Law and gospel reconsidered

By Ricardt Riis,

1. Paper of Speech at the Luther Conference, Jan. 18th, 2003.

And 2. Paper of Reading at the same conference.
Content: Introduction #30. Luther and Latomus #35. The tool #40. Luther's Augustinian heritage #58. Why did Luther teach total sin? #66. Luther on relational acts #79. The antinomers #84. Conclusion #92.

Tilbage til oversigten!
1       In this presentation I shall use the sermon of Luther mentioned by Mark Ellingsen, a sermon for the fourth Sunday after Epiphany, taken from the Erlanger-edition, tome 8, page 49 to 70.
      In the end of this sermon Luther gives us a very fine explanation of what natural law means (p. 67). In the so called golden rule Jesus gives us a rule that lives and lights in everyone’s reason (Vernunft). You need no book to see what must be done, you have yourself the book with you in the deepness of your heart. But because humans have evil lust and evil love they cannot read this book, and they have to be forced to do the right things toward their countrymen. 
3          This concept of natural law belongs without doubt to Christian doctrine. That’s part of the relationship between love and faith, which are the main themes in this sermon. The law tries over and over again to describe what has to be done, but the description will always be held in law-terms. In my vocabulary thoughts about natural law will run as this: If a relationship between persons must be described in the terms of the law, it will always be inadequately described, because the law takes its point of departure in commandments to a single person; the law is individualistic and looks upon the matter from the viewpoint of one of the persons.
4  Contrarily the gospel way of describing the relationship will always look upon what happens from the viewpoint of the relationship itself. The law will ask: What must I do? What is my obligation? The gospel way of thinking asks: What must be done in order that the relationship will flourish? 
5          And therefor, if you go into details, the law will never be able to make a proper description. What must be done, must be done freely, as Luther says in the beginning of the sermon. And the law-way of doing good works is not a free way, you are forced by your conscience, by your wish to be morally accepted and so forth. 
6         And here in the beginning Luther admonishes us to give more than demanded, to supersede our obligation toward the others. The word of Paul: Have no other obligation toward others than to love them, he changes: Have every obligation toward everyone, in order that you should have no obligation toward anyone. And this play of words Luther elaborates in the following pages. ‘This is what love does. Therefor it is the best way of being without any obligation toward anyone, if a man in every way gives himself obligations toward everyone through love.
7  In this way you might also say: If you will not dy, dy. If you will not be taken prisoner, let you be taken prisoner. If you will not go to Hell, descend into Hell. If you will not be a sinner, become a sinner. If you will be free of the cross, take up cross. If you will conquer the devil, let yourself be conquered by the devil. If you will compel an evil person, let yourself be compelled by him. Which all means, that man must give himself freely, and voluntarily let everything happen to him what God, devil and men will’. 
8          I think that all these oddly sounding sentences are said with a smile or with a good amount of humour. And this way of expressing himself stems from the change that he gave the Pauline sentence. And this again stems from Luther’s conviction that love always does more than demanded, or that love quite voluntarily offers the other person not only the due work but always more. And of course, if you would make a rule from this consideration, it will become self-contradictory: You cannot make a law that tells you that you always are obliged to give more than you are obliged to give. And this shows us that the law will never match love; it will always lack behind. 
9         Does this prove that Luther thinks in a relational way?
           I wish I could say yes.
10        And at least one of his sentences points in that direction. ‘If you will compel an evil person, let yourself be compelled by him’. One could imagine for oneself a relationship which has been broken, and let this admonition be an admonition to reconcile with the other person.  As I mention in my paper, Paul has an admonition of this kind i 1 Cor 6:1-6. And we also know it from personal experience: If you meet an enemy of yours, if he is very angry over against you, you may tame his anger by not doing what he expects you to do, that is, by being polite, by receiving his accusations with a smile, by trying not to return them or to justify yourself but to look at things from his point of view. This reaction from your side over against an aggressor may have the result that he becomes normal.
11 But be careful! If you consider this to be a psychological trick it will not lead to reconciliation. To speak with Habermas: If you do so you will still be acting strategically, not communicatively. And Luther’s words may be suspicious. When he says: “Have every obligation toward everyone, in order that you should have no obligation toward anyone”, this “in order that” (auf dass) tells us that perhaps Luther thinks strategically. That is: He no longer smiles, when he speaks all these odds sentences; they are no longer said with humour. And although I certainly would prefer to tell you all that Luther really keeps smiling, I am not so sure that it is so in reality. 
12        For instance, a little later Luther tells us that ‘all kinds of law should be given, ordained and kept in order that it should not be kept for the sake of the doer or for the sake of the law, but in order that love should be exercised’. (P. 57). This could be given a twofold interpretation: 1) as if ‘love’ means ‘love as found in a human relationship’. 2) as if ‘love’ means ‘love as an internal force in the individual’. The problem is: What does ‘Uebung’ mean? Does it mean ‘fulfilment’, or does it mean ‘testing’ or ‘perfection’?
13      And maybe one could forgive Luther that he does not tell us how love takes over in the inner part of a human being. He tells us this by using his normal formulas: ‘Even if faith does not fulfil the law, it nevertheless brings with it what may fulfil it; for faith acquires the spirit and love’. (p. 62) How this is done, how the inner person is changed, is in this sermon a mystery. 
