The Luther Library below contains an assortment of audio, video and print materials, including a classic film on Martin Luther and five more lectures from Tillich’s seminary course (Union Theological Seminary, NYC) History of Christian Thought. Scroll through this lengthy page to get a sense of the contents. We are confident that a serious student of Luther will find this very helpful and informative.
We begin with the movie that was first, in 1953, to portray the life of Martin Luther.
The Lutheran Confessions:
The Augsburg Confession – Click here to go to a page offering a downloadable PDF
The Large Catechism – Click here to go to a page offering a downloadable PDF
The Smaller Catechism – Click here to go to a page offering a downloadable PDF
The Smalcald Articles – Click here to go to a page offering a downloadable PDF
Treatise on the Power and the Primacy of the Pope – Click here to go to a page offering a downloadable PDF
The Epitome of The Formula of Concord – Click here to go to a page offering a downloadable PDF
The Solid Declaration of The Formula of Concord – Click here to go to a page offering a downloadable PDF
Other Important Documents by Martin Luther:
More Luther curriculum (click on Lesson 28B for additional audio, video and print material)
The audio lecture The Protestant Reformation (click on title) is offered from the perspective of a modern Orthodox church historian Jeffrey MacDonald, Ph.D., and provides a broad survey of leading Protestant reformers, and begins with Martin Luther. He goes on to explain how Anabaptism mutated in England before arriving in America as a leading force in U.S. Baptist churches of various Baptist denominations. Though originally a Baptist prior to his conversion (following his years at Wheaton College), Dr. MacDonald’s insights are always pertinent to our understanding of Christian history.
Below you will find five lectures from Paul Tillich’s History of Christian Thought dealing with Luther, his theology, and other reformers of his era. These lectures are in the public domain:
Paul Tillich, Professor of Philosophical Theology, Union Theological Seminary, New York City
(ENTIRE LECTURE SERIES) From Religion-Online.com: “In the Spring of 1953, Professor Tillich offered a course at Union Theological Seminary, entitled ‘The History of Christian Thought: Lectures in Church History (108).’ This was the last time Dr. Tillich offered the course. [Tillich moved on to become University Professor at Harvard.] Students took stenographic notes and distributed copies to the class. What follows are the verbatim notes from that class. There were thirty-eight sessions, but Lecture 11 is missing.”
“Paul Johannes Tillich (August 20, 1886 – October 22, 1965) was a German–American theologian and Christian existentialist philosopher. Tillich was – along with his contemporaries Rudolf Bultmann (Germany), Karl Barth (Switzerland), and Reinhold Niebuhr (United States) – one of the four most influential Protestant theologians of the 20th century.Among the general populace, he is best known for his works The Courage to Be (1952) and Dynamics of Faith (1957), which introduced issues of theology and modern culture to a general readership. Theologically, he is best known for his major three-volume work Systematic Theology (1951–63), in which he developed his “method of correlation”: an approach of exploring the symbols of Christian revelation as answers to the problems of human existence raised by contemporary existential philosophical analysis.“
This document below is in the public domain.
Lecture 31: The Reformation: Luther and Catholicism
I started yesterday to speak about one movement which, in opposition to the Counter-Reformation Catholicism, tries to return to the genuine Augustinian tradition of the Catholic past. It is the Jansenist movement, a movement opposed and finally destroyed by the Jesuits, but in such a way that the Jesuits themselves lost a lot of standing in the public valuation, and that in the 18th century they were thrown out of many Catholic countries. There was one interesting point in the discussion, namely that if the sentences of Cornelius Jansen are condemned, then it isn’t only a matter of content which is condemned but also a question de fait (a question of fact) that he has really said that Now this seems very foolish, but there was a very important point behind it, namely, that if the Pope interprets the text of somebody whom he inquires into, and perhaps rejects or condemns, then the Pope is right not only in rejecting his ideas but also in stating that these ideas are really in the text. That is, the Pope is the interpreter of every text, and philological defense is not possible if the Pope says that this is what the text means. Here you have the natural extension of the totalitarian and authoritarian principle even to historical facts. The Pope decides what is a fact, not only what is true in theological terms.
Jansenism produced other writings. There was one man, Quesnel, who tried to introduce Augustinian principles again and to defend them against the Jesuits. But again the Pope took the side of the Jesuits and Augustine was removed, to a large extent, from Counter-Reformation Catholicism. In the bull, “Unigenitus,” the Pope drives out the best of the Roman tradition. He drives out Augustine’s doctrine of grace, of faith, and of love. For instance, it is anathema if somebody says, with Augustine, “In vain, Lord, Thou commandest if Thou dost not give what Thou orderest.” This means that the commandments of God can be fulfilled only if God gives what He commands – that’s Augustinianism. If somebody says this in the Roman church, after the Jansenistic struggle – he is condemned – and that means, implicitly, that Augustine is condemned.
If you have to deal with modern progressive Catholics – there are more of them in Europe than in this country, where Catholicism is completely polytheized , and has almost lost (with a few exceptions: some of our neighbors here around) the Spiritual power – then you find that these people always fall back to Augustine and always are at the edge of being thrown out, being excommunicated or forbidden or cut off or reduced in their power of self-expression. I happened to discuss problems several times with Catholic groups, in my last trips to Germany – especially impressive was last summer, with the Rhineland – and it’s astonishing how near we were with each other! But these people all have the expression of persecuted people They feel that if they agree with me in Augustinian principles, they are in danger. And they are!. Now this is a tragedy because in the moment in which – no, it is not only the discussion itself; it is also their whole activities which come out in such discussions – they are in danger of being cut off. And this means that the condemnation of Augustinianism in the Jansenistic struggle is like a sword over every form of spiritualized Catholicism that is a threat against changes going on there.
Now the last problem I want to mention is Probabilism – that which is probable. Probable are opinions, given by authorities in the Roman church, about ethical questions. The Jesuits said: If an opinion is probable, then one is allowed to follow it even if the opposite is more probable! Now this means that in ethical respects, you have no autonomy – of course not; that’s something the church would deny radically. You always have to follow the guidance of the Roman priest, of the confessor especially. But the confessor himself has many possibilities. Since he himself has not to talk to you in the power of his spirit, but has to talk to you on the basis of authorities, of the Fathers, these authorities always contradict each other, or at least are different. So he can advise you something which is probably right, in an ethical act, but it may be more probable that other things are right. But if he can find an acknowledged authority of the Church which has said something about a problem – even if it is not very safe, even if other things probably seem to be better – you can follow it Now the result of this doctrine was a tremendous ethical relativism and laxity, chaos, and this of course was very advantageous in the 18th century, in which the church followed the new morals of bourgeois society, which was in the development, by making the ethical demands relativistic. Of course this was so abused that finally a reaction arose in the Roman church.
Alphonse Liguori – a name which you will often read – reacted against it, but he himself really didn’t overcome, because he also says that it is not I who can decide, but my confessor must decide. And how can the confessor decide? Finally the principle of the probable triumphs.
Another development connected with this was that now every sin becomes a venial sin. And here again Jesuitism and the bourgeoisie – the greatest enemies – went together in taking out the radical seriousness which the Jansenists and the early Protestants maintained.
This is the situation. Much more can be said about present-day Catholicism. I said a few things about it yesterday, about the way in which the last decisions of the Pope have continued this line. Let me refer to one decision which is not known so much as the decision about the bodily ascension of the Holy Virgin. This was a previous encyclical of the Pope in which he said things which went even beyond what was said in the Vaticanum about the infallibility of the Pope. In the Vaticanum the infallibility referred only to statements ex cathedra, I. e., if the Pope officially, as Pope, makes a statement of dogma or ethics. But in this encyclical of 1950, he made statements about philosophies, and sharply directed his statements against existentialism. In these statements he said that if after many considerations the Pope has decided that a philosophy is unsound, then no faithful Catholic can work in the line of this philosophy any more.
Now this goes far beyond everything which the Pope has said before. And then of course he puts Thomas Aquinas again into the role of the Catholic philosopher. That meant that some of the French existentialists, Lubac and others, and others – had to give up their teaching positions because philosophically they were existentialists – although they answered the existentialist questions in religious terms. So you see one line which goes on even against all probability.
1 remember when in March 1950, the Holy Year of the Roman church – 1 asked Dr. Niebuhr, “What do you think: will the Pope make this declaration ex cathedra, about the ascension of the Holy Virgin?” Then he answered: 1 don’t think so; he is too clever for that; it is a slap in the face to the whole modern world and it is only dangerous for the Roman church to do that today. And a few months later it was done! Now this means even such a keen observer as Reinhold Niebuhr couldn’t imagine – and I was of course convinced by him, even more than he himself probably!! – I was convinced that he was right because none of us could imagine that the Pope would dare to do this today. But he did it. And what does that mean? This means two things, that an authoritarian system, in order to fix itself, has to become narrower and narrower. It has to do what the other totalitarian systems do: they exclude, step by step, one danger after the other, threatening them by the presence of other traditions. In the Middle Ages, before the Crusades, there was no other tradition than the tradition of the ancient Church, which was the great educator of the barbaric nations. This was a simple situation. The problem already became actual when since Frederick.Il, ca. .1250 – the same year in which there was the 4th Lateran Council – in this moment the danger started and the Church reacted with anti-heretic laws and crusades. The same thing is in the development of the Roman church and in the development of all other totalitarian systems: they must try to prevent their subjects from meeting other traditions. Of course, the Roman church did this consistently for many, many years, in terms of the Index Librorum Vetitorum, the index of forbidden books, which are forbidden not for the scholars, of course, but for the populace; the general people is not allowed to read any of the books which are on the Index, and students must have a general or special permission, for instance, to read theological books of Paul Tillich, and others – which they sometimes do; and then they are very clever about them. 1 just got an article about my systematic theology from a Catholic; he gave me the manuscript, and it is an excellent analysis. They can do it very well, but they must have special permission for that. The ordinary man is not allowed to read such !”dangerous” things, which means other traditions are not allowed to hit the souls of those who shall be well preserved. Now that is one of the reasons for the so-called “iron curtain.” This is why Hitler completely cut off Germany from any intellectual influence, year by year a little more. And this is an inescapable development of all authoritarian systems, and this is why this encylical in the year 1950 was so interesting, with the declaration of the dogma.
But it has another connotation: that the liberal world has become so weak that the Pope doesn’t need to be afraid of it any more. This was our error – Dr. Niebuhr’s and myself – that we thought he would respect the Protestants and the humanists – -perhaps even the Communists all over the world, and not put himself in a position that almost everybody would speak of the superstitious attitude of the Roman church, in making such a dogma. But he was not afraid – and probably he was right, because the very weak Protestant resistance against this and similar things cannot hurt the Catholic church any more. And the humanist opposition is almost non-existent because humanism itself is in a process of self-disintegration. And the greatness of the existentialists is that they describe this disintegration, but they themselves are in the midst of it.
Now this is the situation, and in this situation an understanding of the Roman church is more needed by all of you, in your actual ministry, than it was in the last hundred years We are threatened by all forms of totalitarianism and authoritarianism. Now 1 distinguish between totalitarianism and authoritarianism: Rome is not totalitarian – only a state can be; but Rome is authoritarian, and exercises many functions which otherwise totalitarian states have exercised. So the question which the existence of Catholicism puts before us is the question whether, with the end of the liberal era, liberalism at all will come to an end. This leads me to the question, which is very near to my heart, whether with the end of the Protestant era, the Protestant principle will also come to an end. This leads us to the problem of the Reformation.
Now I will deal with this large problem in a very short survey, after having agreed with Professor Handy that in view of the fact that you come from Protestant traditions and are nourished, so to speak, with Protestant ideas, you do not need this as much as you need a knowledge of the ancient and medieval Church. I am not so sure that you don’t need it and for the very reason that the kind of Protestantism which developed in this country is not very much an expression of the Reformation, but has much more to do with the so-called Evangelical Radicals, and their influence on the forms of Protestantism as they have developed in this country. On the other hand, there are the Lutheran and Calvinistic groups, and they are strong; but they have adapted themselves to an astonishing degree to the climate of American Protestantism; and this climate is not made by them but by the sectarian movements. Therefore when I came here 20 years ago, the Reformation theology was almost unknown in Union Theological Seminary, because of the different traditions and the reduction of the Protestant tradition more to the non-Reformation traditions.
