Erasmus as well as Luther knew that man is essentially free, that he is man only because he is free. But now on this basis they drew opposite consequences. For Erasmus this freedom is also valid if you try to come to God. You can help God. You can cooperate with God, for your salvation. For Luther this is absolutely impossible.
It takes the honor from God and from Christ and makes man into something which he is not. So he speaks of “the enslaved will.”. . . but it is the free will which is enslaved. It is ridiculous to speak of a stone that it has no free will. Only he who has free will can be said to have an enslaved will, namely enslaved by the demonic forces of reality.
Luther attacks the Anselmian point of view by saying that justification by faith is the only point of certainty, and that it is not our contribution to salvation that can give us quiet consolation. He says that in Erasmus the meaning of Christ is denied and finally that the honor of God is denied.
I think that here we have a very fundamental difference between the two attitudes.
The attitude of the humanist is that of detached analysis. And if it comes to synthesis, it is that of the moralist, in contrast to the prophet, who sees everything in the light of God alone Luther’s conf lict with the Evangelical Radicals: This is especially important for you because the prevailing type in this country is not produced by the Reformation directly, but by the indirect effect of the Reformation through the movements of Evangelical Radicalism. What is the meaning of this concept? First of all we must agree that they all are dependent on Luther. They have a long history in the Middle Ages, but only Luther liberated the tendencies which were alive in the Middle Ages from the suppression to which they were condemned.
Luther’s emphasis on almost all points was accepted by the Evangelical Radicals, but then they went beyond him. They had the feeling that he stood half-way. First of all his principle of the Bible – to which we come tomorrow – is something which they attacked. God has not spoken but once, in the past, and then has become silent; but He always speaks, He speaks in the heart or depths of every man, if this man is prepared by his own cross to hear. The Spirit is in the depths of the heart, although not by ourselves but from God. From this point of view, he says that it is always possible that the Spirit speaks through individuals.
Now I speak mostly of Thomas Muenzer, who is the most creative of the Evangelical Radicals. But in order to receive this Spirit, man must participate in the cross.
Luther, he said, preaches a sweet Christ – the Christ of forgiveness. But we must, he said, also preach the bitter Christ, namely the Christ who says that we must take His cross upon ourselves. The cross is, so we can say, the extreme, the boundary situation. It is internal and external. And Muenzer, in an astonishing way, expresses that in modern existentialist categories. It is the human finiteness which, if he realizes it, produces in him a disgust about the whole world. Then he really becomes poor in spirit. Then the anxiety of creaturely existence grasps him. Then he finds that courage is possible. But then it happens that God appears to him and that he is transformed. And if this has happened to him, then he can have very special revelations. He can have individual visions, not only about theology as a whole, but also about matter of the daily life.