By Ricardt Riis, minister of the Danish Lutheran church.
1. Why criticize Luther? 2
1.1. To help us see the old church fathers. 2
1.2. The dynamic view of history. 3
1.3. Demythologizing Luther. 6
1.5. A second enlightenment of Luther? 8
1.6. Reformation, theologically or historically? 10
2. The question of application. 13
2.1.1. Where do these thoughts fit? 13
2.1.2. Maximus the Confessor. 15
2.1.3. The Muslims. 17
2.1.4. To look at a woman. 19
2.2. Criticism of Maximus the Confessor. 20
2.2.1. Maximus on deification. 20
2.2.2. Maximus and Augustin about the sexual drive. 25
2.2.3. The drive for food and the drive for social recognition. 27
2.2.4. The continence of Frans of Assisi. 31
2.2.5 The Ethics of Augustin. 32
2.3. One will or two wills? 34
2.3.1. Before and after conversion. 34
2.3.2. The criticism from dyotheletism. 36
2.3.3. A Hegelian quotation. 39
2.3.4. The application. 42
3. Is Luther an "Augustinian"? 43
3.1. Luther's interpretation of Psalm 51,6. 43
3.2. A sermon about hereditary sin. 47
3.3. A will in bondage or a free will? 51
4. Nature or relation? 53
4.1. The natural law. 53
4.2. The modern interpretation of Luther's theology. 55
4.3. A modern theologian about total sin. 57
4.4. Luther's scheme of thought. 61
4.5. The right place of faith. 64
4.5. The incompatibility of the two metaphors. 72
4.6. What is faith? 75
4.7. Faith behind good works 77
4.7.1. Luther and the relational metaphor. 78
4.7.2. Luther makes formulas 91
5. Luther's reformatory enlightenment. 97
5.1. A sudden change. 99
5.2. The sexual drive accepted? 103
5.3. Resoluteness. 107
5.4. Justification, not creation. 109
5.5. Luther's view on society. 113
5.6. Luther's view on economics 115
5.7. The shortcut of our time. 119
6. A final analysis. 120
6.1. Better marry than burn. 121
6.2. Luther's exaggeration of the evil. 125
7. So what? 128
7.1. Guidelines in economics? 129
7.2. No more evil-competitions 131
7.3. Conclusion? 132
1. Why criticize Luther?
Some good reasons for criticizing Luther (You may skip them, if you find the reason to criticize illuminated to a satisfying degree.)
1.1. To help us see the old church fathers.
In his preface to the edition of his Latin works Luther writes (in 1545), as a reason not to publish these works: "First, I did not want the labors of the ancient authors to be buried under my new works and the reader to be hindered from reading them." (fort45-en/3). I am afraid that we Lutherans will have to admit just that: That we have read Luther and Luther and Luther again, so that we have almost totally forgotten the ancient authors, or so that the great mass of Luther's work has hindered us from reading the works from the old church. Luther had no idea that such a thing was going to happen. Nothing of that kind was his intention. In our days we have begun to consider all the stuff written before Luther as uninteresting. We have made a big jump from Paul to Luther. Some single ones make a little station at the name of Augustin, but most of us go directly from Paul to Luther. And that is wrong. Luther himself would not have liked it. If we are going to change that consideration, we must criticize Luther, that means, we must find our own opinions, we must know ourselves and our theology, and thereby finding out to what degree we might make use of Luther, and to what degree we might make use of the old fathers.
1.2. The dynamic view of history.
There also is a scholarly historical reason why to criticize Luther. If asked whether they prefer a static or a dynamic historical view most people would answer: a dynamical view of history. The word "dynamic" is a plus-word in our time. But in working with the very historical facts most people, and most theologians too, would work from a static view of history.
In the case of Luther: It has been considered a proper theological work to examine Luther in order to find out what was the true Lutheranism. He himself did not want to give his name to any Christian church, but it nevertheless happened. And since his time his works have been used to continue the struggle between Catholicism and Lutheranism. No doubt pious Lutherans have listened to his words in order to strengthen their faith. But most often they at the same time have made their disbelief in Catholicism stronger, too. And this is my point: Whether their reading be of the one intention or the other it has been a direct reading: Luther's words have been taking out of their historical environment, have been taken as pure words of faith, the reader has felt obliged to use the words directly for his personal Christian edification. And this is a static reading of Luther's words.
Let me suggest another reading! You could read the writings of Luther in order to find out, what really happened at one of the most important turning-points in world history. The content of peoples minds changed during the time of the Reformation. Something new broke the old conceptions asunder. And this new emerged in the mind of one single person: Martin Luther. I shall not at all deny that the turnings-points of history can come about in many different ways. But the Reformation, I think, offers us the opportunity of having a direct view into the workshop of history: We just need to ask, what happened in the mind of Martin Luther. Of course it is no easy task to find out how this question is to be answered. But the works of Martin Luther may be read for that purpose. Not only it is a legitimate purpose, it also is historically correct, which can hardly be said of the aforementioned way of reading.
And, further, if you have this dynamic view of the history of mankind, you will acknowledge that you can in no way be sure, that history's turning-point in the time of the Reformation was the last turning-point before our own days. The French Revolution, for instance, is by most people considered another turning-point of history, although one is not able to point out one single person who in his or her mind covers the whole turning around. That means, you have to acknowledge that maybe for historical reasons any direct reading of Luther is impossible. You may think, that by some special method you get "the real Luther", but if history has fulfilled one or two turning-points in the meantime, it will now be impossible for anyone during any specialized method whatever to have direct access to Luther. He may still of course be read historically, but no more for personal edification. Or at least, you will not be able to fulfill this purpose without fooling yourself to some degree.
I just suggest that this has happened.
And I further suggest how it has happened (this will be treated in detail later on): The problem is, that what was self-evident to Luther is not self-evident to us. Every era has its own concept of understanding. And this concept has changed under our feet. We do not notice any change until the change is too big for us to be neglected. And my proposal is, that now at last this has happened. And it has happened to a degree which forces us to se it.
But we do not like to see it. We still consider Luther a Church-Father. We still think that what he has said is somehow mandatory for us. We have to think as he did, if we are to be considered good Lutherans.
I for instance believe that the Pietist in Germany during the 17th century had the intention of bringing a more "pure" Luther to the fore. They really thought that "their" Luther was better, more fully understood, more historically correct than the Luther of the previous orthodox theologians.
And I also believe that Rietschl had the intention of bringing forth what Luther really meant. He made a special historical philosophy, placed himself and his predecessors in this historical continuity, and these thoughts were construed in a way, so that what he brought forth as the true intention of Luther by coincidence was what he himself had to say to the Catholics (and the Lutherans) of his time.
In the Luther-renaissance in the beginning of this century the same thing happened. I do not want to diminish the enormous progress that has been done in the Luther research in this century. And I do not want take away the fame from any of the famous names in this research. But I do want to emphasize, that apart from the Catholic scholars nobody has disagreed with Luther, everyone has thought, not only that he, just he out of the many scholars, had found the real Luther, but also that this real Luther brought a gospel, told a story, layed the foundation to a theology, that was of immense importance to us nowadays, at least to those who would call themselves Lutherans.
I want to deny this presupposition. I do think it is impossible for us today to take serious what Luther said or wrote. I agree that there is a lot of "good stuff" in Luther. One can still find his sermons fresh and open-minded and convincing. But I don't think it is possible any more to read Luther directly. In other words: Luther has to be criticized.
1.3. Demythologizing Luther.
In the history of the church Scripture has had an important role to play. During most of the many centuries that have passed by since Scripture was written Scripture has been read as, well as Scripture, that means as canon, as some sort of regulator of Christian life. Not until our days have we begun to read Scripture otherwise: read it as a historical source of the beginning of Christianity.
This change has not taken place easily. It has been a tremendous task, taking room during the last two or three centuries, to find out, what does Scripture really say; how is it possible to read Scripture, if you can no longer read it immediately or directly; what kinds of method is to be used if you should succeed in drawing forth from oblivion the words of Scripture. Different methods have been applied in these efforts. One of the latest methods, and I presume: the one, that we find most controversial, is the method that try to "demythologize" the narrations of Scripture. And although the feelings have calmed down a little, and although maybe we do not use the word "demythologization" as often as forty years ago, I don't think that we have finished the discussion about this topic.
What has forced us to "demythologize" is the fact that the fundamental concept of life in the time of the New Testament is different from the fundamental concept of life in our time. We no longer share the view of man and man's place in the universe with the old church. So we were forced to do something. We were forced to try to find out, what is the gospel itself. We had to take off the mythological clothes that New Testament has put around the gospel in order that the gospel itself may become visible.
These are common theological thoughts, nothing new in that. But try
to use these thoughts on the works of Luther! Try to accept that Luther
is not a modern man! Try to "demythologize" Luther! That exactly is what
I am going to do. I do not promise a good result. I have no idea whether
the Luther that emerges after my "destruction" will be acceptable or interesting
or disgusting. I just think that this is what we have to do, if Luther
is to be saved for the future.
When one reads the scholarly works about Maximus (580-662) one finds out that some scholars consider Maximus, not as a genuine Church-Father, but as nothing more than a "quotation-collector". He was able to keep track on the huge literature left by the former Church-Fathers; he was able to discuss some theological matters with quotations taken from their work, but he was unable to make any theological thought himself; he did not contribute to the development of the Christian Creed in any way. He did not belong to the living stream of Christian theologians of the future, but to the deadweight of the theologians from yesterday.
I do not think they are right. And most of the scholars I have read on the subject do not think so either.
But I must admit, none of these two facts are of great surprise. That I think that Maximus is a genuine theologian is of no interest. And if anyone takes himself the time to read Maximus and to read about Maximus, it must almost necessarily be presupposed, that he thinks he will be able to find something interesting in Maximus. So that too is not surprising.
And one thing more I must admit: Maximus has all the marks of a dead "quotation-collector". His arguments are, all of them, build on Scripture or on one or two of his predecessors. Much of his writings are commentaries on some sayings of an old and much loved Church-Father. And he ends his argumentation when he has shown what was the meaning of the Church-Father, without any doubt in his mind that this meaning is the truth itself.
This is what I think that we have to ask ourselves: Are we Lutheran Theologians more than "quotation-collectors"? We do not collect a lot of quotations from everywhere in Church history, we only collect quotations from our one and only Church-Father: Luther. But is this work, how necessary it may be, helping us to make our church go forward into a glorious future, or is it no more than the work of some old men trying in vain to stop the progress of society?
In other words: Do we do this scholarly work in order to be able more wholeheartedly to preach the Gospel? Do we do it because we really think that Luther has something to say to us people living nowadays? Or do we stop our investigation when we have found out and argued thoroughly for what is Luther's opinion on this or that subject, leaving it to our contemporary laymen to find out for themselves what this means to them?
Or I could put it very shortly: Do we criticize Luther?
1.5. A second enlightenment of Luther?
I want to take two examples from Adolf Hamel: The young Luther and Augustin (Der junge Luther und Augustin) from 1934. The first one is rather uncomplicated and harmless. The second one is more serious.
Hamel has set himself a lesser goal than has Karl Holl in his great work on the development of Luther's thoughts about justification. He has not the whole doctrine of justification in mind, he only tries to figure out how the relationship between Luther and Augustin has developed over time (in the second band, page 4ff). And there he mentions Luther's preface to his Latin works from 1545. And he mentions it in a way that is rather common among Lutheran scholars. But it is all the same wrong.
He reports how Luther had felt the gates to Paradise opened when he became aware how these mysterious words "The Justice of God" were to be understood, namely as the justice that God gives man. (fort45en/67)He tells how Luther later on found out that Augustin had used these words in the same way. But he does not say anything about the problems of this text. He does not say with one word that Luther felt these gates open in the year 1519, if one is to follow the dates that he himself has given in his preface. (fort45en/70).
I think that this text (Luther's preface to the Latin works from 1545) gives us great problems. And I think that one has at least to recognize that there are problems in this text. If one reads the text without knowing anything else about Luther and his internal development, one would without hesitation believe that Luther had his great experience of inner peace in 1519. (See e.g. fort45en/59). He even tries to adjust himself. When he has told about his "enlightenment", he says, that before that time he had some feeling of how it was: that man became justified through faith and not through works. (fort45en/45). And if one follows this dating, one would be suspicious: Were there two experiences of enlightenment?
It is not an easy problem, that Luther has left us by saying as he does in 1545. One can rather easily find out that Luther is wrong, at least when he tells about how he found out that Augustin has interpreted the words "God's justice" in the same way. (fort45en/69). It can be shown, and one may use Hamel's work to do so, that Luther in his commentary on Romans from 1515/16 is quoting Augustin for exactly the same thoughts, that he in 1545 claims to have found in him in 1519 with great surprise. So in some way or another Luther is wrong. His memory is not reliable.
But after all I think that this is a minor problem. What I find a little bit mysterious and also a little embarrassing, is the fact that most scholars, as does Hamel here, seem to take it for granted that Luther is talking about his one and only experience of enlightenment.
Two things might have been done. They could have taken the Luther of 1545 seriously. They could have tried to make another theory that the one of Karl Holl, placing his "enlightenment" (or conversion, if one prefers that word) not in 1512 or 1514, but in 1519. I think that some very few scholars have done so. But most scholars have not.
Or they could have corrected Luther. They could have admitted that the great Church-Father was wrong in this particular case. His memory was not reliable. And because of this failing memory every scholar living to day has to correct this information.
But most scholars do neither. They just pretend that nothing is wrong. And they use Luther's excellent description of his "conversion" in the preface from 1545 to give a first hand impression of what happened in Luther without giving the slightest notion that he himself in this paper places this event in the year 1519.
In this place of my booklet it is not my intention to answer any of the many questions that arise out of this failure. Why did Luther remember wrongly in 1545? Had he really experienced something important in 1519? Was it an experience that let the gates of heaven be opened?
The only question that I shall try to answer now (or rather in the next section) is this: What does it mean that most scholars avoid this problem or simply do not see it?
1.6. Reformation, theologically or historically?
As I have said elsewhere: It is a peculiar thing about Luther, when one examines his interior thoughts and fights one examined how a new era is dawning. But I think that the theologians of our time have been so occupied with the "inner" history of Luther, that they have almost forgotten the external history.
If one takes some historians from the beginning of this century, or from the late 19th century for that matter, one will see that they are talking about the "main texts of the reformation", meaning thereby the books of Luther from 1520. This is a right description. These books changed the world. These books opened the eyes of everyone that had eyes so that he could see the enormous misuses of the church. If the Pope had not been so stubborn, and if Luther had continued to write his sermons and declarations, no matter how keen they were on justification by faith, no reformation would have taken place.
Nevertheless most theologians of this century have been occupied with the inner development of Luther. It is as if the external events are all too thoroughly examined, nothing new to be fetched there; what happened in society is all too well known and understood, therefor the scholars have been interested in the internal development of Luther. There you may make new discoveries.
That is what Adolf Hamel tries to do. And I really think that it is interesting and relevant. I really do believe that this is of great importance. But one should beware of becoming narrowminded.
Hamel examines Luther's thoughts about "concupiscence". It is Augustin who helps him to get out of the snare of the scholastics. At one point of his development he comes to the conclusion that hereditary sin is a "vitium naturae", and not merely a weakness, as the scholastics thought. This is an Augustinian thought, Hamel remarks (Band 2, page 22). And after that he writes:
"Luther emphasizes now stronger than in his Psalm-lectures the radical conversion of the direction of the will in man because of hereditary sin, and in addition he believes that the privation of original justice means more. The "concupiscence" is in his view the work of this sinful direction of the will and is therefor by God counted as guilt. At this point he goes further than Augustin, as far as according to one of Augustin's thoughts "concupiscence" is in itself neutral and is so to speak only the possibility of actual sin, and does not become sin until it has got the voluntary acceptance of man". (Band 2, page 22, my translation).
If one asks, what is the difference between Luther and Augustin concerning original sin, one could ask according to the guidelines of Hamel. Luther considers original sin a real sin, Augustin considers it a mere possibility of sin. I am not able to judge whether this is right. There are so many similarities between Luther and Augustin, their views on a lot of issues are almost identical, and I would not wonder if somebody one day found a quotation from Augustin, from which he could show that Augustin considers original sin a real sin. Nor would I be surprised if one through a quotation from Luther was able to prove, that Luther did not find original sin a sin in the same way as the actual sin. But never mind! Let us agree on this point: Here we really have found a difference between Luther and Augustin.
What I want to point out is, that this may possibly be the most important theological difference. But it can by no means be the most important historical difference. And if you can point out that the historical difference lies on a quite different level, maybe you will have to change your opinion on the theological difference.
The most important historical difference between Augustin and Luther is the fact that Augustin instituted monastic life, whereas Luther abolished it.
And as well as I can see this will force us to change our opinion on the most important theological difference.
To put it this way: You may say that the said difference on original sin between Luther and Augustin is the most important difference between those two theologians. But you have to add to this statement that the Luther we are talking about is the Luther before 1520. Not until this moment the other historical difference between the theologians came into play. And this historical difference is of course from the point of Luther based on theology. In his big book about the monastic vows (De votis monasticis) from 1521 Luther's view is as follows: Monasticism as an institution is an unchristian institution, although there may have been from time to time some monks living out of faith in God instead of out of faith in good works. But this is done by a direct miracle by God, which can never be ruled out. This view was what had historical impact. This was what changed the towns of Northern Europe.
And of course Luther himself had the opinion that this was based on his theology. You even can say that it is based on Luther's theological doctrine on justification by faith. The question is: How has Luther's theological doctrine on justification by faith changed between the year 1518 and the year 1521? Obviously his view on monks and monastic life has changed, and if this view is based on the doctrine on justification by faith, this should have changed too. But no one has cared to answer this question. That is one of the reasons why I feel it necessary to criticize Luther.
Let me put it in another way: Most Lutheran scholars have been occupied with the enlightenment of Luther which took place in 1512 or in 1515. This led him to the doctrine of justification by faith. But he did not because of that doctrine break with the Papal church, he did not abolish monastic life. Shall we say that he had not yet in 1517 seen the consequences of his doctrine, or shall we say that he in 1517 had not yet elaborated his doctrine of justification by faith? Whatever the answer is, one has to acknowledge that in his mature days, when everything has been elaborated and all the consequences have been worked out, he saw a clear logical connection between his doctrine on faith and his abolition of monastic life.
Now, it seems to me, that this connection has been broken by many modern theologians. They have been to obsessed with the early Luther, with his new theology, with his difference to the scholastic theologians, so that they have not seen that the real change took place, not in the internal matters concerning theology and maybe psychology, but in the external historical events, in the judgements of Luther about Eucharist, about monks and about the church's dependency of the Pope.
This has had fatal consequences in our time.
When Lutheran and Catholic theologians had to work out the "Joint Declaration of Justification", the Lutheran theologians did not consider what the mature Luther had said, their theological thoughts seemed to be totally determined by the young Luther. For instance, one may in this declaration see the above mentioned difference between Augustin and Luther, now as a difference between the Catholic theologians and the Lutherans. And although the difference is nothing but a difference between the young Luther and Augustin, it is nevertheless taken as a difference telling the whole story about Catholicism and Lutheranism. In article 29 the Lutherans say about the sin that is left over in the believers after baptism: "This resistance against God is as such real sin. But the slave-binding might of it is broken thanks to the work of Christ." And the Catholics say in the next article: "Since man's sin according to Catholic faith always has in it a personal element, and since this element is not there in this inclination (concupiscence), Catholics do not see this inclination as real sin".
Well, one has to admit that looking at Luther as an interpreter of Holy Scripture, there is a great continuity between the young and the late Luther. But Luther was more than that. He also was a reformer of the church. And as such he still builds upon the doctrine of justification by faith. Maybe his scriptural work make him say that you have to fight against sin. His work as a reformer makes him say to any monk in his monastery: "Do not fight against the sin of sexual desire any more; go out of your monastery; make use of the remedy that God has given to you because of your original sin: marriage". But this part of his work which was essential to him as a reformer of the church is not expressed in the formulas of the Joint Declaration.
2. The question of application.
2.1.1. Where do these thoughts fit?
I want to begin with the question of application. I want to take a specific text under consideration and ask: Where do these thoughts fit?
The text to be taken under consideration is from the Great Commentary on Galathians, where Luther is commenting on Gal. 2,20: And the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God. There he writes (and I make quite a long quotation, but I think it necessary):
"That is: I live in the flesh, yes; but I do not count this life, that is lived in me, however it is, for life. For in reality it is not a life, only a phony life, under the cover of which another person is living, namely Christ, who is my true life, whom you do not see, but only hear, just as you hear the wind blowing, but you do not know from where it comes or where it goes (John 3,8). So you are seeing me talking, eating, working, sleeping and so on, and yet you do not see my life. For in this lifetime of mine I do live in the flesh, but I do not live out of the flesh or in accordance with the flesh. Paul does not deny the fact that he is living in the flesh. He performs all the natural functions of an ordinary human being. In addition he is using fleshly things, food, clothes etc., which certainly is living in the flesh. But he says that this is not his life, and that he is not living after the flesh. Well, he does use fleshly things, but he does not live in order to gain these things, as the world lives fleshly and lives in accordance with the flesh. For it does not know nor does it hope for any other life above this life in the flesh.
"However this life is which I live in the flesh", he says, "I live in the faith of the Son of God. For my speech, which I speak fleshly, is no longer directed by the flesh, but by the Holy Ghost. My sight, which goes out and in of my eyes, does not come from the flesh, I mean, it is no longer governed by the flesh, but by the Holy Ghost. Likewise my hearing does not come from the flesh, although it is in the flesh, but it is in the Holy Ghost and out of the Holy Ghost. A Christian only speaks what is chaste, calm, holy and divine, what has to do with Christ, with the honour of God and the salvation of ones neighbour. This does not come from the flesh and does not happen according to the flesh, but still it is done in the flesh. For I am unable to teach, preach, write, pray or give thanks but through the fleshly instruments needed for this kind of works. And yet this does not come from the flesh and is not born out of it. But it is given and revealed divinely from Heaven. Thus I look with my eyes on a woman, but I look with a chaste sight without desiring her. This way of looking does not come from the flesh, although it happens bodily, because the eyes are the bodily instruments of the vision. But the chastity in my vision comes from Heaven. (WA 40 I 293f) (Gal2-20/2).
You might say that this is all about the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. And this in fact is what Luther is talking about. So it could seem unnecessary to ask any question about the application of these thoughts. Luther has himself indicated how they should be understood, into which situation they fit. Why ask further? Why throw any kind of doubt into these open and fully understandable words?
Well, I shall propose the environment of understanding changed. And I shall do so because I see some connection between this text and texts or thoughts I have met.
2.1.2. Maximus the Confessor.
Firstly I see a connection between this text and a text of the Greek Church father Maximus the Confessor (580-662). In the year 645 he had a dispute with the patriarch of Constantinople, Pyrrhus, held in Carthage, in which Pyrrhus said:
"It is impossible, that there in one person can be two wills in one and the same time without contrast". Maximus answers: "If it is impossible for two wills to be in one and the same person without contrast, then maybe, according to you, it is possible for them to stay there with contrast. If this is the case, you may confess the two wills for that reason. Although maybe you do not care so much about the number as about the contrast. What is left now is to find out the created cause for the contrast or fight. What would you say it to be? Is it the natural will or is it sin? If you say it to be the natural will this is to acknowledge God as the cause, then, according to you, God would be the one who has created the fight. But if it is sin? Well, He did not create sin, nor did he create this contrast between the wills of the incarnated God, which he has according to his nature". (PG 91,292)
In the late antique church the theologians discussed the two natures of Christ. And in a later stage they discussed the two wills of Christ. The text above is part of the latter discussion. This discussion is almost out of reach for modern people. It has no meaning to us. We may learn the expressions but what the discussion was really about is very hard for us to recognize. My proposal is that we realize that this is an anthropological discussion, although it formally is christological. The main question for those people was to find out: What sort of beings are we humans? Which are the forces that work in us? The theologians use a christological discussion in order to solve an anthropological question. And this they do because of clarity. They want to avoid a very difficult question, namely the question of sin. Sin is a very complicating factor, not only in matters of practice but also in theoretical matters.
This can be seen in many places at Maximus. You may even see it in this text. The question of Pyrrhus is not a special christological one, it is mere anthropological. How can you speak about one person, one man, if there in this person are two wills? This is impossible, states Pyrrhus. And of course one must remember, that the thought behind this conviction was, that since this is an impossible thing in every human being it is also impossible in Christ.
And in Maximus' answer it is also possible to see that the thoughts are anthropological at their base. In normal human beings it is very difficult to imagine that there should be two wills. But at least it is possible. For normal human beings are sinners, and in normal human beings there is therefor a fight between the two wills, indeed sin is by Maximus understood as just the contrast or the fight between the two wills in man, the human will and the will of God. This is so to speak the definition of sin: The inability or unwillingness for the human will to obey the divine will.
And from this one may understand how it after all is possible that there be two wills in Christ. It is possible because the human will obeys completely the divine will. Christ is per definition sinless, and therefor most other theologians were tempted to believe that in Christ there was only one will. This sounded as the most pious solution. But Maximus disagreed. If there were only one will in Christ this would mean that Christ did not obey freely to his heavenly father. And free he was. Therefor there had to be two wills in Christ.
I think that these thoughts widen the perspective. It now becomes a question of not just the Christians, but of whole mankind. We are created in this complicated way, so that we do not only have a merely animalistic will, we also have a will from God. The fight that takes place in us between the two wills is not created by God. It has begun because we ourselves do not want to obey the divine will in us. But still the divine will is there.
Now the question is: Is it possible to take this wide perspective with us from the late antique church to the church of Luther?
One could say that the old church discussed the natures of Christ. The Lutheran church discussed the nature or the life of the Christian. These topics are not so different as is sounds. And it is possible to draw a line from the old church to the church of Luther (and the theology of Luther) especially if one is aware that the concept of "deification" is a genuine Lutheran thought.
Well, as I said, I see a connection between this text of Maximus and the one from The Great Galathian Commentary I quoted before. In this Luther-text man (in this case Paul) is seen as a complicated creature, who has within his personality two natures, so to speak, one that belongs to his body and one that belongs to the Holy Spirit. And in the case of Paul, Luther imagines that the Spirit has almost totally taken over. This is not the case in more ordinary Christians. But still Luther thinks it is indeed possible that in normal Christians chaste thoughts may arise, good words may be spoken and so on.
