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Nemo iudex in causa sua as the Basis of Law, Justice, and Justification in Luther's Thought

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 July 2007

Piotr J. Malysz
Harvard Divinity School


In the wake of the investiture struggle and against the background of burgeoning humanist thought, Martin Luther's affirmation of the secular realm as a discrete area of divine activity may be lauded as a judicious recovery of the thought of Augustine and perhaps of Gelasius I. In light of subsequent developments in sociopolitical theory, however, this progressive aspect of the reformer's thought appears to be immediately undercut by its seemingly unbending social conservatism. Instituted by God (Rom 13; 1 Pet 2:13–14), the “law of [the] temporal sword has existed from the beginning of the world,” Luther writes. And while he asserts that “God cannot and will not permit anyone but himself to rule over the soul,” he does, nevertheless, forbid Christians to resort to violence to defend their cause: “For the governing authority must not be resisted by force, but only by confession of the truth. If it is influenced by this, well and good; if not, you are excused, you suffer wrong for God's sake.”

© 2007 Cambridge University Press

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