Paula Pico Estrada

Libre albedrío, libertad cristiana
y misticismo
en el pensamiento temprano
de Martín Lutero (2020)

Martin Lutero, 1528 - Lucas Cranach el Viejo
Martín Lutero, Lucas Cranach el Viejo

Paula Pico Estrada es doctora en filosofía especializada en filosofía medieval. Es profesora de Historia de la Filosofía Medieval en la Universidad del Salvador y directora de la carrera de Filosofía en la Universidad de San Martín. Entre otros tantos intereses académicos, es una destacada especialista en el pensamiento de Nicolás de Cusa (su obra más reciente, publicada en 2021 por Brill, se titula Nicholas of Cusa on the Trinitarian Structure of the Innate Criterion of Truth). La profesora Pico Estrada también es directora editorial de Ediciones Winograd, editorial independiente dedicada a la difusión de textos filosóficos y de humanidades en general, así como crónicas y relatos de viaje.

Hace unos meses, tuve el agrado de asistir a algunas clases de la profesora Pico Estrada. Entonces comprobé que, además de ser una gran investigadora de la historia de la filosofía, es una docente excelente y una persona sumamente amable. Quise traducir este texto suyo sobre el pensamiento de Martín Lutero no solo por resultarme muy interesante, sino también como un pequeño gesto de agradecimiento hacia ella, por toda la ayuda que me prestó. Para quienes deseen leer otros trabajos suyos, recomiendo visitar su perfil en (

Free Will, Christian Freedom and Mysticism
in Martin Luther’s Early Thought


In 1516, Martin Luther discovered a manuscript which he afterwards edited and printed. It was published in December, with the title A Noble and Spiritual Opuscule on the Right Distinction and Understanding of What Is the Old Man and the New; What It Means to be a Son of Adam and of God, and How Adam Must Die in Us and Christ Be Born (FRANKFURT ANONYMOUS, 2016).1 A year and a half later, in June 1518, Luther published a second edition. He had found another, fuller manuscript of the same work, a mystical treatise.2 The title was slightly modified, but the change had an overtone of defiance: A German Theology, that is, an Opuscule on the Right Understanding of Who Is Adam and Who Is Christ, and How Adam Must Die in Us and Christ Be Born.3 The prologue to this second edition contains an explicitly defying passage:

This I say to caution anyone who reads this brief work, lest the reader should take offence or be annoyed at its bad German or its unornamented words; for this noble book, though plain and lacking in words and human wisdom, is instead much more valuable and richer in divine art and wisdom. And I would say, though I seemed to brag like an old fool, that along with the Bible and Saint Augustine, I have found no other book which has taught me or made me wish [to learn] more about what are God, Christ, Man and everything else; and, in the first place, I find truth in what some learned men have ignominiously said of us, the Wittenberg theologians: that we intend to put forward new things, as if there had not existed also people before and anywhere else. Indeed, there certainly have been others; but the wrath of God, provoked by our sins, has made us unworthy of seeing and listening to them. It is as clear as daylight that for too long they have not been frequented in universities; so far have we come that the sacred Word of God not only lies below the stools, but is almost rotten due to the dust and the filthy moths. May this opuscule be read by whosoever wishes to do so, and afterwards be said if theology is something new or old among us: for this book is not new. But perhaps they might say, as before, that we are nothing but German theologians: let us be it, then. I thank God, because I have heard and found my God in the German language, since neither I nor those with me have yet found Him in Latin, Greek or Hebrew. May God grant that this opuscule become more widespread: thence shall we discover that German theologians are undoubtedly the best theologians. Amen.4

The prologue to the June 1518 edition reveals the context of its writing. Much had happened during those two years, and the conflict with Rome was by then open. Why was Luther so attracted to this treatise —generally known under the title Theologia Deutsch (Germanic Theology)— in 1516, prompting him to publish a second edition in 1518? Indeed, this brief work’s success owed mainly to Luther’s sustained interest in it. For 300 years, the text was known only through the Reformer’s two editions based on two distinct manuscripts, now lost. In 1843, the librarian at the University of Würzburg found a new manuscript from the Cistercian monastery in Bonnbach, dated 1494-1497: earlier than Luther’s editions. Unlike those found by him, this manuscript includes a title, Der Franckforter, and a preface —probably a later addition— describing the author as a wise, righteous man from the Frankfurt See of the Teutonic Order. Throughout the following century, two other complete manuscripts were discovered: one in Dessau, dated 1477, and the other in Prague, dated 1465. We also have another five manuscripts containing fragments of the treatise, originally from Munich, St Gall, Harburg, and Nuremberg. All of them date from the late 15th century, although it has been established that the treatise was written in the mid-14th century. The limited number of manuscripts (all of them later than the treatise’s writing) leads us to suppose that it was not widely spread at the time, and that its subsequent popularity (by 1960 it had been published and/or translated some 190 times) was due to the fact that Luther had chosen and recommended it (VANNINI 2009, pp.41-44). Regarding more recent editions, in 1982, Wolfgang von Hinten produced a critical edition of the text, based on the eight previously mentioned manuscripts and Luther’s two editions;5 this edition has been the basis for a series of translations into modern languages. The latest are those by Alois Haas into German (1993), Gérard Pfister into French (2000), David Blamires into English (2003), and Marco Vannini into Italian (2009).

