Of the freedom of a Christian

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Title Page of Scripture (1520)

Von der Freyheyt eyniß Christen Menschen ( Latin title: De libertate christiana ) is the title of a memorandum by Martin Luther from 1520. The work is one ofLuther'sso-called Reformation main writings and one of the most important publications of the Reformation period . The Latin and German versions of the memorandum differ in length and content.


The occasion for the writing was the papal bull threatening excommunication, Exsurge Domine, dated June 15, 1520. The former papal envoy Karl von Miltitz from Saxony tried to mediate the dispute between Luther and the papacy by asking Luther to write a letter of reconciliation to Pope Leo X. and a small pamphlet dedicated to the Pope. According to Luther, the German version of the script was addressed to Hermann Mühlpfordt, the mayor of Zwickau in Saxony , because he had heard of him and wanted to get to know him.

Cause and direction

In the Middle Ages, numerous innovators rebelled against a morally depraved church. They wanted to correct the erroneous history (Latin corrigere ), restore the early church ( restituere ), renew an encrusted doctrine ( renovare ) and redesign the ecclesiastical offices ( reformare ). In 1520 the Reformation had been going on for several years. Martin Luther's writing Von der Freyheyt eyniß Christen Menschen  is the third of his main Reformation writings .

The old concept of “ God's righteousness ” was deeply hated by Martin Luther. His old concept of justice was based on the idea of iusititia distributiva ("distributing justice"). According to this concept of justice, everyone gets what he is entitled to ( suum cuique - everyone is his). There was an abundance of traditional guidelines, customs and regulations that were so misunderstood that a person would be able to give the life answer to Christ's work of justification by fulfilling confessional requirements and piety exercises (acts of love, but also the veneration of relics, indulgences or measuring). Martin Luther didn't believe that. On the contrary - until the discovery of grace he himself had always suffered from the awareness of his sinfulness and the impending judgment. He knew the guilty conscience, failure at the commandments and fear of damnation.

"If a person has learned and felt his inability from the commandments, so that he is now afraid of how he can satisfy the commandment - especially since the commandment must be fulfilled or he must be condemned - then he is quite humiliated and destroyed in his eyes, there is nothing in him with which he will be good "

- D. Martin Luther : On the 9th:

“If you persisted down to your heels with nothing but good works, you would still not be righteous and therefore would not give God any glory and therefore would not fulfill the very first commandment. Thus religion works directly against individual earthly freedom and only refers to a better, justified life with God on the other side. "

- D. Martin Luther : On the 13th:

In the following link, second paragraph, Justification (Theology) #Righteousness and Reformation , you can see how Luther researched thoroughly and referred to Paul and the church fathers. Added to this was his own experience and his strength of conscience, so that he did not revoke it at the Diet of Worms (1521) , even if it might mean his death.

“... if I am not convinced by scriptural testimonies and clear reasons of reason; for I believe neither the Pope nor the councils alone, since it is certain that they have often erred and contradicted themselves, so I am overcome in my conscience and imprisoned in the word of God by the passages of the holy scripture which I have quoted . Therefore I cannot and will not revoke anything, because doing something against the conscience is neither safe nor salutary. God help me, Amen! "

With his work Von der Freyheyt eyniß Christen Menschen , he also appealed to a new council in October 1520 to convince the experts of the time of the grace of God (cf. Heidelberger Disputation 1518 ). Martin Luther radically represented the view from the Bible:

"So we now believe that man is justified without the works of the law, solely through faith."

- Romans 3,28 LUT

“If you want to fulfill all commandments, to be freed from your evil desires and sin, as the commandments force and demand, lo and behold, believe in Christ, in whom I promise you all grace, justice, peace and freedom. Do you think so you have; if you don't think so, you haven't. For what is impossible for you with all the works of the commandments, many of which can be of no use, becomes easy and short for you through faith. "

- D. Martin Luther : On the 9th:

Von der Freyheyt eyniß Christen Menschen marks a boundary in the history of ideas between the Middle Ages and the modern age . In the theses he postulated the sum of Christian freedoms. These do not stand independently next to each other, but rather represent a sequence of arguments according to today's understanding. The central idea consists in a reversal of the previously valid basic conception of the relationship between religion and freedom.

Luther's text had - unintentionally - had a significant influence on the German Peasants' War , as the rebellious peasants related the term freedom (used by Luther in a purely theological sense) to their worldly living situation and therefore in the Twelve Articles the end of serfdom for their landlords demanded. In 1525, Luther distanced himself sharply from this reading of his text, which justified violence, in his text Against the Murderous Rotten der Peasantry.

From the content of this Luther book

The following quotations were taken from the Modernized Text of Luther's Scriptures. The respective sections of the font are numbered as follows: "On the 1st:" to "On the 30th:".

The Evangelical freedom is often cited by the following points of the Luther-font:

"First: A Christian is a free lord over all things and is not subject to anyone."

- D. Martin Luther : ( Rom 13,8  LUT )

"First: A Christian is a servant of all things and is subject to everyone."