2.1.3. The Muslims.
And now to the second thought I had when reading the Luther-text from the Great Commentary to the Galatians. It is something quite un-theological. You might call it a sociological thought. Never mind the name, the thought goes as follows:
One of my friends made a trip to Tunis with his pupils. They were to learn how to use their French in practise and to learn something about the difference between the North-African Muslim culture and the Christian European culture. During their stay the newspapers told about a female tourist who had been attacked and raped on a lonely beach. And my friend told about his surprise over the reaction of his Muslim hosts. They of course found it a bad P. R. for their country, and they of course found it natural that the offender be punished. But mostly they were offended by the fact that she has walked alone along the beach without any male companion. This was the real bad thing according to their view. Why? Because they were Muslims and because Muslims take care of the difference between the sexes in a quite different manner than do Europeans.
The Muslims consider the sexual drive to be totally uncontrollable. Nothing can be done, that is, nothing can be done by the individual. But you really can do quite a lot by the society. You can separate the sexes one from the other. And this is being done in most Muslim countries. They try to apply the Muslim law, the "sharia", to their society. And this law demands that men and women live separated from one another. Men have their space, and within that space they are able to move freely around. Women have their space, separated from that of men, and they are allowed to move freely around within their space. Where the spaces of the two sexes interchange special measures have to take place. In the open streets, for instance, women are not allowed to go without a veil.
Some Muslims, especially maybe the "imams" or the religious leaders, consider the Western way of living as promiscuous. They feel offended by the many half-naked women they see, and from their own indignation they conclude that if Western men do not feel the same way it must be because they are "fallen" people, filled with sexual desire.
But some Muslim sociologist have "seen the light", have found out what is going on. They are able to describe the Western way of living, using the word "internalization". They understand that the Western societies are by no mean a free sexual market. Western societies also have their laws and prohibitions. But where the Muslim societies have their prohibitions as external prohibitions, the Western Christian societies have their prohibitions as internal prohibitions. What is allowed and what is not is not written in some "sharia"-law, but is written in the hearts of the citizens, the lawful conduct being internalized in people during their childhood.
2.1.4. To look at a woman.
And this is precisely where I see a parallel phenomenon to the situation that Luther described (or let Paul describe).
Luther seems to presuppose that every man looks at a woman with a sight of desire. Paul is something quite different, and the only way to explain his special case is to explain it by using the concept of "The Holy Ghost". The Holy Ghost is not supposed to work in normal people, but only in the most holy persons among them. But since Paul is supposed to be such a holy person, it may be thought that his sight is sinless, or that he can look at a women without desiring her.
I think one really has to ask Luther: Why not look around and see how men in our quite normal day to day life look at women? Are they able to look at a woman without desiring her? My proposal is that this question is to be answered with a "yes". At least in Western societies. By us men have grown up with the laws for normal sexual conduct being imposed on them, so that it has become natural for them to look at women without any desire. Or, if they look at them with desire, to let their desire stay unfulfilled.
But of course we know that this is not always the case. There may be some special situations. If men have been derived the vision of women for a long time, it may be quite impossible for them to look at any woman without desiring her. If, for instance, they have grown up in a Muslim society, they probably will have a blended feeling of shamefulness and desire when coming to Europe and looking at European women freely walking around between them. But I think that they sooner or later will become used to all these nice women and maybe even be able to look at them in a normal "European" way.
And of course one also might mention the exception of a monk, who has stayed in his monastery for months without having the opportunity of looking at a woman. Maybe it would be difficult to him, too, to do that without desire.
But I think that these exceptions do not alter the rule: We Westerners really are able to do what Paul did with the help of the Holy Ghost. And the question therefor is: Are we able to do so by our own forces or by the help of the Holy Ghost?
This is not an easy question, and I am not going to answer it right now. At this point of my argumentation it will be enough to say that this example shows that we should maybe apply the words of Luther in a broader perspective than just the perspective of conversion, or the perspective of the individual meeting his God.
2.2. Criticism of Maximus the Confessor.
The criticism that I am going to make on Maximus is of the same kind that I shall later on make on Luther. Shortly is has to do with the thesis of two wills in Christ. This thesis was after the death of Maximus recognized as orthodox. My thesis against Maximus is, that if you take this thought seriously, it will be impossible for you to be a monk or to recognize the thoughts behind monasteries. The reason is, that in fact you do, by saying that there is a human will in Christ, and by assuring that this will is not to be annihilated in Christ by the divine will, by saying so you in fact recognize marriage in a way that makes monastic life impossible. The error of Maximus, and that of Luther later on, is, that he denies that sexual drive (and our other drives) is a part of our human nature. Only then is he able to unite those two claims, one that human will as part of human nature in Christ is saved, and another that monks are doing right when they try to fight against the human drives.
2.2.1. Maximus on deification.
But first, let us look at Maximus' remarkable works on the creed of Chalkedon. In this creed it is confessed that the two natures in Christ are unmixed and unseparated. Maximus goes further, as did many Greek church-fathers, and postulated, that the two natures shared their qualities, that which in the Latin tradition is called "communicatio idiomata". In a passages from one of his smaller works, Maximus writes:
"And how perfect can the incarnated Word become man, if the physical will is lacking? For to become deified through a union with God, according to which even nature herself uses the psychic flesh with reason and soul in it, is impossible after the normal laws of life; in the same way iron does not loose its special qualities even if it is brought together with and united with fire. But it will suffer what belongs to fire, when fire is united with it. Yet it still has its weight, after its nature, and it also cuts, because what is in its nature is not taken away, nor is that removed which is its natural force broadly speaking". (Th Pol 16, PG 91, 189CD).
This is the idea of "communicatio idiomata" in the formulation of Maximus. This idea was commonplace thought in the ancient church. But Maximus elaborates the idea a little further than most other church-fathers. In his theology it really is so that the two natures mutually share qualities. You may say that the human nature gets something from the divine nature. But you may with equal right say, that the divine nature gets something from the human one. And you may even say that what the divine nature does, namely that is becomes flesh, is only done in so far as the human nature becomes deified. Lars Thunberg quotes Maximus for saying as follow:
Having stated this Maximus goes on, using the characteristic formula of reciprocity which we have referred to: "...and that God makes himself man for the sake of love for man (di jilanJrwpan, a characteristic expression among the Greek Fathers of the benevolence of God which leads to the Incarnation), so far as man, enabled by God, has deified himself" - and, mutatis mutandis, "that man is rapt up by God in mind to the unknowable, so far as man has manifested through virtues the God who is by nature invisible". (Thunberg: Mediator and Microcosm, page 33, PG 91, 1113B).
There is some kind of reciprocity between the two natures, and this reciprocity is to be taken seriously. It is not enough to say that God became man, you must add, that this only happens to the same degree as man becomes God. Or, at least this is what is the case when the human being is Christ. And was not all the discussion in the old church a question about the natures of Christ? Can you conclude from the natures of Christ anything about more normal human beings?
As is shown above my answer to that question is "yes". I should like here to elaborate this "yes" a little further. The point is that Maximus do compare the union of the two natures in Christ and the union of soul and body in man. Polycarp Sherwood writes in "Ancient Christian Writers, Maximus the Confessor":
"Now here the fundamental point, which Maximus does not attempt to prove but simply accepts, is that man forms a complete species; so much that even death does not dissolve it. 210 The reason why the body and soul cannot be admitted to be complete substances is that on being joined one or the other would have to give over its proper identity, as body or soul, in order that the composite might truly become a complete species. 211
Here then we finally have a doctrine on the structure of the human being which assures either part of the composite a sure place. It is true that Maximus does not always seem to have kept this position in mind, at least not always to have been aware of its implications. Thus he is able to follow Leontius of Byzantium in comparing the union of the two natures in Christ to the union of the body and soul in the human hypostasis. 212 "(Ancient Christian Writers, page 52).
I am quite convinced that Sherwood does not agree with me on the topic of Christology being in fact anthropology. The last sentences in the above quotation seems to indicate that Sherwood has some reservations concerning Maximus' use of the comparison between the two unions. But let us look a little more thoroughly unto the references of Sherwood!
The first reference (210) is rather interesting because it shows Maximus as some sort of modern language-philosopher. In the works to which Sherwood refers (Ambigua 7, PG 91, 1101B). Maximus take our normal use of language into consideration; we normally refers to a dead body as the body of NN; if we knew the person in question, we do not refer to it simply as a dead body. This is normal use of language in the old Greek society, and I think in most human societies. And Maximus concludes from this use of language, that soul and body are related so fundamentally, that even death is not able to separate them.
In the second reference (Amb 42, PG 1323D-1324A) Maximus considers the union of soul and body in conception; does it take place immediately or does it not take place until some time after conception. Maximus pleas for the thesis that none of the two entities are created before the other. (This of course is due to his dogmatical conviction, not to any scientific observation). He uses the word "union" to describe what takes place at the beginning of human life, and he is keen to emphasize that the two different entities stay what they are in the union. But at this point he does not mention the union in Christ of the divine and human nature. This does not happen until the third reference.
This reference is twofold. In the first reference (to Opuscula 13, PG 91, 145B) Maximus takes a short notice of three things, of the triune God, of the composite nature of man, and of the union in Christ of the two natures. In God, he says, what differs is the person, in man, on the contrary, as well as in Christ the person is what unites.
In the other reference (to Epistula 15, PG 91, 552B) there is no comparison between the two unions, but there is a description of the human composite nature which in its terminology reminds a lot of the terminology of Maximus' Christology. And I should prefer to bring forward in stead of that my best quotation from Maximus. In Amb 7 (PG 91, 1100 D) he writes:
"And never ceases the soul more and more to become body-like, and never ceases the body more and more to become soul-like".
I think this is a very fine description of what goes on in a normal human being. And I see these words of Maximus confirmed every time I look at an old woman or an old man. In his face and in his mimic you see clearly all the experience that life has given him. All the wrinkles of an old woman's face make the mildness and indulgence of her soul become visible. Maximus says about deification, "that man is rapt up by God in mind to the unknowable, so far as man has manifested through virtues the God who is by nature invisible". Is this not what has taken place? God has made himself visible in the flesh of a human being?
Well, we would not say so. And especially we Lutherans would not say so. And of course one must admit that in normal human beings sin is a complicating factor. One might say that this deification does not take place but in very few individuals. In the great part of humans sin makes itself manifest. And sin is a spiritual factor as well as the Holy Ghost. In the faces of other humans you might see the vices and greed, id est, a manifestation of another spiritual force, sin. And one might further say that even in the most deified man or woman the expression of the face might be used to cover sin more than to reveal holiness.
So you may ask if we are not by these considerations forced to make a very clear and unbreakable distinction between the union of divine and human nature in Christ and the union of soul and body in human beings.
I still would say "no". I still will maintain that by talking about the two natures of Christ the old church in fact talked about what it is like to be a human. I still think that if we are to get a grip of their arguments, if we are to understand them not just with our intellect, but with our hearts, we have to break down this distinction. Yes, I even want to go still further. I want to say, that because we have maintained this distinction and have made the Christological questions ununderstandable for normal people (and for most theologians, too), we as theologians have lost reputation in our modern society; or I could say, that if we could benefit from the considerations made by Maximus, we maybe would be able to regain some of the lost terrain over against other modern scholars and scientists.
We theologians can from our heritage make an enormous contribution to the modern understanding of man. Modern brain science has been dominated by atheist philosophers. But if we just could "translate" the thoughts of Maximus, the thoughts he made could be very useful for us. If were dared we could use the formula of Chalchedon in an unorthodox way, not to describe some uninteresting thoughts about how Christ is to be talked of, but to describe how our brain is working, how the material from language and from culture and from society is coded into the bodily cells of the brain, how it makes itself heard during these same cells.
"If we dares", yes. But we don't dare. And I do not dare, either. It is impossible, I am afraid, to make any direct conclusions from the writings of Maximus. You may the most hope to make some indirect ones. In other words: Maximus has to be criticized.
2.2.2. Maximus and Augustin about the sexual drive.
And now comes the heavy stuff. Now I shall try to criticize Maximus from a standpoint, from where Luther is to be criticized, too.
It has to do with the story of creation.
I shall point out that the theologians of the old church have changed this story. And that they have changed it in a way so that their theology, monastic theology, has got its base. This change is against what lies in the story itself. And, more to the point, maybe, it is against what we modern people think about ourselves. They make a distinction between nature and sin which is untenable for us.
The Greek Fathers changed the story in a way that was a little different from that of the Latin Fathers. The Greek Fathers, Maximus included, expanded the story by telling about the second creation: After the Fall God altered the way man was created; he changed the method of procreation; it is quite impossible for us who live after the Fall to imagine how procreation took place before the Fall; but it was in a way quite different from the one which is used now. A lot of speculation has been made upon the topic. Maximus, for instance, makes use of a Greek play of words between the word "" which means "pain" and the word "" which means lust and by play of these words he says, that man wanted to get lust, but in fact got pain. Some of the other Fathers elaborate in considerable more detail how God changed the way of procreation in man. But for our purpose it is more useful to look at the Western Fathers, especially Augustin. He has influenced the whole Western world during the middle age until around the year 1700, which means that Luther, too, is strongly influenced by Augustin in that respect.
Augustin does not speak of a second creation. And yet he manipulates the narrative of creation in an illegal way. Although he does not expressly say that God changed his first creation through a second creation, nonetheless his new story is a story about a change in the first creation. God altered man's natural equipment in two ways. He changed the act of procreation, so that it after the Fall was accompanied by lust, indicating thereby that this had not been the case before the Fall. And he took away the movements of the limbs of procreation from the dominance of the will, so that after the Fall these bodily parts moved without the influence of the will.
Both changes are quite thoroughly elaborated in the 14th book of "The City of God". He for instance asks how Adam and Eve would have born children, if the had not fallen in sin, but were still in Paradise. And he answers himself, that they would have moved their genitals by help of their will, and that they would have moved them without any feeling of lust, just as we now move our arms or our legs. And he adds that they would have born their children as easily as you pick an apple from the tree.
He also has a theory about how the sin of Adam is being transferred unto us. It takes place through the act of procreation. Because this act is an act of sin, (this is a consequence of Adams sin) the child that is conceived through that act will be born as a sinner. And this will happen inevitably. This is what is called hereditary sin.
This kind of transference means that if one could break the chain of lustful act and as a consequence the nativity of a sinner, one could break the chain of hereditary sin. And of course, Christ is the one and only person who is not conceived in the normal manner, and therefor he is born without hereditary sin.
But is there not a draw back in these thoughts? What about marriage? One would say that marriage is a good thing? How come then that the very kernel of marriage is a sinful act?
This is a question that gives Augustin a lot of headache. He gives many different answers: God is able to use evil members for something good. It is not that marriage is evil, it is just, that celibacy is better than marriage. And his advice is not very coherent: In one book he says that the married couple may come together without sin if they are not able to live without the sinful act. In another book he is more careful, so that it seems that the only thing that may allow a married couple to have intercourse is the wish to get a child.
And underneath this whole topic lies the preaching of redemption: If we are not sinners, then Christ has suffered in vain. If the newborn baby is no sinner, why then is it baptized to the remission of sins?
In Augustin's mind this last argument is a great one. It is used over and over again. But it also has a certain draw back. If one really believes that what Augustin says is true, that means, if one really believes that in baptism sin is taken away, then one should think that a married couple both of which were baptized would bear a sinless child; sin is not in the parents, how then should sin be in their child?
Augustin answers that what is taken away in baptism only is the guilt of the sin, not the reality of the sin. And this is an argument, that Luther repeats several times. Or he explains that just as you get a wild olive tree when you sow an olive stone, so you get a sinner even if the parents are baptized Christians.
In Lutheran theology is has been maintained that the whole Pelagian controversy was about the central Lutheran question: How do I get a merciful God? and about no more. Pelagianism has become the name of every theology that thinks that man in himself is able to help God in becoming saved. And it is right: This was an important issue. But at least to me it was a surprise to find out that this controversy was also about the Augustinian doctrine of hereditary sin. Augustin's opponents had to sign a document, claiming it as orthodox faith to believe that by the sexual act the parent not only created a child, they also created a sinner.
2.2.3. The drive for food and the drive for social recognition.
Now most theologians will claim, that these findings may be true, but do not mean anything. This is nothing of importance. That people of this time had an opinion on sexuality that differs a little from the one we have in our time, is a trifle, nothing to worry about.
And of course there are some trivial differences between the late antiquity and our days. But I will not count this one among them. I think that this difference is a very important one. I think that Augustin made an error by interpreting Genesis 1 to 3 the way he did. And I think we have to correct this error, if we are to explain to ourselves and to our contemporaries the works and importance of the Church-Fathers of the late antique time.
First I shall show how Augustin considered the sexual drive: He writes in the Confessions, book 10, chapter 30:
Verily, Thou commandest that I should be continent from the "lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.'' Thou hast commanded me to abstain from concubinage; and as to marriage itself, Thou hast advised something better than Thou hast allowed. And because Thou didst give it, it was done; and that before I became a dispenser of Thy sacrament. But there still exist in my memory--of which I have spoken much--the images of such things as my habits had fixed, there; and these rush into my thoughts, though strengthless, when I am awake; but in sleep they do so not only so as to give pleasure, but even to obtain consent, and what very nearly resembles reality? Yea, to such an extent prevails the illusion of the image, both in my soul and in my flesh, that the false persuade me, when sleeping, unto that which the true are not able when waking. Am I not myself at that time, o Lord my God?
Well, of course, one could as a modern man almost laugh at these words, where Augustin takes the ejaculation of seed during the night, that every man experiences when he becomes an adult, as a sin. This is natural, we would say, not sinful. And, we could say in addition, this is one of these small differences between late antiquity and our time. But, most theologians would add, let us not exaggerate this difference!
On the other hand we must notice that Augustin himself in this quotation speaks of more that just sexual lust. He also speaks of the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. I would speak of three drives which we as former animals have in common with the animals. Only one of them is the sexual drive. Another is the drive for food and other bodily conveniences. And a third one is the drive for social recognition or the acknowledgement of the others. This last one is the drive that forces animals in a flock to make a certain order and forces them to try to fight for at higher place in the order if the order is broken.
Exactly these drives are to become annihilated by a Christian, according to Augustin. In a following chapter Augustin mentions these drives. In chapter 31 he writes:
There is another evil of the day that I would were "sufficient" unto it.' For by eating and drinking we repair the daily decays of the body, until Thou destroyest both food and stomach, when Thou shall destroy my want with an amazing satiety, and shalt clothe this corruptible with an eternal incorruption. But now is necessity sweet unto me, and against this sweetness do I fight, lest I be enthralled; and I carry on a daily war by fasting, oftentimes "bringing my body into subjection," and my pains are expelled by pleasure. (Confessions, book 10, chapter 31).
A little later he continues:
But during the time that I am passing from the uneasiness of want to the calmness of satiety, even in the very passage doth that snare of concupiscence lie in wait for me. For the passage itself is pleasure, nor is there any other way of passing thither, whither necessity compels us to pass. And whereas health is the reason of eating and drinking, there joineth itself as an hand-maid a perilous delight, which mostly tries to precede it, in order that I may do for her sake what I say I do, or desire to do, for health's sake. Nor have both the same limit; for what is sufficient for health is too little for pleasure. And oftentimes it is doubtful whether it be the necessary care of the body which still asks nourishment, or whether a sensual snare of desire offers its ministry. In this uncertainty does my unhappy soul rejoice, and therein prepares an excuse as a defence, glad that it doth not appear what may be sufficient for the moderation of health, that so under the pretence of health it may conceal the business of pleasure. These temptations do I daily endeavour to resist, and I summon Thy right hand to my help, and refer my excitements to Thee, because as yet I have no resolve in this matter. (Confessions, book 10, chapter 31).
Here we see how Augustin explains the temptation arising from the second drive he has, the drive for food. And he admits that it is very difficult to distinguish the necessity for food from the pleasure which he feels when he is satisfied. Again one should notice, that it is we, as modern men and women, who find this temptation ridiculous, not Augustin. For him this is serious. He feels obliged to ask forgiveness for the sins he commits in this fight to become honest to himself.
And yet the third form of temptations is the most dangerous. A pair of chapters later he writes:
But, O Lord,-Thou who alone reignest without pride, because Thou art the only true Lord, who hast no lord, --hath this third kind of temptation left me, or can it leave me during this life? The desire to be feared and loved of men, with no other view than that I may experience a joy therein which is no joy, is a miserable life, and unseemly ostentation. Hence especially it arises that we do not love Thee, nor devoutly fear Thee. And therefore dost Thou resist the proud, but givest grace unto the humble; and Thou thunderest upon the ambitious designs of the world, and "the foundations of the hills" tremble. (Confessions, book 10, chapter 36).
It seems as if man according to Augustin has in his mind a drive to be feared or loved by other men. That's what I call the drive for social recognition. And this drive is to be totally expelled from the mind of the Christian believer. If he really loves God above all other things, then he must take this desire for the acknowledgement of other men out of his heart, and if he is not able to do so by himself, then he must seek forgiveness for this sin, and ask for divine help to expel the sin.
Augustin has some peculiar considerations on how he may disclose himself that he really eats for pleasure and not for nourishment of the body. And he tries to apply these considerations upon the third drive and its annihilation, but, so it seems, in vain. He writes:
Riches truly which are sought for in order that they may minister to some one of these three "lusts," or to two, or the whole of them, if the mind be not able to see clearly whether, when it hath them, it despiseth them, they may be cast on one side, that so it may prove itself. But if we desire to test our power of doing without praise, need we live ill, and that so flagitiously and immoderately as that every one who knows us shall detest us? What greater madness than this can be either said or conceived ? But if praise both is wont and ought to be the companion of a good life and of good works, we should as little forego its companionship as a good life itself. (Confessions, book 10, chapter 37).
He firmly tries to administer these three lusts. Through fasting he is able to decide for himself whether or not he eats for pleasure. And he finds this a good method. But he laments that this method cannot be used in the third drive: the lust to be proud of ones good works and the desire for the praise of others. If he should use this method in this area, that would mean that he should do evil things in order to find out whether or not he did what he did because he wanted other people to see with admiration on his good works. And this would be madness, he says.
This kind of thought was to become the foundation of the theology during the next millennium. Countless monks have suffered under the feeling of sin because of these dreams of Augustin. And lots of ordinary people have looked into their interior in order to determine what kind of motif they had for this or that doing.
And this is so because of the Scriptural work of Augustin. He has been able to underline all these thoughts with words from Scripture. Over and over again when theologians in the late medieval times have interpreted Scripture they have read Augustin and been convinced by his interpretation. He so to speak nails his conviction about this human life with his Scriptural interpretation.
2.2.4. The continence of Frans of Assisi.
To illustrate the immense importance of these thoughts of Augustin's let me call to remembrance a little episode told about Frans of Assisi. Once he ate with his brethren he went to the fireplace, took some ash from there and put it onto his food. "Brother ash is chaste", he said.
As modern men and women I think we all feel some sort of disgust when hearing such a narrative. Or at least we feel that this is in some way to show ingratitude towards the person who made the food and, in a wider sense, to God. And I am quite sure that nobody, he be as great an admirer of Frans as can be thought of, would find it natural to do as Frans did.
But if we compare this doing with the thoughts of Augustin, I think that we may better understand Frans. He suddenly looked into his own interior. He saw that eating was to him a pleasure. And he knew, from the unconscious thoughts that were common in his time as well as in the whole medieval time, that every form of bodily pleasure was to be annihilated. This was self-evident to him. And to avoid that pleasure he put ash onto his food. From this point of view what he did was quite naturel. Although it took a genius to see that this is the utmost consequence of the concept of continence.
2.2.5 The Ethics of Augustin.
And also the Ethics of Augustin is founded on these thoughts.
Now, Ethics is an area which is a little difficult to move around in. There are so many theories and they have, all of them, the same subject; it is by and by the same good works that men are doing all around the globe. Only the motifs are different.
In the case of Augustin it is understandable from what is showed above that the underlying aim is the suppression of the drives. These are to be completely annihilated. That's why the key word is continence.
This suppression may begin to take place in this life. But it will not be ended until this life ends. It goes on through the whole of our lifetime. And it is to be noticed that the suppression is impossible to fulfil by man's own forces. Man has to ask for forgiveness for the sins he has committed and from this happy feeling of being forgiven take the frankness from where the suppression of the temptations of the drives is born. That is how this whole concept becomes a Christian concept. But one might wonder if it was Christian from the beginning.
Augustin, himself an humble man, has shown us in many places how he thinks. But there is especially one quotation that I would like to bring, because it shows us both his own humbleness and the ground from where he is able to admonish his fellow-Christians. In the 10th book of the Confessions, chapter 35, he writes:
I do not now-a-days go to the circus to see a dog chasing a hare; but if by chance I pass such a coursing in the fields, it possibly distracts me even from some serious thought, and draws me after it,--not that I turn the body of my beast aside, but the inclination of my mind. And except Thou, by demonstrating to me my weakness, dost speedily warn me, either through the sight itself, by some reflection to rise to Thee, or wholly to despise and pass it by, I, vain one, am absorbed by it.
He has been talking about how our senses were infected when Adam fell in sin. And here he especially mentions our vision. And of course he considers it a sinful use of our vision if we go to the circus and see a dog chasing a hare. And probably he in his sermons often has admonished his congregation to avoid these sins. And yet, humble as he is, here he mentions a situation where he himself is caught by the snare of Satan, showing that he himself is no better than his circus-going congregation.
Maybe we modern men would remark that this is not a sin that makes any harm to anybody; so why bother. But this is not an Augustinian thought. Augustin, and late antique man, thinks differently. Augustin considers this a lapse from the aim of continence. He has to be continent all the time. That means, he has to be without the drives of ordinary man, whether this drive comes through his vision, through his eating or through his comfortable bedrooms or wherever it comes from. And this is the underlying aim for all his works, this is what God demands of him, and the question put to him is not whether or not any of his fellow-men are hurt by his actions, but whether or not the drives are made ineffective or annihilated.
I should like to bring one more quotation from Augustin. In his Second book against Julian, chapter 5/12 he writes:
"In the book about Isaac and the Soul he (Ambrose) writes the same: 'For a good horseman coerces and keeps back a bad horse, but encourages a good horse. There are four good horses: prudence, continence, courage, justice. The bad horses are: anger, desire, fear, injustice'. Does Ambrose say that a good horseman had a good horse and no bad horse? No, he says that he coerces and keeps back the bad horse. Where do those horses come from? Well, if we call them substances, then we would join the heretic madness of the Manicheans. And since we do not want to do that, we as good Catholics understand these horses as our vices, we understand, that they resist the law of our mind through the law of sin. These vices will not become separated from us in any way or at any place, no, we shall never get rid of them. But why do they not perish in baptism? I think you will admit that their guilt perishes, but their weakness stays. They do not make us guilty because they themselves are guilty, but because they draw us into guilty works. Neither do their weakness stay in us because they are some sort of animalistic weakness, which makes us ill, no, our weakness is in ourselves".