Paula Pico Estrada
Paula Pico Estrada

The main reason to find Luther’s sustained interest and respect for Theologia Germanica intriguing —to the point that its influence is still felt in On the Freedom of a Christian, a 1520 work— is that, from the standpoint of the history of philosophy, the treatise’s debt to a certain reception of Neoplatonism cannot be underplayed. We refer to Albertus Magnus’s reading of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite through John Scotus Eriugena, among other authors. This reading was accepted by Meister Eckhart, who is in turn one of the sources for the anonymous treatise of Frankfurt. Analysing this complex reception is beyond the scope of this article;6 for the purpose of this introduction, it is enough to mention that Theologia Germanica alludes to “Saint Dionysius” twice in Chapter 8, which was part of the manuscripts known, edited and published by Luther.

As is known, the author identified as “Saint Dionysius” during the Middle Ages is presented as the Areopagite converted by Paul of Tarsus in Athens. The body of his work, or at least what has survived of it, includes four treatises and ten letters which became one of the pillars of Medieval theology. It was not until the late 19th century that Dionysius was philologically proved to be Pseudo-Dionysius, an anonymous Syrian author whose work is based on the Neoplatonist philosopher Proclus (412-485), hence dating from the early 6th century. This does not mean, however, that the origin of Dionysius’s texts had never been questioned before. Both Lorenzo Valla (1407-1457) and Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536) expressed doubts about the authenticity of the Dionysian corpus.7 But the most famous objection was precisely Martin Luther’s, who wrote in 1520, in the context of a debate over which were the instituted sacraments:

The invention of sacraments is recent. And I (to say it boldly) utterly dislike that so much importance is afforded to that Dionysius, whoever he is, for in general nothing is found in him which bespeaks a solid erudition. Because what he conflates regarding the angels in “On the Celestial Hierarchy”, a book which makes curious and superstitious minds sweat: whence does he derive authority or reason, may I ask, to prove it? Is it not but a figment of his, quite like a dream when it is read and freely assessed? Incidentally, regarding mystical theology —which is afforded undue importance by certain most ignorant theologians—, he is also very harmful, being more Platonising than Christianising, and consequently I would advise no faithful soul to pay the least attention to those books.8

Two years before, however, in the first Lectures on the Psalms (1517) and in the Lectures on Hebrews (1517-1518), Luther still mentioned Dionysius with a measure of respect (MCGINN 2016, p. 24). Around the same period, he published Theologia Germanica. The issue under discussion, therefore, is not so much Luther’s second edition of this treatise in 1518 as the fact that his work On the Freedom of a Christian, written in 1520, the same year in which he deemed Dionysius as “harmful”, revisits many themes addressed in Theologia Germanica. Paraphrasing the distinction introduced by Luther in On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, we may pose this question: Is Theologia Germanica, in contrast to Dionysius’s writings, a more Christian than Platonic work?

Actually, from the standpoint of the philosophical history of mysticism, this question is pointless. Two of the fundamental texts of Christian mysticism, one in Greek and the other in Latin, owe their structure to Neoplatonism. The first, indignantly mentioned by Luther in 1520, is Mystical Theology by Pseudo-Dionysius, an author who follows Proclus, as previously mentioned. The second, chronologically prior to Dionysius and well-known to Luther, is the vision shared by Saint Augustine and his mother in Ostia, described in Book IX of Confessions (10:23-26). In 1938, Paul Henry identified treatises I, 6 and V, 1 of Plotinus’s Enneads as the literary sources for that account (HENRY 1938, pp. 15-26); almost twenty years later, André Mandouze identified 21 Plotinian references in the text, along with 14 Biblical references (MANDOUZE 1954, pp. 67-84).

This article’s hypothesis is that Luther’s interest in Theologia Germanica stemmed from the concept of freedom proposed therein. Said concept, closely related to that of free will, is not rooted in Dionysius but in Augustine, and it concerned Luther at least since 1516, as I hope to prove. It is present in On the Freedom of a Christian, which is part of the so-called Reformation writings, and resurfaces in his reply to Erasmus, i.e., the treatise De Servo Arbitrio (On the Bondage of the Will, 1526).

This hypothesis will be argued for in two parts. In the first section (1), I shall introduce a virtually unknown opuscule by Luther, contemporaneous with his first edition of Theologia Germanica. Entitled Quaestio de Viribus et Voluntate Hominis Sine Gratia Disputata (On the Power and Will of Man Apart from Grace), it dates from 1516 and possibly contains one of the propositions condemned in the 1520 papal bull Exsurge Domine. The body of this section intends to show the influence of Saint Augustine’s thought on the concept of free will, as understood by Luther in Quaestio de Viribus, and Luther’s knowledge of Augustine’s anti-Pelagian works. The second section, divided into three parts, (2.1) shows that the quaestio presupposes the Augustinian distinction between free will and freedom, and develops Saint Augustine’s concept of freedom; (2.2) introduces the concept of freedom in Theologia Germanica and its Augustinian origins; and, finally, (3.3) determines the presence of such concept both in Theologia Germanica and in On the Freedom of a Christian.

Theologia Germanica


In September 1516, that is, three months before publishing Theologia Germanica, Martin Luther released a series of theses or disputed conclusions under the title On the Power and Will of Man Apart from Grace (Quaestio de Viribus et Voluntate Hominis Sine Gratia Disputata). The quaestio is short and structured around three conclusions, each of them comprising three corollaries. The problem discussed is “whether Man, created in God’s image, may by his own natural powers obey the commandments of his creator God, or know, do and think any kind of good in such a way as to deserve grace for his merits”.9 The first two conclusions anticipate the answer, which is negative. Hence, the text evinces that belief in the insufficiency of any merit resulting from the exercise of free will to attain salvation was crucial for Luther even before the dispute on indulgences, in 1517. As will be shown below, the arguments are supported by appealing to Augustine of Hippo, mostly through literal citations. The works cited or, in a few cases, paraphrased by Luther belong to Augustine’s polemic against Pelagius and his followers, who held that human nature, even if fallen, was able to perform good works through free will and attain salvation. As is well known, Augustine emphasised against them the need of divine grace to attain such an end.

