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Luther on Necessity

  • Knut Alfsvåg (a1)
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Among the quotations from Luther's works condemned by the pope in 1520 was the statement that free will is something that exists in name only. In his defense of this statement in Assertio omnium articulorum, published in December 1520, Luther goes one step further. Here he not only declares “free will” to be a concept without factual reference, he even insists that there is no one in the position even to think on one's own, either good or bad, as everything happens with absolute necessity.

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1 “Liberum arbitrium post peccatum res est de solo titulo, et dum facit, quod in se est, peccat mortaliter” (Luther, Martin, D. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe. Schriften [72 vols.; Weimar: H. Bühlau, 1883–1990] (WA) 7:142.23). The quotation is thesis 13 from the Heidelberg Disputation; see WA 1:354.5.

2 “. . . figmentum in rebus seu titulus sine re” (WA 7:146.5).

3 “Quia nulli est in manu sua quippiam cogitare mali aut boni, sed omnia . . . de necessitate absoluta eveniunt” (WA 7:146.7–8).

4 WA 7:446–51. There is an English translation of Grund und Ursach in Luther, Martin, Luther's Works (ed. Lehmann, Helmut T. and Pelikan, Jaroslav; 55 vols.; St. Louis: Concordia, 1958–1967) (LW), vol. 32; for this article, see pp. 9294. There is as far as I know no English translation of Assertio.

5 Luther's quotation is inaccurate: “Folium arboris non cadit in terram sine voluntate patris vestri.” The text speaks about sparrows, not leaves, and says nothing about God's will; both the Greek and Latin texts have “without the Father.”

6 Wycliffe was condemned at the Council in Constance for defending the view that everything happens by necessity. Both Wycliffe and Hus pointed to the difference between the biblical idea of election and the closely connected emphasis on the hiddenness of the true believers, and the understanding of the church as an external organization; see Schmidt, Martin Anton, “Dogma und Lehre im Abendland II: Die Zeit der Scholastik,” in Handbuch der Dogmen- und Theologiegeschichte (ed. Andresen, Carl; 3 vols.; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1989) 1:567754, at 731–32 and 744. The reference to Wycliffe in a work where Luther defends his theology against attack from the pope is therefore hardly accidental.

7 Luther quotes from the first-century a.d. Marcus Manilius, “certa stant omnia lege,” everything stands by (eternal) law.

8 “Ex quo sequitur irrefragabiliter, omnia quae facimus, omnia quae fiunt, etsi nobis videntur mutabiliter et contingenter fieri, revera tamen fiunt necessario et immutabiliter, si Dei voluntatem spectes” (WA 18:615.33).

9 “In Deo esse multa abscondita, quae ignoremus” (WA 18:606).

10 “Sed non operatur sine nobis, ut quos in hoc ipsum recreavit et conservat, ut operaretur in nobis et nos ei cooperaremur” (WA 18:754.13–14).

11 The background of Luther's thought is usually found in via moderna Scholasticism, Renaissance humanism, and late medieval mysticism. Through the latter he was also familiar with the tradition of negative theology in a way that deeply influenced his understanding of theological epistemology. For a brief summary of the discussion of the historical context of Luther's thought, see Alfsvåg, Knut, What No Mind Has Conceived: An Investigation of the Significance of Christological Apophaticism (Studies in Philosophical Theology 45; Leuven: Peeters, 2010) 177–80.

12 The most recent summary of the discussion is found in Kolb, Robert, Bound Choice, Election, and Wittenberg Theological Method: From Martin Luther to the Formula of Concord (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 2005). For older overviews of the discussion with Erasmus and the relevant literature, see Schwarzwäller, Klaus, Sibboleth: Die Interprätation von Luthers Schrift ‘De servo arbitrio’ seit Theodosius Harnack (Munich: Kaiser, 1969); Behnk, Wolfgang, Contra Liberum Arbitrium Pro Gratia Dei: Willenslehre und Christuszeugnis bei Luther und ihre Interpretation durch die neuere Lutherforschung. Eine systematisch-theologiegeschichtliche Untersuchung (Frankfurt am Main: Lang, 1982); Alfsvåg, Knut, Identity of Theology: On the Relation between Exegesis and Doctrine in Luther's De servo arbitrio (Bangalore: Theological Book Trust, 1996). McSorley, Harry J. gives an extensive argument for the view that Luther combines a biblically founded idea of enslaved will with an incompatible and indefensible idea of necessity (Luthers Lehre vom unfreien Willen nach seiner Hauptschrift De Servo Arbitrio im Lichte der biblischen und kirchlichen Tradition [Munich: Max Huebner Verlag, 1967]). Kolb (Bound Choice, 26–28) and Bayer, Oswald (“God's Omnipotence,” LQ 23 [2009] 85102, at 98) suggest that Luther may have come to a similar conclusion himself, though their primary reference for this view is a later addition to the original text of De servo arbitrio; concerning the textual history of this passage, see Kolb, Bound Choice, 298–99.