14       Maybe one even could say to oneself that it does not matter that he seems to speak in accordance with the medieval legends when he says that the word ‘neighbour’ places everyone on the same level toward God, so that the king has the beggar as his neighbour. ‘How wonderful it would be if we should see how kings and princes, queens and princesses served the poor beggars and lepers, as we read about Saint Elisabeth’.
15 Saint Elisabeth was a queen who against her husbands wish every day gave alms to the poor. One day he caught her with a basket full of loaves to give to the poor, and when she told him that the content of the basket was flowers the loaves miraculously were transformed into flowers. Now, all this is still good Lutheranism when you remember that what matters is the need of your neighbour. You are not trying to finetune your soul by doing good works, you are just helping a neighbour in need.
16         And maybe one could notice that in this sermon Luther does not as usual tell us that the commandment ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’ means that you shall love him instead of yourself. And further notice, that he seems fully to recognize the value of the natural law; the is no talk of the additional ninth and tenth commandments, telling us not to covet, which according to the Luther we meet in Anti-Latomus is something that nature cannot tell us.
17        Still, Luther’s concept of love seems to be love as an internal force in humans, not love as an external force working in the relationships in which we live. That is, he has loosened the intimate connection between what happens between persons and the internal life of the single person. His ethos is still the individualistic medieval ethos. He has the conviction that faith changes everything in a relationship between persons, especially when the persons in question are God and man. 
18 But in the next moment faith becomes some internal force in humans, working hard to drive out the old Adam. He still has the Vulgate- translation of Ps 62:11: ‘If you grow rich, do not bind you heart to your richness’. That is, the question is not, as we would think in modern times, how to achieve equality of richness in our societies, but how to avoid having one’s heart wounded by avarice, how our internal, Christian faith may conquer narrowmindedness, avarice (Geiz) and self-love. 
19         And, as it should appear from my paper and from this presentation, I am really fascinated by Luther and what he has achieved, but I would nevertheless propose that we drop his talk about internal sin to be driven out and concentrate on what he has to say about faith in our relationships, be it our relationship with God or with our fellow-men. 
20 Texts for the presentation of ‘Law and gospel reconsidered’. From Sermon for the fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Erl. 8, 49-70. Text of the Sermon is Rom. 13:8-10.
21 Denn niemand ist, der nicht fühlet und bekennen müsse, dass es recht und wahr sey, da das natürliche Gesetz spricht Matth. 7,12: “Was du dir gethan und gelassen willst haben, das thue und lass auch einem andern;” das Licht lebet und leuchtet in aller Menschen Vernunft, und wenn sie es wollten ansehen, was dürften sie der Bücher, Lehrer, oder irgend eines Gesetzes? Da tragen sie ein lebendig Buch bei sich im Grunde des Herzens, das würde ihnen alles reichlich genug sagen, was sie thun, lassen, urtheilen, annehmen und verwerfen sollten. (P. 67) For there is no man, who does not feel and must confess, that it is right and true, what natural law says Matt. 7:12: ‘What you want people to do or abstain from doing against you, that you should do or abstain from over against them’. This light lives and lights in every man’s reason, and if they would look at that, what would be the need of books, of teachers or of any laws? Then they would wear a living book with them in the deep of their hearts, which would tell them everything in abundance, what they should do, abstain from doing, judge, accept and condemn. 
22 Hier lasse ich fahren die mancherlei Glossen der andern, so hier gesuchet haben, was das gesaget sey: “Seyd niemand nichts schuldig, ohn dass ihr euch unter einander liebet”. Mich dünket diess die einfältige schlechte Meinung seyn: “Ihr sollt schuldig seyn, nicht wie Menschen, sondern wie Christen,” dass eure Schuld sey eine freye Schuld der Liebe, nicht eine Nothschuld aus dem Gesetze. Damit zeiget er zweierlei Schuld: eine, die des Gesetzes Art ist; die der Liebe Art ist. (P. 49f) Here I leave out the many interpretations of those, who have investigated what this means: “Have no obligation toward anybody, other than that you love one another”. I think that this is the simpel meaning: “You should be obliged, but not as humans, but as Christians”, so that your obligation is a free obligation of love, not a necessary obligation of law. Thereby he mentions two kinds of obligation: One, which is the law-kind of obligation and another which is the love-kind of obligation. 
23 Also thut auch die Liebe. Darum ist es die beste Weise, niemand nichts schuldig seyn, so ein Mensch allerlei jedermann sich schuldig macht durch die Liebe. Auf die Weise ist’s auch geredt: Willst du nicht sterben, so stirb; willst du nicht gefangen seyn, so gieb dich gefangen; willst du nicht in in die Hölle kommen, so fahre hinein; willst du nicht ein Sünder seyn, so werde ein Sünder; willst du des Kreuzes los seyn, so nimm’s auf dich; willst du den Teufel überwinden, so lass dich von ihm überwinden; willst du einen bösen Menschen zwingen, so lass dich von ihm zwingen. Welches alles ist geredet, dass ein Mensch sich muss frei ergeben, und williglich mit ihm lassen schaffen, was Gott, Teufel und die Menschen wollen, (p. 52)  This is what love does. Therefor it is the best way of being without any obligation toward anyone, if a man in every way gives himself obligations toward everyone through love. In this way you might also say: If you will not die, die. If you will not be taken prisoner, let yourself be taken prisoner. If you will not go to Hell, descend into Hell. If you will not be a sinner, become a sinner. If you will be free of the cross, take up the cross. If you will conquer the devil, let yourself be conquered by the devil. If you will compel an evil person, let yourself be compelled by him. Which all means, that man must give himself freely, and voluntarily let everything happen to him what God, devil and men will.