In this spirit, the first conclusion of the quaestio states: “Man, image of God by his rational soul and hence dependent on grace, insofar as he uses only his natural powers, subjects any creature he uses to his vanity, and seeks that which is of the flesh”.10 In elaborating this conclusion, Luther appeals to Genesis 1:27 and paraphrases De Spiritu et Anima, a brief treatise on Christian psychology by an unknown writer, long attributed to Saint Augustine:

That Man is image of God is evident in Gen. 1: God created Man in his image; but as to him being so by the rational soul is made manifest by Doctor Augustine with these words: though the human mind is of a different nature than that of God, it is nonetheless image of that nature than which there is nothing better. Therein must be sought and found, and thereby, in our nature there is nothing greater than the mind. That it consequently depends on God’s grace is argued by Doctor Augustine when he exposes the cause why grace was conferred upon the nature of Man, saying thus: Our Lord reveals Himself in the rocks, in the trees and in the sheep, but he who is image of God has deserved grace, not because his good will might be prior to grace nor because God has granted it before [than nature] as a reward.11

The complete statement of the first conclusion, as it can be understood from the citation, expresses that human beings can only find God through His image, which is reason or the mind itself. However, the mind cannot rely on its power to choose freely for the sake of salvation. Such an end depends on God’s grace. The theoretical basis of the argument is Augustinian, regardless of the fact that the paraphrased text turned not to be authored by Augustine. For him, indeed, the fallen nature of human beings makes them incapable of attaining their end only by exercising their free will, as he writes, for example, in De Spiritu et Littera (412): “But certainly those must be fervently and vehemently opposed who consider that, without God’s help, human will may by itself attain righteousness or, once attained, make it progress.”12

In the first corollary of the first conclusion, appealing only to Scriptural sources, Luther thematises this incapability of human beings to choose correctly. Human reason, mind or spirit, being fallen, “attempts to become satiated with the created, when, in fact, the capacity for God can only be satiated with God”.13 The fallen human nature finds itself void, that is to say, vain, and the distorted motion by which it seeks to become full again makes every creature vain. Therein lies the vanity of all things alluded to in Scripture (Ecclesiastes 1:2, Psalm 39:6).

Every man, then, lives in the vanity of all things. The other creatures, in other senses good (according to Gen. 1:31 “and God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” and 1. Tim. 4 “every creature of God is good”), have also been made vain, as concluded by the Apostle in Romans 8:20. Hence the creature is unwillingly subject to vanity. This is manifestly true because, not owing to its fault, and extrinsically to its nature, it produces evil, vain and pernicious things which man, whether due to an erroneous opinion or judgement, or to a wicked disposition or enjoyment, considers higher than that which exists in truth. Likewise, if man’s food were replaced by straw, the latter would be held as the worthiest thing.14

Although Augustine is not mentioned in this first corollary, the argument is based on his hierarchical conception. As we know, his dispute against Manicheism led him to the philosophical discovery that evil has no self-subsistent metaphysical existence, but is rather a privation of the ontological plenitude of the supreme good, towards which every creature tends by the good’s own weight. In the case of human beings, reason, darkened as a consequence of the Fall, no longer rules over sensory passions, and so it is the latter’s inclinations that prevail at the moment of choosing. Since evil itself does not exist and human beings tend to the good, no evil is ever chosen. Sin entails choosing a lesser good or a means which, instead of being used to attain the ultimate good, is enjoyed as an end in itself. Thus, moral evil results from the volitional deviation proper to the fallen human nature.15 In the cited passage, Luther emphasises the anthropological perspective of the problem of evil, thus giving his valuation of the ontological ensemble of all creation a darker tone than Augustine. Instead of saying that creatures are good according to an order and measure dependent on that supreme good, he affirms that they unwillingly produce bad things which man prefers instead of higher things. Augustine would say that they are not bad in themselves; rather, man uses them wrongly.

San Agustín - Antonio Rodriguez
Saint Augustine, Antonio Rodriguez

Thereafter, in the second corollary of the first conclusion, Luther resorts to the Pauline metaphor of the “old man” and extends it even to chaste, wise and righteous men. The only exception is those who have been reborn in God through the Spirit. The passage announces the theme of the third corollary, which is the inefficacy of works to attain salvation. In fact, from the allusion to chaste, wise and righteous men we may infer that exercising and acquiring ethical virtues offers no salvation. We may exercise them, but if we have not been reborn in God through the Spirit, they are worthless. The question raised is: how does such rebirth take place? Luther gives the floor to Augustine. “Augustine says: without it, incidentally (he speaks of faith, which works through love), even those works which seem good become sin”.16  Here he introduces two new subjects, closely linked to grace, which are faith (fides) and love (dilectio or caritas). The idea attributed to Augustine appears, in fact, in at least two of his works, In his Commentary on Galatians, dating from 394, he writes:

[Paul] states that keeping the law is not killing, not committing adultery, not bearing false witness, and (obeying) other similar precepts pertaining to decency. All of these precepts, as previously mentioned, cannot be kept without the aid of charity and the hope of eternal goods, which are received through faith.17

In Manual Concerning Faith, Hope and Charity (421), the statement is more concise: “Everything prescribed by God […] is rightly obeyed when it pertains to the love of God and of the neighbour for God”.18 The implicit reasoning is clear: the commandments are obeyed only if the works are inspired by love and hope, and these gifts are received only through faith. The only way to be born again in the Spirit and become a new man is faith.