13 WA 56:381–88; LW 25:371–78. For an interesting comparison of the interpretation of this key passage by Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, see Paulson, Steven D., Lutheran Theology (London: T&T Clark, 2011) 219–21.

14 “Quia si propositum Dei non esset et in nostro arbitrio et nostris operibus staret salus, contingenter staret. Quam contingentiam quam facile, non dico omnia illa mala simul, Sed vnum illorum impediret ac peruerteret!” (WA 56:381.24–27; LW 25:371).

15 “Ac non arbitrium nostrum, Sed inflexibilem et firmam suam predestinationis voluntatem per hec omnia probat” (WA 56:382.7–9; LW 25:371). The significance of this connection between omnipotence, predestination, and the rejection of liberum arbitrium is well captured in Paulson, Lutheran Theology, 19.

16 McSorley, Luthers Lehre vom unfreien Willen, 146–50; Hütter, Reinhard, “St. Thomas on Grace and Free Will in the Initium Fidei: The Surpassing Augustinian Synthesis,” NV 5 (2007) 521–54.

17 WA 56:382.24; LW 25:372.

18 “Quia nullus querit aut dubitat, an res creata sit contingens in esse suo i. e. mutabilis, Et non Deus seu immutabilis, Sed queritur de necessitate sequele, An fiat necessario, quod Deus predestinauit, Et concedunt, quod sic” (WA 56:383.4–7; LW 25:372–73). Contrary to what is maintained by Helmer, Christine, Luther thus does not follow the medieval rule that “only the relations in the divine essence are necessary” (“God from Eternity to Eternity: Luther's Trinitarian Understanding,” HTR 96 (2003) 127–46, at 131).

19 “Nulla est contingentia apud Deum simpliciter, Sed tantum coram nobis” (WA 56:383.19; LW 25:373). Here, too, Luther refers to the idea that not even a leaf of a tree falls to the ground without the will of the Father, but without committing the error of referring it to Matthew 10.

20 WA 56:385.1–5; LW 25:375.

21 “Liberum arbitrium extra gratiam constitutum Nullam habet prorsus facultatem ad Iustitiam, Sed necessario est in peccatis” (WA 56:385.15–16; LW 25:375).

22 “Habita autem gratia proprie factum est Liberum, saltem respectu salutis. Liberum quidem semper est naturaliter, Sed respectu eorum, que in potestate sua sunt et se inferiora, Sed non supra se, cum sit captiuum in peccatis” (WA 56:385.18–21; LW 25:375).

23 WA 56:385.23–28; LW 25:375–76. Here Luther maintains what was later known as the Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement.

24 WA 56:385.32–386.5; LW 25:376.

25 “Tertius optimus et extremus eorum, qui et in effectu seipsos resignant ad infernum pro Dei voluntate, Vt in hora mortis fit fortasse multis. Hii perfectissime mundantur a propria voluntate et ‘prudentia carnis’” (WA 56:388.10–14; LW 25:378).

26 This is Thomas's perspective, aptly summarized as the idea of divine transcendental causality; see Hütter, “St. Thomas on Grace and Free Will,” 521–54.

27 Both McSorley (Luthers Lehre vom unfreien Willen, 288–303) and Hütter (“St. Thomas on Grace and Free Will,” 530) find Luther inconsistent in that he accepts the contingency Thomas defends with the distinction necessitas consequentiae/consequentis without accepting the distinction itself. What they fail to consider is that Luther rejects the “metaphysics of being,” which, according to Hütter, is what informs the distinction in the first place (ibid., 531).

