In relation to Martin Luther, the topic of “history and its meaning” is necessarily imprecise. It can refer to his personal understanding of history and its meaning. It can refer to the history and meaning that Luther himself made as a result of especially his theological work. And it can refer to the history and meaning that came after Luther and was influenced by him. Therefore, some nuance and refinement are called for in dealing with this complex topic. Luther in his own way was immersed in the topic of history and its meaning. He did not devote much of his writing and speaking explicitly to a kind of “philosophy of history.” However, he wrote and spoke much about the dynamic affairs of God, human beings, and the world, and he could not have done so without conducting his discussion of such events within a comprehensive theological framework that provided an ultimate horizon of meaning. Some explicit claims that Luther made on history and its meaning can be identified, e.g., that it provides lively examples by which the common person could more readily grasp truths that were less effectively communicated by discursive language. From these claims can be articulated a general overview of Luther’s stance on why history and its meaning were to be taken seriously. Besides the knowledge that can be gained about this topic by marshalling Luther’s explicit claims, additional insight can be garnered through a more indirect approach. Much more awareness can be gained into Luther’s view of this topic by turning to the implicit claims that can be discerned within Luther’s theological formulations. This can be done by considering Luther’s theology from various vantage points. Taking different perspectives on his theological understanding can result in obtaining further knowledge into his view of history and its meaning, e.g., that it is marked by paradoxicality, sacramentality, complexity, intensity (of meaning), and totality (of scope). The meaning of history is never completed in the past or the present; past and present meanings continue to be brought into fuller form in the future. Therefore, this theme has not been treated thoroughly until it has included an account of Luther’s impact in this area on future thinkers. The legacy of Luther’s view of history and its meaning is expansive. A report on this aspect of the issue must necessarily be limited. Even a selected narrative, however, can provide a sense of the truth that history’s meaning is an ever-unfolding affair.
Curtis L. Thompson
Liturgical theology studies the meaning of Christian worship. Although it is a relatively recent approach, it is solidly anchored in the Christian tradition. Its present shape, fame, and impact would not be what they are and its major representatives would not be able to do what they are doing without the lasting influence of the Liturgical Movement and some inspiring figures that helped shape its theological profile. Their ideas and writings were widely received beyond linguistic and denominational borders and continue to be influential in the early 21st century. More concretely, the key to comprehending what liturgical theologians do lies in their appeal to and usage of the liturgy, broadly understood as the Church’s ritual, prayer, and worship practices. Therefore, liturgical theology is not so much a subdiscipline corresponding with a specific object of research and requiring a set of specialized methods, but rather a way of theologizing pertaining to the entire scope and content of the Christian faith and religion. Liturgical theologians interpret the liturgy as the normative horizon for any theoretical theological reflection and take the liturgy not as the only but definitely as the primary source for theology. This operational principle is reflected in the age-old adage lex orandi, lex credendi, which in its earliest formulation implies that the “law of faith,” or belief content, is determined, or shaped, by the “law of prayer,” or liturgical praxis. Because liturgical theology is still a field in full development, it faces a lot of challenges for the future—both within the Church and in the academy—but at the same time entails a promising ecumenical potential.
“Lived ancient religion” offers a new perspective on ancient religion. It shares the priority on ritual of many studies from the late 19th century onward but reconstructs ancient religion not as a set of rules or coherent system but a dynamic field of change and tradition. The central notion is taken from contemporary religious studies. The concept of “lived religion” was developed in the late 1990s and has gained a growing reception ever since. Rather than analyzing expert theologies, dogma, or the institutional setting and history of organized religion, the focus of lived religion is on what people actually do: the everyday experience, practices, expressions, and interactions that are related to and constitute religion. In this way, religion is understood as a spectrum of experiences, actions, beliefs, and communications hinging on human interaction with super-human or even transcendent agent(s), usually conceptualized by the ancient Mediterraneans as gods. Material symbols, elaborate forms of representation, and ritualization are called upon for the success of communication with these addressees. The concept of lived religion has only recently been applied to the analysis of ancient religion. With a view to the dynamics of religion in the making, research based on this new concept critically engages with the notions of civic religion and (elective) cults as clearly defined rule- or belief-based systems. It stresses the similarity of practices and techniques of creating meaning and knowledge across a whole range of addressees of religious communication and in light of a high degree of local innovation. The emphasis is not on competing religions or cults but on symbols that are assuming ever-new configurations within a broad cultural space. The central notion of religious agency offers extended possibilities of imagination and intervention—of imagined, invoked, and even experienced divine support in real situations. In this way, the attribution of agency to divine actors provides appropriately creative strategies for the human agents (and sometimes even their audiences) to transcend the situation in question, whether by leading a ritual, casting a person as possessed, invoking means not yet available (as through a vow), or bolstering one’s own party with the favor of divine members. Religions, as seen from below, are the attempt—often by just a few individuals—to at least occasionally create order and boundaries through means other than a normative system imperfectly reproduced by humans. Such boundaries would include the notions of sacred and profane, pure and impure, public and private, as well as gendered conceptions of deities. Institutions such as professional priesthoods and the reformulation of religion as knowledge that is kept and elaborated by such professionals could constitute further features of crucial importance for sketching a history of such systems. This is religion in the making, though it casts itself as religion made forever. Acknowledging the individual appropriation and the production of meaning at play in these situations excludes the employment of only cultural interpretations, drawing on other parts of a dense and coherent web of meaning.