- D. Martin Luther : ( Gal 4,4  LUT )
In the following paragraphs "To the x .:" Luther assigns the following terms and facts to these contradicting statements:
freedom Easement Bible passages
For the 2nd: Spiritual nature, new inner man Carnal nature, bodily flesh and blood ( Rom 8,4-6  LUT )
On the 6th: Gospel and faith Own works ( Rom 1.17  LUT )
On the 7th: Bliss Unhappiness ( Mk 16,16  LUT )
On the 8th: Promise or promise Command or law of God ( 1 Cor 9,19  EU )
On the 9th: Faith in Christ: grace, justice, peace and freedom Failure at the commandments, inability and fear ( Rom 7,22-25  LUT )
On the 15th: Kings and priests with Christ, "this is a spiritual government", "a precious freedom and power of Christians!" No bodily (or worldly) rule, “we must die bodily” - affected by bodily oppression, death and suffering. ( 1 Petr 2.9  LUT )
On the 30th: “By faith he goes beyond himself in God”, “See, that is true Christian freedom, which frees the heart from all sins, laws and commandments, which exceeds all other freedom, like heaven and earth. " “From God he travels again among himself through love”, for example: through divine love, serving everyone in a friendly manner. ( Joh 1,51  LUT )

The central biblical text on which the entire Luther script is based is:

"Because although I am free from everyone, I have made everyone servant myself so that I can win as many as possible."

Luther's text teaches with incremental “Zum x .:” the ever-deepening Christian faith, which at the end leads to a wonderful freedom. The above - incomplete - table clearly shows this development and increase in faith.

  1. Level: Objectively sober discussion of facts
  2. Level: Frightened by the high expectations of God. His moral and ethical standards cannot be met by fallible people. We also often have to answer the question of whether we have enough love for enemies with "no". The prospect of being measured by these standards in the Last Judgment is terrifying.
  3. Level: The loving hand of God lifts us up, frees us and enables us - Examples: ( Isaiah 6,5–8  LUT ) and ( Revelation 1,17  LUT ). Now connected with God, we can walk in deep security with ease and strength. So animated by God, we can achieve great things and do many things better. Even if we never become perfect on this earth, we have millions of new opportunities. In this way we are firmly anchored in His grace.

Luther's scripture encourages everyone to free themselves from crippling fears and to grow into full freedom of belief.

"[...] I think; help my disbelief! "

Faith can be learned, practiced and trained. (out of print, English) This is a lifelong learning process. If we only have little faith, then we start with that little faith. One can also ask God with great doubt and then notice that God has heard ( Luke 13 : 18–19  LUT ). The next time we will pray more confidently. If I'm new to my job, colleagues will give me a hand and show me how to do it. It is the same in faith when others pray for us. We can also learn from the experiences and reports of others by making the knowledge shared our own. In the climbing garden we climb walls without fear because we are roped and secured. As a skydiver and explosives expert, Merlin R. Carothers experienced a lot of fear and learned to deal with it better and better. The most effective liberation from fear was faith in God: “ What do we want to say about this? If God is for us, who can be against us? “( Romans 8:31  LUT ) The deep conviction that God is committed to us makes us free from fear. Carothers wrote in his book From Fear to Faith :

“Fear mocks:“ Yesterday it was bad, today it is terrible, and tomorrow everything will be even more terrible. And you don't change anything about that. ”In faith, however, anyone can counter:“ God was with me yesterday. He is with me today and he will always be with me. I can do everything through Christ, who gives me the strength. Because of him I live. ”Fear wants us to back off and back away because we think that all efforts will only end in failure anyway. Faith encourages us to move forward. He gives us the conviction that we can succeed. Then we can go from triumph to triumph full of confidence. "

- Merlin R. Carothers : p 24

"We live by fear or by belief, and choosing one or the other makes all the difference."

- Merlin R. Carothers : p 23


The following first prints of the treatise exist:

  • Von der Freyheyt eyniß Christians , published by Johann Grünenberg , Wittenberg 1520.
  • Tractatus de libertate Christiana , published by Johann Grünenberg, Wittenberg 1520.

The German version is addressed to Hermann Mühlpfordt, the mayor of Zwickau in Saxony . It is divided into thirty theses . The Latin version is longer and structured according to units of meaning. Luther addressed it to Pope Leo X. There is some debate about which variant Luther wrote first. According to Reinhold Rieger, the Latin version is to be regarded as a second, improved edition of the German.


In 2015, the American researcher James Hirstein found a copy of the first edition from 1520 in the holdings of the library of Beatus Rhenanus in the humanist library in Schlettstadt, with Luther's own handwritten notes and changes for the second edition, which was published in Basel in 1521 .


  • Martin Luther: From the freedom of a Christian . Gütersloher Verlagshaus, Gütersloh 2006, ISBN 978-3-579-05427-8 .
  • Martin Luther: From the freedom of a Christian. Audio book . Schmidt Hörbuchverlag, Schwerin 2008, ISBN 978-3-937976-95-2 (1 CD, read by Hans J. Schmidt).

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b Reinhold Rieger: From the freedom of a Christian man, De libertate christiana . Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2007, p. 2.
  2. Weimar Edition (Luther) Volume 7, p. 20.
  3. Burkhard Weitz: What does the Reformation mean? . In: chrismon special. The Protestant magazine for Reformation Day, October 2012. Retrieved on March 31, 2013.
  4. a b c d The Edition | Freedom 2017. February 20, 2017, accessed January 17, 2020 .
  5. Dt. Reichstag files, Younger Series, Volume II, n. 80, p. 581f.
  6. a b c Merlin R. Carothers: From fear to faith: How fear wants to paralyze us and faith sets us free . Asaph Verlag, Lüdenscheid 2001, ISBN 3-931025-90-X , p. 24, 61, 172 .
  7. Carothers, Merlin R .: From fear to faith. Bookbaby, [Place of publication not identified] 2016, ISBN 0-943026-47-4 .
  8. Weimar Edition (Luther) Volume 7, p. 15.
  9. Weimar Edition (Luther) Volume 7, p. 39.
  10. Reinhold Rieger: From the freedom of a Christian, De libertate christiana . Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2007, pp. 5–12.
  11. ^ Work by Martin Luther discovered in a library in Alsace , Kleine Zeitung of May 21, 2015, accessed on May 21, 2015