24 Darumb ist die Rede des Apostels eben, als wenn ich spreche: Seyd jedermann schuldig, auf dass ihr niemand schuldig seyd: Seyd allerlei schuldig, auf dass ihr nichts schuldig seyd. Die lauten wider einander; aber ein Theil siehet auf die Liebe vor Gott, das andere auf das Recht und Regiment vor der Welt. (P. 51) Therefor this words of the Apostle sounds, as if I would say: ‘Have obligation to everyone, in order that you should have no obligations. Have obligations in every way, in order that you should have obligations in no way. It sounds as contradictions, but the one part refers to love over against God, the other part to the right and dominion of the world. 
25 So sollten nu allerlei Gesetz darzu gegeben, verordnet und gehalten werden, dass sie nicht für sich selbst, noch un der Werke willen gehalten würden, sondern allein um Uebung willen der Liebe; welche auch ist die rechte Meinung des Gesetzes, wie hier St. Paulus saget: “Wer den andern liebet, hat das Gesetz erfüllet:” also, dass, wo man sehe, dass es nicht zum Nutz des Nächsten gereichet, sondern zu Schaden, sollte es nachbleiben. Denn es kann wohl einerlei Gesetz auf eine Zeit dem Nächsten nütze, auf eine andere Zeit schädlich seyn.  (p. 57)  So now, all kinds of law should be given, ordained and kept in order that it should not be kept for the sake of the doer or for the sake of the law, but in order that love should be exercised. This is also the right meaning of the law, as St. Paul here says: “Who loves the other one, has fulfilled the law”. Therefor, if you see, that it will not be to the benefit of your neighbour, but to his disadvantage, you should not do it. For any law might in one time be advantageous to your neighbour, at another time be harmful to him. 
26 Ob nu wohl der Glaube das Gesetz nicht erfüllet, so hat er doch das, damit es erfüllet wird; denn er erwirbet den Geist und die Liebe, damit es erfüllet wird. Wiederum, ob die Liebe nicht gerecht machet, so beweiset sie doch das, damit die Person gerecht ist, nämlich den Glauben.  Even if faith does not fulfil the law, it nevertheless brings with it what may fulfil it; for faith acquires the spirit and love, whereby it is fulfilled. And on the other hand, even if love does not justify, it nevertheless shows what justifies, i. e. faith. 
27 Ist nun das nicht ein fein edles Gebot, das so ungleiche Menschen so fein gleich machet? Ist’s nicht ein wunderlicher Trost, dass ein Bettler solche herrliche Diener und Liebhaber hat, dass seiner Armuth muss so ein reicher König zu Dienste stehen; seinem Stank und Wunden muss solche schöne Krone und süsser Geruch königlicher Pracht unterthan seyn? Wie wunderlich sollte es stehen, wenn wir sehen sollten, wie Könige und Fürsten, Königinnen und Fürstinnen den armen Bettlern und Aussätzigen dieneten, wie wir von St. Elisabeth lesen. Und wenn’s schon geschähe, wäre es dennoch gar ein geringer Ding, so man’s gegen Christo hielte: (p. 67)  Is not this a fine noble commandment, that so precisely makes so unequal people equal? Is it not a wonderful consolation, that a beggar should have such lovely servants and benefactors, so that such a rich king should serve his poverty; so that such fine crown and sweet smell of royal beauty should be subordinated his stench and wounds? How wonderful it would be if we should see how kings and princes, queens and princesses served the poor beggars and lepers, as we read about Saint Elisabeth. And if it really happened, it would nevertheless be a small thing, compared to Christ:  
28 c
29 Law and gospel reconsidered
Paper for The Lutheran Conference in Århus by Ricardt Riis, Horsens. (January 2003)
30 Introduction
 The late professor K. E. Løgstrup, Århus, made in his book, ‘Opgør med Kierkegaard’, the claim, that there was a kind of human acts, the existence of which Kierkegaard totally ignored. To Kierkegaard a work or an act of a human being was always an act of the will, the will was always involved. And to show that this was not always the case Løgstrup developed the concept of ‘the sovereign life-utterances’. These special Løgstrupian entities started their existence as a tool, used against Kierkegaard. 
31         In this paper I shall undertake the same manoeuvre against Luther. In a little while I shall develop the tool that I wish to use against Luther, which is a little different from the Løgstrupian tool of ‘the sovereign life-utterances’, and which is by the way to a great degree taken from Luther himself (it is an elaboration of the Lutheran concept of ‘law and gospel’).
32         But I must admit right from the beginning that Luther’s theology is complicated. I really am able to take my tool for criticism of Luther from Luther himself. That means, it really is possible to criticize Luther by help of the very same Luther who is to be criticized. There are, indeed, a lot of texts in Luther’s total work that may be of great help even in our edification today. But one must admit that there are also a lot of texts in his work that leads us into endless discussions, barren speculations without any connection to our daily life.
33         I hope to show that our every day life may be considered in two different ways: It may be considered as a life in relationships, dependent on various situations, creating in these situations different feelings and different thoughts in us. And it may be considered as an inner life, where the commission is to deliver a soul as fine as possible, liberated from every earthly desire, having only correct feelings and thoughts in it.
34  And I hope to show, too, that our relationship with God may be thought of in these two different ways, which in my view are incompatible. The problem is that Luther wants it both ways. And I see no other way in which to solve the incompatibility between the two ways of thought than to dismiss the second one and keep to the first one. And I am absolutely sure that Luther would be very dissatisfied by such a proposal. That won’t help. I’ll try it anyway. 
35  Luther and Latomus
 As a preparation to the great disputation in Leipzig in July 1519 Luther put forward 13 theses. After the disputation he wrote a resolution over these theses, because he did not think that all of them were dealt with properly in Leipzig. In the second of these theses he said: ‘To deny that man sins in his good works and that a forgivable sin is forgivable not according to its nature, but according to Gods mercy, or that there remains sin in the infant after baptism is to show contempt towards as well Paul as Christ’. (n1) The elaboration of especially thesis 2 in the resolution was later on made subject to a thorough investigation by the Louvainian theologian Jacobus Latomus. His book was edited in April 1521. In June 1521 Luther wrote an answer, normally called Anti-Latomus.