So I hope that when next fall Professor Pauck comes and gives his treatment of the Reformation, in the one and one-half year course on Church history – which will replace this one lecture I gave to you – then you will have much more occasion and better guidance for a full study of the Reformation. In any case, today I will put the Reformation into the broad sweep of Church-historical development.
Now the turning point of the Reformation and of Church history as a whole is the experience of an Augustinian monk in his monastic cell – Martin Luther. Martin Luther didn’t teach other doctrines – that, he also did; but this was not important, there were many others also who did; cf. Wyclif. But none of those who protested against the Roman system were able to break through it. The only man who really broke through, and whose! breakthrough has transformed the surface of the earth, was Martin Luther. That is his greatness. Don’t measure his greatness by comparing him with Lutheranism; that’s something quite different, and is something which has gone through the period of’ Lutheran Orthodoxy and many other things – political movements, Prussian conservatism, and what not. But Luther is something different. Luther is one of the few great prophets of the Christian Church, and even if his greatness was limited by some characteristics he had, and by his later development, his greatness is overwhelming. He is responsible – and he alone – for the fact that a purified Christianity, a Christianity of the Reformation, was able to establish itself on equal terms with the Roman tradition. And from this point of view we must look at him. Therefore when I speak of Luther, I don ‘t speak of the theologian who has produced Lutheranism – there are many others who have done this, and Melanchthon much more than Luther – but I speak of the man in whom the breakthrough occurred, the break through the Roman system; and that is he, and nobody else.
This breakthrough was a break through three distortions of Christianity which make the Roman Catholic religion what it is. The breakthrough was the creation of another religion. What does :religion” mean here? “Religion” means nothing else than another personal relationship between man and God – man to God and God to man: that is what the difference is. And this is why it was not possible, in spite of tremendous attempts during the 16th century and sometimes later on, to produce a reunion of the churches. You can compromise about different doctrines; you cannot compromise about different religions! Either you have the Protestant relation to God or you have the Catholic, but you cannot have both; you can ‘t make a compromise.
The Catholic system is a system of objective, quantitative and relative relations between God and man for the sake of providing eternal happiness for man. I repeat: The Catholic religion is a system of objective, quantitative, and relative relations between God and man for the sake of providing eternal happiness for man. They are quantitative relations, which must come together – here a piece and there a piece; they are relative: none is absolute, each is relative; and they are objective, in the sense of being things and not personal relationship.
Now this is the basic structure – objective, not personal; quantitative, not qualitative, and conditioned, not absolute.
And this leads me to another sentence, namely, that the Roman system is a system of divine-human management, represented and actualized by ecclesiastical management.. It is a system of Divine-human management represented and mediated by ecclesiastical management.
Now first the purpose: The purpose is to give eternal blessedness to man and to save him from eternal punishment. The alternative is eternal suffering in Hell or eternal pleasure in Heaven. This is the purpose of the whole thing. Now the way to do is the way which we have described when we discussed the Catholic sacraments, in which a magic giving of grace is the one side, and moral freedom which produces merits is the other side – magic grace completed by active law; active law completed by magic grace.
The quantitative character comes through also in terms of the ethical commands. There are two groups: commandments and counsels — commandments for every Christian; counsels, the full yoke of Christ, only for the monks and partly for the priests. For instance, love toward the enemy is a counsel of perfection but not a commandment for everybody. Asceticism is a counsel of perfection but not a, commandment. for everybody.
There is a difference between two types of degrees, moral demands. There is also a quantitative character in the Divine punishments There is eternal punishments for mortal sins; there is Purgatory for light sins; there is Heaven for fully purged people in Purgatory, and sometimes, as saints, already on earth. All these are quantitative and relative elements. Under these conditions nobody ever knew whether ‘he could be certain of his salvation, because you never could do enough, you never could receive enough grace of a magical character, nor could you ever do enough in terms of merits and asceticism. The result of this was a tremendous amount of anxiety at the end of the Middle Ages. In my “Courage to Be” I have described, as one of the three great types of anxiety, the anxiety of guilt, and I have related this anxiety of guilt socially and historically to the end of the Middle Ages, It is always present, of course, but at that time it was predominant and almost like a contagious sickness. People couldn’t do enough in order to get a merciful God, in order to get over their bad conscience. There was a tremendous amount of anxiety expressed in the art of that time, expressed in the demand for ever and ever more pilgrimages, in the collection and adoration of relics, in prayers of “Our Fathers,” in giving of money, buying indulgences, self-torturing asceticism – and doing everything possible in order to get over one’s guilt Now it is interesting to look into this time. We are almost unable to understand it. Now with the same anxiety of guilt and condemnation, Luther was in the cloister. Out of it he went into it, and out of it he experienced what he experienced, namely, that no amount of asceticism is ever able to give us, in the system of relativities, quantities, and things, a real certainty of salvation. He always was in fear of the threatening God, of the punishing and destroying God. And he asked: how can I get a merciful God? Out of this question and the anxiety behind this question, the Reformation arose.
Now what does Luther say against the Roman quantitative, objective, and relative point of view?: The relation to God is personal. It is an ego-thou relationship, not mediated by anybody or anything – only by accepting the message of acceptance, which is the content of the Bible. This is not an objective status in which you are, but this is a personal relationship, which he called “faith”; but not faith in something which one can believe, but acceptance that you are accepted: this is what he meant.
It is qualitative, not quantitative. Either you are separated or you are not separated from God. There are no quantities of separation or non-separation. In a person-to-person relationship you can say: there are conflicts, there are tensions, but as long as the relationship is a relationship of confidence and love, it is a quality. And if it is separated, it is something else. But it is not a matter of quantity. And in the same way, it is unconditional and not conditioned, as it is in the Roman system. You are not a little bit nearer to God if you do a little bit more for the church, or against your body, but you are near to God completely, absolutely, if you are united with Him; and you are separated if you are not The one is unconditionally negative; the other is unconditionally positive. The Reformation restates the unconditional categories of the Bible.
From this follows that the magic element as well as the legal element in the piety disappear. The forgiveness of sins, or acceptance, is not an act of the past done in baptism, but it is continuously necessary. Repentance is an element in every relationship to God, in every moment. It never can stop. The magic as well as the legal element disappear, for grace is personal communion with the sinner. There is no possibility of any merit; there is only the necessity of accepting. And there is no hidden magic power in our souls which make us acceptable, but we are acceptable in the moment in which we accept acceptance. Therefore the sacramental activities as such are rejected. There are sacraments, but they mean something quite different. And the ascetic activities are eternally rejected because none of them can give certainty. But here again a misunderstanding often prevails. One says: Now isn’t that egocentric:; l think Maritain told me that once – if the Protestants think about their own individual certainty? – Now it is not an abstract certainty, that Luther meant; it is reunion with God – this implies certainty. But everything centers around this being accepted. And this of course is certain; if you have God, you have Him. But if you look at yourself, at your experiences, your asceticism, and your morals, then you can be certain only if you are extremely self-complacent and blind toward yourselves; otherwise you cannot. And these, are absolute categories. The Divine demand is absolute. They are not relative demands, which bring more or less blessedness, but they are the absolute demand: joyfully accept the will of God. And there is only one punishment – not the different degrees between the ecclesiastical satisfactions, between the punishment in purgatory, and its many degrees, and finally Hell. There is nothing like this. There is only one punishment, namely the despair of being separated from God. And consequently there is only one grace, namely, reunion with God. That’s all. And to this, Luther – whom Adolf Harnack, the great historian of the dogma, has called a genius of reduction – to this simplicity, Luther has reduced the Christian religion. This is another religion.
Now Luther believed that this was a restatement of the New Testament, especially of Paul. But although his message has the truth of Paul, it’s by no means the full Paul; it is not everything which Paul is. The situation determined what he took from Paul, namely Paul’s conception of defense against legalism – the doctrine of justification by faith. But he did not take in Paul’s doctrine of the Spirit. Of course he did not deny it; there is a lot of it; but that is not decisive. The decisive thing is that a doctrine of the Spirit, of being “in Christ,” of the New Being, is the weak spot in Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith.
In Paul the situation is different. Paul has three main centers in his thinking, which make it not a circle but a triangle. The one is his eschatological consciousness, the certainty that in Christ eschatology is fulfilled and a New Reality has started. The second is the doctrine of the Spirit, which means for him that the Kingdom of God has appeared, that it is here, and there; that the New Being, in which we are, is given to us in Christ. The third point in Paul is the critical defense against legalism: justification by faith.
Luther took all three, of course. But the eschatological point was not really understood. He, in his weariness of the theological fights – you cannot become more tired of anything in the world than of theological controversies, if you always are living it; and even Melanchthon, when he came to death, one of his last words was: “God save me now from the rabies theologorum – from the wrath of the theologians! This is an expression you will understand if you will read the conflicts of the centuries. I just read with great pain, day and night, the doctor’s dissertation of a former pupil, Mr. Thompson, Dr. McNeill’s former assistant, an excellent work in which he describes in more than 300 narrow and large pages the struggle between Melanchthonism and Lutheranism. And if you read that and then see how simple the fundamental statement of Luther was, and how the rabies theologorum produced an almost unimaginable amount of theological disputations on points of which even half-learned theologians as myself would say that they are intolerable, they don’t mean anything any more – then you can see the difference between the prophetic mind and the fanatical theological mind.
Lecture 32: Penance and Luther’s Attacks. Erasmus. Muenzer.
Today I come to the point where Luther’s breakthrough was externally occasioned. It is the sacrament of penance. You remember that I said there are two main sacraments in the Roman church, the Mass, which is a part of the Lord’s Supper; and the subjective sacrament which had an immense educational function, namely the dealing with the individual in the sacrament of penance.
This sacrament can be called the sacrament of subjectivity, in contrast to the Mass which was the complete sacrament of objectivity. Between these two, the medieval situation goes on. But it was not the Mass – although it was tremendously attacked by Luther – which was the real point of criticism; but it was the subjective sacrament and the abuses connected with it. The abuses came from the fact that the sacrament of penance had different parts: contrition, confession, absolution, and satisfaction. The first and the last points were the most dangerous ones.
Contrition – the real repentance, the change of the mind – was replaced by attrition, the fear of eternal punishment, which Luther called the repentance inspired by the imminent prospect of the gallows. So it has no religious value for him. The other dangerous point was satisfaction, which did not mean that you can earn your forgiveness of sins by works of satisfaction, but that you have to do them because the sin is still in you after it is forgiven, and that the humble subjection to the satisfactions demanded by the minister is the decisive thing.
Now this means that the priest imposed on the communicandus all kinds of activities and sometimes such difficult ones that the people wanted to get rid of them. And that was accepted by the Church in terms of the indulgences, which are also sacrifices – you must sacrifice some money, in order to buy them, and then you could get rid of the satisfactions. The popular idea was that these satisfactions are effective for overcoming one’s guilt consciousness. This was a point where one can say that a kind of market with eternal life was going on: you could buy the indulgences and in doing so you could get rid of the punishments, not only on earth but also in Purgatory. The abuses brought Luther to a thinking about the whole meaning of the sacrament of penance. In doing so he came to conclusions which were absolutely in opposition to the attitude of the Roman church, and not only to the abuses: the criticism went to the source of the abuses, namely the doctrine itself. And so Luther put on the door of the Wittenberg church the famous 95 Theses, the first of which is the classical formulation of everything which is Reformed Christianity: “Our Lord and teacher, Jesus Christ, saying ‘Repent ye,’ , wished that the whole life of the believers be penitence.” Now this means the sacramental act is only something in which a much more universal attitude comes to a sacramental form; it is not the sacramental which is important but the relationship to God. It is not a new theological doctrine but a new relationship to God which the Reformers brought about, and this comes out in this one sentence – the relationship is not an objective management between God and man, but it is a personal relationship of penitence, first of all, and then faith.
Perhaps the most striking and paradoxical expression is given by Luther in the following words: “Penitence is something between injustice and justice. Therefore, whenever we are repenting we are sinners, but nevertheless for this reason we are also righteous, and in the process of justification, partly sinners, partly righteous – that is nothing but repenting.,” This means that there is always something like repentance in the relationship to God.
