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.
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.
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.
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.