Note 1:  In the notes I shall often refer to my two homepages: and There I have collected a great deal of Luther-works, all of them translated to Danish, but only few of them to English, sorry! I dare do so, because the original text, be it Latin or German, is there, too. Here, see WA 2,16f =  

36           Latomus brings forth some inconveniences or self-contradictions that Luther has made. One of them goes this way: ‘If all our work is sin and evil, then also the prayer ‘Forgive us our trespasses’ is sin’. (n2) This is a fine objection. And I will make it my objection, too. Although I do not understand it the way Latomus understands it. 

Note 2: I have happened to find Latomus’ book against Luther on the internet. I have transcribed much of it, and you may find the quotation on my homepage: 

37         Latomus sees this as a fatal flaw in Luther’s thinking because he considers the prayer for forgiveness as a human act of good will which is rewarded by God offering forgiveness. And if this act of good will (man praying for forgiveness) is sin how then can sin be cleansed or deleted by sin, asks Latomus. (n3) If this is Latomus’ view as well as the view of the contemporary scholastic theologians, you to some degree cannot blame Luther for saying that all man’s good work is sin. In this connection he obviously by ‘good work’ understands ‘works, done in order to obtain something from God’. 

Note 3: See:

38          Nevertheless I want to criticize Luther on this point. And my criticism may be directed against Latomus as well. Neither of the two are aware of any human acts apart from those conscious and willed acts, that they discuss. Latomus’ theology as a whole would loose its foundation if a human person is quite unable (by the help of God, of course) to turn his inward person into a person crying for forgiveness. I fully agree with Luther on this issue: No person whatsoever is able to do such a thing, and if he thinks that he really has asked for forgiveness by such an act of the will, he deceives himself.
39        But that does not mean that Luther’s claim is any better, when he says that every act of any human being, even the best act, that can be thought of, is sin. 
          Both of them ignores the acts of confidence that is normal among people that live in a trustful relationship with one another. Those acts are not done by the will, but they are human acts anyway.
40 The tool
       Løgstrup’s tool was ‘the sovereign life-utterances’. My tool is a law and gospel concept, developed a little further. 
41        In 1. Cor. 6:1-9 Paul admonishes two members of the congregation in Corinth who have quarrelled with one another. They should be reconciled. But he does so in two different ways. In verses 1 to 6 he goes no further than to admonish the two of them not to let their case be judged by a pagan judge, but by some clever and wise person within the congregation. He ends this part of his admonition by saying: “Must brother go to law with brother — and before unbelievers?” Then he hesitates. And in the next vers he begins from scratch in a totally different way of thinking: “Indeed, you already fall below your standard in going to law with one another at all. Why non rather suffer injury? Why not rather let yourself be robbed?”
42        How do we explain that? Why this interruption of his line of thought?
         My explanation is that Paul at first tries the metaphor of the law. The two of them should not let their case be judged by a pagan judge, but by a Christian judge, in both cases by a judge, that is to say, no true reconciliation would take place, peace would be restored in the congregation, but not love. All the social forces in the congregation would rise and order a solution to the problem. The men in question would not be reconciled from their heart, but from outside. This is the method of the law. And the language of law will still be working amongst them. For instance, they may ask if this solution was a just one. 
43        Over against such a method Paul mentions another method of reconciliation. It is the method of the gospel. If this method is used it is the judicial language itself that is disposed of. The two persons in question no longer speak about justice being done. They speak of the mutual trust being reestablished. They are reconciled with one another, but from within their hearts. 
         Does such a reconciliation take place?
44        One never knows. Maybe and maybe not. To say that it takes place is a confession of faith. Reconciliation is not a thing that is being dealt with scientifically. It must be believed. On the other hand: If you claim that reconciliation per definition never takes place, this too is a confession of faith. You may produce endless talks about every human act being done out of selfishness, out of desire for self-displaying or whatever you want, it still would be a confession of faith. 
45         This is confirmed by Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, if you concentrate on the elder brother. He does not want to join the festivities of his father. He says: »You know how I have slaved for you all these years; I never once disobeyed your orders; and you never gave me so much as a kid, for a feast with my friends. But now that this son of yours turns up, after running through your money with his women, you kill the fatted calf for him« (Luc 15:29f). This is the language of the law speaking. Justice must be done. If he gets that much, I at least must get this much. 
46 And this language separates one from the other when it is used. But one cannot say that the elder son wants to signal to his father that he no longer wants to be his brothers brother. He does not want to signal anything. Because such a wish would presuppose that he knew what he was doing. But when one uses the language of the law one never knows that this is what one is doing. The causation runs the other way round. Because he is overpowered by this kind of language, therefor he felt himself treated with injustice.
47        How is this feeling overcome, or how is this kind of language annihilated? 
        Well, it is interesting to notice that his father does not speak to him in the language of the law. He might have done so. He might have tried to explain that after all there was justice in his way of dealing with his sons. But he does nothing of the kind. In stead of that he used the language of the gospel. That is: He asked his elder son to participate in the family-relationship. He told him about his love for the younger son, in order that his elder son would be contaminated by this love, or, in order that he would be reconciled with his brother. 
48         This may be elaborated a little more. ‘Contaminated by love’, I said. How might love be brought from one person to another by contamination? This is done by language itself. But not by any form of language. Language is split up into different forms of language. There is a scientific form of language, telling us how things are, how they behave under this and that condition, and so forth. Then there is the language of the law, telling us what is to be done, what is the reward for doing it, how we may adjust to the rules put up for us. 
49 And finally there is this neglected and almost forgotten form of language, the relational form of language, the most profound form of language, telling us that we are part of a relationship, how we may strengthen it and maybe even reestablish it if broken asunder. These different forms of language may have words in common, but they do not have logic in common. And if you are spoken to in the language of the law or in the metaphor of the law, you will almost certainly answer in that metaphor.
