“God only obliges you to believe and to confess (the faith). In all other things He leaves you free, lord and master to do whatever you will without any danger to your conscience; on the contrary, it is certain that, as far as He is concerned, it makes no difference whether you leave your wife, flee from your lord, or are unfaithful to every obligation. What is it to Him if you do or do not do such things?” Werke, Weimar ed., XII, pp. 131 ff.; Franca, p. 446If you search out this quote you'll come across a few pages of similar content. For instance this web page is entitled: Luther Thought He Was Divine! The quote is one of a handful of out-of-context quotes painting Luther as a gross antinomian. With this quote, the "shock" is the notion "it makes no difference whether you leave your wife, flee from your lord, or are unfaithful to every obligation." The argument is thus: if all that is needed is faith, then it makes no difference how one lives.
The quote was admittedly taken from a Roman Catholic secondary source: Fr. Leonel Franca, S.J., A Igreja, a Reforma, e a Civilização [The Church, the Reformation, and Civilization] (Rio de Janeiro, 1934). "Fr. Leonel Edgar da Silveira Franca, S.J., one of the founders of the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and its first Rector (1941 -1948)." The quote can be found on page 396 of his book:
I. RIVIUS escreve em 1547: "Se és adúltero ou libertino, dizem os pregadores, crê simplesmente e serás santo. Nem temas a lei, porquanto Cristo a cumpriu e satisfez pelo homem... Semelhantes discursos levam à vida ímpia". 52 Em 1525 JORGE, duque de Saxônia, escrevia ao corifeu reformador: "Quando se viu maior número de adultérios como depois que escreveste: se uma mulher é estéril, una-se a outro e os filhos sejam alimentados pelo primeiro marido. E outro tanto façam os homens?" 53 E como não haveria de ser assim quando se ouvia LUTERO ensinando de 1523: "Deus só te obriga a crer ea confessar. Em todas as outras coisas te deixa livre e senhor de fazer o que quiseres, sem perigo algum de consciência; antes é certo que, de si, ele não se importa, ainda mesmo se deixasses tua mulher, fugisses do teu senhor e não fosses fiel a vínculo algum. E que se lhe dá, se fazes ou deixas de fazer semelhantes coisas?" 54Primary Source
54. Weimar, XII, 131 ss; Cabe aqui a observação que em 1565 fazia JOANNES JACOBUS na obra sobre a sua conversão: "entre os católicos os pecados atribuem-se às pessoas, entre o luteranos às doutrinas e às pessoas". RÄSS, Die Convertiten seit der Reformation, Freiburg . B., 1866, I. 522.
Whoever pulled this quote from Franca's The Church, the Reformation, and Civilization had to translate it into English, so it's twice removed from the original German or Latin. However, the reference was helpful: "Werke, Weimar ed., XII, pp. 131 ff." Here is WA 12, 131 (I've actually addressed this reference before). However, the "ff" typically may mean the quote spans multiple pages. In this instance though, the quote is found in one section.
WA 12, 131 is a page from Luther's commentary on 1 Corinthians 7. The English translation is found in LW 28 (WA 12, 131 can be found here: LW 28:44-45).
Commenting on 1 Cor. 7:18-19,, Luther holds "everyone should lead the life to which God has called him "(LW 28:40). One can be circumcised or uncircumcised married or single."...[I]f you are a heathen, uncircumcised and outside the Jewish law, you should not think that this is wrong and that you must be circumcised; this is optional. Faith alone justifies you, and it alone fulfills the commandment of God" (LW 28:40-41). "...[N]either Jewish nor heathen birth or customs can of themselves hinder or advance us in God’s sight, but only faith" (LW 28:41).
