Defending your Beliefs: Martin Luther and Plato
In this paper the literary works of Plato and Martin Luther will be compared. In Plato’s “Socrates’ Apology” and Martin Luther’s “Speech at the Diet of Worms” the defense of one’s beliefs is the central focus. When their beliefs are called into question, both Socrates and Martin Luther stay true to their causes and defend their beliefs at the cost of their lives. While both works tell of similar stories, the narrative is quite different. While Socrates stands in confidence, it comes off at times at arrogant. On the other hand, while Luther stands against his charges, it seems confident and defiant, but not at all arrogant. The main lesson of the works is the same, however, when your beliefs come under fire, are you willing to stay true to your causes, no matter the consequence?
There are several events in history where people have had to defend their beliefs and stay true to their causes. However, there are two in particular which when compared, give valuable lessons to society as well as the individual. “Socrates’ Apology” by Plato and “Speech at the Diet of Worms” by Martin Luther are two very powerful works, in which the defense of one’s beliefs was no simple debate; it was quite literally life and death. Although both men realized far before the trial was over that the verdict was already decided for their fates, they stayed true to their cause, nonetheless, and were never swayed by the idea of death. Socrates and Luther, both martyrs to their separate causes, welcomed the consequences of their convictions because of the very faith that lead them to their trials.
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“Socrates’ Apology” by Plato
In this literary work we see from Plato’s record of it, Socrates’ defense against his charges of “corrupting the youth and not properly honoring the gods”. Socrates was a man of deep convictions, so as he faced the accusations, he stood his ground firmly.
Socrates had it revealed to him that the Oracle of Delphi had told one of his friends that he was the wisest man in Athens. However, instead of boasting in arrogance, Socrates took it upon himself to prove the oracle wrong. He began to ask those around him what was worthwhile in life, on the premise that anyone who could answer that question would surely be more wise than he. In this process, he made many enemies, and he began to reach the conclusion that he perhaps was the most wise in Athens. He based this upon the fact that he was willing to confess his ignorance, instead of pretending to have the answers to everything. He felt deeply convicted to seek the answer, as he was a lover of knowledge.
Finally, after some time charges were brought against him for corrupting the youth and disobeying the gods. The people of Athens found his questioning to be less than appealing, and they were extremely put off at the thought of appearing foolish or ignorant. At his apology, Socrates says, “…there I believe he is bound to remain and face the danger, taking no account of death or anything else before dishounour” (Plato, 429-347 BC). This quote shows how deeply moved he felt to seek the knowledge, regardless of what the outcome was, as he was facing death at the time. I think it is quite profound, to know that you are facing an almost inevitable death, and stay true to your cause, which in Socrates’ case was the pursuit of knowledge and the truth. As the trial goes on, you can see that at times Socrates’ appears to be very arrogant in his defense, which ultimately led to his demise.
At the trials end the verdict is released, Socrates was found guilty. At the deliberation of his sentencing, it is Socrates’ own arrogance, which leads to the decision of death. It is likely that he may have been able to suggest exile and have been sent away. However, he chose to suggest a hefty fine of money, and so the suggestion of punishment then was decided upon as death, which was carried out swiftly after the trial. From his death, Socrates left behind a legacy of the hard and difficult choice to defend one’s belief and stay true to the cause, regardless of the outcome. Many still revere him as one of the wisest philosophers that has ever been, and he is very revered for holding fast and true to his morals and beliefs.
“Speech at Diet of Worms” by Martin Luther
In this literary work we see Martin Luther’s defense against the Holy Roman Empire, in a chance to recant the “95 Theses” and other controversial writings he had made. Luther was so deeply moved in his beliefs, and he was so strongly against the teachings and ways of the Catholic Church that he refused to recant anything.
Martin Luther was a German monk, who very strongly believed that salvation was reached through faith, not through works. At the time this was in gross opposition to the beliefs of the Catholic Church who believes that through works and repentance, one is able to achieve salvation. He distributed his beliefs in writing, which sparked the Catholic Church to demand he recant his beliefs.
At the Diet of Worms, which was his second and final opportunity to recant his writings, he said, “What I have just said I think will clearly show that I have well considered and weighed the dangers to which I am exposing myself, but far from being dismayed by them, I rejoice exceedingly to see the Gospel this day, as of old, a cause of disturbance and disagreement” (Luther, 1521). It is here we are able to see that Luther does not care the opinions of men or consequences of his actions, he only cares that the Gospel is causing a disturbance and disagreement, or in another words, that for the sake of the Gospel to be known there is disturbances.
Since he refuses to “bend the knee”, so to speak, to the Catholic Church and recant his beliefs about salvation he is considered a heretic and then became an outlaw (as he was ex-communicated by the Catholic Church). Although he was able to put off death, in part thanks to some very powerful German princes, he had accepted that death was always a possibility, especially given the power of the Catholic Church at the time, for his beliefs and his deep convictions to make them know. Because of this the church was reformed, and from Luther’s beliefs and works came the Protestant Church, whose beliefs hold to salvation through faith, and nothing else.
Commonalities and Differences
There are several commonalities and differences between these two men. Both Socrates and Luther defended their beliefs, in the face of death, unwaveringly. Both men believed their actions were directed by a higher power. For Socrates it was the god or his time, and for Martin Luther is was God the Father. Both men had accepted their fates, and in the face of their opposition, they chose to stay true to their causes. Because of their deep convictions, they forever shaped the world we live in now, with their contributions to philosophy and religion, respectively.
In their differences we see two very different approaches to their defenses. In Socrates’ case, his wisdom and confidence came of as arrogance much of the time. Even though he was willing to admit he did not know everything, in his defense his knowledge and wisdom showed itself in the form of arrogance, which ultimately led to his death. Martin Luther on the other hand, showed a very convicted defiance to the church and stuck to his faith in God to carry him through his defense. He never spoke of his own wisdom or accord, but rather what the Bible revealed in terms of faith and salvation. His defiance, while not appreciated by the Catholic Church, was taken very much to heart by people in positions of power who protected him and allowed the Reformation to blossom and eventually take place.
Socrates and Martin Luther were both martyrs for their separate causes. While their causes were very different, the legacy they left behind was the same. Defend your beliefs, no matter the price, and stay true to your cause. There is no doubt, a certain amount of conviction necessary to defend one’s beliefs in the face of death. The message these men both sent was that if you’re not willing to hold to your beliefs in the face of opposition, or even death, are they really even beliefs to you? When something is truly believed, convictions blossom in the heart or spirit, and these convictions are what give the strength for the beliefs to stand in the face of opposition. In today’s world, this legacy should be taken to heart and kept there, to allow convictions to blossom and courage to stand tall in the face of opposition, no matter what the cost.
- Bryan, William Jennings, ed. The World’s Famous Orations. New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1906; New York: Bartleby.com, 2003. Retrieved from https://www.bartleby.com/268
- Editors, H. (2009, November 09). Socrates. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/socrates
- Martin Luther defiant at Diet of Worms. (2010, February 09). Retrieved from https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/luther-defiant-at-diet-of-worms (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/empires/thegreeks/characters/socrates_p4.html
- Plato, ., & Tredennick, H. (1954). The last days of Socrates: The apology ; Crito ; Phaedo. London: Penguin Books.
- Schmidt, M. R., Ph.D. Finding Ourselves in World Literature. [Liberty University Online Bookshelf]. Retrieved from https://libertyonline.vitalsource.com/#/books/9780135411056/