50          If for instance you hear some gossip you will have a tendency to join the other person in his or her indignation over the person told about. It takes an extra amount of psychological labour to break away from the metaphor in which you were spoken to. And this is valid the other way round, too. If you are sour or have felt some injustice done toward yourself, you normally would think your thoughts in the metaphor of law or in the language-section of the law. 
51 Over and over again you would think of what happened, what was said, how the other person insulted you, and so forth. Løgstrup talked about persons being caught up by a circular phenomenon. And he had names for those phenomenons: envy, jealousy. I would add to this description that the phenomenons in question are circular because language makes them so, i. e. the language of the law. From the law’s point of view there is no other solution than that justice be done, that is, that I get my share. 
52          But you may become free from this tyranny of the law if somebody speaks to you in the relational form of language. Just as the language-form of law contaminates, makes it more plausible that the other person answers in this form of language when he is spoken to in this form of language, so it is plausible that you answer in the relational metaphor if you are spoken to in that metaphor. It is, as if your brain changes from Apple to Windows, which if you were a computer could not be done without re-boosting, but which, since you are a human being, may take place in milliseconds. 
53         This is how people are made free from the tyranny of the law, not by making any labour themselves, but by being spoken to by a person outside themselves. The will, which was in bondage, is set free by the word of God. What we could not accomplish by ourselves, God has done by sending us His son. And this son spoke the words of liberation, for instance the word contented in the parable of the prodigal son. And by speaking to his elder son in the relational metaphor the father hopes that he will become contaminated, his expectation is that reconciliation will take place. 
54         Did then reconciliation take place?
         Jesus does not tell us. It is up to the pharisees to fulfil the story. Or it is up to us to give it a happy end. That’s because reconciliation is something to be believed in. It must be trusted, otherwise it will not happen. And even when believed in, it does not always happen. 
55          One might analyse these two biblical events from a psychological point of view. But please notice that this is not what I have done here. One might call this analysis phenomenological, if this word explains anything (it is borrowed from Løgstrup, who calls his method phenomenological). I would prefer to say that I investigate how one kind of language is expelled and an other kind brought into play; or how the law is blown out of the heads of the participants by the gospel, so that the gospel kind of language may take over. 
        These two kinds of language might be given other names than law and gospel. 
56        Jürgen Habermas makes a distinction between a strategic act and a communicative act. I could make use of this distinction here, because the strategic act is an act done by one standing outside the relationship in question, whereas the communicative act is an act done from within the relationship. If for instance man does his good works in order to obtain a reward in heaven, his act will be strategic. But if the man does his good work because he wants to strengthen his relationship with the other person, his act will be communicative, or at least could be so.
57         It is interesting to notice that Habermas is not able to tell whether a communicative act really takes place or not. He ends up with the thesis, that you have to believe in the communicative act if only as a contrafactual fact. I would translate this into theological language and say that this is the very kernel of the Christian gospel: that reconciliation does take place, but that you must believe in the Christian gospel, you must believe in reconciliation, you do not get any proof. And you must believe in it although you never will see it happen in a manifest way; it always happens in a way so that it may be interpreted as a pseudo-reconciliation. And you must believe in it because reconciliation was precisely what happened between God and man, according to the Christian gospel; how then should it be impossible between man and man?
58 Luther’s Augustinian heritage
        I want to ask the question why Luther taught total sin. And I want to answer this question by saying that he wanted to make boasting impossible. And finally I want to claim that he in teaching total sin is not openminded enough in his concept of human acts. But at first I want to show how Luther’s concept of total sin differs from ours. I am not quite sure how much impact this difference has on our attempts to describe Luther’s theology, but I think it is necessary to know how it is and be aware of the difference between then and now. 
59        In the eyes of Augustin man, as he is seen now, is a fallen creature. After the fall two features were added to his nature: The movements of his genitals were no longer under the control of the will, and the use of those same parts were accompanied by the awful feeling of lust, concupiscentia. Therefor every man born after the fall is born a sinner, because he is the result of an act in which sin, meaning lust, was given its course. If man and woman were able to conceive a child without this awful lust, it would be born without any sin. But, alas, man is not able to do such a thing. Therefor Christ was born without the interference of man so that he would be born without sin, that is, without hereditary sin.
60         As one would expect this gives Augustin a great problem with matrimony. He several times states that matrimony is a good thing, that the spouses are doing the work of the creator, but he always adds that celibacy is better, that just as God in the political field may use a bad tool in order to make something good, He in matrimony uses a bad tool: the sinful flesh of the spouses, to make something good: a newborn child. 
61        Some of Augustin’s contemporaries have proposed, that one might cut off this chain of hereditary sin by baptizing man and woman just before they had intercourse. As baptism eliminates hereditary sin, it should be possible to take away any sin from the spouses in the matrimonial act, and so bring forth a child born without sin. But as one could expect Augustin explains that this trick will not do. The guilt of hereditary sin is taken away in baptism, not its reality. 
62         Maybe we would not be convinced by such an argumentation, but Luther was. (n5) Luther followed Augustin in all details in his understanding of man. And now, if you take the discussion between Latomus and Luther, the capital-problem was, whether or not the sin left over after baptism should be called a sin or no more than a vice. Luther proposed that it be called sin, Latomus that it be no more than a vice. And since Augustin is rather unclear on this point there is plenty of room for disagreement between the two of them. 

Note 5: Luther delivered a sermon at the day of Mary’s conception in which he investigated the issue of the original sin. It can be found in the Erlangen-edition, tome 15, page 43-55, or on my homepage where it can be seen with both a Danish and an English translation. 