"In the same way one should also say to our people: Marriage is nothing, and celibacy is also nothing. To have a heathen spouse is nothing, and to have a Christian spouse is also nothing. Those who are married should stay married. Those who are unmarried should not marry—that is, they should not be disturbed in their consciences as to whether they should marry or not. Here is another example. To be a monk is nothing, and to be a layman is also nothing; to be a priest is nothing, and to be a nun is also nothing. The layman should not become a monk, and the monk should not become a layman; all of which is to say that it should not be a matter of necessity or conscience whether one is a monk or a layman. Rather each should remain as he is, provided that faith is pure and unshaken. For where faith cannot be maintained, there the monk should abandon his order just as a married person should leave an unchristian spouse who drives or keeps him away from the Christian faith" [LW 28:41]Commenting on verse 23 (You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men), Luther then states:
That this is his true meaning is demonstrated in his words: “You were bought with a price.” By this he means Christ, who with His own blood bought us and set us free from all sin and law, as we see in Gal. 5:1. But this purchase does not work itself out according to the way of the world and does not affect the relations men have with one another, such as that of a servant toward his master or that of a wife toward her husband. These relationships are all left intact, and God wants them maintained. The effect of this purchase is spiritual and takes place in our conscience. Therefore before God no law any longer binds or imprisons us. We are all free from all things. Before we were bound in sin, but now we are rid of all sin. Whatever outwardly remains of relationship or freedom is neither sin nor virtue but only outward tranquillity or trouble, joy or suffering, as is all other bodily good and ill, in both of which we can live free and without sin [LW 28:44-45].The obscure quote the follows in Luther's Comment on 1 Corinthians 7:24 (So, brethren, in whatever state each was called, there let him remain with God). Luther states:
Here Paul repeats this conclusion concerning Christian freedom for the third time: that all outward things are optional or free before God and that a Christian may make use of them as he will; he may accept them or let them go. But here the apostle adds the words “with God.” This means, to the extent that it is of importance between you and God. For you are doing no service for God if you marry, remain unmarried, whether you are in bondage or free, become this or that, eat this or that; on the other hand, you do not displease Him or sin if you put off or reject one or the other. Finally, you owe God nothing but to believe and confess; He releases you from all other things so that you can do as you please without endangering your conscience. This is so thoroughly true that He does not inquire on His own behalf whether you have let your wife go, have run away from your master, or have not kept your agreement, for what does He profit whether you do these things or don’t do them? [LW 28:45]
Now before one thinks Luther is teaching blatant antinomianism, he then immediately states:
But because in this relationship you are bound up with your neighbor and have become his servant, it is God’s will that no one be deprived of what is his by means of His freedom but rather that those things of your neighbor be protected. For although God pays no attention to these things on His own account, He pays attention to them on account of your neighbor. This is what he means with the words “with God,” as though He were admonishing us: “I did not make you free among men or with your neighbor, for I do not wish that which is his taken from him until he gives you permission. But you are entirely free with Me and cannot ruin yourself in My sight by keeping to or refraining from outward things.” Therefore notice this and differentiate between the freedom existing in your relation to God and the freedom existing in your relation to your neighbor. In the former this freedom is present, in the latter it is not, and for this reason: God gives you this freedom only in the things that are yours, not in what is your neighbor’s. There differentiate between what is yours and what is your neighbors. That is why no man can leave his wife, for his body is not his own but his wife’s, and vice versa. Likewise the servant and his body do not belong to him himself but to his master. It would be of no importance to God if the husband were to leave his wife, for the body is not bound to God but made free by Him for all outward things and is only God’s by virtue of inward faith. But among men these promises are to be kept. In sum: We owe nobody anything but to love (Rom. 13:8) and to serve our neighbor through love. Where love is present, there it is accomplished that no eating, drinking, clothing, or living in a particular way endangers the conscience or is a sin before God, except when it is detrimental to one’s neighbor. In such things one cannot sin against God but only against one’s neighbor.
And it should be emphasized that this little word “call” does not in this context mean the social status to which one is called, as when one says, “Your status is ‘married,’ ” or, “His status is ‘priest,’ ” and so on, as everyone has his calling from God. Here St. Paul is not speaking of this calling. He speaks instead of the evangelical call, which is as much as to say: “Remain in that calling to which you were called, that is, where you receive the Gospel; and remain as you were when you were called. If the call comes to you in the married state, then remain in that wherein you were found. If you are called in slavery, then remain in the slavery in which you were called.”
But what if the Gospel calls me in a state of sin, should I remain in that? Answer: If you have entered into faith and love, that is, if you are in the call of the Gospel, then sin as much as you please. But how can you sin if you have faith and love? Since God is satisfied with your faith and your neighbor with your love, it is impossible that you should be called and still remain in a state of sin. If, however, you remain in that state, then either you were not called as yet, or you did not comprehend the call. For this call brings you from the state of sin to a state of virtue, making you unable to sin as long as you are in that state. All things are free to you with God through faith; but with men you are the servant of everyman through love.
From this you will see that monasticizing and making of spiritual regulations is all wrong in our time. For these people bind themselves before God to outward things from which God has made them free, thus working against the freedom of faith and God’s order. On the other hand, where these people should be bound, namely, in their relations with other men and in serving everyman in love, there they make themselves free, serving no one and being of no use to anyone but themselves, thus working against love. Therefore they are a perverse people, perverting all the laws of God. They want to be free where they are bound and bound where they are free, and yet they hope to be seated much higher in heaven than ordinary Christian people. But they who make such a hellish prison out of heavenly freedom and such a hostile freedom out of loving service shall sit in the deepest hell [LW 28:45-47].