28 On the difference between substance ontology and relational ontology, see further Bayer, Oswald, “Philosophical Modes of Thought of Luther's Theology as an Object of Inquiry,” in The Devil's Whore: Reason and Philosophy in the Lutheran Tradition (ed. Dragseth, Jennifer Hockenbery; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011) 1322, at 18.

29 See Cranz, Ferdinand Edward, “Cusanus, Luther, and the Mystical Tradition,” in Pursuit of Holiness in Late Medieval and Renaissance Religion (ed. Trinkaus, Charles and Oberman, Heiko A.; Leiden: Brill, 1974) 93102. Boyle, Marjorie O’Rourke thus speaks of the “binary perspectival system that operates in Luther's argument,” but erroneously identifies Assertio as its initial occurrence (“Stoic Luther: Paradoxical Sin and Necessity,” ARG 73 [1982] 6993, at 88).

30 Cf. Jenson, Robert W., “An Ontology of Freedom in the De servo arbitrio of Luther,” ModTheo 10 (1994) 247–52, at 252: “. . . the rapture-relation [through which we are rapt into willing and loving action] is not causative but participatory.” On the shift from participation to causality and back again, see further Alfsvåg, What No Mind Has Conceived, 171–75 (on Thomas and Cusanus) and pp. 195–96 and passim (on Luther).

31 See Alfsvåg, Knut, “Human Liberty as Participation in the Divine in the Work of Nicholas Cusanus,” in Nicholas of Cusa on the Self and Self-Consciousness (ed. Euler, Walter Andreas, Gustafsson, Ylva, and Wikström, Iris; Åbo: Åbo Akademi University Press, 2010) 3966; idem, “Explicatio and complicatio: On the Understanding of the Relationship between God and the World in the Work of Nicholas Cusanus,” IJST 14 (2012) 295–309. Cusanus solves the problem of divine necessity and human contingency by relativizing the difference between potentiality and actuality; in God are enfolded both the potential and the actual, and humans choosing one possibility over another does not therefore bear upon necessity as seen from God's perspective. This shows a level of precision considerably beyond what is found in Luther's Lectures on Romans; it is still compatible with Luther's thought in a way that neither Thomism nor via moderna Scholasticism is.

32 On similarities in thought structure between Cusanus and Luther, see Lagarrigue, Jean-Claude, “Les souffrances ‘infernales’ du Christ en Croix,” in De venatione sapientiae: Akten des Symposiums in Trier vom 23. bis 25. Oktober 2008 (ed. Euler, Walter Andreas; Trier: Paulinus, 2010) 301–18; Alfsvåg, Knut, “Cusanus and Luther on Human Liberty,” NZSTR 54 (2012) 6680.

33 Both McSorley (Luthers Lehre vom unfreien Willen) and Hütter (“St. Thomas on Grace and Free Will,” 525–34) thus show that when one overlooks Luther's philosophical reasons for rejecting the via moderna and concentrates on his theological reasons, Luther appears to be either guilty or inconsistent regarding the accusation of determinism.

34 For a defense of a similar way of reading even a work as late as the Heidelberg Disputation (1518), see Alfsvåg, What No Mind Has Conceived, 198.

35 Luther's most detailed report on this breakthrough dates from 1545 and is found in WA 54:185–86; LW 34:336–38.

36 For a presentation of this passage with an overview of the main literature concerning Luther's theological breakthrough, see Alfsvåg, What No Mind Has Conceived, 200–1. The Latin text of Operationes, which are lectures on Psalms 1–22 held from 1519–1521, are found in WA 5 and in Luther, Martin, Operationes in Psalmos (ed. Hammer, Gerhard and Biersack, Manfred; Archiv zur Weimarer Ausgabe der Werke Martin Luthers; 2 vols.; Cologne: Bohlau, 1981/1991). For an English translation of Operationes, see Luther, Martin, Commentary on the First Twenty-Two Psalms (trans. Cole, Henry; 2 vols.; London: Simpkin and Marshall, 1826); volume one, covering the commentary to Psalms 1–7 is reprinted as Luther, Martin, Commentary on the First Twenty-two Psalms (ed. Lenker, John Nicholas; trans. Cole, Henry; vol. 1; Sunbury, Penn.: Lutherans in All Lands Co., 1903). In what follows, I refer to the latter edition as Commentary.

