Luther and the Niebuhr Brothers, April 15, 1990
A SCHOLARDARITY DOCUMENT
In Four Parts
- Luther and the Peasants War 2. Luther and the Niebuhr Brothers
3. Apologists for Luther’s Theology and the Two Kingdom Theory
4. Luther and the Great German Peasants’ War: a Little Known Story
(a continuation of sections recovered from 5 ¼ in. floppy disks)
Luther and the Niebuhr Brothers
April 15, 1990
by Peter D.S. Krey
We will look in vain for a monograph by the Niebuhr brothers specifically on the Peasants War of 1525 in Luther’s Germany. But Reinhold and H. Richard Niebuhr certainly refer to and have reactions to Luther’s relationship with the peasant uprisings, as well as to Luther’s theory of the two Kingdoms, in so far as they deal with them. This essay alternates between the history in the horizon of Luther’s contemporaries, and the historical vantage‑point from our time, looking back at the actors in this Sixteenth Century theater of history from consequential historical experience and additional reflection. This is naturally unfair to them because of the historical limitations of the people we study in the past. We have our own historical limitations, however, and we find that some historical figures were very great and the grandeur of their historical impact exceeds that of some of the great figures of our day. But from our own limited life and thought, which is so different, a hopefully fresh perspective becomes possible.
Already at the beginning Reinhold Niebuhr’s sharp criticism of Luther against the peasants in his Nature and Destiny of Man was mentioned. [In a previous chapter of this work.] But Reinhold had concerned himself with these same issues in Moral Man and Immoral Society as well as returning to them and analyzing them again in The Structure of Nations and Empires. (He may have done more in other works that I have not read.) H. Richard Niebuhr spends some time with Luther in his section of Christ and Culture devoted to the paradoxical model. Before this he dealt with him in The Social Sources of Denominationalism and The Kingdom of God in America. In Christ and Culture, H. Richard recognized the large contribution which the Christian dualist made in reinvigorating both Christianity and culture by the dynamic action that the tension has set free. H. Richard appreciates the contribution of Christian dualists, but records two major criticisms: Sometimes their dualism tends to lead to antinomianism and cultural conservatism. The latter characterization was naturally devastating in 1951. The relativizing of rules and laws has doubtless led some to cast aside all rules for civilized living. “They have claimed Luther or Paul as authority for the contention that it makes no difference whether men are sinfully obedient or sinfully disobedient to the law, whether they are obedient or disobedient to sinful law, whether they sinfully seek truth or live as sinful skeptics, whether they are self‑righteously moral or self‑indulgently amoral.”
Dialectics can be pretty slippery. H. Richard maintains that the dualist needs the other kinds of Christians as a corrective, as much as the cannon chose to include the Gospel of Matthew and the Letter of James along with St. Paul.
The conservatism of the dualists comes about because of the tendency to think of “law, state and other institutions as restraining forces, as dikes against sin, preventers of anarchy, rather than positive agencies through which men in social union render positive service to neighbors advancing toward true life.”
A tendency in Luther and Paul exists to relate temporality and finiteness to sin in such a degree as to move creation and fall into very close proximity, which does less than justice to the creative work of God.
For Luther the wrath of God is not only against sin but the whole temporal world. “Dying to self and rising with Christ are doubtlessly more important; but self‑centeredness and finiteness belong so closely together that spiritual transformation cannot be expected this side of death.”
Everything on this side is transitory and dying and however important cultural duties, Christian life is not in them.
Luther can be said to have disparaged the material reasons for the peasant unrest unjustly. I believe Luther just did not have the social and political language to be able to help the parties in the conflict to relativize their claims and demands in order to be able to negotiate. In the face of the criticism above, that Luther neglected the society and compartmentalized himself in the religious institution alone, we have to say yes and no. The fact is that somehow the whole structure of the medieval world was shaking, as if what brought a rift into the surface of the society was an earthquake, which came from far below, from the “nominalist” depths. Because Luther turned to a particularistic existentialism, the whole could be vacated, the system scrapped, the individual could be abstracted out, and actually the whole of Europe could get carved up into smaller national compartments, as well as more tightly sealed social compartments that progressed from the estates to classes.
It is possible for a theology to function like psychologism, where the external conditions are considered unreal. Luther did not go that far, but considered them unimportant, because they are proximate and not ultimate, to use Reinhold’s terms. It is possible for a philosophy to function as a sociologism where internal features are considered unreal. This is the case with Marxism, which relegates the whole Reformation to shadowy superstitious epiphenomena, and reinterprets the whole story as a early‑ bourgeois revolution with Thomas Müntzer replacing the historical Luther in significance. What is the person to the Marxist but an inner ensemble of social conditions? No psychological space is granted by the one, nor any social ground by the other. And while asking questions concerning Marxism: “What is a heresy but the revenge for a forgotten truth?” That was to bring wholeness and soundness into social space. Perhaps it was the great medieval synthesis that brought the Lutheran revolt for Hebrew particularism and existentialism.
H. Richard describes the conservatism of Luther to be one that delimited the earthly kingdom’s function alone to restrain evil, while such scholars as H. Bornkamm, G. W. Forell and K. Holl disagree. Reinhold, however, explores H. Richard’s view of Luther’s conservatism farther. Luther, according to Reinhold left discriminate justice out of his two kingdom theory, which he developed from Augustine’s two cities. Reinhold also argues that Luther did not consider the ambiguity of reason to be able to build and destroy, nor finally the rational balancing of opposing social forces. Thus Luther saw only destruction and anarchy in the peasants, missing the justice, the more democratic social project, e.g., the bid for peasant councils. He sees justice only in the Princes, whom he later determined to be bloodhounds, as he later called them. In their orgy of violence he could only see the reestablishment of necessary order. On the other hand, if Thomas Müntzer had not been a mere preacher who thought he was a general, and had really known how to fight, say in some pitched battle on soft turf, where mounted troops would have been useless, and had outflanked the princes and won, there would have been five regional peasant uprisings that would have had to struggle for supremacy, like the already established electors. And who knows how many of the “ungodly” Müntzer would have purged until he thought only the Godly were at hand for the kingdom? But this is mere conjecture. [He spoke about purging the ungodly, but he himself was really purged along with about 80,000 peasants.] Let us also attempt to think with the conceptual sophistication of the Niebuhrs.
In his book, The Social Sources of Denominationalism, H. Richard is very hard on Luther. He asserts that the Reformation failed to meet the religious needs of the peasants and other disenfranchised groups of the day.
It remained the religion of the middle classes and the nobility. Here it is obvious that H. Richard does not subscribe to the two kingdom theory. “Honestly and naively the peasants of Germany had believed that Luther’s appeal to the New Testament was an appeal not to Pauline theology alone but to the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount as well.”
Here he also asserts that the peasants discovered that “the priesthood of all believers, ” meant deliverance neither from the abstruseness of dogma, nor from the formality of sacramentalism, nor from the inequalities of political and economic ethics. Luther had a dual standard of Old Testament precepts for the rulers and Christian New Testament self‑ sacrificing meekness for the peasants, their economic underlings. He places the peasants under the requirements of the Sermon on the Mount, and gives the rulers the leeway of the most cynical real‑politic…The latter words that belong to Reinhold, capture H. Richard’s meaning well. They lambast Luther’s pamphlet, “Against the Thieving Hordes of Peasants” ‑ a production which has well been called a `disgrace to literature, to say nothing of religion.'”