The third corollary of the first conclusion reinforces this idea: no man lacking faith in Christ can attain salvation, although those who have obeyed the natural law are imposed a less severe punishment. To argue for such statement, he cites Paul (Hebrews 11:6 and Romans 2:14) and Saint Augustine. (The following passage appears between quotation marks because it is a verbatim quote from Augustine introduced by Luther in his quaestio):

If they have no faith in Christ, they are certainly not righteous nor do they please God (for without faith it is impossible to please God); since, on the day of Judgement, their thoughts shall defend them only to be punished more tolerably, because they have obeyed, in a way, the matters of the law, which is written in their hearts and dictates the works proper to the law, while others have not obeyed because they were unwilling to do so.19

This passage belongs to paragraph 25, Chapter 3 of Book IV from the Answer to Julian, aimed by Augustine at his contemporary theoretical opponent, the Pelagian bishop of Eclanum. The overall paragraph states that natural law is not sufficient to attain salvation, since faith is imperative to do so. The need for faith to attain salvation leads to a problem the analysis of which is beyond the scope of this article, so I will simply describe it. Both for Augustine and Luther, faith is a gift of divine grace. In De Gratia et Libero Arbitrio, Augustine writes:

[…] if our conversion unto God were not due to His grace, we would not say to Him: “God of virtues, turn us unto Thee”; and “God, Thou, converting us unto Thee, shall give us life”; and “Turn us unto Thee, God of our salvation”; and many similar things too numerous to state. For what is coming unto Christ if not turning unto Him through faith? And so, Jesus said: ‘No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him’.20

If faith in Christ is necessary for salvation and not dependent on man’s will, but on God’s grace, are they only saved those whom God wishes to save? This is the problem of predestination, implicit in the claim that only faith, that is, grace, saves. The same could be said of caritas, without which no precept is truly kept, even if it were obeyed from a factual or material perspective —as is the case with chaste, wise and righteous, though infidel, men—. Caritas is also a gift inspired from on high, and as Luther knows, tradition considers it to be intimately related to or identical with grace.

The consequences implicit in the first conclusion and its corollaries are articulated in the second conclusion, which begins thus:

Man, if excepted from God’s grace, can by no means obey His precepts nor may he become predisposed to grace, whether by condign or congruous merit: he certainly remains in a state of ineluctable sin. The first part of the conclusion is evinced by the Apostle in Romans 13:10: Love is the fulfilling of the law; knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth [1 Cor. 8:1]; the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life [2 Cor. 3:6].

De servo arbitrio - Martin Luther

As it is inferred from the cited passage, the second conclusion and its corollaries are aimed against the doctrine on Augustinian grace which came to be known as semi-Pelagianism, although Luther does not use this term, which had not been invented as of 1516.21 Broadly speaking, this notion affirms that while no one deserves the initial grace of conversion, which is necessary for justification, once received, human beings may acquire the necessary merits for salvation by exercising their free will with the help of the Holy Spirit. Luther’s stance, as understood from this passage, is that man can do nothing in relation to the gift of grace, not even predisposing himself to receive it. Throughout the three corollaries of the second conclusion, he recurrently and precisely cites Saint Augustine; in every case, from works belonging to his polemic with the Pelagians. Here I present Luther’s citations from Augustine, adding quotation marks if necessary:

[…] when examining these words, Doctor Augustine says: ‘The written law without charity puffs up, it does not edify”. And on Paul, he says then: “Thus, knowledge of the law makes the offender proud; but, through the gift of charity, keeping the law becomes pleasing.” And in many places he says: the law is given for grace to be sought, grace is given for the law to be kept.22

As shown in footnote 23, the quote is taken from Against Two Letters of the Pelagians. Next, and always in the statement of the second conclusion, Luther paraphrases another anti-Pelagian work, the Answer to Julian, Incomplete Work.

Taking all of this into account, Doctor Augustine, the champion of grace, along with the holy Apostle, the preacher of grace, says that grace belongs not to the man who wishes and runs, but to God, who is merciful and does not impose a punishment unless it is due; mercy, by the way, is not well-deserved.23

Indeed, in Book I, paragraph 38 of said work, Augustine writes:

Divine justice deceives no one, but grants many things through grace to those who deserve them not. Why some but not others? Take heed of what you say now. It is most true that justice lies essentially in the depths of divinity. In such depths is the cause why it belongs neither to those who wish nor to those who run, but to those on whom God has mercy.24

The references to Augustine in the first corollary of the quaestio’s second conclusion are all verbatim quotations. The first is from Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, IV.6.15:

And so Augustine says: ‘Why do you defend free will, which is not free to work justice unless you become a sheep? He who makes sheep of men is the same Who liberates human wills to obey piety”.25

It is followed by a quotation from Answer to Julian, Incomplete Work. I.94

Augustine also shows this in Book I against Pelagius, where he says that [free will] “shall not be free to do good unless it is made free by Liberation, but regarding evil he does have free will, when, before the delights of evil, he persuades himself or serves the seducer, whether he is in disguise or manifest”.26

It is surprising that, in this cited passage, Luther chooses words from Augustine which are being cited —and refuted— in the text by Julian. Augustine’s work is actually developed as an answer or refutation of Julian’s reply to a previous text by himself. Hence, Augustine cites Julian, who cites Augustine, and answers him. The quotation chosen by Luther appears in a context in which bishop Julian is accusing Augustine of Manicheism, putting forward his own stance as being acceptable for the Roman Church. It says:

