Was Luther Right About This?


I found this quote from Luther, and it seems true.

It is not fitting for the pope to arrogate to himself superiority over the secular authorities, except in his spiritual functions such as preaching and pronouncing absolution… It is enough for the pope to be his [the emperor’s] superior in divine affairs, i.e., in preaching, teaching, and dispensing the sacraments."

Can we agree to this as Catholics?

God bless,

Context, please?

No, we cannot agree. Pope Boniface VIII taught, in Unam Sanctam, a document confirmed by the Fifth Lateran Council, the Church has authority over secular authorities.

For truth is the witness that the spiritual authority holds [the ability] to establish the earthly authority, and to judge if it might not have been good. And this, concerning the Church and the authority of the Church, the prophecy of Jeremiah verifies: “Behold, today I have appointed you over nations and kingdoms” [Jeremiah 1:10] and the rest that follows.
Unam Sanctam, n. 6.


If only secular authorities would look to church teaching as their guidelines for governance…

what a better world we would all have.

VERY good research!!! :thumbsup::thumbsup:

Yes he was right. Church and state mixing where the church is in charge, or the state is in charge have both been disasters. Better that they stay separate.

So does the Church have authority over secular authorities only in predominantly Catholic countries? For example, does the Church have authority over the government of China or over the government of a mostly Protestant country?

You mean like a Christian version of Sharia law? No, that would not be a better world. A better world is one that separates church from state and promotes secular governance. Not necessarily a secular society that is denuded of any public/visible religious expression, which is an erroneous assumption that people often jump to. Instead, governance should be secular in the sense that- on paper, at the very least- any person of any religion is equal before the law, and the law basically works well for everyone.

If the law works extremely well for one certain type of Christian and very badly for everyone else, Those Other People Matter- they Matter, they Matter, they Matter just as much as your people do, and even if it were true that your church has a monopoly on the fullness of truth, all those other people would still Matter.

We would not be living in a better world if certain people were treated as if they don’t matter. Everyone should be treated equally, everyone should be treated as if they matter because they do matter. Yes even heretics who continue teaching heresy after three requests to stop, yes even non-Christians, yes even people who spend most of their time attacking Christianity in general or trying to get people to leave the Catholic Church in particular. These people still matter, and they should be treated as equal citizens before the law. You may certainly exclude them from your religious body, but asking the government to mistreat them until they fall in line is completely unacceptable.

Its from Martin Luther’s letter to the German nobility.

I’ve been reading Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker’s Politicizing the Bible. Its about the history of the development of the historical critical method of interpreting the bible. I’m through the first 150 pages or so. They starts with Ockham and Marsilius of Padua, then John Wycliffe, then Machiavelli, and I’m now reading through the chapter on Luther and the Reformation.

The chapter on Machiavelli was very disturbing as it sheds light on just how bad the Medicci papacy was. Its almost like there would have been no reformation or enlightenment had it not been for the corruption of these popes. They write on page 118 and 119:

The damage done to the faith of the Church by the popes during Machiavelli’s lifetime is incalculable. In Barbara Tuchman’s words:
Over a period of sixty years, from roughly 1470 to 1530, the secular spirit of the age was exemplified in a succession of six popes - five Italians and a Spaniard [leaving out two short lived popes, Pius III and Adrian VI] - who carried it to an excess of venality, amorality, avarice, and spectacularly calamitous power politics. Their governance dismayed the faithful, brought the Holy See into disrepute, left unanswered the cry for reform, ignored all protests, warnings and signs of rising revolt, and ended by breaking apart the unity of Christendom and losing half the papal constituency to the Protestant secession. Theirs was a folly of perversity, perhaps the most consequential in Western history, if measured by its result in centuries of ensuing hostility and fratricidal war.

Anyway, I am reading the chapter on the reformation where I found this quote in a footnote. They are describing Luther’s arguments. This is a scholarly book though, and not a book on apologetics. They are not defending the church, just developing an argument for how Luther used scripture and how the politics of his day influenced his theology. For example, he was not for a church state separation. He saw it as the duty of the state to enforce orthodoxy (Lutheran) as the peasants revolt later shows (although I am not at that part of the book yet).