37 The passage on predestination is found in WA 5:172–77; Commentary 280–90. For a more extensive discussion of this passage, see Alfsvåg, What No Mind Has Conceived, 212–20.

38 On the understanding of salvation as creation from nothing in the commentary on Psalm 5, see Alfsvåg, What No Mind Has Conceived, 210–12.

39 “Sed quid, inquies, si [diabolus] me de praedestinatione vexet et inquietet, quod frustra sperem, si non sum praedestinatus?” (WA 5:172.1; Commentary 280).

40 WA 5:172.3–12; Commentary 280.

41 WA 5:172.36–173.10; Commentary 282.

42 “Neque enim aliud deus requirit, quam voluntatem suam nobis esse assidua sollicitudine commendatam” (WA 5:172; Commentary 281).

43 Cf. Herms, Eilert, “Gewißheit in Martin Luthers ‘De servo arbitrio’,” LutherJb 67 (2000) 2350, at 26: “Der einzige und ausreichende Grund für die Infallibilität des Glaubens ist in Luthers Augen, daß es für den Glauben . . . wesentlich ist, daß sein einziger Gengenstand Gott selbst ist . . . wie er selbst durch sich selbst und durch nichts sonst sich dem Glauben vorgegeben und diesen dadurch auf sich bezogen hat.” There is no difference between Operationes and De servo arbitrio in this respect.

44 WA 5:168.34–169.8; Commentary 276.

45 Luther here repeats the reference to the falling leaves (WA 5:174; Commentary 284).

46 “Quando ergo his praeceptis dei prohibetur cura ista curiosa operum dei, quae nobis ostensa sunt esse supra captum et sensum nostrum et incomprehensibilia iudicia eius, cum timore in praeceptis dei potius occupari debemus, ut in eum speremus cum fiducia, et haec studia impossibilia diabolo in caput suum vertere” (WA 5:173; Commentary 283–84).

47 Cf. Luther's critique of the timeless logic of the Scholastics as summarized by Bayer, “God's Omnipotence.”

48 On the Chalcedonian structure of Luther's thought, see further Johann Anselm Steiger, “The communicatio idiomatum as the Axle and Motor of Luther's Theology,” LQ (2000) 125–58; Nilsson, Kjell Ove, “Communicato idiomatum as the Key to Luther's Theology,” in Reformationer: Universitet, kirkehistorie, Luther. Festskrift til Steffen Kjeldgaard-Pedersen (ed. Reeh, Tine and Vind, Anna; København: C. A. Reitzels Forlag, 2006) 365–81.

49 De libero arbitrio Ia8, quoted from Erasmus, Ausgewählte Schriften (8 vols.; Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1967) 4: “. . . nec erat irreligiosa curiositate irrumpendum ad illa retrusa, ne dicam supervacanea, ad deus contingenter praesciat aliquid, utrum nostrum voluntas aliquid agas in his, quae pertinent ad aeternam salutem, an tantum patiatur ab agente gratia, an quicquid facimus boni sive mali, mera necessitate faciamus vel patiamur potius.” For a presentation of the context of the debate between Erasmus and Luther, see Alfsvåg, Identity of Theology, 11–21.

50 “Hoc prorsus nihil valet Erasme, das ist zu viel” (WA 18:610.5; LW 33:29).

51 “Est itaque et hoc imprimis necessarium et salutare Christiano, nosse, quod Deus nihil praescit contingenter, sed quod omnia incommutabili et aeterna infallibilique voluntate et praevidet et proponit et facit” (WA 18:615.12–14; LW 33:37).