This is the situation of man, according to Augustin. This is where he has to act. Of course this situation is underlined by Scriptural quotations, here he a little later uses the words of Paul: "The flesh desires against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh". And that we should walk according to the spirit, so that we do not fulfil the desires of the flesh. (Gal 5,17. 16). But one has to bear in mind, that this is the background against which all the other thoughts of Augustin is to be seen.
2.3. One will or two wills?
I have two points on which I want to criticize Augustin and Maximus. The first point is the weaker point and maybe I don't want to pursue that later on. The second one is the stronger one, and I should like especially this one to be understood.
2.3.1. Before and after conversion.
The first question I want to put forward against the Augustinian thoughts goes like this: Is there in fact any difference between the works done by a non-Christian with good spirit and the works done by a Christian?
Of course you are able to point out a heathen who do evil works. But let us take a look at a heathen who is just, who tries to do what he has to do, who really strives to fulfil his obligations! In such a man the flesh fights against the spirit. He has some idea of what is to be done, and he seriously tries to do it, but he acknowledges that in his flesh there is something repugnant. And this "something" he has to fight against with his will-power. Maybe he has seen the beauty of the Christian marriage. Maybe he has really understood that this ideal is a good ideal and an ideal towards which he himself wants to strive. Then he will soon find out, when beginning to strive for faithfulness against his wife, that this is not an easy thing. There are a lot of temptations. Almost every woman who crosses his path during the day could be a temptation for him. And let us imagine that he really feels these temptations.
Then, in such a situation, what keeps him on track? What forces in himself has to be used to keep the forces of the flesh in check?
You could say that his ideal is some kind of stoicism. You could say that he every day has to be continent, in order not to let his temptations run away with him. Maybe he knows that his friends have several mistresses each of them. Maybe they even divert him with detailed and interesting stories when they meet. But he keeps his path clean. He has no mistresses. He still loves his wife with a sincere love. But all the temptations, no doubt, have to be kept down through his will-power. His own personality is involved in this fight against the evil drives in himself.
Now, let us imagine some Christian in the same situation: Married, with a lot of other women going in and out of his house or his workplace. What would be his thoughts?
Well, of course he as a good Christian knows that the sexual drive is sinful. And of course he has heard from Augustin's sermons, that he is allowed to marry, that he is allowed to have intercourse with his wife in order to conceive children, and that he is obligated to love his wife with a passionate and serious love. And he really tries to do so.
Now, we could mention all the thoughts that he has about his whole cohabitation with his wife: praying for forgiveness every time he let his passions win over against his calm reasoning; trying to find out whether or not he had intercourse with his wife in order to get children or in order to satisfy his lust. But let us neglect these unmodern thoughts! Let us concentrate on how he would consider the other women running in and out of his life!
Of course he has learnt to ask for forgiveness for all the indecent feeling he may have from time to time against some "foreign" wife. He has learnt to name these feelings as sinful lust. And of course he has learnt from Augustin that he is unable to completely avoid these feelings, they are going to follow him as long as he is a man, that is: until he dies. And of course he has understood Augustin's admonition: That he who has been forgiven so much should not sin any more. And he also really tries to let his thankfulness for the forgiveness he has received fill his mind, so that what he does, he will do all of it out of thankfulness.
But when it comes to his day-by-day doings, how different are they from the doings of his heathen neighbour? He has to keep his lustful feelings for himself. And this is done through his will-power, just as it is done by the heathen. If one of the women he sees every day is beginning to seem specially interesting to him, he has to avoid her, he has to make up his mind not to see her so much anymore, and so on. But exactly the same precautions will take the heathen.
So, when it comes to the day-by-day doings, I see no difference between the non-Christian and the Christian.
No doubt Augustin would claim that there is a difference. But he would claim so by introducing an act of God. He would postulate that God himself helps the Christian, but not the non-Christian. He would say that God would diminish his lustful feelings as time goes by. But would we believe that? And would the Christian experience that? I doubt.
2.3.2. The criticism from dyotheletism.
I have criticized Augustin and Maximus for having changed the narrative of Creation. They both have made this narrative fit their monastic purpose.
I also have tried to make evident how this change has its consequences. This change interferes with every little bit of their lives. It gives their ideals a different goal. It makes their striving inhuman.
Now I shall try to explain how the thoughts of dyotheletism could be of great help to us, if only we dared to criticize the Antique church, or, more precisely, the Antique theologians.
In the concept of Maximus, what the human will contributes to the person of Christ, is not much. Maximus tells us that fear of death is human. He reads in the gospels how Christ was hit by this fear in the garden of Gethsemane, and he has noticed, how the prayer of Christ goes: 'Thy will be done, not mine'; the conclusion is, he says, that there really are two wills in Christ; one will is the divine will, which asks him to go to Golgotha; the other one is his human will, trying to avoid death; and this forces him to admit that this fear of death is human, it really belongs to the way in which we are created. It was in Christ. And that means that it is in every human being, and is there rightfully. This is how we are created.
But, just as with Christ, the human will in us is to be submitted to the divine will. The description of man is not an indifferent one, with non connection whatsoever to ethics, it is a description which is at the same time a foundation for human and Christian ethics. This is what a human being has to do: To submit his human will to the divine will; to let the commandments of God rule over the temptations from the flesh; to let the will of God be done, also when it is against his own human will.
But, as I said, this is not much, if the part of the human will which stems from Creation is no more than that; or if the main part of human will which comes through our drives is seen as stemming not from the Creation but from the Fall.
Well, one must admit that Maximus has something to say about the hands of Christ, which are bodily hands, but which were nevertheless used by Christ to heal the ill. This is, in the thoughts of Maximus, an example of the penetration of the two natures into one another, the human nature and the divine nature. But, in my view, it is a very weak example; it does not tell us much.
I think that these thoughts become much more relevant, when one corrects the error made by both Maximus and Augustin. We have to recognize our drives as part of our human equipment, given us by God in the act of Creation. When we do that we find out, that the thoughts of Maximus are of enormous relevance to us.
We then will be able to see, for instance, that the internalization of the sexual drive that has taken place in Christian communities, (see 2.1.3.) may be described using a Maximian terminology. The sexual lust of humans is not unaffected by the fact that humans have a language through which divine commandments are given to us. And, using this terminology, we see, that the great riddle of our life is how language, developing into consciousness, cultural thoughts and social concepts, interfere with our bodily equipment, how we are to consider ourselves and the drives we have, how our culture has to take care of marriage and childbirth.
And of course, this riddle is solved in a different way whether you are a late Antique Christian, or you are a Muslim, living in a Muslim country, or you are a modern Christian, living in Western Europe. And I think that the Maximian terminology, so rectified, gives us a foundation, from where to judge our own culture as well as that of others.
In my view, (or in the view of this rectified Maximian theology) what Augustin (and Maximus, too) forgets, is the mutual interpenetration of the forces from the body and the forces from our language and culture. Maximus has developed the theoretical framework from which things may be understood, but he has failed to use it in a proper way. He (and Augustin) has cut away the forces of the body, the drives are to be annihilated, they are not to cooperate with the forces from language. Nobody sees any need for considering how language may influence our desires, or for considering how our bodily desires may influence our culture and language. And since the late Antique theologians see it as an ideal, that some stoic attitude takes power in man, although they may be in theory dyotheletists, in practice they are monotheletists. They see no need of any influence from the bodily side of man into the language-side, or from the cultural side of man into the corporeal side of man. There is only one will to be given power, and that is the divine will. The point of Maximus: That the divine will penetrates and changes the human will, is not taken into consideration. And it is Maximus himself, who forgets to take this penetration into consideration.
The same accusation may be brought forward against the Muslims. They have no idea whatsoever, that the two wills are to cooperate. They think that they have in their Choran the authoritative sayings of God, and they believe that the aim of these words of God is to keep the doings of man within the frames, given by the commandments. Perhaps the natural desires of man will be internalized, perhaps they will not be internalized, this is of no importance, since man has to obey the law of God whatever internal feelings he has. And the law says that men and women are to be kept away from each other. No penetration of the two wills, no mutual influence.
You may say, that the Muslim revelation is thought of as a "real" revelation, a revelation, that needs no human cooperation, yea which is spoilt in its roots if there is any human thoughts, any human words mixed up with the revealed words of God. And you may say, that the Christian revelation, contrarily, is a revelation through language, through the Word of God. What is revealed, is not just some words, which are called the words of God, it is a human being, Jesus Christ, submitted to the words of God. That means, that the Christian revelation is open to development. Whereas in the Muslim way of thinking everything is locked from the beginning to the end, it is locked to the firm words of God in the Choran.
Again, as you see, the Christian side speaks of a penetration of the human by the divine, and a influence of the divine by the human.
2.3.3. A Hegelian quotation.
To show how the rectified theology of Maximus is of great relevance to us in the modern world, I should like to begin with a quotation from Hegel. It is taken from The Nicolin & Pöggeler edition of the 'Enzyklopädie', page 435 and goes like this:
But through the self-introducing of the divine spirit into actuality [Wirklichkeit], the liberation of actuality to it will displace through the ethical life [die Sittlichkeit] what is supposed in the world to be holiness [Heiligkeit]. Instead of the vow of chastity, marriage as the ethical is only now valued, and with it the family as what is highest in this side of human life. Instead of the vow of poverty ... value is placed upon the activity for oneself through intelligence and diligence and upon the uprightness of this commerce and use of one's wealth, the ethical life in civil society. Instead of the vow of obedience value is placed upon obedience toward the law and the legal institutions of the state, which is itself the genuine freedom, because the state is ... reason actualizing itself; the ethical life in the state. Only then are right and morality present. It is not enough to be commanded in religion to give to Caesar what is Caesar's i.e., what belongs to the worldly realm. We know well enough how the worldly realm has arbitrarily arrogated everything to itself, and the spiritual realm, for its part, has done the same. The divine spirit must immanently pervade the worldly; then wisdom is concrete therein and authorizes itself. But that concrete indwelling is constituted by the formations of the ethical life that we have adduced: the ethical life of marriage against the holiness of the unmarried estate, the ethical life of wealth and earning activity against the holiness of poverty and its idleness, the ethical life of obedience dedicated to the right of the state against the holiness of obedience without rights or duty, the bondage of the conscience.
In this text from the Encyclopaedia Hegel explains how the monastic vows have been changed into the Lutheran ideals. The three monastic vows, of chastity, poverty and obedience, which are common to all monks and nuns throughout the middle ages, have in the Lutheran churches changed, because nobody any more considered it to be a holy thing to live in celibacy and poverty and monastic obedience. And I think that this description of what has taken place is very illuminating and very exact, when one examines the history of Northern Europe during the last three centuries. Hegel is right: So it happened.
But one has to take into consideration that this did not happen in one and a single coup by Luther. It happened through two or three centuries. You may rightly describe the disappearance of the middle ages with words like these. But you will have to add that in this respect the middle ages did not disappear with Luther, not even in the century after Luther, but not until the middle of the 18th century.
But now at last, it really has happened. The ideal of holiness has disappeared and the ideal of the Christian life in society has taken its place. And what Hegel describes is exactly the mutual penetration, that Maximus was talking about.
The divine spirit, he says, must pervade this world. This is the secret of the Incarnation. How does the Word become flesh? Hegel answers: By again and again to pervade the world, by over and over again to penetrate the corporeal things, the bodily drives, the desires of fleshly men and women, penetrating them, altering them, making them live not a holy life, but an ethical life. And here it turns up that the Word is not any supernatural thing, it is a Word that lives in the flesh, it is a Word combining eternal values and bodily values.
The Word pervades the sexual lust of the body, transforms it, makes it into something quite different from what it was when it ruled over the bodies of the animals, makes it into the highest human quality known: Love.
And the Word penetrates the desire of the body for bodily pleasures, for food and clothes and security of possessions. And also here the bodily things are changed. To every little man-made thing in the human society something divine, something from above, something given by language, is added: this is the property of this person and no one else. And to man is given, what is not given to any other creation: the possibility of economic progress, although one must admit that we have hitherto not been able to find out how these peculiar economic laws work.
And thirdly the Word alters the human desire for recognition by the others. It alters the pride we feel by our own achievements so that it becomes a pride of our family. It changes the pride we have, because we are considered valuable people by the others in our community, into a pride over the fact, that I, as the person I am, enjoy the confidence of this and that man or woman. When we obey the unwritten laws of society, we may do so because we are proud of the position that we have in this society. But we may also do so because we feel that we are in line with all the other members of our community, because we feel acknowledged by the others, because we live, as a fish in its water, in the mutual confidence between us and the other people.
This whole thing could be turned around, so that you look at it from the negative side, saying, that even this recognition from the others, which is the human form of the struggle for a higher position that is found in animal groups, is what the unemployed are missing, and that is why it is such a humiliating thing to be unemployed, and that is why humans react to unemployment with an attempt to find their recognition somewhere else: in rocker gangs, in subcultures, and if nothing works: in narcotics.
As should be understood, I do think, that Maximus has a lot to teach us. But non uncorrected. And I do think, that we may learn a lot from Luther. But Luther, too, has to be corrected.
2.3.4. The application.
As it will be seen from this account we will have to change the application of the words of Christianity. Normally we think that the words of Christianity fit into the life of every single person for himself. You have to take it seriously, we say, meaning thereby that we have to take it as a personal obligation. Normally we consider the aim of the Christian preaching to be that of contributing to a person's conversion, to his or her change of mind, to a more free and natural life. But always we think that the Word, that the gospel has to give us, must go into the heart of every single person in the congregation, they do not apply to the congregation as a whole.
And yet, if Hegel is right, is then not the congregation as a whole, or maybe even the people as a whole, the object of the Word?
I could ask about the work of the Holy Spirit. Does the Holy Spirit work in the heart of every single member of the church and only there? Could one imagine that He worked in society as well? Could one say, maybe, that it is He, who has given us democracy? It is through His forces that we to day have a system of justice that must be judged as a good one?
This would be a different way of talking about the Holy Spirit. Maybe a rather ironic one. While we Christians in the Western World during the last two or three hundred years have been busy praying to God, that He would send his Holy Spirit, this very same Holy Spirit has been busy in quite other fields of society, He has been working without any of us taking notice with the human rights, with the laws of society, with the moral laws that we apply to each other in our day to day life.
I do not claim that this is how it is. I just mention the possibility.
3. Is Luther an "Augustinian"?
What has surpassed the scholarly gaze of most Lutheran scholars is the fact that Luther participated in the medieval thought, taken over from Augustin, that man is born a sinner. And as I have shown above this is no innocent thought. It is not possible, one should think, to ignore this fact when one examines Luther, tries to translate his thoughts into the thoughts of the modern man.
Nevertheless, this is precisely what has taken place: Most scholars, studying Luther, has taken this fact, if noticed at all, as a trifle, as something, which does not mean anything for our interpretation of him.
So my job here is to show how this really is a fact. The 'corpus Lutheri' is indeed of an enormous magnitude, so it may be understandable that most scholars that have tried to translate Luther's texts into their native language, avoid such "difficult" texts; they do not fit into the neat and easy understandable picture of the Reformer, that they want to give to the public. That means, that I myself have had a great difficulty finding such texts. On the other hand, to myself at least, it has been a great surprise to find such texts almost everywhere, having at first drawn my attention to them.
3.1. Luther's interpretation of Psalm 51,6.
The first text I shall present to the reader is from Luther's "Enarratio psalmorum". I have made my translation from the Erlanger edition, but I don't think it would have been much different had it been from the Weimarer edition. The text as a whole can be found on this address (See sl51-6).
"For he (David) shows the cause of sin and reveals it as a sort of basis for his whole behaviour, why he confess sin in such a way, and cries for mercy, 'because', he says, 'I am conceived in iniquity'. What could he say more clear and appropriate? He does not say: 'I have killed Urias'; he does not say: 'I have committed adultery'; no, the whole human nature he puts together in a bundle and says: 'I am conceived in sin'. He does not speak about this or that act, but about our substance as such and says: 'The human seed, the mass, from which I was formed, is totally corrupted by vice or sin, matter itself is vicious, the dirt (that I shall speak this way) from which this vessel began to be build, is damnable: what more do you want? This is how I am, this is how all people are, the conception itself, the growth of the foetus in the womb, before we begin to be born or to become human beings, is sin". (Sl51-6/4f)
We modern people will not speak about ourselves this way. And I really do not think that any modern man would speak about a piece of mankind this way. You may be a left-wing or a right-wing pastor, you may be Catholic or Lutheran, it is impossible for us to avoid the overwhelming feeling that all modern men have, that a newborn baby is innocent, he or she is delivered directly from the Creator, with no sin at all in him. When we consider the growth of the foetus in the womb we almost fell that we are standing on holy ground. It is a great and holy miracle to us. Take a man following his wife into the hospital where she is going to deliver her (or their) baby! If he is allowed to go into the room where deliverance takes place, he with guarantee will fell touched into his deepest heart. No man will go away from this experience without feeling that he almost has been touched by God himself. So, after all, I think it is a very wise strategy by us modern pastors, that we do not tell our laymen the truth about how Luther looks at a newborn baby.
But at least we should notice ourselves. At least we ourselves should take this view of Luther's into consideration, when we examine the theology of the Reformer in general. But this is almost never done.
What is maybe more surprising is the fact that a lot of scholars have examined Luther's view on marriage. And most of them have described it as robust. Luther had not the romantic feelings, that we have in this area. It was to him a matter of practice. But most scholars do not dream of describing Luther in Augustinian terms. After all, did he not admonish the monks and nuns to leave their monastery? This proves, so may the argument go, that he thinks about marriage in a quite different way from that of Augustin. And, here most people makes a shortcut, this means that he looks at marriage as do we modern people.
But exactly this last shortcut is an error. The surprising fact is that he has in his theology all the claims of Augustin's about original sin, and yet recommends monks and nuns to leave their monastery.
For instance, in this interpretation of Psalm 51, he gets into the same trouble, as does Augustin, when he is going to defend marriage. He says (sl51-6/9):
"But now maybe somebody will ask: Why then is marriage instituted? Why does God bless marriage? Why is it counted as a blessing to get children? if the mass itself, from which the foetus grows up, is totally condemned and evil?"
Luther answers his own question by saying, that God will not let all his creation perish because of sin, nor will He let all the limbs of the body suffer because of the sin of a single one:
"Just as the body is not deprived of the eyes by nature, and just as it is not deprived of the other limbs, although they now are tired thanks to the vice, so it is not either deprived of the limbs of procreation". (sl51-6/12)
It can be seen from this last quotation, that Luther (or his medieval predecessors) has elaborated the thought of a second creation after the Fall, so that he imagines that after the Fall Adam's sight was not so good, his bodily forces not so strong and his limbs more tired than before the Fall.
But God makes use of these sinful limbs in order to get done what He had in mind when first creating the world. And to explain (or to excuse God) Luther takes as an example the obligation of princes of his time to secure peace. This is not done by building up a system of laws that gives everyone a mathematical justice, says Luther. This can only be done if you recognize that this form of justice is an impossibility. You have to find out that you are as a prince working with imperfect means. In the same way, says Luther, God has to work with imperfect means, namely the sinful bodies of man, and yet, although these means are sinful, gets done what He has in mind, that means, He lets some children be born.
And yet, in the very midst of this argumentation, Luther calls the procreation a beautiful way of creating children for oneself.
"But why not then acquiesce with this beautiful way of creating children, even if it cannot take place without evil? And a wise magistrate should care more about keeping peace than about rectifying the laws". (sl51-6/19).
In the end of this text Luther tells us, directly and indirectly, about the importance of these thoughts. The theologians before him did not know about them, the pope and the Turks did not either. He had not heard about them, one can understand, before he himself read about them in Scripture. This means, that he puts the doctrine about original sin in the centre of his doctrine: In this doctrine was hidden something of what new he brought. The theologians did not understand the depth of original sin. They thought that in baptism this sin was done away with, and that what was left was no more than that it would be defeated if one followed the natural light. (sl51-6/34).
It is a little disturbing, maybe, that Luther, the great theologian of Scripture, admits that this doctrine of original sin is not represented very much in Scripture, and that he does not take opportunity from this fact to think it over once more or to rethink this doctrine. Instead he brings forward an explanation of how this doctrine should be handed down through the ages "by hand", without realizing that this is a very serious blow to his whole theology about Scripture. (sl51-6/29).
But nevertheless he considers this doctrine a very important one. He says:
"From here stems the peculiar reason why we should all of us confess, that we are sinners and that all our labour toward God is condemnable, that God alone is just. And this doctrine is of the utmost necessity in the church, although neither the pope nor the Turks believe in it". (Sl51-6/32).
Of course one must ask why Luther considers this doctrine an important one. I shall try later on to give an answer to that question. Here it suffices to make the remark, that he himself gives an explanation to the question by saying that the doctrine should make us all confess that we are sinners, that we are unable to do any good work against God, and that God alone is just.
I fully realize that this is the reason why most Lutheran theologians uncritically takes Luther's thesis about original sin as their own: They all want to follow Luther in postulating man's sin. And they (wrongly, as I think) think that this may best be done if they themselves make some theory about sin which is just as radical as Luther's. This is an error. You just cannot repeat Luther and consider yourself as radical on sin as Luther. You will have to make some connection between your theological statements and your day-to-day-life. Maybe your concept of sin is radical. But it certainly is not like Luther's. Luther's concept of sin is almost bodily. And I doubt whether this can be done by any modern man.
3.2. A sermon about hereditary sin.
On the day of the conception of virgin Mary Luther held a sermon over the text of the day. But soon he finished that part of the sermon and began to talk about original sin (Erbsünde) or hereditary sin, as I shall call it in this chapter, reflecting the German word "Erbsünde". It can be found here (Erl15,1).
Luther explains the word "Erbsünde" (hereditary sin) at the beginning of the sermon. We have not ourselves committed this sin, our parents have committed it. But we have to share the burden or the costs of this sin, just as a son or daughter has to share the debts of his parents. (Erl15,5).
What is hereditary sin, according to Luther? It is remarkable that Luther does not make any definition of hereditary sin. It is so to speak not anything in itself. It is, says Luther in this sermon, lack of hereditary justice. Before the Fall we all had a nature that made it natural for us to do good works against God and against our neighbour. And we did them out of our nature, just as we now do our seeing and our hearing out of our nature. (Erl15,7).
One cannot say that after the Fall we were given another nature, one might better say that our original nature was corrupted. "They (Adam and Eve) became inclined toward arrogance, unchastity, fleshly lust, well, inclined toward every sin, as we are now; for like Adam and Eve were after their offence, so are now all their children". (Erl15,10).
We are not able ourselves to fight against this inclination towards evil. God sent us his son and instituted baptism. "For when we are baptized and believe, we receive grace, and this grace shall fight against the evil inclination inside us and drive out hereditary sin and annihilate it; then forth will grow in us good and honest inclinations, toward humility, chastity, meekness, in short, toward all virtues, and in this way good works take place in us, even with a heart that desires it itself". (Erl15,20). Grace is a restoration of the original nature in us. We are brought back into a situation where the good works are done gladly and freely.
And as it was in the texts of Augustin, Luther, too, opens the question about baptized parents, liberated from hereditary sin, that all the same give birth to children that are sinners. How come? (Erl15,31) And Luther lets Augustin answer, showing that he totally agrees with Augustin on this issue. That means, showing, that he, just as Augustin, looks at this question with this terrible mixture of considerations of bodily nature and considerations of inner psychic movements, a mixture that we to day are unable to repeat.
In this doctrine on hereditary sin it seems to be the main purpose of Luther to maintain the thesis of man situated in an eternal struggle between the flesh and the spirit. He quotes Gal 5,16 ('You must live in the Spirit, then you will not fulfil the desires of the flesh, for the flesh desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these two are in conflict with one another so that what you will to do you cannot do') in order to show that this conflict is in play through all our lifetime. (Erl15,29). It could also be said that the reason why Luther insists on the reality of hereditary sin is that he wants us to ask forgiveness during our whole life, he wants us never to stop asking forgiveness. It sounds a little bit more attractive to modern ears. But I think that one must say as a modern man, that one might agree with the beautiful purpose, but disagree with the means to reach this purpose. We could agree with Luther on his considerations about our inclination to evil, but when he says that this inclination shows itself in the sexual act between married people; they are not able to do this act without lust, therefor every child is born with original sin, then we cannot agree with him. (Erl15,34).
And finally (of course, one might say) Luther talks about Christ; he did not want to let himself be contaminated by hereditary sin; therefor he decided to be born by a virgin through the Holy Ghost. (Erl15,38). In this way he avoided the normal way of procreation, that means, he avoided hereditary sin. This is quite after the book, I mean, the Augustinian book of the doctrine of original sin. But, of course, this is not just to show that Luther knew Augustin's writings, it is also to show that he agreed with them, it is to show that he really is an Augustinian.
In the last few pages of this sermon Luther shows us that he is not only an Augustinian, he is also a man from the middle age. He is occupied with the special problem that occupied lots of medieval theologians at his time. When you think about original sin in this bodily way it seems to be almost a necessity that you become locked up in an 'eternal regress'. You find out that Christ did not, thanks to his conception by the Holy Ghost, become contaminated with original sin. But, a little doubt stays in your mind: Did not Christ be born of a mother who was not free of original sin? He was, spiritually, born by the Holy Ghost; and this makes him sinless. But he still was, corporeally, born by Mary; and would it not be possible that this would anyway make him a sinner?
In the late medieval time it was especially the Franciscans and the Carmelites who fostered these thoughts. They honoured the virgin Mary in this way, as they would say themselves. And about the time of the Reformation they had elaborated a doctrine about the 'conceptua immaculata Mariae'; that means that not only was the conception of Christ without sin, so too was the conception of Mary. Normally the theologians did not imagine that this conception had taken place with the Holy Ghost as participant, is was somehow enough to say that it had taken place without sin. And how could it take place without sin? Well, there are several proposals. One is the one made by Birgitta of Vadstena (1303-1373): In her visions she hears Mary herself telling her, that her parents, Joachim and Anna, did not come together as did every other normal married couple: driven by lust, they came together in obedience of God's law. Others tell the story of the couple: They were driven away from the Temple, they went to the desert, they heard God himself talking to them, telling each of them to go to the golden gate. There, at the golden gate of the Temple, they met and gave each other a kiss. And this, so goes this story, is the moment, where Mary was conceived. Innocent, indeed. But rather unrealistic to modern ears.
Anyhow, these thoughts were common in the late medieval time. And the last part of the sermon on original sin shows us that Luther shared them, too. (Erl15,47). He has a lot of considerations concerning the way in which Mary was conceived. He tries to explain why it was not necessary for her to be conceived by the Holy Ghost, but why she anyhow had to be conceived in a way that made her sinless. (He really confesses her as sinless: 'from the first moment, when she started to live, she was without any sin.'Erl15,51). His answer is, that even if her flesh was not sinless from the very first beginning, it was sinless from the moment, when God infused the soul; before infusing it, God cleansed Mary's body. That makes Luther end up with claiming that Mary was a sort of middle point between Christ and other people. (Erl15,56).
