Embodying Confident Agency: Luther's “Three Estates” as a Resource for Virtue Theory

Stewart W. Herman
  • Dialog, December 2017, Wiley
  • DOI: 10.1111/dial.12362

Gaining confidence: a Lutheran view

What is it about?

This article explores Martin Luther's social writings for clues as to how he explains how human creatures can achieve moral self-confidence. Luther often is seen as blaming human creatures for being sinful to the core, but that is one side of his thinking ("two-kingdoms"). Another side ("three estates") lays out how human creatures can be morally active and responsible.

Why is it important?

Working class and now middle class people are finding their expectations for stable livelihoods and happiness crushed by economic forces. The American dream is yielding to nativist paranoia. A recovery of Luther's own thought--from equally unsettled economic times--might help Lutherans and others to recover the vital importance of stable social roles and functions. This emphasis helpfully rounds out the 'virtue theory' now in vogue in Christian ethics.


Stewart Herman

I find Luther refreshingly concrete and realistic, even though I don't agree with all his moral judgments.

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