H. Richard thought the dualism of former Catholic social ethics was superior to Luther’s, because at least it favored a spiritual rather than primarily a political and economic aristocracy, which used the guide‑line: “The ass will have blows and the people will be ruled by force.”
H. Richard does not have conceptual clarity here. What is the Reformation if the political and ecclesiastic institutions were not being redefined in order to properly fulfill the functions they were called to. Looking at the predicament from the standpoint of social class, makes H. Richard take this view. Heinrich Bornkamm depicts Luther’s Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms in a very abstruse and complex way. But by and large it is not so complex when it is understood. When H. Richard attacks the formality of sacramentalism, then he does not realize that the sacrament can be shared informally as well. The very harsh judgment against Luther is noticed and comes up time and again. The poor need a religion of emotional fervor and social Reconstruction, which Luther and Calvin did not offer.
Later in the same book, H. Richard explains that many different groups rallied around the banner of Luther’s revolt against the medieval church: Protestants with purely religious interests against the secularized church, peasants and proletarians for long sought realizations of their hopes, humanists against the irrationalism of superstition, the knights for national and provincial interests, and bourgeoisie who wanted to establish their interests against the aristocracy and hierarchy. These movements were excluded from the Reformation, while the middle‑class was taken up in Calvinism and the nobility was given sanctuary in Lutheranism, and the poor were sent empty away to find another home for their faith.
Against this kind of a social argument, F. Lau shows that the popular movement of Lutheranism among the lower classes was not stopped by the Peasants’ War, because it continued in North German cities from 1526‑1532. (See below.) In the Count’s War in Denmark 1533‑1536, on the other hand, there is the argument that the peasantry, bourgeoisie, and Catholicism supporting Christian II fought Lutheranism and the nobility and the duke, who became Christian III. (The former argument, then, contradicts the class‑specificity of Lutheranism, and the latter seems to support it.)
It is difficult to accept the fact that the violence on the part of the peasants was so roundly condemned by Luther, but the “legitimated” violence so roundly accepted. The violence of the “protestant inquisition” against the religion of the poor, that of the “Anabaptists,” was not questioned very much either. When the Swabian League authorized continued punitive “police action” against peasant leaders who may have escaped, years after the end of hostilities, if Anabaptists were discovered, they were also executed forthwith.
There is no doubt that studying Ernst Troeltsch adds a social sensitivity and perception that Luther did not have. Could it be, however, that false modern political expectations are imposed on Luther? It is also unfair to characterize Luther’s position against the peasants as a cold political calculation (to sacrifice them to save his Reformation and the Gospel), as much as it is unfair to consider it an unconscious class prejudice against the lowest estate of the day. Luther certainly shared the interests of Frederick the Wise, Duke John and John Frederick. The chasm between the estates of the day was very difficult to cross. But other ingredients explaining his position are more real.
In Christ and Culture H. Richard takes philosophical and theological umbrage with Luther, i.e. in his dualism and total depravity doctrine moving the Fall too close to the Creation, almost placing its goodness in question. In The Social Sources of Denominationalism, he takes social umbrage with Luther ‑ from the point of view of caste and outcasts. Does caste have to be an indelible external reality, unchangeable and to be accepted? Luther used a term for the office of the minister which undermined the ontological distinction between a clergy and layperson and made the distinction merely functional. G. H. Meade uses this same concept when he searches for the possibility of an ideal society in his book, On Social Psychology. “The development of the democratic community implies the removal of castes as essential to the personality of the individual; the individual is not to be what he is in his specific caste or group as against other groups, but his distinctions are to be distinctions of functional difference which put him in relationship with others instead of separating him.”
Again what Luther could apply to the relationship of lay and clergy, he could not extrapolate for the “ontological distinctions” between the estates. He states in opposition to the third of the Peasants’ Twelve Articles: “It happens that this article wishes to make all people equal, and of the spiritual kingdom of Christ a worldly, external kingdom, which is impossible. Because a worldly kingdom cannot endure, where there is no inequality in persons, where some are free and others imprisoned, some Lords and others subservient, etc.”
The priesthood of all believers still goes farther than Luther could understand and go along with. His theological insight penetrated much farther than his social imagination. G. H. Meade actually refers to the medieval world and its estates in his analysis, which I just quoted, and shows how slaves pass over into serfs, peasants, artisans, citizens and in all stages there are increased relations….
Here particularism on Luther’s part may well be an underlying factor, and a social universalism, democratization, i.e. a greater “catholicism” was required.
From H. Richard’s The Kingdom of God in America, it is possible to list the following criticisms of Luther:
1/ Luther staked everything on the freedom of the Word of God ‑ which the more skeptical will regard as too great a trust in the Word alone to sway princes, ecclesiastics, and rulers of economic life.
2/ Luther seemed to hold that God’s sovereignty over so‑called “natural things” was not as seriously impaired as in the realm of the spirit and thus the actual civil law and institutions truly represented the natural law.
3/ He regarded all “outward” things with monastic or pietistic indifference (as already mentioned).
4/ Only God can rule the human spirit and only the spirit is really important.
5/ The freedom of the Word is the most important and and it is all right to yield to political and economic forces in what seem to be purely temporal matters. And if only the Word is unshackled it will convert rulers and the rich and so produce paternal, loving, reasonable rule on earth.
For these points it is good to look into Luther’s famous Eight Invocavit Sermons through which he calmed and put down the rampage of the iconoclasts in Wittenberg after his hasty return from the Wartburg. The necessary changes for the Reformation could proceed by God’s Word alone and not by human hand or force of arms.
On the other hand, Zwingli interestingly enough, applies economic sanctions on the Catholic Forest cantons, which refused to allow reformed pastors into their congregations. The armies from these cantons attacked Zwingli in retaliation and in the second battle, Zwingli lost his life. Zwingli had seen the outnumbered and divided Swiss mercenaries get massacred far away from home in the bloody senseless battles of Novara and Marignano in 1513 and 1515. In his revulsion against this system, he had attacked the practice of the Swiss of sending the farm hands (Landsknechte) out as mercenaries where there was not sufficient income from the farms for their upkeep. He needed soldiers when the Catholic cantons attacked and defeated and killed him. He also had needed the alliance with Philip of Hesse, which of course did not come about because of Luther and his inability to agree on the doctrine of Holy Communion. (Note the consequence attached to their agreement.) Luther’s agenda for the Reformation was faith in the Word of God alone rather than the pressure of sanctions, let alone possible coercion. Here the two kingdom theory again plays a role. Using such means could be a rational approach for the secular government, but, according to Luther they should not be used for spiritual goals. They are a rational means for some political goals, but they should not be used as theological means by the church, which is based on the Gospel and persuasion.
The question can be asked: Would the repeal of Apartheid legislation not also include spiritual goals? Today with Nelson Mandela freed in South Africa, it seems the economic sanctions really brought progress in social justice there. Churches as well as governments participated. Where is here the Word alone? Karl Marx asserted that an “idea always disgraced itself insofar as it differed from an interest,”  – that an idea only if supported by an interest started a movement. His position comes from a materialistic view, naturally. Perhaps it is good to go to the power of the Word alone for the matters of the spirit, because does not the spirit determine human actions? The flesh is weak. That certainly means the spirit is weak, even though it may be willing. (Mat. 26:41)
Luther certainly meant that the Word, the Gospel influences those people who have opened themselves to it, and through His Word, God works making changes that the godless cannot hinder. Do we go over into materialism too much today, and perhaps weigh down and make ineffectual the spirit? This can be considered in relation with Luther’s dictum: “For the Word of God comes, whenever it comes, to change and renew the world.”  Now does that necessarily mean the word alone? It also means God acting in history to bring it to pass. That means God’s interest, and certainly those who adhere to God’s will. In this way the interest is also carried, and what’s more a congregation, a church community carries the Gospel. To pick up a social class that carries the idea and makes it a movement is only a step farther from saying an idea needs an interest to give it the power to become a movement.