I regard this a very dangerous theology. But it is quite logical, when seen from the original point of view. Take the verse, Hebrews 4,16: 'We have a high priest, who has been tested every way, only without sin'. This verse is taken by Augustin as proof of his doctrine on original sin. And, indeed, it sounds so. But one must remember, that Christ was without sin in spite of the fact that sin was possible to him. He was not without sin because he by nature was unable to commit any sins. You have to correct Augustin with Maximus (and Maximus himself, too, has in fact to be corrected). But you also have to correct Luther of the same error. How could the sinlessness of Christ be of any value, if it was a natural thing for him to do? If he simply was not able to sin at all?
Maximus points out, rightly, that when Christ prayed in Gethsemane, he really was tempted, it was no play to him. He was a human being, having inside his nature what was natural to any human being, the fear of death. He had a real human will. But this will freely bended to the divine will in him. But, if one dares say so, that it is part of the human nature to sin (and I think that Maximus in a way would agree with me on that), then, how do these thoughts of original sin fit into the whole concept? If it is taken seriously it makes any temptation of Christ artificial. It 'does not work' as a temptation. There will in Christ be no fight of the divine will against the human will. For Christ is unable to sin by nature. His human will only wills innocent things. Since he is born without original sin he has the luck of not being able to sin, and therefor the luck of no fight at all. And I think that it was just the opposite Maximus wanted to say.
3.3. A will in bondage or a free will?
There is a little quotation that I want to bring from this sermon on original sin. It runs as follows: 'But also the concept of free will is here annihilated; for no one can through his free will resist such lust, it has absorbed man from head to feet'. (Erl15,44). It is just a very small remark that Luther gives so to speak with his left hand. But anyway I think it is very interesting. Luther makes his remark after having spoken about Christ being conceived by the Holy Ghost, and before talking about the sinless conception of Mary. But both these concepts reveal Luther as a man that in this area thinks 'in natures'. It is not psychology that is in the mind of Luther. It is the question about what nature do we have as human beings. This is not the only 'metaphor' that Luther uses, otherwise we should as modern men have little interest in him. But still, he uses this metaphor, he thinks according to these concepts, he does speak about the corruption of our nature through original sin.
And I think that this concept makes it very easy (too easy?) for him to speak about the bondage of the will. We do not have a free will, this is one of his firmest arguments. Against Erasmus he uses it again and again. The only thing that avoids us to think that he considers man as a stone is the fact that he directly says that man is not a stone or a piece of wood. Otherwise one should almost think that that was the way in which he thought about man.
I do not think that this argument of Luther's is rooted in his thoughts about man's corrupted nature. I think (and I hope) that this argument roots in the other metaphor, that Luther uses, the metaphor of God and man as persons, and of the relationship between God and man as a relationship between persons. I think, and I shall try to argue for it later on, that the reason why Luther so firmly clings to the argument of the bondage of the will is that he somehow knows that if a personal relationship has been broken it is not healed again through the work of the will. Something from outside happens and must happen, if a relationship between persons is to be healed after a break. We could call it a spirit, we even could call it The Holy Spirit. But it is not done by the will of man.
But, even if one admits that Luther has his strength of argumentation against the free will from this other metaphor, it seems clear that he grasps arguments where he can get them. And he indeed gets a lot of arguments against the free will from his conviction that man is, almost corporeally, hit by original sin.
This is what this little quotation shows. 'No one can through his free will resist such lust', he says, meaning of course not only the sexual lust but also the desire for food and the drive for social recognition. But, as one can see, although there is more included in this lust than just sex, sexual lust is by no means excluded. And if this is what we are talking about, everyone would find his argumentation convincing. If you are a normal person, it will be quite impossible for you to resist the sexual lust in taking possession of your body and mind. You may be able to resist it in driving you to fornication, so in that respect you do have a free will. But you are not able to decide whether or not you will be succumbed to this lust.
As you see: It is too easy for Luther to argue against free will, when he argues from the nature-metaphor.
4. Nature or relation?
I now want to show, using a text from the Anti-Latomus-book, that for Luther these two concepts or metaphors are interconnected with an enormous strength.
4.1. The natural law.
But before showing that I shall briefly make one remark on a subject that I think very relevant to modern theologians. It has to do with Luther's view on the natural law.
Formally Luther acknowledges that there is a Natural Law. He even gives a special elaboration on the subject. In his work from 1524 against Karlstadt, "Wider die himmlischen Propheten von den Bildern und Sacrament" (Against the Heavenly Prophets of Images And Sacrament) we find that Luther treats the issue in several sections. The ten commandments, he says, is nothing but the Sachsenspiegel of the Jews. Every people has its own set of laws, and we use the ten commandments because they are a very fine and just example of the natural law. (Erl 29,157). But Jesus himself subsume all the prophets and the Mosaic law under one commandment, Matt. 7:12, the so called Golden Rule. Paul does the same thing when he Romans 13:9 says that all the commandments of Moses is to be subsumed under love, "which is also taught naturally by the Natural Law: 'Love thy neighbour as thyself'. (Erl 29,156).
Thereafter he writes:
"Otherwise, if it were not written naturally in our hearts, you would have to teach and preach the law for a long time, until the consciousness acknowledged it. For it has to find it in itself and feel it in itself, otherwise nobody would have a bad conscience over anything. Although the Devil fools the hearts in such a way that they do not always feel this law. Therefor one must write and preach, until God cooperates and enlighten them, so that they feel in their hearts what is said in the Word".
This is not crystal-clear, in my opinion. I mean, you cannot see with certainty how much man himself may find out and how much is left to the Holy Ghost to do. But I on the other hand think it is all right that this question is left unanswered. What is totally clear, on the other hand, is that the Christian preaching works on the basis of the Natural Law. It does not give commandments that goes farther than the Natural Law. The Devil always makes life hard for humankind, but he does not change the Natural Law, he makes us blind to some of its implications, but the Natural Law is still there.
Now, compare this with what Luther says in his book against Latomus! There he writes (Latom05,4):
"About the first thing Roman 7:7 says: 'I should not have known that to covet is to sin, had not the law said: Thou shalt not covet'. For nature herself has not called this disgusting lust sin, she only calls the evil use of it against another body sin, e.g. rape, adultery and fornication".
At this place he puts up a difference between the law from Scripture and the Natural Law. Natural Law is against rape, adultery and fornication. But Natural Law is not against the sexual drive itself, according to Luther. This, on the other hand, is the Law of Scripture. This law commands: Thou shalt not covet. And according to Luther (and Augustin) this means, that every form of sexual lust is against the law, even the administration of it that takes place in marriage. And this is something more than what demands Natural Law.
Luther begins with the sexual lust, but he does not stop there. The above mentioned quotation continues:
"In the same way she has not either called anger and avarice sin, but only the use of it in theft, fraud, scolding and homicide". (Latom05,5).
Here we see the same pattern: There are some inward feelings in man. To have such feelings are no crime according to Natural Law, but it really is according to Scriptural Law. This is what is meant by the Pauline word, that through law comes the cognition of sin. The sin which be recognized is not the external sins, theft, fraud etc, but the internal ones, the evil feelings that one has towards one's neighbour.
And this is different from what Luther says about the Natural Law in "Wider die Propheten...". One could even say that there is a contradiction between these two statements.
Of course Luther's situation is a different one in the two cases.
Against Latomus he wants to maintain that there is sin even in the most holy Christians. He feels a little bit irritated that such a thing, which should be evident to all theologians, is not recognized. But by saying so, or by repeating Augustin on this matter, Luther annihilates the common papal thought, that through the good works of the holy men and women of the church, the Pope has got a treasure, from which he may sell some of the good works that these saints have in surplus. The treasure of the Pope is emptied from within so to speak, through Luther's re-invention of the old Augustinian thought.
But against Karlstadt Luther wants to point out that the Jews had to obey the commandments of the Mosaic Law, but we, who are not Jews but Saxons, must obey the Saxon Law. It is right, goes his argument, that God gave the Jews a law forbidding them to make images. But this was a law given for that time, not for ours. And it is in connection with these considerations that he makes his statements about Natural Law.
Nevertheless, I do not think that it should be allowed to make such a contradiction, not even to a Luther. But I also think that this has something to do with a trait in his theology that has been forgotten in the modern interpretations of it: his "Augustinian" conviction about original sin.
4.2. The modern interpretation of Luther's theology.
Before entering the text itself I should like to introduce a modern theologian, who has found the same argumentation as is found in "Latomus" without mentioning Latomus (as well as I have seen) and perhaps even without being aware that some pages in "Latomus" have to do with the same question that he is investigating.
The theologian in question is Wilfried Joest, and the book, he has written about this argumentation is called "Law and Freedom" (Gesetz und Freiheit).
He takes his texts mostly from the exegetical works of Luther and he shows most convincingly that what had hitherto been considered good Lutheran theology was wrong. I still remember how surprised I myself was by reading his book.
His main theme is the sentence "simul justus ac peccator" (sinner and just at one and the same time). This sentence was not new to any student of Luther. But I think we all had learnt that this did not mean 'more sinner and less just' or 'less sinner and more just', no, Luther meant to say through this expression that the Christian was totally a sinner all the time, while at the same time he was totally a just man.
This of course can not be understood by normal logic, we were told. It had to be interpreted 'dialectically'. In a special logic, called 'the dialectics', one could say things like this. And, we would learn, (and see for ourselves) in the works of Luther there are plenty of examples of this way of expression.
We, as young students, of course believed what our teachers told us. Therefor I got a big surprise when reading in the book of Joest that this was not true, or that this was not the whole truth about Luther's argumentation on this point. Joest was maybe able to find some examples of a dialectic expression, but it seemed to me, at least, that it was much easier to find examples on the "wrong" expressions, examples on Luther saying that the more sin, the less justice, the more justice the less sin.
The 'dialectic' argument runs something like this: If you have a dialectic statement, the fact that it is dialectic means that you cannot take one part of the statement for itself, you have to claim the other part of it as true at the same time. You may say that a Christian is totally spoken a sinner. But this is not true in itself. It is not true, until you make the opposite statement too: a Christian is totally a just man, justified totally in the eyes of God.
But Joest's investigation compelled him to make an additional claim. Not only were there in Luther's theology these two contradictory and dialectic statements, not only did one have to take into account this dialectic, one also had to recognize that parallel to this statement and of the same value as this statement there was another statement: That "simul justus ac peccator" also meant that a Christian partly was a sinner and partly was a just man. Luther meant to say that he never ceased to be a sinner, but when working inside this statement this meant that there still was some sin left in him; how much he ever fought to expel sin, there would always be something left.
Now, this second statement was by Joest put in a dialectic relationship to the first understanding of "simul justus ac peccator". And now it became complicated. For you had to realize that to find the truth about a Christian's position in this world you had to make the two dialectic claims: That the Christian totally is a sinner, and that he nevertheless totally is a just man. But at the same time as you tried to balance these two statements against one another, you had to make an additional statement: That a Christian is a sinner to a certain degree, and if he is a sinner to a great degree, he will consequently be a just man to a lesser degree.
The case is complicated by the fact that the second statement is no dialectic statement. It is quite normal, it may be understood by our normal logic. But the first one is a dialectic one. And the relationship between these two statements also is a dialectic relationship.
I must confess, to me it became a little too dialectic. I simply could not believe that Luther had the same concept of dialectics as had modern man in the beginning of this century. But I must add, that it was not until I read the book against Latomus, that I realized that in this book was to be found the very same argumentation as Joest had found, although the sentence "simul justus ac peccator" is not mentioned in Latomus.
4.3. A modern theologian about total sin.
There is a certain parallelism between something said by the aforementioned Adolf Hamel and Luther in the book against Latomus. And before I show how Luther in "Latomus" explains the "simul justus ac peccator", I want to mention this parallelism.
In his book "The young Luther and Augustin" (Der junge Luther und Augustin), band II, page 31 Hamel tries to define what he thinks about concupiscence, about desire. He writes:
"What is the content of 'concupiscence'? Through the corruption of original sin the human nature has become so much curved into itself (in se ipsam incurva), that she enjoys the gifts of God, and that means the spiritual gifts as grace and salvation, and uses God himself to get them, as a mean to obtain this intention. She is not at all able to recognize how unjust and wrong and self-referring she desires everything, even God, for her own sake. This is not the "amor amicitiae", but the "amor concupiscentiae", which "uses" God to be able to "enjoy" his gifts. ... This "amor concupiscentiae" loves God to obtain salvation or eternal rest, or out of fear of the punishment in Hell. This love comes from self-desire, but God will not be loved but for His own sake. In the neighbour or the friend this 'ordered love' too seeks itself. The fleshly mind of natural man consists of limitless egoism".
I do not doubt that this has been written out of quotations from Luther, and that it is in this respect a genuine Lutheran opinion. And this is confirmed by the text I shall quote in a little while.
But before that I want to ask some questions to this text, be it Hamel's or Luther's opinion that is its content. One could ask: Is this pure love or this love out of friendship possible? And my answer is, that this depends.. It depends on the context in which it is seen.
You may see it in a context that makes the demand for pure love impossible. You may see it as the most radical commandment given to man. Not only should you do everything out of love for God, you also should do them out of pure love, without wishing to get anything in return. If you just see this in a normal ethical context, where the individual is situated solely towards God, this is impossible. You soon will realize that every human being does what he is doing for a purpose. Nobody works in vain. And from this point of view, where every single person tries to elaborate his or her motifs as good ones, this motif can impossibly occur: doing things out of pure love towards God.
And from this normal ethical context the consequence is also unavoidable that when you are doing something toward your neighbour you want something in return, too. That means, that everything you do bears this mark of egoism, is done out of self-love and not out of pure love.
I think that it is in this normal ethical context that Hamel has interpreted Luther. And I think that this interpretation is right. This is how Luther thinks about it, not only in 1516, when he made his lectures on Romans, but also in 1521 when he made his reply to Latomus.
And it may be seen in the piece that I have worked out from Latomus. In WA 105 Luther has a long dissertation, seeking to describe some men who loves worldly things without giving thanks to God for them. One could be suspicious that Luther describes his opponents, the monks or papal theologians with these words. But there he says: (Latom05,26):
"It is, you can understand, only the law, which demonstrates, not that these things are evil in themselves (they still are the gifts of God) but that they are used for evil purposes thanks to the fundamental hidden sin. Thanks to this sin they trusted in, were pleased with and boasted in these things, being evil in a way that they themselves did not feel, such as is the innermost evil of sin now and forever. They should have trusted in God, felt pleased by him and boasted in him, as Jerem. 9:22 says: 'The wise should not boast in his wisdom, the strong not in his strength and the rich not in his richness'.
You see the same thing as in the quotation from Hamel. Sin is so deep that men do not see it themselves. (A rather dangerous thought; one might ask who writes this, a man or a god). And man should trust in God, not in all these worldly things, how good they might be. And I am rather sure, that at this place Luther interprets it as Hamel, that is to say, he elaborates the normal ethical way of thinking, he tightens the ethical ideals so much that they become impossible to fulfil. How could ever any man do what he does out of pure love to God?
This seems to be what is at least in our modern Lutheran theology called "the second use of the Law". The Law should make us desperate, so that we seek forgiveness in stead of trying to save ourselves. The proof that this is meant this way by Luther I find a little later, where Luther says:
"Here you see how much the law exceeds the natural reason, and how fundamental is this sin, the cognition of which is given by the law." (Latom05,33).
This is what all these thoughts are for: They should make clear how fundamental original sin is. And this cannot be done without Scripture and its right interpretation, natural law is not enough.
But I wonder if there is no other interpretation of this thought of pure love. I think that Hamel is a little too fast when he says (with Luther's acceptance, I believe) that the 'ordered' love seeks itself against the neighbour and the friend, too. Maybe this is right according to Luther and other theologians. But is it right according to our day-to-day experience? At least, my experience tells me, that exactly there, in my relationship to my friend or my neighbour the possibility of pure love is present. This is, I think, the secret of every relationship between men: If they are real relationships they seek the other person himself. A person in such a relationship does his works not for his own sake, not for the other person's sake, but for the sake of the relationship itself. And if he is working to strengthen the relationship he is not working out or self-love.
Later on I shall work out this alternative of mine a little further. For the time being this will be sufficient. I just end this section by quoting Hamel once more. He with great assurance denies what I have shown in section 2: That Luther is an Augustinian. He writes (p. 28):
"But, by Luther there can be no talk of a transference of sin through the sexual act or through the concupiscence that accompanies the sexual act, such as Augustin describes it in many places, just as little as of the definition of concupiscence as sexual lust, which is for Augustin an important definition."
I think that he has begun with the claim that sexual lust is not the only example of concupiscence by Luther. Which is true. He then continues with the claim that sexual lust is not the most important example of concupiscence by Luther. Which may be true. And ends up with this claim: that sexual lust in opposition to what it means to Augustin does not mean anything to Luther, concerning original sin, and that it does not mean anything by the transference of sin from one generation to the next. Which is totally wrong.
It is noticeable, that through this operation Hamel makes Luther eatable to modern man. Which is his purpose. But can we deal with historical facts this way?
4.4. Luther's scheme of thought.
One must be very careful not to make Luther too systematic. He is a theologian, yes; he is coherent in his thoughts, yes. But that does not mean that he may be written down into one short formula. Nevertheless this is precisely what I am going to do. And I do not think that I make any harm to Luther by this. How come?
One of the things that makes "Latomus" interesting is that Luther explains himself very thoroughly in this book. I do not want to claim that the scheme that one is able to create from this work is valid in every other work of Luther. But I do think it is valid here. And I think it is interesting concerning the other books of Luther.
This is how "my" scheme looks like:
|personal metaphor||ontological metaphor|
|negatively spoken||wrath||the corruption of nature,|
|positively spoken||grace||justice, faith|
In the piece of "Latomus" that I have elaborated (WA 103-110) Luther uses two different metaphors, a personal one and an ontological one. And he himself tells us what metaphor he is using. For instance, he tells us (Latom05,51) that wrath and grace which is shown by God are concepts of totality, because they relate to persons.
What does it mean that they relate to persons? That means that Luther is using a metaphor from the personal life of man. When you are working theologically you cannot help using metaphors. You always must use concepts of thought from the human sphere, it is impossible not to do so. But theologians are not always aware that this is the case. Often they have found a very fine theological thought and when elaborating this they simply think, without being driven by any special human thought, at least that's what they are doing in their own opinion. But that is not true. We are humans and we are not able to transcend our humanity.
In this case, when Luther says that the metaphor of God's wrath and God's grace relates to persons, he certainly speaks of God as of a person. You even may have a relationship to God, just as you have a relationship with your friend or your spouse. And the most fruitful theological thinking occurs when one realizes that the relationship to God, as described in Scripture, can tell you something about the relationship to your neighbour; and vice-versa: the relationship as you experience it in your day-to-day-life with your friend or with your spouse can give you a better understanding of what is said in Scripture or what is said by Luther.
The problem here is: Why does Luther say that God's wrath and God's grace are always totally emptied, that the one under wrath is totally under the whole of wrath? What makes him say so? He does not refer to Scripture in this place. He just says so as an unproved claim.
I think he says so because this is what he has found out during his struggle in the monastery: That the relationship to God is a relationship to a person. He has dared use the words that he knows from his own relationships to persons in describing the relationship to God. In one's day-to-day-relationship to one's neighbour one can make the experience that this relationship can be broken asunder, the two of them may loose faith in each other, and if that happens the relationship is broken totally. It is impossible to think of a relationship that is only halfway broken, at least when we are talking about persons with whom you have an intimate relationship. If we are talking about a person who is more strange to you, you may say you only trust him halfway, or that your faith in him is not total. But if we are talking about a good friend of yours or about your spouse, and if something happens between the two of you, if you quarrel and get angry on each other, then the relationship between you is broken, and it will be impossible to say that you trust your husband halfway, because you do not trust him any more.
And the same thing happens when the relationship between you is healed. How does this take place? Well, maybe you say a word of reconciliation, maybe it is said by your wife, anyhow, a word loosens the situation, a word makes you believe your husband again, a word works out the miracle that somehow, without yourself knowing how it happened, you again are trusting your husband with the good old confidence as before.
I do not argue from how we use language, I argue from how we experience reconciliation in our daily lives.
If one would argue from the use of language, one would possibly say that there could be a 40% trust. But if one argues from what we experience in our relationships with our loved ones, there is a certain form of totality in play, either confidence is there or it is gone, either you trust each other or you mistrust each other, either the relationship between you is broken or it is intact. There are no middle ways.
And my point is, that it is from such an experience that Luther has got the concept of totality. Luther during the time he grew up experienced many many times in his personal life how the relationship between him and his father or between him and his mother or between him and a friend of his were broken asunder and was healed again by one word or another, said by one of the participants. At least, that is what I guess about Luther. But it does not matter to me whether this guess is right or wrong, what matters is that I myself, if I am going to understand why he talks about totality here, must use my experiences of what personal relationships are like. Otherwise this would be dark talk to me.
The problem that this text from "Latomus" gives is that this is not the only metaphor that Luther is using. He also uses another metaphor, a metaphor about original sin, what it does to us, how it works in us. This metaphor does not talk about our personal relationships, but about our physical conditions, as they were acknowledged at Luther's time. And the problem is: How do these two metaphors fit into each other? Are they fighting each other or are they fulfilling each other?
I shall solve this problem by claiming that the two metaphors are incompatible. It does not make sense what Luther claims in this piece of text. But before I shall elaborate this thesis a little more, I want to point out that maybe our solution is not much better.
It is true that I do not think that we as modern men can make any use of Luther's thoughts about original sin. But the problem that he is trying to solve is also our problem. We human beings are still a wonderful mixture of "dust and spirit", as it is said by the great Danish theologian, Grundtvig (1783-1872). And if we do not accept Luther's "theory" about the mere physical appearance of mankind, what theory do we then accept? And how could we make a theory about our physical appearance fit with our day-to-day experience of broken relationships and reconciliations?
How, for instance, can we maintain that we really do become reconciliated with one another, when at the same time we know that we are governed by hormones in our blood? Is a reconciliation between man and woman in marriage genuine? Will it not always be possible to claim that it happened because we are sexual beings? And how can I be sure that what my friend said to me when we again began to talk to each other was said without any bad intentions? In brief, is it possible to make these two fit into each other: The spiritual experience of reconciliation and the physical facts of hormones and brain processes?
If we say that this was Luther's problem, too, then we do not too hastily condemn him.
I want to make a precaution against being misunderstood: I do not blame Luther for not being scientific enough. The problem is not that he has an unconscious fundamental concept of thought that is placing values on the realities of this world, over against a concept of thought that does not put any values on anything in the world. What I cannot accept by Luther is not this fact, but the fact that he places the wrong values on the things he sees. He gives our drives a negative value, whereas I (and any modern man) give them a positive value. The dispute is not one between a modern, scientific, non-evaluating concept and an old concept of thought where facts are mingled around with values in an inseparable mixture; it is a dispute between two different mythologies or between two different philosophies of life: One which gives value to our drives and one which does not.
4.5. The right place of faith.
Take a look at the scheme that I showed a little ago, please!
|personal metaphor||ontological metaphor|
|negatively spoken||wrath||the corruption of nature,|
|positively spoken||grace||justice, faith|
One would probably, at least at a first glance, find it awkward that 'faith' is to be counted as something ontological. We would find it more natural if faith was to be placed in the other column, as a personal thing. Faith belongs to the personal life, we think. Faith is something between persons, whether the other person be God or another human being. And indeed, as I shall show just now, Luther himself thinks about faith this way. But still I believe that it is correct to place the word 'faith' in the ontological column.
At first I want to point to a famous place in "On Good Works" from 1520. In the sixth section Luther says:
'That may be seen in a rough fleshly way. If a man or wife have love in one another and are pleased in one another and firmly believes in this, who shows him how he should act, what he should do, what he should refrain from, what he should say or not say, what he should think? Alone confidence tells him all this and more than is necessary. For him there is no difference in works; he accomplices the big, long, many works as willingly as the small, short and few works, and vice-versa. And in addition he does it with a glad peaceful and secure heart, and he is quite a free man.
But where there is doubt he will seek out what is best, he will make differences between works, in order to be pleasing. And yet he does it with a heavy heart and great unpleasure. It is as if he is taken prisoner, he is more than half in despair, and he often becomes a fool thereby'. (Erl20, 199f).
Here Luther has elaborated one of his everyday experiences. This is one of the quotations that makes it legitimate for me to claim that Luther sees it the same way as I do: There is a big difference between a relationship that is intact and one that is broken.
Furthermore Luther uses this experience in the relationship to God. He goes on to say that this is why what is bidden by the first commandment: faith, means everything in man's relationship with God. The first commandment is not the first commandment in a long row of equal commandments, it is to be understood as the first commandment because without the fulfilling of this commandment one works in vain, even if fulfilling all the others perfectly. It is of no use, yeah it is sin, if one does not act out of faith in fulfilling the other commandments.
So, one may ask, why do I place 'faith' under the heading of ontological metaphors?
One more example: In his work "The freedom of a Christian" Luther has an almost too short sentence: 'If you believe, you have; if you do not believe, you do not have'. (WA 7,22). These are claims of totality. And, as we heard before, tonality belongs to the area of the personal relationship. These sentences can be interpreted (and I will say: can only be interpreted) as referring to the personal relationship between man and God. In this relationship the claim is valid: faith is what binds the persons together; faith is a fact that exists in the space between the persons, otherwise not. And once again one may ask: Why then do I place faith in the column under the heading: ontological metaphors?
That, of course, I do because Luther himself does so, even if he does not show it in a scheme. In Latom05,36 he writes:
"Also the Gospel preaches and teaches two things, namely justice and the grace of God. Through justice it heals the corruption of the nature, that justice, notably, which is God's gift, namely faith in Christ".
Here he identifies justice with faith in Christ. But I am very doubtful whether this is legitimate or not. I think that Luther is confusing things by doing so, not only according to the way of thinking which ruled in his days, but also according to our way of thinking.
In Latom05,45 it is even more frankly said:
"For faith is the gift and the internal good, which is placed opposite sin (it expurgates sin)".
Here it becomes evident that faith is the opposite of sin. And since sin is thought about in ontological terms so is faith. Also one can notice that faith is the gift of God. In this occasion Luther is not only underlining the fact, that no one can take faith in God by himself, he is also underlining the fact, that the gift of God (donum) is in opposition to the grace or the favour of God. That means that the word 'faith' has become independent of the metaphor wherein it was used in the first place; it has got its own life; it seems possible to Luther to move it around in his thoughts no matter if these thoughts are concepted in one metaphor or the other.
