Robert Bertram’s Dissertation: The Human Subject as the Object of Theology

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This is Robert Bertram’s Dissertation.  It is searchable but is much easier to read in the above PDF document.


































A Loaded Question
What more innocent way to a man 1s theology, Luther’s in-

cluded, than to ask outright, What is it all about–or better, Whom is it about? To put the question a bit more technically and

au courant, Who is the object of this theology? Either way, the question has a conspicuous virtue. Aside from its sounding up-to- date and hardly at all like obscure Luther research, it appears
to be utterly direct, requiring no further clarification, waiting only for the respondent–in this case, Luther–to proceed with his answer forthwith. So it would seem.

In practice the question is not so open-ended as that. It might in fact be loaded, and mosi; loaded, ironically, where the questioner himself is most sober and circumspect. EVen to pose

the question, Who is Luther 1s the.ological object, is already to have some preconception of what it is we are asking. But whose preconception? Luther 1 s own? Or one which is more modern, per- chance more moderate? The very term, object of theology, may ex- cite premature expectations concerning the identity of that object. A straw vote might reveal, for example, a strong advance prefer- ence for God. But suppose it develops that for Luther the object

of theology is man, as alas it seems to be. The reaction in that



case is not hard to imagine: in some quarters disappointment, in others vehement denial. Nor would such reactions be unreasonable. Not necessarily. They may indicate only that what it takes to be the object of theology is not the same for Luther as it is for the one who is asking him.

The one who comes to mind is Karl Barth. Really, it is a euphemism to say Barth has a question for Luther. He has strong questions about Luther, at least about Luther’s theological object. Still, there is no harm, and there may be some methodological gain, in preserving the euphemism: Barth as inquirer and Luther as re- spondent, even though they threaten to talk past each other.

The discrepancy, however, between Barth 1 s question and Luther 1s answer is not trivial. It involves more by far than a mere difference in words, like Barth’s Objekt or Gegenstand versus Luther I s obiectum. No, the difference lies deeper than W O ! ” d S .
It concerns what theology is all about and, beyond that, what it means at all for theology to be “about” someone. Finally, it is

the question of how someone, be he God or man, can be the sort of object his theological predicates make him out to be. What makes him, grammatically speaking, the subject of his predicates? How are they 1his1? For example, if the object whom theology is about

is Jesus Christ, both God and man, what does it mean that this Son of God is man? How is his humanity his? Or suppose the object of theology is the Christian, simultaneously sinful and righteous.
By virtue of what is he a sinner? By his own doing? But is that also what makes him righteous? If not, and if his ri hteousness

is the doinr; of another, how can this righteousness be said to be


the Christian’s own? The answer to these questions–the question, let us say, of theological predication–has a great deal to do with the status of the theological object. Whom theology is about depends strongly on how theology is about, at all.

For Barth, apparently, theological predicates are about their subject the way achievements are about the one who does them. So theology is about its object the way compliments are about the one who deserves them. Such about-ness is appropriate, of course,

when the object it points to is God. “About,” in this Barthian context, implies credit due. However, if it is that complimentary Bort of about-ness which we have in mind when we examine a theol- ogy like Luther’s, about man, then wo wonder we wince. To be

told by Luther that theology is first and foremost about ourselves as sinners must then sound like a morbid dignifying of evil-•-like carrying dung in a gold vase, to use his expression. But Luther does insist, repeatedly, that the prior object of theology is the sinner. Even when he says theology is finally about Jesus Christ, he means it is about Christ no less as man than as God, and about Christ only as it is also about ourselves. Yet this only adds

scandal to scandal. For if theological about-ness is pre-eminently the divine due, then LutheP 1s preoccupation with man, including the

man Jesus, must look like an incipient plot against deity. Whitehead quipped that Aristotle, for all his empiricism,

still dissected fish with Plato’s ideas in his head.1 rt is like- wise tempting to dissect Luther with Barthian ideas in our heads,

lA. N. Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas (New York: Macmillan Co., 1933), P• 136.


the more so since it iEtBarth, perhaps more than anyone, who has shaped current thinking about the object of theology. But what happens then is that we inquire for Luther’s theological object, all the while meaning by the question what Bart;h, not Luther,

would mean by it. According to the rule, You get what you ask for, the r0sult is a curious distortion. Either Luther emerges, at the hands of his defenders, sounding like a pre-Barth Barthian, as though his theology were all about the self-revealing God. Or his critics, like Barth himself, perceptive enough to recognize Luther 1 s man-centeredness, bemoan it as the first fatal step to- ward Feuerbach 1 s atheism. The consequent Luther, in either guise,

is hard to recognize. That is understandable if, already at the point of interrogation, he was over-asked–or, as it seems to me, under-asked. The original question, after all, was not as unen- cumbered as it appeared.

Then why, it is only fair to ask, should Luther be bothered with a question which he never bothered to ask himself, never in

its Barthian form, and which is apt to extort answers from him which he did not intend? Well, for one thing, Barth’s question could still be redefined sufficiently to engage Luther fair and

square. And this very process of redefinition might reveal as much about Luther as his own answer would. That is so, and that

is in fact the procedure to be employed in the whole first part
of this dissertation. But there is another, preliminary consider- ation. The Barthian question which now returns to haunt Luther may be of Luther’s own making, at least posthumously. In that event Barth 1 s question about Luther’s theological object presents


Luther with a new responsibility to explain himself, and a new opportunity. We shall return to this point in a moment. First
it is instructive to see how Barth for his part traces the current problem of the theological object back to Luther and to his “in- genious overemphasis. 11

Luther I s “Ingenious Overempha sis 11
Particularly embarrassing to Barth, as we have anticipated,

is Luther’s preoccupation with man at the theological expense of God. This preoccupation, Barth finds, came to a dead end in the man-centered theology of the nineteenth century, notoriously in Schleiermacher. But it took the anti-theologian of that period, Lud1-.1igFauerbach, to blurt out the guilty secret, “Theology has long since become anthropology.111 So it had, Barth laments, ”ever

since Protestantism itself, and especially Luther, emphatically shifted the interest from what God is in himself to what God is for man.112

Feuerbach, far from displeased by this manward shift, eagerly programmed it into a “theology” of his own. God was ex- plicitly replaced by man. Where traditional theology had employed sentences like “God is infinite” or “God is love, 11 Fauerbach con- verted the subject of the sentences from God to man and referred

the predicates to man. 1What in the infinite being can I perceive to be a subject .•• ? Only that which is a predicate, a quality

lQuoted by Barth in “An Introductory Essay” in Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, trans. George Eliot (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1957), p. xxi. Hereafter cited as EC.

2rbid., P• xix.


of myself. 111 So man, no longer content to be the subject, now became also the grammatical subject, the ,creditable agent of theological predicates–and thereby the obje,ct of’ theol- ogy. “Theology is anthropology, that is, in the ob,ject of religluri which we call Theos in Greek and Gott in German, nothing but the essence of man is expressed.112

Notice Feuerbach 1 s assumption, which Barth, significantly, seems to share. All real theological predicates :are complimentary, a credit to their subject. But even these may be credited to their subject only if they are that subject 1 s own doing, qualities which he personally presents. Otherwise, presumably, their ascription

to him could not be justified, they would not really,be about him,

l ,i

he could not rightfully be the theological object. 1This assumption seems reasonable and certainly moral enough. Yet Luther, as we shall see, though he also shared the assumption, could not do so without qualification, except at jeopardy to “the \benefits of Christ.”

However, so long as this admittedly moral assumption does go unqualified, Barth’s strictures on Luther and, conversely, Feuerbach 1 s exploitation of Luther, are understandable. Luther did assign theological predicates to man, as Feuerbach 1 s abundant Luther quotations testify–and not only uncomplimentary predicates to man the sinner (though these predicates were as real as the complimentary ones) but also divine predicates to the man Jesus

and to his undeserving beneficiaries. On the Feuerbachian assump- 2Ibid., p. xv.


tion that divine predicates deserve to accrue to their human sub- ject only if they are his own doing, Feuerbach needed only to re-

place Luther 1s passive human subject with an active one–•a subject who is object because he objectifies himself. But that subject,

as Barth counters (and Luther might have, too)–that subject1–
can only be God. However, Feuerbach arrived on the scene before Barth. Theology became anthropology. And in support of his thesis

Feuerbach cited no one so ardently as he did Luther.
By today the situation has changed. The man-centered re- ligiousness both of Feuerbach and of his Christian contemporaries

has vividly been exposed, thanks largely to Barth himself. Still, Barth cautions, what we have learned to fear from Feuerbach–

“whether the theologians of the modern age are not planning on an undercover apotheosis of man1–continues to be a pressing problem. For, as he warns, the same danger continues to lurk, all too em- barrassingly, in our common ancestor, Luther. “It is for us

Protestant theologians a matter of special concern that B’euerbach for his purposes could readily make use of Luther, and not without every appearance of justice.111

Especially misleading in this respect, says Barth, are Luther’s doctrines on Christ and the Lord’s Supper. “With in- genious overemphasis, Luther himself urged us to seek deity not

in heaven but on earth, in man, man, the man Jesus; and for him the bread of the Lord 1 : Supper had to be the glorified body of the &cal ted One.” “It is certain, 11 Barth concludes, “that Luther and

1Ibid., P• xxii.


the old-Lutherans with their heaven-storming Christology have left their followers in a somewhat exposed and defenseless situation, in face of the speculative anthropological consequences that have irresistibly developed.11

Luther’s Responsibility and His Opportunity
When Barth recurs to Luther, or to any of the fathers, he

does so not at all uncritically but with the predilection of a systematician who has something of his own to say. “Why should he artificially reinterpret [the fathers•] findings until Luther is in agreement with him and says what he himself so badly wants to say?112 Still, it has been said of his Kirchliche Dogmatik–“the most impressive Protestant system at least since Schleiermacher, and perhaps since Calvin113–that it may come to be remembered longest and best for its excursions in ten-point type into ques-

tions of exegesis and church h:i.story, including no doubt its cri- tiques of Luther.4 For that matter, Barth’s attitude toward Luther is not exclusively or even predominantly critical, and it

may be diminishingly so. That same Lutheran Christology which


p. xxiii.

2 Karl Barth, “The Gift of Freedom, tt The Humanity of God, trans. J. N. Thomas and Thomas Wieser (Richmond, Virgi_nia: John

Knox Press, 1960), p. 94.

3Jaroslav Pelikan, in Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics: A Selection, selected and introduced by Helmut Gollwitzer, trans. and ed. G. w. Eromiley (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1962 ), on back cover.

4Jaroslav Pelikan, “Karl Barth in America,” The Christian Century, LXXIX (April 11, 1962 ), 4 52 .


Barth had once reproached he more recently described, a little less reproachfully, as “the fatal Lutheran doctrine • . • , whose essential aim, however, must at this point not be denied but adopted.111 More recently still, Barth conceded the feasibility, indeed the necessity, of a 11 Christian anthropocentrism, 11 albeit

with a cautious proviso. And at this point he now faults nine- teenth-century theologians for having “hesitated so long to appeal to Luther11–though, as he is careful to specify, “especially the early Luther • . • Ju2

No matter. Whatever Barth1s final estimate of Luther may be, or whether his estimate is correct, is not the question at hand. Our question, though it is from Barth that we borrow it,

1Ba1 th, ”The Humanity of God, 11 The Humanity of God, p. 50. The essay “The Humanity of God” is but one of three essays in the book, also entitled The Humanity of God. Hereafter the essay by this title (but not the book as a whole) is cited as HG.

An interesting experience in this connection from the years of the early Barth is recorded in a letter he wrote to his friend Eduard Thurneysen in 1925: ”I was in Hannover on May 13. . . . The

most notable thing in the discussion was a meeting with Bernhard Dgrries who in the name of Lutheranism ( J ) maintained against me that I give too little place to the true humanity of Christ as

the bearer. of the fullness of God, while Luther equated.not only the humanity of Christ but equally the world in general with the revelation, whereupon I truly could not miss the opportunity of telling . . . that this very thing was the deplorable consequence of the Lutheran doctrine of the Communicatio idiomatum against which our fathers issued a warning already centuries ago.” Karl Barth and Eduard Thurneysen, Revolutionary Theology in the Making: Barth-Thurneysen Correspondence, trans. James D. Smart

(Richmond, Virginia: John Knox Press, 1964), pp. 222-23.

2Barth, “Evangelical Theology in the Nineteenth Century, 11 The Humanity of God, p. 24.

is directed not to Barth but to Luther. Who is the object of

Luther’s theology? Is it finally man himself? If so, how so? Let it now be Luther 1 s responsibility, not Barth’s, to provide an answer. Barth has rendered sufficient service in suggesting a provocative question. Yet is that not the assumption precisely which needs to be challenged? rs there not a real and present danger that, with Barth as provocateur, Luther 1 s theology will be provoked to say things which he could never have intended? That is a risk, and we do well to be reminded of it. Yet despite the risk, Luther has a responsibility, but also an opportunity.

A great theologian, H. R. Macklntosh once said, condemns his descendants to the responsibility of understanding him.1 But the great theologian also assumes his share of that responsibility. He is likewise condemned to make himself understood to his descend-

ants. In that respect the work of a church father, like the work of a mother, is never ended, not even by death. Indeed, the more richly he provides for his heirs, the more apt he is to provide them with an occasion, if not with just cause, to contest the will. Therefore, though he cannot be on hand to adjudicate their differ- ences, he ought at least to have left them a negotiable instrument. Luther is no exception. He may or may not be a cause of the Feuerbach-Barth controversy, but he is, as literary fact, an occa-

sion for it. That is reason enough for him to explain himself anew, not so much to clear his good name, or to clear away the

1H. R. Mackintosh, Types of Modern Theology (London: Nisbet and Co., 1937), P• 31.

issues of today, as to clarify for today the original intent of

his bequest.
Luther need not have written with one eye always cocked

toward posterity. He was too timely and too much a trouble- shooter for that. But he did believe that in his generation the theological troubles of every generation had exposed themselves, classically and perennially, and that he had been blessed with opponents of heroic and timeless proportions 1 –so durably wrong

because they were so nearly right–such that the Church 1 s subse- quent heresies would be but derivatives of hers then.2 If so, our current problem concerning the object of theology may be, with due allowance, Luther’s original problem meeting itself coming back. About that problem he never denied his duty to be clear.

1Luther offers a similar explanation of the· theological success of Augustine by suggesting that Augustine’s discovery of
the gospel owed much, left-handedly, to the heresy of his oppo- nents: “Augustine would not have understood it if he had not been troubled and provoked by the Pelagians. 11 As for his own reforma- tory efforts, however, Luther questions whether his reformation
of the church’s doctrine could ever have succeeded were it not
tha·t the papacy I s heresy was compounded by its gross immorality, thus securing for Luther a popular support which he would not have enjoyed in times when the papacy was in better moral health. Luther’s Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann (55vols. planned; St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, and Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1955 ff.), XXVI, 412, 458. Cited hereafter as LW.

Alson. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe
(:J’iemar: Hermann BBhlaus Nachfolger, 1883), XL, Pt. 1, 623, 11. 29-

30 and p. 685, 1 . 26 top. 686, 1 . 9. Cited hereafter as WA•
For example, WA XL/1, 221, 3-222, 18 refers to Vol. XL, Pt-.-1 , o. 221, 1. 3 to p”:-222, 1. 1 8.


XXVI, 45-46, 152, 402. WA, XL/1 , 102, 20-104, 1 9; 263, 16-27; 610, 26-611, 25.

There is another side of the coin: Luther’s opportunity

as well as his duty. The latter-day question about his theologi- cal object, coming as it does after four centuries of the western church’s sustained living with his theology, comes not from Luther’s first generation students but from his alumni. As such, their question may bring with it accretions and poor memory, to be sure, but also a wealth of reflection and unanticipated testing not available from Luther’s contemporaries. The new question, though it runs the admitted danger of over-asking or under-asking him, might also elucidate him. It might be the sort of question for which Luther had to wait four hundred years, as for a delayed cue, in order to make his original meaning clearer than it first was.

Here perhaps is some small comfort for historicism. The questions which the present asks the past are indeed not the past1s own questions. But they may be the questions which, just because of their conscious anachronism, now enable the past to amplify its

original answers. For example, Luther’s whole view of theological predication–his plea for 11a new and theological gram.mar11–gives evidence of his discomfort with the scholastic scheme of substance and quality, though his break with this scheme was not always sys- tematically reasoned and complete. Barth, by now, has made the break and can show his reasons why. In other words, he provides us a clear alternative. But with this new contrast in hand, we

can see, perhaps more clearly than before, that Luther’s alterna- tive differs not only from the scholastics’ but also from Barth 1 s 1 Luther’s past reasons, in consequence, are clarified by an assist

from the present. Such efforts at de-anachronizing might be, for

the historian of theology, a methodological application of what we now call the church’s “living tradition.111 At least in the pres- ent project, the recent questions which Karl Barth has raised con- cerning the object of Luther’s theology are invoked, not to rescue Luther from his original intention, but as a new and opportune and telltale clue to his intention.

Reformulating Barth1s Question
We might at this point simply thank Barth for his serv-

ices and, without troubling him further, negotiate a transition from his question to Luther’s answer. But even for such a transi- tion we still need to inquire of Barth at length (through three more chapter J), if only in the interest of Luther. For, in order to join question to answer–to “correlate” them, if Tillich’s term applies–it will be necessary to cross-examine the Barthian ques- tion, this time from the standpoint of Luther, in order to isolate

that ingredient in Barth’s conception of the theological object which is uncongenial to Luther’s. That Barthian ingredient, if

it were not isolated and suspended, would render Luther’s meaning of the theological object inaccessible to our inquiry. Of course the resulting question, thus revised, will no longer be authen- tically Barth’s. That is the point exactly. The very reformulat- ing of Barth’s question is already half the way into Luther’s answer.

111The Tradition, according to a useful phrase of Moeller, is a living Tradition.” Jean Danielou, God and the Ways of

Knowing, trans. Walter Roberts (New York: Meridian Books, 1957), p. 191.

Actually, Barth’s view of the theological object differs

from Luther’s in a variety of ways. But the purpose here is not to subject these two worthies to an exhaustive comparison or, for that matter, to any comparison. The purpose rather is to subject Luther, all over again, to the critical and yet fruitful question of Barth, only this time not in the interest of Barth’s dogmatics but in the interest of understanding Luther on his own terms.
Even our prior cross-examination of Barth’s question will have as its purpose to use what we can of that question for an understand- ing of Luther. For this limited objective an authentic answer from Luther, it seems to me, requires only that a single basic strain in Barth’s question be alleviated (though basic it isJ ): namely, that the one who is the object of theology, in order for him to be that, must himself be the active and creditable subject

of his own predicates. This feature of the object–that he really is what he does–is of course not unique with Barth. He acknowl- edges, if not his debt, at least his resemblance to others on this score, including Feuerbach. But this is the one feature, perhaps

just because it is widespread, about which we shall need to be particularly conscious in Barth if we are finally to come to grips with Luther. And it is with this feature in mind that we shall, first of all, re-examine the Barthian question.

The plan in Part One, that is, in the next three chapters, is to sample three areas in Barth’s theology which relate to his doctrine on man: man the sinner, the man Christ Jesus, and man the believer. (Part Three will be a similar sampling of the same three areas in the theology of Luther, preceded by Part TWo, a termino-

logical study of Luther’s 11obiectum’1 and “subiecturn. 1 ) In each

of the three chapters on Barth we may note how his characteristic view of the theological object, and his corresponding uneasiness with Luther, tend to blur the latter’s original intention. And in each chapter we shall be driven back to the prior problem of the-

ological predication. In all candor, some warning should be given about the results which lie ahead. It should become increasingly clear that the question is not merely, Who is the object of Luther’s theology? For, although Luther might reply that the object of theology is somehow man, we should still have to reckon with Barth1s weigh y objection to L ther1s answer. And Barth’s objection, in turn, invites a counter-question to Barth himself:

If man had best not be the object of theology, then why not? To turn the question back upon Barth is not to pass the buck, however. The purpose rather is to uncover that mor•e fundamental question behind the question of the theological object.

For example, with respect to the self-humiliation of Jesus Christ we shall find Barth differing from Luther and saying that, at this important point in Christology, the theological object is Christ as the Son of God, not as the Son of Man. But why not as

the Son of Man? Or, as another exam9le, Barth will demur at Luthe:r•ts 11extravagant view” of faith, according to which believers enjoy the very righteousness and life of Christ as their full and present possession and, by virtue of their ”happy exchange” with Christ, become with him the ones whom theology is about. And why not? The Barthian answer to this counter-question will reveal a fundamental conception about the personal subject and his

predicates: namely, that his predicates are really 11his11 only as

he himself does them. Therefore, if the gracious condescension
of God in Christ is not the doing of the man Jesus, then the lat ter may hardly be credil:ied with this act. Similarly, the right- eousness of Christ may not be credited to his believers, or their sin be debited to him, as really as if this were their and his own doing.

On the other hand, if for Barth the personal subject is what he does, we might expect him to accord theological object- hood at least to man the sinner, as Luther does. For the sinner,

certainly, is defined by what he does. Yet Barth does not mean that the subject is characterized by just anything he does, but only by what he does in obedience to God. Sin, consequently,
does not qualify as a real predicate of a real subject. Therefore, the sinner is not one whom theology is “really” about. These ex- amples may already be enou3:h to indicate that, for Barth, the sort of doing which entitles a subject to theological predicates is necessarily a commendable, creditable doing. It is on this Barthian assumption, however, that Luther’s very different theol-

ogy appears dangerously anthropocentric. And it is this Barthian assumption, which, from Luther’s standpoint in turn, would appear as a moralistic impediment to letting man be the theological object he is, whether as sinner or as righteous. Whomever theology is about, one thing is sure: the important things which are said about him must really be about him, must be his. But what is needed to make them his? So the prior question is not, Whom is theology about, but How?


The Values of Barth 1s Question
On the positive side, there is something in Barth’s ques-

tion about Luther’s theological object which commends that ques- tion for a study of Luther. For one thing, Barth calls attention to an “anthropocentrism” which is at least as prominent in Luther as Barth intimates it is, and which for Luther is probably far

more essential than the accidental aberration–the ”ingenious overemphasis 11 –wh ich Barth is almost willing to excuse. Of course, it would be all too easy, as more than one line of Luther’s de- scendants have exemplified, to misconstrue this 11anthropocentrism” of his. If we are to do even minimal justice to him, we dare
never lose sight of the fact that the man whom theology is about
is determined throughout by his relationship to God, whether God
in his wrath or in his mercy–a God-relationship which in either event is persistently historical and personal. Yet it is exactly because of his relation to God, as we shall see, that the sinner can be the subiectum (that is, the “object”) of at least one of Luther’s “two theological knowledges,” namely, theology under the

law. True, in the case of the other 11theological knowledge, 11 the gospel, Luther does not say the subiectum is man. It is “the justifying God.11 Yet by designating God as subiectum of the gos- pel Luther means only that God is in this case the creditable agent, the one who is characterized by what he does (somewhat in Barth1s sense of Subjekt). It is not the believer who does the

justifying. Still, even in the gospel, though the believer is not ”active” but “passive, 11 there is simply no; about justifica- tion unless this justification–indeed, unless Christ himself–is

predicated of ‘ as fully and presently ours. In that sense we

are the subjects–the passive subjects, bu·t the subjects–of his predicates. It is we who are the justified ones and, in that re-

spect, the ones whom the gospel is about. Anthropocentric? As much so as God 1s grace is.

In the last analysis, really, it is not the chief concern of this paper to prove that for Luther man is the object of the- ology. But insofar as he is an object of theology, what is there about him which makes him that? And here we come to a second, even more important, service which is rendered by the Barthian question, namely, Barth 1 s “objectivity. 11 That is to say, Barth has reminded our generation again that the one who is the object of theology becomes that, not first by a “subjective” act of the theologians, but by reason of what he himself “objectively” is and

does. Thus the question is not only, How do we come to know him, but also and previously, How does he come to be the one we know? Granted, this very objectivity in Barth, when controlled by the dominant a.ccents of hj_s own theology, tends to locate the object

of theology in God and relatively less in man, whereas with Luther the focus shifts markedly toward man. So it does. But with Luther, too, what makes man the object of theology is not first an epistemological circumstance, and surely not the hybris of the theologian who seeks to scrutinize his own navel, whether pessi- mistically or optimistically. Luther finds the subtlest pride of all is that which rebels at making man the theological object the way the Scriptures do. No, what makes man the object of theology

is not merely the fact that this is the way we know him, but rather

that this is the way he is–always of course coram Deo, for that

is what he theologically is. Verbally at least, Luther might approve the Barthian theme: the object is always a subject in his own right. And not just an epistemological subject, a knower, but a biographical subject or (for want of a better word) a grammati- cal subject–the bearer and owner of real predicates, who is known theologically by what he is. Accordingly, throughout the discus- sion which follows, we shall avoid using wherever we can the term 1subject” in its exclusively epistemological sense. The problem of Luther’s epistemology is a massive problem in itself and is
not the assignment before us.

The Sources
A word is in order about our use of the sources. The ref-

erences to Luther are restricted almost exclusively to two of his works, his On the Bondage of the Will (1525) and his Lectures on Galatians (delivered in 1531, first published in 1535). Accord-

ingly, whenever such locutions are here employed as “Luther says” o:t'”Luther 1s view is so-and-so,” their literal referent is usually only as extensive as the two sources mentioned. For that matter, both documents are lengthy enough (not to say long-winded), and

it is no secret that Luther regarded them both with special favor.1

1The following three works include helpful historical in- troductions in English to Luther’s Galatians lectures of 1531. Jaroslav Pelikan, “Introduction to Volume 26,” LW, XXVI, j}x-x.
B. A• Gerrish, Grace and Reason: A Stud. in the Theola of Luther

(Oxford: Claren on Press, . , pp. 7- . Philip S. Watson, :’EditorI s Preface,” A Commentary on St. Paul1s Epistle to the Galatians ••• by Martin Luther, a revised and completed transla- tion based on the rrMiddleton” edition of the English version of 1575 (London: James Clarke and Co., 1953), PP• 1-15. Cited

In both instances I have used the editions in the Weimarer Aus-

gabe.1 The text of the Galatians lectures poses a problem since the closest thing we have to an original are the classroom notes of Luther’s faithful scribe, Georg R8rer (with some help from his fellow-auditors), and the far more scanty notes from Luther,s own “homework.112 So the first published edition, with its full- length prose, is not directly from Luther’s own hand, 3 and is

hereafter as Gal.
A fine historical introduction to Luther’s other work 11

appears in the editors 1 “Historical and Theological Introduction, Martin Luther on the Bondage of the Will, trans. and ed. J. I. Packer and o. R. Johnston (London: James Clarke a d Co., 1957), PP• 13 -65 . Cited hereafter as Bow.