Luther at that time did not attack the sacrament of penance as such. He even thinks the indulgences can be tolerated. But he attacked the center, out of which all the abuses came, and this was the decisive event of the Reformation.
But after this attack had been made, the consequences were clear. The money of indulgence can only help against those works which are given by the Pope, I. e , the canonic punishments. The dead in Purgatory cannot be released by the Pope; he can only pray for them; he does not have power over the dead. The forgiveness of sins is an act of God alone, and the Pope can only declare – and “Pope” also means every priest – that God has done it already. There is no treasury of the Church out of which the indulgences can come, except the one treasury, namely the work of Christ. No saint can do superfluous works because it is our duty to do everything we can anyhow; how can something be superfluous? The power of the keys, namely of forgiving sins, is given by God to every disciple who is with Him. The works of satisfaction are only the works of love; all other works are an arbitrary invention by the Church. Arid there is no time and space for them, because in our real life we must always be aware of the works of love which are demanded from us in every moment. Confession, which is made by the priest in the sacrament of penance, is directed towards God. You don’t need to go to the priest for this. In every “our Father” we confess our sins, and that is what matters and not the sacramental confession. Arid about satisfaction he said: this is a completely dangerous concept because we cannot satisfy God at all; if there is satisfaction, it is done by Christ to God, but is not done by us. So this concept has to disappear. Purgatory is a fiction and an imagination of man, with no biblical foundation. The only thing which remains is absolution. And of course Luther was psychologically educated enough to know that a solemn absolution may have psychological effects, but he denied that it is necessary. The message of the Gospel, which is the message of forgiveness, is the absolution in every moment, and you can get it as the answer of God to your prayer for forgiveness; you don’t need to go to church for this.
This means the sacrament of penance is completely dissolved. :Penitence is transformed into a personal relationship to God and to the neighbor, against a system of means to obtain the release of objective punishments in Hell, Purgatory, and life, which the Roman system demanded.. In reality, all these concepts are undercut at least, if not abolished. Everything is put on the basis of a person-to-person relationship between God and man. You can have this relationship even in Hell. That means Hell is simply a place, but it is not a state. And that is abolished by the kind of Reformation idea of relationship to God.
Now of course this was a danger and a difficulty, that in this way many educational degrees have been abolished by Luther and only the absolute categories of the relationship between God and man: are left. The Pope did not accept this, of course, and so the conflict between Luther and the Church arose. Now let’s make clear beforehand that this was not the beginning of the Reformation. Luther hoped to reform the Church, including the Pope and the priests. But the Pope and the priests didn’t want to be reformed in any way. The last great bull defining the power of the Pope says: “Therefore we declare, pronounce and define that it is universally necessary for salvation that every human creature is subject to the Roman high priest.” This is the bull which defines most sharply the unlimited and absolute power of the Pope.
Now Luther criticized the Church when the Church did not follow his criticism of the sacrament of penance. There is only one ultimate criterion for Christianity, namely the message of the Gospel. Therefore there is no infallibility of the Pope. The Pope may fall into error. — Then his Catholic enemies showed him that it is not only the Pope but also some of the Councils which deserved to be attacked now. Then he didn’t retire, but said: Then also the Councils may fall into error. — And this was actually the break, because this meant even if you go from the curialistic
theory that the Pope in Rome alone is the monarch who decides… ; if you go then to the conciliaristic theory that the great Councils of the Church are absolutely infallible, even then Luther said: No, they are human, they may fall into error. The Pope could be tolerated, he says, if he were only by human law, by the law of expediency, as the chief administrator of the Church. But that is not what the Pope claims. He claims to be by Divine right, and that means he is an absolute figure in the Church. And here Luther said this cannot be stood, because no human being can ever be the vicar of the Divine power; the Divine right of the Pope is a demonic claim and actually the claim of the Antichrist. Of course, when he said this the break was clear. There is only one head of the Church, namely Christ, and the Pope as he is now is the creation of the Divine wrath to punish Christianity for its sins. This was meant theologically, and not as name-calling; he meant it very seriously, theologically, when he called the Pope the Antichrist. It was not directed against a special man and his shortcomings – everybody criticized the behavior of the Pope at that time – but he criticized the position of the Pope, namely that the Pope is by Divine right the representative of Christ. In this way the Pope destroys the souls, because he wants to have a power which God alone can have.
This was Luther’s criticism of the Church, and this was the basis for the break with the Church. The basis for this break was not that he taught another theology, but the break was that the Pope did not admit criticism because he claimed to be cf Divine right in everything he does and thinks, officially.
One of the main things which Luther himself experienced was the importance of monasticism in the Roman church – he himself was a monk. Out of the monastic attitude of the Roman church a double morals followed, the morals of counsels, advices for higher goodness, greater nearness to God, namely the monastic attitude; and then the rules which are valid for everybody and which everybody has to fulfill. The higher counsels for the monks, such as fasting, discipline, humility, celibacy, etc., make the monks something ontologically higher than the ordinary man. He has higher substantial graces, whatever he may be personally.
Now this was demanded by the historical situation when the Church became larger and larger and the masses of the people couldn’t take upon themselves, as it was said, the whole yoke of Christ; they couldn’t because it was too heavy for them. So a special group did it, and this group follows the special advices for higher morality and piety. They were the religiosi, those who are religious in their whole attitude, who are not religious as everybody has to be, but who make religion, so to speak, their “vocation.”
Now the double morals are the main point of Luther’s attack. The Divine demand is absolute and unconditional. It refers to everybody. This absolute demand destroys the whole system of religion. There is no status of perfection, as the Catholics ascribed to the monks. Everybody has to be perfect and nobody is able to be perfect. Not man’s power is able to give one the graces to do the right thing; but not a special endeavor, as the monks have it. Decisive in all cases is the intention: the good will, not the magic habit of which the Catholic Church spoke. And this intention, this good will, is right even if its content is wrong. But the valuation of a personality is dependent on the inner intention of a person towards the good. Luther took this very seriously. For him it is not enough if you will to do the good, the will of God, but you must will what God wills joyfully, with your voluntary participation. And if you fulfill the whole law but you don’t do it joyfully – because you are allowed to do it, because you are a child and the image of God – then it is worth nothing. The obedience of the servant is not the fulfillment of Christian ethics. Only he who loves, and joyfully loves, God and man is able to fulfill the law. But this is what is expected from everybody.
This means Luther turns religion and ethics around. We cannot fulfill the will of God without being united with Him. And this is impossible without forgiveness of sins. Even the best people have elements of despair, and aggressiveness and indifference and self-contradiction. Only on the basis of Divine forgiveness can the full yoke of Christ be imposed on everybody. This is completely different from a moralistic interpretation of Christianity. The moral is that which follows – it might or might not follow; it should follow, essentially; sometimes it does not – but the prius of it is the participation in the Divine grace in His forgiveness and in His power of being.
This makes all the difference in the world, and it is one of the most unfortunate happenings that Protestantism always is in the temptation to turn around the thing into its opposite, namely, to make the religious dimension dependent on morality. Wherever this is done, we are outside the realm of true Protestantism. You should never forget this in your congregations and everywhere: if somebody says, “Oh, God must love me, and I love Him because I do almost everything He demands.” – namely, what the suburban neighbor demands! – then the religious and ethical situation is completely turned into its opposite. But if somebody says: “I know that I don’t do anything good, or so little seemingly good, so ambiguous that the only thing which is good in me is that God declares that I am good and that I am able to accept this Divine declaration, and if I accept it, then it may happen that there may be a transformed reality; but the other side is the first.” And that is one of the centers of the whole Reformation. Therefore the famous phrase, “by faith alone,” (sola fide.)
This phrase is the most misunderstood and distorted, phrase of the Reformation. People have taught it means that if you do the good work of believing, having faith in something – something unbelievable, especially – then you do that good work which makes you good before God. The phrase should be not “by faith alone” but “by grace alone, which is received through faith.” So if you want to be correct, don’t translate sola fide by the English phrase “by faith alone,” but “by grace alone, through faith,” whereby “faith” means nothing than the acceptance of grace. That is what Luther was concerned about, because he had experienced that if you do it the other way around, then you are always lost, and if you take it seriously you are in absolute despair, because if you know yourselves, you know that you are not good; you know it as well as Paul did; and that means that ethics are the consequence and not the cause of goodness.
Now I come to that e1ement in the Roman Catholic Church which gave it its tremendous power; the sacramental element/ The Roman church Is essentially a sacramental church. This means that God is essentially seen as present, and not as somebody who is distant and only has to demand. A sacramental world-view is a world-view in which the Divine is seen as visible and real. Therefore a church of the sacrament is a church of the present God. But on the other hand the Roman church was a church in which this sacrament was administered as a magic means by the hierarchy, and only by the hierarchy, so that everybody who does not participate in it is lost, and he who participates in it, even if he is unworthy, gets the sacrament. And as you know, there were 7 sacraments. I discussed this fully before.
What does Luther do? He said: “No sacrament is effective by itself without full participation of the personal center, I. e., without the listening to the word connected with the sacrament, and the faith which accepts it. The sacrament qua sacrament cannot help at all. The magic side of sacramental thinking is destroyed.
From this follows that transubstantiation is destroyed because this doctrine makes the bread and wine a piece of Divine reality put on the altar. But such a thing does not exist. The presence of God is not a presence in terms of objective presence, on a special place, in a special form; but it is a presence for the faithful alone. There..are two criteria for this: it is only for the faithfu1, then it is only an action: Then if you come to a church and there is no sacrament spread; you don’t need to do anything about it because it is pure bread,.. It: becomes more .than this only in action, only in the moment in which it is given to those who have faith. For the Roman theory it is there all the time.. If you come into an empty Roman church, you must bow down before the shrine because there God Himself is present., even if there is nobody else present except you and this sacrament. “Present” means transformation, transubstantiation. This Luther abolished. He denounced the character indelibilis as a human fiction – the character which you get in baptism, confirmation, and in ordination, that whenever you have it you are always a Christian, and for instance, under the heresy laws and an object of persecution, which the Pagans and Jews are not; or if you are confirmed, you are always a soldier of Christ and have, so to speak, the invisible uniform of the Church. Or if you are ordained, you always have the power of the sacraments, so that even it you are thrown out of the Church, you can perform sacramentally valid marriages, and other things.
All this, Luther denied, calling it a human fiction. There is no such thing as a character which cannot be destroyed. If you are called to the ministry, you must minister exactly as everybody does who is called to some profession. If you go away rom it, if you become a businessman or professor or shoemaker, than you are this and no longer a minister at all, and you have no sacramental power at all. You can have priestly power, if you are a pius Christian towards everybody else. But this is going on all the time, and doesn’t need ordination.
Now this took away the sacramental foundation of the whole hierarchical system. But most important was his attack on the Mass. The Mass is a sacrifice we bring to God, but we have nothing to bring to God, and therefore it is a blasphemy, a sacrilege. And in most Protestant countries in the period of the Reformation, the state government, prohibited – as still in many countries today there are laws against printed or spoken, blasphemy – the Mass, which was supposed to be such a blasphemy, and therefore it was persecuted and it a blasphemy because here man gives something to God, instead of expecting that God has given everything He has to give, namely Himself in Christ, and that nothing more than this was needed. This was perhaps the most profound attack on the Roman system, which is a sacramental system completely, and which was dissolved just by this criticism.
Now this is the conflict of Luther with the Roman church – some of the main points in it. I now come to the other conflicts, the conflict with the humanists and the conflict with the Evangelical Radicals.
The Conflict with the Humanists
The representative of humanism at that time was Erasmus of Rotterdam. In the beginning they had friendly feelings for each other, but then the attacks on both sides created a break between Protestantism and humanism, and this break has not been healed up to today, in spite of the fact that Zwingli tried to heal it as early as in the 20’s of the 16th century. Erasmus was a humanist, but he was a Christian humanist; he was not anti-religious at all. He believed himself to be a better Christian than any Pope of his time, and he agreed in this in unity with Luther. But he was a humanist, and that means he had special characteristics distinguishing him from the prophet. You have Dr. Richardson’s article on the prophet and the scholar, and the confrontation of Luther and Erasmus in these terms. What Luther couldn’t stand in Erasmus, he has expressed very clearly. He couldn’t stand his unexistential detachment, the detachment from the religious content without passion, as he says; the scholarly attitude towards the contents of the Christian faith. He felt that in Erasmus there is some unconcern, while the problems are matters of ultimate concern.
