Luther had already completed his treatise, Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed, in December 1522, but it was not published until March 1523. We should understand Luther’s ideas within the context of the fear of invasion of Electoral Saxony, particularly from Duke George of Saxony, who was Elector Frederick the Wise’s cousin. Additionally, Luther preached on the subject of government and the Gospel numerous times during 1522. Dedicating his treatise, On Temporal Authority, to Duke John of Saxony (Frederick’s brother and successor), Luther here defined his teaching on the two kingdoms. He stated that God had established two governments: one to keep order and rule the temporal realm, the other a spiritual government by which God makes sinners righteous.
While he advised obedience to temporal authorities, Luther mocked evil rulers in the first paragraph of Temporal Authority when he wrote, “For God Almighty has made our rulers mad; they actually think they can do—and order their subjects to do—whatever they please.”11 He explained that subjects are not obligated to obey their rulers in all matters, especially regarding the command to turn over Luther’s books to temporal authorities. Referring to Acts 5:29, Luther explained that Christians owed obedience to temporal authorities in earthly matters, but they should not willingly turn over books. However, if the authorities searched their homes and confiscated their property, they must suffer as Christians and not resist forcibly.
Later in Temporal Authority, Luther addressed resistance to unjust rulers. He explained that a prince may fight against a political equal or inferior, but not against the emperor. That prince should speak the truth against the superior but not resist him by force. Even when war is unavoidable, Luther asserted that a prince should fight to defend his subjects and not for personal gain. Additionally, he argued that Christian soldiers should serve in a war unless the soldier knew his prince had commanded him to fight an unjust war. In that case, Luther plainly instructed soldiers to disobey the prince, “… for it is no one’s duty to do wrong; we must obey God (who desires the right) rather than men.”
This is an excerpt from an article. If you would like to read the entire article go here: https://issues.cune.edu/enlightenment-liberty-vis-a-vis-christian-liberty/widerstand-luther-and-the-freedom-to-resist-unjust-authority/#_ftn10
1 thought on “Temporal Authority”
As the Magdeburg Confession now seems to be in vogue these days, I suspect that many expositions of such and the various comparisons being made to the American situation are being muddied by a tendency to equivocate tyranny over the Gospel of Christ and tyranny over anything else that may concern a man.
Granted, I don’t think this tendency therefore invalidates everyone’s arguments and applications. Rather, I think it simply renders the broader points much weaker in force.
On the contemporary side, if we consider the state protocol which mandates or recommends the suppression of the Gospel by way of condemning our Lord’s Institution of the Supper, then I certainly think Magdeburg is relevant to us today (and in some ways I believe that some of our churches are ignoring the danger to the Gospel, claiming that everything is merely a petty inconvenience). But note the way in which the state is touching the Gospel here. Considerations of restrictions *as restrictions* are nearly irrelevant to Magdeburg.
I read the full essay, and while I think it’s a good survey of Luther’s thought, I’m afraid it may share a little in this equivocating tendency. Besides the question of the Gospel, the other word which does not get much time being defined (not only here, but in many Magdeburg/America treatments) is “unjust.” Theft is unjust. Papism is unjust. Magdeburg (and Luther for that matter) is not concerned with each in precisely the same way.
Lest anyone put too much stock in my note: I have not read the Magdeburg Confession yet. In the meantime I will reread the Declaration & the Constitution though.