H. Richard shows that churches have become class specific and carry the interests of their class. The Gospel, the Word of God, needs to be pure and confront human interests with God’s will. In the concept of the Word alone is implicit trust and faith in God, and God acting. Because a Thomas Müntzer turns to violence, i.e. the use of force, Luther exclaims that Müntzer has experienced a shipwreck in his faith.
Perhaps, then sanctions, coercion, and represented interests do play a role in secular, rational political considerations, but they are not so effectual as the Word alone, where God is acting. And with that it seems that real change and permanent social improvement can rely on this spiritual power more. Luther could have led actions against the monasteries and forced the nuns and monks out. With the Word he convinced them, and in their hearts they agreed that the perfection, which they sought, was not possible in such an isolated group; they then left the monasteries of their own accord. Marx would argue that only because the Word was congruent with their interests did the Word have power to move them. Not so. Persons can be convinced of the truth even when it goes against their own interests: witness how many Communists pressed by Stalin almost agreed and became resigned to their own being purged for the sake of their value of the revolution. Or in the Peasants’ War look at the idealist Florian Geyer, who was very rich and stood to gain nothing from his joining the peasants, and indeed lost everything, even his own life, because he did. When getting into the soul and religion the materialist conceptions play havoc with inner integrity (Mat.10:30.), but when looking at large social groupings, the materialistic considerations seem so much more to come into the foreground.
Reinhold Niebuhr reflected on working out an adequate political ethic in a more focused way than his brother. Following Luther, I believe that Reinhold was also a dualist and rooted squarely in the paradoxical model. As much as he criticized the two kingdom theory, he was perhaps convinced by a more sophisticated version of it. We begin with his in-depth analysis of Luther’s stance on the peasants in 1525 in The Nature and Destiny of Man Vol. II, already alluded to above. His critique of Luther extends to Calvin as well, even to the entire contribution of the Reformation, which however has a more important place in the history of Christian thought and life than we realize.
That Reinhold’s critique is harsh will become obvious: “The Lutheran Reformation was betrayed meanwhile into the hands of social reaction.“
Perhaps he also looks at Luther through the lens of this particular historical issue: namely the failure in social justice for the peasants. He does show a sincere appreciation for Luther’s psychological understanding of love. But Luther interprets the power of righteousness psychologically.
He finds quietistic tendencies in Luther, however, in spite of the great merits of Luther’s rich analysis of faith and love. Luther sometimes lapses into the mystic doctrines of passivity or combines quietism with a legalistic conception of the imputation of righteousness. “Without works” degenerates into “without action.”
(Below it will be shown how these arguments do not grasp and comprehend Luther’s very self‑conscious, in‑depth theology, that penetrated realities in faith deeper than his critics. Note that by dint of his existentialistic theology Luther sometimes chooses to be quietistic.) Actually Luther teaches that the justification of faith is the release of the soul into action and not the encouragement for indolence.
Also in the barren Lutheran orthodoxy of the seventeenth‑century, “justification by faith” degenerated into “righteousness of belief” becoming destructive of the moral content of the Christian life, while the moral content has some warrant in Luther’s own thought.
Luther’s greatest weakness, for Reinhold, is his analysis of grace in its relation with the law. The problem does not arise in the idea of justification, but in sanctification. Luther’s vision of love, joy and peace which the redeemed soul enjoys in Christ is an ecstatic transcendence over all the contradictions in history, the inner contradictions of the “ought,” the sense of moral obligation, obligation to the law and therefore all the careful discriminations of justice, which belong to “law” in the broadest sense.
This leads to a highly personal and interior sanctification. Where H. Richard says Luther thinks of the state in purely negative terms, to restrain evil, Reinhold sees Luther having solely a negative view of the law. But Reinhold feels that “There is a constantly increasing sense of social obligation which is an integral part of the life of grace.”
This conception of Luther’s relation of grace with the law need not lead to antinomianism, but to an indifference to relative moral discriminations. From utter seriousness for the ultimate, the proximate does not receive sufficient concern for all the intermediate points, all the approximations of justice. In other words a defeatism comes about in which the understanding of the ultimate problem in historical existence precludes any understanding of all the proximate problems.
Reinhold shows that there are an infinite variety of structures and systems in which people seek to organize their common life in terms of some kind of justice. And higher approximations of justice are possible. All these mechanisms help people fulfill their obligations to their neighbors beyond the possibilities offered in direct personal relationships.
These mechanisms can be positive ways that people help each other beyond direct personal, individual relationships, and therefore they are not only negative restraints. With conviction, he states: “The Kingdom of God and the demands of perfect love are therefore relevant to every political system and impinge upon every social situation in which the self seeks to come to terms with the claims of other life.”
By this statement Reinhold seems to have a different approach to the two kingdom theory. He tries to spell out how the society is impinged, namely beyond the individual. But even Reinhold envisions kingdom of God beyond history and it remains an aspiration for or judgment upon any standing order. Perhaps his statement: “This is another instance in which the sectarian conception of the relation of the gospel to social problems is right and the Reformation is wrong.”
Reinhold requires a different approach from the two kingdom theory. According to Luther, because of this theory, the law relates to social problems and not the Gospel, except indirectly through individuals. (See Forell below.)
Reinhold does not say how to accomplish the requirements of love through the state where human outreach has to extend beyond directly personal relationships. He may see the Kingdom of God and perfect love as constant correctives, which are goals that always remain unattainable yet have to be striven for. It is to the realm of the state that Luther relegates secular reason, justice, negotiation, and compromise in temporal affairs. Reinhold may feel that for the sake of discriminate justice, the proximate realm also requires religious motivation. He later argues, however, that the distinction between the secular and religious realms remains the most creative in the history of western culture.
Perhaps given the case of the peasants war, Reinhold feels that the dualism of the two kingdoms brought about a failure in Luther’s response, but he would not be amiss if he emphasized the teaching of Luther that God works in both kingdoms, the strange work of love in the one and the proper work in the other, and the Christian person is always in both kingdoms having different roles. Perhaps it is possible that the failure of Luther consisted in being schizoid in the Peasants’ War. Because of his fear and despair he may have split the two kingdoms so that only the God of wrath could appear in the world. “Yet God so loved the world so that he gave his only begotten Son,” not for the church, but for the world. Perhaps emphasizing the positive and negative sides of the law and state, Reinhold could also argue that God does his proper work in the worldly kingdom as well.
Here Reinhold argues that Luther erred by placing the emphasis on saved by “faith,” where as it should be saved by “grace.” It is by grace alone, rather than by faith alone, that peace is found; because it is not our acceptance of grace by faith, but grace itself, which is determinative.