The second is that as every scholar has to be skeptical about the traditions and the meaning of the words and everything else which he shall interpret, Erasmus was a scholarly skeptic. Luther couldn’t stand this. For him absolute statements in matters of ultimate concern are needed.
Third, Luther was a radical, in political and every other respect; but Erasmus seemed to be to him a man of adaptation to the political situation – not for his own sake but in order to have peace on earth.
Fourthly, Erasmus has a strongly educational point of view. The development of the individual in educational terms is decisive for him. And all humanism, up to today, has this educational drive and passion.
Fifth, Erasmus’ criticism is rational criticism. It is lacking in revolutionary aggressiveness.
Now all this Luther sees in Erasmus. But the whole discussion finally focused around the doctrine of the freedom of the will. Erasmus was for human freedom; Luther against. But now please don’t write that down without writing down everything I have to add now!: Neither Erasmus nor Luther doubted about man’s psychological freedom. They didn’t think man is a stone or animal. And even Karl Barth says: I know well that man is not a turtle – But he doesn’t know it well! because he doesn’t see that this means that man has freedom, freedom of deliberation and decision, freedom of contradicting himself, and that in this freedom which is his rational structure his image of God is implied.
Erasmus as well as Luther knew that man is essentially free, that he is man only because he is free. But now on this basis they drew opposite consequences. For Erasmus this freedom is also valid if you try to come to God. You can help God. You can cooperate with God, for your salvation. For Luther this is absolutely impossible. It takes the honor from God and from Christ and makes man into something which he is not. So he speaks of “the enslaved will.”. . . but it is the free will which is enslaved. It is ridiculous to speak of a stone that it has no free will. Only he who has free will can be said to have an enslaved will, namely enslaved by the demonic forces of reality.
Luther attacks the Anselmian point of view by saying that justification by faith is the only point of certainty, and that it is not our contribution to salvation that can give us quiet consolation. He says that in Erasmus the meaning of Christ is denied and finally that the honor of God is denied.
I think that here we have a very fundamental difference between the two attitudes. The attitude of the humanist is that of detached analysis. And if it comes to synthesis, it is that of the moralist, in contrast to the prophet, who sees everything in the light of God alone
Luther’s conflict with the Evangelical Radicals: This is especially important for you because the prevailing type in this country is not produced by the Reformation directly, but by the indirect effect of the Reformation through the movements of Evangelical Radicalism. What is the meaning of this concept?
First of all we must agree that they all are dependent on Luther. They have a long history in the Middle Ages, but only Luther liberated the tendencies which were alive in the Middle Ages from the suppression to which they were condemned. Luther’s emphasis on almost all points was accepted by the Evangelical Radicals, but then they went beyond him. They had the feeling that he stood half-way. First of all his principle of the Bible – to which we come tomorrow – is something which they attacked. God has not spoken but once, in the past, and then has become silent; but He always speaks, He speaks in the heart or depths of every man, if this man is prepared by his own cross to hear. The Spirit is in the depths of the heart, although not by ourselves but from God. From this point of view, he says that it is always possible that the Spirit speaks through individuals.
Now I speak mostly of Thomas Muenzer, who is the most creative of the Evangelical Radicals. But in order to receive this Spirit, man must participate in the cross. Luther, he said, preaches a sweet Christ – the Christ of forgiveness. But we must, he said, also preach the bitter Christ, namely the Christ who says that we must take His cross upon ourselves. The cross is, so we can say, the extreme, the boundary situation. It is internal and external. And Muenzer, in an astonishing way, expresses that in modern existentialist categories. It is the human finiteness which, if he realizes it, produces in him a disgust about the whole world. Then he really becomes poor in spirit. Then the anxiety of creaturely existence grasps him. Then he finds that courage is possible. But then it happens that God appears to him and that he is transformed. And if this has happened to him, then he can have very special revelations. He can have individual visions, not only about theology as a whole, but also about matter of the daily life.
These groups felt on this basis that they are the real fulfillment of the Reformation, that Luther remained half-Catholic, that they are elected; while the Roman church has no certainty for any individual with respect to justification; while Luther has the certainty of justification but not of election; while Calvin had the certainty not only of justification but at least to a great extent also of being elected – Muenzer and his followers had the certainty of being elected within a group of elected, namely the sectarian group.
From this point of view of the inner Spirit, all sacraments fall down. And the immediacy of the procession of the Spirit makes even what is left of the office of the minister unnecessary in the sectarian groups. Instead of that, they have another impetus, namely the transformation of society either by suffering, if they cannot change it, and abstinence from arms and oaths and public office and all those things involving you in state existence; or if they are radical, then by political measures, by the sword overcoming the evil society in which one lives; and then one becomes a religious socialist. These two movements we have in that period, and these movements and the whole attitude have influenced this country very much.
Lecture 33: Reformation Sects. Luther’s Teachings – Faith, Concept of God.
We spoke yesterday of the doctrine of the Evangelical Radicals, or Enthusiasts. as they are often called. I gave you some of their main doctrines. The main difference is the emphasis on the presence of the Divine Spirit not only in the Biblical writings but also in every individual in every moment. giving even counsels for daily-life activities.
Now Luther had another feeling. His feeling was basically the feeling of the wrath of God, of God who is Judge. This was his central experience. Therefore when he speaks of the presence of the Spirit, he speaks of it in terms of repentance. of personal wrestling. which makes it impossible to have the Spirit as a possession. This seems to me the difference between all perfectionist and pietistic attitudes, that in Luther and the other Reformers. the main emphasis is on the distance of God from man. Therefore the Neo-Reformation theology of today. people like Barth. emphasize again and again that God is in Heaven and you are on earth. This feeling of distance – -or as Kierkegaard has aid. repentance, is the normal relationship of man to God.
The second point in which the Reformation theology differs from the theology of the radical evangelistic movements. is the different meaning of the cross. For the Reformers, the cross is the objective event of salvation and not the personal experience of creatureliness. This is a fundamental difference. Therefore the participation in the cross either in terms of human weakness or in terms of human moral endeavor to take one’s own weakness upon oneself. is not the real problem with which the Reformation deals. This is presupposed. But this is something which we often have today as a nuance, even in our place here, that some of us emphasize more – following the Reformation theology – the objectivity of salvation through the cross of Christ; and others. the taking the cross upon oneself. These two are, of course, not contradictions in any way. but in most important problems of human existence it is not a matter of exclusiveness but of emphasis. And it is clear that those of us who are influenced by the Reformation tradition emphasize more the objectivity of the cross. as the cross of Christ. as the self-sacrifice of God in man. etc.; while others who come from the evangelistic tradition – which is so strong in this country – emphasize more the taking upon oneself one’s cross, namely the cross of misery, etc. The next point is that in Luther the revelation is always connected with the objectivity of the historical revelation, I. e., with Scripture, and not in the innermost center of the human soul, which as Luther felt was the pride of the sectarian movements that they believed that in the real human situation it is possible to have immediate revelation, apart from the historical revelation as embodied in the Bible.
The other is that Luther and the whole Reformation, even Zwingli, emphasized infant baptism, namely that baptism is the symbol of the prevenient grace of God and not dependent on the subjective reaction. Of course, the subjective reaction of the infants is either not possible or, as Luther and Calvin believed, a Divine miracle. But that is not decisive. The decisive thing is that God starts, and that before we answer much can happen; that the time difference between the indefinite moment of maturity and the definite moment of baptism doesn’t mean anything in the sight of God. Baptism is the Divine offer of forgiveness, and to this we always can come back. But adult baptism emphasizes the objective participation, the ability of the mature man to decide.
Here you have again the difference.
Then a last point: Luther was very much worried, as were the other Reformers, by the way in which these sects isolated themselves and emphasized that they were the true Church, and that each of their members was elected. Such a possibility was completely out of the thinking of the Reformers, and I think in this they were right; psychologically it is well known that the sects of the Reformation period were very much out of love towards anybody who did not belong to the sect, and I believe that some of you probably have had similar experiences even today with sectarian or quasi -sectarian groups. What is most lacking in them is not theological insight, not even insight in their negativities, the love which is identifies the negative situation in which we are, with the negative situation of everybody – outside or inside the center.
The final point was the eschatology: the eschatological negation of the state, the revolutionary criticism which we find in the sectarian movements in the Reformation period, either more passive or more active, were negated by the Reformers by their eschatology, namely the eschatology of the coming kingdom of God, from a vertical line – nothing to do with the horizontal line, which is, so to speak, given to the devil anyhow. Luther always spoke of the beloved last day, and he was longing for it, in order to be liberated – not so much as Melanchthon, from the “wrath of the theologians,” but from the power-play which was at that time not much nicer than it is today.
So it was another mood, and again this mood is so visible in the present status of things in Europe and here. Here under the strong influence of the Evangelical Radicalist movements we have the tendency to transform reality. In Europe we have, especially today after the two World Wars, the eschatological feeling, the desire for and the vision of the end in a very realistic sense, and the resignation of the Christians with respect to the power-plays. Now all such things – I must emphasize again – are exaggerations, typical structures, and no typical structure is ever empirically real; everything empirically real is an approximation to a type. But I would say, after my double experience in Europe and here, that it is very visible that European Christianity is dependent on the Reformation especially, and the American ~ more on the experiences of Evangelical Radicalism, especially in this political point of view.
Now I come from Luther’s discussion with the Roman church,. . Erasmus, and Thomas Muenzer, to Luther’s doctrines themselves. There I am starting with the principle of ,biblicism~ which is attributed to Luther. Whenever you see a monument representing Luther, you will always find that he is represented with the Bible in his hands. This is a little misleading, and the Catholic church is right when it says that there was biblicism in the whole Middle Ages – and I have emphasized that in this class very often; the biblicistic attitude is especially strong in the late Middle Ages immediately preceding the Reformation. And in a Catholic nominalist theologian such as Ockham, we have already a radical criticism of the Church by the Bible.
Nevertheless in Luther the biblical principle means something else. What did it mean before? In the nominalistic theology of people like Ockham, it meant the law of the Church, which may be turned against the actual Church but which remains a law. And on the other hand, we have the Renaissance relationship to the Bible, in which the Bible is the source book of the true religion, to be edited by good philologians such as Erasmus. These were the two attitudes – the legal attitude in nominalism, the doctrinal attitude in humanism. But neither of these was able to break through the fundamentals of the Catholic system, which are anyhow the system of the law. Therefore only a new principle of the understanding of the Bible was able to break through the nominalistic and humanistic doctrines.
Luther had many of these elements in himself. He valuated the philological edition of the New Testament by Erasmus; he often falls back into nominalistic attitudes of a legalistic character in connection with the doctrine of inspiration, that every word of the Bible is inspirated by the dictate of God. This happened to him again and again, and especially when he had to defend a doctrine as in the case of the Lord’s Supper, where a literal interpretation of the biblical word seemed to support his point of view. But beyond this he had something which is quite different from all this, and which brings his interpretation of the Bible in unity with, his new understanding of the relationship to God. I can make this clear when I speak of the word of God.
Now you don’t hear any term more often – in Lutheran traditions here and in Europe, and in Neo-Lutheran Reformation tradition, as in Barth, and others – than the term “word of God.” Now if you hear this term, then you hear a term which is more misleading than you can perhaps realize. In Luther himself it has at least six different meanings. But let’s go to the first one which is of importance, namely the relationship to the Bible.
Luther said – but he knew better – that the Bible is the word of God; but he often said, when he really wanted to express what he meant, that in the Bible there is the word of God, the message of the Christ, and His work of atonement, His creation of the forgiveness of sins, and salvation. He makes it very clear, when he says, it is the message of the Gospel, which is in the Bible; and therefore the Bible contains the word of God. But he also says: The message existed before the Bible, namely, in the preaching of the Apostles. And as Calvin says, later, Luther says that the writing which led to the books of the Bible was an emergency situation; it was necessary, but it was emergency. Therefore only the religious content is important; the message is an object of experience. “If I know what I believe, I know the content of the Scripture, since the Scripture does not contain anything except Christ.” The criterion of Apostolic truth is the Scripture, and the standard of what is truth in the Scripture is whether they deal with Christ and His work. (ob sie Christum treiben) , I. e., whether they deal with, or concentrate on, or drive toward Christ. And only those books contain powerfully and Spiritually the word of God which deal with Christ and His work.