I find this illegitimate. In Luther's theology as well as in the contemporary theology. But I do not want to throw away Luther's theology as a whole. I want to put two questions. The first one is:
How is this done?
This question has been answered in what I have already mentioned. Somehow Luther takes the word 'faith' away from the context to which it belongs, by making it a word for itself. Maybe it is done during his interpretations, maybe it is done during his disputes with other theologians, it seems to me that he very early begins with this non-personal concept of faith. And one could maybe say that it throughout his life goes hand in hand with the other concept of faith, the concept that is based on the way it is used in a personal relationship.
You also may say that Luther forgets that every theological thought is used metaphorically. It is legitimate to use it inside its normal context, but it becomes dangerous if you use it outside this context.
But more to the point is the other question: Why is this done?
One must remember the dispute, in which Luther was when he wrote 'Latomus'. The big question was: Is it possible for a holy man to commit works that are without sin? If this is proven to be impossible the base of the papal mess and of indulgence is taken away. There can no longer be any treasure of the church with the pope as its administrator. That may be why Latomus opposes Luther, and why he does it so improperly. And indeed that is why Luther feels that he must oppose Latomus, this wrongdoing of the church must be stopped.
So great things are at stake.
But that is not why Luther does what he is doing. It is a genuine part of his theology to underline original sin and its making us unable to achieve the grace of God. It is not just done in this dispute. But still it is wrong.
As well as I can see, Luther wants to emphasize the fact that no man can by his own forces achieve the favour of God. His error is that this is underlined through thoughts taken not from the metaphor to which it belongs, namely the personal metaphor, no, Luther underlines this thought of the necessity of the Holy Ghost's help through thoughts taken from another metaphor, the metaphor of man having been hit by original sin. What he wants to emphasize is all right, and I agree with him. But the method he uses to emphasize it is wrong and has let to a theological disaster, if one would call it a disaster that Lutheran theology has cut off its connections with the rest of society and has nothing to say to the problems concerning the rest of society.
Of course, preaching the Gospel is a risky affair and doing theology is a dangerous thing. You have no guarantee that people will understand you. And you have still less guarantee that people will not misunderstand you. If for instance you preach that by faith man has the favour of God, it seems very easy to misinterpret this as if man were not obliged to do good works. And if you continue and add that through this favour of God man is totally liberated from sin and from everything that had separated him from God, would then not people say: 'Well that means that we are not sinners any longer', in this way making themselves secure and proud and selfboasting. To avoid that Luther makes the notion of sin as something innate in man, heredited from Adam. But is this the right way of avoiding that? I don't think so.
In this book the problem is a little different. The problem is the scholastic theology. It has made a lot of distinctions, so that in the last end it is man himself that saves himself. God has to give him salvation, when man has done what he has to do: felt the right dose of remorse, done the right penance after the advice of the church, asked God for forgiveness with the right humble heart, and so forth. But Luther is right in pointing out that this whole system tells the sinner that he is not a condemned sinner after all, he has got some good qualities in him, and these qualities are taken into account by the judgement of God. This is, according to Luther, justice by works, not justice by faith, as it should be if it was to correspond to Paul.
I agree with Luther. But is it necessary, in order to avoid this misunderstanding to jump into another misunderstanding, the misunderstanding of sin being a corruption of our nature and the misunderstanding of faith being some sort of 'thing' that can be infused into us, so that it fights against sin in our minds?
In other words: Does not the metaphor taken from the relationship between fleshly persons have an answer to these misunderstandings itself?
I think it has.
This answer lies in the fact that a broken relationship, for instance a relationship between you and your spouse, is healed 'from outside', not 'from inside'. You cannot decide to heal the relationship. You cannot even do anything to make it become healed. You may try a lot of things to make reconciliation take place. You may say a lot of reconciliating words. Nothing helps. It is not in your power to make another person have faith in you.
Or, still worse: If you are trying too hard the opposite could happen: That the relationship between you and your spouse became even more locked than it was before. You are revealed as a person that tries to make things right the way you want it, not the way which is just.
This is what is possible between persons: You may speak all the words, you may even have all the right feelings in your heart, it is of no use, if faith is not created in the heart of your neighbour. And whether this is created is not in your hands nor in your neighbour's hand, but in the hands of the Spirit which works with every human being through every word he or she is speaking.
And since God is a person, too, and since our relationship to God is a relationship between persons, too, exactly the same impossibility is working in this relationship. That means, it is impossible for man to save himself. Man can do nothing to ameliorate his situation toward God. Faith comes when faith comes, not when you want it or pray for it or decide that it must come.
This is the thought of man's unfree will, played within the metaphor of the relationship between persons.
You also can illustrate the thought of the saints having no extra works to sell to us from this metaphor, without any talks of original sin.
In a personal relationship you cannot boast of anything you have done. You even are careful not to mention the good works you have done. This is not because they are not good works, indeed they are. It is because you will risk spoiling the good relationship between you and your neighbour if you mention what you have done, or if you mention it with a beginning smile that reveals that you are proud of it. A relationship may be broken in many ways. And one of the ways in which it can be broken is by boasting of what one has done.
There are certain rules to be kept in an intimate relationship between persons. One of them is that you are resting with total confidence in the belief that the other person recognizes you. You know for sure that he loves you. You are convinced into your innermost heart that he trusts you whatever you do. And by boasting of something you have done you show to him that you do not trust him, you do not have the confidence in him that believes that he loves you whatever you do. You are afraid of not being loved for you own sake, and therefor you begin to work so that you may be loved for your works' sake. And this whole attitude is against the inner reason of the relationship itself.
This also applies to our relationship toward God. If we are trying to count our good works they are no longer good works, because then they are no longer done out of faith (to speak with Paul and Luther). That means that nobody can count the good works that are done by the saints. Nobody can make sure that there are enough good works. And even if someone was able to do so, it would be wrong, because in every personal relationship you can never do enough; you will be busy every day and you will never catch the end of what you ought to do, but on the other hand, there is nothing that you ought to do, everything is done out of your surplus, everything is done because of your inner feelings of love and confidence.
And still another way of telling the same truth: A relationship between persons is never static. It always has the risk of being broken. You have confidence in the other person, and you know from your experience hitherto that this confidence has grown strong and is almost never broken. But you do not know for sure, whether it will be broken in the future or not.
So it is with your relationship with God. As Paul says: (1 Cor. 10:12) "If you feel sure that you stand firm, beware! You may fall". And this count for everyone, he be the most holy saint that can be imagined.
And so it is, not because of original sin, not because we all have in us some sin that has not yet been expurgated, so it is, because we are a person in a relationship with God, and in such a relationship one never knows if it will be broken.
I do not try to gather proofs that could show that Luther thinks in terms of relationship, with God and with our neighbour. I take it for granted. I have this thought as some sort of key with which I interpret his words. But if I wanted a proof I think that one of the most basic proofs is the fact that Luther swept aside all the medieval thoughts of representation: Medieval man could always find someone who could go in between himself and his God. This concept worked in indulgence, it worked in the huge number of masses, payed for by some rich person in order that this or that saint might be asked to intercede for him by God. And it worked in the monasteries: The monk fasting or doing some other good works is acting not only on his own behalf, but on behalf of the Christian community: He is adding value to the treasure of the church. Luther tells about a monk saying on his deathbed: 'All the works I have done I hereby give to you', meaning of course, all the extra works I have done, which I do not need myself. Of course one does not know for sure whether this incidence is invented by Luther himself. But that does not matter. The concept itself of being able to merit salvation, not only for one self but also for others is typically medieval. And this is totally broken to pieces with Luther's person-thinking. Those who will benefit from the Eucharist must participate themselves. You cannot send somebody else the day you are going to dy, just as you yourself must answer to your life on doomsday.
This is one of the immense tasks done by Luther. And whatever criticism we are going to give to Luther we always must remember with gratitude that he removed this false theology, although he did it with means that we do not find appropriate today (or: 'that I do not find appropriate today')..
4.5. The incompatibility of the two metaphors.
I shall now try to show that the two different metaphor that Luther uses do not harmonize with one another.
In Latom05,57 Luther says:
"The just and the believer without doubt has the grace and the gift: The grace, which pardons him totally, so that the person totally is accepted, and there is no room for wrath towards him. And the gift, which heals him from sin and from the total corruption of his soul and body. Therefor it is completely ungodly to say that who is baptized still is in his sins, or that all his sins are not completely forgiven. For how can there be sin where God shows favour and will not know any sin, but from his whole heart accepts the person and makes it holy?"
If Luther stopped here I should have no complaints. But he does not. He goes on and he speaks about sin still being in the sinner, so that it becomes evident, that he contradicts himself. He works with a relational aspect in this quotation, and in a later one he works with an ontological aspect. And these two aspects are in no way harmonized. He even seems to seek their clash.
But already in this quotation he seems to think a little too ontologically. The believer has the grace and the gift, he says. I know it is a common theological expression, but anyhow I think it is dangerous: to say that grace is something that can be had. Is it inside your mind, maybe? Or is it something you own and may take with you when leaving society? But of course it is worse that this ontological way of thinking tempts Luther to speak about the believer having the gift. We know that the gift here means justice, faith. And it can be owned by the believer. It is being infused (Latom05,60). Here Luther changes metaphor. Although he already has done so in the quotation, I brought before.
There he speaks about sin in the believer. And the first time he avoids the expression: 'sin in the believer'. He just asks how the believer may still 'be in his sins'. And the next time he says, that one must say that all his sins are forgiven. But the third time he says: Quid enim ibi peccati, and this must be translated: 'How can there be sins?' So although he rightly says that God shows favour and will not know of any sin, spoken in relational terms, he wrongly says that sin and justice and faith are in the believer, are ontological items that may be or not be in some distinct place, e.g. in the mind of the believer.
On one side he says that it is ungodly to deny that the believer still is in his sins (Latom05,58). On the other side he a little later says that it is ungrateful towards God's grace to deny that what is left in the believer really is sin. (Latom05,65). Of course he knows himself that these two statements contradict each other. And of course every Luther-fan knows that this contradiction is not unique; there are a lot of such contradictions in the writings of Luther. And normally we Lutheran theologians acquiesce with these facts: This is how Luther is. But in this case I think that we are able to see that this contradiction is not innocent, it on the contrary may be dangerous.
In Latom05,60ff Luther tries to figure out what is the difference between before and after grace. One might ask: 'Well, sin is still in the believer, so what is the difference?' And Luther will answer (Latom05,60ff):
"The gift really is infused, the yeast mixed into the flour. And now it works to expurgate the sin, which has been forgiven to the person, it works to expel the evil guest, whom it has been licensed to throw outside. While this is going on, it still is called sin, and really is so after its nature. But it is now a sin without the wrath, without the law, a dead sin, an innocent sin, if only one stays in the grace and in its gift."
One must ask: How can sin be innocent? How can sin be dead? Sin is forgiven, yes. But how may that effect the sin which is in man, as sexual lust and as a tendency to anger and as a temptation to boast of one's works? If all these things are still in the person, how can they now be said to be innocent?
Luther explains it a little further (Latom05,63):
"According to its nature sin before grace is not different from sin after grace. But there is a difference according to the treatment it gets. Now it is treated in another way 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."
How can anyone understand this? In my opinion Luther's contradiction has evolved into rubbish, nonsense. In other places he avoids such consequences. But here it may be seen obviously. The difference between before and after lies in the treatment of sin, says Luther, not in the nature of sin. One may ask: Whose treatment does he speak of, God's or the believer's? 'Was acknowledged', maybe he is talking about the believers treatment of sin. But how then may one understand the last sentence: 'But now it is treated as something which is not there and is being thrown away'? You cannot in any respect treat anything which is not there. Maybe you can treat it by throwing it away.
It is quite evident to me that Luther jumps from the one metaphor to the other. And it is obvious that here he is dealing with sin as an ontological fact. He just cannot take with him all the facts that he has just acknowledged about sin as a relational error. That sin is gone where you have been forgiven, because the relationship between you and God is reestablished, this fact cannot be transferred to the metaphor of sin as something ontological.
And the difficulty that Luther gives himself by these attempts to use two metaphors at the same time, becomes dangerous when he utters (Latom05,67), that also the person itself does not please nor has the grace of God, unless it, thanks to the gift, in this way works to expurgate sin. It now seems to be a condition for one having the grace of God that one works to expurgate sin. If you don't do that you are not pleasing God. This sounds "unlutheran" but it nevertheless is what Luther says. (Se 2.3.1.)
4.6. What is faith?
It now should be possible to answer this question: What is faith? Is faith something ontological, which may be infused into a person, or is it something that works in the unseen space between persons? Is it to be interpreted in an ontological metaphor, or must it be interpreted in a relational metaphor?
Of course it should be easily seen from what is said above, that I agree with the former opinion: Faith is something working in the unseen space between persons, not any ontological object that may be in some places and not in others. And maybe the reader hurries to agree with me and impatiently wants to go on to other issues.
I warn him or her.
Let us do the piece of theology in a proper way! That means: Let us take our time to works things through!
I believe that exactly on this cliff many theological ships have suffered shipwreck. With great personal suffering, too. For instance, when hearing the words from "Freedom of a Christian": "Who believes, has got it; who does not believe, has not got it", who could help searching his own mind in order to find the faith that gives so much, and, when not finding anything, or when not finding anything that might be given the pretentious word 'faith', despairing and wondering if he is a Christian at all? Over and over again Luther makes it clear, that he uses the word 'faith' as if it is some object in a man's mind, that could and should be found inside oneself. Here in Latomus he at least makes it clear that this is how he thinks about 'faith'. He does make it identical with 'justice'. He does think it can expurgate sin. He does believe that faith or justice is infused into the believer in order to heal the corrupted nature. That is: He thinks in terms of nature, in terms of ontology, in terms of things or objects that is there or is not there.
And this has been fatal.
This terminology has locked the theological discussion unto the metaphor of ontology. It has been a jail to every Lutheran theologian, because he was forced to participate in a discussion, which has turned out to be endless: Where and what is faith? Under what conditions is faith given to man? This error of Luther has been a chain at the feet of the Lutheran theologians. It has become a precondition to be acknowledged if one wants to participate in the Lutheran theologian discussion, that faith is a thing, is an object, is a something, which may be found or not found in the mind of the believer.
What has been worked out in the history of Lutherdom is consequently a meaningless mixture of these two incompatible metaphors. If by chance you find some meaning in one of the metaphors, you can be rather sure, that the other metaphor, which is also based upon genuine quotations from Luther, is making troubles for you. Maybe some modern theologian feel for himself that he has found the solution; maybe he has elaborated his own 'system' of thought, and for some time felt satisfied by that. He may be right. His 'system' really is without breaks, without contradictions, without faults. But if that is the case, it usually also is without any connection to his or her day-to-day-life. And such a mirage of thought-system can be excused by the fact that Luther himself sometimes elaborated the concept of 'faith' to a degree where it had little or nothing to do with what happened in everyday's life.
As I see it the error of Luther is that he at some point loosens the context of the word 'faith', making it a word or a concept by itself, in its own value. Which is wrong. The word only has its meaning in its context, that is, as a force or energy in the relationship between persons. But when this is done everything may happen, everything may seem legitimate. Luther uses the word 'faith' in its right context a lot of times, that is true. But this is no excuse. The damage has been done. The theological discussion has been invalidated. A lot of energy has been wasted discussing empty questions, such as whether or not an infant has the saving faith; is faith 'delivered' by baptism or has it to be achieved later on? A couple of years ago I would have made a lot of excuses on behalf of Luther, trying to explain away the contradictions he made. But now I am convinced that the only solution is to totally skip the metaphor of ontology that he uses, to elaborate the metaphor of relationship that is his background thought, and so rescue the theology of this great man.
Luther must be criticised today, if his theology is to be of any interest tomorrow.
4.7. Faith behind good works
I believe that this may be seen better when researching the question of faith behind good works. How can one say that faith is the energy behind our good works?
This is the question of admonition that comes to the fore. I know that the concept of admonition is a difficult one in modern Lutheranism. We have long time ago agreed with one another that admonition was superfluous. When the hearer of the gospel once had understood what was the content of the gospel, he would automatically do what was necessary. And besides: could anyone in a modern congregation admonish anybody else but himself? Are we not sinners all of us? How then could anyone admonish his fellow-Christians, without thereby saying that he was better than the others? The works that had to be done would occur by themselves to the believer. It was unnecessary to admonish or in any other way tell the others what to do.
On the other hand we have other branches of Lutheranism which are keen upon admonition, but make it into something that resembles a new law. And indeed, in the history of Lutherdom it has been discussed if one could speak of the third use of the law, namely the use of the law as an ideal for the believer, as something for which a Christian might strive. And this theology has deep roots in Luther himself, too.
I do not favour any of these options. In my opinion we have to elaborate the relational part of our day-to-day life much more, in order to see, that to admonish, or to urge, or to appeal to, or to request from, are common expressions that we use in our normal relationships to other people and therefor should not be expelled from our theological talk. That means, in our sermons we should not avoid admonition, although we should let it be but admonitions, that is, we should not try to frighten people with our admonitions (this is a work done by the law).
How could this be done?
Well, how is this done in our day-to-day life? Maybe we are not aware that we live in a lot of different relationships, but we do know all of them unconsciously, we do take them into consideration all of them, we do know almost automatically what can be done in this relationship and what can be done in that one. In our everyday life we are by no means without knowledge about how to live in this or that relationship. And in our everyday life we are not as dumb as we are in our theological thoughts: There we know what to say to a friend who is in doubt what to do in this or that situation. Then why shouldn't we know it in our theological thoughts?
I mean, just as it is possible for us to explain to others and to ourselves what is the situation into which we are to act, and to tell others and ourselves why we acted as we did, it should be possible on a more general level to tell what is the situation of this or that man, what might possibly be done by him or her. Our preachings should not stop when we have painted for the eyes of our listeners what is our situation as human beings and then let it be up to themselves to find out what to do and what to avoid doing. No, they should admonish people, in a generalized way, what to do and what to avoid doing. Something might be said about this question, without becoming a new Moses.
But it is a difficult task.
And we are not able to fulfil it without criticizing Luther. On the other hand, the criticized Luther will, I think, turn out to be an enormous source of fruitful ideas.
And I think he can be criticized along these guidelines, that is, I think it will be possible to show where he uses the metaphor of relations and where he is locked in by the metaphor of ontology. I hope I will be able to show that in the first case the faith that is the energy behind the good works is a faith believing in the forgiveness of God to a degree that it itself becomes forgiving, so that the good work to be done is a work inside one's relationship towards one's neighbour. And that in the second case Luther is talking about faith as an infused something, which is supposed to work in a man's heart, supposing that the good works to be done are some works of modesty, some works of self-control.
4.7.1. Luther and the relational metaphor.
In a sermon over Matt 5,31-32 Luther asks if there may be given some reason for a Christian to divorce from his or her spouse. And answers that the only reason for divorce that Jesus gives is adultery. He explains it with some mixture of the Old and the New Testament: By committing adultery a man has killed himself, he is dead toward God, if not toward men.
The reason why he speaks of the adulterer as a dead person may be that he in this way can say that the other person in the marriage is free. But he adds: if he or she is not willing to forgive.
And then he writes (bjerg-06/33):
"But if one wants to give a piece of advice to those who want to be Christians, it would be much better, that one admonishes and appeals to both parts to stay together and let the innocent spouse reconcile with the guilty one, so that he or she forgives the other one out of Christian love (if the guilty part will humiliate and ameliorate). Unless there is no hope of amelioration, or unless the guilty one, when reconciled and restored to favour, once again would misuse such a welldoing and immediately go to a whore, confident that mercy would be shown and forgiveness be given".
I think Luther is very realistic in this place. And I think he really takes his point of departure from the metaphor of relations, that means, from the experiences that he himself has made in this area.
First: It is possible that forgiveness will happen. You cannot rule it out. If you are going to be realistic you must acknowledge this possibility. In modern times it has become a general feature in novels and in sermons to be realistic in a quite different way. If one is to be acknowledged as a realistic author or preacher, one has to count on only the negative outcome: people are not to be trusted; it always goes wrong among human beings; there never was a happy marriaged couple, and if there was they were fooling themselves; such "realistic" modern authors describe happily how trust and confidence break asunder in a marriage, how happiness goes away, how the great loneliness dwells in each of the spouses. But this is not Luther's way of being realistic. He realistically recognizes that reconciliation is possible.
Second: This is not because normal people are supergood people. In some parts of the church it has become common to think about the Christian way of life as a great and almost inaccessible ideal. One has always to be a forgiving person, whether or not the other has deserved to be forgiven or was willing to be forgiven. The forgiving attitude is not thought of as something in a relationship to another person, but as something inside a person, where it has to be grown and nurtured so that at any moment where a situation calls for forgiveness this idealistic person would pull forward his or her forgiveness.
This is not Luther's way of thinking when speaking of forgiveness. Luther explicitly mentions the condition of reconciliation: That the guilty part humiliates and ameliorates. And this really is a condition, because otherwise the relationship will not be healed.
Of course one could think that this is a condition set up by the innocent part toward the guilty part. To mention it will be the same thing as saying: Unless you humiliate and ameliorate I will not forgive you. And of course, in this sense it does not look as if the innocent part is really a good person in his heart. I mean, he has to put up conditions of his forgiveness.
But I think that the way Luther speaks about it excludes such an interpretation. The condition (for there is a condition) is not one put up by one person against the other, as it may be in other situations, it is a condition stemming from nature herself, the nature, it is, of reconciliation. Reconciliation does not work, or rather, reconciliation does not happen, if the guilty person does not confess his wrongdoings; or, I could say, the innocent person is unable to trust in the guilty person out of his own will-force. There has to be something in his attitude that makes him trustworthy. And this could be some expression of regret, or some promise to try to avoid such sins in the future. In such an expression the innocent has something in which he can put his confidence. However pious he is he will be unable to put confidence to the other person without reason. In this sense the words spoken by the guilty person is a precondition for reconciliation.
All of it thought within the metaphor of relation. And all of it very realistic, notably, if one acknowledges that there is a world of relationships in the human world.
And all of this, this whole life within the relationship to your neighbour, may be the object of admonition. As it can be seen from this text, if it is assumed that such a relationship exists, and that it may be restored, if broken asunder, one Christian can tell another Christian: Try to become reconciled with your spouse (or your friend, or your father)! Try to show some sign of willingness to be reconciled! Try to ask for forgiveness, if you have done something wrong! And try to have an attitude of obliging toward the other, stretch out your hand towards him, say something nice to him, be forgiving in your attitude if it is impossible to say directly: I forgive you! as it often is!
I know very well that this may be misinterpreted. The form of piousness that is common in our congregations is all too willing to grasp these expressions, make them his own inner or outer expressions himself, and then add, most secretly for himself: Now, now I have done what one can expect from me, now it is the other's turn! And I know that this attitude will spoil all the good things that I have mentioned above. But the fact that the gospel may be misinterpreted is no excuse for not preaching it, or for altering it so that it becomes more suitable to our laziness.
That means, that it is no ideal to us, even not a Christian ideal, to adjust to the other persons will, or to give in to what the other person demands. Everything is seen as something done in a relationship. Every work has its value according to whether or not it strengthens the relationship between us.
And this is where I believe that we may really learn something from Luther. He really does think out of these guidelines when speaking of our relationship toward God. And when speaking about this relationship I consider him almost infallible. But when speaking about what goes on in human beings, he is far from infallible.
Let me give another example of Luther's use of the relational metaphor!
I his number of sermons over the Sermon on the Mount Luther comes to the sentence, that occurs after Our Father (Matth 6:14f): "For if you forgive others the wrongs they have done, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, then the wrongs you have done will not be forgiven by your Father". And his treatment of that word is interesting.
He raises the question if not this word of Jesus lets the Christian forgiveness be conditional, not so that the condition is faith, but so that it is works, namely the work of forgiving your neighbour. He answers this question by putting forth two forms of forgiveness, an internal one and an external one. The internal one is faith as a response to the forgiveness of God given to you. The external one is love, given from you to your neighbour. So that those two, faith and love, together make up the Christian forgiveness.
And next he makes the remark that you might say that prayer is some form of sacrament. It has got the Word of God and it has got the external sign, the last thing being the relationship to your neighbour and the wrongdoings done against you. So whether or not you are able to go to church and receive the other sacraments, you are always able to receive this sacrament, because you always have a neighbour and almost always have some kind of trouble in the relationship with this neighbour.
Indeed, this external part of the sacrament is so important, that it is this part of it that makes you certain, that God is really forgiving you. You cannot see faith in you internal heart, so you cannot be sure that you have the saving faith. But look at your attitude towards you neighbour: Are you willing to forgive him? Do you respond to his request for forgiveness with love and mildness towards him? Then you also can be sure, that God has forgiven you. Because this forgiveness you do not have from you own nature, you have it from the word of God and from the faith that you have put in this word. If you feel that your relationship with your neighbour is intact, then you may take this as a sign that your relationship with God, too, is unbroken.
But what I find most interesting is the fact, that Luther in this sermon does not follow the normal way of thinking. Or, he does not follow our normal way of thinking. Normally we believe that it must always be possible to forgive one's neighbour. Normally we look at the situation from the internal side of one of the participants in the relationship, not from the relationship itself. And therefor we feel, that we should always show our neighbour the forgiving side of our nature. It may be difficult, it may demand a lot of self-control from our side, no matter how impossible it looks, this is what can be expected from us: that we are forgiving even before asked to do so.
This is not the way in which Luther looks at things. He is able to look up and see that every man stands in a relationship to another man, and that what he does may be seen from his side, but also from the side of the relationship itself. I admit, he does not say so, directly. But it is possible to deduce these thoughts from the text, that I shall now present to the reader.
The text goes as follows:
"And yet, you must interpret such mistake and weakness, so that your neighbour, who has sinned against you, acknowledges it and asks forgiveness and wants to improve himself. For I have elsewhere said, that there are two forms of sin: one, which is acknowledged, which should never be left unforgiven; and another form, which is defended, which is unforgivable, because it will neither be sin nor receive forgiveness". (Bjerg-12/101).
As may be seen this is exactly the same thought as the one which was shown earlier: there is a condition for forgiveness to be given: the person who is going to receive forgiveness must repent, must shown some sign of being sorry for what he has done, otherwise the forgiving person has nothing to put his trust upon. But the condition is not put up by the person who is going to forgive, it is lying in the relationship itself.
Now, this text is a little more interesting than the previous one, since here Luther changes between mentioning the relationship to God and the relationship to our neighbour. Luther continues to mention the work of the keys:
"Therefor Christ in Matth 18:18, where he speaks about forgiveness and the power of the keys, places the two of them side by side: to loose and to bind; thereby he shows, that it is impossible to loose a sin, which the sinner will not acknowledge as sin or does not want to be forgiven; you on the contrary shall bind it to the abyss of hell; and, conversely, the sin, that is acknowledged, must be loosened and brought into heaven, etc". (Bjerg-12/103)
We do not normally talk about the keys in that way. We are a little afraid of the binding power of the binding key. And yet it has to be used, tells us Luther, otherwise the person in question will be totally condemned. If you use the binding key, at least he has a chance.
