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Woodcut of a werewolf attack by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1512

A Beerwolf (Bärwolf, Werwolf) is a German folk-tale monster[1] commonly known as a werewolf.

Beerwolf is a concept introduced by Martin Luther (in a 1539 debate) that Luther uses to describe the Pope and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. In the context of resistance theory, a "Beerwolf", "in contrast to a mere tyrant, not only broke the law, but overturned the entire moral order upon which it is based. All the subjects of such a ruler ... had the right to resist and even to kill him and all his supporters".[2]

The significance of the term lies in the fact that, for most of his life, Luther held that no subject could actively resist his secular ruler, an issue of obvious significance in a time when many rulers in the German lands and their respective subjects held competing religious beliefs. The concept of Beerwolf marked Luther's final, and most extreme, position on resistance theory, as it relied on natural law (specifically, in a similar manner to what would later be called Hobbes' right to self-preservation) instead of earlier and more limited rights to resistance that Luther had accepted as flowing from German constitutional law.[3]

Lurid histories of Vlad the Impaler were popular in Germany at the time of Luther,[4] who was familiar with the terror of his rule. However, during the debate Luther did not specifically say he was referring to Vlad the Impaler.

The 1550 Magdeburg Confession included a Beerwolf clause that had to be fulfilled before an evil ruler could be resisted by the lesser magistrates.[5]

The concept of just rebellion that the term Beerwolf introduced was subsequently developed by fellow Protestants who faced a similar situation in France, the Huguenot Monarchomachs.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The European Reformation, Euan Cameron, p 354
  2. ^ Cynthia Grant Schonberger (January–March 1979). "Luther and the Justification of Resistance to Legitimate Authority". Journal of the History of Ideas. University of Pennsylvania Press. 40 (1): 3–20. doi:10.2307/2709257. JSTOR 2709257.; as specified in Luther's Collected Works, 39(ii) 41-42
  3. ^ Robert V. Friedeburg (Summer 2001). "In Defense of Patria: Resisting Magistrates and the Duties of Patriots in the Empire from the 1530s to the 1640s". Sixteenth Century Journal. 32 (2): 257–382.
  4. ^ Treptow 2000, p. 158.
  5. ^ Whitford, David, Tyranny and Resistance: The Magdeburg Confession and the Lutheran Tradition, 2001, 144 pages