1In the Weimarer Aus abe Luther’s De Servo Arbitrio oc- cupies Vol. XVIII, pp. 551-7 7, and his Galatians lectures of 153 1 occupy Vol. XL, Pt. 1, and Vol. XL, Pt. 2, pp. l-184.

2To say that “the text of the Galatians lectures poses a problem” should not obscure our debt to Rorer. For, as Pelikan

“For the transcription of these lectures and for their

expansion into printed form we are indebted to the tireless devo- tion of George RBrer, one of the first and certainly one of the best of Luther’s editors .••• His notes have been preserved.

• . • Thus we are in ;the happy posit ion of being able to compare the lectures (i.e., R3rer 1s Kollegienheft) and the book•..•
By consulting the notes we have been able to determine in several obscure passages what the intent of the printed text probably is •

• . • As Luther said in the comments he added to the Lectures ••

• , 1I recognize that a11 the thoughts set down by the brethren with such care in this book are my own. 111 LW, XXVI, ix-x.

The fragmentary “Prliparationen Luthers zur Galatervor- lesung” appear in WA, XL/1, 15-22.

3 There are two sections in the commentary which are ex- ceptions to this generalization and which did come from Luther’s own hand. He wrote a special preface for the printed edition of the lectures. LW, XXVII, 145-49 ■ WA, XL/1, 33-3 7• Also, in
the printed edition, Lu.ther 1s exposition of Galatians 5:6 is from a sermon of his on 11fai th active in love. 11 WA, Xi/2, 3 4ff .

usually an expansion and in some few cases a departure from


Rorer s shorthand. These departures, by the way, do not always represent more than Luther said, though usually that is the direc- tion in which they tend. In some instances the published text represents less than Luther said, assuming RBrer 1 s manuscript is closer to Luther 1s ipsissimis verbis. 2 My own quotations are rarely from the text of the manuscript and usually, for the sake of intelligibility, from the printed text–though not from the latter when it seemed to depart from the intention of -the former. In the references to Barth there has been no deliberate restric- tion of the literature, although the very nature of our samplings from him has concentrated relatively more attention on certain volumes of the Church Dogmatics than on h:a other works.3

In the body of the paper, quotations appear mostly in Eng- lish translation, and in German and Latin only when this seemed essential to the original flavor. For quotations from Barth, I have usually relied on his official translators. Even with the

1In the Weimar edition of the lectures R8rer 1s class- notes appear on the upper half of the page and are designated by 11Hs.11 (Handschrift), whi::19 the corresponding published version of the lectures appears on the lower half of the page and is desig- nated “Dr. 11 (Druck).

2one of the rare cases in point, where a passage appears i the Hs. but not in the Dr. is WA, Xr/1, 535, 15, a passage

which will occupy us at length inchap. x of this dissertation.

3Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, trans. G. w. Bromiley, R . H . Fuller, Harold Knight, J. K. S. Reid, and G. T. Thomson

(New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1956ff. ), Vol. I, Pt. 1 to Vol. IV, pt. 2. Cited hereafter as CD. KD refers to the

original, Die kirchliche Dogrnatik (Zollikon-Zllrich: Evangelisher Verlag, 1939ff.), Vol. I, Pt. l to Vol. IV, Pt. 3.

quotationsfrom Luther, the translation is seldom my own. Where

it is special acknowledgments appear. It would have been sheer ,joy to use the Packer and and Johnston translation of Luther’s

De Servo Arbitrio without exception, were it not that their sprightly English, as they admit, is sometimes more literate than literally exact 1 –and sometimes better English perhaps than Luther 1 s Latin is Latin. Out of typical scholarly masochism, therefore, I have sometimes had to forego the pleasure and have generously shared the inconvenience with the re:ader.2 As for the Galatians commentary, I have used the new translation by Pelikan throughout, a procedure which hardly requires explanation, so

consistently has Pelikan captured Luther 1s theological intention .

and, stylistically, his elegant plainness J This translation, I venture to predict, is destined to become one of the theological

classics of our language. However, even though I have qupted Luther mostly in translation, all references in the footnotes in- dicate the precise location of the passage in the Latin original.

1BoW, P•, 11.

2All quotations in English from Luther’s De Servo Arbitrio, unless they are cited as BoW, are my translation.

3Lw, Vols. XXVI and XXVII.



The Doxological Status of the Object Who Is Subject
As even a very Lutheran critic of Barth concedes, in mod-

ern Protestantism prior to Barth

God and His revelation were no longer the primary and basic topic of theology, but rather the religious man and his ex-

periences • . • • This shift from the object to the . • • was consistently carried out in the theology nineteenth century ••.. [Barth] became the chief

subject, of the exponent

of the movement which once again shifted the emphasis in evangilical theology back from the subject to the object.

What Sasse here attributes to Barth is true and, for Sasse 1s pur-

poses, may be enough. But for our purposes, if we are to under- stand Barth 1 s “shift • from the subject to the object,” something else must be added. Otherwise we might underestimate what all Barth intends by this shift. We might suppose, mistak- enly, that he intends nothing more than to shift the “emphasis” from man to God, to reassert simply with new force that God is

still the object and man is still the subject–perhaps merely the subject, but the subject nevertheless. The truth is, though, that Barth is saying a great deal more than this. It is God who is not

only object but subject. Indeed, God is the object, Sasse 1 s 1Hermann Sasse, Here We Stand, trans. T. G. Tappert

(Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1946), pp. 155-56. 24


“primary and basic topic of theology, 11 precisely because God is first and always the subject.

For Barth the Word of God, though it is there that God is known by men and is known by them objectively, is nevertheless

God’s action from first to last••.• It is at no point something that man discovers for himself about God, man be- ing, as it were, the subject and God the object. In all
the divisions of dogmatics God is the Subject of the action,

whatever aspect of this action be the topic of this or that particular section of the Chu.rch I s cor. idered language;

whether election, or sanctification, doctrine of God, or doctrine of man, creation, redemption, first or last things.1

1This One is God Himself, described by the unanimous testimony of prophets and apostles as the Subject of creation, reconciliation, and redemption, the Lord.112 True, 11He comes as an object before man the subject.13 Yet 11it is not as thougr God is forced into this relationship•..• This relationship belongs to the Subject God. • We have to do with His free but definitive decision. 114 “In this act God posits Himself as our object and ourselves as those who know Him•••• It is as this One who acts, however,

that He will be known.115 11In this determination, as carried through by His own decision, God is, therefore, the Subject of everything that is to be received and proclaimed in the Christian Church.116 “The Subject of revelation is the Subject that remains indissolubly Subject. We cannot get behind this Subject.117

York: The Macmillan Co., 2cD, 11/1,458.

L CD, II/2,6. 6cn,Il/2,8.

1James Brown, Subfect and Object in Modern Theology {New

955), p. 144.
3cn Il/1, 10.


5cn, 11/1,26. 7cn, 1/1,438.

It is no exaggeration to say that Barth regards the object

of theology doxologically. Because he does, it must seem well- nigh sacrilegious were Luther now to complain that this very doxo- logical regard threatens to be a limitation–and, of all things, a limitation upon the divine glory. Of course, there can be no ques- tion, any less for Luther than for Barth, thee it is God alone who posits himself, for himself as well as for his creatures, and who posits them, for himself and for one another; and no question

about God 1 s deserving sole praise for this his
ciling and redeeming action. But is this what
take all this, and is this all it takes–to be
ology? Barth does insist, ever so explicitly, that the object of theology is God. But implicitly his insistence assumes something from the outset: to be the object of theology must be up to the object himself and, as this must be his own free and sovereign do-

creating and recon- it takes–does it the object of the-

ing, his becoming that object is necessarily a praiseworthy achievement. Since God alone may be credited with such achievement, therefore the only object of theology, at least its only original object, who deserves that designation is God.

The object is creditable because subjectively he is self- actualizing. Now Barth wants it understood that this conception of subject and object, though it might find intimations among philosophers and non-Christians (“e.g., by the pagan Confucius,
the atheist L. Fauerbach and the Jew M. Buber”l), is not an impor- tation from outside,2 nor, for that matter, an importation into

1cn, rrr/2,277.

2n • • •

There can be no question of an exact correspondenceand


the divine object of theology by the human theologian.1 The very possibility of a self-objectifying subject originates, with Barthian consistency, within the deity: in the eternal life of the Trinity the Father is object to the Son, and the Son to the Father, through the communion of the Holy Spirit.2

coincidence between the Christian statements and these others which rest on very different foundations. We need not be surprised that there are approximations nd” CD, rrr/2,277.

Elsewhere, however, Barth says (aboutthe “free theologian”) that “his ontology will be subject to criticism and control by his theology, and not conversely. He will not necessarily feel obli- gated to the philosophical kairos, the latest prevailing philosophy. And who knows, he may be quite glad to resort at times 1to an older philosophy, like the ill-famed ‘Subject-Object Scheme. If we visualize for a moment the ideal situation of the free theologian, we may foresee the possibility not of theology recogr1izing itself
in any form of philosophy, but of free philosophy recognizing it- self in free theology. Yet the free theologian knows very well that, like a poor wretch, he does not live in this ideal situation.” “The Gift of Freedom, 11 The Humanity of God, p. 93.

An instance of he preceding occurs in one of Barth 1 s asides concerning “the theological existentialism of Rudolf Bult-

mann and his followers 11 :n And what can be the meaning of the ‘overcoming of the Subject-Object-Scheme, 1 recently proclaimed

with such special enthusiasm, so long as it is not made clear and guaranteed that this enterprise will not once more lead to the anthropocentric myth and call into question anew the . . . object of theology? 1 HG, p. 56.

1As Barth mentions-in connection with another term (not 11sub ject-ob ject11 ) , theologians, in adopting such terms, 1do it in the freedom–which is so very necessary and is always enjoyed in dogmatics–to take such terms as are to hand, not allowing our- selves to be_ bound and fettered by the meaning which they may have acquired from their use elsewhere, but using them in the sense

which, when they are applied to the object with which we are con- cerned, they must derive from this object itself.” CD, 11/2,513.

211God is Object to His own self-knowledge in the life of
the eternal Trinity • • . . God Himself is Subject and Object in relation, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and therein lies the 1 possibility of the divine Subject’s making Himself Object to man s faith in the life of the Holy Spirit in man’s soul.” Brown, p. 141.

“God is objectively immediate to Himself, but to us He is objectively mediate • • . • God does not have to be untrue to Him- self •.• in 6rder to become objective to us••.• For God is objective to Himself. He is immediatelyd>jective to Himself–for

It is just because God is the author of his own

objecthood, first for himself and then for others, that He must be the one whom theology is all about–and yet not “about,” if this implies credit to the theologian. 11,Je’cannot think and talk about the revelation of God; we can only reflect on what the Word itself

says to us. 111

Theology “can never form a system, comprehending and as it were 1seizing1 the object.112 It is pure grace that God should speak to us at all, whether in wrath or in mercy. 3 Our knowing him is nothing else than our obeying him.4 And in this

the Father is object to the Son, and the Son to the Father, with- out mediation. He is mediately objective to us in His revelation, in which He m”ets us under the sign and veil of other objects.” CD, II/1, 16.

1Karl Barth, Against the Stream, ed. R. G. Smith (New York: Philosophical Library, 1954), p. 215. But of course Barth

does not mean to forbid the expression that theology is nabout God.11 He himself uses the expression continually, beginning with the first page of his dogmatics. CD, I/1,1.

2cD, III/3 ,293 . However, if Barth is averse to using Luther’s word “seize, 11 he is not averse apparently to describing faith with such other Luther-like words as “grasp,” “cling,” 1apprehend. 1 CD, IV/1, 63 0-33 , 767.

311The very fact that God speaks to us, that, under all circumstances, is, in itseIf, grace.1 Karl Barth, 1Gospe1 and Law,” Community, Stats and Church, with an introduction by Will Herberg (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Co., 1960), p. 72. Cited hereafter as GL.

411Knowledge of God is obedience to Goel. Observe that we do not say that knowledge of God may also be obedience, or that of necessity it has obedience attached to it, or that it is fol- lowed by obedience. No; knowledge of God as knowledge of faith is in itself and of essential necessity obedience.” CD, II/1,26.

“Omnis recta cognit;io ab obedientia nascitur, Calvin says. Thus it is with revelation because it is the Word of God.11 Barth,

Against the Stream, p. 216. See also CD, rv/1,761-63.

our obedient knowledge j we ourselves are but 11a correspondence, 111

“the echo and mirror of the divine act.12 Our knowing God, oui-• faith, though as ours it is an act of genuine subjectivity, ulti-

mately 11 is bracketed as the predicate of the subject, God, •
is still only derivable from the Thou of the Subject, God.113 To

be the object of theology, because he has determined himself as such, is God1s “right,tt his “glory,” his “honor.”

Barth’s Sinner Unworthy to Be the Object of Theology

The object of theology, on Barth’s sssumption, is thus a title of approbation. It is a blessed, a doxological, word. It gives credit to whom credit is due. To assume even thus much, however–this honor•ific status of the theologica 1 ob ject–a lready makes it ambiguous to ask for the object in the theology of Luther. For Luther contends, on the contrary, that the first object we
must know is ourselves, ourselves as sinners. Now our sinnerhood, surely, is very much our own doing, and it is precisely for that reason that Luther views the sinner as the object of theology.
The sinner is the subject responsible for making himself the sin-

ful object he is. Predicates like sin and guilt accrue to him because they originate in him, their active subject. But is this not; the view of the self-objectifying subject which Barth holds,

too? Not really. Of course, Barth knows as well as Luther that

1cn, II/1,26.

3cn, r/1,281.

“The Gift of Freedom,” The Humanity of God, p. 79.

sin is the doing, the personal predicate, of the sinner.1 Curi-

ously enough, Barth is the one who is extremely careful to impute sin to man alone, and in no sense to God, 2 while iLt is Luther who undertakes to discuss how “God works evil in us. 1 3 Yes, Barth knows well enough that the responsible subject of sin is the human sinner. Then why is it that Barth; even in his anthropology,

rules out the sinner as the object of theology, whe1·eas Luther, even in a treatise so patently de Deo as his Bondage of the Will, repeatedly holds theologians and all other sinners to “knowledge of themselves 11 ?4

The reason the sinner does not merit being the object of Barthian theology is, it seems, just that: his sinfulness does not

111The testimony of the community is addressed to thi$ god- less man, this man engaged in this negative act. It does not deny that he does this act; on the contrary, it asserts this•..• It knows and confronts man–every man–as one who is isolated over against God by his own choice. . . •11 CD, II/2, 316.

211The fact that the creature can fall away from God and perish does not imply any imperfection on the part of creation or the Creator•••• But the fault is that of the creature and not of God. In no sense does it follow necessarily from what God is

in Himself. Nor does it result from the nature of the creation. It follows inevitably only from the incomprehensible fact that the creature rejects the preserving grace of God. What belongs to the nature of the creature is that it is not physically hindered from doing this. If it was hindered in this way, it could not exist at all as a creature. In that case, grace would not be grace and the creature wouJd inevitably be God Himself. The fact of evil in the world does not cast any shadow on God, as if evil, i.e., opposi- tion to Him, had any place either in Himself or in His being and activity as the Creator.” CD, II/1,503-504.•

3BoW, pp. 203-207. WA, XVIII, 709-10.

4BoW, pp. 74-79, 153, 158, 162, 189, 287-88. WA, XVIII, 609-14; 60, 25; 677, 12-16; 679, 26-31; 699, 1-6; 766-=67.

merit such prestige. It is unworthy of the honor. Our sinnerhood, though it is very much our own doing, is hardly a laudable achieve-

ment. And, according to Barth, we ought not be credited with more success, least of all in our sinning, than we in fact deserve.
“For where is [God 1s] faithfulness if our unfaithfulness has the last word? How can His right be divine if our wrong is allowed and able to maintain itself against Him? What Titans we necessarily are if we can posit ourselves absollltely.111 The sinner’s “self- contradiction. . . is not the last word that is spoken about him.

• • • It cannot even be the first word about him. The fact that he became a sinner cannot mean that he has spoken an originally valid word about himself. 112 -}’It is certainly not the case that the sin of man has shown God to have miscalculated in some way,

as though the sin of man had created a new and second order of creation, a new world, the world of the wrath of God. 113 “His sin has not brought to birth a new creation, a similar and rival do- m:i.nion to the lordship of Goa.114 Those who do not acknowledge their divine election

can, of course, dishonor the divine election of grace; but they cannot over·throw or overturn it. They cannot prevent God from regarding them as from all eternity He has willed to regard and has actually ree;arded sinful men in Hls own Son • • • • In all its wickedness and deadliness, their attempt is -gowerless in the face of God1s [gracious] will and decree•.?

The sinner may pretend he is isolated from God and re-

jected, b u t in this pretense

1CD, rr/2,753. 4rbid.

he is claiming a prerogative which

2cD, III/2, 31. 3cD, rrr/2,33.


CD 11/2,349.

God has reserved for His own isolated and rejected Son. The sinner

”may indeed behave and conduct himself as isolated man, and there- fore as the man who is rejected by God•••• But he has no right to be this man, for in Jesus Christ God has ascribed this [right] to Himself.111 In face of Christ1s gracious power “no flesh, really none, should be able to boast, not even of its non- resistance 1 t2 So, to construe the sinner as the object of theol- ogy, even as the object of theological anthropology, is to arro- gate to his sin a “right” and a “boast” which it does not deserve.

For Luther, of course, Barth1s argument (if it is to be taken literally and not merely as theological irony-) would repre- sent a gross begging of the question. Being made the object of theological attention is not necessarily a distinction at all, especially in view of the grim sort of attention sinners get from the divine Judge. Theological objecthood, for Luther, is not a reward for meritorious service. Barth, lest he dignify sin as a serious competitor of God 1 s sovereign grace, prefers to elirainate the sinner as a real object of theology. 3 For Luther, on the hand, the sinner is the theological object, and an altogether real

one, exactly because he deserves to be, though what he deserves and gets in this case is no compliment to him. We are now up

1cn,II/2 ,316. 2GL, p. 96.

311sinful man as such is not the real man. We are not asked to blind ourselves to the fact that he is sinful. The real man is the sinner who participates in the grace of God • . . • The grace of God, the covenant of God with man, is primary. The sin of man is secondary. It is not ultimate, and therefore it is not primary. 1rhis excludes the. abstraction of man as meruly sinful, and implies the pardon of man, who even as a sinner does not cease to be the· creature of God.11 CD, III/2,32 .

against that feature in Barth 1 s notion of theological object–

namely, the object’s worthiness, his right, to be the object– which we sha l have to suspend if we are to use Barth 1 s question about the object in the theology of Luther.

Sin as Nothingness
Barth, we said, is loath to construe the sinner as the ob-

ject of theology lest sin be credited with an efficacy which belongs only to the divine subject. It is much this same concern, though now not only a negative but a positive concern, which inspires Barth’s dialectically brilliantdefinition of sin as nothingness, das Nichtige. Here he is occupied largely with considerations

of theodicy. Actually, Barth seldom uses that term and, when he does, he usua11y d.isparages i·t. 1 Still, whether it be theodicy
or not, in almost every section of his discussion of nothingness
the theme which predominates is that sin, in order not to jeopardize God 1 s sovereign grace, can have no reality apart from t’.1.atgrace. More precisely, sin can have no reality apart from God’s wrath.

But this wrath is only a function, a “form,” of grace. The as- sumption, presumably, is that unless sin is ultimately derivable

1The theodicy which Barth derogates is the superficial, anticlimactic sort which, contemplating the divine judgment upon the innocent Jesus, puzzles over God’s “humiliation and dishon- ouring • • • of a noble and relatively innocent man.” To this comparatively trivial question Barth replies: “The problem posed is not that of a theodicy: How can God will this or permit this
in the world which He has created good? It is a matter of the humiliation and dishonouring of God Himself, of the question which makes any question of a theodicy a complete anticlimax; the ques- tion whether in willing to let this happen to Him He has not re- nounced and lost Himself as God, ••• whether He can really die

and be dead. 11 CD, IV/1,246. See also CD, III/3,365. —

from grace there can be neither real sin nor real grace, hence no

real divine honor.1 But it is unthinkable, at least for Christians, to deny the serious reality of sin, yet even worse, to deny the honor of the gracious God.2 Therefore?

Barth 1 s solution, therefore, is to describe sin as nothing- ness. Sin is not nothing. It does exist. But it ”is” as nothing- ness is, as chaos. It ‘1is11 only as God in his grace “nothings” it–

1It may seem at first to be a misrepresentation of Barth to say he derives sin ultimately from God’s grace. And, unless that statement is read in context of what follows in the dissertation, above, it would be misrepresentation indeed. For Barth’s charac- teristic expression is that sin is the object of God’s “jealousy, wrath, and judgment,” that which therefore “lacks his grace.” Sin is the result of God1s opus alienum. But as Barth also insists throughout, God I s opus alienum is but the other side of “the opus propriurn of His election, of His creation, of His preservation and overruling rule of the creature revealed in the history of’ His covenant with man, • . • His grace.” For Barth, therefore, sin finally derives its character, its 1ontic peculiarity, 11 from its relationship to the divine grace. “The grace of God is the basis and norm of all being, the source and criterion of all good. Measured by this standard, as the negation of God’s grace, nothing- ness is intrinsically evil • • • • As it is real only by reason of

the 0pus Dei alienum, the divine negation and rejection, so it can be seen 8nd understood only in the light of the opus Dei proprium, only in 11 elation to the sovereign counter-offensive of God 1 s free

grace.” CD, Ill/3,353-54
Also: “God I s Word • . • not only can comfort us, heal us,

vivify us, ..• it can also judge us, punish us, kill us, and it actually does all of these things. But let us not overlook ..• :

fore • • • a
nothing else.” GL, p. 72.

. • • The Wor1d of God [is] • . • , whatever it says, properly and ultimately g ace : free, sovereign grace, God’s grace, which there-

211Therefore all conceptions and doctrines which view noth- ingness as an essential and necessary determination of being and existence . . • are untenable from the Christian standpoint • . •
on two grounds, first, because they misrepresent the creature and even the Creator Himself, and second, because they • . • are
guilty of a drastic minimization of [nothingness].” I.JD,111/3,350.

so-means jud ent, death, and hell, but grace and gm


from all eternity in his gracious election, historically in his grace incarnate, Jesus Christ. Sin is not, of course, what God wills. But it “is1 what he does not will. “What really corre-

sponds to that which God does not will is nothingness.111 Nothing- ness is all the reality sin has, but that much reality it has.
Thus Barth’s solution achieves a double effect, with the result that on both counts the divine glory is enhanced. On the one hand, since sin is not a positive but merely a negative consequence of God’s creating grace, God is not in the quandary of having to re-

ject what he elects, of destroying what he creates, and hence of compromising himself.2 On the other hand, since sin has what .reality it has from God alone, his grace remains the sole, credit- able ground of all th t is, even of what 1is11 negatively.

There is a presupposition afoot here which is foreign to Luther. He does not assume, as Barth seems to, that God, if he

1The longer passage of which the quoted sentence, above,
is the punch-line, reads: 1It is only on this basis that nothing- ness 1is,1 but on this basis it really 1is.1 ••• It is not a second God, nor self-created. It has no power save that which it is allowed by God • . • • It 1 is 1 problematically because it is only on the left hand of God, under His No, ••• Yet because it is on the left hand of God, it really 1is1 in this paradoxical manner. Even on His left hand the activity of God is not in vain••••
That which God renounces and abandons in virtue of His decision is not merely nothir:g. It is nothingness, and has as such its own being, albeit malignant and perverse . . . • Nothingness • . • lives by this fact. For not only what God wills, but what He does not will, is potent, and must have a real correspondence. What really corresponds to that which God does not will is nothingness.”
CD, III/3,351-52.

2ncreation is not to be undone or to perish. It belongs to its Creator. 11 “He makes Himself responsible for the preserva- tion of being, and in so doing He vindicates His own honour as the Creator.” CD, III/2,149.

were to reject what he creates, would thereby impair the honor of his grace. Understandably not, since for Luther the Creator may have other motives for his creativity besides grace, and his cre- ating need not be gracious in order to be real–except for that creation of his which is radically new.. That being so, grace also need not be invoked to give reality to sin, even privatively. Quite the contrary, for Luther. The only ontological status which the gracious judgment of God confers upon sin is to render it, not nothingness but nothing, no sin at all.1 When Luther speaks of sin therefore, he feels no compulsion to demonstrate the divine honor, except by concentrating upon that one on whom God concen-

trates: the sinner.
In the theology of Barth, however, his hamartiology in-

cluded, God is sustained as the object throughout. But as we have see, what qualifies the sinner to be the Barthian object is that God, not the sinner, succeeds in being the determinative and thank- worthy subject. God is the thankWorthy subject of all that is.

If all real predicates must ultimately accrue to this gracious subject, then sin too, insofar as it is real, is no exception.

1whether the unity which Barth insists upon between crea- tion and grace (or redemption) does in fact entail the sort of 1acosmism1 for which Barth is faulted by the Lutheran Regin
Prenter is a different, though related, question. A sum.mary and suggested solution of this controversy appears in G. c. Berkouwer, The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth, trans. Harry
R. Boer (Grand Rapids, Michigan: 1/lmi’. B. Eerdmans Co., 1956), pp. 250-55. Of course, Be1rkouwer does not necessarily speak for Barth, although neither bas Berkouwer1s book passed without Barth1s favorable notice. (See Barth’s contribution in Harold E. Fey [ed.], How My Mind Has Changed [Cleveland, Ohio: Meridian Books, 1961],
p. 36.) The matt r- of Prenter 1 s criticism was raised in a question- and-answer period with Barth on the occasion of his Warfield Lec-

tures at Princeton in 1962. See “A Theological Dialogue, 1 Theology Today, XIX (July 1962), 172.