The chance is, that he acknowledges his sin, so that he can obtain forgiveness. And this fact has in the later Lutherdom been elaborated, has been thought about over and over again, has been discussed with heretical condemnations in the eyes. All of it in vain. For it has become a mechanism. It has been understood as some sort of conditions that some unknown God puts in front of you and which you must comply in order to be called 'saved'. In other words: The thought has been taken away from the circumstances, from its context.
What is its context?
Well, that is just, what can be seen in this text. The context is the normal relationship between persons. The context is what normally happens in such a relationship.
And in such a relationship the big question is, how it becomes healed, if it is broken. This question is answered by Luther. Indirectly. Because he thinks in the relational metaphor, but often (too often) expresses himself in the ontological metaphor.
But, anyhow, look at the text, I have quoted! Here we are talking about the relationship towards God. And in this relationship you have to acknowledge your sin. If you do not acknowledge it, the binding key will have to be used. And the binding key is the law. When Luther speaks of the second use of the law, it is just this binding function of the key, which he has in mind. The problem is, that as soon as you mention the expression "the second use of the law", you have left the right metaphor, and begun to think and speak ontologically. (In the "you" Luther is included). But here Luther still thinks in the relational metaphor, because still he has the human broken relationship in mind.
That means that when Christ gives the advice that you should use the key that binds, and when Luther advices us to preach the law over and over again, the goal of course is to get the person in question to acknowledge his sins. But since this is thought of in the relational metaphor you will have to add: and by so doing make forgiveness possible. The ultimate goal is to heal the relationship. The word of forgiveness is the mean to achieve that goal. And the word of forgiveness, when thought about in the relational metaphor, is not almighty; it must have something to believe in and it must be spoken in a way so that it may provoke faith. If not, the relationship is not healed anyway, even if the word is spoken.
I put, as one can understand, a great stress on the fact that Luther here tells about a person who himself makes it impossible to be forgiven, because he has done nothing wrong. The sin, that you defend, can never be forgiven. That is because I think that this can only be interpreted in the relational metaphor.
In today's theology there lies a great difficulty just there. What about the many words about judgement in the New Testament? How can it fit with the thesis, that God is love? To a great many people this indeed is a big problem. That is because in the normal way of thinking a loving person just don't do such a thing as condemning other persons. And if you say that God is love, you at the same time tells a lot about what this person, who is love, do not do. And if he is told to be doing it anyway something is totally wrong.
And in the same way to a great many people Luther's thesis about sin that can not be forgiven because of the person itself sounds incredible. That it should be impossible to God to do such a thing, must be a misunderstanding. And if there are some conditions to be fulfilled, it must be possible to the person who has put up the conditions, to God, to make some exceptions.
To me these problems have been solved by using the relational metaphor. In this way I have interpreted the words of Jesus when he says (John 12:47): "But if anyone hears my words and pays no regard to them, I am not his judge; I have not come to judge the world, but to save the world. There is a judge for the man who rejects me and does not accept my words; the word that I spoke will be his judge on the last day". That means, it is no a condition put up by Jesus or by the one person in the relationship. The condition lies in the relationship itself. It simply cannot be healed if thing are not openly put forward.
And I see that Luther here thinks in the very same metaphor. He does not speak my words. He does not even thinks in guidelines that I would use, yea sometimes I do not understand him at all. But I see that what is logical to him, is also logical to me. And it is from this common logic that I draw the conclusion: We use the same metaphor.
Luther becomes almost more explicit in the next sentences. He says (Bjerg-12/104):
"And as it now happens in the business of the key-power, in the same way it happens with every Christian over against his neighbour; for even if he must be prepared to forgive everyone who does evil against him, if the other one will not acknowledge the sin or leave off doing so, but continues with it, you will be unable to forgive him; and this is not your fault, it is his own fault, because he does not want your forgiveness".
Here again you see what gives me certainty of being right. Now he once more switches over, and this time from the realm of forgiveness towards God to the realm of forgiveness among humans. And he shows once more that the same things can be said, because in both cases it is a relationship between persons.
One might imagine for himself a person, so pious and full of love against every other person, that at the very moment that he hears about anyone who has committed some evil against him, he is ready to forgive that person, even if he did not ask for it. A very romantic thought, one may say. But over against such a romanticism Luther is realistic: 'you will be unable to forgive him'. There is no bad feeling in this; there is no excuse that this is how the world is; there is even no being annoyed that this is not possible. There is just the naked fact: This is how it is. You can do nothing about it.
Finally I want to show an example that additionally shows us how Luther may have worked the two metaphors into one another. This text, too, is taken from one of his sermons over the Sermon on the Mount, the text being Matth 5:25f. There he says:
"That is why he here again warns and shows that in the commandment it is not only forbidden to get angry, it is also bidden to forgive and forget, what evil one has suffered: like God has done and still does towards us, that he forgives the sin, so that he completely removes it from his register and never considers it again; not so, that you must forget it or can forget it, meaning that you do not think of it any more: but forgetting it in a way so that you have towards your neighbour a heart which is just as friendly as before he offended you". (Bjerg-04/76).
In the previous parts of this sermon Luther has polemized against the scholastic theologians because they, as he says, look at nothing but the external works. If only a person does not kill another person with his hands, he has obeyed this commandment. This is not true, he says; you can see, how Jesus told the scholastics of his time, the pharisees, that this is far too superficial. The commandment does not only go for the external acts of men, it also applies to the internal acts. And here in the end of this sermon he directly tells us, that the commandment forbids us to get angry.
In Latomus he told us that just as nature does not call the sexual drive sin, but only the external acts that this drive leads us to do, which are offending our neighbour, rape, adultery and fornication, so nature does not either call it a sin to become angry, it is not sin until this tendency complies an act in the external world, in homicide, scolding, fraud. (Latom05/4). Here we see the same distinction. But this time the context is different. This time we see the mixture of the two metaphors.
The first "That is why" refers to one person in a relationship who tries to avoid forgiving by saying that he was right in becoming angry. Luther has shown that the words of Jesus from Matth 5:22 ("Anyone who nurses anger against his brother must be brought to judgement") do not apply to the government or to a father or mother scolding his child. There are some offices in society and in the church where one has to be angry from time to time. Wrath against the evil is just. And this is what this person uses as an excuse for his anger, which lead to a break in the relationship.
And here Luther tells this person (anyone of us) that Jesus by these words takes away his excuse. He interprets the words of Jesus so that it will be forbidden to get angry. The law is not only the natural law, which tells us not to commit homicide, it is also the Scriptural Law which forbids us to get angry at all. But one may notice that here Luther is combining the prohibition of getting angry with the mentioning of a relationship which is broken.
In the view of many modern interpreters what Jesus does in Matth 5:21ff is that he so to speak sharpens the fifth commandment. It does not only forbid to kill, it forbids even to get angry. And as may be understood, Luther agrees with them. (The modern theologians go on and make this an example of the second use of the law, that means, they believe that Jesus did not in any way sharpen this commandment in order to make people live according to this, he only did it in order to make people despair because they are not able to fulfil the law, and from this despair hurry to Christ, their saviour; as you see, Luther on this topic is not as Lutheran as are the modern Lutheran theologians).
In my view Jesus does speak in terms of relationship between people. What is killed by an angry word is the relationship itself; and since everyone of us lives in a relationship we suffer from this killing. I prove it by the fact that this is precisely what happens: you make an angry remark; you wish you could roll time backward, so that this remark could be made unsaid; this is impossible so you have to realise that with your angry remark you killed the good atmosphere. Or you killed the relationship itself. I further prove it by referring to the next verses, where Jesus tells about a person who gets a chance of reconciliation; he urges him to use this chance. This might indicate that he in the first place had the break of a relationship in mind.
But as you see, Luther does not follow my guidelines at all. In my view the real content of the commandment is not to break a relationship, and as a consequence it is not adviceable to get angry. In his view the real content is not to become angry, and as a consequence you may save a relationship from getting broken. You here see the two metaphors at work, although I am quite aware that to Luther there are not two such metaphors: He does not see that his thoughts are to be dissolved in two different metaphors. It is only in Latomus that he tries to explain himself in a way, so that the two metaphors may be seen.
But both of the two metaphors are at work. That may be the case through all Luther's works, but indeed it is the case here. The problem for Luther in this little piece of text is how you can say that it is your commitment to forgive and forget, especially this "forget", how is this to be interpreted?
And as you can see, Luther seeks the answer in the relational metaphor. At first he tries to answer according to the ontological metaphor: God has through Christ bidden us to forget. This is the law being sharpened. Then he adds: God has forgotten our wrongdoings, he does no longer register them in his big book. This also may be thought of in the metaphor of ontology, but I would prefer to believe that wherever Luther mentions the word "God" one should be on guard: this may probably be thought of in the relational metaphor. And indeed, from this thought of God's doing towards us, he goes on to mention the relationship between people that he originally had in mind. It is, as if things are best explained by using such a picture. In a relationship between persons, when it is healed again, you have to forget the situation where you were offended by the other person, that is, you must "have towards your neighbour a heart which is just as friendly as before he offended you".
That is what it is "to forget". That is what was meant when he said that it was by Jesus bidden to forget. But as you see, Luther uses both metaphors, he even jumps from one to the other without being aware of what he is doing. And this is where my criticism pops up. At least we should be aware of what we are doing. And if this awareness means that we can no longer jump from one metaphor to the other, if we by becoming aware of what we are doing feel it impossible any longer to make these jumps, which I believe that we must feel, then accordingly we must choose between the two metaphors. And that means, we must choose the relational metaphor as our most profound metaphor.
I will quote a little more from this text. Luther goes on saying:
"But if there stays in you a sting in your heart, so that you are not as friendly and meek towards him as before, then it is not called to forget, and not either to forgive from your heart, and you still are the villain, brings forward to the altar your sacrifice and wants to serve God and yet still is full of wrath, aversion and hatred in your heart. But there are but few people that are aware of that; everyone goes around with the beautiful mask, does not see, how their heart is towards this commandment, which shortly does not tolerate any wrath or hatred against the neighbour". (Bjerg-04/77).
Here you see the jumps again. When Luther is able to say with such a great certainty that it is not called to forget if you have in your heart a sting, which makes you not as friendly towards him as before, it is because he thinks in relational terms. The situation which he has in mind is a situation where one person has broken the relationship. (That is also what the text makes him think of). The word "as before" shows it. "As before what?" one might ask. And the answer of course would be: "As before the relationship was broken".
But he does not stay in these relational terms for very long. The problem is not, according to Luther, that the relationship is broken, the problem is, that you have in your heart "wrath, aversion and hatred". And of course one must say, that if you are situated in a broken relationship most probably your heart will be full of these thoughts and feelings, you will be angry, you will be hateful. But if you concentrate on nothing but these items, you are superficial, you do not dig deep enough, you concentrate on the effects instead of on the cause.
And this exactly is what Luther does. He jumps back in the ontological metaphor, he concentrates on the inner thoughts and feelings, he eats the effects, where he should have dug out the causes.
And then he scolds normal people because they don't see what the sharpened commandment of Jesus demands from them, that it totally forbids them to get angry, you are not allowed to have any feelings of wrath or hatred against your neighbour.
Of course I will not criticize Luther by saying that it is allowed to have such feelings. I will criticize him for not disclosing what is really at stake in our life. He would say about himself, that he has brought to the fore what was hidden by the scholastic theologians: they were satisfied by a commandment forbidding the external act, they did not look deeper in their own life, and did not find out that the real commandment forbade being angry at all. He has criticized the scholastic theologians this way. I would criticize Luther for being too superficial, for not going far enough when trying to find out what is going on in our lives, for totally to omit every talk of relations and their consequences when speaking theology.
One could say, if one should try to excuse Luther, that he always follows the text. When the text shows us a relationship between people, Luther, too, has such a relationship in mind. And this is where he is most fruitful. But sometimes the text gives him very little opportunity to think in relations. And then he does not do so. And you might say that in these texts he is not so fruitful, at least not in my view.
4.7.2. Luther makes formulas
In the previous three examples I have shown that even if Luther does make use of the relational metaphor his use is by no means "pure" (pure in my view), that is, this metaphor is always mixed up with the other metaphor, the ontological one.
I now shall give an example from another sermon of Luther's. This example shows how Luther's theses taken from the relational metaphor have grown into formulas, that is, have taken colour from the ontological metaphor to such a degree that it is difficult to recognize the original relational metaphor. It seems to be no more than a play with words. It looks as if it is no more than a sort of logical play where the problem is whether or not some words may be put in the right logical connection with other words. And indeed this is how one can see a lot of temporary theologians work. But I want to emphasize (and show) how still the relational metaphor lies at the very root of Luther's theology.
The sermon, that I shall deal with, has as its text John 3:1-12. Well, actually there are three sermons over this texts, but I think I may do with the last one. (bpr-22-e/1).
One of the things that characterizes these sermons is the fact that they without any hesitation draw a parallel between the pharisees of that time and the papists of Luther's time. This is done a lot of places in Luther's sermons, so this in itself is nothing new. But here it is done within a specific terminology, namely the terminology of being reborn and rebirth being identical with baptism. Over and over again it is said that the papists are not reborn, they do this and they do that because they are not reborn. And this is said with no mention whatsoever of the fact that all these papist were baptized as children, as almost every person was at the time of Luther. There may be a parallel between the theology of the pharisees and the theology of the papists. But one can say for sure that there is this great difference between these two groups that the latter is baptized. One could expect this difference to be forgotten when Luther is speaking in normal terms of the parallelism between the two groups. But one should think it almost unforgivable to forget this difference when one is speaking especially about baptism.
Well, you will have to forgive Luther on this point: He does forget that the papists are baptized. He does not mention it with even the slightest hint in any of the three sermons.
Maybe it is too much to say that I am disappointed. But on the other hand, when Luther speaks so much about being reborn, one listens carefully, one looks at what might be his solution, what is it in his opinion to be reborn?
And that is where I think that Luther's has grown into formulas. His answer is a repetition of formulas. It may be done for the sake of brevity, but I all the same think it is a pity.
Another characterisation is the fact that Luther puts up a contrast between human reason and the doctrine of the gospel. It is the words on John 3:8 about the spirit or the wind which blows where it wills; we hear the sound of it but do not know from where it comes, or where it goes, that inspires him. In baptism you just hear the sound or the voice of the baptizer, no more; there is no proof, human reason sees nothing but water. And in the Eucharist you hear the sound of the Holy Spirit, telling you that this is the flesh and blood of Christ; but human reason sees nothing but bread and wine. (bpr-22-e/22)
Maybe we as modern human beings are touched by this way of putting things. It sounds to us as if Luther shares our problems. It is as if he does no more than we know the answers, as if he, as we moderns, has no proofs at all, as if he avoids willingly all proofs. We prick up our ears. We feel this as being a modern problem.
But the solution that Luther gives is by no means modern.
It seems that his solution is the one of traditionalism. You just have to accept what is traditionally said by the church. And the church has to be in accordance with Scripture. But why the church should be right in its tradition, and why Scripture should be something that one should obey, this problem is not mentioned, and therefor in no way solved.
I think that some modern theologians have tried to do the same trick. Maybe they even have been inspired by Luther. But I also think that the trick does not work. You may say that it is the rationalism of modern times that demands its tribute, you may say that we should not place everything before the court of reason, it does not matter, we all of us do so: we want an explanation; we want an answer to our question: Why? Why should we follow Scripture? Why should we count on what the church has brought forward? Why should we believe that among all religions just Christianity has got the truth? And since we do not get these answers, we tend to leave aside the church: We do no longer count on it as something that is able to answer our questions.
I do not intend to say that Luther is not aware of all these problems. Of course he clothes them in the clothes of his time, but nevertheless the profound question has been brought to him: Am I alone right and the rest of the church wrong? What do I build on, if I am to suggest that so it is?
The quick answer to that question is, of course, that Luther builds on Scripture. Scripture was acknowledged in his time as something absolute, which it is no more. But I don't think this is the only answer possible. I think that it may be shown that Luther also builds on the relational metaphor. (You might have guessed).
Traditionally this is said among Lutheran theologians as a thesis of a double foundation. You cannot say solely "Scripture alone", you have to add: "Justification alone". And you are not supposed thereby to mean, that you are building partly on scripture, partly on justification, you are supposed to mean that scripture is not understood properly unless you have understood what justification by faith means, and that justification by faith alone is not a random creed, it can be shown (through scripture) to be the very content of the gospel of Paul and John and Jesus.
I want to put it in another way, when mentioning this doctrine. I want to say, and I hope to show, that in this sermon Luther is not just at random building on tradition or on Scripture. The reason why he denies to let reason be the judge has to do with the other foundation of his: the relational metaphor.
But one might say that Luther in this sermon is very traditional. He tells us that we have to be reborn. And then he goes on:
"But how? We do nothing but hear the preaching, that who believes and is baptized is saved, and that The Holy Ghost accuses us because of sin, but also consoles us. When now I receive Absolution and gets consolation from my brother, this is heard by me, it is the voice of The Holy Ghost, His sound and whistling". (bpr-22-e/30).
This is a very traditional answer. His answer refers to something within the church, not to life as it is in society. And, well, the church should be some kind of mini-society, but a great many theologians never get out of the church. In this case: You may say a lot on how the word of God (that is: the word of the church) hits you, how you react, how this word is used by The Holy Ghost, but if you stay within the church, if you forget that the church is an image of society, yea, is only there to depict society, so that people may see how man functions in his society, then you miss the point. And, indeed, this is what Luther has done.
Later on he gets an little more open-minded for the forces of society. He says:
"Nobody knows from where it comes, it is a spiritual life, which is there. The Holy Ghost is given to us, and His gifts are given to us in such a way, that we do not know how we get them; here nobody may define the time, the place or the person, how or when a man is converted to God. The Holy Ghost and His gifts are not given out of human will, and if this sort of things had come from reason, then the heathen master, Aristotle, and our papists and monks also would have been able to invent it and judge it. For we have sought for it very hard during the Pope's regime, we have prayed a lot and mortified our flesh with fasting, and have yet not found it, and one has become a Carthusian, the other a vicar, one has become a monk, the other a nun, until God comes and gives it to us without our habits, without our good deeds and without this sort of searching from our side". (bpr-24-e/38f).
Here Luther is more open to what happens in society as a whole. That is because he has experienced it himself. He has himself seen how society has changed thanks to the new interpretation of the gospel that he brought.
And yet, I don't think that Luther is himself quite aware of the difficulties that lie in the thesis that he formulates: That "His gifts are given to us in such a way, that we do not know how we get them". Luther is still inspired by the word of the wind and the spirit, so maybe he is just elaborating this thought, but I think that the consequences of that thesis are enormous, and that the difficulties that it makes for theology are many and mostly unseen.
One of those difficulties stems from the concept of invisibility. If really the deeds of The Holy Ghost are unseen, then how will we be able to find out, whether it is God (through The Holy Ghost) who is working with us, or it is the devil (through our own thoughts), who is fooling us. It seems impossible to find a secure definition.
Luther tries in this sermon to find out. In continuation of the previous quotation he says:
"Who now is in this way converted to faith, he cannot say but that The Holy Ghost comes when and where he will, to what person he will, and also to what time it suits Him. He comes when and where He will and He gives His gifts as much as He will. During the Pope's regime, they do not yet hear anything about the Gospel, and even if they hear it they do not understand it. But we now hear the voice of The Holy Ghost, but this is not thanks to human talents". (bpr-22-e/41f).
It think this is all that Luther says positively. He tells us throughout the whole sermon how we can not touch it, feel it, have any connection to it with our five senses, our reason cannot grasp it, it is completely out of our reach. What, then, is it? How can we be sure, that what we feel is not just the devil fooling us, but The Holy Ghost working with us? As it is seen, Luther gives no answer to that question. He just maintains, that who is converted, must confess, that The Holy Ghost comes without human preparation, and that what happens in the Lutheran congregations, is the voice of The Holy Ghost, that makes itself heard. And this seems to be of little help to us. There is given us no characteristics whereby we would be able to discern the devil from The Holy Ghost. He just insists on his own movement, being a result of the work of The Holy Ghost. How come?
Well, at least something comes as a result of this negative theology. He seems to be able, from these negative statements, to discern between his theology and the theology of the papists. Luther turns this very characteristic: that the works cannot be seen, into a criterion on what is the true faith and what is not. Let us have a look:
"Therefor one should concerning this issue omit saying: I will do this or I will start on that. My works which I do, as pulling on a monk's habit and binding a rope around my waist, are up to me, are under my will and reason". (bpr-22-e/46).
Does he not say here, that because the work is visible, it is not a Christian work? that because it can be done by my will-power, it is not done through the Holy Spirit?
I am not sure that this is genuine. I mean, it seems to me, that Luther is here defining the divine work in opposition to the human works: What is human, can not for this same reason be divine. And this is wrong. This does not take into consideration how human and divine is intermixed in Christ, and, consequently, how the two natures are intertwined in a Christian.
Maybe this is not what Luther in reality is saying. Maybe Luther just overexposes the difference between flesh and spirit, because of the text that he has before him. At least, that is my supposition. That is what I suggest. And I furthermore suggest that I have found the real meaning of Luther (here you may laugh), or that I have found a scheme of thought after which his thoughts are build, namely what I call the relational metaphor.
Briefly I shall try to show how this metaphor determines what Luther says in this sermon:
I think it is a main issue for Luther in this sermon to say, that the work of The Holy Ghost comes suddenly, with surprise, without any preparation of ours. It lies outside our will-power. We cannot make up our minds: this day I want to join the Christians. And if we look around in our human surroundings, in our day-to-day life, I think that the only issue that fits to these characteristics is the issue of reconciliation between persons. Reconciliation happens, it is not agreed upon, it is not determined, it is not in the will-power of any human to say: this day I want to be reconciled with my neighbour. This is how it is between persons, no matter whether the persons are God and you, or your neighbour and you. And of course you know this reconciliation from your experience with your fellow-humans, but you know it without knowing it, you know it without language, so to speak. And this is the merry conjunction of humanity and divinity: because of your human experience you are able to understand the divine word; but because of what is said to you in the divine word you are able to have a deeper understanding of what is going on between you and your neighbour.
Just one thing more: Luther seems to be rather determined about the papists: They are not reborn. All their works is of no use, as long as they are not reborn. Whether they are baptized or not, it makes no difference, they are not reborn. What makes Luther able to speak with such a determination?
That is the theme for the next chapter. How did Luther become a reformator? The fact is, that not only did he experience an exegetical enlightenment, where Scripture gave him an answer to his personal problems, he also experienced a reformatory enlightenment, where he in one glance saw what had went wrong in the church.
5. Luther's reformatory enlightenment.
In this chapter I want to throw attention to the fact that Luther changed his mind in 1519. You may say that a new opinion slowly grew forth. You may say that gradually Luther's opinion on the catholic church became harder. You may say that he learnt more and more about church history, so that he at last saw how the church had gone astray during the last two or three hundred years. You may say that he was forced by the discussion with Eck to admit several things which he did not dream of admitting one month ago. You may further say that Luther did not want anything but to be a faithful son of the catholic church (catholic meaning "common"). But I would prefer to say that Luther in the year 1519 got a quite new opinion. I would prefer to look at this new opinion as one which popped up in a rush rather than grew up slowly. I would rather say that Luther experienced a form of enlightenment, and I would call this enlightenment a reformatory enlightenment.
As I have shown above (see 1.5. and 1.6.!) Luther himself in a memory-like preface to his Latin works in 1545 described things this way. And although one may put some doubt on the credibility of this record, at least it shows that Luther considers his new attitude towards the Papal church as an attitude that is theologically founded on the doctrine of justification. That is all I want to emphasize: If we want to know the implications of justification we must be aware that his whole rebellation against the errors of the church was grounded on his doctrine of justification.
That is why I mention it here. Most theologians have forgotten it. The Fathers (and Mothers) of the Joint Declaration on Justification have forgotten it. It seems to me that the Lutheran theologians in common have been satisfied with the Luther of 1515 and his doctrine of justification. The Luther of 1520 is normally considered the same as the Luther of 1515, concerning the doctrine of justification. This doctrine was fully elaborated no later than 1515, nothing was missing unless for Luther to draw the consequences. And these consequences were not drawn until 1520. That's it, they say.
I disagree. It makes theologically speaking a great difference whether you say that your doctrine has no consequences at all, or you say that is has rebellious consequences.
At least, so it is to us.
I mean, you have to make a distinction between Luther of say January 1518, accepting the Pope, accepting indulgence (almost), accepting the monastic life, and Luther of 1521 when he in his hard attack on the monastic vows considered it ungodly to continue obeying the vows; and what is ungodly and what is not is determined from the doctrine of justification. And if you would claim (and you might argue that this claim is historically correct) that Luther was quite unable to imagine how corrupt the church of his time was, that Luther had not seen the truth about the church until it had reacted on his 95 theses, if you would claim that the doctrine of justification was the same in 1515 and in 1521, only not until 1521 did Luther see the full consequences of this doctrine, then of course we today, if we want to see what are the consequences of the doctrine of justification will have to look at the Luther of 1521, not at the Luther of 1515. But it is the latter Luther that has got our biggest interest.
And yet, I must admit that Luther has not made it easy for me. There is a great continuation in Luther's works. His exegetical works show no hiatus in the year 1519. And, most embarrassing, he speaks quite the same way of expurgating sin in 1519 as in 1521, although what he said in his considerations on the monastic vows may be summed up to this sentence: Do not fight against the sexual drive!
That means, that it will not do just to refer Luther, you have to criticize him.
5.1. A sudden change.
I will not deny that one may find in Luther's works from 1517 to 1519 that his opinions vary, or that he step by step becomes mature so that he can fulfil his reformatory work. But the last step alters his opinions totally. Contrary to the previous steps the last step does not lie in continuation of the previous ones, it goes in the opposite direction.
In January 1519 Luther had some talks with the papal delegate, Karl Miltitz. He persuaded Luther to let the world know his devotion against the Roman See. And so Luther did. He made a little pamphlet in which he defended himself against some accusations made against him, and in which he confessed himself to be a faithful son of the church. (See unterric/1).
There he discusses the prayer of the saints (unterric/5), the Purgatory (unterric/11), indulgence (unterric/14), the commandments of the holy church (unterric/17), good works (unterric/27) and the Roman See (unterric/37). And one is surprised how positively Luther judges all these items. Even on the last item he has something positive to say.