52 Horst Beintker summarizes it in this way: “Luther war von der Allgegenwart Gottes in jedem Augenblick durchdrungen, und darin wurzelt auch der Prädestinationsgedanke” (“Luthers Gotteserfahrung und Gottesanschauung,” in Leben und Werk Martin Luthers von 1526 bis 1546 [ed. Helmar Junghans; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1983] 39–62, at 53)

53 “Scilicet voluntatem immutabilem Dei praedicas esse discendam, immutabilem eius vero praescientiam nosse vetas. An tu credis, quod nolens praesciat, aut ignarus velit? Si volens praescit, aeterna est et immobilis (quia natura) voluntas, si praesciens vult, aeterna est et immobilis (quia natura) scientia.Ex quo sequitur irrefragabiliter, omnia quae facimus, omnia quae fiunt, etsi nobis videntur mutabiliter et contingenter fieri, revera tamen fiunt necessario et immutabiliter, si Dei voluntatem spectes. Voluntas enim Dei efficax est, quae impediri non potest, cum sit naturalis ipsa potentia Dei, Deinde sapiens, ut falli non possit” (WA 18:615.26–25; LW 33:37–38).

54 WA 18:616.13–617.19; LW 33:39–40.

55 WA 18:617.14. When Hütter calls this “the most consequential philosophical error” in De servo arbitrio without even trying to grasp the philosophical position from which the rejection is made, one is tempted to extend Luther's critique to his (mis-)interpreters (“St. Thomas on Grace and Free Will,” 530).

56 WA 18:617.23–618.18; LW 33.41. The important poet is now Virgil.

57 “Si enim dubitas aut contemnis nosse, quod Deus omnia non contingenter sed necessario et immutabiliter praesciat et velit, quomodo poteris eius promissionibus credere, certo fidere et niti?” (WA 18:619.10–15; LW 33.42). Jenson comments on this text in the following way: “for someone to always keep his promises, he must be sovereign over all contingencies” (“Ontology of Freedom,” 248). In a similar way, Boyle maintains that divine infallibility must be preserved, “because otherwise a man cannot believe in God's promises” (“Stoic Luther: Paradoxical Sin and Necessity,” 90). Loeschen, Both John (“Promise and Necessity in Luther's De servo arbitrio,” LQ 23 [1971] 257–67) and Herms (“Gewißheit”) therefore primarily understand De servo arbitrio as theology of trust. Bayer emphasizes that trust in the promise is what “unlocks Luther's entire understanding of God's omnipotence” (“God's Omnipotence,” 87). Paulson points to the enormous difference between predestined silence (“fate”) and predestined promise (Lutheran Theology, 22).

58 WA 18:619.10–15; LW 33.42.

59 That necessity for Luther means immutability, not compulsion is emphasized by Boyle (“Stoic Luther: Paradoxical Sin and Necessity,” 86). This is therefore a kind of necessity that does not exclude reward; see WA 18:693.30–694.29; WA 33:151–52; and further Alfsvåg, Knut, “God's Fellow Workers: The Understanding of the Relationship between the Human and the Divine in Maximus Confessor and Martin Luther,” ST 62 (2008) 175–93.

60 WA 18:634.14–36; LW 33:64. As maintained by Paulson, this is the reason humans acting out of their own potential are under the wrath of God (Lutheran Theology, 83–84).

61 WA 18:632.27–633.6; LW 33,61–62. According to the resignatio-doctrine in Lectures on Romans, this is the only reason.

62 WA 18:633.7–24; LW 33:62–63.

63 “Si Deus in nobis operatur, mutata et blande assibilata per spiritum Dei voluntas iterum mera lubentia et pronitate ac sponte sua vult et facit, non coacte, ut nullis contrariis mutari in aliud possit, ne portis quidem inferi vinci aut cogi, sed pergit volendo et lubendo et amando bonum” (WA 18:634.37–635:2; LW 33:65).

64 As maintained by Jenson, humans “cannot choose what to choose”; they are always determined by what they have chosen to do (“Ontology of Freedom,” 248–49). This is an important reason why Luther considers “liberum arbitrium” an empty word.

65 Luther maintains this with a one-sidedness that borders on the resignatio-idea from Lectures on Romans, but still with a different emphasis on faith as trust in tribulation: “Sed fides et spiritus . . . Deum bonum credunt, etiam si omnes homines perderet” (WA 18:708.8–9). Following Luther's insistence that the Holy Spirit is found in the grammar, it is tempting to locate the evangelical center of Luther's thought precisely in the shift from the reality of the “in effectu seipsos resignant ad infernum pro Dei voluntate” in the Lectures on Romans (note 25) to the anxiety of “etiam si omnes homines perderet” as the ground from which faith grows.

