A Church and Society without Monarchy

Luther, Martin (1483-1546)

Von dem Bapstum zu Rome: widder den hochberumpten Romanisten zu Leiptzck D. Martinus Luther August.

Wittenberg: Melchior Lotter, 1520


Quarto: [64] pp. A-H4. Last leaf blank.


Modern boards with vellum spine. A crisp copy with minor blemishes. Small tear in blank margin of title, no loss.

Luther wrote his “On the Papacy in Rome” in response to the Franciscan monk Augustine Alveld’s “A Useful Booklet about the Papal See and About St. Peter.” Alveld wrote his work after the Leipzig debate to counter Luther’s thesis that the pope had no authority in the church. He sought to prove “on the holy basis of the holy canon of the Bible... that the Apostolic See is a divine institution.” In the course of his work, Alveld alluded to Luther as a heretic, and wolf, and a lunatic.

The work infuriated Luther, who had disdain for Alveld’s weak argumentation but felt that he must reply. “If Alveld had not put his apelike book into German hands to poison our poor laymen,” Luther wrote, “he would have been much too insignificant for me to bother with.” Yet from something trivial, Luther would make something of enduring importance. “Without even using Alveld’s name, Luther used the controversy to teach laymen the meaning of Christianity. Thus originated Luther’s first major treatise on the nature of the Church, one of the most significant milestones in the formation of his new theology.”(Gritsch)

Among the radical ideas put forth by Luther is that neither in civil government nor in the Church is there a need for a single, monarchical head. “Against the widespread demand that Christianity should get together into one worldwide visible ecclesiastical order, Luther’s words are peremptory. He declares that the one true Church is already a spiritual community composed of all the believers in Christ upon earth, that it is not a bodily assembly, but ‘an assembly of the hearts in one faith,’ that the true Church is ‘a spiritual thing, and not anything external or outward,’ that ‘external unity is not the fulfillment of a divine commandment’.”

“But if Luther attacks the supremacy of outer organization in the Church, he no less forcibly disputes the supremacy of man’s own inner thinking, his reasoning, in theology. He defines human reason as ‘our ability which is drawn from experience in temporal things’ and declares it ridiculous to place this ability on a level with the divine law. He compares the man who uses his reason to defend God’s law with the man who in the thick of battle would use his bare hand and head to protect his helmet and sword. He insists that Scripture is the supreme and only rule of faith, and ridicules the Romanists who inject their reason into the Scriptures, ‘making out of them what they wish, as though they were a nose of wax to be pulled around at will.’”(Schmauk)

Benzing, Luther 655; VD16 L-7131; Kuczynski 1407; WA 6, 285-324