Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church, 1532-1546

By Martin Brecht; James L. Schaaf | Go to book overview

VIII
The Right of Resistance,
Attempts at Peace,
the Defection of the Landgrave,
and Religious Colloquies
(1538–41)

1. NEW DISCUSSIONS ON THE
RIGHT OF RESISTANCE

Occasional statements by Luther during the 1530s show that, as before, he was opposed to a war for the sake of the gospel or the faith. He thought that a politically based resistance was the only thing acceptable. Even the Smalcald League was acceptable only as a political alliance.1 When the Wittenberg theologians had to take a stand about a possible defensive war in connection with the discussions about the forthcoming council in December 1536, a noteworthy change of opinion took place.2 At that time the duty of Christian authorities to protect religion was affirmed. Philip of Hesse had previously appealed to this protective function, but the Wittenbergers had not at first followed him. In fact, such protection was being provided by the evangelical authorities at that time. In their reasoning the theologians now obviously drew closer to the princes’ understanding of independence vis-a-vis the emperor and the beginning development of a system of territorial churches. If the emperor moved against the evangelicals before the council met, that would be an obvious breach of the Religious Peace of Nuremberg, and resistance would be permissible. Even a war by the emperor after the council made a decision against the evangelicals would be nothing but an unjust one, and defense would be justified.

When the council was postponed repeatedly, the evangelicals had to anticipate that the religious problem might be solved by force. In April 1538 Luther and Melanchthon were at the court in Torgau for consultations in connection with the Smalcald Assembly, which was then taking place in Brunswick. Not by chance did the conversation also deal with possible resistance to the

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