In all of these words I have quoted from you [says Julian], I see that the name of grace is tied to the denial of free will; and as much as your words are good, that is no excuse for how wrong your thoughts are; dignity of expression demeans the content of your doctrines. I see you not honoured by its sentences; indeed, you have corrupted what nobility they bear. We split what you tied, so that grace’s divinity, disentangled from an impure alliance, should suffer no detriment due to our answer and receive, rather than the false compliments of Manicheans, the sensible praise of Catholics.27

It is hardly believable that Luther could have inadvertently chosen words by Augustine which Julian vilifies in the name of the “sensible praise of Catholics”. As we have proved above by comparing the passages, Luther is not paraphrasing Answer to Julian, Incomplete Work but quoting directly from it. He most probably has Augustine’s text at hand. This quote shows that his understanding of grace as a divine gift by no means received through merit was, already in 1516, in conflict with the doctrine held by the Roman Church.28

In the following passage, Luther cites the other Answer to Julian. There is something curious about this quotation, similarly to the previous one. The expression “bonded will” (servo arbitrio), which would become the title of Luther’s reply to Erasmus in 1525, almost ten years after this opuscule, belongs to Augustine.

Augustine, Book II against Julian: “You wish for man to become perfect, and I would that it were through God’s gift and not through free, or I should say, bonded will”.29

Proceeding with his argument, the second corollary of the second conclusion states: “When man does what is within himself, he sins, given that he cannot wish or think by himself.”30 This corollary is also argued for with a literal quotation from Saint Augustine, in this case from his Against Two Letters of the Pelagians.

Augustine says: Thinking about something good is less than desiring it. “For we think everything we desire, but we do not desire everything we think”. From this, he infers: “How is it that we are unfit for what is less, that is, for thinking about something good, with our capability coming from God, but instead we are fit for what is more, such as desiring a certain good without divine help, thanks to free will?”31

The last appeal to Augustine in this quaestio appears in the second corollary of the third conclusion. Said conclusion denies the difference between grace or charity in general and the grace which assists in dire need. The assumption underlying this negation is that, as per Luther’s anthropological view, human beings are always in a state of dire need.32 The second corollary claims that “Everything is possible when it is believed that it is Christ who acts. The human will which delegates help to other saints is superstitious.”33 The relevance of the quotes from Augustine used to support this statement remains unclear if we ignore that, in the wider context of the cited passage, the bishop is alluding to the fact that only faith in Christ saves. They all belong to On Grace and Free Will.

Augustine, On Grace and Free Will, Chapter 3: “That kind of ignorance which is not proper of those who refuse to know, but of those who simply do not know, shall not be an excuse for anyone so as to avoid the flames of Hell. If someone believed not because he heard not, though he would in fact have believed, then perhaps he shall burn less.”34

Augustine says: “It is not that creation by which men were created, but that to which someone who was already man referred: Create in me a clean heart, O God”.35

Augustine: “Grace helps each one to keep the law; without grace, the man who lives under the law shall only be a listener of the law.”36

Portrait of Martin Luther as an Augustinian Monk - Lucas Cranach the Elder
Portrait of Martin Luther as an Augustinian Monk, workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder


[1] Eyn geystlich edles Buchleynn von rechter vnderscheyd vnd vorstand was der alt vn new mensche sey. Was Adams/ vn was gottis kind sey. vn wie Adä lynn vns sterben vnnd Christus ersteen sall. The translations [into Spanish] are mine, unless stated otherwise. In the case of the Frankfurt Anonymous, the translations were compared with the Modern German (HAAS 1993), English (BLAMIRES 2003) and Italian (VANNINI 2009) versions.

[2] The first edition contained only what we now know as chapters 7-28. The second edition was complete.

[3] Eyn deutsch Theologia, das ist eyn edles Buchleyn von rechtem vorstand was Adam vnd Christus sey vnd wie Adam yn vns sterben vnd Christus ersteen sall.

[4] Eyn deutsch Theologia, pp. 7-8. “Das sag ich darunb/ das ich vorwarnet haben will eynen iglichen/ der diß buchleyn lißt/ da er seynen Schaden nit vorwircke/ und sich ergere/ yn dem schlechten deutsch adder ungekrenzten worten/ dann diß edle Buchleyn, alß arm und ungesmuckt/ es ist/ yn worten und menschlicher weißheit, alßo und vill mehr/ reycher und ubirkostlich ist es in kunst und gotlicher weißheit / Und daß ich nach meynem alten narren rühm, ist myr nehst der Biblen und S. Augustin nit vorkummen eyn buch/ dar auß ich mehr erlernet haß und will/ was got, Christus, mensch und alledinge seyn. Und befindenu aller erst/ daß war sey/ das etlich hochgelerten von/ uns Wittenbergischen Theologen schimpflich reden/ also wolten wir neuw ding furnhemen/ gleych alß weren nit vorhyn und anderwo auch leute geweßen/ Ja, freylich seynn sie geweßen. Aber gottis ßoren durch unser sund vorwirket/ hatt uns nit laßen wirdig seyn die selben zu sehen ader hören/ dann ans tag ists/ das in den universiteten eyn lang zeyt sulchs nitt gehandelt/ dohynn bracht ist/ das das heylig wortt gottis/ nit allein under der bangk gelegen/ sundernn von stauß und mutten nahend vorweßet.” This transcription is based on a copy of the 1520 reprint and as of 03/21/2020 could be downloaded from

[5] Von Hinten chose to base his edition on the Dessau manuscript, considering it to be closer to the original either than Luther’s editions or the Bonnbach manuscript.

[6] MCGINN (2005), pp. 11-47 offers a fine analytic summary of the Dominican mystical tradition. Meister Eckhart and his disciples are discussed in pp. 83-296.

[7] On the doubts regarding the text’s evangelic authenticity, see BELLINI (1981).