Apart from the grace of God, finally, sin has no reality. But

that is its reality: its apartness from grace. Of that too, there- fore, God is the commendable subject and, for that reason, the theoiogical object.1

The Seriousness of Sin
Critics of Barth, Reformed as well as Lutheran, fear that

his doctrine of nothingness minimizes the seriousness of sin.2 Whether it does or not, that is surely the reverse of Barth1s in-

tention. In fact, a case might be made for the opposite criticism, if one were needed: namely, that Barth takes sin too seriously.

(Actually, the two criticisms are not opposites except as opposed sides of .the same coin. ) Thus it might be argued, fram the stand- point of Luther, that Barth so overestimates sin, both its unreality

111Hence nothingness cannot be an object of the creature 1 s

natural knowledge. It is certainly an objective reality for the creature . . • • But it is disclosed to the creature only as God revealed to the latter in His critical relationship. The creature knows it only- as it knows God in His being and attitude against it. It is an element in the history of the relationship between God

and the creature in which God precedes the creature in His acts, thus revealing His will to the creature and informing it about Himself.11 CD, IIr/3,350. Thus Barth seems to be saying, not only that sin isunknowable apart from divine grace, but also that the reason it is unknowable apart from grace is that it has no being apart from grace–apart, that is, from its relationship to God, which is essentially gracious. The inseparability of being and knowing is axiomatic for Barth’s theology. “We can speak about man only by speaking about God . • . • Why deny priority to God in the realm of knowing when it is uncontested in the realm of being?

If God is the first reality, how can man be the first truth?” Barth, “The Gift of Freedom, 11 The Humanity of God, p. 70.


2As an instance of Lutheran criticism on this point, see Gustaf Wingren, Theology in Conflict, trans. E. H. Wahlstrom

(Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1958), pp. 36-39. For a Reformed account, see Berkouwer, pp. 215-61.


and its reality, that he underestimates God. As though God in
nis wrath cannot annul the kind of sin which is fully real, as real as any creature, and still be God. And as though the sin he annuls in his mercy can any longer be real at all, even as real as nothingness.

At any rate, what makes sin serious according to Barth is not that we take it seriously, as though it were a threat primarily to us, as though its defeat depended upon us. Indeed, that self- seriousness is our sin. That is the way in which “nothingness achieves actuality in the creaturely world.111 The threat, rather,

is to God. Sin is serious, therefore, only because he 1takes it seriously, who does not deal with it incidentally, but in the ful- ness of the glory of His deity, ..• involving Himself to the ut-

most,112 taking it so seriously that He takes it away.3 1From a Christian standpoint 1 to be serious’ can only mean to take seri-

ously the fact that Jesus is Victor.14 ”God can be so much in earnest against sinful man that He is for him.15 “The true seri- ousness of the matter • • • does not finally depend upon pessimis-

tic but upon optimistic thought and speech.116
May we conclude, then, from Barth’s ”optimistic thought

and speech, 11 from the fact that Jesus is now Victor over sin, that sin therefcre no longer exists–not in us, not at all, not even as

1cn, III/3,350. 2cn,III/3,349.
311He has Himself borne the consequence of this separation

to bear it away.” CD, IV/1,247.
4cn, III/3 ,364. 5cn, rv/1, 221. 6cn, III/3,364.


the Barthian nothingness? There is much in Bath to confirm that optimism. For example,

nothingness •.• is consigned to the past in Jesus Christ, in whose death it has received its deserts, being destroyed

with this consummation of the positive will of God which is. as ·such the end of his non-willing. ecause Jesus is Victor, nothingness is routed and extirpated.

But this optimistic thought, this “one possible answer,” presup- poses that we look “retrospectively to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and prospectively to His coming again. 112

Yet that is the very thing, is it not, which we are so reluctant to do? As Barth admits, and with no little seriousness, “It is obvious that in point of fact we do constantly think of

[nothingness] ••• with anxious, legalistic, tragic, hesitant, doleful and basically pessimistic thoughts•. 13 ”But it is

surely evident that when we think in this way it is ••• in breach of the command imposed with our Christian faith. 114 And because such thinking 1is a decision against the grace of God, it

is a choice of evil.115 “This negation of His grace is chaos. • • • Nothingness is really privation, the attempt to defraud God of His honour and right••.. For it is God’s honour and right to be

gracious, and this is what nothingness contests. 116 But if it does, then do we not, by the very fact of our persistent pessimism, per- petuate nothingness in all its serious reality? Then what has be- come of the reality and the seriousness of Christ 1 s victory? Is not Barth himself visibly serious, and justly so, not only about

1c-n, 111/3,363. 21bid.

3cn, 111/3,364. 4rbid. Sen, 111/3,358. 6cn, III/3, 353,


Jesus’ victory over sin, but also about those pessimistic Chris- tians who still take sin too seriously? Yet if it is a serious

fact that they do, then is it not true after all that nothingness still is? And must it not follow from Barth’s premise that God is defrauded of his grace and therefore of his honor and right?

So it might appear, Barth concedes, but only in “the blind- ness of our eyes,111 only in our consciousness “of the world and of self. • But what do we really know of [nothingness] as taught by this consciousness?112 Still, that is not the question. There is no need to dispute, at least not where Luther is involved, that our own consciousness of sin may be false and that our eyes really are blind to·:God1s grace. Let that be granted. The point is, if

our eyes really are blind and if our consciousness of nothingness really is false, then is not this very delusion of ours exactly what Barth says nothingness 11is11–really is and still is, the vic- tory of Christ notwithstanding? Supposedly, our lingering self-

deception, our faithlessness, is our sin–our 0 real11 sin, as Barth “.l 11 11

continues to call it•…,But on Barth’s own terms, can it even be that? Dare our unbelief so much as 1be,11even as the reflex of God 1s non-willing, if in Christ his non-willing has come to an end? In a word, which is it? Is our faithlessness still real and Christ 1s forgiveness less than real? Or is the forgiveness of Christ real and our sin therefore nothing–not nothingness but


III/3,367. 2co, III/3,363. 3GL, PP• 95-96.


nothing?1 For Luther, the answer can be Yes to both questions, simultaneously, but only by distinguishing, as he does, God’s law from his gospel. Barth abjures Luther’s distinction, lest God appear to contradict himself and 11God would not be God. 112 There

1Barth1s solution in passages like the following is only an apparent solution. “This is God I s grace: that our humanity is, insofar as it is o rs, not only condemned and lost because of our sins (our perpetually new sinsJ) but at the same time, insofar as it is the humanity of Jesus Christ, it is justified by God. 11
GL, p. 74. But it is thematic in Barthian theology that there is no real humanity for us except the humanity of Jesus Christ. If so, then our “humanity” can only be- 11 justified,” not at all “con- demned and lost,” and it is pointless in that case to speak (with exclamation points, at that) about “our perpetually new sins.”
On the other hand, Barth does have to account for the perpetually new sins. Thus he resorts to “our humanity ••• insofar as it is our>s.11 Does this mean our humanity merely as we see it, not as God sees it? But such humanity would be, from the viewpoint of theology (Barth’s most of all), illusory and of no theological in- terest. Perhaps that is what Barth means by saying such humanity

is ”condemned and lost. 11 But then the illusion itself must still be a real illusion, real enough to warrant divine condemnation, as real as nothingness ever was. But where, then, is the victory of Christ· over this nothingness?

Elsewhere Barth puts the matter this way. 11I could even use a more striking illustration. Did you read in the paper re-

cently that two Japanese soldiers were found in the Philippines, who had not yet heard, or did not believe, that the war had ended fourteen years ago? They continue to hide in some jungle and shoot

at everybody who dares to approach them . • . • We are such people when we refuse to perceive and hold true what the Easter message

declares. • • • Sin and death are conquered.” Karl Barth, Deliverance to the Captives, trans. Marguerite Wieser (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1961), pp. 149-50. But then, if, as Barth

says, rtsin and death are conquered,” doesn•t that conquest extend to the sinful fact that we “refuse to perceive and hold true •.• the Easter message?” Or, if we do so refuse, is that refusal still sinful, really sinful?

2Barth does speak, at first, of “the fire of [God 1 s] wrath which consumes and destroys” sinners, and he adds that “God would

not be God ••• if there could be any escaping this sequence of sin and destruction. 11 However, it must be remembered what it is, according to Barth, which “burns ••. as the fire of His wrath”: it is “the love of God.11 Therefore, Barth concludes: “But again God would not be God if His reaction to wrong-doers could be com- pared to a mechanism which functions, as it were, independently of His •.• pardon. 11 CD, IV/1 ,221 .

The followingstatement may not be even a covert reference

is a danger that, on the Barthian alternative, man would not be

man, God’s man: neither God 1s real sinner nor God 1s real saint.

Barth and Luther on Romans 9:19-20
It is instructive in this connection to interrogate Barth

from the standpoint of Luther, as Barth exegizes Romans 9:19-20.1 Paul writes,

You will say to me then, “Why does [God] still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, a man, to

answer back to God?
Barth answers: The one reason man may not reproach God is that the gracious God already “has taken to Himself every reproach. 1 But

then, we might ask, would God still find reason in that case to renew the reproach against man? 1 1an • . • is justly reproached by

to the Lutheran distinction of law and gospel, but the concern which the statement expresses typifies a misgiving which Barth oc-

casionally has about Luther, for example, in the latter’s failure to assimilate Deus absconditus into a fully Christological doctrine of election. (See, for example, CD, II/1, 541-42. ) 1 It is a mark of the divine nature as distinct from that of the creature that in it a conflict with Himself is not merely ruled out, but is inher- ently impossible. If this were not so, if there did not exist perfect, original, and ultimate peace between the Father and Son
by the Holy Spirit, God would not be God. Any God in conflict
with Himself is bound to be a false God.” CD, Ir/1,503. As for

the unity in Luther’s v ew of God, despite his realistic emphasis upon the divine wrath, see Lennart Pinomaa, Der Zorn Gottes in der Theologie Luthers (Helsinki: Der Finnischen Literaturgesellschaft,

In the opening paragraph of his “Gospel and Law” Barth

warns: 11 • • • Anyone who really and earnestly would first say
and only then, presupposing this, say Gospel would not, no matter
how good his intention, be speaking of the Law of God and therefore then certainly not of his Gospel,” GL, p. 71. The Lutheran re- plies have been numerous”:” Berkouwer-,-p. 319, n. 65. See also Hermann Diem, 111 Evangelium und Gesetz 1 oder 1 Gesetz und Evangelium 1 ?11 EVangelische Theologie, September 1936, pp. 361-70.

1cD, II/2,166. See Luther’s very different treatment of the same passage. BoW, pp. 212-19. WA, XVIII, 714-18.



God if he ••• does not live in a state of thankfulness toward God.” Yet is that not the very reproach, the reproach of man1s unthankfulness, which God took upon himself? Still, 11man cannot evade his own responsibility,” says Barth, 11by complaining that
God required too much of him.11 True, but why not? Because 11what God required of Himself on man 1 s behalf is infinitely greater than what He required of man.11 What did God require of man? Only [sic] that man “should live as the one on whose behalf God required the uttermost of Himself.111 OnlyJ Is it not that 11requirement’1 ex- actly, that “demand, 1 against which man complains most grudgingly and, in complaining, becomes all the more unthankful, and all the more 1justly reproached by God11?

It is at this point, Luther would say, that a man denies God I s reproach a:5ainst him by arguing that God would not reproach what he himself has created. And it is this sanguine argument from creation, the denial that the Creator could reject his crea- ture, which Paul refutes in the immediate sequel, “Has the potter no right over the clay?11 (Rom. 9:21) Or, as Luther also points

out, man dodges the reproach by protestin8 that God is too kind really. Thus the human subject object, by changing the subject its reality and, in the end, so

arguing from God 1 s kindness, by to entertain such a reproach, takes the heat off himself, as to God. As a result, sin loses does the victory of Christ.

The Barthian Impediment to Understanding Luther
The purpose at hand is not to belabor Barth with the in-

ternal difficulties of his system. (His difficulties are not all 1cn, Ir/2,166.


of his own making and, insofa.r as they are not, they are the com- mon lot of every Christian theologian, of Luther too.) Rather,

the difficulties Barth incurs, in risking a definition of sin which seems neither rel enough nor forgiven enough, illustrate the

difference between his own attitude and Luther’s attitude toward the theological object. Only that one may be the real object of theology who deserves credit for actualizing himself as such.
This Barthian assumption, we said, Luther might find applicable to his own first object of theology, the sinner, except for one tell- ing difference. After all, is not the sinner, too, a subject who actualizes himself as the sinful object he is’? He does so, it is true, with considerable assistance both from the Devil and from God. Nevertheless, the predicates through which he objectifies himself (his disbelieving, his lovelessness, his ingratitude, and all the rest) do accrue to him as their active author and owner. Still, to be the author and owner of such predicates as these is hardly to his credit, only to his discredit.

It is the fact of the sinner’s discreditableness, which, althoue;h both Barth and Luther inslst upon it, nevertheless occa- sions a telling difference between them on the matter of the the- ological object. For Barth, not for Luther, the element of credit- ableness seems to be an indispensable requirement for theological objecthood, because it is an indispensable requirement for real

subjectivity. For a subject to actualize himself as object is in- herently creditable because it is creative, and because all crea-

tion is finally the doir of the creditable, thankworthy God.
Here Luther would balk, not at the premises but at the conclusion.


For him, all creation, even the creative self-objectifying of the sinner, is indeed the doing of God. And, as the doing of God, all creation, even the creative self-objectifying of the sinner, is
good and is surely no discredit to God–that is, as the doing of Godl But not as the doing of the sinner. As the doing of the sinner, his self-objectification is evil. Yet it is no less real
as evil than it is real as God’s creation. Luther would insist that the sinner’s self-objectification, his making himself what he is, though he could not accomplish this without the Creator, is never- theless assimilated to the sinner by the Creator–by the angry Judge–as the sinner’s own doinc, expressing as it does his own sinful subjectivity, bearing the undeniable stamp of his own culp- able self. Although the unbeliever could not even so much as dis- believe without the enabling energy of the Creator, still it is not

the Creator who disbelieves. God “reckons” it as the sinner’s action, as sin.1 Being the sinner’s action it is no less the real predicate of a real subject. Hence there is for Luther no impedi- ment to construing the sinner as a real theological object, credit-

able or not.
But according to Barth, apparently, to be the subject of

of real predicates could not possibly be discreditable without re- flecting adversely upon God. For God could not discredit what he himself had a hand in creating, except (as Barth seems to think)

l,,I say that man without the grace of God nonetheless re- mains under the general omnipotence of the God who effects, and moves, and impels all things in a necessary, infallible course;

But the fact of man’s thus being carried along ••• avails noth- ing in God’s sight, nor is reckoned to be anything but sin.”

Bot'{, p. 265. WA, XVIII, 7S2, 12-lS.


at the cost of contradicting himself, and at peril to the honor
of his grace. still, as Barth also knows, the predicates of the sinner are a discredit to the sinner in fact. Therefore, the only conclusion seems to be that the sinner’s sin may not be allowed to have any creaturely reality. The sinner himself, accordingly, is not a real subject; hence not a real theological object. “Sinful man as such is not the real man. nl “Only as he gives thanks to God does man . . • distinguish himself as being from non-being •

. • • [If he does not do this,] he is not man and therefore noth- ing (for if he were not man, what else could he be?).112 The sinner, qua sinner, dare not be the object of theological knowledge. Not for Barth, that is. It becomes all the more evident, therefore, that Barth’s question about the object in the theology of Luther,
if it is to engage Luther where he can answer it, will have to be

modified. The problem does not arise, either for Barth or for Luther, in thinking of the object of theology as a personal sub-

ject of theological predicates–as someone who is this or that. That much is agreeable to both critic and respondent. But that this subject, in order to be the object of theology, must himself be the creditable agent of his predicates–that is another matter. That is a restriction within which Luther could not move.

1cn, rrr/2,32. 2CD, III/2, 171 ·


God rs Man, not Vice Versa
The question which for pages and pages has been crying to

be raised, and which can be silenced no longer, is upon us. rs it at all accurate to say that for Barth the object of theology can- not be man when Barth himself repeatedly says that man is just that? But if that is Barth’s view, then what is there within it which makes of LutherI s view a dangerous 11anthropocentrism,” an “ingenious overemphasis”? Is it not Barth who devotes an entire section of his dogmatics to 1man as an object of theological knowledge, 111 Barth who takes it as a “presupposition” that “in God’s revelation man is disclosed as well as God,112 Barth who finds the term ”theology” less adequate to his purpose than the more precise term “theanthropology, 113 Barth who wins Gollwitzer 1s praise as 11an innovator” by extending his Christological basis not

only to God but also to “man and his nature.and action11?4 Then 1cn, III/2,19-54 , 2cn, III/2,26.

3Karl Barth, “Evangelical Theology in the Nineteenth Cen- tury,” The Humanity of God, p. 11.

4Barth, Church Dogmatics: A Selection, p. 87. In this con- nection Barth is entitled to the hearty defense he gets in Robert Hood, “The Thorn of Liberalism in Karl Barth,” Anglican Theologi- cal Review, XLIV (October 1963), 403-14 . Hood regrets the fact that “Barth •.• has been maligned as the most pessimistic of all theologians with r•egard to man.11 Ibid., pp. 4 04 -4 05. It may be a bit strong to say, with Hood, “that Barth is primarily concerned



what could there be in Barth’s notion of the theological object which resists Luther’s preoccupation with man?

The question brings us to what is, for Luther as well as
for Barth, the heart of the matter, to Christology. For the one
as for the other, “theology must begin with Jesus Christ, and . • • theology must also end with him.11 Especially is Jesus Christ, himself true man, the basis of tp.eological anthropology. But this too is Luther’s view no less than Barth’s, though it is hardly
the “innovation” of either. Yet Barth claims (and with good reason)

to bring something new to the discussion. And he regards his dis- covery as an improvement not only over his own earlier position2

with anthropology.” Ibid. But there is still room for Hood’s ex- clamation: 11What a different point of view from the negative atti- tude toward man which most of Bart;h I s critics attribute to himJ 11 Ibid., p. 414.

1Barth1s statement recalls Luther’s famous confession in his preface to the 1 .535 edition of his Galatians lectures: “For the one doctrine which I have supremely at heart, is that of faith

in Christ, from whom, through whom and unto whom all my theologi- cal thinking flows back and for-E’rlday and nign.”t:”1 Gal, p. 1 6 . Thus, as Watson here does, it is customary to transTate the rela- tive pronouns not as neuter but ·as personal: 11 ••• from whom, through whom, and unto whom • • •11 Barth, too, translates the passage this way. CD, IvJI,52 1. A strong case can be made, how- ever, for Pelikan 1sr endering: “From it, through it, and to it

••• 11 U.f, XXVII, 145. Luther’s Latin reads: “Nam in cordemeo iste unusregnat articulus, scilicet Fides Christi, ex quo, per quem et in quem. 11 WA, XL/1, 33. However, even if Luther I s refer- ence is strictly tothe antecedent fides, or to articulus, rather than to Christi, the resulting meaning need not be any less 11christocentric11 when we note (as we shall in chap. xi) that Luther uses propter Christum and propter fidem in Christum inter- changeably. The christocentricity of Barth 1 s theology, of course, is evident everywhere, but perhaps nowhere so s·l;rikingly as in

his doctrine of election. In that context he says: “· •• God will indeed maintain Himself if we will only allow the name of

Jesus Christ to be maintained in our thinking as the beginning and the end of all our thoughts.” CD, II/2,4-.5-

2HG, pp. 37-46.

but also over traditional Christologies.1

What seems to distinguish Barth’s position is the unique way in which he derives anthropology from Christology and, more basically still, the “unusual” way–the “undoubted advantage112 __

by which he derives the humanity of from his deity, and from his deity alone. For that is what Barth does. The Christo- logical task, he says, is “to derive the knowledge of the humanity of God from the knowledge of his deity113–never vice versa. Nor is this irreversible sequence merely one of knowledge, a knowledge of the one derived from a knowledge of the other. The sequence

inheres in God’s very being. “It is precisely God’s deity which •.• includes his humanity,” not the other way around.4 Peter’s

confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, 11 is ”not a synthetic but an analytic statement. ,:5 11As the Son of God and not otherwise, Jesus Christ is the Son of Man. This sequence is irreversible. 116

Jesus Christ is “God Himself become man.117 But Barth is not one to reverse the relationship and to say also the converse, as Luther does, that in Jesus Christ, 1the M an is God.118 Of course, that Jesus Christ is true man, vere homo as well as vere Deus, Barth insists as vehemently as Luther ever did (though perhaps

1Ibid., o. 4 9. But for a more explicit statement, see CD, rv/1,nz:=35.·

2cn,rv/1,132 . 3HG, P• 38. 4HG, P• 46 . 5cn, I/1,46 3• 6HG, P. _4 8.

7cD, rv/1, 128.
8Lw, XXVI, 273. WA, XL/1,42 7,21-22 (Hs.: 427,4-5).


with less of Luther’s realism about Christ 1 s becoming 11flesh” ).1 And, for that matter, Luther insists no less than Barth that the priority and initiative in the incarnation belonged to the Son of God, not the Son of Man: 11It is characteristic of the humanity to have a beginning in time, but it is characteristic of the di- vinity to be eternal and without a beginning. 112 Yet for Barth to

credit the man has begun, and “you must know Jesus, 113 would For Barth, the

Christ Jesus with deity, even once the incarnation to say with Luther, in the matter of justification that there is no other God than this Man Christ
be to violate Barth 1 s “irreversible sequence.”

man Jesus, however high God may exalt him, is not exalted to deity. That, as Barth says reproachfully, would be the 1divinization of His humanity, 114 an “apotheosis of a man.”5 That

would mean 11that the higher and lower positions, those of God and man, could be reversed 1 11 and that “the predicates of the divine

glory, omnipotence, omnipresence, eternity, etc., are to be

lrn fact, in face of Luther’s strongly realistic emphasis upon “the Word made flesh, 1′ Barth seems to fear lest, in the process, the deity of the Word be sacrificed. “Flesh means

1 like one of us. 1 God 1 s Word does not transform himself into flesh. How could it be grace if God ceased to be God, even if he

could? What 2Lw,



kind of mercy would he show us thereby?” GL, p. 73. XXVI, 273. WA, xi/1,427,17-18.
XXVI, 29. WA, XL/1, 78, 16,


5cn, rv/1,162. See also Karl Barth, Protestant Thought from Rousseau to Ritschl, trans. Brian Cozens (New York: Harper and Sons, 1959), P• 359.

attributed to the humanity ••• of Jesus.111 That would arrogate

to the finite a capacity for the infinite.2

Even Christ 1 s Humanity Is Originally God 1 s
So the human subject, Jesus, is not to be cpedited with the predicates of deity. But we might expect, then, that Barth

at least credits him with humanity. Yet that is not the case either, except with elaborate qualification. His humanity is originally a divine predicate of the subject, God. “The consti- tutive feature of His humanity is that He is the Son of God and


ity, as such and in abstracto, of Jesus.” That the Lutheran doc- trine does not attribute the divine predicates to Jesus’ humanity “as such and in abstracto” but to the one indivisible person, who is both God and m n, is painstakingly and elaborately emphasized in the “dogma” Barth refers to. See Article VIII, 11The Person of Christ,” in The Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, The Book of Concord, trans. and ed. Theodore Tappert (Philadelphia: :Muhlenberg Press, 1959), pp. 541-610. Barth knows the document well.

A secondary source, valuable for its treatment of the his- torical background of the dogma in question, is Werner Elert, ”Genus Apotelesmaticum, 11 Schrift und Bekenntnis, ed. Volkmar

Herntrich und Theodor Knolle (Hamburg: Furche-Verlag, 1950), pp.
2 5 – 4 2 . “Es ist aber ein Irrtum, wenn dabei der lutherischen Christologie ein angeblich nur essentielles Verstandnis der Zwei- naturenlehre untergeschoben wird. Dieses wurde bereits in der Energienlehre des 7. Jahrhunderts durch ein operatives wenn auch nich:t ersetzt so doch ergMnzt. Es ist die Bedeutung der lutherischen Lehre vom genus apotelesmaticum, dasz sie hieran Wieder ankn pfte, z1.tgleich aber das garize. Gewicht von der zweiheit der Naturen auf

die Einheit der Person verlagerte. Sie hat damit der gesamten neueren protestantischen Christologie vorgearbeitet, ohne dabei den zusammenhang mit der alten Inkarnationschristologie, die uns auch mit der katholischen verbindet, zu verlieren. 11 Ibid., p. 4 2 .

2EC, P• xxiii.

The omission in the above quotation, indicated by an ellips efers to what for Barth is an important phrase, which I however have omitted in order to obviate from the body of this dissertation a lengthy polemic against Barth’s phrase. Without the omission the passage would read: “· .. the predicates of
the divine glory, •.• [etc.] are to be attributed to the human-


as such man.111 ”It is the deity which as such also has the charac- ter of humanity.112 True., the man Jesus is a real human subject.,

who does what alone constitutes any man a real subject: in per- fectly humble obedience he believes.3 But even then., the sinless- ness of his believing is a quality not of his own manhood but., necessarily, of the God who acts in him.4 “Sinlessness and the power to be sinless are divine qualities. 15 Jesus I real manhood consists in his obedient response to, his being a human counter- part or objectification of., the prior humanity of God.6 True, though be is a creature ., he mysteriously lives 11 in identity with

the divine Subject. 117
originally human, me-rischlich, is God. “God in His Son is Himself the person of man.118 And by electing himself as such, long before the incarnation, God is human from all eternity. “In this divinely free volition and election, in this sovereign decision (the an- cients said, in His decree) God is human!’9 So the Son of Man is

1cn, IIr/2,72.

2HG., pp. 45-4 6. “Our ordinary humanity is not the only humanity,out in Jesus Christ, God’s own humanity, … his divin- ity is present for us others.” GL, p. 73 .

3GL, P• 74 .

411:Even in Him human nature would not have been capable of this of itself. Even in the person of Jesus it might have become
a prey to the corru9tion which was its fate in us. For even in Him it is still creaturely., not creative and divine, and therefore not precluded from sin., as we should have to say of the creative nature of God itself.” CD, III/2,51.

But the subject who is pre-eminently and

5cn, rrr/2,52.
6111n the mirror of this humanity of Jesus Christ the human-

ity of God enclosed in His deity reveals itself.” HG, P• 51. 7CD, III/2, 70. 8cn, II/2, 177. 9HG, p. 51.


to be credited, not only not with deity, but also not with human- ity, except reflexively and sequentially. The creditable subject of his humanity is God, and that humanity is ultimately a divine attribute, a predicate of deity.1

Why is it that Barth insists upon crediting humanity ulti- mately not to man, not even to the man Jesus, but to God? There

is no answering this question without being at least minimally clear on what Barth means by humanity, the divine Menschlichkeit. Barth provides a definition.