He distinguishes special books, from this point of view. He says: The main books in which this criterion is fulfilled are the Fourth Gospel, Paul’s Epistles, and I Peter. These are the books in which Christ is dealt with centrally. From there, other books can be judged. And even beyond the Bible, Luther can say very courageous things. He says, for instance, that Judas and Pilate would be apostolic if they gave the message of Christ, and Paul and John wou1d not if they gave not the message of Christ. He even says that everybody today who. had the Spirit as powerfully as the prophets and apostles, could create new Decalogues and another Testament; only because we have not the Spirit in this fullness must we drink from their fountain.
This of course is extremely nominalistic and anti-humanistic. This is emphasizing the Spiritual character of the Bible. It is a creation of the Divine Spirit in those who have written it, but it is not a dictation!
From this he was able to give a half-religious. half-historical criticism of the biblical books. It does not mean anything whether the five books of Moses were written by Moses or not. He knew very well that the texts of the prophets were in great disorder. He also knew that the later prophets are dependent on the earlier ones. He also knew that the concrete prophecies of the prophet often proved to be errors. He says that the Book of Esther and the Revelations of John do not really belong to the Scripture; the Fourth Gospel excels the Synoptics in value and power. and James’ Epistle has no evangelical character at all.
Now I would say that although Lutheran Orthodoxy was not able to preserve this great prophetic tradition of Luther ~ one thing was done by his freedom – namely it was possible for Protestantism to do something which no other religion in the whole world was able to do: it could receive the historical treatment of the biblical literature – we call it often with very misleading words “higher” or biblical criticism. It is simply the historical method applied to the holy books of a religion. Now this is something which is impossible in Catholicism – or at least in a very limited way only possible there. It is impossible in Islam – Prof. Jeffery once told the faculty that every Islamic scholar who would try to do what he did with the text of the Koran, would be in danger; research into the original text of the Koran would imply historical criticism of the present text, and this is impossible in a legalistic religion. So if we are legalists with respect to the Bible, in terms of dictation, we fall back to the stage of religion which we find in Islam, and we have felt nothing of the Protestant freedom which we find in Luther.
Now that is the main thing I wanted to say. There are many other problems. There is one with which you often probably deal when you discuss the relationship of systematic theology to the historical departments, especially to the Old and New Testament departments. There the question is: What has the biblical department to do with the systematic, and vice versa? And I don’t know that this is very often in your minds. Let me say one thing about it. Luther was able to interpret the ordinary text already in his translation, and then in his preaching and writings, generally, in such a way that he did not have to take refuge in a special pneumatic, let us say, or spiritual interpretation besides the philological interpretation. The ideal of a theological seminary – against which the historical departments are sinners as much as the systematic departments, including myself – would be to give biblical interpretations in such a way that the philological exactitude, including all that we call higher criticism, is combined with an existential application of the biblical text to the questions which we have to ask, and which are supposed to be answered in systematic theology. The separation into “experts” is a very unhealthy state of things – where the New Testament man tells me “1 cannot discuss this problem with you because I am not an expert,” and I say – -which is always sinful – sometimes to an Old and New Testament colleague, “1 cannot say that because I am not an expert in Old or New Testament.” And insofar as we all do it, we really against the original meaning of Luther’s attempt to remove the allegoric interpretation and to return to a philological interpretation which is at the same time Spiritual.
So you see these problems are very actual ones, even today, and I think here the student body can do a good deal: you can simply not accept that from us, that we are “experts” and not theologians any more – only “experts.” Don’t accept that. Ask the biblical man about the existential meaning of what they give you, and the systematic theologian about the biblical foundation – in the real biblical texts, as they are philologically understood.
Now I come to two doctrines of Luther in which the Reformation is so far superior to everything which is going on today in popular Christianity that I want to emphasize this very much, namely his doctrine of sin and faith. For Luther sin is unbelief. “Unbelief is the real sin.””Nothing justifies except faith, and nothing makes sinful except unbelief.” “Unbelief is the sin altogether .” “The main justice is faith, and so the main evil is unbelief.” Therefore the word ‘sin’ includes what we are living and doing besides the faith in God.” Now this presupposes a concept of faith which has nothing whatsoever to do with the acceptance of doctrine so I come to this immediately. But first what does it do for the concept of sin? It means that the differences of quantity (heavy and light sins), of relativity (sins which can be forgiven, in this or that way) do not matter at all. What they mean is only sin if it is related to God. Everything which separates us from Him has equal weight; they are not more or less; they have qualitative character.
This means that for Luther, life as a whole, nature and substance, are corrupted.
And here I want to say something immediately about this term “total corruption,” or depravity, which you will often hear. Please understand this in the right way. It does not mean that nothing is good in man – no Reformer or Neo-Reformation theology ever said that. But it means that there are not parts in man which are exempted from existential distortion; for instance, not his thinking, or some other part in him. And in this sense the concept of total depravity would be translated by a modern psychologist: man is distorted, or in conflict with himself, in the center of his personal life. This means that everything is included, and that is what Luther meant. And if somebody speaks of “total,” then please always ask whether he means it in the absurd way – which would make it impossible to say that he is totally depraved, because a totally depraved man would not say that he is totally depraved. Even saying that we are sinful presupposes something above sin. But what he can say is that there is no section in him which is not touched by self-contradiction, or sin. This is what Luther means, and this includes the intellect and all other things. The evil are evil since they do not fulfill the one command, which is not a command, but which must be done voluntarily, namely, the love to God. So it comes now to the fundamental principle that it is the lack of love towards God which is the basis of sin. As I said before, it is the lack of faith; both things are said by Luther all the time, but faith always precedes because it is an act in which we receive God, and love is the act in which we are united with God. Everybody is in this situation, and nobody knew more about the structural power of evil in individuals and in groups than Luther. He didn’t call it compulsion, as we would call it today, in terms of modern psychology; but he knew that it was just this, that there is a power – he called it the demonic power, the power of Satan – which is more than individual decisions. These structures of the demonic – of which you all have had an experience in these last hours – is a reality, and Luther knows that it is impossible to understand sin in terms of special acts of freedom.. You must understand it in terms of a structure, of a demonic structure which has compulsory power over everybody, and which can be counterbalanced only by a structure of grace. And we all are in the conflict between these two structures. Sometimes we are ridden, as Luther describes it, by the one compulsion, the Divine; and sometimes by the other. But the Divine is not possession or compulsion; it is at the same time liberating, because it liberates what we essentially are.
Luther’s strong emphasis on the demonic powers comes out in his doctrine of the Devil, whom he understood as an organ of the Divine wrath, and sometimes of the wrath of God itself There are statements in Luther where one doesn’t know whether he felt something as the wrath of God or as the Devil. Actually it is the same for him, when he says that as we see God so he is for us; if we see Him in the demonic mask then He is the demonic mask to us, and He destroys us. If we see Him in the infant Jesus, where in His lowliness He makes visible His love to us, then He has this love to us. So he was a depth psychologist in the profoundest way before knowing the methodological research we know. .. But he saw .these things in non-moralistic depths, which was lost not only in Calvinistic Christianity to a great extent, but also in Lutheranism itself.
This leads to a consideration of Luther’s doctrine of faith. Faith is for him receiving God, when He gives Himself to us. He distinguishes it completely from historical faith (fides historica), which acknowledges historical facts. It is for him the acceptance of the gift of God, the presence of the grace of God which grasps &. Luther has again and again emphasized the receptive character of faith – nihil facere sedtantum recipere – doing nothing, only receiving. These ideas are all concentrated in the acceptance of being accepted, namely in the forgiveness of sins, which produces a quiet consciousness, and which produces a spiritual vitality towards God and man. “Faith is a living and restless thing. The right; living faith can by no means be lazy.” So in other words the element of knowledge in faith is an existential element and therefore everything else follows from it. “Faith makes the person; person makes the works, not works the person.” Now that is something of which I would say that it is again confirmed by everything we know today in terms of depth psychology. It is the ultimate meaning of a life which makes a person. And a split personality is not a personality which doesn’t do good works. There are people who do many good works – and again I refer to the example we have in our minds and hearts (referring to the recent death of a classmate) – but where the ultimate center is lacking. And this ultimate center is what Luther calls faith: that makes a person; but faith of course not as accepting doctrines, even any Christian doctrine, but faith .as accepting the power itself out of which we come and to which we go, however the doctrines may be through which we accept it.
Now you know, in my “Courage to Be,” I have called that absolute faith, a faith which can lose every concrete content but which still can exist as an absolute affirmation of life as life, of being as being. Therefore the only negative thing is what he calls disbelief, not being united with the power of being itself, with the Divine reality over against the forces of separation and compulsion.
This is in correspondence with Luther’s concept of God, one of the strongest ideas of God in the whole history of human and Christian thought. It is not a God who is a being besides others, but it is a God whom we can have only through contrast. What is hidden before God is visible before the world, and what is hidden before the world is visible before God. “Which are the virtues (I. e. powers of being) of God? Infirmity, passion, cross, persecution: these are the weapons of God.” “The power of man is emptied by the cross, but in the weakness of the cross the Divine power is present.” And from this he says, about the state of man: “Being man means non-being, becoming, being. It means being in privation, in possibility, in action. It means always being in sin, in justification, in justice. It means always being a sinner, a penitent, a just one.” Now this is paradoxical and it makes clear what Luther means with God. God can be seen only through the law of contrast.
This is confirmed by his idea of God when he goes to ontological considerations, as he does in his writings on the sacrament. He denies everything which can make God finite, or a being besides others. “Nothing is small, God is even smaller. Nothing is so large, God is even larger. He is an unspeakable being, above and outside everything we can name and think. Who knows what that is, what is called ‘God’? It is over body, over spirit, over everything we can say, hear and think.” And from this he makes the great statement that God is nearer to all creatures than they are to themselves. “God has found the way that His own Divine essence can be completely in all creatures, and in everyone especially, deeper, more internally, more present, than the creature is to itself and at the same time nowhere and cannot be comprehended by anyone, so that He embraces all things and is within them. God is at the same time in every piece of sand totally, and nevertheless in all, above all, and out of all creatures.” Now here you have formulas in which the old conflict between the theistic and the pantheistic tendency in the doctrine of God is solved, in formulas which show the greatness of God, the inescapabilty of His presence, and at the same time, His absolute transcendence. And I would say, very dogmatically: Every doctrine of God which leaves out one of these two elements doesn’t speak really of God but of something which is less than God.
This is also expressed in his doctrine of omnipotence “I call the omnipotence of God not that power by which He does not do many things He could do, but the actual power by which He potently does everything in everything.” ;I e. . He does not sit beside the world and look at it from outside but what He actually does is something quite different: He is acting in all of them, in every moment – that is what “omnipotence” means. The absurdity of a God who calculates whether He should do what He could do, is removed by the powerful idea of God as creation.
Luther then speaks of the creatures as the “masks” of God, I. e., God is hidden behind them. “All creatures are God’s masks and veils in order to make them work and help Him to create many things.” Therefore all natural orders and institutions are filled with Divine presence, and so is the historical process. He deals with all our problems of the interpretation of history. The great men in history, the Hannibals, the Alexanders, and Napoleons – and Hitlers he would add, or, when he speaks of the Goths, the Vandals. the Turks – or the Nazis or.Communists. he would add today – they are driven by God to attack and to destroy; and in this sense He speaks to us through them. They are God’s word to us. even to the Church. Especially the heroic persons break through the ordinary rules of life. They are armed by God. God calls them and forces them, but gives them their hour, or as I would say. their kairos. Outside of this kairos they cannot do anything. Without the right hour, nobody can do anything. And in the right hour. no one can resist those who act in the right hour. But .although God acts in everything in history, history is at the same time the struggle between, God and Satan and their different realms. And the reason why Luther could makes these two statements is that God creatively works even in the demonic forces. They could not have being; if they were not dependent on Him as the Ground of Being, as the creative Power of Being in them, in every moment. He makes it possible that Satan is the seducer, and makes it possible at the same time that Satan is conquered.