63        And their disagreement is about the totality of sin. 
         Latomus seems to accuse Luther of heresy because he participates in the opinion of old heretics who condemned matrimony saying that the carnal union between man and woman was sin or could not take place without sin. (n6) And Luther admits that this is his opinion, but takes this opinion as an opinion broadly accepted in the church, saying that even Latomus must agree with him on the point that a virgin who marry sins when committing the obligation of the flesh. (n7) 


Note 6:

Note 7: See: WA 8,94 =

64         My point here is not to discuss which of the two were right, for one may rightfully claim that both theses are out of date, but to ask if it is necessary for us today to follow Luther on this topic. Do we have to find some understanding of sin where sin may be just as totally thought of as it was to Luther? Most Lutherans do not see the problem at all, because they do not seem to have realised Luther’s Augustinian heritage. 
65 But if we take Luther’s utterances seriously, if we realise that Luther does believe in a human nature that is corrupt, so that everyone of us is born with sin, I feel it impossible to follow him, and I feel that if we try to follow him, by hypothesizing some kind of contemporary concept of total sin, we shall be left behind, because we are unable to think in terms of nature, and therefor our understanding of total sin necessarily will be much less total than his. 
       But I am not quite sure whether or not this Augustinian approach of Luther’s to the concept of total sin will interfere with the problem now raised. 
66  Why did Luther teach total sin?
       For the main-question remains not how Luther taught total sin but why he did so. 
        I have hinted that he did so in order to prevent Christians from boasting. This I will try to show now. In Anti-Latomus he in the second chapter makes a thought-experiment. Let us try to imagine what would be the case if Latomus were right, if some saint, or even the best of saints, Saint Paul or Saint Peter, really were able to do just one good work. 
67 Then he would be able to say: »Look, my Lord, this good work I have done by help of Your grace; there is no fault nor sin in it; and it doesn’t need Your mercy to forgive it, and I do not ask for that either, concerning this work; I only want You to judge it with the most true and accurate judgement. This is my praise over against You, that You cannot condemn it, since You are just and truthful; indeed, I am sure, that unless You deny Yourself You will not condemn it. In this work, this mercy will not be needed that forgives guilt, such as The Lord’s Prayer teaches us, it is out of the question here, I only need the justice which crowns the work«. (n8) 

Note 8: See WA 8,79 =

68         Luther himself feels that this is terrible. And he asks Latomus, if he is not in fear because of this conclusion. But, he adds, the conclusion is quite firm, it must be so, the holy person even has to say so, he as a holy person has to say the truth, and the truth is, that he does not need God’s mercy. 
        And from this thought-experiment Luther draws the conclusion, that since this thought ends ‘in absurdum’, it cannot be true, that is: every person sins in every good work he performs, even if it be the best of works that has ever been heard of. 
69         So if you ask why Luther teaches total sin the answer is here: He does so because otherwise he would make it possible for man to boast of his work. 
         This is the first thing that may be learned from this quotation: Luther’s claim about total sin is a tool, not a goal in itself. And this tool is used in order to achieve a goal that is higher than the conviction of total sin: that toward God you are always unable to boast from your works. 
70         But there is a second thing to be learned from the quotation: Luther is unable to imagine for himself that any work may be out of the reach of human will-power. Human acts are conscious acts, human acts are done willfully, human acts are done after considerations pro et contra, they are decisions. That is, they are acts that can be boasted of, if only they were good enough. And the thought of total sin is there in order to make none of them good enough, so that boasting is impossible. 
71        The thoughts in the quotation is held in the language of law. God, who is just, will have to crown the work with his justice, he cannot decline to do so. The thought that makes the conclusion valid is this thought of justice. 
72         And here comes my accusation: Why is Luther unable to see other kinds of works than the law-kind of works? In other contexts, in some of his sermons and in a quotation that I shall bring forward in a little while, he really is able to see what should be clear to us all: That humans live in relationships, and that these relationships make some works natural, and that doing this kind of work is a spontaneous act, done without the will being involved, and that for this reason it is impossible to boast of them. You just do them, that’s all. But nevertheless they are good works.
73         ‘What should be clear to us all’!! Well, maybe it is clear to us all, when we live our everyday life, it certainly is not clear to us when we speak theologically, although it in this field should be just as obvious. It should be obvious that it is not possible to live a life that in all its works is sin. Are you not living in many different relations to other people? Are there none of these relations that are unbroken? And if they are unbroken, are then the words said, the works done in this relationship not sinless, are they not as they should be, are they not genuine human acts? 
        But can a human being do a genuine work? Is it possible for a sinful human to commit a work that may rightfully be called good?
74       I think the word ‘can’ cheats us in this sentence. If I answer this question with a ‘yes’, it immediately will turn up that the word ‘can’ is understood so that is means ‘can do willfully, can do by decision, can do in a conscious act’. And this is not how I understand it, when I answer the question with a ‘yes’. I understand it so that the meaning is this: ‘can do’, that is, it can be performed by this person, he may experience this thing, words may slip out of his mouth which are good, but they are said without considerations of pro et contra, although nevertheless they are said by exactly this person. Remember what the school-teacher said: Think before you speak! Thank God we never listen to this admonition. We just speak up. We just let our feelings out. And this is precisely how it should be. Only this way our works and words may be done so that the left hand does not know what the right is doing. 
75        Or I may say: The ‘can’ that is used when I say, that human beings can do a genuine work, is not a ‘can’ that means: ‘can do at any moment’, or ‘can do if I decide to do so’. Such a conception of ‘can’ totally would fail to take into consideration the possibility of a person being overwhelmed by trust toward another person, or a person being contaminated with love when being spoken to in the language of the gospel. 
76         To take another example: We know that any person can laugh (or at least almost any person). We even know that a person can laugh a very natural laughter. And yet probably all of us would feel it unnatural if such a person would use his laughter outside a laughable situation. Laughter is connected to a situation. Laughter is a reaction. And if we say that a person can laugh, we normally mean, that in a situation which calls for laughter he is able to laugh, maybe even laugh a natural laughter. We ought to use the word ‘can’ in the same manner when we say that a human being can do a good work or can have faith: It just means that the technical ability is there, so that when the situation, which calls for good works or which calls for faith is there, good works and faith will grow forth. Good works and faith are reactions.
77         So this is my accusation against Luther: Why does he not see these human acts, done by the thousands every day by every human being, done spontaneously, done against any teachers advice: done by speaking before thinking? They are there, our day to day world is flooded with them, and yet he does not see them, he does not acknowledge them as genuine human acts, indeed, he does not even see that there could be something to acknowledge. He just meets every such talk with the claim that every good work is sin, meaning, that also the acts that I am talking about are sin. 
78         And this is where I think that all good Lutherans should hesitate a little, when they repeat Luther’s claim about total sin, meaning thereby to be genuine Lutherans: Is it really true that every good work is sin? Just as Løgstrup accused Kierkegaard of being unable to see the kind of human acts, represented by the sovereign life-utterances, must we not accuse those Lutherans (and Luther himself) of being unable to see those acts and words, acts and words of reconciliation, acts and words of mutual understanding, acts and words of trust and faith? 
79 Luther on relational acts
      Indeed, one should think so.
       And yet, my accusation breaks asunder. What is really puzzling with Luther is that he has so many strings on his instrument. In his great work ‘On Good Works’ he says: »Sixth: This may be seen by a gross carnal example: If a man or a woman relates the other person with love and enjoys him or her and has a strong faith in this, what teaches him how he should relate, what he should do and decline from, what he should say or keep quiet with, what he should think? Only faith teaches him all this and that even more than necessary. In his doing there will be no difference for him between his works; he will do the big works, the long works and the many works with the same joy as the small works, the short works and the few works, and the other way round. And in addition he will do them with a joyful, peaceful and secure heart, and he will be a totally free guy. 
80 But where there is doubt, he will try to find out which work is best, he will by elaborating differences between the works try to regain faith from the other person, and yet he will go to his works with a heavy heart and great distaste. And at the same time he is captured, more than half in despair and often he is mocked because of it.      In the same manner a Christian who lives in the same faith against God knows everything, can do everything, dares do everything that is to be done and does all of it with joy and with a free mind. He does not do his works because he wants to collect merits or good works, but because it is his pleasure to please God in this way and serve God for nothing, being satisfied that God is pleased with his works. On the other hand, who is not in accordance with God, or is in doubt about it, he begins to try and be concerned about how he could do enough and please God with many works«. (n9) 