[8] LUTHER, De Captivitate Babylonica Ecclesiae (WA 6, p. 562). “Recens enim est inventio sacramentorum. Atque mihis (ut magis temerarius sim) in totum displicet, tantum tribui, quisquis fuerit, Dionysio illi, cum ferme nihil in eo sit solidae eruditionis. Nam ea quae in ‘coelesti hierarchia’ de angelis comminiscitur, in quo libro sie sudarunt curiosa et superstitiosa ingenia, qua, rogo, autoritate aut ratione probat? Nonne omnia sunt illius meditata ae prope somniis simillima, si libere legas et indices? In ‘Theologia’ vero ‘mystica’, quam sie inflant ignorantissimi quidam Theologistae, etiam pernitiosissimus est, plus platonisans quam Christianisans, ita ut nollem fidelem animum his libris operam dare vel minimam.” Translation: LUTHER (1967, p. 246.).

[9] LUTHER: “An homo, ad Dei imaginem creatus, naturalibus suis viribus Dei creatoris praecepta servare aut boni quippiam facere aut cogitare atque cum gratia mereri meritaque cognoscere possit?” (WA 1, p. 145)

[10] LUTHER: “Homo, ratione animae Dei imago et sic ad gratiam Dei aptus, suis naturalibus viribus solis creaturam quamlibet qua utitur vanitati subiicit sua, et quae carnis sunt quaerit.” (Ibid)

[11] LUTHER: “Quod homo Dei imago sit, patet ex illo Gen. 1. Creavit Deus hominem ad imaginem suam, quod autem ratione animae, manifestat D. Augustinus his verbis: Licet humana mens non sit eius naturae qua Deus, imago tamen illius, qua nihil est melius, ibi quaerenda ac invenienda est, quod natura nostra nil habeat melius mente. Quod sic ad gratiam Dei aptus sit, defendit D. Augustinus reddendo causam, cur hominum naturae gratia conferatur, ita inquiens: Neque enim gratia Dei per Iesum Christum Dominum nostrum lapidibus aut lignis pecoribusque praestatur, sed qui imago Dei est meretur hanc gratiam, non tamen ut eius bona voluntas possit praecedere gratiam, nec vel ipsa prior det ut retribuatur illi.” (Ibid.)

The chapters from De spiritu et Anima to which Luther seems to allude are I (PL c.781), VII (PL c.784), X (PL cc.785- 786) y LII (PL c.817-818). The complete text is found in JP MIGNE, Patrologia Latina, vol.40, col. 780-832. There is a partial translation into Spanish: “Introducción y traducción del De Spiritu et Anima, un opúsculo inédito atribuido a Alcher de Clairvaux” by JOAN MARTÍNEZ PORCELL, in Espíritu n. 67 (2018) pp. 265-290.

[12] AUGUSTINUS. De Spiritu et Littera, 1.4: “Sed illis acerrime ac vehementissime resistendum est, qui putant sine adiutorio Dei per se ipsam vim voluntatis humanae vel iustitiam posse perficere vel ad eam tendendo proficere et, cum urgueri coeperint, quomodo id praesumant asserere fieri sine ope divina, reprimunt se nec hanc vocem audent emittere, quoniam vident quam sit impia et non ferenda.” (CSEL 60). Translated [into Spanish] by Emiliano López, OSA, in SAN AGUSTÍN, Obras completas, volume 6, Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, various editions.

[13] “Patet, quod vetus homo est ille, qui purissime Deum non diligit, nec ferventer sitit et esurit, sed mente et spiritu saturitatem in creatura praesumit, cum tamen Dei capax solo Deo saturari possit, est ergo vanitas vanitatum Eccl. 1. et universa vanitas. Ps. 38.” (WA 1, p. 146)

[14] LUTHER: “Veruntamen universa vanitas omnis homo vivens. Quod autem reliquas creaturas alioqui bonas (secundum illud Gen. 1. Viditque Deus cuncta quae fecerat, et erant valde bona, ut et illud Apostoli 1. Tim. 4. Omnis creatura Dei bona est) efficiat quoque vanas, sumitur ex illo Apostoli Rom. 8. Vanitati enim creatura subiecta est non volens. Quo manifeste patet, quod sine vitio suo et extrinsece fiat mala, vana, noxia, quod opinione et erronea aestimatione seu amore et fruitione perversa reputatur altius ab homine quam est in veritate. Sic si foenum in cibum hominis praesumeretur, dignius haberetur quam est.” (Ibid.)

[15] This Augustinian conception is famously developed in the three books of De Libero Arbitrio (387-395) and summarised in Book VII of Confessions.

[16] LUTHER: “Augustinus: Sine ipsa vero (loquitur de fide, quae per dilectionem operatur) etiam quae videntur bona opera in peccata vertentur.” (WA 1, p. 146)

[17] AUGUSTINUS, Expositio Epistulae ad Galatas, 62 “Illam enim dicit custoditionem legis, non occidere, non moechari, non falsum testimonium dicere et si qua huiusmodi ad bonos mores pertinere manifestum est, quae nisi caritate et spe bonorum aeternorum, quae per fidem accipiuntur, impleri non posse iam dictum est.” (CSEL 84). Translated by Pío de Luis, OSA in SAN AGUSTÍN, Obras completas, volume 18, Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, various editions.

[18] AUGUSTINUS, Enchiridion de Fide, Spe et Charitate, XXXII. 121: “Quaecumque ergo mandat Deus, ex quibus unum est: Non moechaberis 298, et quaecumque non iubentur sed spiritali consilio monentur, ex quibus unum est: Bonum est homini mulierem non tangere 299: tunc recte fiunt cum referuntur ad diligendum Deum, et proximum propter Deum, et in hoc saeculo et in futuro: nunc Deum per fidem tunc per speciem, et ipsum proximum nunc per fidem.”