This is Luther’s idea of God, and however you feel about it, it is certainly a great, powerful, religious, and. not moralistic idea of God. And that is what I wanted to mediate to you today.
Lecture 34: Luther (cont.) Christology, Doctrines of the Church and State. Zwingli.
We now come to something about Luther’s doctrine of Christ. He is interesting first of all in his method, which is quite different from the method of the old Church, It is, as I would call it, a real method of correlation., namely correlation between what Christ is for us and what we say about Him. The approach is an approach from the point of view of the effects Christ has upon us. Melanchthon in his Loci, his famous dogmatik, has expressed the same idea. The object of Christology is to deal with the benefits of Christ, not with Him and His nature besides His benefits. Luther says, describing this method of correlation, “As somebody is in himself, so
is God to him, as object. If a man is righteous himself, God is righteous. If a man is pure, God is pure for him. If he is evil, God is evil for him. Therefore He will appear to the damned as the evil in eternity, but to the righteous as the righteous, according to what He is in Himself.” Now this is a correlative speaking about God. Calling Christ God means, for Luther, having experienced Divine effects which comes from Him, namely forgiveness of sins. If you speak about Him besides His effects, then this is a wrong objectifying method.. You must speak of Him in terms of the effects He can have. He who has Divine effects is Divine this is the criterion.
What we say about Him has always, therefore. the character of participation suffering with Him, being glorified with Him; crucified with Him, being resurrected with Him. “Preaching the Crucified means preaching our guilt and the crucifixion of our evils.” “So we go with Him ~ first servant, therefore now King, first suffering, therefore now in glory; first judged: therefore now Judge.” So you must act: first humiliation, in order to get exultation!” Together condemned and blessed, living and dead, in pain and in joy/” This is said of Christ and is said of us. The law of contradiction, which we have discussed, the law of God always acting paradoxically is fulfilled in Christ; He is the key to God’s acting, namely by contradicting the human system of valuations. This paradox is also valid in the Church. It is, in its visible form, miserable, humble, but in this humbleness exactly as in the humbleness of Christ, we have the glory of the Church. Therefore the glory of the Church is especially visible in periods of persecution, suffering and humility. Christ therefore is God for us, our God, God as He is in relationship to us. Luther also says: He is the word of God. This is the decisive thing, and from this point of view Protestantism should think Christology in existential terms, namely in terms of never giving up the immediate correlation of human faith and what is said about Christ, and not making Him an object where you discuss chemical formulas, between Divine and human nature; or biological formulas, between Son of God and Son of Man all this has sense only if it is existentially received.
Luther emphasizes very much the presence of God in Christ. In the Incarnation the Divine Word or Logos is incarnated. Luther’s doctrine of the Word has different degrees. First it is the internal Word, which he also calls the heart of God, or the eternal Son. Only this internal Word, which is God’s inner Self-manifestation, is perfect. As the heart of man is hidden, so the heart of God is hidden. The internal Word of God, His inner Self-manifestation, is hidden to man. But Luther says: :We hope that in he future we shall look to this Word, when God has opened His heart,. .by introducing us into His heart.”
The second meaning of the Word, in Luther: The Word which is Christ as the visible word. In Christ the heart of God has become flesh, I. e., historical reality. In this way we can have the hidden word of the Divine knowledge of Himself, although only for faith, and never as an object among other objects.
Thirdly, the Word of God is the spoken word, by prophets, by Jesus, by the Apostles, and so the Biblical word, in which the internal word is outspoken. But the revealing. Being of the eternal word in Christ is more than all the spoken words of the Bible. They witness to Him, but they are only in an indirect way the Word of God. Luther was never so bibliolatrous as so many Christians still are today. And when we speak today about the theology of the “word,” then we can say Luther was not a theologian of the word in this sense, namely if “word” is translated by “talking.” “Word” for him was Self-manifestation of God, and this was already by no means only in the words of the Bible. In it, it was in, with, and under, but not identical with it.
Luther has a fourth meaning of the word of God, namely the word of preaching, but this is only number four, and if somebody speaks of the “Church of the word,” thinking of the predominance of preaching, in the services, then he is certainly not a follower of Luther in this respect.
Luther’s doctrine of incarnation has a very special character. He emphasizes again and again the smallness of God, in the Incarnation. Man cannot stand the naked Absolute, God; he is driven to despair if he deals with it directly. Therefore He has given the Christ, in whom He has made Himself small. “In the other works, God is recognized according to the greatness of His power, wisdom, and justice, and His works appear too terrible. But here, in Christ, appears His sweetness, mercy, and charity.” Without knowing Him we are not able to stand God’s majesty and are driven to insanity and hate. This is the reason why Luther was so much interested in Christmas, and has written some of the most beautiful Christmas hymns and poems. The reason is that he emphasizes the small God in Christ, and Christ is smallest in the cradle. And so this paradox, that he who is in the cradle is He who is Almighty God at the same time, was for Luther the real understanding of Christmas. This was Christmas for him, this mystical paradox of the smallest and most helpless of all beings, having in himself the center of Divinity. And this is something which we must understand, out of his thinking in the paradoxical nature of God’s Self-revelation, that the slowest and weakest is the strongest, because God acts paradoxically.
Luther’s doctrine of the Church:
Here we ask the question, which nobody can omit asking who knows the Reformation: Is it possible that on the basis of these principles of the Reformation, which I have developed, that a Church can live? Doesn’t a Church mean something else, namely a community, organized, authoritarian, with fixed rules, traditions, etc? Isn’t a Church necessarily Catholic, and is not the Protestant principle that God alone is everything and man’s acceptance of God is only the secondary thing, doesn’t this Protestant principle contradict the possibility of having a Church?
Now there is no doubt that Luther’s doctrine of the Church is his weakest point, and that the Church problem was the most unsolved problem which the Reformation left to further generations. And the reason is that the Catholic system was not replaced and could not be replaced definitively by a Protestant system of equal power, because of the anti -authoritarian and anti-hierarchical form of Protestant thinking.
The type of the Church which Luther chooses and with him Zwingli and Calvin .against Evangelical Radicals, is the ecclesiastical in contrast to the sectarian type. You know all this distinction from Troeltsch, and it is a very good distinction. It is a distinction between a Church which is the mother, out of which we come, which always was there, which we have not chosen, to which we belong by birth and if we awake out of the dimness of the early stages of life, we can perhaps reaffirm that we belong to it in confirmation; but we already belong to it objectively.
Now this is quite different in the churches of the radical Enthusiasts where the individual deciding that he wants to be a member of the “church” is the creative power of the church. The church is made by a covenant by the decision of individuals to, make a church, namely an assembly of God. So here you find everything is dependent on the Independent individual who is not born from the Mother Church, but who produces active church communities. These differences are very visible if you come from the Continent, where we have the ecclesiastical, while you have, even in the old denominations here the sectarian type.
Luther’s distinction between the visible and the invisible Church :is one of the most difficult things to understand. The one way in which you can understand it immediately is to understand when you hear those words that they are the same Church, they are not two Churches. This is the main point we mus t make. The invisible Church is the Spiritual quality of the visible Church. And the visible Church is the empirical and always distorted actualization of the Spiritual Church. So they are not two realities. They are one and the same. This Was perhaps the most important point of the Reformers against the sects. The sects wanted to identify the Church according to its visible and its invisible side. The visible Church must be purified, purged as all totalitarian groups call it today from everybody who is not Spiritually a member of the Church. This presupposes that you know who is Spiritually a member of the Church. And this presupposes judging, looking into the heart, into which God alone can look. This of course produces something which the Reformers could not accept, because they knew that there is nobody who does not belong to the “infirmary” that is the Church, as they called it, the infirmary which is the visible Church. But this “infirmary” is for everybody; nobody can get out of it definitely. And therefore everybody belongs to the Church essentially, even if he is Spiritually far away from it.
Now what is this Church? The Church is an object of faith, according to its true essence. It is, as Luther said, “hidden in spirit.” It is an object of faith. When you see the actual working, the ministers, the building, the congregation, the administration, the devotions, etc., then you know that in this visible Church, with all its shortcomings, there the invisible Church is hidden. It is an object of faith, and it demands much faith, if you look at the life of the ordinary present-day congregations, and have the faith that in this life, which is by no means a life of high standing, in any respect, the Spiritual Church is present. And you can believe it only if you believe that it is not the people who make the ‘Church, but it is the foundation, which is not the people but the sacramental reality, the Word, which is the Christ. Otherwise we would despair about the Church.
And don’t ever forget that for Luther and for the Reformers, the Church in its true nature is a Spiritual matter Luther also called it invisible; spiritual and invisible is usually the same in him; it is an object of faith and cannot be shown. And so when you tell somebody who criticizes you because of the Church, and you say: “Yes, it is a quite good institution; there are many good people who come out of it; some people in it are much more serious than some secular people; some are very willing to sacrifice, and the moral standards are always very high, on the average higher than other groups in all this you are right, but you don’t speak of the Church. And then the next day you can find that you were much too optimistic and you find out it is rather miserable, what you say. This is not the basis of faith. The basis of faith is exclusively the foundation of the Church, namely Christ, the sacrament and the Word.
This is Luther’s doctrine of the Church. What about the Church offices? Every Christian is a priest, and therefore has potentially the office of preaching and administering the sacraments. They all belong to the spiritual element. But for the sake of order, some especially fit personalities shall be called by the congregation for this purpose. The ministry is a matter of order. It is a vocation like all other vocations, but it is not a state of perfection or of higher graces or of anything like this. No priest is more a priest than any layman is priest. But he is the “mouthpiece” of the others, because they cannot express themselves and he can. Therefore only one thing makes the ministers, namely the call of the congregation. Ordination has no sacramental meaning at all.
“Ordaining is not consecrating,”he says. “We give in the power of the Word what we have, the authority of preaching the Word and giving the sacraments: that is ordaining.” But this is not producing a higher grade in the relationship to God.
The Church government became identical very soon with the state government in the Lutheran countries, and with the society government we call it “trustees in the Calvinist countries. The reason was that the hierarchy had been removed by Luther. There is no pope, no bishops, no priests, in the technical sense. Who shall govern in the Church? Now of course first of all the ministers, but they are not sufficient; they have no power. The power comes from the princes, or from free associations with society, as we have very often in Calvinism. Therefore the princes are called by Luther the highest bishops of their realm. But they are not to interfere with the inner-religious things; they have to perform the administration the ius circa sacrum, the right around the sacred, but not into the sacred, which remains for the ministers, and every Christian.
The situation which produced this was an emergency situation. There were no bishops, no authorities, any more; but the Church needed administration and government. And so emergency bishops were created, and nobody else could be this except the electors and princes.
Out of this situation, which Luther accepted as an emergency situation, something occurred already, when it began to work, namely the state Church in Germany. The
Church became more or less and I think “more” than “less” a department of the state administration, and the princes became the arbiters of the Church in all respects. This is not intentionally so, but it shows that a Church needs a political backbone. In Catholicism it was the Pope and the hierarchy; in Protestantism it was the “outstanding members of the communion” who must take over, after the bishops have disappeared either the princes, or social groups in more democratic countries, or if the princes do not take it.
Luther’s doctrine of the state:
This certainly is not an easy thing, because many people believe that Luther’s interpretation of the state is the real cause of Nazism. Now first of all a few hundred years means something in history, and Luther is a little bit older than the Nazis! But this is not the decisive point. The decisive point is that the doctrine of the state was a doctrine of positivism, of a Providence which was positivistical1y interpreted. Positivism means that the things are taken as they are. The positive law is decisive, and this is connected by Luther with the doctrine of Providence. Providence brought this power and that power into existence, and therefore it is impossible to revolt against this power. You have no rational criteria by which to judge the princes. You have, of course, the right to judge them from the point of view whether they are good Christians or not. But whether or not they are, they are God-given, and so you have to be obedient to them. Historical destiny has brought in the tyrant, the Neros, , the Hitlers. And since this is historical destiny, we have to subject ourselves to it.
