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A Comparison of the Writings of Luther and Montaigne

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A Comparison of the Writings of Luther and Montaigne

Martin Luther was born on November 10, 1483. He was a German monk, priest, professor, theologian and church reformer. His teaching helped to inspire the Reformation, and influenced the doctrines of the Lutheran and Protestant traditions, as well as the course of western civilization. Luther's works and writing helped bring the Middle Ages to a close, and brought about the Modern Era of western civilization. His translation of the Bible furthered the development of a standardized German language. Due to the development of the printing press, his teachings were widely read and influenced many reformers and thinkers. (Peterson 1)

On the Freedom of a Christian was written by Martin Luther in mid-November of 1520. It was the third of three documents that outlined his beliefs. Luther was convinced by Roman diplomats to write a letter in order to smooth over the tension between Luther and Pope Leo X. This was prior to Luther learning of Exsurge, Domine, the document that contained the excommunication of Luther. After learning of his excommunication, Luther was reluctant to write this letter. However, he agreed to write it along with a small booklet that would become the document On the Freedom of a Christian. (Goebel, ed 156)

In the letter to Leo X, Luther gave an account of his struggles with the Roman Catholic Church. He declared that he never personally attacked Leo. Luther addressed Leo as an equal and expressed his views in full. Luther pointed to Johannes Eck as the chief inciter of all the problems. Johannes Eck was a theologian and defender of Catholicism. Luther declared Eck as an enemy of the Catholic religion. Luther said he was forced to constantly defend himself against Eck's attacks on his beliefs. On the Freedom of a Christian is actually a summary of what Luther wished to study, but was not able to since he was always defending the Church. (Goebel, ed 156)

Michel de Montaigne was one of the most influence writers of the French Renaissance. He is famous for inventing the essay. He compiled 107 of his essays in to the book entitled Essays. In the introduction to his book, Montaigne says "I am myself the subject of my book." (Goebel, ed 179) Many of his essays are about himself, however, in some cases he strives to understand the world around him. In Of Cannibals, Montaigne seeks to understand the "barbarians" of the New World. He believes that the natives are truly noble and no more savage than his contemporaries.

Of Cannibals begins with Montaigne telling the reader to experience for themselves, not to go on the observations of others. Montaigne contradicts himself because he relies on an eyewitness for his information on the natives. This puts the reliability of Montaigne and his eyewitness into question. Since Of Cannibals is a critique of Montaigne's contemporaries, namely those who fabricate truth, one is left to wonder whether Montaigne did this purposefully or if he did not realize his error. (Randall 34)

Martin Luther begins On the Freedom of a Christian with an apparent contradiction also. "A Christian is a free lord, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant, subject to all."(Goebel, ed 161) Even though this seems contradictory, it is not. When Luther states "A Christian is a free lord, subject to none", he is saying that they are free in the sense that they are not slaves. "A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant, subject to all", Luther is saying that Christians willingly choose to serve others. While a Christian is only subservient to God, they are morally responsible to love and serve others.

In Of Cannibals, Michel de Montaigne uses ancient thinkers to make his point. These men included Virgil, Horace, and Claudian. They were among the ancient world's most prolific playwrights, philosophers and poets. When Montaigne defends the natives tradition of eating their dead enemies, he quotes Juvenal. Juvenal said, "The Gascons once, 'tis said, their life renewed, by eating such food."(Goebel, ed 184) Montaigne says that the natives are no worse than his contemporaries. Montaigne said:

"I am not sorry that we notice the barbarous horror of such acts, but I am heartily sorry that, judging their faults rightly, we should be so blind to our own. I think there is more barbarity in eating a man alive than in eating him dead: and to tearing by torture and the rack a body still full of feeling, in roasting a man bit by bit, in having him bitten and mangled by dogs and swine (as we have no only read, but seen within fresh memory, not among ancient enemies, but among neighbors and fellow citizens, and what is worse under, the pretext of piety and religion), than in roasting and eating him after he is dead." (Goebel, ed 184)

In his argument, Montaigne uses logic and knowledge to defend his position. He shows that even the civilized are subject to such barbarity. His own people treat men more cruelly than the reported "savages".

In On the Freedom of a Christian, Martin



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