I seems to me that Luther in this pamphlet makes a great distinction between external and internal things. And as he sees it at that time all his "specialities", his special understanding of the gospel, his "special" doctrine on justification, have to do with the internal life of a Christian. Externally things may be as they will, it does not influence the life of a Christian. Concerning the Pope, for instance, he admonishes his readers not to separate from the Roman Church, the worse it is, the more one should cling to it, for by separating from it, it will not become better. Love will solve any problems, and the bond of unity should not be broken. Then he says:
"But concerning the power and competence that the Roman See has, how far it goes, let the learned people discuss that, for this has nothing to do with the salvation of the souls, and Christ has not installed and founded his church on the external, visible power and competence or on any temporal thing, that suits the world and the worldly ones, but on the internal love, humility and unity". (unterric/42).
One year and a half later he was convinced that the Roman Pope was Antichrist.
One might suppose that when Luther says (on Purgatory):
"Purgatory must be firmly believed, and I know it is true, that the poor souls suffer from tremendous tortures, and that we are obliged to help them with prayer, fast, charities and what you can". (unterric/12),
then he is not honest. He feels under pressure, and that makes him try to be more "catholic" than he really is. I am not sure that this is the case. If one looks at what he has to say about the commandments of the church, one shall find out that on this topic he is rather critical (unterric/19). But on the whole, he seems to have no intention whatsoever to alter the church's praxis. He proposes some minor changes, for instance, he thinks it would be a good idea if a synod took away some of the canonical commandments (unterric/26), but that is all.
How come that he less than two years from this proposes a lot of changes, not done by the Pope, but by the civil authorities? And how come that this at that time is seen as the real and true consequences of "his" doctrine of justification?
In this pamphlet he is able to maintain all the external practices of the church. What is at stake, is not that the church has these practices, but the right understanding of these practices. And in defining that his whole theological education gives him a lot of help.
In his booklet "Prelude on the Babylonian captivity of the church" from September 1520 he writes on indulgence:
"Afterwards I have ... understood, that it (indulgence) is nothing but pure fraud by the Roman flatterers who thereby wants to destroy as well faith in God as people's money". (capt/3).
And he knows that he previously had written something on indulgence which he now no longer can maintain; that is why he asks everyone who has a book of his on indulgence to destroy it and instead of this book write the following sentence: "Indulgence is an evil invention by the Roman flatterers".
Now it is no longer discussed what may be the true meaning of this practice. Nor is it discussed how it should be understood. It is discussed whether or not it should still be a practice in the church.
Indulgence was previously considered something necessary, something indisputable. Maybe it would have to be adjusted in details but in no way it should be dismissed. Now, in his last step towards reformational maturity, Luther has dismissed it as an ecclestical practice.
And if you take his opinion on the Roman church, the change is still more revolutionary.
He in 1519 could be quite calm when thinking of the enormous power of the Roman church. With all its power it can not influence the souls, he seems to have thought. In 1520 the Pope is identical with Antichrist himself, no less. And every mean seems to be necessary in order to annihilate the Pope. His power is no more an innocent phenomenon, it is dangerous, it is devilish, it hurts the church.
This is something of a change.
And the change has something to do with externality. Why can Luther no longer be calm and quiet? Why has the external might of the Pope now something to say? Why is it now necessary to fight against the Papal church with booklet after booklet? All the good reasons that Luther gave in 1519 for not separating from the Pope have been put aside. Why?
I think we have to reconsider the term "Antichrist". This does not merely mean the devil. It means the devil in the garments of Christ. It means the devil dressed in a way so that he may be confused with Christ. This is the danger. And this fraud has to be revealed. Otherwise people will not be saved, but go to Hell together with Antichrist. Previously faith could be conserved even if the church was not perfect. Now it is no longer a question of the church being more or less perfect, it is a question of the church working against Christ or for him. And if the church directly works against Christ, it makes people believe in salvation by works and in this way makes them be condemned.
And all of this derives from the doctrine on justification.
But although this may sound as a very broad new opinion, this is only part of the new Lutheran reformatory doctrine. Another part of the new doctrine was the abolition of monastic life. Still another part of it was the changing in the view on what was the Eucharist; because it was denied by Luther that it is in any respect to be considered as a sacrifice, all the so called private masses had to disappear. You also could mention that the Lutherans began to give the wine to lay people, instead of only giving it to the priest. And still we have not mentioned the new way of looking on civil society as opposed to clerical society; the word of Jesus: "Pay Caesar what is due to Caesar" got a quite new meaning in the theology of Luther. And, last but not least, the new importance given to normal human life was an enormous change of society and of the thoughts that build society.
In my opinion, all these new items, which were none of them put forward until 1520, has occurred in Luther's mind with one stroke, as a overwhelming experience, as a vision, as an enlightenment. It makes it psychologically understandable that in such a short period Luther can have so many new thoughts, although a vision in itself maybe almost ununderstandable. And it fits with the surprising timing; suddenly, about 1520, all these items are in place; before 1520 Luther was a person in continuation with all the other reformers from the late medieval period; after this year he is a reformer with revolutionary new thoughts and aspects on almost everything.
But still my main point is the point of theology: This suddenness makes it indispensable that all these new thoughts arise from the doctrine of justification. This doctrine lies at the very root of his "new" theology. But it is the basis of the new spirit, not as he himself tells us in his exegetical works, not as he himself elaborates it his Great Commentary on Galathians, for instance, it is the basis of the new spirit thanks to the resoluteness, that is in his mind in 1520, when setting forward all his proposals. This resoluteness is his gift to us, more than are his many theological works, many of which closes rather than discloses this basic resoluteness. And this gift goes far beyond any theological limits that may be put up, by Luther himself or by later Lutherans.
There you have still another reason why to criticize Luther.
5.2. The sexual drive accepted?
This resoluteness can be shown concerning the sexual drive.
In his Sermon on Baptism from 1519 Luther has a little section where he considers baptism as a vow which we have made to God. The content of the vow is to mortify the flesh. Here Luther says:
"That is why I have said that everyone has to test himself in what state he will best be able to mortify sin and dam up his nature. It is also true that there is no higher, better, greater vow that the vow of baptism; what further vow can you make than to drive away all sin, die, hate this life and become holy? But further than this vow one might bind himself to an estate that makes him more suited to fulfil his baptism. Just as when two walk to town, one takes the path, the other takes the road, as he finds best". (Erl 21, 242).
And here you can see that these two estates, the estate of lay people, who "only" have made the vow of baptism (if one is to consider it a vow), and the estate of monks, who additionally have made the vows of celibacy, poverty and obedience. In both cases the main purpose is to mortify sin and dam up one's nature.
Maybe one would find it a little surprising that Luther makes what happens in baptism identical with a vow, although baptism of infants was the normal way of baptism in his time. He in fact does so several times in his works without hesitation. He even makes it a main argument in his big book against the monastical vows, "De votis monasticis" from 1521. But of course the argument goes a little bit differently from what is does here in 1519.
And it is exactly this difference that I want to point to.
Maybe someone would call it a revolutionary thought that the vow of lay people in baptism here is set up to be equal to the vow of monks and nuns. It was normally accepted that monastical persons made vows that were much more valuable than the vow of baptism, if in the first place you should call baptism a vow. So the claim of Luther here, where he equalizes to two vows, may be found revolutionary and extraordinary.
And yet, this was to change dramatically.
In his great work from October 1521, written down in less than two weeks, "De votis monasticis" (On the Monastic Vows), Luther abolishes totally the monastic vows. These vows are against God's word, against the gospel, against Christian freedom, against the commandments of God and against the reason of making vows itself. All of which makes the vows ungodly and invalid. It is not only allowed to leave your monastery, it is a necessity if you want to stay a Christian.
If we have called what he said in 1519 revolutionary, no word is left to characterize his remarks in 1521.
Luther will not deny that there have been pious and godfearing people in the monasteries. But they have been so through a miracle, not through the works done in the monastery; they have been pious in spite of the life they lived, not thanks to the life they lived. Normally, if the special gift of God is not given, the monastic life will lead into hypocrisy. Therefor, monastic life in itself is godless and should be abolished.
How has Luther become convinced that it is so?
I shall try to explain it without using any of the explanations that Luther himself gives.
In 1519 Luther was convinced that our drives were to be totally annihilated. And since this would not happen until you were dead, you had in the meantime to work against the drives, to make them do no harm, to hinder their growth. This may be done by lay people as well as by monks, and it may be done to a greater or lesser degree, but of course the monks were supposed to do it to a greater degree than lay people.
But in 1521 the main content of the new message of Luther was: Give up this aspiration! Do not strive any more for annihilation of the drives! It is by no means formulated by Luther in this way. But I think it is appropriate to say so, if it is to be understandable for people from our time.
But how does that lead to a total abolition of monastic life? Why does Luther find monastic life godless?
This he does because God has, in Luther's opinion, given his permission to stop striving for the best thing and be content with the second best thing, the best thing being celibacy, the second best matrimony.
Put in a more direct Lutheran way: If you have got the very special gift of God of being able to live without contact to females, you are a lucky man and you are allowed to live as a monk. But if you feel in yourself the movements of the sexual drive you thereby have found out that you are not among these lucky persons, your place is not in a monastery, but in matrimony. Matrimony is installed by God to avoid fornication, as Paul says (1 Cor. 7,2). Matrimony is a remedy against the evil lust of the sexual drive, but this remedy will not annihilate the drive, it only puts limits to it.
This latter description is more Lutheran in the sense, that I should be able to find quotations from Luther that almost word by word resembles this description. But the first description I nevertheless find the most Lutheran of the two, because it more precisely tells a modern man what is at stake.
What is wrong with monastic life? one could ask. Why is it godless?
The answer is, that if you become a monk although you have experienced the movements of the sexual drive, you are doing so in spite of God's advice. And in doing this you disclose yourself as a stubborn person who do not want to be justificated by faith, but want to put up your own justification. God has given his advice, e. g. in 1. Cor. 7,9: "Better be married than burn with vain desire". And at first glance it looks like an innocent advice that may be followed or neglected. But it is by no means innocent. If you are a normal man and yet don't follow this advice, it is the very institution of God that you despise. You refuse the help of God, in a vain effort to help yourself. You should have received God's word of forgiveness and be helped by this word. You should have responded to his word of mercy by saying: I need help, I need forgiveness, I am unable to do it myself. But in stead of that you turn away from God, claiming that you yourself are able to avoid sin, to conquer sin in your mind, to diminish the consequences of your drives. Which you are not.
Therefor this attitude is the worst attitude of all: It is not just the attitude of a sinful man, it is the attitude of Antichrist. He never stops trying to let people believe that they can help themselves. In continuing to be a monk after having heard God's word to you that you as a normal man have to marry, you are doing the worst of all sins: You are not only fighting against the commandments of God, you are fighting against the mercy of God which has been shown towards you when it became evident that you were unable to fulfil the commandments.
In his little pamphlet from 1519 Luther made a distinction between clerical commandments and God's commandments. (unterric/17). And he made it clear that the God's commandments must be honoured more than the commandments of the church. You may say that in 1521 he has seen how far this sentence goes. He in the meantime has seen with devastating evidence how the commandments of the church are not only putting God's commandments in the shadow, no, they are fighting against God's commandments. God's commandment is a commandment of justification by faith alone. But the commandments of the church, as seen by Luther exemplified in the church of his time, underlines justification by works. Now, in 1521, he has seen that the church's wrongdoings are no more some innocent failures to be corrected some day when you have got a spare minute, they are failures that are repugnant to Christ, they are failures that are catastrophic.
In the pamphlet from 1519 Luther also showed what his opinion on justification was at that time. He writes:
"God wants us to despair over ourselves and our whole life and all our works, so that we might acknowledge, that with all our life and all our works we cannot stand before his eyes, our only comfort is his unreasonable grace and mercy, and in this way we shall walk in fear and let fall all our confidence in our good works". (unterric/31).
And indeed, one may ask: What is missing? Is not this the right and the whole doctrine of justification? What can be added to it to make it a fuller doctrine?
I guess most of us would answer: Nothing. And yet this belongs to that about which Luther in his preface in 1545 says that he had some understanding of justification by faith; meaning, that he had by no means the full understanding of that doctrine. He writes:
"From my case you can see how hard it is to struggle free from errors which become fixed by universal standard and changed by time-honoured custom into nature. How true the proverb is: "It's hard to abandon customs" and "Custom is a second nature." How right Augustine was when he said, "Custom, if it is not resisted, becomes necessity." I had been reading and teaching the Sacred Scriptures diligently in private and in public now for seven years, so that I knew almost all of them by heart. Then too, I had imbibed the beginnings of the knowledge of Christ and of faith in him, i.e., that it is faith in Christ and not works that justifies and saves us." (fort45en/44).
You have an example of this first part in the quotation above from Unterricht. And if this seems to you a full understanding, Luther corrects you: He a little later in the above mentioned preface tells about his conversion, tells about how he felt the word "God's justice" in its full meaning. (fort45en/60). And it is presupposed that he had not done so before.
So the question is: What is the difference between the doctrine of "Unterricht" and the one from "De votis monasticis"? Wherein consisted his reformatory enlightenment?
The answer that I gave above was, that Luther found out that the Pope was Antichrist. And a little later: that he discovered how the human traditions destroyed God's commandments. Here I shall give an answer that may include the other two answers, and that may be said to be more to the point, when the point is the new reformatory doctrine.
The answer is this: Luther found out that God's word demanded from him that he stopped striving to avoid sin.
Your faith in God's mercy must be so powerful that you totally stop doing anything yourself. He was right in "Unterricht" to say that the law of God should make us despair, should make us see that none of our works would be satisfying towards God, or see, that our whole life and all our works would not help us to become saved. But what he had not seen was that this conviction meant that you had to strive against what was a common opinion.
If you share Luther's conviction of sin, that sin is identical to what we today call our drives, our sexual drive, our drive for bodily conveniences, and our drive for recognition by our fellow-men, then the most normal and straightforward attitude according to this conviction is to live so as to avoid sin most possible. And it seemed evident to all in the late middle age, that the best way of doing this was to become a monk. In doing so you denied your sexual drive to be fulfilled, and forced the other drives to exist on a minimum. How could one do better?
How does this fit with Luther's conviction in 1519?
Well, it must fit somehow. His new doctrine on justification by faith did not make him abolish monastic life. Maybe he had reached some Augustinian opinion, that God's help was anyhow needed, and that the monk suffered from the very same lusts as did the lay person, and therefor was in need of forgiveness of sins just as was the lay person. His remarks in Sermon on Baptism could point in that direction.
From this perspective you can see that his new doctrine of justification, the one that he achieved in 1519 or 1520, turned things upside down. The aspiration of the monks: to avoid sin, became the very proof that they did not have faith in God. What was before the enlightenment in 1519 a natural thing to do (to aspire for annihilation of sins) became after 1519 the worst sin of all: hypocrisy.
That means that your faith in God must be a firm and resolute one. You must dare to do what to everyone else seemed absurd: to stop all your vain efforts to get rid of your sin. And this demands resoluteness from you. You have to risk what is felt natural to all people. You have to go against you own inner feelings. The whole question is no longer an internal one, that could fit into any external constitution of the church, it has become an external one, that demands reformation, and, if it does not get one, can only live in the Papal church under protest.
5.4. Justification, not creation.
It is remarkable, at least to us from modern times, that Luther's criticism of monastic life has not originated from his faith in creation, but from his doctrine of justification.
I have pointed out (see 2.2.2.) that to me as a modern theologian what Augustin says about original sin is a violation of the narrative of creation from Genesis. Augustin alters this narrative in order to make it fit with his (late antique) feeling, that sexuality was sin in itself. That means, I criticize this theological approach from the basis of creation, as I read it in the biblical narrative.
This, however, is not what Luther does. He criticizes monastic life on the basis of the doctrine of justification. Monastic life is criticized because it takes away almost every possibility for the monk to hear the gospel of justification by faith. The monk will, inevitably, think of himself as a person that has achieved more than other Christians. If he is a normal male, he inevitably will feel his celibacy as some kind of sacrifice that he makes for God's sake, that is, he tries to justify himself, instead of being satisfied with being justified by the mercy of God. That is why monastic life by Luther is abolished.
But of course he uses all the arguments that seem to him appropriate. Thus he can say that every normal male must obey the commandment of God to multiply (he is thinking of the words from Genesis 1:28), or that if a monk asks for God's help to conquer his sexual lust, this is the same as asking God to change his creation and to cancel the commandment to multiply. (vot-10/19).
But one thing is not done by Luther, one thing that might be expected from us modern men: Luther never, never says that his recommandation is but the second best. And I believe, this is not because he felt that this sentence might not be good public relation, I believe that he did not say so because this expression did not occur to him. It was not a natural thing for him to say. But on the other hand, I do think it is a natural thing for us to say, when we are going to explain what was Luther's theology. He did have the opinion that sin as hereditary sin was impossible to conquer; he did recommend to the monks not to try to conquer it any longer; that means, that the best thing: to conquer sin, was abolished in favour of the second best thing: to live within matrimony.
We normally do not explain Luther's theology this way. And that is because we have a different view on the sexual life. There is no sin connected to it. We have not inherited some evil lust from Adam. We can enjoy the sexual life with our wives without any bad conscience at all. And our basis for that is the creational myth from Genesis in an unaltered and unshortened edition.
This is part of what I have to fight against when speaking about the right interpretation of Luther's work. We moderners look at the world from our perspective, and it is almost impossible for us to imagine some view on the world which is different from ours. And, one more thing, if we are going to recommend some people from history to our contemporaries we underline the traits that are familiar to us. If, for instance, we like the Franciscans and want our congregations to like them, too, we try to depict them as people having ideals that are shared by the modern world: that is, the Franciscans were hospitable, they were helping poor people, they made their monasteries into hospitals, where the seek were cared for. In fact, the mediaeval Franciscans were nothing of that kind. They were monks, that is, they had left the world, locked themselves in behind big walls, dedicated themselves to a life in prayer. And this really was all. They were part of society, but not in our modern understanding of this expression. They felt themselves good citizens, because they did more than demanded by God and thereby made the treasure of the church grow, thereby making it possible for normal people to buy indulgence, so that they would have to spend lesser time in Purgatory. It was not until Luther's protest had sounded over this mediaeval world that things changed.
And although all these mediaeval thoughts changed with Luther, they did not change at once. I have been stressing the point of view that in Luther's personal life things happened through strokes, in a twinkling of an eye the new idea was there. But that does not mean that modern society was born the same way. That does not mean that modern society with all its ideas and viewpoints was there as a full grown up person when Luther started his reformation. On many issues Luther was still a mediaeval thinker. Although you really have to say, that in Luther's time things changed with a surprising rapidity, you also have to admit that the society that came out of this change was by no means a modern society.
And that means, that although we would think it most appropriate to argue against monastic life with arguments from Genesis, Luther did not think so. The basis of his attack on monastic life was the doctrine of justification.
This has had at least one unhappy consequence: When we Lutherans try to depict Catholics of our time, we think this may be done by just repeating Luther's arguments. The wrong thing about Catholicism is that the Catholics always try to justify themselves. That is it. All their traditions, all their masses, their whole monastic life is one big vain effort to justify themselves. And this may be wrong. Partly because by saying so we never hear what the Catholics say themselves, and never takes into account whether the Catholics have changed during the five centuries that have passed from the time of Luther. And partly because it may have been wrong even among the Catholics of Luther's time. One could ask whether there were no genuine people at that time. Were really all of them hypocrites? I think that by reading Luther's work against monasticism, "De votis monasticis", one becomes less sure whether the way in which we modern Lutherans make our distinction between Lutherans and Catholics is valid. He really has some hard attacks on monks and monasteries and monastic life as a whole. But he also has a great many words of understanding, and he himself does not seem mature for leaving his monastery. Sometimes you get the impression that his opinion is that all monastic life may continue if only you lived it as a free person, not because you felt obliged to by your vows.
I think that this focussing on justification has made us unable to see what is at the root of Catholicism, if there is a root, more than traditionalism and Pope-cultivation (and I think there is). Or it has made it impossible for us to find out whether the Lutheran attitude towards life, the Lutheran approach, the Lutheran resoluteness is the only Christian attitude. We in our terminology have accepted that Lutherans are no more than one kind of Christianity among several others. But we have not accepted it in our theology, at least we against the Catholics have this all too fast distinction: They are trying to justify themselves, whereas we believe in justification by faith alone (with as few good works as possible).
Well, Luther has not made it easier for us. After having made the reformation in 1520 on the basis of the doctrine of justification, he tried to maintain this doctrine pure and whole, so that by preaching justification the church in the future might avoid a new captivity. And to secure that, Luther made use of his Biblical works, also the works done before his enlightenment in 1519. This meant that the doctrine of justification got its own life, separated from the changes that had taken place after 1520. And it meant that Luther judged everything from this doctrine. This is not wrong in itself, but one might ask, whether it was the doctrine as Luther taught it before 1519 or the different shape of the doctrine that it got after 1519. Luther himself never had any speculations on that topic. Justification is justification, that would probably have been his answer if asked.
That means, for instance, (and I think this was a great mistake) that Luther continued to say, as if nothing had happened, that faith would expurgate sin. Latomus, where faith is seen as some sort of inner force in man, is written only half a year before "De votis". In Latomus sin is considered a corruption of nature. The whole broadness of the Augustinian concept of sin is there. Of course it is: it is Luther's very opinion, that comes forth in such formulations.
But what about the claim in "De votis" that you have to give up your fight against this form of sin? What about the thesis, that the monk who continues in vain to mortify his sexual drive, in vain, because he is a normal male with all the functions that this means, is driven by a desire to justify himself, because he does not believe totally, that he is justified by faith? If really sin is healed by faith, why not continue the Augustinian way, that is, why not continue to live in celibacy praying to God to let the sexual drive diminish?
The answer to that question of course is the resoluteness that is demanded in a Lutheran context. But the new question then is: Why not let faith give up too? Why not be satisfied when the sexual drive is locked up in matrimony? Why all this talk about the expurgation of sin?
I believe that this has been a problem for the Lutheran church later on. Maybe one can say that as time passed by every pastor has felt it a little bit hypocritical to pray for forgiveness for something (his sexual lust) which he likes so much and which, that is what he feels, binds him to his wife. And maybe one can say that the drive for recognition from one's fellow men has got its own recognized place in society by Luther's theory of the two regiments. But the drive for food and drinking has not in the same way been driven out. And when praying for sin to be expurgated you still have this area left, if you want to imagine what sin could be in question. And I think this has delayed a genuine solution to the social problem. It has been possible for anyone as a Lutheran to have some sort of double-feeling: To be at one and the same time a modern businessman, making money every day, and yet to feel that this is not done to his own benefit, but for society.
5.5. Luther's view on society.
However, the question now is, whether or not one is able to find examples on Luther saying stop to our aspirations or strives concerning the other drives. Has Luther said, that you as a Christian have to stop trying to improve yourself, concerning your wish to dominate other people, or that you have to stop trying to avoid avarice?
I think he has. I think it can be shown that in the sphere of economics Luther has got some rather realistic thoughts, and that in his speculations about how society is to be organized he has got something new to tell us. And I further think that both of these thing originate from his doctrine of justification, or to be precise: his revised doctrine of justification, his resoluteness of faith.
Let us repeat: Man is born a sinner thanks to the evil lust which is effective in the conception of every man, except Christ. This sin shows up in the three drives that man has: the sexual drive, the drive for food and the drive for recognition by others. Concerning the sexual drive Luther has made the enormous change, when compared to the Catholic church, that he considers marriage the God-given remedy against this sin, a remedy which must be used, or a remedy which, if you deny to use it, hits back and makes your denial a proof that you try to justify yourself.
That is to say, that the best solution: to conquer sin directly, is no longer the best solution, because God has chosen or recommended to you the second best solution: to commit this sin only in marriage.
And now the question arises: Is in the same way the second best solution in reality the best solution concerning the two other drives?
(Maybe you can hear an echo from the opinion of Hegel, mentioned above. This is intended. The best solution is what Hegel calls aspiring for holiness (Heiligkeit). And the second best solution is what Hegel calls the ethical life (Sittlichkeit)).
In his booklet "Von weltlicher Oberkeit" (On Worldly Authorities) from 1522 Luther seems to use just this distinction between the best and the second best. And he recommends the second best solution. The prince, we are told, should not reign his country according to self-sacrificing love, although this is what every person should accomplish; even the prince should accomplish such love, but this he should do toward his equals, towards his wife and fellow-princes, not towards his subjects. When judging as a prince he should judge according to justice, reserving self-sacrificing love to the other situations. He should reign his country with justice, he should let justice be done.
And if we ask: Well, is not the prince a Christian? is it not God's will that every Christian should fulfil the commandment of love? should not a Christian society be ruled according to the commandment of love? then we could answer (with Luther), that maybe this would be the best solution, maybe this would be possible if the Devil was not so aggressive, but now, the Devil is indeed aggressive, the world is not as good as it should be, we humans are not angles, and therefor, because of the many wicked persons that exist in every community also in a Christian one, you have to reign any community with justice, not with love; to use the best solution is impossible, therefor we have to use the second best solution. And, this is Luther's point, this is so instituted by God.
So in my opinion, the booklet "Von weltlicher Oberkeit" makes up a fine continuation of the doctrine of justification, that is, the one from 1520.
5.6. Luther's view on economics
The other question is much more difficult.
Let us first look at the question how Luther would have thought if he were perfect, that is, if he thought the same way on this human drive as on the others.
He then would have said: Well, the best and most perfect form of human society is a society where "the whole body of believers was united in heart and soul", where "not a man of them claimed any of his possessions as his own, but everything was held in common". (Act 4:33f). But after the Fall this is no more possible. However, God has taken the Fall into consideration and has set up an "emergency solution": You have to be just in your economic dealing with others. You have to try to give to everyone what you owe him. You have to try to claim no more from others than what is your right. What happens in the family may be characterized by love. But what happens in society cannot, at least not after the Fall, be characterized by love. But in stead of it being characterized by chaos, God has in his mercy instituted that it be characterized by justice; which is not as good as love, but is nevertheless better than chaos.
I would on my own in continuation of these "Luther-words" say, that our monetary system in itself gives us justice to a considerable degree, but I am quite sure that Luther would not share that view.
But, as I said, this is a perfect Lutheran opinion, it is by no means the real one.
In a sermon from 1538 (the text is Matt 19:16-22: the rich, young man) Luther has pretty much to say against the Franciscans, or the bare-footed monks, as he calls them. (Erl 44,175-211). As may be known, these monks tried to live according to a rule of not having any possessions for themselves by avoiding even to touch money (coins should be considered of no more value than stone, as Franciscus says). This may be said to be a big blow against our drive for food. In this way, one would say, it can be conquered and totally destroyed. But, as could be expected, Luther does not agree.