Note 9: E 20,199f = WA 6,207. I have not (yet) put ‘On Good Works’ on my homepage.

81        As you see, Luther really knows the kind of acts that I have mentioned. Indeed, he himself through exactly the words quoted above has made me see those acts, has made me able to understand what Løgstrup tells about the ‘sovereign life-utterances’. And the problem seems to be: Why does he not stick to them? Why does it not occur to him that there are such acts, when he claims that every good work is sin? He knows them, and yet he does not know them. He tells about them, and yet when really their existence matters, he seems to have forgotten them. 
         This is what puzzles me. I really wonder why he behaves this way. And I have not got any evident answer, at least not yet. 
82       But let me try to sketch out my preliminary observations!
     1) When speaking about our relationship with God, Luther always ‘knows’ this kind of acts; he is always aware of the enormous importance of faith; he never forgets that everything is restored by faith. (n10) 
      2) When speaking of works to be done by us, his monastical background interplays with these thoughts. Works to be done by us are not only works, useful to our neighbor, but also works, fighting carnal lusts: fasting, vigilance, continence. (n11) 
       3) When speaking about admonition, he often recurs to these thoughts, seemingly unable to let admonition be grounded in the relationship to God or our neighbor, restored through faith.


Note 10: E. g.: In ‘De votis monasticis’ he elaborates in great details the word of Paul from Rom 14:23 that everything which is not done out of faith is sin. See WA 8,591 =  

Note 11: E. g.: In ‘On the liberty of a Christian’ Luther has three paragraphs in which he teaches the mortification of the flesh. See WA 7,30 =  

83     4) He sees the mission of the law to be one of persuading of sin. And the sin you are to be persuaded of is not the everyday sin against your neighbor, but the ‘monastic’ sin of coveting. (n12) 
     5) When he speaks of ‘good works’ he seems, in accordance with his monastic past, to be thinking of works, done in order to fill the treasury of the pope, not of works, done by a normal citizen toward his wife and children.
     6) He keeps speaking of sins to be expurgated. And the sins to be expurgated or cleansed are ‘monastic’ sins, lust, greed, arrogance and so forth. 
        So my accusation against Luther will be this: Why does he want it both ways? Why does he both stick to his monastic view of man and preach the gospel of salvation by faith? 