[19] LUTHER: “Si fidem non habent Christi, profecto nec iusti sunt nec Deo placent (nam sine fide Deo placere impossibile est), Sed ad hoc eos cogitationes suae die iudicii defendent, ut tolerabilius puniantur, quod naturaliter quae legis sunt utcunque fecerint, scriptum habentes in cordibus opus legis dictans, ut aliis uon facerent quod ipsi perpeti nollent, hoc tamen peccantes, quod homines sine fide non ad eum finem ista retulerint opera, ad quem referre debuerunt.” (WA 1, pp. 146-147)

AUGUSTINUS, Contra Iulianum, IV. III, 25: “Aut si fidem non habent Christi, profecto nec iusti sunt, nec Deo placent, cui sine fide placere impossibile est. Sed ad hoc eos in die iudicii cogitationes suae defendent, ut tolerabilius puniantur, quia naturaliter quae legis sunt utcumque fecerunt, scriptum habentes in cordibus opus legis hactenus, ut aliis non facerent quod perpeti nollent: hoc tamen peccantes, quod homines sine fide, non ad eum finem ista opera retulerunt, ad quem referre debuerunt.”

[20] AUGUSTINUS, De Gratia et Libero Arbitrio 5 .10: “Nec attendunt qui hoc sentiunt, quia nisi donum Dei esset etiam ipsa ad Deum nostra conversio, non ei diceretur: Deus virtutum, converte nos; et: Deus, tu convertens vivificabis nos; et: Converte nos, Deus sanitatum nostrarum 63; et huiusmodi alia, quae commemorare longum est. Nam et venire ad Christum, quid est aliud nisi ad eum credendo converti? Et tamen ait: Nemo potest venire ad me, nisi datum fuerit ei a Patre meo.”

[21] The origins of the term “semi-Pelagianism” have been variously explained. Depending on the source, it is first attested either in the Formula of Concord, the 1577 Lutheran statement of faith, or towards 1589, amid the debates elicited by the doctrine of the Jesuit Luis de Molina (1535-1600). In fact, the earliest use of the term belongs to Calvinist theologian Théodore de Beze (1519-1605), who seems to have coined it. Beze uses the term for the first time in 1556 in his notes to the New Testament, and uses it again in 1558, in his attack on Sébastien Chateillon’s translation of Romans 8. Regarding these and later uses of the term, see BACKUS AND GOUDRIAAN (2004).

[22] LUTHER, Quaestio de Viribus et Voluntate Hominis Sine Gratia Disputata, concl. sec. Quae verba tractans D. Augustinus dicit: “Scriptura legis sine charitate inflat, non aedificat”. Et paulo post: “Cognitio itaque legis facit superbum praevaricatorem, per donum autem charitatis delectat legis esse factorem”. Et in multis locis dicit: Lex data est ut gratia quaereretur, gratia data est ut lex impleretur. (WA 1, p. 147).

AUGUSTINUS, Contra Duas Epistolas Pelagianorum, IV.5.11. Nam scientia legis sine caritate inflat, non aedificat secundum eumdem Apostolum apertissime dicentem: Scientia inflat, caritas vero aedificat. Quae sententia similis est ei, qua dictum est: Littera occidit, spiritus autem vivificat. Quale est enim scientia inflat, tale est littera occidit; quale est caritas aedificat, tale est spiritus vivificat, quia caritas Dei diffusa est in cordibus nostris per Spiritum Sanctum, qui datus est nobis. Cognitio itaque legis facit superbum praevaricatorem, per donum autem caritatis delectat legis esse factorem. Non ergo legem evacuamus per fidem, sed legem statuimus, quae terrendo ducit ad fidem. Ideo quippe lex iram operatur, ut territo atque converso ad iustitiam legis implendam Dei misericordia gratiam largiatur per Iesum Christum Dominum nostrum, qui est Dei sapientia […].

[23] LUTHER, Quaestio de Viribus et Voluntate Hominis Sine Gratia Disputata, concl. sec. Ex quibus omnibus D. Augustinus, gratiae defensor, cum sanctissimo Apostolo, gratiae praedicatore, quod non hominis sit volentis et currentis, sed Dei miserentis, qui poenam non reddit nisi debitam, misericordiam vero non nisi indebitam. (WA 1, p. 147).

[24] AUGUSTINUS, Contra Iulianum Opus Imperfectum, I.38. Neminem quippe fraudat divina iustitia, sed multa donat non merentibus gratia. Cur autem huic sic, illi autem sic, aspice quod secutus adiungis. Verissime quippe dicis, eam consistere maxime in divinitatis profundo. In hoc profundo est, quod neque volentis, neque currentis, sed miserentis est Dei.

[25] LUTHER: Quaestio de Viribus et Voluntate Hominis Sine Gratia Disputata “Hinc ait Augustinus: Quid obtendis liberum arbitrium, quod ad faciendam iustitiam liberum non erit, nisi ovis fueris? Qui facit igitur oves homines, ipse ad obedientiam pietatis humanas liberat voluntates. Non tamen invite sed voluntarie servit. (WA 1, p. 148)

AUGUSTINUS, Contra Duas Epistolas Pelagianorum, IV.6.15: “Quid mihi obtendis liberum arbitrium, quod ad faciendam iustitiam liberum non erit, nisi ovis fueris? Qui facit igitur oves homines, ipse ad oboedientiam pietatis humanas liberat voluntates.”