66 “Nos dicimus, ut iam antea diximus, de secreta illa voluntate maiestatis non esse disputandum et temeritatem humanam, quae perpetua perversitate, relictis necessariis, illam semper impetit et tentat, esse avocandam et retrahendam, ne occupet sese scrutandis illis secretis maiestatis, quae impossibileest attingere, ut quae habitet lucem inaccessibilem, teste Paulo. Occupet vero sese cum Deo incarnato seu (ut Paulus loquitur) cum Jhesu crucifixo, in quo sunt omnes thesauri sapientiae et scientiae, sed absconditi; per hunc enim abunde habet, quid scire et non scire debeat” (WA 18:689.18–25; LW 33:145–46).

67 There has been some discussion of the relation between Christology and predestination in De servo arbitrio; for a summary of the discussion, see Alfsvåg, Identity of Theology, 134 n. 183. The idea of a substantial difference between De servo arbitrio and Luther's more christocentric work as maintained, e.g., by Hütter, is unfounded (“St. Thomas on Grace and Free Will,” 524–25).

68 Cf. Paulson, Lutheran Theology, 24: “For that reason, the ground on which the church stands or falls is not an objective doctrine of justification, it is the advent of the preached word.”

69 “Recte, inquam, si de Deo praedicato dixeris. Nam ille vult omnes homines salvos fieri . . . Verum quare maiestas illa vitium hoc voluntatis nostrae non tollit aut mutat in omnibus, cum non sit in potestate hominis, aut cur illud ei imputet, cum non possit homo eo carere, quaerere non licet, ac si multum quaeras, nunquam tamen invenies, sicut Paulus Rom. 11. [9, 20] dicit: Tu quis es, qui respondeas Deo?” (WA 18:686.5–12; WA 33:140).

70 De libero arbitrio IIa15.

71 WA 18:688.19–20; LW 33:144.

72 Gavin Hyman argues that the beginning of modern atheism is Descartes's instrumentalization of belief in God; Luther's argument in De servo arbitrio amounts to his insistence that Erasmus in this respect should be seen as Descartes's predecessor (A Short History of Atheism [London: Tauris, 2010]).

73 WA 18:709.10–36; LW 33:175–76.

74 Herms (“Gewißheit,” 42) emphasizes Luther's belief that humans, as sinners, are determined by divine creativity and not, as in Kant, by their own freedom.

75 For a summary of this critique, particularly as maintained by Barth and his followers, see Behnk, Contra Liberum Arbitrium, 128–31; Bayer, “God's Omnipotence,” 89. Defending Luther against his accusers are Brosché, Fredrik, Luther on Predestination: The Antinomy and the Unity between Love and Wrath in Luther's Concept of God (Uppsala: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1978) 120; and Prenter, Regin, “Luther als Theologe,” in Luther und die Theologie der Gegenwart (ed. Grane, Leif and Lohse, Bernhard; Göttingen: PUBLISHER, 1980) 112–24.

76 As emphasized by Bayer (“God's omnipotence,” 91), this is closely related to God's oneness; there is no similar power next to God. According to Paulson (Lutheran Theology, 20), the doctrine of free will is therefore incompatible with monotheism.

77 Cf. the emphasis on “lux Euangelii, quae solo verbo et fide valet” in WA 18:785.20; LW 33:292. In his interpretation of this passage, Paul R. Hinlicky goes considerably beyond Luther's perspective in conflating faith with reason as informed by the light of glory (“Leibnizian Transformation? Reclaiming the Theodicy of Faith,” in Transformations in Luther's Theology: Historical and Contemporary Reflections [ed. Christine Helmer and Bo Kristian Holm; Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2011] 85–103, at 101).