His free affirmation of man, His free concern for him, His free substitution for him–this is God 1 s humanity. We recog- nize it exactly at the point where we also first recognize
His deity • • • • [Jesus Christ] perceives that the superior will of God, to which He wholly subordinates Himself, requires that He sacrifice Himself for the human race, and seeks His honor in doing this. In the mirror of this humanity of Jesus Christ the humanity of God enclosed in His deity reveals

The divine humanity which Jesus Christ mirrors is, in a word,

1 1the fatherly heart of God, 1 • His loving-kindness [:Henschen- freundlichkeit] and nothing else.113 One writer suggests that by the Menschlichkeit of God Barth means God’s “humaneness.114 He does mean by it, at least, God’s grace. Incidentally, because the

111Beyond doubt God 1 s diitk is the first and fundamental fact which strikes us when we oo at the existence of Jesus Christ as attested in the Holy Scriptures. And God 1 s deity in Jesus Christ consists in the fact that God Himself in Him is the subject who speaks and acts with sovereignty.11 HG, p. 48. “It is in the light of the fact of His humiliation t h a t • . . all the predicates of His Godhead . • . must be filled out and interpreted. Their positive meaning is lit up only •.• by the fact that in this act He is this God and therefore the true God.” CD, IV/1,130.

2H.-. P• 51. 3HG, P• 52. See also CD, I/1,443. ‘

4Edward H. Schroeder, Review of The Humanity of God, by Karl Barth, The Cresset, XXIV (December 1960), 20.


humanity of God is his grace toward man, and because this grace is the attitude toward man of the triune God, it would seem to follow that the entire Trinity and not only the Second Person is “human_,111 It would seem, moreover, that God did not first become 1human1

when he became flesh, for the decisive thing about his Menschlich- keit is not his incarnation but his eternal graciousness.2

Still, it is immensely important for Barth (as important as the honor of God) that God 1 s gracious Menschlichkeit, far from being confined to his private subjectivity, aloof and timeless and

wholly other, must rather be objectified historically in his own menschlich condescension and self-humiliation, through his very

concrete suffering and death in the “altogether real man,” Jesus Christ.3 The point is, however, that this divine self-humiliation, though it occurs in personal identity with the man Jesus, must be throughout the creditable doing, not of this man, but of the subject, God. And creditable it is, because, for Barth, it is God1s gracious condescension exactly which demonstrates that he is true God, truly 1free1 and truly “sovereign.”

All the predicates of His Godhead • • • are lit up • • . only by the fact that in this act He is .•• the true God, dis- tinguished from all false gods by the fact that they are not

capable of this act, • • • that their supposed glory and

1This is not to say, of course, that the Trinity as such becomes man. See CD, I/2, 34ff. But if for God to be “human” means t he is gracious, then his human-ness might well describe the Trinity as such. “This is the will of this Father, of this Son, and of the Holy Spirit •••. This is how God is God .•.•

It is as the eternal and almighty love, which He is actually and visibly in this action of condescension. This One, the One who loves in this way, is the true God.” CD, rv/1,12 9.

2cn,11/2,176-77. 3HG,p. 46.


honour and eternity and omnipotence not only do not include but exclude their self-humiliation.l

If it were not for God1s free and gracious self-humiliation, he woul d be, presumabl y, “distant and strange and thus a non-human if not indeed an inhuman God,1 “lonesomeII and “egotistica1.112 But as


it is, “God 1 s deity is no prison in which He can exist onl y in ahd for Himsel f. It is rather His freedom to be . . • also with and

. . . to be whol ly exalted but also completely humble.

for us,
What for Barth is significant about Christ 1s humiliation

is that the credit ··for it accrues, not to a human subject (who is already in a state of humil iation by reason of his manhood) but to God, who free l y

gives Himself to be the humanly acting and suffering person
in this occurrence. He Himse l f is the Subject who in His own freedom becomes in this event the object acting or acted upon. It is not simpl y the humil iation and dishonouring of a creature.4

Yet, by so gl oriously risking his own dishonour, God makes his honor secure. 5 “· •• In this humil iation God is supremely God,

in this death He is supremely alive.116 It is not as man, therefore, that Jesus Christ is humiliated. That, for Barth,

would be 11tautology,11 since for Jesus Christ to be man means auto- matically that he is “lowly,1 in “bondage and suffering.17 “To

1cn, rv/1,130. 2HG, pp. 46, 50.

-1’HG, p.49. 4cn, rv/1, 246.

511For the sake of this choice and for the sake of man He hazarded Himself wholly and utterly.1 CD, II/2,164. 1In it–from Godts standpoint as well as man1s–we have to do not merely with

something but with everything: •.• it is a matter of His own being or not being, and therefore of His own honour or dishonour in rel ation to His creation. 11 CD, Iv/1,247.

6cn, rv/1,246-47. 7cn, rv/1,134.

say man is to say creature and sin, and this means limitation and

suffering11 –also for Jesus, who was a man among men. Hence it would be gratuitous to credit Jesus Ghrist fol’.’his humiliation, as man. The accreditation which he does receive, for his humiliation

as the Son of God, is to be exalted, but again this exaltation is secured by God.2 From beginning to end, therefore, it is to the glory of God alone that, in his menschlich deity, he wills his own divine humiliation.

Luther on the Humiliation of Christ
Luther, on the other hand, refuses to withhold from the

man Jesus that same credit which is owing to him as the Son of God, for it is as one indivisible person, divine man as well as incar- nate God, that he has humbled himself. 11The man who is called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has given himself for [our sins].113

”We cling to this man Jesus Christ. 114- “Thus He joined God and man in one person.115 To be sure, 11these two natures in Christ are not confused or mixed, and the properties of each must be clearly un- derstciod.116

Here creation is attributed solely to the divinity; since the humanity does not create. Nevertheless it is said

1cn, IV/1,131.

211Even Jesus Christ did not secure for Himself His resur- rection from the dead. On this side He was a pure recipient.” CD, IV/1,556.

..,Vtl, XXVI, 32. WA, XL/1,83,24-25. (Italies mine. )

41w, XXVI, 5u1, XXVI, 6LW, XY.YI,

33. WA, 290. WA,

273. WA,

XL/1, 85, 1 7 . (Italics mine. ) x1/1 ,451,17-18.
XL/1, 4_27, 16-17 •


correctly that 11the man created,” because the divinity, which alone creates, is incarnate with the humanity, and therefore the humanity.participates in the attributes of

both predicates.1
Hence 11it is true to say about Christ the man that He created all

Still, to attribute to “Christ the man” the wo1″k of crea-

tion is not yet the same thing as attributing to him the work of htm1iliation, both of which Barth declines to de. Luther, however, does not decline. In fact, for Luther, Christ 1 s self-humiliation

is not, like his creating is, an “attribute” in which the human Jesus merely “participates” by virtue of his personal identity with the Son of God. Rather, his humiliation is his own direct action, no less as man than as God. For his humiliation does not consist in his humanity as such, since he is still a man today, though no longer a humbled one. He is not lowly, in bondage and

suffering, simply by reason of his manhood. Both as “God and man,” he is an 11 altogether pure and innocent Person. 11 3 But if you know him only as such, says Luther, “you do not yet have Christ, even

though you know that He is God and man, ••• this altogether pure and innocent Person.114

You truly have Him only when you believe that this alto-

ge ther pure and innocent


putting off His

1LW, XXVI, 265. WA,
2LW, XXVI, 266. WA,
_,.LW, XXVI, 288. WA,
41w, XXVI, 288. WA, JCL/1,448,20-21.

XL/1, 416, 12-15. XL/1,416 ,24-25. XI./1,448, 21-22.

:1 1;)


innocence and hol iness and putting on your sinful person, •.. bore your sin, death, and curse; He became a sacrifice

and a curse for you, in order thus to set you free from the curse of the law. l

Accordingl y, the sel f-humil iation of Jesus Christ was, for Luther, the active and creditab l e doing of the one person, human as we l l as divine.

Luther pictures Christ as saying: 11For My own Person of humanity and divinity, I am blessed and I am in need of nothing whatever. But I shall assume your clothing and mask, and •.• suffer death in order to set you free from death.112 It is because

of this condescension–the innocent Son of God and Son of Man to the person of sinful man–that the creditable subject, and Luther 1 s Christological object, is both God and man. That is why, although 1it is characteristic of the humanity to have a beginning in time but •.. of the divinity to be eternal and without a beginning, 11 that Luther yet urges that must “begin where Christ began–in the Virgin I s womb, in the manger, and at His mother I s breasts n3 __ who is, moreover, “a sinner, who has and bears •.• all the sins of al l men in His body, ..• in order to make satisfaction for

them with His own blood. n4

The Barthian Impediment to Understanding Luther

So up to this point Barth, in his Christo l ogy as in his hamartiology, withholds from man, in this case from the man Jesus,

1LW, XXVI, 288. WA, XL/1,448,21-26. (Ital ics mine.) 2Lw, XXVI, 284. WA, XL/1, 443, 26-29.


–‘LW, XXVI, 29. WA, XL/1,77,28-29.
41w, XXVI, 277. WA, XL/1,433,29-434,12.

the role of the theological object. And both in his hamartiology

and in his Christology Barth’s reasons, though they differ widely, do not differ altogether. As with man the sinner so with the man Jesus, the man before us is not the creditable subject of the de- cisive theological predicates. To that extent he is not the theo- logical object. Granted, in the case of the sinner it is he and no one else who is the author of his sinful predicates, his dis- obedience and ingratitude and unbelief. Yet since these actions of his contravene what the sovereign and gracious Creator wills into being, they themselves can have no creaturely being. The sinner whom these actions actualize or objectify is thus not a real, self-creating subject, and hence not a creditable theologi-

cal object. In Barth’s Christology, on the other hand, we found the pertinent theological predicate in what Barth calls Christ’s Menschlichkeit, his self-humiliating condescension on man 1s behalf. Here Barth has no need to employ the ontological involutions of

his doctrine on sin. Quite uncomplicatedly, the Son of Man is not to be credited with “humanity,” at least in its original form, for the simple reason that that humanity is not his doing, but the Son of God’s.

This may explain, in part, why Barth grows impatient with Luther 1 s emphasis on “man, man, the man Jesus,” and why Barth’s question about Luther’s theological object is not suited, except with qualification, to elicit Luther’s own best answer. Barth seems to assume that theological predicates, the object which a

subject presents, may accrue to the subject only when they· are that subject’s own doing, directly. On this assumption, Luther

would be unwarranted in crediting the human Jesus with the divine

predicate, creation, or with any other divine predicate (for example, omnipresence– 11the bodily presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper 11 ). For, since Jesus the son of Mary does not do the creating, he does not, frankly, deserve credit for it. 11vith Luther, on the other

hand, considerations of deservedness and creditableness are not decisive, not where the merciful God is involved, who wills only that his gifts be given, if even to the magnanimous limits where

“God becomes man, man becomes God. 112
The act of Christ’s humiliation, on the other hand, Luther

finds to be the direct doing of Christ’s human nature as well as his divine nature, even without recourse to the communicatio

idiomatum.3 Nevertheless, it is this latter doctrine especially, the 11fatal11 doctrine of the comrnunicatio idiomatum, according to which, as Barth complains,

1u ;, XXVII, 36. WA, XL/2, 45, 25-26. This is not the place to elaborate, or even to guess, what all Barth might say to
Luther I s ”bodily presence of Christ in the Lord I s Supper. 11 On the one hand, he can say: “There is obviously no baptism or Lord1s Supper without His real presence as very God and very Man, both body and soul; but this presence cannot be regarded as restricted to what were later called the ‘sacraments. 11 CD, rrr/2,467. On the other hand, we recall Barth’s strong reproach against Luther because, for Luther, “the bread of the Lord’s Supper had to be

the glorified body of the Exalted One.11 EC, p.x.xiii.

2Barth quotes this sentence as a formulation of Feuer- bach1s: 11Feuerbach has laconically restated this Christian doc- trine with the formula, 1God becomes man, man becomes God. 11 Ibid. Actually, almost the same sentence occurs, much earlier, int Formula of Concord: 110n account of this union and communion God Ts man and man 1s God.” The Book of Concord, p. 595.

3see Barth’s discussion of the later Lutherans’ polemics against the so-called Extra Calvinisticum. CD, rv/1,181.


the predicates of the divine majesty really belong to the humanity: of Jesus. • . • With great elation people triumph- antly turned away (and are still turning away) from the Reformed Finitum non capax infiniti • . . • Al l this clearly suggests the possibility of an inversion of aoove and below, of heaven and earth, of God and man–the possibility of forgetting the eschatological limit. l

What Luther wishes to forget, as we shall see, is not the 11escha- tological limit,” but the moralistic limit of worthiness and un-

worthiness, the activistic limit of “achieved1 predication, the legalistic limit of suum cuique tribuere–wherever these delimit the reality of the divine boon. If for Luther the finite is capable of the infinite, it is so chiefly because of the unbounded mercy in the God become flesh. In any case, it is Barth’s limit-

ing of the theological object to the creditab l e; self-actualizing subject which we shall have to “forget,” for methodological pur- poses, if we are to understand the human object in the theology of Luther.

lEc, p. xxiii.


For Barth, too, however, there is a human object of the- ology, and this object is not restricted to God, not even to the “human” God. To leave the matter at that would be a gross cari- cature not only ofBarth1s anthropology but also of his Christology.

‘,’iithalmost every breath, as Barth speaks of God he immediately also speaks of man: our kind of man, the humanity of men, the humanity of the man Jesus and of his followers–the humanity which consists in a man 1s responding to God’s humanity in the grateful obedience of faith. For that above all is what constitutes a man area 1 man, a rfee human sub.Ject, name 1y, fai·th.1

Unless man is a free subject, then, whatever else he may be, he is not a real man.2 He is a free subject when, in response

to God, he lives out and actualizes that self whom God posits him to be. In conformity with the man whom God chooses, he likewise chooses himself to be that man.

l”As faith is oriented and based on [Jesus Christ] as its object, there takes place in it the constitution of the Christian subject.” CD, rv/1,749. “In the knowledge of faith [he] has be- come a new subject.” CD, rv/1,775.

211rf we are to say subject, we must say man. And if we
are to say man, we must unquestionably say subject.” CD, III/2,195.


The choice is right when it corresponds to the free choice of God. The object of this free choice of God is man •.• as the object of His grace. In the free choice of man

•.• , it is clear that only thanksgiving to the God of grace and the acceptance of responsibility before Him can be chosen. What does the free man choose? He chooses Himself to fulfill this responsibility.1

Accordingly, “in the very fact that man is the object of God, he is also a human subject.112 Man realizes, subjectively, that pos- sibility, that object whom God appoints. Thus man is. “He is, as

he hears [God 1 s] Word, … as he raises himself to this Word. 1r3 He is, as he thanks God.4 He is, as he believes.5 For it is as

that object, namely as believer, that God has destined him.6 Therefore, it is as that subject, namely as believer, that man is the human object of theology.7 He is, as object, what he does as subject.

1cn, rir/2.197 .
2cn, III/2, 19L . “He is the subject of his history as its

divinely posited object. 11 3cn, III/2,165-66.

CD, III/2, 168.
4 cn, III/2, 171.

! l .j

511Just as the sinful man is what he does as such, so is he what he does when as a sinful man he is awakened to faith and can live by it.11 CD, IV/1,750.

611rf I discover myself as this subject, what can I do but confirm myself as such? W’hat can I do, therefore, but that which is proper to this subject as a member of the world reconciled and the community founded by Him, that is to say, believe?” CD, IV/1,


, 1′

7 11Thus through all the centuries theology was, and also to- day is, given its subject matter•••• Theology will attempt to see, to understand, and to put into language the intercourse of God with man in which there comes about intercourse of man with God.
It means that theology will deal with the word and act of the grace of God and the word and act of the human gratitude challenged, awakened, and nourished through it. The first will not be consid- ered without the second nor the second without the first.”

HG, PP• 55-56.

In emphasizing tha·t the human object is the subject who


Still, where in all the race of men is there one who can qualify as this perfectly free and obedient subject, this believer, and hence this human object of theology? Where but in the God be- come man, Christ Jesus. So once again, for Barth, the anthropo- logical question turns upon Christ. True, anthropology is not Christology. 1 Yet it is only as men believe in this perfect be-

liever, who believed for them and in their place, that they can actualize themselves as the believing subjects, and thus as the theological objects, whom God elects them to be. What by them- selves they cannot believe is that the divine curse under which they live and die is really and only a form of God’s grace toward them. Their condemnation is but the form in which God answers their unbelief, graciously.2 But they, in their persistent unbe- lief, refuse to hear God 1 s answer as the gracious thing it is.

Then how are men to believe? “How comes this predicate, this faith, to this subject, the subject, man?113 How do men come alive as subjects at all, that is, as believers, and thus come into really human existence?

This is the proper work of grace, that his eternal word–by his becoming flesh, by his remaining obedient in the flesh

. • • undertook to give the savinc; answer in our place, • • • and thus to accept the grace of God. . • • He quite simply

believed . • . • Jesus Christ–only the eternal Word couldao this–believed .•.. Therefore, because he form of a servant and thus and therein was obedient unto

believes, we must keep in mind an important Barthian qualifica- tion. }7aith is not the only distinctively Christian act. 1It is the act of the Christian life11 only from a particular standpoint. From other standpoints, “the same may be said of love and hope. 1 cn, rv/1,757.

1cn, III/2,222. 2GL, pp. 95-96. 3cn, r/1,513.

of God took the

death, God has exalted him, ..• the one and only erson who


allowed God 1 s grace validity as grace in the flesh.
In turn, therefore, ”this faith of Jesus Christ • . . becomes that form which requires conformity, and therefore the command in all commands • . . • For if Jesus Christ has done this in our place,

. . . what should we do then? . You shall believe1 112
shall believe–it is promise as well as command. “Thus through

himself, [Jesus Christ] awakens, to the life of faith in him who justifies us, our very existence. 11 3 “And this . the victory

of grace is precisely God’s victory over •.. the sin of our unbelier. 114 By his own becoming the perfect human subject, the

true believer, God presents himself as the object who awakens us in turn to a like subjectivity, an analogous faith. Thus he makes us to be, subjectively, what he had graciously envisioned for us as objects.

Luther Overestimates the Believer
Then what is there in the relation between the believer

and Christ, as Barth views it, which renders Luther’s alternative view controversial, if not unintelligible? The explanation is not at all obvious, t;be less so since Barth frequently adopts Luther’s categories, arguments, and entire idiom as his own. Yet

it will hardly do to complain, on vague hunch, that Barth has all the right words but not the music.

Barth does harbor a definite protest against Luther. And the fact is that his criticisms of Luther, also of Luther’s views

1GL, pp. 96-97. 2GL, p. 82. 3GL, p. 96. 4rbid.

on faith in Christ, have not always been confined to polite innuendo.

Barth can be polite but also explicit.

Luther had a peculiar way of speaking about faith as an al- most independent appearance and function of the divine hypostasis. Faith is able to do, and does, everything. It

Luther’s notion of faith 11 this extravagant view, 11 and adds: “Now, after Fauerbach, one may no longer repeat these things from Luther without some caution.112 Luther’s fault, in other words, is that he credits faith with predicates which its subject, the believer, does not and could not possibly perform. Of course, such predica- tion is not legitimate–that is, not lawful. Not for Luther either, we might interpose, since he saw it as a predication not by the law, not by right, but by grace alone.

Luther’s paradigmatic expression is that, for the man who believes in Christ, Christ is his righteousness and life.3 But

does not Barth say as much? Still, Luther does not mean that faith is but an imitatio of Christ’s faith. But neither does Barth mean that. For all his emphasis upon the faith of Christ as the “form” with which our faith must be the “conformity,” upon

1EC, pp. xxii-xxiii. There is a parallel passage in ProtestantThought from Rousseau to Ritschl, p. 359, where 11hypostasis11 is mistranslated as “hypothesis.1

2EC, p. xxiii.
3Lw, XXVI, 155. WA, XL/1,265,31.

not only provides justification, and gives solace; it alone not only bi ings forth love and good works; it also overcomes sin and death, it blesses and redeems man. Faith and God belong together. As trust of the heart (1) it makes both God and idol, occasionally it can even be said to be a

with remarkable self-restraint Barth limits himself to calling

11 ere ator of deity,” even though only

w.ithin us.


Christ as the analogans and ·bhe believer as the analogatum, Barth is emphatic in his warning: “We will do well not to try to imi- tate Jesus in this faith and thus to believe as Jesus believed •
• . • We believe in Jesus Christ, we •.• acknowledge his repre- sentative faith, which we will never realize, and allow it to count as our life.111 However, Barth intends, does he not, that by our believing in Christ we shall, if only approximately, come to believe as Christ? Yes, but similar expressions can be found in Luther.2

Nor for one moment dare Barth be accused of making faith its own object, as though what the believer believes in is his own believing. If Barth warns against anything, he warns against that. And well he might, since his own view of faith (so subtly different from Luther•s) as the “subjective realization” of jus- tification easily· conduces to such a misunderstanding. Nonethe- less, it is this same Karl Barth who says, ”The scarlet thread

which runs through ••• Holy Scripture” is the “living Christ– and His righteousness as man’s righteousness.” This rediscovery, says Barth, was “the strength of the Reformation exposition of righteousness by faith alone. 14

The real offense in Luther 1 s “extravagant view” of faith is that he describes it, for example, as a “creator of deity

within us.11 His more characteristic, though really not less ex- travagant, description is that faith “apprehends” Christ and, in

1GL, PP• 82-83.
2uv, XXVI, 431. WA, XL/1,650,29-31.
3cn, IV/1, 416. 4cn, Iv/1, 642.

i ,

apprehending him, is credited with ”the power of justifying .tr.

“We must not attribute the power of justifying to a •form1 [sc. charity] . ; we must attribute it to faith, which takes hold of Christ the Savior Himself and possesses Him in the heart.111

Now the Barthian objections begin to rumble.

We say too much if we try to deduce from my restoration as it has taken place in Jesus Christ that it has taken place in me • . . . Nothing has taken place or can be perceived in

me of the glory of that right and life…. It is a bad theology that maintains an exact similarity with Jesus Christ, a false because arbitrary assurance of salvation, in which
man wants everything o be different and thinks he can have everything different.

Or as Barth says elsewhere:

Here Jesus Christ • • • has become a demigod, who imparts pretended powers to them, • • . as their possession, which redounds to their honor before themselves and before others,

. • . to justify themselves • • . • Jesus Christ becomes the great creditor who again and again is just good enou h to cover the cost of our own ventures in righteousness. J

Notice, Barth’s chief criticism of this view of faith is, not the familiar objection that such faith encourages a quietistic sloth but, worse yet, that it implements the pride of self-justification. rt is made to redound, un.deservingly, to the honor of the believ-

ing subject. He is credited with predicates–for instance, the predicate of justification–which he himself does not enact.

rs Luther’s Happy Exchange Also Too Extravagant? Granting for a moment that Luther’s view of faith is an

“extravagant view,” we might still question whether this exhausts Barth’s grievance against him. For, closely coupled with his view

1LW, XXVI, 137• WA, XL/1,24.0 ,14-16. (Italics mine.)

2cn, “.l
rv/1,773. (Italics mine. ) –‘UL, p. 90.

of faith, Luther holds an equally extravasant view of the believed

and apprehended Jesus Christ. In this faithful apprehension of him, Christ effects the same feliciter commutans nobiscurn as he
did in his atonement, so that, in a happy exchange of personal subjects and predicates, “He took upon Himself our sinful person and granted us His innocent and victorious Person.111 To those
who take him on trust Christ is their real and present possession: real, not only promissorily and representatively but biographi- cally, as the personal identity of his believers’ entire existence; and present, not only temporally but locally, in his believers’ place–that is, in the places of earth where they are stationed

and in the places of flesh which they themselves are. This may well be an understanding of the glilckliche Wechse 1 which Barth is unwilling to concede.

Of course, as Barth knows, Luther is acutely aware that believers continue to be sinful and culpable and mortal. Even so, as Luther also insists, they are never that “in Christ.” For

though.they “possess” Christ only in the measure that they succeed in trusting him,2 they still share the same valued status as Christ himself, thanks to the Father’s forgiving imputatio.3 The temptations to pride and carnality which such a gospel provides, Luther had to reckon with, bitterly, in the defections from his own reform movement.4 But, for all its risks and extravagance, he

11w, XXVI, 284. WA, x1/1,443,23-24.

1L1 l XXVI,

‘ xr/1,538,19-20.

XL/1, 369-23-25.
WA, XL/1,59,31-63,28.

.,,_,, XXVI,


233. WA,

41w, XVIII, 620- 0. . _,

was not willing to temper his gospel just to save it from perver-

sion. For him, though the believer was indeed peccator apart from Christ, he was, in Christ, simultaneously and really iustus–here and now.1

For Barth, on the other hand, the positive benefit of the believers• justification still awaits them in the future. The 11right11 to it and the “freedom” for it they already have. But

the “fulfillment” of it–Christ 1s righteousness as theirs, their faith like his–they now enjoy only as hope, as the yet unattained

”whither” toward which they press their daily pilgrimage, their ”transition” from death to life, from past to future, from begin- ning to completion.2 But in that whither which Luther foresees they will no longer need either faith or justification by faith.3 In the meantime and place, however, their need and the fulfillment of their need is Jesus Christ, 11in whom you believe and who is perfectly righteous . . . . His righteousness is yours; your sin is His. 114 For them no one else but Christ wj_ll do, if only for the negative reason that no one else but he, in their person, can re- fute the law’s persistent accusation age.inst them, just as he re-

futed it on the cross. That he did, not however by “simply believ- ing11 the accusation was a form of grace, but by exposing its accusa- tion against him, the Lord of the law, as insubordination.5 The

1WA, XL/l,367,22-368,14. 2cn, rv/1,557. fA, XL/1,428,29-429,14.

