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August 3, 2008 / vivator

Luther on Human Freedom

In 1525 Martin Luther wrote De servo arbitrio (Bondage of the Will) to reply to Erasmus of Rotterdam who wrote A Diatribe or Discourse concerning Free Choice (De libero arbitrio diatribe sire collatio) shortened to De libero arbitrio (Freedom of the Will) a year earlier.

In short, if we are under the god of this world, away from the work and Spirit of the true God, we are held captive to his will, as Paul says to Timothy [II Tim. 2:26], so that we cannot will anything but what he wills. For he is that strong man armed, who guards his own palace in such a way that those whom he possesses are in peace [Luke 11:21], so as to prevent them from stirring up any thought or feeling against him; otherwise, the kingdom of Satan being divided against itself would not stand [Luke 11:18], whereas Christ affirms that it does stand. And this we do readily and willingly, according to the nature of the will, which would not be a will if it were compelled; for compulsion is rather (so to say) “unwill.” But if a Stronger One comes who overcomes him and takes us as His spoil, then through his Spirit we are again slaves and captives-though this is royal freedom-so that we readily will and do what he wills. Thus the human will is placed between the two like a beast of burden. If God rides it, it wills and goes where God wills, as the psalm says: “I am become as a beast [before thee] and I am always with thee” [Ps. 73:22 f.]. If Satan rides it, it wills and goes where Satan wills; nor can it choose to run to either of the two riders or to seek him out, but the riders themselves contend for the possession and control of it.

Luther, Bondage of the Will, from Luther’s Works Vol. 33

Luther compared human’s will with beast of burden, who cannot chooses who rides it – If God rides it then it wills and goes where God wills; if the devil  rides it then it wills and goes where  he wills.  In other words human has no freedom – all his acts are governed by who controls him.  Using modern analogy, according to Luther humans are like cars – a car cannot choose its driver and its behaviour depends on who sits behind steering wheel.   The denial of human freedom leads to double predestination, i.e. only those that God chooses “to ride” (following Luther’s analogy) will go to heaven while those not chosen will have the devil as rider and end up in hell.

The Catholic Church, on the other hand, teaches we have freedom of will.  Yet at the same time we cannot use our free will to will our salvation.  God, through His Grace, takes the initiative for our salvation and we, using our freedom, respond to it – we can either decide to accept or to reject His Grace.

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4 Comments

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  1. Jeph / Feb 1 2012 1:34 pm

    Why make and analogy out of analogy to make it appear “more” ridiculous? You don’t obviously get Luther’s point in choosing the “donkey”-analogy to describe how man’s will works. First, he used that illustration to show that humans are “willing slaves” to whoever that controls them, either God or Satan. They are not forced to act against their will, nor they are thoroughly passive like inanimate objects such as cars.

    Luther’s analogy is clear enough to present his point. Why make an out of place analogy out of it? Lolz.

    • vivator / Feb 6 2012 9:20 pm

      What you wrote about Luther’s text is exactly what I wrote: “humans are “willing slaves” to whoever that controls them, either God or Satan”. Contrary to your next sentence based on Luther analogy men are indeed passive, their behaviour are controlled by either God or the devil. I did not write that his analogy is not clear but had he lived today he would use car analogy – the behaviour of a car depends on who sits behind steering wheel.

      • Rog2012 / Jul 7 2012 1:52 pm

        You’ll be interested to know that Luther’s illustration of “the beast standing between two riders” was borrowed from St. Augustine!

        You write: “The Catholic Church, on the other hand, teaches we have freedom of will.  Yet at the same time we cannot use our free will to will our salvation.  God, through His Grace, takes the initiative for our salvation and we, using our freedom, respond to it – we can either decide to accept or to reject His Grace.”

        Your comment is false for two reasons:
        First, it is a contradiction:
         “…we cannot use our free will to will our salvation,”
        and yet 
        “using our freedom…we can either accept or reject His Grace.”
        This distinction is purely a verbal runaround.

        Second, Catholic authority says man’s free will has the ultimate say-so:

        “The will can resist grace if it chooses.
        It is not like a lifeless thing, which remains purely passive.
        Weakened and diminished by Adam’s fall, free will is yet not destroyed in the race.” (Sess. VI, cap. i and v).
        http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06259a.htm#prf

        This entire process receives its first impulse from the supernatural grace of vocation (absolutely independent of man’s merits), and requires an intrinsic union of the Divine and human action, of grace and moral freedom of election, in such a manner, however, that the will can resist,
        and with full liberty reject the influence of grace
        (Trent, l.c., can.iv: “If any one should say that free will, moved and set in action by God, cannot cooperate by assenting to God’s call, nor dissent if it wish. . . let him be anathema”).
        http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08573a.htm

        “Against the heretical tenets of various times and sects we must hold
        – that the initial grace is truly gratuitous and supernatural;
        – that the human will remains free under the influence of this grace;
        – that man really cooperates in his personal salvation from sin;”
        http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13407a.htm

        There you have it – according to the Roman Catholic system, man’s salvation depends ultimately upon his free will, I.e. his salvation depends upon whether he cooperates with God’s grace, or rejects it. In Rome’s system, with respect to salvation, God’s will is subservient to man’s will.

        Also, to say that “the denial of (Roman Catholicism’s) human freedom leads to double predestination” is misleading. Single predestination fits just as easily. If you insist on the pejorative term “double predestination,” remember that St. Thomas Aquinas also held to what you call “double predestination.”

      • vivator / Jul 7 2012 3:14 pm

        Thank you for your comment. Can you give me the source of Augustine statement? In the meantime you may be interested to know what he wrote on grace and free will and whether he was a monergist.
        https://vivacatholic.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/my-second-post-on-was-augustine-a-monergist/
        https://vivacatholic.wordpress.com/2008/04/09/augustine-on-grace-and-free-will/
        Our salvation does not depend on our free-will – that’s the belief of semi-pelagian and if it does then Catholics do not believe in predestination because we are the one who decide whether we want to be saved or not. In contrast Catholics do believe in predestination though not in the same way like Calvinists. We believe God gives sufficient grace for all who He gave efficacious grace only to the Elect. Thus the Elect are predestined for salvation but the Reprobate end up in hell because they use their free will to reject the sufficient grace God gave them.

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