According to Reinhold, this made goodness possible also outside the Christian life. That would then puncture the walls of Luther’s two kingdom theory again. Reinhold feels that Luther split the two kingdoms apart so that no creative tension remained for them. He offered a Luther quote from the commentary on Galatians to the effect that the Gospel is placed in heaven and the law on earth. The righteousness of the gospel is heavenly and that of the law is earthly. According to Luther, Gospel and law have to be distinguished like the heaven is from the earth. Faith and conscience should utterly exclude the law, Luther continues, and the law should be left on earth. Contrary to the Gospel, in civil policy obedience to the law is required and nothing should be known of conscience, the Gospel, grace, remission of sins, heavenly righteousness and Christ himself. For civil policy, Moses only with the law and the works of the law are required. With these statements, all the tension is gone and Luther split up the kingdoms in an absolute way, according to Reinhold.
Luther rigorously applied the separation of the “worldly” kingdom from the “spiritual” one for the peasants. He met the demands of the peasants for greater justice with the charge that they confused the two realms. Reinhold states Luther was “complacent” to the social inequalities of feudalism and added a degree of perversity to his social ethic, because he enlarged on the distinction between an “inner” kingdom and an “outer” kingdom, so that in effect he made a distinction between a public and private morality. The rulers were approached as the custodians of public morality and advised to “hit, stab, kill” when dealing with the rebels…Luther had a morbid fear of anarchy and was willing to grant the “Obrigkeit” any means to suppress it. But Luther admonished the peasants as private citizens to live according to the Sermon on the Mount and that their demand for justice violated the ethic of nonresistance. Niebuhr continues that by thus “transposing an “inner” ethic into a private one, and making the “outer” or “earthly” authoritative for the government, Luther achieves a curiously perverse social morality.”
It is worthwhile to continue quoting Reinhold here: “He places a perfectionistic private ethic in juxtaposition to a realistic, not to say cynical, official ethic. He demands that the state maintain order without too scrupulous a regard for justice; yet he asks suffering and nonresistant love of the individual without allowing him to participate in the claims and counter‑claims which constitute the stuff of social justice. The inevitable consequence of such an ethic is to encourage tyranny; for resistance to government is as important as maintenance of government.”
Now to list more criticisms and corrective insights from Reinhold here:
1/ Luther’s pessimism and defeatism in social ethics led to an absolute distinction between the “heavenly” or “spiritual” and “earthly” kingdoms destroying the tension between them and the final demands of God upon the conscience for progressive realizations of the good in history. 2/ When H. Richard took the dualism of Luther to task for leading to possible antinomianism above, Reinhold takes it to task for making any attempt at social justice useless for the same reasons. Why struggle for a more righteous social order when every social order will be tainted by sin, and even an unjust order is sanctified, and therefore consciences can be easy about what is temporal and unimportant because it is not a question of the ultimate. Although social antinomianism is guarded against, there is no obligation for Christians to change social structures. (See Footnote No. 28)
3/ You can’t understand the ultimate, if you don’t diligently pursue the proximate.
4/ Luther develops no consistent criteria for the achievement of relative justice. Any order therefore that happens to be established by a state is uncritically accepted, because a standard of justice is lacking.
5/ The state is not in an order of creation, a directive given from God in the very structure of the created world. And uncritical obedience to such a government, which Luther demanded is not part of the requirement of such an “order”. 
In this last criticism, Reinhold has the spirit and temper of the Germany of 1937 in mind rather than Luther, who modeled incredible courage in civil and ecclesiastic disobedience, except that this peasant uprising seemed to make him forget this part of his life, and he could not muster this feeling, although he could make a stand if Lutherans were asked to turn in their newly translated New Testaments. His ecclesiastic and civil disobedience flared up there again quickly enough. Much can be said about all of Reinhold’s Luther and Reformation criticism. It is valuable and needs to be heard. But there is another side too that needs to be understood in order to be fair to this particular historical period and the tragedy of Luther’s belated reactions to this uprising. We cannot yet go into the problem of the causes of the peasant war. Reinhold is fair in that he does not go into the Luther’s betrayal of the peasants so very much. He takes issue with Luther’s teaching in the pamphlets he wrote. What is very unfair to Luther is the unhistorical way that Reinhold takes Luther to task, leaving out the historical context. He did not do a careful reading of the history here in question, and therefore fell into the trap that Prof. Grane spoke of, making Luther into a villain.
Luther did not present the rulers with a cynical and public, unscrupulous official ethic while admonishing the peasants to a perfectionistic private one from the Sermon on the Mount. His first pamphlet “On the Twelve Articles of the Peasant Estate” almost 30 pages long was written without any judgement or condemnation on them. Luther teaches them about their situation, about their inability to use the Gospel according to his theology, to cover their struggle for material gain and justice. But he bids both the rulers and the peasants to negotiate with detachment, for after all their material situation was not an ultimate concern. He presents both parties in the conflict with advice and admonishment, and is perhaps harder on the peasants than on the Lords, but he has some harsh words for them, too.
Reinhold goes to the second writing, “Against the Murderous and Thieving Hordes of Peasants. Against the Raging (attacking, storming) Peasants” to write the whole title. Here Luther is not delineating any social ethic. And it is wrong and unfair to give the impression that he is. Luther is writing in a completely different historical situation. The peasants have amassed 35,000 men alone in Saxony. They are razing the castles to the ground and are plundering and destroying monasteries. (Luther had not yet left his Augustinian monastery!) It is impossible to determine exactly when Luther wrote this angry seven page pamphlet, but in it he lists the three major offenses of the peasants. He tries to get the ruler of Saxony to mobilize against the oncoming threat. Frederick the Wise feels it would be wrong to attack his own subjects, and feels that they might deserve the ire of the peasants. He withdraws and dies in his castle at Lochau on May 5th, 1525 still maintaining that a peaceful settlement could be negotiated. Now if the moderate peasant leaders, Ulrich Schmid, Sebastion Lotzer and Christoph Schappeler had led the peasant movement in Thuringia and Saxony instead of the violent Thomas Müntzer, then the passivity of Frederick the Wise would have been right, and Luther instigation to stop the peasants wrong. Especially in the Weingarten Treaty that the peasants made with Georg Trucksses, commander of the Swabia League’s army, most of the peasants there demonstrated that they wanted to negotiate and not do battle. But Thomas Müntzer in Thuringia, with Heinrich Pfeiffer, another peasant leader, who was called Schwertfeger, that means, “a sword-sweepser,” certainly wanted to fight and in no uncertain terms. He intended to slay the ungodly. On the eve of the battle of Frankenhausen, he presided over the the beheading of three men. Luther knew Thomas Müntzer. [See the chapter: “The Great German Peasants’ War: a Little Known Story.”]
Below another problem with the publication of the “Hard Little Pamphlet” will be discussed, that explains why Reinhold as well as the offended people of Luther’s day misunderstood and confused the contexts and intentions for which the exhortation to the violence of the rulers was written. Luther had been doing a whirlwind trip through Thuringia at considerable danger to his life, admonishing pastors who were stirring up the peasants in the uprising to calm them and prevent bloodshed. In this trip he must have already seen their real situation, where a wholesale insurrection was afoot. Luther had to break off this campaign because of the news of Frederick’s death. On his return to Wittenberg he must have written this hard book against the rebellious peasants. His protector had just died. The new elector Duke John was as benign and as sensitive as old Frederick. Luther tried to get him moving to see the desperate state of affairs. It can be heard in the funeral sermon he preached for his old protector, who never once gave him a personal audience, never left the old faith, and never allowed his church (Allerheiligenstift) in Wittenberg to give up the mass. 
