Martin Luther: "On Secular Authority: How Far Does the Obedience Owed to it Extend?" on Use of Force to Prevent Heresy

January 1, 1523

So, if a prince or a secular lord commands you to adhere to the papacy, to believe this or that, or to surrender books, then your answer should be: it is not fitting for Lucifer to sit next to God. My good Lord, I owe you obedience with my life and goods. Command me what lie within the limits of your authority, and I will obey. But if you command me to believe, or to surrender my books, I will not obey. For then you [will have] become a tyrant and overreach[ed] yourself, commanding where you have neither right or power. If he then takes away your goods and punishes you for your disobedience, then blessed are you, and you should thank God for counting you worthy to suffer for the sake of his Word. [...] But I say to you: if you do not resist him and let him take away your faith or your books, then you will truly have denied God.

[…] The use of force can never prevent heresy. […] This is where God’s Word must fight. And if that does not win, then secular power can certainly not succeed either, even if it were to fill the world with blood. Heresy is a spiritual thing; it cannot be struck down with steel, burnt with fire, or drowned in water.