To a certain degree this is due to the weakness of the Franciscans. They could not agree with one another how to follow their master on this topic. And this makes them an ideal target of Luther's criticism. In "De votis" he even depicts them as bedevilled, describing them as men who misuse natural language, since they call themselves poor, although they have the right of use for the most splendid and comfortable buildings in the town.
But if one could compensate for the weakness of these monks in particular, would it not be the right thing to do, to give this drive a hit right in the face, that is, directly to conquer it and try to annihilate it?
In the above-mentioned sermon Luther answers No. And his arguments are rather interesting. He there writes:
"If matrimony is to be preserved then you must have possessions, for Christ has above not forbidden matrimony, but preserved it, when he said: 'That is something which not everyone can accept' etc. Likewise, from the beginning it was not thus, but God created them male and female. God has created man and woman, that they should go together and become married; and you probably know that from marriage may come children, now children must eat and drink and have a household, a field, a moor and a garden, and what more is needed for food, how then can you throw that away?" (Erl 44,173).
This seems to be a consequence of Luther's denial of monasticism. It is as if this denial and the consequently destruction of the monasteries happened long time ago; it by now is almost self-evident, that this is the way things should be. And, remarkably, the argument against monasticism is not in this place taken from the doctrine of justification, but from that of creation. The reason why you cannot do as the Franciscans did: give up all your possessions, leave everything behind you and join a convent of Franciscans, is that you must as a normal male ground a family and consequently become a father with all the obligations of a father, for instance, the obligation to feed your children through your work. And to do this you must have possessions.
However, that does not mean, that Luther has given up all the other arguments. Later in the same sermon, the disciples having asked: "Then who can be saved?", Luther lets Jesus answer (and later on himself takes over):
"I do not talk about those who have got money and possessions. I talk about whole mankind, which through original sin became so corrupted, that it trusted much more in the temporal blessings and other creatures, than in its creator. Man's heart must have a god, that is, something with which it may have its joy and play. Now he must either have the right God or a false god. And because nature clings more to the gifts of God and to the creatures, than to God himself, it is not possible through human capabilities and powers to become saved. God's hand must give help, he must prepare man's heart anew and capture it, so that it will be able to say: "I have got, thank God, money, I have got a healthy body, I have got wife and children, that is what God has given me. But nothing of all that should be so dear to me, so that I seek my comfort or my joy in that. I will use it as long as God grants it to me, in his honour, to my necessity, to the benefit of my neighbour. But if it shall no more be so, I would rather be poor, suffer distress and shame and be without all gifts and creatures of God, than I will desert my creator, who has given it to me, all of it. If a man's heart shall get this attitude, God must put his hand on it, work through his Holy Ghost and thus bear and adapt us anew". (Erl 44,204).
I think that most Lutheran pastors interpret the saying in this text: "Everything is possible to God", in a way so it means that God may give heaven for nothing, without our hearts being changed. As this quotation shows, we thereby are more Lutheran than Luther himself. He seems to be unable to imagine any salvation without a change in heart. And the change that must take place is a change in attitude: You must no longer prefer the creation to the creator. But it is not easy to say what exactly this means. How would one find out that God does no longer grant to me all the blessings I have got? It of course is easy to find out, if I am being robbed, or if I am jailed. But could there be any situation where I by the word of God was obliged to give up all my possessions? I do not think that Luther is able to find such a situation.
If you want to know what he means by these words, you have to read a little further. There he says:
"That is the meaning of the word, that a rich man can not be saved: it is not possible that a man may by his own capability and power become saved. For this is said about the whole corruption of original sin, through which our nature clings more to creation than to God. And therefor everyone has this attitude: has he got any possessions he will be joyful and content, God may be where he will. If he has not got the things he wants to have, he will be sorry and in bad humour. And this is best seen in the rich and avaricious persons. ... On such persons you see what a man's heart does, who totally forgets God and has his idol in the temporal possessions, what by Paul is called idolatry. ... God does not want hypocrites, but let you keep your richness, let you keep what you have, and wants that you frankly should use it to his honour, to you own necessity, to benefit for everybody, nobody to any harm, if only you do not let your heart bind to it, as David says in his Psalm: If richness comes to you, do not let your heart cling to it". (Ps 62:11). (Erl 44,205-208).
This is what Luther ends up with: Do not let your heart cling to it. And this may seem a little poor if one considers what thoughts he has had on the item.
Especially it is interesting to read his treatise On Business And Usury. He there gives the Christian businessmen four advices from the Bible. But one doubt whether any of these advices were followed, even by his most passionate admirers. The first advice is to allow anyone to rob one's possessions, as Christ says in Matth 5:38. The next advice is to give alms to everyone. The third one is to lend to people but decide not to make any claim to have back what was lent; if people pays you back, all right, if not, it was a gift and not a loan. The only comfort that can be brought to Christians in these circumstances is that you are not obliged to lend more than you have left, when your own needs are served. The forth method of doing business on Biblical ground is to pay everything in cash or only do business as barter deals. It indeed would not be easy to be a businessman according to these guidelines.
But I think these guidelines are interesting because they show that exactly at the same time when Luther is struggling with the questions arising from two of the three vows, he is also struggling with the vow concerning poverty. How can this drive be exterminated? Is there in this area an "emergency solution", so that you should avoid the "best solution" and do with the "second best" one?
I think it would be too artificial if I tried to press my scheme down over these thoughts of Luther. On the other hand I think that you can see something of what is seen in the area of the sexual drive and the drive for recognition: The best solution, exemplified by the struggle of the Franciscans, is abandoned, and the second best solution, which involves the use of money, is adopted. It is not very clear, and I think it could have been done much better, but anyhow, it is there, the pattern can be recognized.
5.7. The shortcut of our time.
As it may be understood from what has hitherto been written modern Lutheran theologians make a shortcut: They forget the "Augustinian Luther" and are content with the doctrine of justification from 1515. It seems to be enough. When Luther is used as a kind of Bible, you look what a good Lutheran is supposed to believe in, (and this is a very common use of his texts even today) you see no use of his attacks on monastic life (it is characteristical that the treatise "De votis" has not been translated into Danish yet), you see no importance, either, of his denial of the Mass being a sacrifice, this is irrelevant to day.
And I shall not alter the interpretation of Luther, that is common today. I just think that you must try not only to be a theologian hungry for good sermons and relevant theologian thoughts, you also must try to be a historian, that is, you have to admit that some texts do not fit into this modern interpretation, that Luther is a bit more complicated than the modern shortcut would allow him to be.
And first and foremost, I think it necessary to go beyond the normal Lutheranism because of the Joint Declaration. This piece of work has showed, at least to me, that there Luther's understanding of justification cannot be expressed in the terms he himself choses, if one is to say that his reformatory job was based on the doctrine of justification, this doctrine has in it something more than can be seen from his exegetical works.
6. A final analysis.
I mentioned above, that Luther had himself complicated his "case". He has himself made it difficult to understand what is at stake. He really is an "Augustinian", and yet he goes beyond Augustin. But he only does so in his reformatory thinking, he does not do so in his exegetical works. On the contrary he is in a lot of his exegetical works (in The Great Commentary on Galathians, e.g.) almost an echo of Augustin. And he does not tell you where he is a reformer with brand new thinking, and where he just follows the tradition from Augustin. He of course considers himself the old good Luther in all his writings. And so do most Lutheran theologians. No one has dared criticize him.
In this section I shall try to sum up what has made it necessary for me to criticize Luther. I shall do it by referring to a little piece of text, to the part of The Great Commentary on Galathians, that comments Gal 5:16. I am sure I could have taken many other texts for the same purpose, but this text I find appropriate.
One of the things that I find a little bit embarrassing is the fact that there are contradictions in Luther's thinking. I am afraid that I have to admit that. And indeed, it is embarrassing to say that one's church father is not reliable because he contradicts himself.
Of course one could consider if it would do to admit that Luther belongs to his time to such a degree that we can no longer take over his sentences. This is what I am doing, too, and this is an important part of my argument, too, but I think it is not enough. I must add that he contradicts himself. The two metaphors that he uses are not compatible, as I have put it above.
6.1. Better marry than burn.
Here I shall mention it in another way, and let me begin with this question. In Gal516/68 he writes:
If the flesh begins to become indecent you must oppress it by the Spirit, and if it continues, marry. Better be married, than burn with vain desire. (1. Cor. 7:9).
Luther reads the words in Romans 13:14 as if we were to take care of the flesh. And he urges his listeners to give their body the appropriate amount of food, so that it will be able to be a good means of the works to be done, be it spiritual works or bodily works. This he says concerning the drive for food. The above quotation follows immediately after and contains his admonition concerning the sexual drive of man. And when he writes this, it seems to have become a commonplace admonition for him; at least he does not feel it a peculiar or absurd thing to say. And we moderners normally would not find it peculiar either. Nevertheless this is what I want to say about this admonition: It is peculiar, it is mysterious, it is absurd.
It is through this admonition that the real break-through of Luther took place. But Luther himself does not look at history that way.
First I want to say, that in this quotation we see Luther's priority: The best thing is to stay unmarried; if that is impossible, marry! And the way in which it is shown to you that it is impossible to stay unmarried is through your sexual drive. If this drive, that is, if your flesh begins to lascivire, become impudent, you have to take this as a sign that you must marry. Hopefully you will find some woman who wants to marry you on these conditions.
You also may notice that Luther gives this piece of advice: try to oppress your flesh through the Spirit! As if this oppression is possible! And as if the Spirit could be of any help! He says so, we do not say so. Because we find that our sexual drive is part of creation; we consider it God's good gift to us; our first priority is: Marry and get children! And if for some reason this is impossible to you, be content with the (unhappy) fate that God has given you.
On the other hand he does not say anything about the amount of time, used to make this test. He himself was forty-two years old when he married. And one could imagine that he had been able to stay unmarried for the rest of his life without difficulties. But this is the Christian freedom: God has given you yourself the authority to decide whether to marry or not, and if to marry when and with whom to marry. You cannot give away this authority by making a vow to stay unmarried forever.
Well, all these considerations are genuine Luther thinking, genuine in the sense that there is no contradiction here.
But I think one has to ask: If this is the advice given by Luther on the ground of Scripture, why does he not mention it when giving more broadly admonitions about faith and good works?
I mean, in the greatest part of his exegesis on the vers Gal 5:16 he over and over again admonishes his listeners to fight against the flesh. Why does he not say, when making these admonitions, that you have to give up this fight, if it turns up that your flesh becomes impudent or indecent? Indeed, this must be what you are doing if you get married: you give up the fight against your sexual drive, you let nature have its way, you stop asking for the help of the Spirit to conquer your flesh. This indeed is the turn around in your personal history, that in the case of Luther turned around world history. Then why does he not mention it at all?
Look at what he lets Paul say in his Commentary: (gal516/32):
"God has made a strife and fight inside your bodies. For the Spirit fights against the flesh, and contrarily the flesh against the Spirit. In this I demand nothing from you, neither can you do anything more than to follow the one leader, the Spirit, and oppose the other leader, the flesh."
Without hesitation he here and in the following sentences presupposes that a Christian should in every area fight against the flesh, follow the one leader, the Spirit, and oppose the other leader, the flesh. He seems to have totally forgotten that he in the area of the sexual drive gave up this fighting against the flesh.
This accusation of mine against Luther (I accuse him of selfcontradiction) may be given an explanation:
One could say: Luther has seen that to fight the flesh is much more than just to avoid sexual desire. Maybe he in the year 1531 already takes marriage as the normal estate of a Christian, in any case he in this commentary admonishes married couples in special. He says (Gal516/42):
"The Sophists take the lust of the flesh to mean carnal lust. True, believers too, especially young people, are tempted with carnal lust. The flesh is so corrupt and depravated, that even the married are not immune to carnal lusts."
It looks as if it is to some surprise to Luther that married people are not immune to carnal lusts. But they are not, this is what experience has told him. And experience, too, has learned him that young people are more driven by carnal lust than older ones. Fine, we moderners participate in these experiences, although it to us is no surprise, that married people are subject to the sexual drive.
A little later he writes (Gal516/50):
"Otherwise, if you had a perfect love, no sadness and no misfortune would be so big, that it would disturb it. For love would penetrate your whole body. No woman would be so ugly that her husband would not love her above all others and feel disgust by even the most beautiful other women. But this is not how it is. Therefore it is impossible to be justified by love."
The fight against the flesh never ceases. It takes place in marriage as a fight against lust towards one's wife. And it takes place as a fight against lust towards the neighbour's wife. If this flesh were not there, a husband would feel disgust by every other woman, no matter how beautiful she was. This can be taken as a proof that Luther considers the feeling itself, sexual or lustful, that probably every man has by looking at any beautiful woman, as sin, whether this feeling leads to sinful works or not.
A last quotation should make things as complicated as they could be. Luther writes (Gal516/59):
"I say this to avoid saying nonsense as the Papists, who talk rubbish, saying that this commandment pertains but to the clerics, whom the Apostle should admonish to walk in the Spirit, that is: to live chaste having tamed and opposed their flesh through vigils, fasting and ascetism, etc. Doing this they would not fulfill the desire of the flesh, that is the sexual drive of the flesh, as if the total desire of the flesh is conquered when you have oppressed and tamed your sexual drive. But not even that they could oppress through carnal ascetism."
One could ask, why I am dissatisfied with Luther. Does he not here say all that is needed?
My answer is: No!
Right, he speaks against the Papists with their demand for celibacy. But according to the logic in what he has said so far the only reproach he can make against them is that they make vows about celibacy. My question is: If a person really lives in celibacy without any sexual life at all does he not, according to the basic view of Luther, tame his flesh more effectively than a man living in marriage? However you look at the problem it seems obvious to me that to recommend marriage to those who are not capable of a chaste life in celibacy is a step backwards, if the ideal is taming the drives. Or, as I have said above, it is to prefer the second best to the best.
The rubbish of the Papists in this quotation is their claim that this sentence of Paul pertains to nobody than to the clerics. This argument is a parallel to what he has said a little earlier, that the Sophists consider the sexual drive the only works of the flesh. (Gal516/42). I, too, find this assumption of the sophists wrong (if they claim so).
I am sorry to say that Luther is not coherent here. In my view the specific Lutheran about Luther is exactly that he recommended people to prefer the second best to the best, marriage to celibacy. This changed the world. The doctrine of justification that he teaches here did not.
6.2. Luther's exaggeration of the evil.
Another accusation that I make against Luther is that he exaggerates when speaking about the evil man does. Of course I know his proposition: that man is born a sinner; that sin is transferred to the next generation through the sexual act; that our flesh is sinful in itself, meaning, that the drive for food and the drive for social recognition as well as the drive for sexual satisfaction are sin. But this I do not consider an exaggeration. This I consider bad theology, inherited from Augustine.
The exaggeration appears when Luther is going to exemplify this Augustinism of his. I could say that in this part of his theology he always uses the ontological metaphor, never the relational. But anyway I think I have to explain myself.
In the text from the Great Commentary on Galathians that I try to analyse here, Luther begins with oppositioning the Scholastics or the Sophists, as he calls them. They claim that it is love that justifies us. And Luther, rightly, opposes this claim. And I think it is right to oppose this claim, not only on scriptural grounds, but first and foremost on relational grounds. What makes people melt together is not love but faith; what heals a broken relationship is faith; what binds a family together is faith.
The problem is that I infer from this day to day experience to what happens between God and man. Luther does not go this way, or at least he does not do so openly. He just knows the right relationship between God and man, has understood it thoroughly and is able to describe it into details. But he does not admit that this is something that he knows from he life with his father and mother or from his life with his brothers in the monastery. When he comes do a description of our day to day life he uses the ontological metaphor. And whether or not this is in contradiction with the relational metaphor is not of his concern. Which it should be, in my opinion.
When Luther tries to argue against the Sophists and their claim that we are justified by love he writes (Gal516/9):
"You cannot name any on earth, who loves God and his neighbour as the law demands."
I think this is too much. It may be pious. It may be the expected reaction if you are in a preaching situation, but never mind: it is not true. If we must admit (and I think we have to) that what we know about love and faith stems from our daily experience, then how can we in the next moment declair this daily life sinful in total? This is a selfcontradiction.
Well, Luther has never said that he has his knowledge of love and faith from his day to day experience. So maybe I can only accuse some modern Lutherans of selfcontradiction, not Luther himself.
But then, on the other hand, I must mention, that Luther exaggerates when he tries to connect the theological claims and the normal, human, daily life. He writes a little later (Gal516/24f):
But if we could really and perfectly love God as the law demands: 'Love God with all your heart, etc', then poverty would be as dear to us as richness, pain as pleasure, death as life, etc. Well, a person really and perfectly loving God would not live for a long time, but would soon be absorbed by this love.
In my opinion we have got all our values from our day to day life. And because we in our society considers this day to day life a good one, on the basis of our common belief in the Creator, God, that he made this world a good world, we accept the values given us from our bodily life in society.
As I said above (See above 2.2.2.) Luther (and Augustine) has fiddled with the narrative of the fall. This cannot be done without dangerous consequences. Here you see some of the consequences. I think that it is a consequence of the belief that we are created in this bodily form, that we have some drives. Luther (and Augustine) looks on the drives in a different way. He denies that they belong to our creational equipment. And here you see the consequence: If really we lived as we should poverty would be as dear to us as richness, pain as pleasure, death as life. If all our drives really were annihilated of course this would be the consequence. But Luther does not take into account that at the same moment he annihilates every value that is connected to our daily life. Our drive for food or for bodily pleasure tells us that richness is better than poverty and that pleasure is better than pain. And if this drive is accepted so are the set of value connected to it. And vice versa, if this drive is taken away, so are the values connected to the drive.
Just one step more forward in this direction and you end up questioning the good works towards your neighbour. If to yourself poverty is as dear to you as richness then why should you give charity to your neighbour?
Thank God, Luther does not draw this consequence, but when he does not do so in his sermons and articles does he not make some form of selfcontradiction? I think so.
Of course I know that this sentence is thought of as part of a sermon. Luther has build up the law so that is becomes sharp and penetrating, potent of demolishing strongholds. And he intends to let the law demolish every human attempt to stay innocent and boast in one's own work. And I do not doubt his good intentions. But I have a slight feeling that these good intentions were not appropriate at his own time. And I indeed am doubtful whether they are so today.
I see no harm in striving for bigger richness, if you in your striving do no injustice to anybody. This conviction may be felt useless for use in a sermon, but it is not our job to exaggerate if the only purpose is to make people feel themselves as sinners. And by the way, why should it be so impossible to make the law thunder and hammer against the souls of the congregation within this assumption? Is our world trade fair? Is our banking-system just? Are our societies build in a way so that no injustice is made towards anybody? I think not.
And I see no harm in striving to avoid pain. Neither is it forbidden to strive towards more pleasure in my eyes. If it is too hot in the sun go to the shadow, and if it is too cold in the shadow go out in the sun. This is what this drive tells us. And from this comes the installation of heating systems and hot water in our homes. Of course we do this because we do not agree with Luther that if we were as we should be pain would be as dear to us as pleasure. On the contrary we seek for pleasure and try to avoid pain. The problem is whether we in doing so do any harm to our neighbour. And this is not an easy problem to solve. Could well be that more harm is done by our normal striving than we think.
Luther later on in the text I am analysing has some remarks on marriage and married people (I have quoted it above). Also there he tries to imagine what life would be like if we were as we should be. He says (Gal516/51):
"No woman would be so ugly that her husband would not love her above all others and feel disgust by even the most beautiful other women."
I think that we openly have to admit that it is impossible for us to follow Luther on this point. I do not see it as an ideal that a man should feel disgust by looking at another woman. And I wonder if anybody in our society does. We have from the time of Luther till today learnt a lot about the relationship between the sexes. For instance we have learnt that it is possible to look at a woman with interest, even with sexual interest, without any moment considering whether to leave one's wife in favour of her or not.
7. So what?
What I claim with this booklet is that it is necessary to criticize Luther. Of course I have taken as my point of departure my theology, what else? But one may notice that I in fact have been able to criticize Luther from that theology. That is, I have been able to show that a theology that criticizes Luther according to these lines can afford to be much more open to the texts than other interpretations of Luther. When you once have decided that you have to criticize Luther, it is not necessary for you any more to scrutinize your theological expressions in order to make them fit those of Luther. And I also believe to have shown that a criticism of Luther gives you the opportunity to let Luther speak for himself in a more revolutionary way. You don't have to agree with him, but on the other hand you may be influenced by him during the new interpretation that is brought to light. I finally believe that there are things in Luther's theology that is of great value even in our modern days. I hereby think of the resoluteness, found in his doctrine of justification. I do think that this resoluteness lies at the root of the personality of western people of today. I also think of the attempts of Luther to accept the human drives, not because they are without sin, but because the doctrine of justification demands from you that you give up the constant effort to annihilate the drives.
Let me take this last issue as my first attempt to show how valuable a criticized Luther may be for us!
7.1. Guidelines in economics?
I have tried to show that Luther in the beginning of the twenties elaborated his new doctrine on justification. How were things to be changed so that the church might get out of the captivity under the Roman church that had already lasted for too long? He wrote about monastic life, about marriage, about the authorities, and also about the economic life. But on this last issue he did not manage to "break through" in his thinking. What he later came up with can only to a very little degree be said to be the implication of his doctrine on justification.
He dared say that you should not give up your possessions, in opposition to the Franciscans and to the new anabaptists who tried to establish some new communities around their preachings. But he was unable to point to any "second solution", that God had instituted in order to fight against human sin in this area. I think there is some work left for us to do. But of course, this can only be done if we dare say that we do not intend to work on a Lutheran ground, or, if we do use that expression we have to add that "Lutheran" here means more than according to Luther's literal opinion.
If you criticize Luther in the way that I have proposed, you may consider the right of ownership as a god given right. The first thing you have to criticize by Luther is the claim that you as a Christian have to give up every strive for economical security. It is not true that this strive always is sinful. I think that Luther himself is unclear on this matter. He may give a very hard description of the avaricious, and from this description you will not be in doubt: this is really sin. But on the other hand he recognizes the use of money, and one may ask: is not every possession of money, even the slightest one, a sign that you want to secure your future? And: If you are created that way, if you are created with the strive for food, it will necessarily show itself in you strive for economical security for yourself and your family.
The next thing you have to criticize in Luther's theology concerning this matter is his distinction between internal and external. You may own all the money you can, you may be as rich as any man, you may even as a rich merchant try to make more money, the only thing which is demanded from you is, that you do not bind your heart to your money, that is, that you are always ready to leave it all, when you die, when you are robbed by the authorities, or when you give it away freely (in some unknown situation). This is a piece of untenable theology. It is impossible for man to be divided in this way.
Or you may say, that you don't know so very many avaricious men and you don't think that people who play in the lottery or take some extra job are avaricious.
The third criticism that can be placed on this part of Luther's theology has to do with the consequences. It cannot be denied that Luther himself has a great deal of formulations that lead up to some kind of asceticism, you do not abstain from the real possession, but you do abstain from the joy connected to it, you abstain from binding your heart to it. If you loose something, you just say: That was it! And in Luther's formulation, what you loose with this reaction also is your family, your wife and your children. Luther has taken the words of Paul from 1. Cor 7:31 very literally: "Married men should be as if they had no wives". And I don't think that we can today join this form of asceticism. I think we have to admit that it must be considered an attitude which is connected with Luther's Augustinism and must go away with this concept.
And having criticized Luther on these topics the road is free for you to work in this area in a true Lutheran way. That is, just as you in the area of society's authorities are free to try to find out which form of authorities is the best one, so you in this area must consider which form of economic theory is the best one. You may be a little suspicious when hearing that you are supposed to acknowledge the right of ownership. But could it not be worth some considerations whether we in our societies have the right form of right of ownership? In the realm of government we have not got a clear message from heaven what to do and not to do. We have had to work it out for ourselves. We have had to make our own experiences, sometimes very hard-earned experiences, before we got some new knowledge on how society was to be organized. And the same thing may be said concerning economics. You can not take it for granted that the form that the right of ownership has obtained until now is the right one. Something in our society, and even in the way our economy functions, may tell us that we have not yet found the right solution. I on my part would propose that we should change the right of ownership so that it would no longer be possible to own land, so that the private ownership of land was abolished. But others may have other suggestions. This is not the question here. Here I only point out that since you cannot have the best solution, which is not to have any strive for food at all, the second best solution has to be elaborated, which is to find a better way for economics to function. That would be a true Lutheran attitude, although not an attitude which takes Luther literally on his words.
7.2. No more evil-competitions
Let me point out one more advantage in my new Lutheranism: It will make an end to the evil-competitions.
I think most Lutherans have experienced this competition, although they may not have called it with the impolite word: competition.
It was easy for Luther to say that every work done by any Christian is sin. He had his Augustinism. He could maintain that the very fact that you tried to fulfil your drives was sin. And since you in no way could stop being a sexual person, being a bodily person with need for food and drinking, or being a social person with need for social recognition, you could not stop sinning. In this way he could interpret Paul's word that "no one may have anything to say in self-defence" (Rom 3:20); Augustin had paved the way.
But when you leave Augustinism, as we are forced to do today, you feel, if you want to be in accordance with Luther, that you have to find some other way of saying that man totally spoken is a sinner. And in this area there has been done many inventions, all of which coming to the result, that man in all his work is a sinner.
And this has, in most Lutheran theological societies, provoked a competition between concepts that made man most profoundly a sinner. Theologians have got help from psychologists, but while psychologists in the end have to compare their results with the real living stuff, that is, with people as they walk in the street, theologians seem to be more free to make their theories. After all they only have to use their theories in their sermons. And if their congregation is educated along the "right" Lutheran guidelines, they are not supposed to compare what is said with the reality in which they live their day-to-day life, they are only supposed to feel annihilated, to feel knocked out as persons, to feel that they to their innermost hearts are sinners. This is the pious feeling that justifies all these theories of man being totally spoken a sinner.
But the theories are wrong.
I have tried to show (in 4.3.) that Luther's way of interpreting the love that the law demands, is a wrong interpretation. Maybe you can make a distinction between "pure love" and "self-love" as Luther does, but this distinction does not take into account what I have called the relational metaphor; it works from an ontological metaphor, and therefor is a false concept of love, although it binds you very much when captured by it, so that you maybe are unable to see the relations to your neighbour and the other concept of love that derives from this relationship. But still, the relationship is there, and its love really is this pure love, that is, it is a kind of love that works not for its own sake, nor for the sake of your neighbour, but for the sake of the personal relationship. What you do is done in order to promote confidence between you and your neighbour; it is not done to please you neighbour, it is not done to improve how you look in the eyes of your neighbour.
With this statement I want to conclude. I do not presume that this new Lutheranism is easier to fulfil than the old one. But I do think it is more realistic. And I do think it is more in accordance with Luther's writings.
And as a historian, although a theological historian, I feel that this is a great priority.