All interaction with Luther had been through Spalatin, Luther’s friend and Frederick’s advisor at court. Luther in his hard little book admonished the non‑Christian rulers that they could also put down the rebellion as a service to the people. But the Christian rulers he admonished to first pray, because God could be using the peasants to punish the land, and they might all perhaps die. Mind you the peasants at this time are leaving a wake of destruction and have no opposition. The three battles with decisive defeats all come around May 15th. Philip of Hesse, Duke George of Saxony, and Duke Henry of Braunschweig, and the Graf of Mansfield took to the field with about 6,000 troops, but lots of cannon and gunpowder. Duke John was conspicuous by his absence! Later, however, he joined them in the taking of Mühlhausen. Now Luther advised the Christian rulers to pray and repent. He advised them to give the peasants another chance to negotiate. (This is the hard little book!) He explained to the rulers that many peasants had been compelled to join the rebellious ones, and they were in a kind of purgatory not of their own choosing, and they should receive mercy. But then although the rulers were Christian, they had a duty to protect their subjects and they should attack the peasants who were tearing up the country and “smite, stab, slay” knowing that if they died against the heavy odds, they were dying in service of God and could be considered martyrs. This is not a cynical official ethic, but a realistic and always shocking mandate to those who are responsible for the defense of a country to fight the necessary bloody battle.
This pamphlet was certainly written around the time of Frederick’s death, when Luther was returning from the campaign to convince the peasants not to rise up. That the peasants would all fold up and become massacred in two weeks was not known. (Perhaps the fear was like the irrational fear of a slave rebellion among the masters.) That the Pamphlet came out somewhat later because of a printing delay can have also exacerbated and changed the effect of it, because then it would have been interpreted as merciless revenge on defeated peasants. But there is no indication anywhere exactly when the book appears in print, although as early as May 26th, John Ruehel mentions it and the charge that Luther writes about in his letter to Nicholas von Amsdorf dated May 30, 1525.
This means that it was definitely out before Thomas Müntzer’s execution on May 27th and could very well have been out before the Battle of Frankenhausen on May 15th. It would be interesting to discover how long other pamphlets usually took to print, also considering that this one is only 8 pages long. Clearly Reinhold is reacting to Luther without carefully reviewing the history, but reviewing only documents and ideas without their historical context. To be fair to Reinhold, however, the way Luther’s pamphlets were published, put both “The Admonition…” and “Against the Murderous Peasant…” together, giving the false impression that they were written at the same time. But against Reinhold, in the Twelve Article pamphlet, Luther tried to explain his two kingdom theory to the peasants. They were not living in a democracy but a kind of monarchy slightly mitigated and modified as an Empire. The peasants were trying to win more rights, but they were often pressed back into serfdom, especially those who belonged to monasteries and were ruled by prince-abbots. They didn’t have much standing. The burghers were trying to work out a slight increase in their rights in the medieval free cities; the serfs chafed at their low status. If the peasants had won, who is to say that a greater approximation of justice would have been achieved? They would have avoided their own massacre, – of course only until the emperor would have come to avenge the Lords. They might have perpetrated some carnage under Müntzer, if he had gotten to purge the ungodly. Luther’s assessment of the situation was probably more informed and realistic ‑ that the violence would have reaped havoc all over the empire. (Below we will see that G. Franz agrees with Luther that even if the peasants had been successful, they would have soon been crushed even by the rulers from the North, let alone the emperor.) We will have to consider the positive and completely uncontrolled aspects of the peasants war later. The latter were very pronounced, as romantically as we cherish the former. Luther’s first writing to the peasants was begun on a visit to Eisleben on the 20th of April and finally appeared in print on May 9th.
This is quite late and not very effectual for all the action in the other regions of southern Germany, nor very much for the Müntzer actions near Luther, for that matter. But when Luther wrote this work, neither the news of the uprisings already in progress in the South, the bloodbath of Weinberg, nor the murder of Graph Helfenstein by Jaecklein Rohrbach had reached him. Otherwise his pamphlet could never have been written in such an irenic way. Luther is teaching the peasants and is always very wary of their justice issue and their armed uprising becoming confused with his approach to spreading the Reformation. Luther does not at all want to jeopardize the discovery of his Gospel, and may well have considered all the peasants expendable for the many generations of people who would benefit from it among the progeny. Luther may well have considered the long haul ‑ and was also ever wary that the Emperor with Catholic forces would invade and try to erase all advances that had been made in this religious movement ‑ and this of course did happen with the Schmalcald War of 1546‑1547, and again with a vengeance in the Thirty Years War 1618‑1638. If Luther had joined forces with the peasants or the free Knights two years before, it could have provoked a much earlier invasion. Not only Luther’s morbid fear of anarchy should be mentioned perhaps, and considered by Reinhold Niebuhr, because another fear must have taken its toll on the people of the time. (Although never is anything said of this.) There must have been terror in the face of the brutality of the rulers of the day for whoever flouted or thwarted their absolute power over their serfs. They were judge, jury and executioners all rolled into one personage with often times arbitrary judgements pronounced at their whim and will. And they were torturers prone to the most brutal punishments of their victims. This was the age where someone who crossed his Lord could get the penalty of being drawn and quartered by four horses galloping in opposite directions, a hapless victim could be roasted alive, broken on a wheel, tortured in chambers, and if lucky, quickly beheaded, to have their head impaled on a spear or the gate of the city. And not only the rulers practiced this kind of medieval barbarity. Thomas Müntzer threatened Luther, “that gentle flesh in Wittenberg,” with the taunt, that he could smell flesh roasting at Wittenberg, donkey flesh ‑ by which he imparted his purposes to Luther upon his victorious entry into that city. And when Luther heard that Müntzer had been executed, he asked very curiously to have his end described to him in every detail, because he thought that very important. When he heard that Müntzer had been tortured before his beheading, he seemed to be somewhat embarrassed, saying, yes, certainly, the princes must have had to do that…
In Reinhold’s The Structure of Nations and Empires, he not only criticizes Luther, but also shows areas of agreement. Hopefully this analysis will throw more light on what considerations a sophisticated political ethic could have on Luther’s stance in the peasant uprisings. To review his thought here he first criticizes Luther in the context of the general Christian freedom from the social orders. And here is where the self contradiction in human freedom becomes paradoxical because it can be used creatively or destructively, for the sake of others or for subordinating all interests to one’s own aggrandizement.
Because the basic appeal of Christianity seemed to be to the individual, it seemed only negatively relevant to the community, and that is the conclusion Luther came to when he formulated the theory of the two realms. The Christian faith, he goes on to say, is not satisfied with so rigorous an individualistic interpretation, because the gospel also contains a vision of an ideal universal community. The Israel of God is not a natural community, but a redeemed community. The rigor of its universalism and its eschatological character, i.e. the hope of its possibility only at the end of history and not within history, seems to make it critically relevant to the task of organizing either a universal community in history, or any community at all.