41w, XXVI, 233. WA, XL/l,369,2L -25. 5wA, XL/1,437,18-440,35-

positive gain, says Luther, is that meanwhile we may be sure that,

on account of this Christ who unites himself with us, we in our person and works are pleasing to God1 –a pleasing which Barth has- tens to explain in terms of the Christian I s 11 transition” f1″om past to future.2

True, the negative pole of just if ica tion, the “whence” of the past from which the believers move, Barth sees as already ac- complished for them in Christ’s suffering their condemnation, once for all.3 Here, in this view of Christ’s substitutionary suffer- ing, Barth probably comes closest to Luther’s view of a really gratuitous predication for the human subject. Not only does Barth say, as he does frequently, that Christ bore our need, our cause, our suffering,our death,” our rejection, the consequences of our sin. He also says, though perhaps less frequently, that Christ bore our sin. Now it might be tempting to argue that, on the

Barthian doctrine of election, none of these evils really belonged to us in the first place since, before they ever were ours, they

were Christ 1 s ; or that, since Barth characterizes sin primarily
as that which God rejects and not primarily as something man does, therefore what Christ bore was not so much our sin as his own re-

1WA, XL/1, 575, 13-579, 2L .

2After a positively brilliant exegetical excursion into the Psalter and Job and Paul (where “we cannot overlook the fact that

… we not infrequently hear a voice of extraordinary confidence, in which [the] writers ••. boast of their own righteousness be- fore God and man”) Barth quickly reverts to his main argument:
”But when we have said this, •.• we have to add that the justifi- cation of man is something which takes place .•• [in the] transi- tion ••• from here to there, in which there is a beginning and a completing, a coming and a going, in which man stands under a two- fold determination to the extent that he goes forward from the

‘before I of his wrong and therefore hij death to the I after I of his right and therefore his 1ife.” CD, IV 1,570-73.

3cu, rv/1,295-96.

jection. But both arguments, I believe, though they might incrim-

inate Barth’s results, misconstrue his intention.
What we do miss in Barth, if we compare him with Luther,

is the latter’s strong statements to the effect that Christ, since ”He bore the person of a sinner and a thief–and not of one but of all sinners and thieves, n therefore “He is a sinner. 111 On the Barthian presupposition that a subject is what he does, Barth’s caution is understandable. For since Christ “does not sin” (to say that he does would be “the supreme blasphemy”),2 therefore to say he is a sinner would be–as Barth says in another connection–

11like handles without pots or predicates without subjects.113 With Luther, on the other hand, the very magnitude of Christ’s benefits compels us to adjust our presuppositions about subjects and predi-

cates and to adopt, as he sometimes advises, ua new and theological grammar. nL1. Following the statement from Corinthians, 1He made him to be sin who knew no sin,11 Luther concludes: “they are as much Christ’s own [sins] as if he Himself had committed them, … or else we shall perish eternally.115

11W, XXVI, 277. WA, XL/1,433,20-21,29.

2cn,IV/1,485. The passage illustrates what Barth regards as the avaTlable alternatives. “What is meant to be supreme praise of God can in fact become supreme blasphemy. God •.• does not sin when in unity with the man Jesus He mingles with sinners and takes their place. And when He dies in His unity with this man, death does not gain any power over Him. • • . He makes His own the being of man in contradiction against Him, but He does not make common cause with it•••• If it were otherwise, if in it He set Himself in contradiction with Himself, how could He reconcile the world with Himself?” It is safe to say that 1Luther would have to

side with Barth, if he were liinited to Barth s alternatives–which he was not.

3cn, III/2,76. 41w, XXVI, 267. WA, XL/1, 418, 24. 51w, XXVI, 278. WA, XL/1,435,16-19.


The Life I Now Live
The same Barthian reserve appears, again, in face of

Luther’s doctrine on the indwelling Christ. Barth does write mov- ingly and at length about the Christian’s unio cum Christo (not

unio mystical). Yet he warns his readers to “refrain from describ- ing the Christian in relation to his fellows” the way Luther did, as an alter Christus, lest they credit the human subject with pre- rogatives which do not belong to him but only to Christ.1 Barth’s

worry, apparently, is not that in this union Christ might become

11localized12 (though he doubts that a concern for Christ1s local presence is any longer relevant as it was, for instance, with Calvin3), but rather that the distinction between the divine sub-

ject who summons and the human subject who obeys might be oblit- erated. “There can be no question whatever of any competition

111 rn this perfect fellowship the one Christ as the only original Son of God, besides whom there can be no other, is always the One who gives, commands, and precedes, and the other, the homo christianus, whom He makes His brother and therefore a child o-f– God, is always the. one who receives, obeys and follows. 11 Barth, Church Dogmatics: A Selection, p. 2 52 . This quotation and the next one and the second one after that appear in KD, IV/3, which, at the time of the writing of this dissertation wasnot yet available in a corresponding volume in CD. Some English excerpts, however, from which the above quotations have been taken, appear in Church Dog- matics.

2 rn discussing the biblical phrase, 11 in Christ, 11 Barth allows that the preposition has “a local signification, . . • that the spatial distance between Christ and the Christian disappears, that Christ is spatially present where Christians are, and that Christians are spatially present where Christ is, and not merely alongside but in exactly the same spot • . • • Yet while this is true, • . • the word 1 in 1 transcends even though it also includes

its local signification.” Ibid., p. 2,58.

3cD, rv/1, 287.



between His person and that of the Christian.111

Luther too., however, was zealous to emphasize that Chr• and the believer are distinct subjects.2 Yet this zeal did not prevent him from enjoying the new life and work of the believer
as Christ 1s own., in an exchange far more intimate and consummate than Barth allows. The difference between the two theologians is

illustrated by their contrasting interpretations of Galatians
2 :20: “· •• it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me., and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the

Son of God.”
It is necessary for Bar•th 1 s exegesis that the phrase, 1by

faith in the Son of God,” as the Revised Standard Version trans- lates it, “should certainly be understood as a subjective genitive” –by the faith of the Son of Goa.3 Barth has his reasons. “This is to be understood quite literally: I live •.• in the fact
that the Son of God believedJ114 Barth explains, as Luther surely would agree, that I do not live ”somehow in my belief in the Son

of God15–as if my believing were its own inspiration, or as if
my believing were the source of my life. Yet Barth seems to think,

as Luther surely would not, that Paul 1 s “life I now live” means: “what is before us” (as opposed to what is behind us) ;6 the ever·- lasting life and resurrection toward which we are “hastening”;?

1Barth, Church Dogmatics: A Selection, p. 258. 2WA, XL/1, 2 82 ,1_5′-21. 3GL, P• 74.

‘l j)


L1-G1, p. 76.

6cn, IV/1, 503 • 7GL, P• 76.


the demanded and promised l ife of “you shal l bel ieve, you shal l
l ove and fear” ;l “onl y •.• the promise of what Jesus Christ does f’or us1; 2 11his representative faith, which we will never real ize, [but] all ow it to count as our life, which we do not have here in our hand and at our disposal but have above, hidden with him in God.” 3

By contrast, Luther’s exegesis is extravagant indeed, though the following is but a modest sample.

This is true faith of Christ and in Christ, through which we become members of His body, of His fl esh and of His bones. Therefore in Him we l ive and move and have our being. IIence the specul ation of the sectarians is vain when they imagine

that Christ is present in us “spiritually,” that is specul a- tively, but is present real ly in heaven. Christ and faith

must be compl etel y joined. We must simpl y take our pl ace in heaven; and Christ must be, l ive, and work in us. But he
l ives and works in us, not specul ativel y but real ly, with presence and with power.4

In the be l iever, says Luther, “Christ rul es with His Hol y Spirit, who now sees, hears, speaks, works, suffers, and does simply every-

thing in him, even though the flesh is still reluctant.115 Here, once more, is that same happy exchange which prompts Luther to speak of faith as “the divinity of worksu6 or of the believer in


as II a compl etely divine man. 17

1GL, P• 82. 2GL, P• 97 3GL, P• 83. 4v.lJ, XY.YI, 357. WA, XL/1,546,21-28.
5v,.J, XXVI, 172. ‘dA, XL/1, 290, 28-30.
6 wA, XL/1,417,15-16.

7LW, XJ.YI, 247. WA, XL/1,390,22-23. In HG, p. 6 0, Barth approvingTy quotes Bl umharot 1 s dictum, “You men are gods,” although the German reads: “Ihr Henschen seid Gottes.1 Karl Barth, Die Menschl ichkeit Gottes (Zllrich: Evange l ischer Verl ag, 1956 ),p. 23.

The Predication of the Gospel
Barth may well be right if he infers that for Luther the

object of theology is man, and not only man the sinner nor only the man Jesus (ac natura Deus) but also the man who is Christ’s believer. Yet if the believer is the theological object, he is that for the very reason that the object of faith, obiectum fidei, is not the believer but only Jesus Christ. For as the sole object of faith Christ is always the one who effects the happy exchange. But effect it he does. To have him on any other terms is to

“have only a historical faith about Christ, something that even
the devil and all the wicked have. t1 11Let us concede, t1 says Luther,

11that a man could be found who had such a faith. Even if he had it, he would actually be dead.111

Therefore, Luther concludes, it is essential to understand what faith is.

Namely, that by it you are so cemented to Christ that He and you are as one person, which cannot be separated but remains

attached to Him forever and declares: 111 am as Christ.” Christ, in turn, says 111 am as that sinner who is attached to Ne, and l to him.”

Only Christ, therefore, is the object of faith, because he–with his Father and his Spirit–is the creditable subject who alone does all things. But the very thing which he is doing, and with which his believers trustingly credit him, is that feliciter connnutans nobiscum. As a result of this happy exchange, his believers like- wise become the object of theology, as those subjects of whom he

11w, XX\!l, 168. WA, xr/1,285,20-23. 2v1, XXVI, 168. WA, XL/1,285,24-27°


predicates himself–by the fatherly imputatio but also “really,

with presence, and with power.” Human reason, says Luther, “even though it reads or hears this sentence, 1Who gave Himself for our sins, 1 •• does not apply this pronoun 1 our 1 to itself; it ap- plies it to others, who are worthy and holy, and decides to wait until it has been made worthy by its own works. 111 “For we find very often in the Scriptures that their significance consists in the proper application of pronouns1–pro nobis.2

This for Luther is the really effectual “preaching of the gospel,1 the praedicatio evangelii. The discreditable sinful sub-

jects, who are the object of theology as law, Christ displaces by asstrraing their subjecthood, a sinner, by predicating their sin of himself. In the same felicitous transfer, the very righteousness and life which are his become their own real and present posses- sion by faith. Here is the “evangelical predication” which makes of its believers, who apprebsnd it in trust and against all odds, the gratuitous but real objects of theology.

The Barthian Impediment to Understanding Luther Again Barth has advanced our understanding of Luther’s

theological object, this time by his criticism of the Reformer 1s 1extravaQ;ant view” of faith. And again it becomes clear, in order honestly to understand this feature of Luther’s theological object, that Barth1s own criteria for the object of theology have to be qualified. The particular obstruction, which for purposes of our

1Lw, XXVI, 34. WA, x1/1,86,19-22.
2Lw, XXVI, 33-34. WA, XL/1,85,27-86,8.

Luther research must be kept in abeyance, is the Barthian view of

theological predication. For Barth, apparently, the subject who is the object of theology becomes that only as he actualizes him- self in predicates of his own doing. When strained through the grid of this Barthian assumption, Luther’s admittedly human object of theology, now nearly bereft of its ”happy exchange, 11 emerges indeed as an extravagance–·l;hough, on second thought, perhaps not nearly as extravagant as Luther intended.

To be sure, Barth also speaks of an “exchange” between God and man. And he does so with an attention to exegetical detail and a homey winsomeness which easily rival Luther 1 s . But that Barth 1s view is substantially less extravagant appears in the fol- lowing.

God puts himself in our place, like a teacher who sits at the desk of a schoolboy and then tells him: “Until now you 1ve
been drawing all by yourself; I want now to make your drawing for you. 11 And he begins to draw for him a nice drawing in
his schoolboy’s exercise book. And the child is at his side and he is looking on. God tells us similarly: “My friend,
here I am in your place. Until now you have been quite happy to be there, to live, to mind your business, to be responsible. Move away, that I may set myself to this, and you sit at my side.”

Barth draws the moral: “By sitting at the master 1 s side, let us hope that the child will learn something.”

.Barth even speaks of Christ as the “grammatical subject”
of the Christians’ lives. But how is he that? As their “repre- sentative” believer.2 In the measure that they are not the cor- respondingly believing subjects of their own lives, p::.-esumably they

1Karl Barth, The Faith of the Church, ed. J,ean-1ouis Leuba and trans. Gabriel Vahanian (New York: Meridian Books, 1958), p. 157.

2GL, P• 76.

are not yet n real” men, not yet those objects of theology which God

elected in Christ. “In him I am already the one who will be this righteous man •.• , just as in Him I am still only tha unrighte- ous man, to the extent that I once was this man. 1 1 “The justifica- tion of man begins in his past and it is completed in his future.112

“There is no place for the new man alongside the old.113 No wonder Barth finds Luther’s view extravagant, and scores that theology

“in which man wants everything to be different and thinks that he can have everything different. 114

Luther’s Feuerbach? Or Feuerbach1s Luther– And Barth1s?

To Barth I s disappointment, Luther I s rt extravagant view” of faith provided the sorry occasion for ‘1the speculative anthropo- logical consequences that have irresistibly developed,” and the

sorry occasion for Feuerbach–“and not without every appearance of justice. 11 .5 As a consequence, theologians of the nineteenth century

were more interested in the Christian faith than in the Christian message, • • • more interested in man’s relationship to God than in God’s dealings with man, or, to quote the well- known term of Melanchthon, more in the beneficia Christi than

in Christ Himself.6
Does Barth assume that the beneficia Christi, which was as much Luther’s term as Melanchthon 1s, was by either of them equated with

“the Christian faith,” with “man’s relationship to God” rather

lcn, IV/1, .5.5.5. (Italics min. ) 2Ibid., p. _594. 3Ibid., p. _5_57. 4Ibid., p. 773.

5Ec, pp. xxi-xxiii.

The Humanity of God, p. 24.

“Evangelical Theology in the l’Jineteenth Century, 11

than 1God1s dealings with man1?1 Of course, from Barth’s own,

much more fideistic standpoint, where the 1existence11 to which Christ awakens a man seems to be equated with faith, it would be tempting to construe the benefits of Christ as the human response

to his benefits. That may explain Barth’s v,ehement insistence
that neither he nor the Reformers equate the beneficia Christi with Christology.2 But the prior question should be, Are Christ 1 s ben- efits equated with faith? Not by Luther.

Nevertheless, as Barth continues, “the interest of these theologians of the nineteenth century focused on the believing man.”–‘ 11A capacity flor the infinite within the finite, faith had no ground, object, or content other than itself.114 We might add that, if this is what happened, then it did so despite the fact that for Luther faith had no 1ground and object” other than Christ –but, by that token, had as its “content, 11 and as the object of theology, also the man who is nexchanged1- with Christ by faith. All the same, Barth deplores the results as inevitable.

How could the truth of the Christian gospel be asserted except by understanding it and interpreting it as a state- ment, an expression, a predicate ••• of the Christian’s

inner experience?5

l11christ was given to us to bear both sin and penalty and to destroy the rule of the devil, sin, and death; so we cannot know his blessings unless we recoc;nize our evil.11 Apology of th Augsburg Confession, The Book of Concord, p. 106. Or, see Luther: 11 ••• ut Christi benef’icia et gloriam illustremus •… Nos sola fide in Christurn sine operibus iustificari. 11 WA, XL/1, 336, 15, 25.

2cD, I/1, 480.


1Evangelical Theology in the The Humanity of God, p. 2l .


Nineteenth Century, 1 (Italics mine. )

l Ibid., P• 26.


How else could the gospel be asserted? By challenging, for one

I !

thing, the unlimited view of the human subject as the self-positing agent of his own history, the self who is only what he does, who
is deprived of theological objecthood except as he actualizes his own predicates. Yet Barth concludes, “On this ground there was no effective answer to be given to Feuerbach who eagerly invoked Luther’s sanction in support of his theory.111 “on this ground”– that is, on the ground of nineteenth-century anthropocentrism.

But is Barth 1 s criticism of that ground altogether on target? He might be standing too close–within range of the ricochet. He
might do better to shoot from a position where, at least for Luther,

the gospel–just because of its extravagance–is necessarily and properly anthropocentric.

The Cross-Examination Summarized
We have tried to reformulate Barth’s question about Luther’s

theological object, and to do so in a way which alleviates the Barthian impediment to an authentic understanding of Luther. We

discovered that impediment in Barth 1 s insistence upon the self- actualizing character of the personal subject. The object of theology, according to Barth, must be a subject whose predicates belong to him, and belong to him commendably, by reason of his doing them:: As i:‚Jorthy of- the oloe;icB J, cons :i.dera t i o n ! lie i s what he does. What he does, as creditable subject, is what he is, as the-

ological object.
This Barthian assumption about theological predication, and

hence about the object of theology, would impede our inquiry into


Luther, but not because Luther must deny the assumption out of hand. On the contrary, there are large tracts of Luther’s theol- ogy in which Barth’s assumption might be quite at home, if it were not for the limits (shall we say the uncritical limits or the too critical limits?) to which Barth presses his notion. Pressed to

its Barthian limits, this view of the self-objectifying subject collides with the theology of Luther both as law and as gospel,
and on both counts appears as a moralistic restriction–on the one hand, a restriction upon the divine wrath and, on the other hand, upon God 1s mercy in Christ. Consequently man, both as peccator
and as iustus, is deprived of the full-scale objecthood he receives

in the theology of Luther.
In order to understand Luther in his own right, therefore,

a revision of Barth’s question has been in order. The revision, admittedly, has been radical (in the literal sense of radix, root), and there is no pretense that the result is one which Barth could still acknowledge as his own. But neither, by the way, is there
any pretense that, in isolating Barth’s notion of theological predi- cation, we have thereby exposed the real nerve of difference be- tween his theology and Luther 1s. Their profoundest differences, no doubt, lie elsewhere–perhaps in their contrary views of law and gospel, of finite and infinite, of obedience and trust. No, Barth’s view of the theological object seems to be but a vehicle for his major themes and, as such, it may sometimes illustrate but it may


also conceal his fundamental differences from Luther. Our inten- tion here, somewhat more modestly, has been to appropriate what we


could of Barth’s concerns about the human subject as the object of theology, and to apply his concerns, thus distilled, to the study of Luther.

Accordingly, in the preceding chapters we sampled three doctrines related to Barth’s anthropology–man the sinner, the man Christ Jesus, man the believer–and noted at each point how Barth 1 s view of the theological object, and his corresponding strictures upon Luther, left the latter’s real intention out of reach. First, there was Barth’s undeniably 11serious11 treatment of sin. However, the sinner as such could be no real object of theology (as in Luther’s hamartiology he is) except at the risk of dishonoring the divine grace. For, as Barth says, a real subject is what he does. But what a sinner does is sin. To say, however, that that is what he is, in the same sense that any other divine creation II is, 11 would credit the sinner with willing into being the very thing which God

in Christ has willed out of being. Such a creditable subject the sinner does not deserve to be. Neither, therefore, may he be a real object of theology. Now to approach Luther’s doctrine on sin

with the Barthian preconception of creditable subjecthood would leave Luther’s sinner looking incongruously like something of a tragic hero. Conversely, from Luther’s standpoint, the Barthian sinner would be neither real enough a sinner to account for his fate nor real enough a saint to account for his rescue.

Second, we looked to Barth 1 s Christology, attending par- ticularly to his doctrine on the humanity of Jesus Christ. Barth spares no energy, as we saw, in emphasizing that Jesus Christ is real man, vere homo, and as such a real human subject. Just as

emphatically Barth sees Christ 1 s humanity, in turn, originally as

a predicate of the subject, God, but never vice versa. To view the relationship also the other way around, to predicate deity of the subject, Jesus, as Luther does, strikes Barth as a perilous 1divinizing1 of man. It is the Son of God alone–and not, as with Luther, simultaneously and in the same person the Son of Man–who humiliates himself. For with Barth, though not with Luther, to
be man at all is already to be humbled to the conditions of sin. Yet as we noticed, there is in Barth little of Luther’s emphasis upon the God-man’s becoming and being a sinner. To be a sinner–

on the Barthian assumption that a subject is what he does–Christ would have to do what sinners do. For that reason Barth seems to

see only a disjunction: Jesus Christ could not be both a sinner and the son of God. Within those limits, of course, Christians have but one choice. And within those limits Luther’s choice looks strangely like an assault upon Christ’s deity. Conversely, from the standpoint of Luther, the Barthian Christ is prevented from having effectively destroyed the sin of sinners in their own

11pe1″son,1 in their own flesh and blood.
We noted, thirdly, in Barth’s understanding of faith, that

it is a man’s obedient believing which constitutes his newly- awakened nexistence,11 his 1realityrt as a man, the 1subjective real- ization” or “fulfillment” of his own righteousness, the positive side of his justification (as opposed to the negative side, the remission of his sin). He is what he does, and what he does is believe–and hope and love. But only in the measure that he does

these, do the aforementioned predicates accrue to him as their real


subject. Barth is at great pains, understandably, to disclaim faith as its own object. Only Jesus Christ, the representative believer, is the effectual object of the believer’s faith. Neither is faith, therefore, an act for which the believer himself may take credit. In that case, of course, it would not be faith. The be- liever is not the ultimately creditable subject of what he does, and of what he therefore is. But for that very reason, it seems, he may also not be the object of theology, except by analogy–
only as a reflection or correspondence–and at that, as a corre- spondence whose fulfillment waits always in the future. On these

terms, Luther 1 s view of faith as a present “apprehending” of Christ by virtue of the “happy exchange” appears to be “extravagant” in- deed, the more so since it seems to imply credit to the believing

subject himself. Conversely, from the standpoint of Luther, the Barthian view of faith impairs the beneficia Christi, which are not reducible to faith.

In Part III we shall turn the question upon Luther directly, If the object of theology is man, what is there about man in each case–man the sinner, the man Christ Jesus, man the believer–
which accounts for his being the one whom theology is about? In
the meantime, however, we proceed to Part II and to an investiga- tion of Luther 1 s terms obiectmn and subiectum .





Biographical Subject, Real Object
Just as we have made no attempt, obviously, to survey the

whole of Barth’s theology, so also, though perhaps not quite so obviously, we have not attempted to exhaust what all he means by subject and object. Nor is that essential to the project at hand. It has seemed enough, in cross-examining Barth’s criticisms of Luther, that we understand how the Barthian object of theology

must himself be a real subject of his own predicates. “Subject, n in this context, has had a special meaning. Thus we have delib- erately ignored another whole sense of the word, subject, namely its epistemological sense. In epistemology nowadays the “subject” is the one who does the knowing, that one by whom the object is known. In this cognitive relationship the subject and the object

stand in juxtaposition to each other. They are not identical.
Of course, it may be that the one who is known and the one who knows are in some instances one and the same person–that is, when it is himself whom he knows. But that need not be the case, not in the epistemological usage of subject and object. The one who is known, the object, may be someone other than the subject who knows him. Furthermore, when we speak of the object in a strictly epistemological connection, we have not yet said thereby whether


the object really exists as someone in his own right, or whether he is in reality the way he is thought to be. By calling him the object, we might mean merely that such-and-such is the way he is understood. In other words, the object in this connection is de- fined by his relation to his knower, not necessarily by his rela-

tion to what he in fact is.
It is the latter relationship, however, to which we have

been attending. We have thought of the theological object, the one who is theologically known, as someone in his own right. We have been regarding the object, so to speak, from his own side, from his self-side. Considering him from that vantage, we have had to refer to him with the same ambiguous word, subject. But

in doing so, we have employed the word, subject, not in its epis- temological sense but in its grammatical or biographical sense or –as we might say, if we want to live dangerously–in its ontolog- ical sense. We have been asking in other words whether the things which theology (in this case, Luther’s theology) says about its object (in this case, man) really do belong to him, whether he is

indeed the real subject of these predicates. This is a theologi- cal form of the problem of predication, a theological problem i’n ownership. And the biographical or grammatical subject, unlike the epistemological subject, is always numerically the same one who is the “object.” The one who as object is known as such-.•rnd-

such is the selfsame one who, as subject, is such-and-such. Here we recall the Barthian theme: the object is always subject. But

even this doctrine of Barth1s has been examined here only as it bears upon his criticism of Luther’s “anthropocentrism. 11

As for other features of Barth 1 s subject-object terminology,

no better secondary source could be recommended, it seems to me, than James Brown 1 s Croall Lectures of 1953, subject and Object in

Modern Theology.1 Despite the preliminary and compact nature of his sections on Barth (he could use only the first three part volumes of the Dogmatik), the author admirably and admiringly com- pares Barth’s usage with that of his contemporaries and his imme- diate predecessors. For the most part, though, Brown’s interest
in exploring the Barthian subject-object terminology is to assess its implications for epistemology. Especially he argues for the contributions which theology might make among the arts and sciences on the knotty matter of “objective” and “subjective” knowledge.

By contrast, let us say once more, our present interest has led us elsewhere. In referring to the one who is the object of theology, we have had to consider him in another dimension. We have not asked, Under what conditions does he come to be known by his knowers? Rather we have asked, Under what conditions does he

come to be the one he is known to be, the one he truly is? By virtue of what do his predicates belong to him as their subject? He is the subject, therefore, in the grammatical or biographical

sense of the word, not the epistemological. Whether he happens also to be the subject who knows will vary with the circumstances. As Luther’s sinner, for example, he is the grammatical subject of his sinful predicates whether he acknowledges them or not as an epistemological subject. Of course, it is the purpose of theology,

1Brown, passim.

of Luther’s theology as law, to press the sinful subject to a

recognition of his sin. But it is not his recognition of his sin which makes him the sinner he is. Still, can the same thing be said of him under the gospel? Is he the beneficiary of Christ,

the subject of such predicates as Christ 1 s righteousness and life, whether or not he believes that? If not, is it his faith which makes him the justified man he is? Here, admittedly, the episte- mological subject and the biographical subject seem almost to merge, not only in the same person but in the same act–if by one

and the same act of faith a man both knows he is righteous and becomes righteous. Nevertheless, our original question, which is not strictly epistemological, still stands: by virtue of what

(whether by his faith or by something else) is he the biographical, the grammatical subject of those predicates which accrue to him as the object of theology?