78 See further Plathow, Michael, “Das Cooperatio-Verständnis M. Luthers im Gnaden- und Schöpfungsbereich. Zur Frage nach dem Verhältnis von Mensch und Schöpfung,” Luther 56 (1985) 2846, at 37: “Bei den Aussagen zu . . . Mitwirken des Geschöpfes geht es . . . um Gewißheitsaussagen, die Luther aus der Interpretation biblischer Texte gewinnt und in der Bibel bezeugt weiß. Es geht also nicht um Erwägungen und Reflexionen, die Schöpfer und Geschöpf als causa prima und causa secunda in ein allgemein einsichtiges ontologisches System der naturlichen Vernunft einordnen, wie es die thomistisch-molinistischen Auseinandersetzungen beherrschte, den Streit um Bajus und den Jansenismus, aber auch die altprotestantische Orthodoxie.”

79 As emphasized by Bayer, Luther rejects the Ockhamist view of omnipotence as divine potentiality in favor of an understanding of God as actively present in what actually occurs (“God's omnipotence,” 97).

80 As emphasized by Jenson, there is in this respect no difference between fallen and unfallen creation (“Ontology of Freedom,” 250).

81 Herms therefore speaks of “Heilsgewißheit als Gewißheit eines asymmetrischen Inklusionsverhältnisses” established through “das äußere Wort des Evangeliums” (“Gewißheit,” 43–44).

82 So also Lønning, Inge, “Gott VIII. Neuzeit/Systematisch-theologisch,” in Theologische Realenzyklopädie (ed. Müller, Gerhard; 36 vols.; Berlin: De Gruyter, 1984) 13:668708, at 672: “Für Luther hängt alles an der Unterscheidung der beiden Relationen [Weltverhältnis und Gottesverhältnis]. . . . Für Erasmus geht es dagegen darum, die tendenzielle Identität der beiden Relationen festzuhalten.”

83 According to Herms, assurance in relation to the Creator is therefore always “Notwendig-keitsgewißheit” (“Gewißheit,” PAGE no.)

84 Cf. Herms: “Als geschaffene Freiheit kann sie nur im eingeschränkten Sinne frei genannt werden. Aber in diesem eingeschränkten Sinne ist dieses Freisein real” (“Gewißheit,” 36).

85 Cf. the difference in Herms between truth as “Sache” and “Geschehen,” where Luther is exclusively interested in the latter, both in the sense of memory and expectation (“Gewißheit,” 26–27).

86 Cf. Lønning, “Gott,” 673 (on Erasmus): “Es fällt jedoch auf, daß die Vorherrschaft der Moralischen Dimension . . . zu einer Entfunktionalisierung des christlichen Gotteslehre . . . führt.”

87 To maintain that the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity could be seen as an attempt at defending the reality of revelation, whereas the identity of the immanent Trinity with the economic Trinity may lead to a conflation of God and history, the ultimate outcome of which is arguably Feuerbach's theory of religion. On this issue, see Phan, Peter C., “Systematic Issues in Trinitarian Theology,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Trinity (ed. Phan, Peter C.; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011) 1329, at 17–18.

88 For an interesting discussion of how Luther's Christology informed his understanding of divine impassibility, see Silcock, Jeffrey G., “The Truth of Divine Impassibility,” LTJ 45 (2011) 198207. His conclusion is that “Luther regarded the suffering of God in the suffering of the man Jesus as an incomprehensible mystery that can only be expressed paradoxically.” God thus suffered impassibly in the flesh; the Chalcedonian combination of inconfuse and inseparabiliter is maintained to the effect that the how of this act remains inexplicable.

89 So also Mattes, Mark C., The Role of Justification in Contemporary Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2004), criticizing Jüngel, Pannenberg, Moltmann, and Robert Jenson (who attaches to the anthropology mentioned above a Trinitarian speculation for which there is no precedent in Luther). For a strikingly similar critique from Orthodox and Catholic perspectives, see Hart, David Bentley, who mainly criticizes Jenson (The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2003] 155–67); and Ayres, Lewis, who mentions Barth, Balthasar, process theology, Volf, and Rahner, among others (Nicaea and Its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004], 404–14).

90 According to Bayer, Oswald, the “grandiose blunder” of not distinguishing between the hidden and trinitarian God dislocates the gospel and leads to post-Christian natural theology in the form of the “speculative philosophy of Hegel” (Martin Luther's Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2008] 339).

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Harvard Theological Review
  • ISSN: 0017-8160
  • EISSN: 1475-4517
  • URL: /core/journals/harvard-theological-review
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