“The eschatological character of the vision of a perfect and universal community is consistent in both the Old and the New Testaments.” But the prophetic Kingdom of God does not annul, but transmutes all fragmentary achievements of human history. In another part of his book he again says much the same criticism: in Luther’s theory of the two realms the earthly one is conceived as realm of coercive order in a world of sin, which lacked the concern for discriminate justice the fruit of Aristotelian thought in the Middle Ages. In all this of course it seems Reinhold has not really comprehended Luther’s theology about the natural orders, nor the factor of his decision for quietism, “quietive or motive” (Forell’s terms) in the individual’s response to the natural orders or social orders. Reinhold sees Luther not in his comprehensive theology, but through his lens here of Luther’s reaction to the Peasants War. But to continue the review of his ideas: Luther is more pre‑modern than those political writers such as Marsilius of Padua in his Defensor Pacis 1324 and Dante in De Monarchia because although they too attacked the Papal temporal dominion, they did not react with dualism as Luther did. Dante as opposed to the pessimism of Luther, was a political optimist, who demonstrates the virtue of seeking the proximate happiness attained by the harmony of the historical community and the weakness of setting goals for this community in terms of both perfection and universality which are beyond the capacity of mortal humans to attain, since they are both finite in their perspectives and suffering from that inner contradiction in use of their freedom.
Here Reinhold seems to be agreeing with Luther, because Luther said much the same in his analysis of the millenialists above. However, Reinhold’s political ethic is fashioned to be more resourceful for the sake of justice. Then to continue: the optimistic utopianism of Dante is challenged by the secular realism of a Machiavelli and Hobbes, and the religious realism of a St. Paul and the Reformers. The realists, Reinhold feels, are excessive in their estimate of human egocentricity and oblivious to the fact that human rational values always display both creative and destructive tendencies, building just communities on the one hand and on the other, disturbing the peace by the rationalization of particular interests.
In continuing his commentary in the history in question, it seems that the Peasants’ War was really rising in opposition to the major influences of the Reformation and the Renaissance, because the peasants wanted the old communal autonomy of their villages and the law that had been based on their communal way of life to continue. But Reinhold says: “Both the Reformation and the Renaissance were to explore the private possibilities of the self in its transcendence over the communal situation. The Reformation emphasized the individual character of the relation of the self to the divine; and the impossibility of any human fulfillment bridging the chasm between the fragmentary character of the historical and the divine. The Renaissance was to explore all the individual and cultural possibilities of the self once it was freed of ecclesiastical authority.”
Both these explorations depend upon the radical distinction between the political or communal and the “eternal” or private ends of humanity, which Dante had maintained. Luther also maintained these distinctions to be sure. Reinhold tried to clarify these community and individual issues by showing the paradoxical relation between the self and the community. The community is at once the fulfillment and the frustration of the self. It is the fulfillment in that the self cannot fulfill itself within itself. The self only becomes a true self by engaging its interests and creativity in the community, from which it receives its meaning.
But the individual has the capacity to transcend the community, conceiving ends that transcend the possibilities of history as bound in nature. But the fulfillment of human physical life and historical success must be sacrificed for the attainment of this integrity of the spirit. This is the eternal as distinguished from the temporal end of human existence.
Here the distinction between the proximate and the ultimate also seems to emerge, and the fact that the Reformation could not have been possible, if the Reformers had not taken a radical decision for the ultimate. (See Forell below) Perhaps it helps to reflect here upon the problem that Luther could sacrifice his own material gain, but should not have required the peasants to do so. However, if they were going to move under the banner of the Gospel, and the ultimate, then they would have had to sacrifice the proximate gains like Luther. This does not work very well for an aspiring estate. And the terms “proximate and ultimate” are not sufficient to get at these complex realities. Reinhold goes on to point out that the modern bourgeois culture has always been a compound of the religious appreciation of the incongruous individual, [rising above all social meanings, and communal fulfillment and frustrations,] and the social individualism of commercial classes [whose social mobility, flexible forms of property, and emancipation from traditional vocations, established their dignity.]
Reinhold continues that secondly individual selfhood had to be defined in a situation of self‑contradiction. The Fall, or the golden age compared to the actual age for Stoicism tries to express the verity that the final possibilities of social virtue cannot be realized. (The consequences of “original sin”?) Human beings experience the fact that the capacity of human freedom to transcend a finite situation does not lead inevitably to a more valid or more universal norm of conduct, but can lead, and often does, to the sanctification of the finite and contingent situation as the ultimate one. In every new historical or social situation some individual, class, nation or social force will claim more than its share of goods, and pretend to more dignity than is its right, because it looks at the common situation not from a transcendent and disinterested perspective, but from its own perspective, which it false identifies as the ultimate perspective.
(Precisely Luther’s charge against the peasants!) For this there is some remedy, but ultimately there is no remedy, because every triumph of human culture or of the human mind remains subject to the ambiguity of human existence. Humans are both creatures and creators of history and inevitably they forget their limits. Sophistication, adequate accumulation of knowledge, and a good sociology of knowledge can mitigate this problem, but no force in culture or history can eliminate it.
Reinhold shows Christ to be the key and central figure resolving this paradoxical dilemma of history. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself” is the assurance which gives authentic Christianity that paradoxical combination of pessimism and optimism which is a perpetual source of creativity, so long as it does not become the symbol of the historical nullification, pessimistic or optimistic, of the original message.
What we have here are the safe‑guards I believe, that Reinhold puts onto his political ethic in order to make it commensurable with the two kingdom theory which he does not hold. Therefore he states: pessimism prevents every eminence in history, cultural or political, from claiming absolute validity. And optimism prevents the drama of history, with all its patches of meaninglessness, from being conceived as a “tale, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Man does participate in two natures. And the Reformation, Reinhold shows, was not very successful in relating religious visions to our collective life.
Reinhold is interpreting Dante here, and shows that he succeeded in distinguishing the two realms of collective and individual destiny, of historical and trans‑historical possibilities, which clerical absolutism had obscured. Then in a statement fraught with a pessimism equal to Luther’s, Reinhold continues that papal absolutism’s inordinacy may prove that the ultimate truths of the Christian faith are acceptable only to the individual, and are almost bound to be misused by collective humans and their majesties.
Just that the grace which Luther ascribes to these individuals, is their faith active in love in the social orders, able to change social structures from within, which is a plenteous redemption that gives more optimism. (Anticipating Forell) Reinhold continues by referring to the very strong anti‑papal reaction which ensued from the popes who had in a realist, not to say cynical way, transmuted the city of God into an instrument of dominion. The Augustinian hope, as well as the purpose of the reformers was to rechange it back into a community of grace. Luther’s two realms are an adaption of Augustine’s, but Luther’s earthly city lacks the expansiveness of Augustine’s. [Contrary to Reinhold’s point of view, relative justice as a balance of forces does not disappear in Luther’s version.] And Luther divides the realms as if one were of believers and the other unbelievers. Again Reinhold charges, what we have quoted many times now: Practically, Luther’s doctrine of the two realms establishes an ethical dualism between public and private, inner and social, morality. In one sphere the ethic of the Sermon on the Mount prevailed, in the other, not justice, but order.
And naturally Reinhold makes this judgment explicitly because of Luther’s stance in the peasant revolts. Luther’s realism was betrayed by the rigor of its anti‑papalism and the virulence of its reaction to the previous political sentimentality, into an irresponsible attitude toward problems of discriminate justice.
As realists the Reformers were all proponents of the parochial community, and the problem of the larger order between parochial communities disappears from their horizon. The world has had to suffer long for the optimism which had an unrealistic approach both to the problems of the world community and toward the justice in the local community. The realists, on the other hand, became the fountain head of an uncritical political absolutism and particularism. The chasm has to be bridged by putting political realism into the service of justice, however defined. So far, my review of the pertinent places in the Anatomy of Nations and Empires by Reinhold Niebuhr.