To think of the human object of theology, not with refer- ence to the human subject who knows him, but with reference to
the human subject he is, presupposes of course that he does have an “objectively” real character of his own–never in isolation, to be sure, but always in intimate relation to others, especially

coram deo. This “objectivity” presupposes, in other words, that the human object of theology, or even the divine object, is not

just the “subjective, 11 mental projection of theological knowledge –not just the extension, for example, of the theologian’s “ingen- ious overemphasis.” By assuming this ”objective” status of the theological object, we have of course skirted the epistemological question, of necessity. For our purposes it is enough that this

much “objectivity,” at least, is implicit in the theologies both

of Barth and of Luther. That that is the case also with Luther should appear from the following analysis of his term, obiectum. For him the term seems always to presuppose that the theological object–even if this be the divine wrath or the present Christ– :i.s”re ally there 11 (adest) and is not the sinner 1 s or the believer 1 s

mere presentation to himself of a theological construct. On this point Luther is fully as much a realist in his epistemology as Barth is, however much their epistemologies might differ in other respects. And it is just because Luther is the realist he is that we shall be led, once more, to move the question about his theo-

logical object beyond epistemological considerations to a consider- ation of the grammatical or biographical subject, the subiectum theologiae himself.

Already in our introductory chapter, though there we only hinted at the discrepancy between Barth 1 s question and Luther’s answer, we anticipated that the discrepancy was more than termino- logical. That statement now deserves some documentation. The point is not that there are no differences between Barth’s Objekt

or Gegenstand and Luther’s obiectum. Rather, what differences there are, whether or not these are as great as we might expect, simply do not account for Barth’s and Luther’s conflicting atti- tudes toward the human subject as the object of theology. True, even in a superficial comparison of Barth’s usage with Luther’s, what strikes the reader instantly is that Barth, like all of us today, employs the term, object, far more frequently and more de- pendently than Luther did. That is to be expected when we recall

that between these two theologians, as between two widely differ-

ing theological epochs, stand the towering figures of Kant and Kierkegaard–not to mention Hegel and Fauerbach and Marx. Yet at

the risk of making Luther out to be more modern than he is, or Barth more medieval, there is reason to believe that their termi- nological differences do not explain the discrepancy between them which concerns us here. On the contrary, it will be Luther’s gen- eral resemblance to Barth, respecting their realistic understand-

ing of “object,” which will heighten and not diminish Luther’s emphasis upon man as the object of theology.

The Realism of the Scholastic Obiectum
Brown, it seems to me, overstates the case when he says, 11It comes to us as a surprise to find that the modern use of the

terms 1subjective1 and 1objective,1 deriving from Kant, precisely reverses their original use in the medieval schoolmen.111 Without wishing to quibble, we might argue that Brown’s phrase, ”precisely reverses, 11 is a bit strong. But if this is an exaggeration, it is one which goes back at least as far as Carl Prantl 1 s widely accepted but highly biased Geschichte der Logik im Abendlande. Brown bases his observation on a quotation from Rudolf Eucken, who in turn de- pends on a quotation from Prantl, who describes the scholastic

terminology (not without rancor) as follows:

The word subjective was applied to whatever concerned the subject-matter of the judgment, that is, the concrete objects of thought; on the other hand the term objective referred to that which is contained in the mere obiicere (i.e., in the

lrbid., p. 19. (Italics mine.)


presenting of ideas) and hence qual ifies the presenting subject. l

This statement by Prantl–mi l d enough when compared with his fre- quent ridicule of schol astic logic, indeed of almost al l logic prior to Kant–could easily mislead.

Consider Prantl I s comment about II objective11: ttthat which is contained in the mere obiicere (i.e., in the presenting of ideas)”–“was im bl ossen ob>iicere, d.h. in Vorste l l igmachen, liegt.2 From this quotation one might be tempted to conclude,

mistakenly, that in schol astic epistemol ogy the obiectum is
“mere l y ” the presentation to himself, the menta l projection, of the knower (11des Vorstel lenden’). And from this fallacy in turn it would be but a short step to a simil ar misrepresentation of obiectum in Luther, whose usage seems to be generally uniform with that of the later schol astics.3 This woul d be a misrepresentation indeed, not only of Luther but of his predecessors as well. Even for 0ckham (to whom Luther free l y acknowl edged his debt in matters l ogical and epistemol ogical )4 to have intuitive cognition of an

1Ibid., pp. 19-20. The origina l passage appears i n c . Prant l , Geschichte der Logik im Abend l ande (Graz, Austria: Aka- demische Druck und Verlagsanstalt, 1955), III, 208, n. 105. For a critica l discussion of Prant l 1 s work by a historian of logic who

in many respects has superseded Prantl (at least as a historian of formal logic, which, Prantl ,bel ieved, had no history), see r. M. Bochenski, A History of Formal Logic, trans. and ed. Ivo Thomas

(Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1961), pp.6-8. 2Prant l , III, 208, n. 105.

3prant l makes his genera l ization in context of his section on Scotus, yet he extends the generalization far beyond Scotus. Ibid.

4The whole question of Luther’s debt to 0ckham and 0ckham- ism, pro and con, is summarized inGerrish, PP• 43-S6.


object which has no independent existence would be impossible, ex- cept by divine intervention. Even in that exceptional circumstance God would have to cause directly and supernaturally the cognition which he ordinarily (naturaliter) produces by means of an object

(mediante obiecto).

So far as natural causes are in question, an intuitive cognition cannot be caused or preserved if the object does not exist (obiecto non existente).l

For Luther, whose insistence upon external means is hardly a se- cret, the closest thing to a cognition without a present object is his view of demonic suggestion. And that, by definition, is no cognitio at all but merum ludibrium Satanae.2 Luther could agree with Ockham that an act of cognition requires the co-operation both of the intellect and the object.3 To this extent, what Boehner says of Ockham might equally be said of Luther: He 11 is a realist in his epistemology. 114

If Luther Were not a Realist
If Luther were not a realist, it might be possible to play

off Barth 1 s view of the theological object against Luther 1 s on purely epistemological grounds. For with Barth, as no even cursory reading of him can escape and as Brown conclusively proves, it is

1ockham: Philosophical Writings, trans. and ed. Philotheus Boehner, O.F.M. (New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1957 ), p. 26.

2WA, XL/1,315,31 (Hs. 316, )).

3see, in Luther’s discussion of “faith” and “hope,” the necessity both of their “subjects” and their “objects.”
LW, XXVII, 22. WA, XL/2, 26,11-25.

4ockham: Philosophical Writings, p. xxv.

al l important that the one who is the object of theology shoul d

occasion the knowl edge in his knowers by his own, not by their, initiative. True, Barth does at times refer to objects as though they were but the extension of our knowing. But when he does, he does so only to repudiate that notion or to point out that the ob- ject is “not mere l y object” but simul taneously subject. And this is the case whether the object in question be God or Jesus Christ or ordinary men.l

If in the face of Barth1s 1objectivity1 Luther were the subjectivist he is sometimes made out to be, then our problem

might be quite different. Then we might have to cope with Luther’s obiectum as a mere projection of the human knower. In that event

an epistemol ogical difference between Luther and Barth might ac- count for their differences al so on the object of theol ogy . In one respect, however, Luther’s subjectivism (if he were a subjec- tivist) might actual ly bring him and Barth closer together. I refer to Luther’s first object of theol ogy, the sinner. Suppose that the sinner’s knowledge of the divine wrath and his accompany-

ing knowledge of himse l f, his cognitio suipsius, were nothing but his own terrified view of the matter. Then Luther’s position might more nearl y resembl e Barth 1 s. For Barth does l ocate the power of sin in “the bl indness of our eyes112 –our insisting there

is sin when there is none, which is itself the great sin. The difference, however, he tween Ban·to .and Lutl:).elJ,{tlf .Luth§r were a subjectivist) would emerge in Luther’s second theol ogical obj0ct:

1co, 1/1, -38; IV/2, 50; III/3,202. 2co, 111/.3,367.

the justifying Christ. If this object were but the believer’s own

creation, and in that sense the “creation of deity within us, 11 or if faith were “merely” faith with no more object than that which it hopefully imagines, then Barth might have grounds for his com- plaint against Luther’s “extravagant view.”

Still, this is not where the difference lies, since Luther’s view of the epistemological object is anything but subjectivist.

Obiectum, for him, always presupposes an independently existing reality. True, the obiectum is this reality in its relation to the knower, as known. But what the knower knows is this reality

itself. That this is Luther’s view is consistently attested, most of all by the requirements of his whole theology, but also by his specific uses of the term obiectum.

An Apparent Exception
However, there are two apparent exceptions, in Luther’s

Lectures on Galatians, where his use of obiectum seems like any- thing but realism. A second look, however, reveals the very re-

verse to be the case. The first exception, or so it seems, appears in connection with Luther’s exegesis of Galatians 5:6, where he does battle against the scholastic understanding of ”faith working through love.111 From this passage the schoolmen had concluded, in

lwA, XL/2,34,3-39,15. In the published edition of the lec- tures, Luther’s exegesis of 5:6 is a separate fragment not deliv- ered in class but written by him for another occasion, and inserted by the editor at the time of publication. In the Weimar edition
this fragment from Luther’s own hand appears on the lower half of
the page, and a few of the quotations which follow are taken from this material. Most of the following quotations, however–and all which cite the controversial words, obiective, subiective, obiectivus –are taken from the material at the top of the page, from the

classroom notes of Luther’s copyists.


effect, that what justifies a believer is not his faith but the charity which graces his faith, and that faith itself is but an empty shell.1 To this fallacy Luther replies that faith does in- deed justify, but that faith in this case is never the idle slug- gard which the scholastics imagine–or which hypocritical Chris- tians try to get by with. True faith, on the contrary, is always mightily engaged in the activity of love. But for that reason faith is the power of love, love is not the power of faith. The trouble with the scholastics, explains Luther, is that “they un- derstand [faith] objectively, not subjectively” (obiective non

subiective).2 These are the words which RBhrer took down in his notes. Cruziger, his fellow-auditor at the lectures, is even more

explicit: they have

“They speak about a faith objectively which subjectively never experienced. 3

scholastic use of ”subjective” and “objective.” When we compare his statement with Luther’s, we are immediately tempted by two con- clusions, both of which turn out to be erroneous: first, that Luther’s use of subiective proves Prantl wrong; second, that Luther’s use of obiective proves Prantl right. If anything, the

truth is just the reverse. Subiective, Prantl says, referred not to the one who makes the judgment, as it does today, but to that reality about which the judgment is made–“to whatever concerned the subject-matter of the judgment, that is, the concrete objects

1WA, XL/2, 35,7. 2rbid., 1. 9. (Translation mine.)

311Ipsi loquuntur de fj_de obiective, quam subiective nun- quam sensurunt” (marginal addition to ibid.) (Translation mine.)

are reminded of Prantl 1 s earlier statement about the

of thought.” Here Prantl seems to be refuted by Luther, but only

seems so. Luther seems to be saying, especially in Cruziger 1 s version, that true faith must be experienced “subjectively”–that

is, introspectively, by the believing “subject” himself. Now Luther might well talk like that if he were alive today. But if that had been the meaning he actually ascribed to subiective, he would be contradicting, not only the meaning which was currentin his day, but also the meaning which he himself employs elsewhere.1 The fact is that by subiective he was referring not to the one who experiences faith but to that reality–namely faith–which is ex- perienced. It is faith, not the believer, which is in this case the subiectum. Faith is the thing whic Luther is here talking about–Prantl I s ”subject-matter of the judgment, that is, the con- crete objects of thought.” And Luther is condemning the scholas-

tics for never having experienced that subiectum for what it really is, subiective, in itself. He is not saying that it was their ex- perience which was not “subjective” enough or, as we might say, personal enough. That conclusion of course could follow, and on other occasions Luther does say as much, though in other words. However, that is not his meaning of subiective, and to this extent he corroborates Prantl 1 s generalization.

But Prantl does not fare as well on the second term, obiective, contrary to initial appearances. To be sure, Luther faults the scholastics for understanding faith obiective, and by this he might seem to be saying that the faith which they have in mind is merely that, merely a product of their own minds, with no

1see chap. vi.

independent reality of its own. If that were Luther’s meaning of

“objective,” then Prantl would be correct in thinking that obiective “referred to that which is contained in the mere obiicere (i.e., in the presenting of ideas).” It is true, the faith which the scholastics talk about is not vera fides and, be- cause they pretend it is, they are deluded.1 But Luther does not deny that there is a kind of faith, a fides hypocritica, which does in fact and “objectively” cor1,espond to their delusion.2 There may well be, unfortunately, a merely “historical faith, 11 a

matter of “letters and syllables, 11 a Thomistic faith which can co-exist with mortal sin and without genuine love.3 And that faith, all too real, is the object which the scholastics have on their hands. But that of course is not the faith of which Paul is speaking. On the other hand, even when the scholastics do come up against Paul 1 s kind of faith, which is outwardly active in love, they misconstrue it. They mistake its outer operations, its love, for the operator itself.4 But this is false, says Luther. Such

love is not a habitus obiectivus5–a kind of independent, self- generating power. The inner force is faith. Conversely, that faith, if it is vera et vivax, never ceases to present itself, objectively, in real extensions of itself in love.6 Luther’s obiectum, in other

11uther speaks of their “faith,” for example, as ficta. WA, XL/2, 3 7,13.

2\vA, xL/2,34,7;35,11;36,2,5.
3wA, xL/2,35,17; 38,4 ; 35,4 .
4wA, xL/2)36,8-23. 5wA, XL/2,38,3.

6wA, xr/2, 3 7,14 . The form of the Christian life (forma vitae Christianae) is fides et charitas: faith, inwardly toward


words, is not “was im blossen obiicere, d.h. in Vorstelligmachen, lie gt •11

Another Apparent Exception
There is a second instance in his Galatians lectures where,

by obiectum Luther seems to mean “that which is contained in the mere obiicere (i.e., in the presenting of ideas).11 But here again the misimpression is dispelled by a close look at the context. In

the published version of the lectures (though not in the manuscript) Luther is reported as saying, First that Christ is the object of faith but then, on second thought, that he is not an object after all. And why not? Apparently because, in faith, Christ really is present. But is that the reason, actually, for saying Christ is

not an object? Luther seems to say so. The implication, at first glance, is that an obiectum is something less than what is really present. The passage has a modern ring, as though Luther were say-

ing that Christ is “not merely an object”–as though an obiectum would be only what the believer presents to himself, not what is

presented to him. Let us see.
The present translation, with Pelikan’s addition underlined,


• Christ is the object of faith, or rather not the ob- ject, but, so to speak, the One who is present in the

the faith itself.l
The sixteenth-century translators had omitted 11 • • • he is not the

God (intus coram Deo); love, outwardly toward men (foris coram hominiqus ), toward the neighbor (erga proximum foris).

WA, XI/2,37,26-38,5.
1LW, XXVI, 129. WA, XL/1,228,34-229,15.

object, but, ·so to. speak . • • 11 Thus they saved Luther from doing

a double-take, if he actually did one. And so if his wording were left as they cut it, our problem would disappear. (It will

disappear anyway, but not merely on textual grounds.) Faced with the earlier translator’s excision, Pelikan appropriately supplies the omission and so brings the English in line with the Latin, that is, with the printed edition of the Latin:

Sic ut Christus sit obiectum fidei, imo non obiectum, sed, ut ita dicam, in ipsa fide Christus adest.l

Then does Luther, after all, separate the object from what is really there? Of course, as his words manifestly declare (both in the Latin printing and in the Latin class-notes), he insists that in faith Christ adest. On that score alone Luther is more realist than many a theologian would care to be. Still, he does distinguish adest from obiectum. The distinction might suggest that for Luther an obiectum is not what is there but is only the believer’s conception of what is there. If that were the case,

then the reason Christ is not an object is that he is what objects are not–namely, really present.

But this, on closer inspection, is not Luther’s intention. He is not saying that, since Christ is present, he is thus some- thing more than an object. (He is that too, no doubt.) Rather,

despite Christ’s presence, he is still something less than an ob- ject. That is, he is not an object of sight. His presence is not sensed, we do not experience him. Faith sees only a fog. To its

eyes Chri8t is beclouded, just as he once sat in the temple in the


(Italics mine.)

midst of darkness.l But for that very reason Luther hastens to

assure his students that, nevertheless, Christ real ly is there. The class-notes do not even mention that Christ is not obiecturn. But they do emphasize that, though he is not seen, 1Christus adest, . adest ipse. 112 In one respect alone (as an object of, shall we say, perception) Christ is not an object–not

an object, perhaps unfortunately not an object. And in that one respect R hrer was of coux•se justified in having the publ ished Luther say: non obiectum. But in another, most fundamental, respect Christ is what an object is: “tamen praesens est.113

The Contrary Object
In fact, according to Luther’s usual practice, he does

refer to Christ as obiecturn, explicit l y and without qualifying
the term. But before we advance to that consideration, we con- fron-1; the prior question: Why, if Christ is 1objectively1 pres- ent, is he not an object of experience? Why is it that the
faith which “apprehends” him still sees nothing (1hihil videt 11 )?4 Is all this the fault mere l y of the believer 1 s subjective insen- sitivity? Does he real ly see and feel nothing at all ? By no

111Fides est quaedam cognitio quae nihil videt.11 WA, XL/1, 228, 15-229, 1. 11• . • Christus ist in tenebris et nebul a

illa.1 WA, xr/1,229,12. ” In istis nubibus sedet • • . , sicut tntemp l o sedebat in medio tenebrarum. 11

2wA, Xr/1,229,5-6.
3wA, XL/1,229,21 (Hs.: 229,4), 4wA, x1/1,229,1.

means. The believer does perceive something indeed, and what he

perceives is objectively there. That obiectum is the law, and it
is this law which intervenes and diverts men’s sight from that
other obiectum, Christ. Instead they are curved in upon themselves,

yet not merely by force of their own self-concern, for it is that very self-concern which the law legitimates–again, objectively.

Lex is the form which the wrath of God assumes, objectively, in the sphere of our immanence. rt is that sovereign, accusatory action in the lives and relations of men which presses them to in- cessant evaluation of themselves.1 And this obiectum engages
those who are of all men the most sensitive, rationally and mor- ally. “Ratio habet obiectum legem.112 In the presence of this

massive obiectum it is a rational necessity to give account of oneself: “This I have done, this I have not done • • . • Where
have I sinned, what have I deserved?13 And it is this same obiectum, the all too real and present law of God, which distracts and by the same action separates a man ex isto obiecto: the justifying Christ.4

Here a word is in order about Luther’s strictures on speculatio. On this matter too he is sometimes interpreted to be less a realist, epistemologically, than he actually is. Why does he abjure speculating about the divine majesty? rs it because, at the far end of the speculative ascent, there is really no divine obiectum to be found but only the fiction of the theologian’s own

11w, xxvr,309-13. WA, XL/1,480,32-486,16. 2wA, xL/1,164,6.
31w, XXVI, 88. WA, XL/1 164,21-25°
4wA, XL/1,164,12.

fancy? Is speculatio out of order because it is illusory, in the

sense that ”nemo enim Deum novit”? These are the words which are put into Luther’s mouth by the later editors of his Galatians lec- tures.1 What he does say, quoting Exodus 33, is that no man shall see God and live–et vivet.2 What is illusory in such speculation is the assumption that the God who is to be found there is one with whom a man can somehow come to terms, placare.3

The impulse to deal with that God is by no means academic but is, as we might say, existential–the sheer will to survive as man. Under the pressure of the accusing obiectum, the law, men

are driven to justify their right to live. To do that, they seek to fathom the secrets of that sovereign power and wisdom with whom their destiny lies–“how he created the world and how he governs it.114 All this, in the vain hope that that God, thus known, is
one with whom they might traffic and find value. That is the fatal illusion: not that there is no divine majesty to be known but that to reckon with him for one’s life is intolerabilis.5 Men who ima- gine that the divine majesty is not so forbidding as all that are dreamers. And there are the occasions–“si disputandam fuerit cum Iudeis, Turcis, Schwermeris • • • “–when such self-deception re- quires to be shattered. (Evidently this is how Luther conceived

1see footnote, WA, XL/1,80,Jl.
2wA, XL/1,76,12 . (See marginal reference at 76,1.) 3wA, XL/l,77,18.
4LA, XXVI, 29. WA, XL/l,77,16-17.
5wA, XL/1,77,2 1.

1 05
his assignment against Erasmus. )1 In those polemical circumstances,

Luther advises, you must “use all your cleverness and effort and be subtilis et argutus disputator” precisely on the matter of God’s

wisdom and power.2 But never when the need is for a man’s recon- ciliation. To know the divine majesty is all too real a knowledge. That is exactly the reason for not pursuing it, since that is the

way to mortem and desperationem.3
Still, Luther says, for faith the obiectum is Christ,

even though he is hidden from sight and feeling by the intervening obiectum, the law–not just by our experience of the law but by that which we do experience objectively, the accusing law of God. Yet that is why Christ is the object of faith, for faith is of things not seen but hidden.4 And how could this obiectum fidei

be more profoundly hidden than under an experience and object which are directly contrary to Christ–“sub contrario obiectu”?.5 But notice, the contrary objects are in both cases the active God,

the same God, for

when God vivifies he does so by killing, when he justifies he does so by making guilty, when he lifts up to heaven he does that by bringing down to hell–as Scripture says: “The Lord kills nd brings to life, he brings down to Sheol and raises up.nb

1BoW, PP• 64-65. WA, XVIII,602,4 -37•

21w, XXVI, 30. WA, xL/1 ,78,28-30.

3wA, x1/1,78, 1 -2.

4 11Fides est rerum non apparentium; , abscondantur. 11 WA, XVIII,63 3,7-8•

.511won autem remotius absconduntur, quam sub contrario obiectu, sensu, experie nt ia. 11 WA, XVIII, 63 3,8-9.

6wA, XVIII,63 3 ,9-1 2 . (Translation mine.)


In face of these contrary actions of God., “who saves so few and damns so many.,” “it is [Luther scarcely needed to add] the highest degree of faith to believe that he is merciful.111 What we have called Luther’s epistemological realism does not waver even in the face of this logical impasse.

Resolving the Conflict Objectively
Then how is this contrariety–all the more oppressive be-

cause it is real–to be reconciled? The question is Luther’s own: 1 1Q u is conciliat illa summe pugnantia?’1 The antithesis ., he says ., isas sharp as fire and water ., namely .,

that the sin in us is not sin., that he who is damnable will not be damned, that he who is rejected will not be rejected., that he who is worthy of wrath and eternal

death will not receive these punishments.2
Is it faith which resolves the pugnantia? Does the believer him- self mediate the opposites., even if only in his own mind., by sheer dint of trusting to the contrary? No. 1Unicus Mediator Dei et hominum., Iesus Christus.113 Then how is the’mediation achieved in

Jesus which wrath

Christ? rs it that he believes ., representatively ., that
we do not but ought to believe–for example., that the divine

is but the form of grace? Hardly, “for God •.. cannot

otherwise He would be unjust and would love sin. 114 Finally ., Luther carries the pugnantia all the way to the objective event of the

3⁄4fA., XVIII,633,15-16.
2LW, XXVI., 235-36. WA, XL/1,373,13-16. 3wA, XL/1,373,16-17.
4Lw., XXVI, 235. WA, xr/1,371,13-372,1.

hating sin and sinners; and He does so by necessity., for

crucifixion, and into God himself. But there on the cross–where

the divine law itself was condemned for overreaching itself and condemning its own Lord–Luther finds the resolution: “Quod Christus pro nobis mortuus sit”–‘1and that when we believe this
we are reckoned as righteous, even though sins, and great ones at that, still remain in us.111 This is not the sort of solution which is characteristic of a subjectivist.

For Christians, says Luther, it is the nature of their faith to peer through and beyond the contrary obiectum of the law, the still objective reality of their sin, and to apprehend instead

that other obiectum in whom alone the law has no reality, Jesus Christ–but always Christ pro nobis. Either we apprehend him as the objective description of ourselves, or we apprehend only our- selves objectively described by the law.

Human reason has the law as its object•..• But faith ••• has no other object than Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was put to death for the sins of the world • • • • [Faith]

does not look at its love and say, 1What have I do , Where have I sinned, what have I deserved?” But it says: “What has Christ done? What has he deserved?” And here the truth of the gospel gives you the answer: “He has redeemed you from sin, from the devil, and from eternal death.” ‘rhere- fore faith acknowledges that in this one Person, Jesus 2 Christ, it has the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

“Whoever diverts his gaze from this object,” Luther continues,

11 • • •

looks away from the promise and at the Law, which terrifies him and drives him to despair.113

The righteous and living Christ becomes the objective de-

1LW, XXVI, 234. WA, XL/1,371,24-25 (Hs •: 371,6-7)• 21w, XXVI, 88. WA, xr/1,164,21-28.

31w, XXVI,

88. WA, XL/1, 164,28-30.

scription of him, when he enacts this exchange in his own history

and when his Father so “reckons” it.1 But the language of reckon- ing, of imputatio, which Luther here adopts from Paul, and Paul from Genesis,2 may suggest that the whole transaction transpires apart from any subjective involvement on our part, behind our
backs or over our heads. If this were so, the justification of
the sinner, though in some sense it might still be his justifica- tion, would seem to be his in only a very detached way and without any objective referent in his own life history. But such a sugges- tion overlooks the fact that the reason the Father reckons us righteous is our faith–our faith in Christ, of course, but our faith.3 And faith is no small thing, though in itself, subjec- tively–in face of the tyrannizing reasonableness of the “contrary object 1–it is absolutely weak. 4 However, what makes this “little spark” the res omnipotens which it is–the “creatrix divinitatis

. . . in nobis1–is not the vigor of its own subjectivity but the glory rather which it gives to its gracious obiectum, precisely by trusting and thus receiving the glorious things which he gives to

it.5 So the justification of the sinner does indeed have an

111neus imputet et cognoscat eum iustum qui solum appre- hendit filium suum, quern misit, passum.” WA, XL/1,370,6-7. See alsoWA, XL/1,365,30-366,12. –

2The above paragraph and the one following it are based on Luther’s exegesis of Galatians 3:6, where Paul is quoting from Genesis 15:6. WA, XL/1,359,7-37 3 ,17 .

3WA, XL/1,364 ,26-28.

