Level of Education

Master's Graduate


One fateful day on March 26, 1521, a lowly Augustinian monk was cited to appear before the Diet of Worms.[1] His habit trailed behind him as he braced for the questioning. He was firm, yet troubled. He boldly proclaimed: “If I am not convinced by proofs from Scripture, or clear theological reasons, I remain convinced by the passages which I have quoted from Scripture, and my conscience is held captive by the Word of God. I cannot and will not retract, for it is neither prudent nor right to go against one’s conscience. So help me God, Amen! [italics mine]”[2] That man was Martin Luther.

Indeed, Martin Luther has stood the test of time as one of the most influential figures in Church history. His contributions and reforms remain an integral part of the Western world. Luther's thoughts on the idea of liberty of conscience are a timely musing for the history of philosophy as well as a guide for public policy in matters of religious freedom today. This piece examines several primary sources such as Augustine's On Free Choice of the Will, John Locke's A Letter Concerning Toleration, and Martin Luther's On Christian Liberty, as well as several noteworthy secondary sources like Roland Bainton's Here I Stand - A Life of Martin Luther, Timothy Samuel Shah & Allen D. Hertzke's Christianity and Freedom, Volume 1: Historical Perspectives, and John Jr. Witte's The Reformation of Rights: Law, Religion, and Human Rights in Early Modern Calvinism.

[1] Hartmann Girsar, S.J. Martin Luther: His Life and Work. Adapted from the Second German Edition by Frank J. Eble, M.A. (Westminster, Maryland: The Newman Press, 1954), 181.

[2] Ibid., 185.