[26] LUTHER: “Patet etiam per Augustinum Lib. I. contra Pelag., ubi dicit: Quod nec liberum in bono erit, quod liberatio non liberaverit, sed in malo liberum habet arbitrium in delectationem malitiae, vel occultus vel manifestus decepto inservit vel sibi ipse persuasit.” (WA 1, p. 148)

AUGUSTINUS, Contra Iulianum opus imperfectum, I.94: “Et item post modicum: Datur ergo, inquis, potestas ut filii Dei fiant, qui credunt in eum. Quae potestas, nisi detur a Deo, nulla esse potest ex libero arbitrio; quia nec liberum in bono erit, quod liberator non liberaverit; sed in malum liberum habet arbitrium, cui delectationem malitiae vel occultus vel manifestus deceptor insevit, vel sibi ipse persuasit.”

[27] AUGUSTINUS, Contra Iulianum opus imperfectum, I.94: “In his omnibus verbis tuis, quae posui, ita video gratiae nomen cum liberi arbitrii negatione consertum, ut non tam mala sensus tui appellationum bonis vindicari queant, quam dignitas nominum dogmatum tuorum adhaesione vilescat. Non ergo te his sermonibus honestasti, sed ornamenta ipsa turpasti. Nos tamen ea quae a te iuncta sunt, separamus, ut gratiae divinitas ab scaevis colligationibus enodata, nec responsione quatiatur; et gravitate Catholicorum, non Manichaeorum adulatione laudetur.”

[28] For a version of the Roman Church’s position on grace according to a contemporary of Luther, see ECK (1979, c. 31).

[29] LUTHER: “Augustinus Lib. II. contra Iulianum. Hic enim: vultis hominem perfici, atque utinam Dei dono et non libero, sed potius servo proprie voluntatis arbitrio.” (WA 1, p. 148)

AUGUSTINUS, Contra Iulianum II.VIII, 23: “Sed vos festinatis, et praesumptionem vestram festinando praecipitatis. Hic enim vultis hominem perfici, atque utinam Dei dono, et non libero, vel potius servo propriae voluntatis arbitrio.”

[30] LUTHER: “Homo, quando facit quod in se est, peccat, cum nec velle aut cogitare ex seipso possit.” (WA 1, p. 148)

[31] LUTHER: “Augustinus: Cogitare aliquid bonum minus est quam cupere. Cogitamus quippe omne quod cupimus, non cupimus omne quod cogitamus. Ex illo infert quoque: ad id quod minus est vel ad cogitandum aliquid boni non sumus idonei tanquam ex nobismet ipsis, sed sufficientia nostra ex Deo est. Et ad id quod est amplius vel ad cupiendum aliquid boni sine divino adiutorio idonei simus ex libero arbitrio?” (WA 1, p. 148)

AUGUSTINUS, Contra Duas Epistolas Pelagianorum, II. 8.18. “Cogitare ait aliquid, utique bonum; minus est autem cogitare quam cupere. Cogitamus quippe omne quod cupimus nec tamen cupimus omne quod cogitamus, quoniam nonnumquam et quod non cupimus cogitamus. Cum igitur minus sit cogitare quam cupere – potest enim homo cogitare bonum, quod nondum cupit, et proficiendo postea cupere, quod antea non cupiendo cogitavit -, quomodo ad id quod minus est, id est, ad cogitandum aliquid boni, non sumus idonei tamquam ex nobismet ipsis, sed sufficientia nostra ex Deo est, et ad id quod est amplius, id est, ad cupiendum aliquid boni, sine divino adiutorio idonei sumus ex libero arbitrio?

[32] LUTHER: “Gratia seu charitas, quae non nisi in extrema necessitate succurrit, inertissima est ac potius nulla charitas, nisi extrema necessitas non mortis periculum sed cuiuscunque rei defectus intelligatur.” (WA 1, p. 149)

[33] LUTHER: “Cum credenti omnia sint autore Christo possibilia, Superstitiosum est humano arbitrio aliis Sanctis alia deputari auxilia.” (WA 1, p. 150)

[34] LUTHER, “Augustinus de Grat. cap. III. Sed et illa ignorantia, quae non est eorum qui scire nolunt, sed eorum qui simpliciter nesciunt, neminem sic excusat, ut sempiterno igne non ardeat. Si propterea non credidit, quia non audivit, omnino quidem crederet, sed fortassis, ut minus ardeat.” (WA 1,

AUGUSTINUS, De Gratia et Libero Arbitrio , I.3.5. “Sed et illa ignorantia quae non est eorum qui scire nolunt, sed eorum qui tamquam simpliciter nesciunt, neminem sic excusat, ut sempiterno igne non ardeat, si propterea non credidit quia non audivit omnino quid crederet; sed fortasse ut mitius ardeat.”

[35] LUTHER: “Augustinus: Non est illa creatio, qua homines facti sumus, sed ea de qua ille dicebat, qui iam homo erat, ‘cor mundum crea in me, Deus”. (WA 1,

AUGUSTINUS, De Gratia et Libero Arbitrio , I.8.20: “Hoc enim ait: Ipsius sumus figmentum, creati in Christo Iesu in operibus bonis: non illa creatione qua homines facti sumus, sed ea de qua ille dicebat, qui utique iam homo erat: Cor mundum crea in me, Deus.”

[36] LUTHER: “Augustinus: Gratia quippe adiuvat, ut legis quisque sit actor, sine qua gratia sub lege potius homo erit legis auditor.” (WA 1

AUGUSTINUS, De Gratia et Libero Arbitrio, I. 12.24: “Gratia quippe adiuvat ut legis quisque sit factor, sine qua gratia sub lege positus tantummodo erit legis auditor.”

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