4wA, XL/1,366,16-21. “Fides est adhuc infirma, vix scintilla-:-1f WA, XL/1,364,3-4•

5YwA, XL/2,360,19,5-6.

objective referent within his own biographical existence, namely,

his faith. Without faith he is not justified at all.1 But it is the very nature of that faith, according to Luther, that it en- trusts itself entirely–the whole self, also all its sin–to its

merciful obiec·bum, and that the believer therefore is characterized altogether, not by his faith but by the object of his faith.2 His sole assurance that this is so is that the obiectum to whom he clings is the same obiectum by whom he is evaluated in the “reckon- ing” of the divine Judge.3 Thus even faith, for all its unim- pressiveness and “ridiculousness” as subjectivity, enjoys the same objective status and value–1inaestimabilis et, i:hfinita1–as does its object, Christ. 4

In speaking this way, Luther does not restrict himself to Pauline terms, not even in his exegesis of imputatio in Galatians. He finds the same truth paralleled, not only in the Old T stament and the Synoptics, S but also in John (16:17).6 Here Christ is quoted as saying, “The Father himself loves you because you have

loved me. 11 Luther understands the Father’s 11 love11 for the dis- ciples in an earthy, almost Eros sense of the word: namely, that they 1please1 the Father–because they are 1pleased1 with his Son.

1WA, XL/1, 4 4 5,32-34 •
2wA, Xl/1,285,26.
3see the following paragraph, above.

-WA, XL/1,J7.0.,22; 39q,20,; 367,?6._
SFor example, WA, XL/1,367,22-24; 366,1-2; 369,19-21. 6i_A, :n,/1,371,7-372,23.


This obiecturn, this “I” [Le., Christ] sent from the Father into the world, this pleased you. And because you have taken hold f this obiecturn, the Father loves you, and you please Him.

That the disciples 1please1 the Father seems at first to credit
the initiative to the believing subject, until we note that it is first of all the Son who pleases the disciples, that pleasing obiecturn whom the Father has sent. Moreover, as Luther recalls, these same disciples, so pleasing to the Father, Christ had earlier referred to as 11 ev il11 and had commanded them to repent.2 However, “these two things are diametrically opposed [ex diametro pugnant]: that a Christian is righteous and beloved by God, and yet that he is a sinner at the same time.113 And diametrically opposed, not just “in our blind eyes, 1 but 11ob jectively1–since God, by nature, must hate both sin and sinners.4 No wonder the scholastics laugh at
this theology•.5 “How can these two contradictory things both be true at the same tirne?116 ttHere nothing can intervene except Christ

the Mediator. 117 “It is not by mere imputation [as some of the scholasticshad taught],8 but it involves that faith which appre- hends the Ghrist who has suffered for us–which is no laughing

matter. 11 9 Accordingly, the objective condition of the believers

lLW, XXVI, 234 -3.5• WA, XL/1,371,30-32 iA, xr/1,371,32-33.

3LW, XXVI, 23.5. A, 4wA, XL/1,371,34-3.5• 6wA, XL/1,372,14-1,5.

8Gerrish, PP• 4 7-4 8.

XL/1,371,33-3 4 •
.5wA, XL/1,372,7.

7wA, xr/1,372,16 -17.

9wA, XL/1,372,8-9. fore also not in LW, xxvr.)

(The translation is mine, since the original appears in the Handschrift, not in the Druck, and there-


turns, once more, entirely upon that pleasing obiectum whom they believe.

The Father does not love you [says Christ] because you are worthy of love but “quia apprehendistis me. 11 1

3⁄4 A , XL/1,372,2-3. (Translation mine.)



Object of Theology, Subiectum Theologiae
It is sometimes said, and rightly, that today we speak of the “object” of theology where Luther, like his scholastic prede-

cessors, would have spoken of the subiectum of theology. However, this should not be taken to mean that the two terms, our “object of theology” and the older subiectum theologiae, are simply synon- ymous. Rather, the old word has been replaced, not by a new word with the same meaning, but by a new word with a subtly different meaning. The modern “object of theology” does not perform exactly the same function which subiectum theologia once performed. It may be that Barth, in stressing that the theological object is himself always a Subjekt, has done much to reverse the trend and to bring our “object of theology” closer to the former subiectum

theologiae. It is my impression that he has. However, without Barth 1 s special reminder about the intrinsic subjecthood of the object, our modern “object” tends to obscure an emphasis which was

comparatively more prominent in the former term, subiectum–though with what liabilities, we shall see.

By referring to the one whom theology is about as the “object,” we call attention directly to his epistemological status.

His being, as opject, consists in his being known. Whether or not 112

there is more to him than that is not innnediately evident, at

least not from his name, 1object.11 As such, he is defined by the position he holds relative to his knowers, the epistemological subjects. He is their concern. In referring to him as subiectum, however, rather than as “object, 11 the earlier theologians were
more apt to call attention to that one himself, as someone in his own right. To put the matter crassly–crasse, as Luther would say –the one whom theology was about was seen as a subiectum of his own predicates. His definitive circumstance, under that term, was not his being known but his being who he is and his doing what he does. To be sure, one of the important things he does may be that. he makes himself known to others, and he may be who he is always

in intimate relation to someone else. (Surely that seems to be
the case with the subiectum in the theology of Luther.) But this only focuses once more on who this subiectum really is. And it
is that circumstance, before it is the circumstance of our knowing him, which accounts for his position in a theology like Luther 1s. One of the improvements we need to make upon the theology of the nineteenth century, Barth seems to me to be saying, is that we bear

in mind that the one whom theology is about is the “object” he is, not as a function of our theologizing, but as someone with a real and prior identity of his own. That much also seems to be implicit,

in his own way, in Luther’s use of subiectum theologiae. Still, the question then returns, What is it about this subiectum which

makes this theological predicates be about him, in reality his? Luther’s answer to this question diverges not only from that of his

contemporaries but also from that of Barth, and not for altogether

different reasons.

Net Epistemological but Biographical Subject
If the old subiectum theologiae was not quite the same

thing as our modern theological “object,” it was surely not the same as our modern epistemological “subject.” Today, in strictly epistemological terms, the theological “subject” would call to

mind the one who does the theological knowing. But the old subiectum theologiae did not refer to the theologian, any more than it referred to an object which was defined by his knowing it. Rather the subiectum theologiae referred to that one who occasions theological knowledge about himself by reason of his being who he is, the personal source of’ his own predicates. (But as we shall see, because Luther’s believer is not the personal source of his own predicates, righteousness and life–though these predicates are truly his–he cannot unambiguously be called their subiectum.)

In any case, however, the subiectum theologiae did refer not to an epistemological but to a biographical subject.

The term subiecturn is employed in a theological connection already by Albert the Great. He refers to God as subiectum on the ground that, of all that concerns sacred doctrine, God is himself the one most worthy .1 Vlith Albert I s illustrious pupil, Thomas Aquinas, the divine subiecturn becomes the definitive, Aristotelian

1Engelbert Krebs, Theolofie und Wissenschaft nach der Lehre der Hochscholastik (1Beitr ga Zur,Geschichte der Philosophie des 1vn. ttelalters, 1 Vol. XI, Nos. 3-4; Mllnster i. W. : Aschendorff, 1912), p. 55.

basis for making sacred doctrine a scientia.1 Luther also speaks

of subiectum theologiae. True, he does so sparingly, and then only, it seems, to c ontrast the sc holastics ‘ “subject of theology”

with his own. Perhaps his reluctance is due to the associations
the term had with the Aristotelian doctrine of substance and qual- ity. (Some of his reasons for this uneasiness will be cited later.) So seldom in fact does Luther use the term subiectum theologiae that, in order to find an instance of it, we have to look beyond
the two Luther documents to which we have been confining this
study. Still, he does employ the term. “Properly the subject of

theology [subiectum theologiae] is man guilty of sin and condemned, and God the Justifier and Savior of man the sinner.112 Notice, tl:e two parties to whom Luther applies the term subiectum theologiae contrast sharply with the sublime subiectum of sholasticism.

Still, for Luther too, both “man guilty of sin” and “God the Justi- fier” might be said to qualify for their theologj_c al subjecthood because they are “worthy” of it–the one discreditably, the other creditably. And both the sinner and God (the believer is c on- spicuously absent) are worthy by reason of what they inherently

are and do. To that extent Luther preserves the sense of the scholastic subiectum.

In the above quotation Luther’s subiectum theologiae ap- proaches what we have been calling the grammatical or, better, the biographical subject. Certainly it does not have the epistemolog-

ical significance which we, in our modern subject-object terminology

1Ib id., p. 56.
2LW, XII, 311. WA, XL/2,328,1-2.

ascribe to the 11 sub ject11 as knower. Our epistemological subject

is distinguished primarily by his relation to his object. The older subiectum was distinguished primarily by his relation to his own predicates, to put the matter in grammatical words. But we, too, still preserve this meaning of the word “subject” in our grammars today. By the 1subject11 of the sentence we do not mean the grammarian who knows the sentence, but rather that word in the sentence which, among other things, is distinguished from its pred- icate words. In our logic, similarly, the ”subject” still 11efers not to the logician who thinks the proposition but to that propo- sition’s subject-term, as distinguished from its predicate-term.
Or in a given science, a body of knowledge, we still speak of the “subject” of that science, or perhaps of its ‘1subject-matter.11
And by II subject” in that connection we do not mean the scientist who masters the material, but rather that which the material is about. In other words, outside the technical usage of our modern epistemologies, there are still some lively remnants of the older meaning of subiectum.

So with Ockham, for example, subiectum could mean the gram- matical subject of a sentence. Or in logic, the same word subiectum

referred to the subject-term of a proposition, as distinct from its predicate-term.1 subiectum could likewise designate subiectum scientiae, that which the science is about (de quo scitur aliquid).2 “Subject” did not, however, have the epistemological significance which we give it when we hyphenate it with ”object,” the knower

lockham: Philosophical Writings, 2Ibid., P• 9°

juxtaposed to what he knows. Subiectum was more likely to be

hyphenated with praedicatum or, as in metaphysics, with qualitas or accidens.1 True, as Ockham observes, ·there was even in his day a sense in which subiectum sciontiae could 1•efer• to the one who does the knowing–more precisely, to the intellect itself (ipsemet intellectus).2 But even here the knowing intellect is called a subiectum, not by contrast with an object which it knows, but by contrast with its own knowledge. 3 Knowledge, in other words, whether as a habitus (”habitual” knowledge) or as an act, is a qualitas.4 And the subiectum of that qualitas, of that knowledge,

is the intellect–comparably to the way in which fire is the sub- ject in which the quality of heat inheres, or a surface is the subject in which the quality of whiteness inheres. 5 But this brings

us to our point.
The same word subiectum, which in grammar referred only to

words and in logic only to terms and in science only to its subject-matter,6 finally referred also to the reality itself, the real one behind the words and the terms and the subject-matter: that subiectum whose heat or whiteness or knowledge is its own– the peccator whose guilt and condemnation are 11his,11 the Deus who

ace idens

6But, in this connection, see Ockham 1 s strictures on this usa e because of the implications of the term materia. Ibid.,
p. 0.

distincta sunt. 11 WA, XL/1, 424, 27-28.

Ergo in Philosophia prima divisione substantia et

2ockham: Philosophical Writings.

3Ibid. L Ibid., P• 3. 5Ibid•, p• 9•

is in reality the Justifier and Savior. Even in this respect,

however, our own current use of 1 sub ject1 has not altogether broken with the past. In ordinary language our 1subject1 may

still refer at times to that one who is and has and does, in his own right. Who, for instance, is the “subject” of Sandburg’s The Prairie Years? Not the biographer Sandburg, of course, but also not the proper noun “Lincoln,” nor even the logical term

which Sandburg conceives by that noun, but finally Lincoln himself. Analogously, and because no other suitable term seemed available, we have had to refer to the one whom theology is about–Luther1s

subiectum theologiae, Barth 1 s object who is always subject–as the biographical subject. But it is just with reference to that sub-

ject that the problem of theological predication becomes acute. Do sin and guilt and condemnation really belong to the sinner- on

the order that whiteness belongs to the wall, or heat to fire? If not, is it sufficient improvement to say that the subject is what he himself does, even what he does rightly and obediently?

Doesn 1 t that also distort the way in which, according to Lutber, the believer is righteous and alive in Christ? Or the way the man Jesus is the Son of God?

An Apparent Exception
In a moment we shall point out that with Barth, too, for

all his affinity with the modern subject-object scheme, his Subjekt usually has at least the force of a grammatical or bio- graphical subject. But first we ought to re-examine our previous claim about Luther: namely, that his subiectum is not defined, as

in modern epistemologies, by its juxtaposition as knowing subject

to known object. Ordinarily this claim might seem evident enough,

without the tedious elaboration we have been giving it. However, in one passage in Luther’s lectures on Galatians he seems to pose an exception. In this passage subiectum appears to mean something

very much like our epistemological 1subject11;.-.subject as the cog- nitive counterpoise to its object.

In his exegesis of Galatians 5:5, ”By faith we wait for the hope of righteousness,” Luther feels constrained to clarify the meaning of faith and hope by itemizing some distinctions be- tween them. They differ, first of all, with respect to their 11subjectsfl (11differunt ••• subiecto11 ), since faith is in intel- lectu and hope is in voluntate.1 So far, of course, there is no hint of a subject-object scheme. However, says Luther, faith and hope seem also to have distinguishable “objects,” since the obiectum for faith is veritas et Christus, and for h o p e , sperandas.2 Offhand Luther’s terminology gives the impression that he is opposing subject to object in the manner of modern epistemological practice. But he is doing nothing of the kind,

as the context quickly reveals. Actually, he distinguishes faith and hope not only on two counts but on fiveJ3 (At that, he seems to complain that he does it all against his better judgment, and

1wA, XL/1,26,1-2. The word subiecto appears also in Luther’s preparatory notes for this lecture. WA, XL/2,21,16.

2wA, XL/2,26,5,9°

3The five distinctions are neatly divided only in the later editions, CDE, referred to at WA, XL/2,26,26-38. However, the substance of all five distinctions appears 5.n the original, both Handschrift and Druck. WA, XI/2,6,26ff. And the five-fold distinction appears explicitlyin Luther’s preparatory notes.

WA, XL/1,21,15-34•

12 0
only to correct the superficial distinctions of the scholastics.)1

Moreover, the two distinctions we have named, with respect to sub- jects and objects, do not even occur in succession, much less in direct contrast. By obiectum, furthermore, Luther means in this

case nothing more than goal or end–somewhat as we might speak of the object or objective of our labors. His other word for “ob- jects” in this context is finibus, 2 and elsewhere in his lectures he places obiectum in apposition with causa finalis.3 In short,
it would be sheer anachronism to infer that, because Luther here happens to use obiectum and subiectum in the same general vicinity, his subiectum must therefore resemble the epistemological subject in our subject-object terminology today.

In Luther’s discussion of faith and hope, subiectum means approximately what he otherwise has to refer to, in Aristotelian parlance, as substantia.4 In fact, in the passage we have quoted, the early translators insert their own explanation of Luther’s subiecto: “that is, the ground wherein they [namely, faith and hope] rest.115 Thus Luther is saying that faith is ‘1in1 the intel- lect and hope is 11 in” the will comparably to the way a qualitas or accidens inheres in its substantia. Therefore, there is nothing peculiarly epistemological about Luther’s reference to intellect

and will as subiectum. F’or, as he knew, in the language of his day the same word could describe fire as the “subject11 of its heat

1wA, XL/2,2,5,12-16,27-32.
2wA, XL/2,2,5,16,33.
3WA, XL/1,Lll,12. 5
4 For example, WA, XL/1, 2 80,1; 2 82 ,3 . Gal, p. 4.59.

or a wall as the nsubject11 of its color. Ockham, as we mentioned.,

speaks the same way. The term., subject of knowledge., he says., may mean

that which receives knowledge and has the knowledge in it as in a subject [subiective] ., just as a body or a surface is the subject of whiteness., and fire the subject of heat. Un- derstood in this sense, the subject of knowledge [subiecturn scientiae] is the intellect itself., because any such knowl- edge is an accident of the intellect. l

In a moment we must face the question whether Luther finds the substance-quality relation adequate for his own view of theologi- cal predication, and if not, why not. Meanwhile it is enough to bear in mind that., uniformly with the current usage of subiectum and subiective, his subiectum theologiae (though rare in his vocab- ulary) is set not in the epistemological relation of subject-object but in the relation of a real subject to its own predicates.

Barth1s Grammatical Subject
How about Barth’s Subjekt? So far as I can tell, Barth

has no intention of restricting his term merely to the subject- object relation of knowledge. The Barthian subject is more by far than a knower in re l at ion to the object of his knowing.

Whether he is the subject God or the subject man., he is a subject by virtue of his enjoying real predicates of his own. How these predicates become his, is another matter. But that they are his

and that he is their grammatical subject, Barth makes cl ear enough. There is this striking statement by Brown.

The truth seems to be that Barth’s use here of “Subject” ••• combines the grammatical sense of “subject”–the word indicat- ing the actor or active agent in the typical sentence with

1ock.ha : Philosophical Writings ., p. 9,


transitive verb predicating ac.tion upon the grammatical “object” as the thing acted upon–with the technical use of “Subject” in epistemology. l

Indeed, so fully does Barth intend God as the grammatical subject that, as Brown warns, we must not suppose that in faith man him- self i.s not also a subject.2 Barth does say,

It is not God but man who believes. But the very fact of
a man thus being subject in faith is bracketed as the predi- cate of the subject, God.3

As we noted in a previous quotation, Barth describes Christ as the grammatical subject of the Christian’s l ife .4 And elsewhere he asserts that “the Christian religion is the predicate of the sub-

ject of the name of Jesus Christ. n.5 Not only the divine subject, however, but also men in general (insofar as they are real sub-

jects at all ) are surely understood by Barth to have more than epistemological status. As our many previous quotations to this effect demonstrated, the human subject not only “posits” himself, but he is at least on the way to actualizing the self he posits. Even in the absence of the expl icit adjective, “grammatica l ,” Barth’s “rea l man 1 is the biographical subject of his own predi- cates–however he may be bracketed within the prior subjecthood

There is no thought, of course, of equating Barth’s

“grammatical subject” with the subiectum of the substance-quality scheme. Barth’s criticisms of that scheme are too outspoken to be

2Ibid., P• 145.


1Brown, P• 144. 1

–‘CD, 1/1, 281. S’cn, 1/2, 347.

P• 76.

ignored. What is evident, though, is that by “subject” both he

and Luther refer to one who is at least in personal possession of his own predicates. ‘l’hismodest similarity between the two the- ologians now provides a new occasion, and a new urgency, for sharpening the distinctive and controversial feature in Luther’s theological predication.

Preliminary Objections to Substantia
When Barth advances his own view of theological predica-

tion, he sets it in conscious opposition to the substance-quality scheme. But is that what distinguishes his view from Luther’s?
Of course, if Luther were committed to a substance-quality type of predication in his theology, then that fact alone might explain the offense he presents for Barth. But that cannot be the expla- nation. For one thing, Luther himself seems dissatisfied with the substance-quality relationship for some of the same reasons Barth does. Yet that is not all. The very corrective which Barth makes upon the substance-quality doctrine (namely, Barth 1 s insistence upon 1activity”) is an incipient danger, ironically, which Luther

·detects already within the substance-quality doctrine itself, and which for purposes of the gospel he abjures. What Barth intends

as an advance beyond the old metaphysics is what Luther, in his own way, found to be objectionable right within that metaphysics– objectionable, that is, as a vehicle for evangelical theology. This objection of Luther’s, rather than any incidental affinity
he may have had with the Aristotelianism of his day, bids fair to explain the disturbance he occasions in Barth. Let it be noted

in advance, however, that whei-•e Barth opposes “active” to ”static,11

Luther opposes “active” to 1 passive .11 These two oppositions are by no means identical. But more on that in a moment.

If Barth objected to the notion of substance on the ground that it flattens out the important difference between persons and things, then we might recall similar, at least anticipatory, objec- tions by Luther. As early as his lectures on Romans (1 515-1516 ), as Stomps observes, Luther ”expressly rejects the scholastic view which characterizes man as a substance with qualities.111

We do not define the essential thing about man if we ask what h is the way we ask about a what (quid) or a thing

()- –
One of the depersonalizing effects of the doctrine of substance,

we often hear, is that it tends to view the person as isolated and unrelated. If the scholastic “substance” does discourage the im- portance of relationships, and thereby connnits the Whiteheadean

“fallacy of misplaced concreteness113–if, as Thomas Aquinas says, “relation has the weakest being of all the cat;egories” and “is not among the things outside the soul but merely in the intellect 114- – Luther, apparently, has something else to say: 11God is to be sought not in the category of substance but of relation. 115 Man

lM. A . H . Stomps, Die Anthropologie Martin Luthers: Eine Philosophische Untersuchung (Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio Klostermann, l935), P• 143.

2Ibid., p. 1 5 .

3Alfred N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (A Pelican Mentor Book; New York: New American Library of World Literature, 1948), p. 52.

ochenski, p. 154.

Johannes Wallmann, Der Theologiebegriff bE:.i Johann Gerhard und Georg Calixt (11BeitrMge zur Historischen Theologie, 11

12 5
too, for Luther, is to be seen always in relation–coram Deo,

coram hominibus. And his relations to others characterize, re- flexively, his own most private functions. For examp l e, his

intel lectus, as Luther understands it, is described not so much
by its own capabil ities as by its relation to the 11ob ject11–namely, Christ–whom it intelligit.

11Inte,llect11 takes its name from its object rather than from its own potency (contrary to phil osophy ).l

Or if it was a fault of substance philosophy that it fragmented the person with its psychological distinctions between sensus, voluntas, and intellectus, then

Luther, by imbuing the old concepts of scholastic psychol- ogy with new content, completel y altered their character .

. • • The boundaries between the concepts have fadea. 2 “Faded,” however, not because Luther had no use for distinctions,

but because he restored to theological priority those biblical distinctions, for example, flesh;versus splrit–which determine the person in his entirety.3 Or, final ly, if the complaint is that substance philosophy conceives of the person as essentia l ly neutral, not either-or, then we need only recall from Luther’s De Servo Arbitrio, as we shall in the next chapter, how every man 1 s will is a iumentum (though always a willing one), ridden either by Satan or by God.4

No. 30; Tllbingen: J. c. B. Mohr, 1961), P• 19, n. 3. ,According to Wallmann, the above quotation is attributed to Luther–specifi-

cally, to his commentary on the twenty-sixth chapter of Genesis– by Gerhard. Wellmann, however, has not been able to locatedthe quotation in the Weimar edition. Neither have I.

1stDmps, P• 144. See also WA, XL/2 ,35,5-6. 2 stomps, P• 14 5. 3Ibid., p. 14 6. LIA, XVIII, 635,17-22 .

On the other hand, Luther does continue to employ the idiom

of the substance-quality doctrine. He does so, partly because it was the language of his opponents, but by that token it was also the language of the Church, the same Church to which both he and

his opponents had a responsibility to make their opposition clear. This explains, partially at least, his continued though ambivalent use of Aristotelian terms. Earlier we noted how he distinguished faith and hope with respect to their substance (subiecto), but we mentioned only parenthetically the discomfort he felt over this undertaking. Actually, as he warned his class, in employing the term he was speaking only crasse.1 Similarly, when he resorts to such impersonal abstractions as 11formal righteousness” or “inherent quality,” he does so by way of a polemical pun, to emphasize that

the really genuine formalis iustitia of faith is the concrete per- son, Jesus Christ.2 Even then, as he invokes this inherited ter- minology, he carefully inserts “they say” (dicunt),3 and he explains to his students that “these things are useful to know, to make

Paul ts argument clearer” (magis perspicua) .4 “r·t is a good idea for you to know this manner of speaking.115 No doubt the reminder

is still in order from our neo-scholastic brethren that “substance” is applied to persons only analogically and does not refer to an

1WA, XL/2,25,16.
2WA, xr/1,225,23-231,19.
3w , XL/1,225,24-25; 227,21.
41w, XXVI, 131. WA, xr/1,231,19. 5nv, XXVI, 127. WA, XL/1,225,28-29.

“ontological brick.111 But Luther, though he was aware of this

qualification when he referred to the self as substantia, preferred to make the qualification explicit by adding the word “person,” or by replacing substantia with persona altogether.2

Luther’s Sinner not a “Passive Idler”
Still, it is not just in the interest of personalism, and certainly not in a romanticist feel for selfhood, that Luther op-

poses the substance-quality scheme. Neither does Barth. “The human subject,” Barth says, “is not a substance with certain qual-

ities or functions.”3 Why not? Presumably because such a notion would imply “that man is first a passive idler and then becomes

active, as though his life were in the first instance a blank sheet on which is later written what he knows, wills, and does. 114 To think of the self as a substance with qualities is to suggest, ap- parently, that human freedom is “the mere latent possibility and capacity of man which is then realized in this or that particular use of his freedom. 5

Against this 11passive idler” view of the self as substance,

1However, 1one cannot help remarking that the theology of the manuals does not always make a careful distinction between that unique manner of existence which is peculiar to man, and the mode of being, mere objective ‘being there, 1 which is proper to the things of nature. 11 Edward Schillebeeck, o. P., Chr:Ls t the Sacra-

ment of the Encounter with God, trans. Paul Barrett, o. p., and others (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1963), p. 3.

2wA, xrJ1,279,31-286,21. Luther1s use of persona as a description of the self is not directly synonymous with his other use of it, as interchangeable with larva. See WA, xrJ1,172,26- 179,19.

3cn, III/2, 196. 4rbid., P• 195. 5 rb id .


Barth advances his own definition of the human subject as that one who is precisely as he actualizes himself–always of course in

responsibility to God.

