On the Bondage of the Will
Latin: 'De Servo Arbitrio', literally, "On Un-free Will", or "Concerning Bound Choice"), by Martin Luther, was published in December 1525. It was his reply to Desiderius Erasmus's De libero arbitrio diatribe sive collatio or On Free Will, which had appeared in September 1524 as Erasmus's first public attack on Luther, after being wary about the methods of the reformer for many years. At issue was whether human beings, after the Fall of Man, are free to choose good or evil. The debate between Luther and Erasmus is one of the earliest of the Reformation over the issue of free will and predestination.
Despite his own criticisms of the Roman Catholic Church, Erasmus believed that the church needed reformation from within and that Luther had gone too far. Erasmus had asserted that all humans possessed free will, and that the doctrine of predestination was not in accord with the teachings contained in the Bible. He argued against the belief that God's foreknowledge of events was the cause of events, and held that the doctrines of repentance, baptism and conversion depended on the existence of free will. He likewise contended that gracesimply helped humans come to a knowledge of God and supported them as they used their free will to choose between good and evil - choices which would lead to salvation through the atonement of Jesus Christ.
Content of Luther's response
Luther in response maintained that sin incapacitates human beings from working out their own salvation, and that they are completely incapable of bringing themselves to God. As such, there is no free will for humanity because any will they might have is overwhelmed by the influence of sin. Central to his analysis, both of the doctrines under discussion and of Erasmus's specific arguments, are Luther's beliefs concerning the power and complete sovereignty of God. Luther concluded that unredeemed human beings are dominated by Satan; Satan, as the prince of the mortal world, never lets go of what he considers his own unless he is overpowered by a stronger power, i.e. God. When God redeems a person, he redeems the entire person, including the will, which then is liberated to serve God. No-one can achieve salvation or redemption through their own choices—people do not choose between good or evil, because they are naturally dominated by evil, and salvation is simply the product of God dominating a person and forcibly turning them to good ends. Were it not so, Luther contended, God would not be omnipotent and would lack total sovereignty over creation, and Luther held that arguing otherwise was insulting to the glory of God. As such, Luther concluded that Erasmus was not actually a Christian.