In responding to the Niebuhrs, it will be necessary to reflect on the two kingdom theory as presented by H. Bornkamm, W. Lazareth, and by G. Forell, the latter presenting the social ethics of Luther. In this it will have to be shown how Luther overcomes:
1/ the dualism so often charged, the breaking of the tension that would assure moral and just actions,
2/ the negative as well as positive dimensions in the earthly kingdom: i.e. not order only, also justice, (interventions of coercion and force only, versus the balance of social forces),
3/ not mere quietism, also active engagement in changing the social structures,
4/ not accepting any social arrangement, but having a standard of justice that makes possible distinctions between lesser and greater approximations of justice. That is a pretty large order. What makes it possible to transcend the autonomies of the different realms of modern life, science, economics, “real politic”. How can Christ be included, if our modern secularization has excluded Him to the incredible extent that called the World War II church to make the Barmen Declaration? Is there a relation between the officers and guards of the World War II extermination camps, who were “good family people” in their private lives, but were able to operate the gas chambers in their public lives (sealing their lives off into separate air‑tight, vacuum‑packed compartments) and the relegation of the peasant cause to the private and the Princes cause to the public? After putting this into so many words, it does seem quite different, but there is one similarity. The social violence that the structures of the day fostered against the peasants comes close to a Sixteenth Century historical atrocity, because it was a so easily, cruelly and arbitrarily legitimated violence. Luther had two roles for sure, one to rally the strange work of God, and the other his proper work. But the two histories, medieval and modern World War II, are unique and individual, and hardly related. It is quite clear that Luther has been Reinhold’s theological mentor to rather large extent: note his explication of the paradox of human, not to say Christian freedom, and his in‑depth cognizance of the paradoxical relation of the self to the community, and the impossibility of a historical elimination of ambiguity or ultimate evil. What Reinhold delivers is a barrage of concepts very helpful in political analysis: proximate, ultimate, conservative, complacent, sentimental, defeatist, realist, optimist, approximations of justice, etc. Naturally when we pleaded Reinhold’s Serenity Prayer above, we had to admit that it begs the question, because the point of controversy here is what could really have been changed and what had to “quietistically” be accepted as that which cannot be changed, and how do we know the difference? In some ways it seems that Luther had a self‑conscious theology and even ethics that stood existentially in faith before God. And the extent of his theological penetration always seems to play havoc with the Niebuhrs’ charges of conservatism and dualism and quietism. If Luther did place the Christian individual into the social orders and charge him/her to live a faith active in love, responding by acting or not acting according to God’s will perceived in faith, then the dualism seems inaccurate, the qietism and conservatism seem to describe anyone, but not the real Luther. But if Luther is looked at from this one particular historical catastrophe, and by his stance in this series of peasant uprisings, then all three of these charges seem to stick. Or do they? And so failing an answer our quest to overcome this theological insecurity continues, because how could such a comprehensive theology of Luther’s fail in this one regard?
Or do we have to look at it from another point of view by asking better questions than we have been capable of up to now? In any case many of the quotes criticizing Luther do not seem to do him justice. Perhaps some of the problem could stem from Luther’s use of dialectics. Above H. Richard criticized Luther for his being able to bring on the danger of antinomianism, and Reinhold felt that slippery dialectics could raise havoc with attempted projects of social justice. There is one place where Reinhold argues that the dialectics of the Reformation were not expansive enough: Reinhold refers to a fact of the history of the Reformation that would suggest that its insights would have to be related to the whole range of human experience more “dialectically” than it had succeeded in doing.
The fact he is referring to is that the Reformation either regarded the problem of justice as insoluble by reason of human sinfulness, or it solved the problem too simply by appeals to presumably transcendent standards of justice supposedly untainted by human sin. But wanting an absolutely secure and safe position, this group from the Reformation had the pretension to be beyond historical ambiguities and contradictions. The Reformation made a polemic against the premature transcendence over history in Catholicism, but was frequently tempted to commit the same error as Catholicism (with different instruments of pretension) as it was to commit the opposite error.
Therefore the Reformation insights must be related to the whole range of human experience more “dialectically”. The “yes” and “no” of its dialectical affirmations: that the Christian is “justus et peccator,” both “sinner and righteous”; that history fulfills and negates the Kingdom of God; that grace is continuous with, and in contradiction to, nature; that Christ is what we ought to be and what we cannot be; that the power of God is in us and against us in judgment and mercy; that all these affirmations which are but varied forms of the central paradox of the relation of the Gospel to history must be applied to the experiences of life from top to bottom. There is no area of life where “grace” does not impinge. There are no complex relations of social justice to which the love of the Kingdom of God is not relevant. And there are no areas or experiences where historical insecurity and anxiety are completely transcended except in principle or momentary ecstasy.
Whether this expansive, comprehensive dialectic avoids the possibility of antinomianism in face of the law and social justice is hard to say. Reinhold seems to be offering another approach to the individual and social problem, a political ethic in place of the two kingdom theory. Whereas the latter is a theological grid, the former is an approach with many concepts fashioned out of political experience in struggle for social justice, and much scholarship, reflection and analysis of political theory and social issues in history. Major Themes in Niebuhrian Luther Criticism To summarize the major themes, then, in Niebuhrian criticism of Luther for our study, themes that our apologists of the two kingdom theory and Luther’s theology will need to answer:
1/ Dualism, the splitting or divorce of the two realms
a/ Breaking the moral tension by over‑intensifying the religious tension.
b/ On a practical level the doctrine of the two kingdoms established an ethical dualism between public and private, between inner and social morality. In the one sphere the perfectionistic ethic of the Sermon on the Mount prevails and in the other order, rather than justice. This was Reinhold’s criticism above.
c/ Other reasons for splitting apart the two realms
2/ Conservatism (or being socially reactionary and quietist)
a/ Monastic indifference to material and economic possessions
b/ Negligence of proximates by almost exclusive concern with ultimates
c/ Defeatism and pessimism leading to complacency for social justice
d/ Realism for the sake of social order, but not for justice
f/ No standards of justice by which to evaluate social structures
g/ Emphasis on reason and pagan resources for earthly realm, but no emphasis on justice
h/ The law and the earthly realm seen only negatively, only restraining and not also aspositive and constructive agents
i/ Earthly realm relegated to unbelievers
j/ Gospel for the individual and only negatively relevant to the community
3/ Perversity of social ethic and double standard
a/ For the rulers a realistic, external, public, official and almost cynical ethic, but a perfectionistic, private and inner ethic for the peasants.
b/ Luther’s stance encouraged tyranny, for resistance to government is as important as maintenance of government.
c/ Luther resisting only for ultimate faith issues, never for material proximate concerns…again:
d/ pessimism ‑ defeatism ‑ conservatism.
4/ Total depravity and the Orders
a/ Creation placed too close to the Fall
b/ in contradiction with actual orders of creation
c/ social orders for practical purposes identified with the natural law, even whatever the social structures happen to be.
d/ Are the orders those of creation or of redemption? Redemption: Christ and the vision of an ideal community, but at the end of, never within history.
5/ Total spiritual and social transformation never expected this side of death and the Parousia (Second Coming) But partial increments in approximations of maturity and justice.
