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Martin Luther and Relational Thinking  

Risto Saarinen

Luther believes that a Christian needs to constitute his identity “outside of himself” (extra se). This is because the justification of sinners and our spiritual existence are based on an external grounding, not on our own properties or contributions. In such relationality, Christians are heteronomous beings. Their actions, desires, and even bodily properties are attributed to them from outside as gift. This relationality is strongly present in Luther’s texts. While Luther employs a rich variety of relational phrases, for instance, “before God” (coram Deo) and “for me” (pro me), he does not employ the concept of relation frequently. When this concept is used, it typically points to a situation in which the person must renounce his old, carnal, and natural properties and seek help from God. The new, spiritual way of life consists of the reception of God’s gifts that are external to oneself. This view is based in monastic theology. Luther is not content with the monastic renunciation of one’s own properties. He employs mystical terminology without, however, aiming at dissolving the human subject in the manner of Meister Eckhart. Instead, Luther thinks that there is a new path of constituting the Christian person as something that is “external to oneself.” While this view differs from medieval mysticism, it can also be interpreted as a certain “intensification” of its aims. Proceeding on this path, the Christian no longer considers his hands, his feet, his choices, his actions as his own contribution. They are rather something that is attributed to him, a passive attachment. Luther’s view of relationality helps to understand what he means by the Christian’s first-person involvement in phrases like “my faith” and “for my sake.” He does not have the post-Enlightenment sense of subjectivity in the manner of Pietism or other individualist variants of modern Christianity. On the other hand, the ideas of passive attachment and the attribution of gift-like properties to a believer enable a robust first-person involvement in faith. Within this framework of relational passivity, faith and its acts are not contributions in the sense of human works. At the same time, the Christian has the ability to receive good gifts and participate in them. There are certain parallels with the Stoic view of oikeiosis, the primary social attachment taught by Cicero and many Christian thinkers. Luther is also well aware of the Augustinian view of divine persons as relations. For this reason, he can also understand in which sense relations can be primary “things” in theology. Sometimes the interpreters of Luther have extended the issue of relationality to cover all kinds of themes that assume a communicative interplay of different parties. Such extension can often highlight adequately the biblical background of an idea that is narrative rather than philosophical.

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Martin Luther’s Trinitarian Hermeneutic of Freedom  

Piotr J. Małysz

Luther puts forth a Trinitarian hermeneutic of human willing and the will’s freedom. Luther’s thought in this area is best seen as a response to a problem that medieval theology inherited from Augustine. The puzzle concerns the conceptualization of divine and human agencies. Medieval theology, despite its commitment to emphasizing divine grace, articulated the reality of the two agencies in a way that practically, and then also conceptually, privileged human initiative instead. Luther, in contrast, returns to Augustine’s intuition, though not quite his language, and proposes that nothing short of a Trinitarian conception of freedom will do for the affirmation of human choice that, nonetheless, presupposes and defers consistently to divine initiative and support.

Article

Agency, Voluntarism, and Predestination in American Religion  

Peter J. Thuesen

In the free marketplace of religious ideas that is the United States, Americans have disagreed over many things. The form of church government, the proper way to worship, the extent of the scriptural canon, and the limits of racial and gender inclusion are but a few of the questions on which the nation’s majority Christians have erected boundaries among themselves, to say nothing of their differences with non-Christians. Yet an equally important source of denominational divisions has been the nexus of issues surrounding agency (humans’ freedom to act as they choose), voluntarism (defined here as the quest for salvation through this-worldly action), and predestination (the otherworldly question of whether God predetermines each person’s eternal destiny). Particularly contentious has been the question of predestination, especially the problem of whether God elects persons for salvation conditionally (based on their foreseen faith or merit) or unconditionally (based solely on his inscrutable wisdom). In the 16th and 17th centuries, this debate cut across the Reformation divide, with each position represented among both Catholic and Protestant scholastics. The New England Puritan clergy were the first major bearers of this scholastic tradition, which abounded with paradox and logical distinctions. The intensity of Puritanism’s predestinarian psychology generated a widespread anti-Calvinist backlash in the 19th century and contributed to the growth of a number of upstart denominations, including Methodists, Universalists, Restoration Movement “Christians,” Mormons, Adventists, and Christian Scientists. Debates over free will and predestination also bred factionalism and even threatened schism in several denominations, including the Congregationalists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Baptists. Less frequently, non-Christians weighed in, occasionally embracing the trope of anti-Calvinism as a way to demonstrate their own traditions’ compatibility with American freedom. By the early 21st century, though the rise of nondenominational megachurches and an increase in “nones” (people with no religious identification) had weakened the hold of traditional doctrines on many Americans, the tension between voluntarism and predestination remained basic to theism as it has been for millennia.