Note 12: In Antilatomus (WA 8,104 = klostersogn/LATOM05.htm#4) Luther shoots down what he may have said about the natural law. There the natural law is able to convince of no more than the external sin, the ‘real’ sin, i. e. the concupiscence of the flesh, is not hit by the natural law. In this connection it is interesting to see how Luther in his ‘Gebetbüchlein’ from 1520 places his praise of the natural law between the eighth and the ninth commandment. All the first eight commandments may be said to be extracted from the natural law, but the two last commandments, where the words ‘Thou shalt not covet’ are found, are in no way derivations of the natural law. (Erl 22,6 = GEBET20#27
84   The antinomers
      That he really mixes the two different points of view may be shown from his first disputation against the antinomers from 1537. 
       In this disputation Luther has an argument from where it can be seen how he wants it both ways. 
       In the 31. argument he has to explain what was the difference between Peter and Judas.  Did they have the same amount of contrition? Or why did the first one recover from his evil deed, while the other one was put to desperation and death? (n13) 


Note 13: See WA 39 I, page 410f =

85      If one allows oneself to feel Luther’s own experience in his monastery vibrate through his answer, it is very moving to listen to his answer. He admits that in some cases, Judas, Cain, Saul and others, the law has driven man into despair. But if the law goes beyond its limits, one must cry against it: Stay away, law! Don’t do it! Do you not remember? Your time was until John. Now that Christ is here, you not only attack me, you attack Christ as well. So I pray you: Do not condemn! Do not take Christ away!
        I think one can hear, that despair is right underneath the surface, the despair that Luther himself experienced many years ago. 
86       But what should he say? What should he answer? I think that these considerations are some kind of small-talk, giving him time to work out what should be the answer. What was indeed the difference between Peter and Judas? Did Peter repent more sincerely? Had he a better character? No. But how then did he reach the point where he could hear the beautiful voice of Christ: ‘I do not want the death of the sinner, but that he converts and lives’? (Ez 33:11). To make things worse Luther adds, that Peter had felt sorry for his sins just as much as Judas, he was as touched by the law as he was, he had made just the same repentance as Judas. By saying so it seems that there was no room for a solution. Do we not all tell ourselves, that there must be some difference between the two of them? Peter must in some respect be better, have more contrition, be touched more by the law. And when Luther says ‘no’ to all these possibilities, what then? 
87         Luther’s final answer did not go along these lines. He says: »Peter was helped by the word: ‘And the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter’ (Luc 22:61) and by the word: ‘when you have come to yourself you must lend strength to your brothers’« (Luc 22:32). And satisfied with the solution he has reached he adds in German: »Ja, das ists« ‘Yes, that’s it’. (n14) 

Note 14: See

88         And how I agree with him! Ja, Luther, eben das ist es. He was met by a word from outside. He did not have the possibility for conversion in himself. He converted when he met a word from his Master and believed it, even if the word was no more than a look. It is nothing inside Peter himself that makes the difference between the two of them; it is the word from outside that meets one of them, not the other one. And this must be the final proof that Luther thinks in relationships, not in natures. 
       I wish it were. But I am not at all certain that it is so. 
89        Immediately after this remarkable utterance Luther admonishes you to humiliate, to acknowledge your sins, so that God may forgive you. There we have the old, medieval scheme, and when he continues: ‘some are touched and terrified more by the law, others less, ... some believe with greater strength, others with less strength’, one sees the pattern from his ontological metaphor: sin is driven out in a continuous action, so that at any given time there will always be at least some sin left in the sinner, and the more faith, the less sin, and vice-versa. (n15) Nein, Luther, so ist es nicht! You cannot have it both ways. The two metaphors used are contradictory. 

Note 15: See1antinom-disp04.htm#25 You can see the same phenomenon in Anti-Latomus, where Luther makes it clear that he works with two metaphors, one dealing with things working in the interior man, and another dealing with relationships. There it is remarkable that ‘faith’ is considered a thing or a gift (latom05.htm#45) placed opposite the corruption of nature. Thereby Luther makes it possible to consider faith as something that may be there to a greater or lesser degree. Just as he does in the antinomer-disputation. 

90        Even if you go as far as to say that what Luther calls ‘nature’ is identical with what I have called ‘forms of language’, so that you may say that one nature in the Christian conversion is exchanged with another, it is impossible to interpret that conversion, which takes place in milliseconds, as something identical with expelling sin during your whole lifetime. If Peter were converted thanks to a voice that sounded to him from outside, if by this voice the language of the law which accused him until despair were annihilated and the sweet language of the gospel were given to him, making him confident that his relationship toward his master was again as in the good old days, this by no means can be interpreted so that he from now on is situated in a fight where his faith may grow as his sin diminish. 
 91  One may say that Peter’s faith is something which he may loose (If you feel sure, that you are standing firm, beware! You may fall. 1. Cor 10:12), but that’s not to say that he has to expurgate sin by help of his faith. When saying so you use a totally different framework of thought (or metaphor), which is incompatible with that of faith being created by a voice from outside. 
 92  Conclusion
      This is one way of formulating the problem, and let this be my conclusion: Luther uses two different metaphors, the relational metaphor, where faith is an attitude toward the other person in the relationship, and the ‘ontological’ metaphor, where faith becomes something that may be infused into one or the other of the persons in question. Luther elaborates both metaphors, wants to use both of them and sometimes mixes things together so that it becomes quite impossible to find out what he means. (n16) 
       When formulated this way my accusation against Luther is that these two metaphors are mutually contradictory. 
Note 16: There is an example of an enormous mixture of the two metaphors in Anti-Latomus. In Latom05#58  he tells us ‘that it is completely ungodly to say that who is baptized still is in his sins, or that all his sins are not completely forgiven’. And yet one must ask: What is the discussion between him and Latomus all about, if not just that? And a little later he tells us that sin now after the infusion of grace is treated otherwise than before: ‘How was it treated before? As something that was there, was acknowledged and overwhelmed us. But now it is treated as something which is not there and is being thrown away’. (Latom05.htm#64) How is this to be interpreted: Sin being nonexistent and yet being thrown away? Maybe it can be translated in a more ‘soft’ way (sin being treated as something which should not be there and which should be thrown away), but please notice that the ‘hard’ translation is not mine. It belongs to a more normal Lutheran Dane (Asger Chr. Højlund) who has learnt not to question the contradictions of the great guru. But should they not be questioned?