In this essay, I would like to relate Christine de Pizan’s and Martin Luther’s idea of faith with the use of good works to the question of individuality. For Christine, faith through good works is essential in shaping one’s individuality; as for Luther, faith alone, is used to define one as a Christian. By defining individuality as the unique journey taken to discovery of one’s worth as a Christian, faith provides a central point of conversion to direct one’s actions toward his or her newly converted identity.
The motivation to practice good faith and good works establishes and reorganizes one’s self-identity in society of the time, and this awareness also creates a guide that sets a basis for divine interaction, which therefore effects how one uses the teachings of Christianity in daily life. Due to the predominantly patriarchal society for her time looking down on women and their beings spiritually, Christine has this dilemma on how to shield and reestablish reputation of women.
She utilizes some female martyrs’ faith and their good deeds as examples to assert that a person’s sex is not an appropriate measure of his or her character, but rather, an individual’s personal conduct. In The Book of the City of Ladies, Christine writes “neither the loftiness nor the lowliness of a person lies in the body according to the sex but in the perfection of conduct and virtues” (1. 9. 3). In challenging the prevailing notions of the day, she is asking one to look beneath the surface and use true faith as a basis for identity.
She says that females, who do good work, deserve to be treated like men, who have done the same deeds. For example with virgin martyr Saint Lucy in Book 3. 5, Christine describes how Lucy’s strong faith and preaching not only changed the king’s views on her decency but also converted himself to Christianity as well. Lucy was seen as a respectable being only through her prayers, fasting, and humility (good deeds) illustrated a true Christian at heart.
Lucy created a name or identity for herself through her deeds, and that was what was remembered of her when she died a martyr. Another example is with Saint Marina in Book 3. 12, Marina stayed obedient to her father like she would her promise to God; she also overcame her femininity to survive in the monastery. She was a moral woman, who took the responsibility of someone else’s sins by taking care of their child to stay true to her father and even did servant duties humbly and thoroughly when she reentered the monastery.
Upon her death, the abbot realized his mistakes in his treatment of her, as her perseverance in faith and good deeds was worthy of better treatment than she received. These accounts of female martyrs illustrate how females have power over males in institutional power through their deeds. Both females have always had faith in Christ, but due to their roles in society, their status would not change until they performed good works that affected the community or others in a spiritual way.
One’s identity is created through one’s behaviors, attitudes, and values, so by living simply and humbly through faith and doing good works, both females proved that they are true Christians at heart, thus the identity as martyrs was created for them. Society always ends up looking to the physical body and how it effects one spiritually, because it is the body that one sees, however, Christine wishes for one to move past that and focus on the mind, the source of all thought and reason for the people: one’s true identity.
On the contrary, for Martin Luther, only way one can achieve morality is through faith, and the position of good works in the everyday Christian life was to be found within the perspective of virtue, reason, and prayer. Using this reasoning, Luther discovered “faith alone, without works, is justified and sanctified by the word of God” (Luther, The Freedom of a Christian, 59). It is here that Luther moves toward a distinction between the “inner” and the “outer man” to describe the effects of faith on one’s identity.
The “inner man” is the human being’s spirit, which is only motivated and justified by faith, and never by works, and the “outer” man is where works are expressed. However, these works do not bring salvation as being good or bad is entirely linked to the nature of the inner ‘man’, and since the character of the ‘inner man’ is based, not on works, but on faith, the ‘inner man’ requires “freedom from every law. Thus all the acts of a Christian are done spontaneously, out of a sense of pure liberty” (Luther, The Freedom of a Christian, 75).
In other words, while no outer work can justify the “inner” man’s ethical decisions, no outer work can make the ‘inner man’ un-just. However, it is the nature of the “inner man’ which determines the nature of the outer work; if the inner nature is that which determines the nature of any and all outer works, then the place of good works in the life o Christian who has been justified through faith in Jesus Christ should become simple. Thus, the good works come forth in response to the grace of God enacted in a Christian life.
It is this expression of the outward nature, the “outer” man, which must be mastered and directed in daily intercourse with the rest of human society. Luther says “one must look away from works and focus rather on the person and ask how one is justified and saved by faith, not by works or law but by the word of God (Luther, The Freedom of a Christian, 77), as a result finding one’s identity through persistent faith is the foundation of Luther’s beliefs.
While, indeed, good works do not justify sinners, they do serve two important purposes: the law provides a mirror in which the individual may see her or his need of grace; and, the works of the law serve as an outward expression of the true act of justification. These acts are not mandatory for salvation, but, as Luther put it, good works do not make a good person, but a good person does good works; however, they are expected by the very nature of the inwards spiritual change. But while works may not in and of themselves justify, they nevertheless do play an important role in the Christian’s life.
The goodness of the man is dependent not on his works but on God’s mercy in declaring him good. Once he is declared good, the works he works (however imperfect) will also be accepted as good by God. For example, “a good tree produces good fruit”, which signifies how a faithful person will do virtuous actions, not the other way around (Luther, The Freedom of a Christian, 75). Nonetheless, faith in Jesus Christ is the first step towards righteousness, not the last step. Faith is not solely a belief; it is an action.
When a person receives Jesus Christ because of the gift of salvation, that person will want to manifest what is grounded in his heart: the belief that Jesus Christ is who He says He is, and that manifestation is called works. So, Luther emphasizes faith as the center of identity, allowing for works to take place in daily routines. Therefore, both Luther and de Pizan emphasize works as manifestations of faith, thus allowing for the creation of a new Christian identity in societies of their time.
Even though, Christine believed that works were the only way to showcase faith for women, and Luther believed one could reflect on one’s faith without having to prove to anyone else, but God of its truth. Regardless of the type of journey, whether mental or physical, through Christine de Pizan’s stories of female martyrs and Martin Luther’s concept of one’s “inner” and “outer” self, works helps one thoroughly reflect on one’s self and his/her faith.
One’s determination to gain knowledge about their beliefs comes from their encounters with their faith in their writings, memories, and others thus allowing for deeper understanding of God’s existence and becoming better followers of Christianity. In summary, one’s evolving faith contains the story of how the resolution to follow Christ has been formed from the past to the present through doings of good works, thus comprehension of one’s faith through these repeated interactions is the locus for where one’s individuality is constituted either as a Christian or intellectual being.