Qui enim securus est, minime securus est’: The Paradox of Securitas in Luther and Beyond

  • Giles Waller
Part of the Crossroads of Knowledge in Early Modern Literature book series (CKEML, volume 1)


This chapter traces the literary, grammatical and epistemological complexities of Martin Luther’s use of the term securitas—a term which encompasses both a spiritual attitude and a theological position. Where many interpreters have been tempted to see only the negative aspects of this term—as ‘smugness’ or overweening certainty (as it is often understood by later sixteenth-century English writers)—Luther exploits the possibilities afforded by its contradictory positive and negative valencies. For Luther, it is neither wholly positive nor negative, but a term undermined by its own self-contradiction, a paradoxical simultaneity of security and insecurity. By paying careful attention to Luther’s knotty Latin constructions, which often serve to resist straightforwardly propositional readings, Waller traces the literary qualities of his uses of irony and dense intertextual scriptural allusion, and the poetic syntactical compression of jarring contraries. Waller shows that this coincidence of contrary senses of securitas crystallises the logic of Luther’s theology of the cross, in which grace can only be found sub contrario: here in a single, self-defeating word. In Luther’s Romans Lectures of 1515–1516, securitas (and its opposite) is not so much a concept as a habitus. In its adverbial form, secure, Luther uses it to denote a mode in which other activities—including interpretation—are undertaken. This chapter traces the ways in which Luther’s uses of securitas and its cognates resist straightforward and unitary readings, and thus affect the instability and insecurity of his readers that renders them open to divine, alien grace.

Bibliography and Abbreviations


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Giles Waller
    • 1
  1. 1.University of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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