Five hundred years after the beginning of the Protestation Reformation, the words of Martin Luther echo in the theology and the doctrine of numerous denominations. His ninety-five thesis baffled the Christianity of his time like no one before him had done (despite the attempts of John Wycliffe and Jan Hus, also worthy of admiration); his concepts of sola fide, sola scriptura and sola gratia continue well present in the hearts of millions of Protestants spread around the world. In order to honor one of the most influent theologians in the history of Christianity, Biblion is publishing the Portuguese translation of one of Luther’s most influent works: A Liberdade Cristã.
De Libertate Christiana, or A Liberdade Cristã (English versions include On the Freedom of a Christian and Concerning Christian Liberty) appears at the end of the year 1520, one of Luther’s most frantic and prolific times. After a fervent debate in Leipzig the year before, and facing the papal threat of excommunication in the shape of the Exsurge Domini bull, the Augustinian monk responds even more harshly to Rome’s demands, producing absolutely crucial works for the complete and total separation between himself and the Catholic Church in just a few months. After writing several theses denouncing the ecclesiastical doctrines and abuses of his time, Luther publishes De Libertate Christiana, a work that seeks to show the true basis of Christian religion in the face of papal doctrines and laws. The work becomes the zenith of Luther’s alienation, given that the monk stops attacking regulations specific to the earthly church in order to affirm the nature and posture worthy of the justified Christian. Here he establishes a dogma of redemption, built on the concept of sola fide as the only way of attaining God’s grace that is backed by Scripture, which in turn defies the dogma of the Church of Rome, which is strongly founded upon merit, ecclesiastic tradition and clerical authority by apostolic succession.
Luther begins by declaring the apparently paradoxical nature of the Christian, affirming that “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 every one.” This nature is closely connected with a man’s composition as both a physical and a spiritual being, with a bond between the soul and the flesh. Despite being two dissimilar things, the soul and the flesh are not separate from each other, yet they work together to achieve this paradoxical resolution. Luther defends that the interior man (the soul) must be sure that he is but a sinner who needs God’s grace and justice to be saved, but there’s nothing the exterior man (the flesh) can do to achieve its own justification. To the monk, all works are void and condemnable if not made out of free will and unswerving faith, and even then there’s nothing inherent to the works that can affect the justification and salvation of the one who performs them.
Throughout this treatise, Luther emphasizes the role of faith as the only link between the Christian’s soul and Christ Himself. According to Luther, it is by this link through faith that the Christian is free from sin’s slavery. It is also by this link through faith that we are “kings” and “priests” of the spiritual realm, just as Christ is. Nevertheless, the body has its own will, “which is striving to serve the world and to seek its own gratification”; this is where Luther affirms the performance of works, not to justify the soul, but with the double purpose of governing the flesh and loving your neighbor. From the monk’s point of view, the teaching of works as means of being saved is “devilish” and a “perverse notion,” since works are intrinsically material and cannot affect in any way that which is spiritual; however, he recognizes that they are valuable for the body’s submission to faith and for the neighbor’s benefit in love.
Luther concludes with a warning to those who, on one hand, refuse to accept the Christian liberty and stubbornly cling to works, laws and ceremonies as to be justified by these, and to those who, on the other hand, warp the meaning of this freedom and use it to totally despise the works and traditions. The monk of Wittenberg draws a line between those who cling to the laws and works out of pure intransigence and pride, and those who do it because they are “as yet unable to apprehend that liberty of faith, even if willing to do so.” The Christian must defy the arrogance of the first with all his boldness, yet he must carefully observe the doctrine before the latter, as to not offend them.
This work by Biblion and Unique Creations is the translation of the English version produced by Elizabeth T. Knuth and David Widger, currently available on Gutenberg.org. The reader can get the eBook on our website at www.biblion.pt, and subscribe to our magazine in case you haven’t done so!
About the Author:
Daniel T. Gomes is a graphic designer and content writer from Lisbon, Portugal. He currently serves as Biblion’s Assistant Editor, having played a crucial role in the magazine since its inception. He is also a self-published author and one of the hosts of the biweekly Broklahomies Podcast.