6/ Desertion, exclusion of lower classes
a/ not attempting to relate to their needs
b/ becoming class‑specific as Lutherans.
c/ Priesthood of all believers and abstruse theology,
d/ inequalities of political and social ethics. ( This theme can be related to #3.)
7/ Luther appealed only to St. Paul, when the peasants also expected him to appeal to the Sermon on the Mount in considering their plea for his help.
8/ The Word alone and faith in God’s action or Sentimentality versus realism. Freedom of the Word alone versus institutions, economic and political establishments that will not release power without struggle by means of sanctions, strikes, demonstrations of people power, armed struggle, etc. Today the Word alone sound like ideology of powerful to disempower the oppressed.
9/ Luther’s two kingdom theory as compared with that of St. Augustine a/ deficiency in discriminate justice b/ relegating the believers to one realm and the unbelievers to the other.
10/ Sanctification issue
a/ Grace versus the law.
b/ largely personal and interior, rather than social and external
11/ Appeal of Christianity only to individual or to the community as well?
a/ Vision of the ideal community also in the New Testament.
b/ Paradox of freedom of the self and community
c/contradiction and ambiguity
d/ individual and the Reformation, the Renaissance and the bourgeoisie.
12/ Paradoxical relation of the Gospel and history
a/ The kingdom of God does not annul, but transmutes fragmentary historical achievements
b/ a narrow versus a comprehensive dialectic. These themes could certainly be related and merged some more, but the point is to cover the majority of all the criticism reviewed in the writings of the Niebuhrs in order to be able to have an adequate overview in facing them and meeting them as squarely and as courageously as possible with the scholarship of the apologists for Luther’s theology and the two kingdom theory.
What is a heresy but the revenge for a forgotten truth?
 H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture, New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1951, p. 187.
 Ibid., p. 188.
 Ibid., p. 189.
 H. Richard Niebuhr, The Social Sources of Denominationalism, New York: The World Publishing Company, 1929, p. 34.
 Ibid., p. 35.
 Ibid., p. 36.
 Ibid., p. 37‑38.
 Ibid., p. 92.
 Henry S. Lucas, The Renaissance and the Reformation, New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1960, p. 493.
 George Herbert Meade, On Social Psychology, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1934, p. 273.
 Luthers Werke IV, Weimar Ausgabe, p. 284.
 G.H. Meade, op. cit., p. 273.
 H. Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in America, New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1937, p. 37‑38.
 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Holy Family, (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975), page 96.
 From Luther’s The Bondage of the Will, LW 33:52.
 Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man, Vol. II, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1943, p. 184.
 Ibid.,p. 180.
 Ibid.,p. 188.
 Ibid. (Lazareth below counters this argument by himself criticizing traditional Lutheranism. He attempts a progressive revisionism of the two kingdom theory which is closer to the real historical Luther’s intention.)
 Ibid., p. 188‑189.
 Ibid., p.190.
 Ibid., p.191.
 Ibid., p.192.
 Ibid.,p.193n. (Social antinomianism, p. 193, is guarded against by the teaching: “Let every man endeavor to do his duty diligently in his calling and help his neighbor to the utmost of his power.”)
 Reinhold Niebuhr, The Structure of Nations and Empires, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1959, p.127.
 Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man, Vol. II, p. 186‑187. Here a note from my brother, Philip Krey: “American theologians usually opt for Augustinian emphasis on grace over Luther’s emphasis on faith.”
 Ibid.,p. 192. Luther has two functions of the law, the theological and the civil. It is the theological function of the law that contains the accusation of the sinner. Reinhold is not presenting Luther fully because he does not include all the distinctions that Luther makes.
 Ibid.,p. 194.
 Gerhard Brendler, Martin Luther ‑ Theologie und Revolution, Cologne: Pahl‑Rugenstein Verlag, 1983, p. 305.
 Luther’s Works Vol. 49, Letters, II, Philadelphia: Fortress Press,1972, p. 113.
 Luthers Werke, IV, p. 409.
 Gerhard Brendler, op.cit. , p. 338. (This insinuation might be unfair, because it was not written in Müntzer’s antagonism in the last days, but probably earlier, in 1524. But T. Müntzer would probably have had Luther executed had he been able to take Saxony and Wittenberg.)
 Margaret A. Currie, trans., The Letters of Martin Luther, London: The MacMillan Company, Ltd., 1908, p. 139. (In his letter to John Ruehel of May 15th, 1925 Luther asserts that it was pitiable to so treat T. Müntzer. “Thanks for news about Müntzer. I should like to hear how he was taken prisoner, and how he behaved, for it is well to know how such haughty spirits act. That the poor creature should be so treated is pitiable. But what can we do? and it is God’s will that fear should be instilled into the people. If this were not done, then Satan would do even more mischief. The one misfortune is preferable to the other. It is the judgment of God. He who takes the sword shall perish by the sword. So it is a consolation that this spirit should be made manifest, to let the peasants see how badly they have acted, and perhaps they may cease plotting and improve. Do not take all this so to heart, for it may be for the good of many souls, who, through fear, may desist.”
 Reinhold Niebuhr, The Structure of Nations and Empires, 1959, op. cit., p. 90.
 Ibid., p. 91.
 Ibid., p. 92 and p.128.
 Ibid., p.132.
 Ibid., p.133.
 Ibid., p.134. (Interesting here is the different way that P. Teilhard de Chardin says the same thing. It is a false alternative to oppose the individual against the group. To contrast unity (element, individual) with plurality (whole, collective) is a false habit of mind. “the coming together of separate elements does nothing to eliminate their differences. On the contrary, it exalts them. In every practical sphere, true union (that is to say, synthesis) does not confound; it differentiates.” In his Future of Man, New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1959, p.53. And again page 302, “Must I again repeat the truth, of universal application, that if it be properly ordered union does not confound, it differentiates?”)
 Reinhold Niebuhr, The Structure of Nations and Empires, 1959, op. cit., p. 134.
 Ibid., p. 134‑135.
 Ibid., p. 135.
 Ibid., p. 136.
 Ibid., p. 137‑138.
 Ibid., p. 138.
 Ibid., p. 141.
 Ibid., p. 143.
 Ibid., p. 144.
 Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man, Vol. II, 1943, op. cit., p. 204.
 Ibid., p. 203.
 Ibid., p. 204.
H. Richard Niebuhr. Christ and Culture. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1951.
———————–. The Kingdom of God in America. New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1937.
———————–. The Social Sources of Denominationalism. New York: The World Publishing Company, 1929.
Reinhold Niebuhr. The Nature and Destiny of Man, Vol. II. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1943.
———————-. The Structure of Nations and Empires. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1959.
Henry S. Lucas. The Renaissance and the Reformation. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1960.
George Herbert Meade. On Social Psychology. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1934.
Martin Luther. D. Martin Luthers Werke, Kritische GesamtausgabeWerke. 61 vols. Weimar, 1983-1993. (WA)
Martin Luther. The Bondage of the Will, (LW) vol. 33, from:
Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut Lehmann, eds. Luther’s Works. 55 vols. St. Louis and Philadelphia: Concordia and Fortress, 1955-86.
Margaret A. Currie, trans. The Letters of Martin Luther. London: The MacMillan Company, Ltd., 1908.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The Holy Family. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975.
Gerhard Brendler. Martin Luther ‑ Theologie und Revolution. Cologne: Pahl‑Rugenstein Verlag, 1983.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Future of Man. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1959.