God bless,

But it can’t be denied that the Papacy at the time leading up to the reformation did terrible things and abused their power unlike any other time in papal history. Honestly, if some of those men were president in the U.S. they would have been impeached and given the death penalty. They were meddling in politics like no pope would do today.

There has to be another way of harmonizing Unum Sanctam with these facts. I’d be interesting in hearing your thoughts on this.

God bless,

Must Unam Sanctam be considered ex cathedra?

The Fifth Lateran Council approved Unam Sanctam. So the teaching may well be infallible. But we are required to believe all the teachings of the Church, not just infallible ones.

Unam Sanctam also makes the point that the Church permits secular authorities to rule over secular things. She does not try to rule each nation directly.

The secular authorities today do not acknowledge the authority of the Church. But in God’s eye She still possesses that authority. And the Church can always speak publicly against any errors or sins committed by any government.

So when a Medici pope asks you to murder his rival in another Italian city state, you must do it? Or when a Medici pope levies taxes or interferes in the succession of German electors to be the holy roman emperor, we are to submit? Or even when the pope intervenes in an election and decides to assume the power of the holy roman empire in Germany, everyone should just role over? Or when a pope appoints his nephew or son to a powerful ecclesiastical seat, we are simply to submit?

My point is, a pope cannot demand that we do something that is not just, so there are limits to what Unam Sanctam can mean.

God bless,

An important consideration is that there have been many examples of secular government going very bad where it would have been better (and was better) for the congregation to stand with the papacy and against secular government.

Given the history of the last 250 years, I’d rather be placing my bets on the papacy when it conflicts with government.

I suspect there is going to be more and more Catholics realizing this as time goes on.

That council also demanded that bishops give permission for any book to be printed in their diocese, among other oddities. Might that council have erred? Or fallen prey to politics?

Conciliar and papal decisions on discipline are fallible. Only teachings can possibly be infallible. The decision concerning permission for book is of the prudential order; it is not a teaching.

What is to keep other claims from being ‘positively reformulated’ so they are likewise “of the prudential order?” Weren’t both of these teachings the result of political necessity? The delineation seems arbitrary (and awfully convenient) to non-Roman Catholics.

I agree. To me, it goes back to the “give Caesar his due” argument in Scripture. I do think the Catholic Church overstepped its bounds for centuries - I am reading a book about the Papacy during the Holy Roman Empire up to the Middle Ages - :eek:. I tire of Catholics dancing around this sordid history like it didn’t happen; it makes us look ten times worse than just admitting it and saying that time is past. (For that matter, the Index wasn’t abolished until 1966.)

Luther is inconsistent often though - but in terms of the Peasants’ Rebellion I think he just writing in the context that the State should protect social order as was their right and duty as ordained by God: "Paul, too, speaking in Romans 12 [13:1] to all baptized Christians, says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.”

I don’t remember the details of the Peasants’ Rebellion but my guess is the peasants probably had a decent case against the authorities as well. I know Luther’s support of the suppression is very controversial, even for Lutherans.

In the treatise Luther arraigned the peasants on three charges: (1) they had violated their oaths of loyalty to their rulers and were therefore subject to temporal punishment; (2) they had robbed, plundered, and murdered, and were subject to death in body and soul; and (3) they had committed their crimes under the cover of Christ’s name, thereby shamefully blaspheming God. The peasants were like a mad dog which had to be destroyed. The government, he argued, must use its God‑given office to subdue the rebels with force, the only language they understood. Who*ever lost his life in suppressing this rebellion, Luther argues, would be a martyr to the gospel.


As for the Pope’s role vs. the State today, obviously he has no authority to act against the State but I think he has a right to speak out in a spiritually authoritative capacity (the voice of God), such as in defense of violence against Christians in the Middle East or other injustices that affect the poor.

Luther supported the peaceful peasants , but opposed the violent ones , good analysis of history by the way.

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