Now this means that the Stoic doctrine of natural law, which can be used as criticism of the positive law, has disappeared. There is only the positive law. The natural law does not really exist for Luther. The Stoic doctrines of equality and freedom of the citizen in the state, are not used by Luther at all. So he is non-revolutionary, theoretically as well as practically. Practically, he says that every Christian must stand every bad government because it comes from God providentially.
The state, for Luther, is not a reality, in itself, and it is always misleading to speak of the “state theory” of the Reformers. The word “state” is not older than the 17th or .l8th centuries, but instead of that they had the concept of Obrigkeit , I. e. ,authority, superiors. The government is the authority, the superiors, but not the structure called the “state.” This means there is no democratic implication in Luther’s doctrine of the state. The situation is such that the state must be accepted as it is.
But how could Luther maintain this? How could he who more than anybody else has emphasized love as the ultimate principle: of morals, accept the despotic power of the states of his time? Now he had an answer to this and this answer is very much full of spirit. He says that God does two kinds of works, the one is His own, his proper, work, as he calls it namely the work of love, which is mercy, grace, always giving. And then is “strange” work, which also is the work of love, but it is strange; it works through punishment, through threat, through the compulsory
power of the state, through all kinds of harshness, as the law demands. Now people say this is against love, and then ask the question: How can compulsory power and love be united with each other? And they derive from this a kind of anarchism, which we find so often in ideas of Christian pacifists and others. The situation formulated by Luther seems to me to be the true one. I believe that he has seen, profounder than anybody whom I know, the possibility of uniting the power element and the love element in terms of this doctrine of God’s “strange work” and God’s “proper work.” The power of the state which makes it possible that we are sitting here, or that works of charity are done, is a work of God’s love. The state has to suppress the aggression of the evil man, of those who are against love, and the strange work of love is to destroy what is against love.
Now if you call this a strange work, you are right, but it is a work of love, namely, without destroying that which is against love, love would cease to be a power on earth. Now this is the deepest form of the relationship of power and love which I know. This whole positivistic doctrine of the state makes it impossible for Lutheranism to accept revolution, from a theological point of view. Revolution is the production of chaos and even if it tries to produce order, it first produces chaos, and then the disorder is even greater. Therefore Luther was unambiguously against revolution. He accepted the positive given as a gift of destiny.
One more point. One often has said that Luther has something to do with Nazism. I think this is completely wrong. Nazism was possible in Germany, because of this positivistic authoritarianism, because of Luther’s affirmation that the given prince is given forever and cannot be removed. This was, of course, a tremendous inhibition against any German revolution, if it had been possible at all which I don’t believe in modern totalitarian systems. But an additional spiritual cause was the negation of any revolution, and therefore the acknowledgment of the given authority as authority by everybody. When we say that Luther, is responsible for the Nazis, then we say a lot of nonsense. When we, for instance, think of the ideology of the Nazis, then it is quite clear that this ideology is almost the opposite of Luther’s. He had no nationalistic ideology; he had no tribal ideology, no racial ideology. He praised the Turkish state for its good state administration. .. From this point of view, no Nazism is in Luther.
There is perhaps another point of view: the conservatism of his political thinking. That’s true, but it also is nothing except a consequence of the basic presuppositions. So don’t make this mistake, even if you hear it very often from seemingly expert people. It’s only true in one thing: namely, Luther has broken the back of the revolutionary will, in the Germans. There is no such thing as a revolutionary will in the Germans, but that is all we can say, and nothing beyond it.
And let me add here: some say often that it was first Luther and then Hegel who produced Nazism. This is equally nonsense, because Hegel, even if he said that the state is God on earth, didn’t mean the power state: he meant the cultural unity of religion and social life, organized in a state. And if this is done, he indeed would say that there is a unity of state and Church. But “”state” is for him not the party movement of the Nazis, the relapse to tribal systems; state is. for him organized society, repressing sin.
Now I go away from Luther. What I was able to give you was rather short. Even a whole semester’s seminar on him is not enough. But l hope I gave you some kind of survey helping you to overcome at least some interpretations of this great prophetic personality. In him the Reformation broke through. — Now I come to people who took over his breakthrough and carried it through in different ways.
Zwingli is not as original a theologian as Luther was, in whom the breakthrough occurred.
He is partly dependent on and partly independent of Luther, but he is never the first beginning, as it was in Luther.
What is the character of Zwinglian Christianity? This is not so easy. Zwingli was very much influenced by the humanists. He remained his whole life a friend of Erasmus, in spite of all the roughness with which Luther separated himself from Erasmus. Zwingli did not, as later on Melanchthon also never did. These people were humanists besides being Christians. They were Christian humanists. And this is especially clear in a man like Zwingli. The authority of the Scriptures in Zwingli is based on the call of the Renaissance: Back to the sources! The Bible is the revelation of God. “God Himself wants to he the schoolmaster.”. (Luther could never have written such a sentence; He is certainly something more powerful than a schoolmaster!) But the decisive difference is that Zwingli had a fully developed doctrine of the Spirit, something which was lacking in Luther and the other Reformers. “God can give truth, through the Spirit, in non-Christians also,” he said. The truth is given to every individual always through the Holy Spirit, and this Spirit is present even it the word of the Bible is not present. In this way he liberated somehow from the Biblical burden which Luther put upon people.
Luther had a dynamic form of Christian life. Zwingli and, as we shall see, Calvin also had a static one: faith is psychological health. If you are psychologically healthy, then you can have faith, and vice versa. They are identical, actually. Faith for Luther is a dynamic thing, going up and down, reaching heights and depths. This is always possible for Luther. For Zwingli it is much more static, much more humanistically balanced. It is much more something which is similar to the bourgeois ideal of health. Faith is psychological health. “Christian faith is a thing which is
felt in the soul of the faithful like health in the body.” The continuous breaking down and re-arising of the community with the personal, wrathful and loving God, is Luther’s type. The corresponding undynamic union with God is Zwingli’s type. Zwingli is progressive; Luther is paradoxical. And therefore it is so difficult to speak about the paradox, on Zwinglian soil. Either the paradox is dissolved or, if not, then it is accepted. The paradox of the Christian life against the rational progressivism of the Christian life this is the basic difference. But there is another difference to which we shall go tomorrow.
Lecture 35: Zwingli and Luther. Calvin.. Predestination and Providence. Capitalism. Church and State.
We started discussing Zwingli, but my state of tiredness prevented me from giving a full account of him. I don’t want to go back to it, but I want to say that the interesting thing, in the first half of the Swiss Reformation, in Zurich where Zwingli was carrying it through, is that one could call it a synthesis of Reformation and humanism. When I say this, you remember that I spoke about Luther’s relationship to Erasmus and the final break, but the continuation of humanistic elements in the further Reformation on Lutheran soil, represented especially by Melanchthon. These two men, Zwingli and Melanchthon (“Melanchthon” from the Greek, meaning “black earth,”) Luther worked together with Melanchthon almost from the beginning of the Reformation, in Wittenberg (the theological wing which was dependent on him was often called Philippism) i.e. dependent on Philip Melanchthon, or “Blackearth,” if you want to retranslate him out of the nobly sounding Greek into less nobly sounding language! This man was deeply influenced by Erasmus, and never broke with him. Similarly with Zwingli. Both were Reformers insofar as they followed Luther. They were at the same time humanists insofar as they accepted elements coming from the master and leader of all humanism, Erasmus.
This was the difference between Luther and the Swiss reformers. When we come to Calvin, keep in mind that he is largely dependent on Zwingli, as well as on Luther, that he turns back to a certain extent from Zwingli to Luther, but in spite of all this he also was humanistically educated and in his writings shows the classical erudition in style and content.
This is the general character of the Swiss Reformation, in contrast to the Lutheran. I believe that whenever liberal theology arises, as it did from the 17th to the 19th centuries, that since that time theologians develop in all denominations who are nearer to Zwingli than to Calvin. One of the main points I made is that Zwingli believes that the Spirit is directly working in the human soul and that therefore God’s ordinary working goes through the Word, the Biblical message, but that God, extraordinarily, can also work on people who never had contact with the Christian message with people whom we speak of as living in foreign religions, or the humanists. The examples given by Zwingli are mostly from Greek philosophers, such as Socrates, and others.
I just read yesterday a hymn which, besides Christ and Luther, l think Socrates was in the content to be sung by a congregation of southern Negroes or Middle Western peasants. And I don’t think whether it is very wise to bring theology in this way into a hymn. And if people like Zwingli, Calvin, and others, speak of revelation and salvation in men like Socrates, and Seneca, and many others, whom they mention, then there is a mistake in this, the mistake that they know pagan piety only in these representatives; but pagan piety has exactly the same character as Christian piety in this respect, that it is at least equally intensive in the common people who are really pious with respect to what they know of God, and these are the men they should have mentioned. But since they were good humanists, they mentioned only their own sociological class, namely the people who were not only great men but who also belonged to the intelligentsia. And if you ever decide as ministers to take such things into a hymn, please decide against it. Although I gave you in these classes as much Socrates and Plato as I could, nevertheless I don’t sing to them
Now I come to another point, the immediacy of the Spirit, the possibility of having the Spirit without the Word. I didn’t discuss last time the special doctrine of God in Zwingli, which is a very important doctrine, namely the doctrine that God is the universal dynamic power of being in everything that is. In this sense you can recognize some of my own theological thinking in Zwingli and Calvin, but you can recognize it also in Luther only that the Zwinglian humanistic form in which this was conceived has much more rational deterministic character God works through the natural law. And therefore the idea of predestination which Zwingli strongly accepted has a color of rational determinism. We shall see that the same is true of Calvin, while in Luther it has much more the character of Occamism and Scotusism, namely the irrational acting of God in every moment, which cannot be subjected to any law.
This has something to do and here is another point of difference between the Lutheran and the Zwinglian Reformation, namely that the law plays a different role in both of them. In Zwingli it is not the law which makes us sinful, but the law shows us that we are sinful; while Luther had the profound psychology which we have rediscovered in modern psychological terms, that the law produces resistance and therefore, as Paul has called it, makes sin more sinful. This was lacking very much in Zwinglian and also in Calvinistic thinking. The concept of law has a very positive connotation. Now this refers to natural law generally. And natural law, as you probably have not forgotten, means in ancient literature, first of all law of reason the logical, ethical, and juristic law. And secondly, also the physical law. So don’t think of physics when you read of “natural law,” in books of the past. Usually it means the ethical law which is in us, which belongs to our being, which is re-stated by the Decalogue and the Sermon on the Mount, but which in itself is by nature, I. e., by created nature, by that which we are essentially. And this kind of law is much more in the mind of Zwingli and Calvin than it is in the mind of Luther. Luther detested the idea that God has established a law between Himself and His world, between Him and the finite actions and things and decisions. He wanted everything as non-rational, non-legal, as possible, not only in the process of salvation but also in the interpretation of history and nature; while Zwingli and Calvin accepted nature in terms of law. When therefore Immanuel Kant defined nature as a realm in which physical law is valid, this was much more Calvinistic or Zwinglian; in any case, it was not Lutheran. For Luther nature is the mask of God through which..He in an irrational. way very similar to the Book of Job acts when He acts with mankind.
Therefore the attitude toward nature in Calvinism and in Zwinglianism is much more according to the demands of bourgeois industrial society, namely to analyze and transform nature for human purposes; while Luther’s relationship to nature is much more in the sense of the presence of the Divine, irrationally, mystically, in everything that is. And if I hadn’t known this before, very theoretically, and not very safely, .I would have learned it when I came to this country.
For Zwingli the law of the Gospel is law not only, of course: he accepts Luther’s doctrine of the forgiveness of sins, as did every Reformer, naturally. But he at the same time spoke about a new evangelic law, as nominalists and humanists did. This law should be the basis of the law of the state. Don’t forget that Wyclif and Occam had exactly the same idea, and that in this point a more Catholic element is in the Reformed thinking, namely the thought that the Gospel can be interpreted as the new law. This term, the “new law,” is a very old one, appearing very early in Church history. For Luther, this would have been an abominable term; the Gospel for him is grace and nothing other than grace, and never can be the new law. But for Zwingli it can be. And this law is valid not only for the moral situation but also for the state, the political sphere. Politically, the law of the Gospel decides the laws of the city. If, therefore, cities do not subject themselves to the law, they may be attacked by those cities which’ subject themselves to the law; and the law is against Catholicism; so Zwingli started the war against the cantons in Switzerland, and died in the battle against them, and was conquered. But the principle remained, the principle that the law of the Gospel should be the basis of the state law, and this had tremendous influence in world history: it saved Protestantism from being overwhelmed politically by the Roman Church, by the Counter~Reformation.
