is the primary cause of the fall of the church. He then proceeded to discuss what it means to be a Christian encompassed by freedom.
Luther encapsulated his discussion with two contradicting statements: “A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all and subject to everyone” (Luther, 2006, p. 22). This refers to a follower free from the oppressing nature of law such as slavery, in which one can experience the goodness of life instead of the sufferings thus embracing Christ’s salvation. By the time the believer has been embraced by God’s kindness, he or she should share this to everyone with the duty of spreading God’s justice and holiness to every people.
Luther’s work on On Christian Liberty was released at the pinnacle of the Reformation movement. The movement with the sole purpose of making drastic changes into society became attacking traditional sectors of the society such as its noble rulers and the church officials. A decline to the respect for conservatives brought aggressive methods to be able to make the reforms to take place as soon as possible. One such event included the Peasants War which occurred around 1525. This was the time after Martin Luther faced excommunication and was living in exile.
The revolts first started as peaceful with no bloodshed as the peasants, middle-class, and some disenfranchised nobles proclaimed their satisfaction by publishing their demands in a publication entitled Twelve Articles of Upper Swabia (McKim, 2003, p. 184). These demands encompassed their desire to end slavery so all of them can have the freedom to earn for their own living. Following the pattern of Luther’s way of voicing out his views, the Twelve Articles were written in the vernacular language which was easy to understand and copies were printed and distributed.
It became popular most especially to the common people who shared the same sentiments and therefore, joined the peasants’ advocacy. From the nonviolent means created by the peasants, Martin Luther supported their cause and was sympathetic to their advocacy. He was able to even to contact them personally and wrote several essays to support the peasants. Among them was the Admonition to Peace which he pointed the blame of the peasants’ suffering to the royalties (McKim, p. 185). He propagated the demands of the peasants through his works and rigorously encouraged them to continue the fights.
However, after several days, the situation of the war had completely changed into a brutal exchange of violence. Convents and Churches were burned; people were killed as the government made a move to stop the peasants. Martin Luther was surprised by the sudden turn of events and was deeply outraged by all the violence. After a month of publishing the Admonition to Peace, Luther wrote Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants in which he stated that although the peasants have reasonable grievances their behavior was not justifiable (McKim, 2003, p.
185). Martin Luther firmly stated that their violence is unforgivable by God and he urged the government to stop the riots of the peasants to avoid further damage. The last action done by Martin Luther left most of the peasants felt betrayed. For one, they have looked up to Luther as the vanguard of bringing change into the oppressive German society ruled by the greed of the nobles and the church officials.
Through his writings, especially the On Christian Liberty, he made a powerful impact that to attain the freedom of the people, it will be deeply supported by the Reformation movement and by Luther himself. As mentioned earlier, Luther gave his sympathies to the peasants but retracted it after witnessing the violence. Luther’s firm contradiction against the oppression of the nobles inflicted a powerful urge to revolt and that an aggressive battle was necessary to be able to uphold freedom in every Christian. Luther sympathized with the peasants because he was aware of their sufferings.
One way or another, he had criticized the elites and religious officials because of the oppressive methods that they incurred to the suffering people. However, as a theologian who upholds the value of life and promotes goodness as God’s manifestation of justice and piety, Luther immediately antagonized the peasants when violence spread around Germany, costing many lives and damaged properties. He cannot absolutely tolerate and support people who call themselves Christians but are deeply engaged in immoralities.
Though he believed that the peasants fought for a reasonable cause, violence is unacceptable. A Christian is liberated when he or she manifested the goodness of God and from that, the peasants failed to do. References Luther, M. (2006) Concerning Christian Liberty. USA: ReadHowYouWant. com. McKim, D. K. (2003). The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press. Oberman, H. A. , & Walliser-Schwarzbart, E. (1982). Luther. USA: Yale University Press.Sample Essay of StudyFaq.com