Article

God in Martin Luther  

Jan-Olav Henriksen

Luther’s understanding of God saturates his oeuvre, and in turn, this understanding is saturated by his doctrine of the justification of the sinner. God is the sovereign source and origin of all that is, and Luther develops his understanding of God in a manner that tries to safeguard this position in such a way that the personal relationship to God becomes the focus point for all he says. The doctrine of God as creator and as savior is modeled in a parallel way in Luther, as he sees God as the source of everything positively in both contexts. God is the sole giver of the gifts that human life requires. As creator, God is omnipresent, omniscient, and sovereign. Nothing can determine God. God is accordingly also the only instance in reality that has free will. Everything else is dependent on God, God’s foreknowledge, and God’s predestination. It is possible to see Luther’s position as an attempt to offer the human being a reliable and trustworthy notion of God, someone he or she can cling to in times of despair and desolation. The only God who deserves to be God, who is trustworthy with regard to being able to provide a safe and reliable basis for human life, is the God who justifies the sinner because of God’s own righteousness. In contrast, a human who puts her trust in herself and her own works or merits makes herself a god and will not be able to stand justified coram deo in the last judgment. Luther develops the idea about God’s hiddenness in different ways, most notably in his ideas about the hidden God in De servo arbitrio. But also in his notion of the theology of the Cross in the Heidelberg Disputation, and in other places where he writes about the masks of God, behind which God hides in order to do God’s work, we can see related or similar ideas. Thus, Luther develops an ambiguous element in his understanding of God.

Article

Intention in the Pali Suttas and Abhidharma  

Karin Meyers

In common usage, “intention” refers to the mental determination, purpose, or plan to engage in an action or to bring about a particular result through action. In contemporary Anglo-American philosophy, it often refers to the mental representation of that determination, purpose, or plan and, in phenomenology, to the “aboutness” of consciousness, or the characteristic of having an object in mind. There is no Pali or Sanskrit Buddhist term that corresponds precisely with this range of meanings, but two terms come close and are often translated as “intention,” namely, saṅkappa (saṅkalpa in Sanskrit) and cetanā (the same in Pali and Sanskrit). Generally speaking, saṅkappa (also translated as “resolve” or “thought”) refers to a thought that informs goal-oriented action and cetanā (also translated as “volition”) to an impulse toward an object or goal. Although Buddhist commentators commonly individuate cetanās in respect to specific actions with first-person thoughts (e.g., “I will give alms to the monk”), cetanā is more conative in nature, and saṅkappa, more cognitive. Saṅkappa and cetanā can thus be distinguished as something like “purposive thought” and “purposive impulse,” respectively. Despite a significant degree of semantic overlap, the two terms tend to be used in different contexts. Saṅkappa is the preferred term for intention in relation to the practice of the path and occurs more frequently in the Pali suttas than cetanā. Cetanā is closely connected to moral action or karma and more basic to consciousness than saṅkappa. It figures more prominently in Buddhist psychology (in both the Pali and Sanskrit Abhidharma traditions), where it is understood to be present in every moment of consciousness (citta) and exert a strong influence over other mental factors and is also at the center of scholastic debates regarding the nature and dynamics of karma. Contrary to what some scholars have suggested, the Buddhist emphasis on intention as essential or even equal to karma does not amount to a conviction in free will (or an argument against it), nor does it imply an intentionalist ethics (the view that the moral quality of an action or moral responsibility is determined exclusively or even primarily by the agent’s intention). Whereas Western philosophers often focus on intentions as reasons for action and their role in voluntary action, Buddhists focus on intentions (in the case of both saṅkappa and cetanā) as causal factors or conditions that play critical roles in the performance of an action and, in the case of cetanā, generate a karmic result. In sum, rather than viewing intentions in terms of an agent’s sovereign will, autonomy, or rational choice to act, Buddhists view them in terms of complex causal processes (including other mental factors, habits, precepts, social relationships, communal practices) that issue in action and shape experience in this and future lives.