James A. Gent

Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Schneider, Robert W.

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of History


Luther; Martin; 1483-1546; Germany--History--1517-1648


Martin Luther, in his writings on civil obedience, firmly stated that a citizen should not actively oppose his government. Yet, by l524, Luther was being accused of inciting rebellion. This study will examine Luther's teachings before l524, to see how they led many Germans to contemplate social upheaval and also allowed the nobility to hold its control over the lower social classes. The contribution of Protestant thought to individualism and conservatism is discussed. An important conclusion of this is that the attack Protestantism made on the Church of Rome could also be extended to a government that spread false doctrine. To illustrate the twofold nature of Luther's ideas, a study is made of two of his writings of 1520: An Appeal to the German Nationality and The Freedom of a Christian. His attitudes toward government are examined in Secular Authority: To What Extent it Should be Obeyed (1523), and the futile nature of the human will is seen in The Bondage of the Will (1525). The peasant uprising of 1524-1525 is the focal point of this study since it occurred when Luther’s teachings were arousing controversy among his own followers and other reformers. A survey of the economic stress of the times is made to provide an explanation for the religious and social antagonism the peasants and German knights had towards the clergy and princes. This leads to an examination of the careers of Andreas Carlstadt and Thomas Munzer, who took Luther's teachings and attempted to extend them into the area of social reform. The conclusions of the study are: (1) Luther's heroism at Worms in 1521 aroused the notion that a man could successfully challenge constituted authority. (2) Luther's invectives against the pope and secular authority gave many Germans the impression that he was asking for revolution. (3) Radicals like Munzer and Carlstadt felt that in advocating social reform they were carrying Luther’s ideas to their practical conclusions. (4) Many Germans were alienated when Luther established the supremacy of Scripture In their lives. The more radical teachers gave the Word a place of secondary importance and turned to a practical reformation of social reform or outright violence.


Includes bibliographical references.


v, 84 pages




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