But there is still one deeper element of difference between Luther and Zwingli. It is the doctrine of the sacraments. The fight between Luther and Zwingli in 1529 in Marburg was a fight between two types of religious experience one, of a mystical interpretation of the sacrament; the other, of an intellectual interpretation Zwingli said: The sacrament is a sure sign or seal reminding us as symbols, and expressing our will to belong to the Church. This: Divine Spirit sets beside them, not through them. Baptism is a kind of an obliging sign, like a. badge. It is a commanded symbol, but it has nothing to do with subjective faith and salvation, which are dependent on predestination.
In the doctrine of the Eucharist, the decisive point was seemingly a matter of translation, but, in reality a matter of a different Spirit. The open discussion went around the statement: “This is my body,” about the meaning of the word “is. ” The humanists usually interpreted it by “signified.”m means.” Luther emphasized that it cannot mean this but must be taken literally: the body of Christ is literally present. For Zwingli it is present for the contemplation of faith, but not per essentiam et realiter (by essence and in reality) “The body of Christ is eaten when we believe that He is killed for us.” You see that everything is centered on the subjective side. It is the representation of a past event. The present event is merely in the subject, in the mind of the believer. He is certainly with His Spirit present in the mind, but He is not present in nature. Mind can be fed only by mind, or spirit by spirit, and not by nature.
Against Luther he says that the body of Christ is circumscripte (by circumscription) in Heaven, i.e., on a special definite place. Therefore it is a special individual thing; it does :not participate in the Divine infinity. As man with a body Christ is finite, and the two natures are sharply separated. Therefore the Lord’s Supper is a memory and a confession but not a personal communion with somebody who is really present. Luther emphasizes the reality of the Presence, and in order to do this he Invented the doctrine of the omnipresence of the body of the elevated Christ.
The presence of Christ is repeated in every act of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Historical person and sacramental person are identical. In order to do this, Luther said against this: “Where you put God, there you must put humanity: they cannot be severed or separated; it has become one person.” To say that the Divine character of the bodily Christ is only said in symbolic or metaphoric terms is from the Devil. So Luther completely rejected the idea that the Divinity of Christ is separated from His humanity in Heaven, Even in Heaven, the Divinity and humanity of Christ belong together. He expresses this in the profound and fantastic doctrine of the ubiquity of the body of Christ the omnipresence of the body of the ascended Christ. “Christ is present in everything, in stone and fire and tree, but for us He is present only when he speaks to us through everything. Now this is the idea that God drives toward embodiment, towards corporeity. and that the omnipresence of the body of Christ m the world is the form in which God’s eternal power is present in the world. Now if you want to carry this through in scholastic terms, namely taking it literally or superstitiously, then it is an absurd doctrine because it belongs to a body to be circumscribed. But if you take it symbolically, then it is a profound doctrine because it says that if God is present in anything on earth He is always also present with His concrete historical manifestation, namely with Christ.
Now Luther meant that much more primitively, but his meaning is that in every natural object you can have the presence of the Christ. And in a Lutheran service during the Sundays in Spring, you always find a tremendous amount of flowers and nature brought into the church, because of this symbol of participation of the body of Christ in the world.
Now what kind of principles are involved in this discussion?
When it came to an end, all the Reformers agreed that they denied the; transubstantiation doctrine and agreed about a lot of points about the Lord’s Supper, but they did not agree about the ubiquity, I. e., the presence of Christ everywhere. This means there is a fundamental difference, which Luther stated when he left the castle of Wittenberg: “They have not the same spirit with us.” What did this mean? First of all, it is the relationship between the spiritual and the bodily existence. In Zwingli you have the humanist intellectualism separating the spirit from the body, and ultimately the Neoplatonic background of this. Therefore in Calvinism there is a lack of interest in the problem of expression. But for Luther, spirit is only present in its expressions; it is directly present in consciousness which finally led to the amalgamation with Cartesian ideas.
The interest is incorporation. The (mystic) Oetinger said: “Corporality is the end of the ways of God.” Therefore the great interest in the bodily reality of Christ, in history and in sacrament.
The second spiritual difference is the religious meaning of nature, the control of nature in Zwinglian thinking which demands regularly calculable natural laws the dynamic naturalism of Luther which often goes into demonic depths and is not interested in any law of nature.
And then the final and most important form which was expressed in two Latin formulas. Finitum capax infiniti the finite is capable of the infinite. For Zwingli this is not possible. They said directly: finitum non capax infiniti — the finite is not able to have the infinite within itself. And this of course is a very fundamental difference, which first occurs in Christology and then is extended to the whole sacramental life and the whole relationship to nature.
It is perhaps wise to say that in the Swiss Reformation, from which, with Zwingli, we now turn to Calvin, .the sociological background was co-determining for the special form in which the whole thing happened. In Luther we have the form of surviving aristocracy. In Switzerland we have the large cities which, like Zurich and Geneva, were mostly trade and small factory cities. That means that sociologically the background of the Swiss Reformation drives in the direction of industrial society. In the German Reformation especially the North German, the Lutheran Reformation it sticks to the pre-bourgeois situation as much as possible If you read Luther’s little catechism, you have there a paternalistic culture of small farmers and some craftsmen in villages and small cities. If you read, in contrast to this, some letters and other expressions in Zwingli and Calvin, then you have the men of the world. who have a world-wide horizon, through the trading relationships in the centers in which they lived. This produces a quite different attitude towards nature, the state, and everything.
This leads us now to Calvin himself The first point I want to make in my discussion of Calvinism is his doctrine of God and man. Here we have the turning point of everything in him. One has said that the doctrine of predestination is the main point. Now this is easily refuted by the fact that in the first edition of his “Institutes” it was not even developed; only in the later editions did it acquire great space. But it is to be refuted also from more important points of view.
In every theology. the decisive thing is always the doctrine of God I told you this with regard to Luther, to Augustine. etc. For Calvin the central doctrine of Christianity is the doctrine of the majesty of God. The attitude in which God is known as an existential attitude, more than in any other of the Reformers – -at least in formula, even more than in Luther. For Calvin human misery and Divine majesty are correlated. Only out of the human misery can we understand the divine majesty and only in the light of the Divine majesty can we understand the human misery. Calvin applies to God a word which has been rediscovered by Rudolf Otto numen, the numinous. God is a numen for him, He is unapproachable, horrifying. and at the same time fascinating. He speaks of “this sacred numinous nature,” when he speaks of God. This is distinguished from all idols, from every polytheistic God. It is transcended in a radical way. so radically that you cannot speak directly of God. And here he has a very interesting theory of Christian symbolism. The symbols are significations of His incomprehensible essence. Symbols have to be momentary, disappearing, self-negating, He says they are not the matter itself. I think this self-negating is the decisive characteristic of every symbol with respect to God, because if they are taken literally, if they are not self-negating, then they produce idols. This is Calvin and not a mystical theology such as in Pseudo-Dionysius, who says this. So when you speak of symbolism when referring to God, you can refer to a man who is certainly beyond suspicion of being less than orthodox. namely, to Calvin.
The truth of a symbol drives it beyond itself. “The best contemplation of the Divine Being is when the mind is transported beyond itself with admiration.” The doctrine of God can never be theoretical-contemplative; it must always be existential, by participation. The famous phrase by Karl Barth, which is taken from a Biblical text “God is in Heaven, and you are on earth” –is often said and explained by Calvin. The Heavenly “above” is not a place to which God is bound, but it is an expression of His religious transcendence, not an expression of a physical transcendence.
All this leads to a central attitude and doctrine of Calvinism, namely the fear of idolatry. This is tremendously strong in him. Calvin fights the idols wherever he believes he sees them. He is not interested in the history of religion, which is practically condemned as a whole as being idolatrous. Religion cannot help having an idolatrous element. Religion is a factory of idols all the time. Therefore the Christian and the theologian must be on his guard and prevent idolatrous trends from overwhelming his relationship to God.
He fights against the pictures in the churches, all kinds of things which can divert the mind from the merely transcendent God. This is the reason for the sacred emptiness of the Calvinist church buildings. There is always a fear of idolatry in the depths of men who have overcome idolatry. So it was :with the prophets, so it was with the Arabians (Islam), so it was now with the Reformers. Calvinism is an iconoclastic movement crushing icons, idols, pictures of all kinds, because they deviate from God Himself.
Now this idea that the human mind is a perpetual manufacturer of idols is one of the deepest things which can be said about our thinking of God. Even orthodox theology very often is nothing other than idolatry.
Now we have on the other side the human situation, which is described in much more negative terms than it is by Luther. “From our natural proneness to hypocrisy, any vain appearance of righteousness abundantly contents us, instead of the reality, which is our sin. Man cannot stand his reality; he is unrealistic about himself or as we say in modern times, he is ideological about himself; he produces unreal imaginations about his being. — This of course is a very radical attack on the human situation, but this corresponds to God as the God of glory. When Calvin speaks of the God of love, it is usually in context with those who are elected. There He reveals His love. But the others are from the very beginning excluded from love. Now you can say this is always true; but is it not then also true that in Calvin God is also the creator of evil?
I turn now to this question in connection with his doctrine of providence and predestination
Calvin was very well aware that his kind of thinking would easily lead to a half-deistic type of putting God at the side of the world. Hundreds of years before the deistic movement appeared in England, Calvin warned against deism, namely putting God beside the world. Instead of that, of course, ‘he conceives of a general operation of God; in preserving and governing the world, so that all movement depends on Him. Deism is a carnal sense which wants to keep God at a distance from us. If He is sitting on His throne and does not care what is going on in the world, the world is left to us. And this is exactly what the Enlightenment and industrial society needed. They couldn’t stand A God who is continuously in interrelation with the world, who continuously interferes. They had to have a God who has given to the world the first movement. but then sits beside it and doesn’t disturb the activities of the business man and the industrial creators. So. this anticipation of deism is a very important thing.. Against this he says: “Faith ought to penetrate further.” .God is the world’s perpetual preserver, “not by a certain universal action actuating the whole machine of the world and all its respective parts, but by a particular providence sustaining, nourishing, and providing for everything which He has made.” All this implies a dynamic process of God within the law she has given. But he knew that the doctrine of natural law easily would make God into something beside reality. All things, therefore, have, according to Calvin, instrumental character; they are instruments through which God works in every moment. If you want to call this pantheism, then it could be right, which means everything is “in God.” The things are used as instruments of God’s acting according to His pleasure. (Here we are very near to Luther.) And he also gives a concept of omnipotence which is against the absurdity of imagining highest God sitting somewhere and deliberating with Himself what He should do, and knowing that He could do many other things or everything He wanted, by saying: No, I don’t want to do this. I want to do that. This is exactly like a woman in the household who decides to do-this or to do that. This is an undignified view of God, and this the Reformers knew. “Not vain, idle or almost asleep, but vigilant, efficacious, operative, and engaged in continual action; not a mere general principle of confused motion, as if He should command a river to flow through the channels once made for it, but a power constantly exerted on every distinct and particular movement “For He is accounted omnipotent, not because He is able to act but does not,’and sits down in idleness.
Omnipotence is omni-activity. Providence consists in continuous Divine action. These elements of the idea of God in all: the Reformers are very important.
Now it comes to the problem with which Calvin was still wrestling on his death-bed: If this is so, isn’t God the cause of evil? Now Calvin was not afraid to say that natural evil is a natural consequence of the distortion of nature. Secondly, he said: It is a way to bring the elect to God, and in such a way it is, justified. But then he said a third thing: It is a way to show the holiness of God, in the punishment of those whom He has elected and in the selection of those who are selected. Now this third point is that God has produced evil men in order to punish them and in order to save others who are evil by nature, from their evil nature. If you have this exclusively theocentric point of view, everything centered around the glory of God, then it is understandable that you also have the attack on Calvin (to which he was very sensitive), namely, he made God the cause of evil. But whatever this may mean, we will discuss it the first hour of next week, and then in the last two hours we will have a survey on the Protestant development.