:Man is, as he knows God; he is, as he decides for God; he is, as he asks after God and moves to his judgment. Thus he is, as he lives.1

This Barthian subject “does not 1have1 a history from which it can be distinguished as a substratum.112 “Real man is this history,

i.e., . . • as it really happens that he fulfills his responsibility


we shall ask in vain to what extent man may be subject unless we have seen this subject at work in its self- positing. The human subject is not a substance with cer-

tain qualities or functions. It is the self-moving and self-moved subject in responsibility before God, or it is not a subject at all.4

Throughout this Ba.rthian context the acceptable word is “active,” and its pejorative opposite is 11passive11 or what for Barth appears to mean the same thing, 11static.w- 11It is not merely a question of man 1s static but of his active responsibility before God. 115

If Luther had been restricted to just these two alterna- tives, he might well have leaned toward Barth 1 s . Indeed, he seems to have had something to do, historically, with producing that alternative. At any rate, Luther does criticize the substance- quality constructs of scholasticism in a manner which strongly resembles Barth 1 s criticism of the “static.” The De Servo Arbitrio

is replete with passages in which Luther attacks the notion of a human will which, as mere potency and apart from its activity,

1Ibid. 2rbid., P• 159. 3rbid., P• 196. 4Ibid. 5Ibid., p. 195. (Italics mine.)

before God.”-” Consequently,


still has positive theological significance. such a notion, he says, is a merum figmenttua Dialecticum.1 In his exegesis of Psalm 14:3 (quoted in Romans 3:12 ), 1They have all gone astray, they are all alike corrupt,11 Luther anticipates an objection from the scholastics. The Psalmist’s judgment, some 11sophist1 may reply, is an indictment only of the sinner’s acts and not of his latent ability. For, so the objection runs,

we are able to do many things which in fact we do not do. Hence our dispute is about potency (de vi potentiae) not

about the act (non de actu). 2
Luther replies: 1The words of the prophet include both the act

and the potency. To say, Man does not seek God, is the same as saying, Man cannot (non potest) seek Goa.13 For if there were such human potentiality, God would not allow it to remain idle, and so someone surely would give evidence of actualizing this power. But that is not what the psalm says. Rather, God looks down from heaven and does not see even one who either seeks or tries to seek.4

A similar passage in Genesis (6:5) evokes a similar reply from Luther. From this passage Erasmus had concluded: “The prone- ness to evil (proclivitas ad malum), which is present in most men, does not entirely remove fpee will.15 But why, says Luther a bit

self-consciously, doesn 1t Erasmus (from whom Luther himself has learned much about the Scriptures) consult the Hebrew? “Chol Ietzer :Mahescheboth libbo rak ra chol ha iom.116 “That is, ‘Every

1WA, XVIII, 670,1. 2 Ibid., P• 762 , 11. 17-18. 3Ibid., 11. 18-2 0. (Italics mine. ) 4Ibid., 11. 2 0-2 5. 5Ibid., P• 736, 11. 8-9- 6Ibid., 11. 20-22 .

imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil every day. ,nl

Where, pray, does Moses say anything about 11proneness11 (de proni- tate)? The depth of man’s evil is “that he neither does nor is able to do otherwise. 112 Perhaps Erasmus dreams that, between
posse velle bonum and non posse velle bonum, there is some middle ground, namely, willing in the abstract (absolutum velle)–willing, pure and simple (purem et merum velle). 3 In reply to this notion, Luther first of all turns it against Erasmus’ own conclusion. Then he observes more generally that the notion of a medium et purum velle

sprang from an ignorance of realities (rerum) and a preoccu- pation with vocables–as if reality were always like it is construed in vocables, such as are infinite among the Sophists, The real situation rather is as Christ says, He who is not

with me is against me. He does not say, He who is not with me is not against me either, but is somewhere in the middle.4

“Neither God nor Satan,” Luther concludes, “allows us a merurn et purum velle.” Rather, “we will sin and evil, we speak sin and evil, we do sin and evil.115

It would be difficult, as we recall Barth’s criticism of “substance, 1 to conc,eive a more “active” and less “static” view of the human subject than Luther does of the human sinner. Here is no “passive idler” whose life is 1in the first instance a blank sheet on which is later written what he knows, wills, and does.” Still, it is right here–that is, with reference to the sinner– that Barth himself demurs. The Barthian sinner, though Barth

1·Ibid., 11. 22-23. 3Ibid_., P• 669, 11. Sibid., 11. 8-11.

2Ibid., 11. 20-26.
20-26. 4 Ib id ., p. 670, 11. 2-6.

(Italics mine. )

could hardly describe him as “static” and “passive” ih his sj.nning,

is nevertheless not a “real subject.” Because he is a sinner., he is, by definition, not “actively responsible” to God. That is., he does not in actuality know God, obey him, give thanks to him. But ts he still responsible, though he may not actualize his responsi-

bility? rs he, as we might say, held responsible even ithough he is·· not being responsible? Such a responsibility, Barth seems to be saying, would be a merely II static” responsibility. With Luther,

as we shall see again in the next chapter, the sinner is very ac- tively engaged not only in being a sinner but in being the very sinner God wrathfully holds him responsible for being–living out
his subjecthood in precise confirmation of the divine judgment against him. But with Barth it is not until, and only insofar as,
a man is 1actively1–that is, obediently–responsible that he is a real subject. Short of that, what is he? An unactualized substance? A potency not yet realized? No, not if that implies that he pos- sesses a positive, inherent potentiality for actualizing himself in obedience. But neither could the scholastics I sinner do so without the intervention of divine grace.1 rs Barth 1 s sinner, because he

1However, as Luther observes, there were exceptions. “Others are not even that good, such as Scotus and Occam. They said that this love which is given by God is not necessary to ob- tain the grace of God, but that even by his own natural powers a

man is able to produce a love for God above all things.” LW, XXVI, 128. WA, XL/1,226,20-22. Of course, the question for Luther was not primarily whether our righteousness is actualized in us with the divine help, br.,.without it, but rather whether that righteous- ness, even with the divine help, has anything to do with our justi- fication. Paul “is contrasting the righteousness of faith with the righteousness of the entire 1aw, with e.v, erything that can be done on the basis of the Law, whether by divine power or by human.11

LW, XXVI, 122. WA, X:E/1,218,15-18. 1A work performed in accord- ance with the L a w . -_-•–whether this is done by natural powers or

by human strength or by free will or by the gift and power of God–

is less than “active, 11 still less than 11real1? Bu·t that much, in

a way, could be said of that “willing in the abstract” (velle absolutum) which Luther imputed to Erasmus. Is Barth’s sinner’1–nihil, as Luther1s sinner is, coram Deo? No, not noth- ing, but neither fully real–not yet. We are reminded of the scholastic view of faith as a blank sheet (tabula) until it becomes active, formaliter and realiter, in grace.1 It seems, after all, that the Barthian program for replacing a static substance with

an active subject does not extend to the sinner. But it does for Luther. That is why, for him, homo peccator can be “properly” a

subiectum theologiae.

Luther’s Believer as Active Subject
For Luther, moreover, not only man the sinner but also the

same man as believer, although in Christ he is emphatically “pas- sive,11 is simultaneously a believing self in action, an operative subject–“a maker, a worker, a doer. 112 Still, what the believer does, even as believer–whether glorifying God or giving thanks to him or fulfilling the first commandment or loving the neighbor,

or believing as such–is not what makes the believer what he is, coram Deo, in his responsibility before God. What he is, respon- sibly before God, is what Christ does and is, whom the believer

receives as a gift, passive.3

still does not justify. 1 LW, livA, XL/2,35,5•

2wA, XL/2, 3 6,15-16.
31w, XXVI, 348. WA, XL/1,533,29-31.

Nevertheless–or rather, for that

XXVI, 123. WA, J(L/1, 219, 18-21.

(Translation mine.)

very reason–the believer is not only passive (which is very dif-

ferent from static) but also intensely active.1
Faith, “after it has justified, non stertet ociosa sed est

per charitatem operosa.112 Though the Christian is altogether pas- sive before God, “who does not need our works,” yet before his neighbors–11who do not derive any benefit from fai·l;h but do derive benefit from works or from our love”–he is energetically engaged in doing good, bearing evil, righting the wrong. 3 And his love is not, as the scholastics dream, the power which activates his faith, as if faith itself were 11 idle .11 Rather his love is faith’s own doing. Faith, in this relation, is not an idle quality, if indeed it is a quality at all. Rather i.t is a subject: “an effective and active something, a kind of substance or, as they call it, a 1sub-

stantial form. 1114 This of course does not describe the l”‘ole faith plays in justification. Justification is by faith alone, that is, by a faith which is sharply distinguished from all “doing,” also from faith•s own doing.5 still, faith in fact is never alone and

is never idle.6 Thus in speaking of faith, we must (as the Holy Spirit himself does) speak “sometimes, if I may speak this way, about an abstract or absolute faith, • • • [as] when Scripture

l1w, XXVI, 269. WA, xL/1,421,6-10.
2wA, x1/2,37,24-2 5 .
31w, XXVII, 30. WA, x1/2,37,28-30; 3 9,1-2.

4u1, XXVII, 20. “. • • efficacem et operosam quidditatem ac velut substantiam seu formam (ut vacant) substantialem. 11
WA, XL/2, 36, 11-12. This passage is from Luther I s own hand.

5wA, x1/1,426,23-26.
611• • • Non manet sola, id est, otiosa.” WA, xL/1,427,11-12.

speaks absolutely-:aboU:.t justification. 11 But at other times, as

Scripture also does, we must speak of faith as a “concrete, com- posite, or incarnate faith11 – – 11 fides operata et laborans. 12 Faith “always justifies alone. But it is incarnate and becorrie::,; that is, it neither is nor remains idle or without love.13

In fact, even when Luther is speaking of faith as justify- ing, as the believer’s apprehension of Christ, he is careful to

point out that that faith too, though entirely passive toward Christ, is not an 1idle1 thing psychologically. That is what the scholastics had made of faith: “an idle quality or an empty husk
in the heart, which may exist in a state of mortal sin until love comes along to make it alive.n4 For the scholastics, by contrast, the really telling quality of the heart was love. Luther, at
least for polemical purposes, counters with another qualitas: faith. Psychologically, the believer too can show a rtquality and
a formal righteousness in corde. 11 5 Faith is 1certa fiducia cordis et firmus assensus. 11 But see how the sentence ends: “quo Christus apprehenditur. 116 The behavioral component of faith is its least

important feature. What gives the believer his forma–that is, his real identity–is not what he is doing, even as believer, but the Christ whom he believingly possesses.

1LW, XXVI, 264. WA, XL/1, 4_14,27-L1.15,lL .

2WA, xr,/1,415,7.
3LW, XXVI, 272. WA, XL/1,427,13-14.• 41v-1, XXVI, 129. WA, xI/1,228,31-33.


XXVI, 132. WA, XL/1,232,23-25. 6WA, XL/1,228,33-34•


Therefore the Christ who is grasped by faith and who lives in tbB heart is the true Christian righteousness, on ac- count of which God counts us righteous and grants us eter- nal life.1

What is more, faith seems to be less a qualitas than a subject, a whole new self. When Luther is left alone with the biblical text and is not constrained to burst the scholastic terms with new wine, he marvels at the audacious language of John and Paul.2 11To all who believed in him he gave power to become children of God1 (John

1:12). “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through
faith” (Gal. 3:26). It is not what we do, not our obedience to
the divine commands, which defines our rebirth “in novam naturam seu nativitatem.13 That is achieved only through faith. “Which faith? In Christum.114 And how radically it is 1in Christum” ap- pears from the sequel: 11For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). Now it is a blessed conse- quence of this baptism, says Luther, that for the baptized person himself “a new will, a new light, a new flame spring up in his heart’1–also rttimor, fiducia Dei, spes, etc.n5 It is not this, however, which is the secret of his rebirth. What gives him his

new identity is that other one whom he puts on. “Putting on, 1 which in this case is not one “of imitation but of birth and of a new creation, means that I put on Christ himself, his very own righteousness, salvation, power, life.116 Luther, with his fondness

for proverbs, could have done much with “Clothes make the man.11

l1w, XXVI, 130. WA, XL/1,229,28-30.
2wA, xr/1,539,27-32. .1.I,bid•, 1. 19• 4Ibid., 1. 24. 5Ibid., p. 540, 11. 6-7,31. 6Ibid., 11. 2-3. (Hs.)

Elsewhere Luther finds Paul saying that he no longer lives

in his old “r. 11 Still., live he does., and not idly but actively and not as the old “Paulus” but as someone new., “Christianus.112 But tt is not what he does., even as “Cb…ristianus,11 which makes
him the 11Chris·tianus11 he is. Rather it is that other one by whom he is characterizea. 3 That is to say ., Paul the Christian is not only a subject bracketed within the subjecthood of Christ, nor even a predicate–that is., the doing–of the subject, Christ.
More than that (if we may speak crasse)., Christ is the predicate of Paul: “Christum., qui solus est iustitia et vita mea. ,,4 Now this

sounds scandalously as though Christ were Paul’s own doing, Paul 1 s creation–but only according to that view of predication (whether Barthian or scholastic) whereby the subject is what he does. Yet the biblical predication, at least as Luther sees it, cannot be contained in that exclusively activistic view of the subject. And that may well be why Luther does not refer to the believer as

11 sub iectum theologiae. 11 The believer I s decisive theological p.redi- cates, unlike those of his sinnerhood., are not his own doing, The believer, on the contrary, is defined not in his relation to his own activity but to his II object. 11 “Hereo intentus in isto obiecto, Christus.115 It is tempting to suppose, therefore, that a theology like Luther’s might have influenced the later shift from subject- predicate to subject-object. Even that, however, would not yet accommodate Luther’s view of faith. F1or, although the believing

1Ibid •.,P• 283., 11. 19-32- 2Ibid., P• 287, 1. 31. 3 rbid•.,11. 31-33· 4rbid., P• 282, 1. 28. 5rbid., P• 283, 11. 1-2.

subject is brought active being by the object whom he believes,

still it is not his believing which gives him his identity as sub- ject. His very object, Christ, serves him (so to speak) as his de- finitive predicate. Hence both the subject-object scheme and the subject-predicate scheme are needed to express the relation of be- liever to Christ, and yet both schemes, in turn, are inadequate.

Both require to be transformed by a “new and theological grarnmar.11

Ea Nostra Non Sunt
So we return, as we anticipated we must, to the problem of

theological predication. The problem emerges in Barth’s offense
at Luther as it did in the scholastics’ offense at him. For all their differences (and they are vast), the Barthian critique seems at this point to be only more subtle, though more urbane and good- natured, than that of the scholastics. Erasmus (whom Luther thanked for having at least attacked the real issue of the Reforma- tion)1 put the matter with eloquent simplicity and without recourse

to Aristotelian terms: If the things which Christ ascribes to us are not our own spontaneous doing, then “they are not ours” ( nostra non sunt).2

Luther, as usual, was not at a loss for an answer.

Are not the things which we ourselves did not produce, but actually received from others, still very properly said to be 11ours’1? Why then should not works, given to us by God through his Spirit, be called ours? Because we did not

l11Moreover, I give you hearty praise and commendation on this further account–that you alone, in contrast with all others, have attacked the real thing, that is, the essential issue.”

Bow, P• 319. WA, XVIII,786,26-27. 2WA, XVIII, 6 ,20-22.


createChrist but only received him, may we not call him ours? Conversely, if we do create those things which are called ours, then it is we who created our eyes for our- selves, we who created our hands for ours lves, we who cre- ated our feet for ourselves,unless eyes, hands, and feet are not to be called ours. Rather, as Paul says, What have we that we have not received?l

This, to be sure, does not represent the whole of Luther’s answer. That requires an examination of his larger theological context, which we shall attempt in our remaining chapters. Meanwhile we might note that, a few lines after his above reply, Luther con- fronts another passage which Erasmus cites against him. It is the very passage from John (1:12) which we encountered earlier, 11To

them he have power to become children of God.112 In reply, Luther borrows a technical term which later, in his Galatians lectures, he will develop into a major theological theme, passive. Here– that is, in the Johannine 1’transmutation” of the old man into a child of God–

Man has his self [sese habet] merely passive (as it is said). He does not achieve but altogether becomes some- thing [nee facit quippiam sed fit totus].3

Luther’s passive, though it is the opposite of active, is anything but idle (otiosa). He speaks of that “heavenly and pas- sive 11 rights ousness by which, a1though “we do not perform it [but]

accept it by faith, 11 we are “made to bear the image of the heavenly” Adam and not 11the image of the earthly Adam” (I Cor. l. :49), and by which we are that

1Ibid., l L 22-29.
2Ibid., P• 697, 1. 21.
3Ibid., 11. 27-28. (Italics mine. )


new man in a new world, where there is no Law, no sin, no conscience, no death, but perfect oy, righteousness, grace, peace, life, salvation, and glory.

Passive, literally, may describe the way a thing takes its iden- tity from the “form” which inheres in it. But when Luther employs this usage to describe Christ 1 s relation to the believer, he strains the terminology beyond its capacity–and he knows that he does. Christ, he says,

is my forma, gracing my faith [fidem ornans] as color or light graces the wall. (So crassly must I describe the

matter. For we cannot grasp spiritually that Christ inheres and abides in us so closely and intimately as light or

whiteness inheres in the wall. )2
Luther is not describing the passivity of the mystic. He is speak-

ing only from faith and strictly 1 de iustificatione. 0 3
cisely when the concern is with justification, when the law sum-

mons a sinner to “active responsibility” before God, then he must know how to be the passive beneficiary of another’s predicates– and, conversely, how to be that other one’s predicates.

Therefore the one and only way to avoid the curse is to be- lieve and to say with sure confidence: “Thou, O Christ, art

my sin and my curse”; or rather: “I am Thy sin, Thy curse,

Thy death, Thy wrath of God, Thy hell. But Thou art my Righteousness, Blessing, Life, Grace of God, and Heaven. 11


The same passive predication applies whether the beneficiary is

the individual Christian or the one holy Church.
is not holy formaliter, in the way a white wall is ·white

Her inherent

holiness 1 ist zu infirma. ” Yet “where this


11w, XXVI, 8. WA, x1/1,46,28-47,14.
2wA, XL/1, 283, 26-29. (Translation mine.) 3wA, XL/1, 28L ,21; 285, 15.
4wA, XL/1, l 54,19-23 ·

But pre-

The Church, too,

holiness is not enough, Christ is. 11 1
What may encourage the impression that Luther’s passive

is essentially “static” is his recurrent use of abstract nouns like righiieousness and lLCe. Iustitia and vita, even though they be God’s, suggest timeless and impersonal universals, without any intrinsic reference to historical action. However, even without invoking Luther’s 11 nom inalistic11 attitude toward universals, we need only the reminder that for him the iustitia Dei, which now accrues to the believer as his very own, is inseparable from ·Jesus Christ2 –and always that historic and living Christ, than whom Luther knows no other: 11filius Dei ac virginis, traditus et mortuus pro peccatis nostris. 11 3 And there is nothing inactive about him. True, in his role as sin-bearer, as that one con- demned by the law in our stead, Christ was passive non active.4 But by this passive Luther hardly had in mind something “static.” It meant, rather, to “bear the judgment and curse of the Law, sin, death.115 And this “passion” was all in the interest of a project

altogether active: 1 ideo passus legem, ut mea redimeret. 116 Christ is “passive” as the bearer of our sin and death, and we are “passiveII as bearers of his righteousness and life. Both ways, the predication, though gratuitous, is re al. 111iJh’atev er sins I,

you, and all

1LW, 2wA,

4wA, 5Lw,

of us have committed or may commit in the future, XXVI, 109. WA, XL/1,197,25-198,14 (Hs.: 197,7-198,2).

XXVI, 372. WA, XL/1,568,19-20.

vA, XL/1,90,26-27.

6wA, XL/1, 568,7 (Hs. ).

they are as much Christ’s own as if He Himself had committed them• • • • Or we shall perish eternally.111 It is this “true knowledge

of Christ” which the scholastics are said to have 11 ob scured .112 They obscured it, Luther charged, with their image of

Christ as a new lawgiver and with their insistence upon a right- eousness which, in order to qualify as a man 1s own, must be activa. This scholastic insistence, by whatever name, had a long and varied history behind it. And we are indebted to Paul Vignaux for his concise but illuminating recounting of that history.3 According

to Peter Lombard, the Master of the Sentences, faith and hope were “qualities in the soul,” but charity, by contrast, was not. Char- ity–since “God is love”–was not only a gift of God but was God himself giving himself to the soul. Thomas Aquinas later rejected Peter Lombard’s position at this point. For, as Thomas argued,

if an act of loving were to proceed only from the divine Spirit, the human soul would find itself moved but would not

itself be the source of the action. What would then become of spontaneity, a constitutive part of voluntary action, of the will as the source of merit?4

On the other hand, if charity is a habitus, as Thomas argued it was, then,

when once received, we have it, it belongs to us; a created form, it e:gters into ourcomposition and is united with our substance.;>

Thus the scholastic doctrine of merit was preserved intact. But

1LW, XX.VI, 278. WA, XL/1,435,16-19,

21w, XXVI, 278. WA, XL/1, 435, 20.

3paul Vignaux, Philosophy in the Middle Ages, trans. E. c. Hall (New York: Meridian Books, 1959), pp. 207-10.

— —

4rbid., p. 208, 5’Ibid., p, 209,

it seems to me what was once a concern for 11merit11 might, in more modern and secular language, be put another way. M. D. Chenu, re- marks Vignaux, 11has expressed this [namely, Thomas• view] very well: from the Thomistic point of view, he says, 1the charity of

Peter Lombard was not our love of God in the full sense of a human possession. 1111

Here is much the same concern which prompted Erasmus’ com- plaint against Luther, 11 ea nostra non sunt. 11 The gifts of God to us, in order for them rightfully to become Hours,” must be actual-

ized by us in our own actions. These gifts do not describe what we are, as real predicates of us as their subjects, except as we

do them. As we mentioned earlier, the very feature with which Barth seeks to correct the substance-quality scheme–namely, his

insistence that the subject is a subject only by virtue of his own active responsibility, or else is not a subject at all–curi- ously resembles that feature which Luther detects already within the substance-quality scheme and which, for theological purposes, repudiates. Luther sees in the scholastic charitas, that infused and effectual quality in the soul, an attempt to exploit the di- vine grace for the Roman doctrine of meritorious work. Luther’s

objection to this charitas, in other words, was not merely that it implied a static conception of selfhood but, on the contrary, that it supposedly enabled the self to find its responsible being be- fore God in its own actualization of his grace, thus destroying the benefits of Christ.2

2WA, XL/1,230,17-231,19.

Later on, therefore, in the 1rridentine counterattack upon

Luther’s &octrine, it became important for the Roman theologians to distinguish sharply between the righteousness of the Christian and the righteousness of Christ.

Why is this differentiation between the righteousness of the Christian and that of Christ so important to the Council of Trent? Why is it so important to characterize this right- eousness as one’s own, inherent righteousness? The reason was advanced in the Council 1 s discussion of this subject: Because, otherwise, merit would be eliminated, that is, the possibility of assigning salvation to man in genuine recog- nition of his own renewed beiilg ;and the works issuing from this renewed being.l

This is not the place to review the more recent Roman attitudes toward merit, nor Hans Kllng•s Roman appreciation of Barth’s doc- trine of justification–and certainly not to suggest that the doctrine of merit is revived by Barth.

However, :.t is at least a considerable question whether Barth 1 s objections to Luther at this point are not analogous to those he incurred from his scholastic critics. For one thi!’€:, Luther would still have to reckon with Barth’s criticism of those

“who want everything different and think they can have everything different. n2 And it is not hard to imagine that Luther •s “new and theological grammar” might well antagonize the Barthian doctrine that the subject is what he obediently does. Similarly, Barth refuses to make man the sort of theological object Luther makes of him, but refuses for fear that man would then be credited with a

status he does not deserve. Yet this very assumption of a deserv- ing, creditable subject (who as such therefore must be restricted

1,/llilfried Joest, “The Doctrine of Justification of the Council of Trent,” Lutheran World, IX, No. 3 (July, 1962), 208.

2cn, rv/1, 773•


to the “real man” and to God) has far less affinity with Luther than with Fauerbach, and with the perennial moralism which Luther regarded as a principal obstacle to the gospel. In his critique of Barth, Gustav Wingren argues that, since Barth is preoccupied with revelation as knowledge and sin as ignorance, he misses the fundamental problem of the Reformation and of the Bible.1 Yet, Wingren 1 s criticism apart, it may be that at another level in Barthian theology the fundamental problem of the Reformation does reassert itself–as a problem. At any rate, i•t;is with that prob- lem before us that we now encounter, frontally and no longer ob- liquely, Luther’s treatment of man as the object of theology.

1wingren, pp. 23., 26-27, 44.



Duae Theologicae Cognitiones
As we quoted earlier, Luther designates a twofold subiectum

theologiae: “The proper subject of theology is man guilty of sin and condemned, and God the Justifier and Savior of man the sin- ner.111 That Luther seriously intends theological knowledge as two- fold is a plain fact, although this fact is not as clearly recog- nized by all his commentators. For instance, in Johannes Wall- mann Is otherwise excellent study of John Gerhard and George Calixt, the author recurs to this same quotation from Luther.2 What Wall- mann concludes from the passage, however, is that here Luther is emphasizing the relational character of the theological subject. That is, the subject is God and man not separately but in a unitary relationship with each other: the relation of justification. To

that end Wellmann underscores 11 the little word 1 and 1 in Luther’s formula about the sinful man andthe justifying God.113

The little word “et” in the formula, “homo peccati reus ac perditus et Deus instificans,” does not at all function as an enumeration or copulative between two objective magni- tudes, in the way in which we might speak of a table and a cabinet. Ra·ther this 1et1 takes God and man together in what becomes them tic for theology, the unity of the event of justification.

1LW, XII, 311. WA, XL/2, 328, J.7-18.
2wallmann, pp. 18-19. 3Ibid •, p • 6 0. 4Ibid., pp.60-61.

With this “and,” says Wellmann, theology abandons the metaphysical

thought-world of substantial objects and becomes instead theology of history. For in history what is real is not things ( ) but the interpersonal event.1

Let us admit, not grudgingly but gratefully, that Wall- mann1s conclusion has much to be said for it, though it is hardly

that conclusion which Luther intends in the quotation at hand. Surely Luther does mean, here and elsewhere, that the subject of theology is always God and man not as isolated entities but in their personal, historical relations. And if, as Wallmann pro- ceeds to show, Gerhard later initiates a separation between the divine and human subjects, then Gerhard is no doubt guilty of the

“de-historizing” with which Wallmann charges him. But Luther, especially in the passage under consideration, means to emphasize that these admittedly personal, historical relations between God and man are not always the same kind. They are two distinctly dif- ferent, yes, ”contrary, 11 relations. 2 And unless their contrariety

is assiduously observed, what suffers is exactly 11the unity of the event of justification.”

That is why Luther pr•efaces his statement by saying, “Hae sunt istae duae Theologicae cogni t.iones. 11 3 The first “theological cognition,” he says, is about man (cognitio hominis) and the other is about God (cognitio Dei). But Luther does not mean, of course, that in the one c-ase man is known apart from God, and in the other, God is known apart from man. If man is singled out in the first

3wA, XL/2,327,35.

2wA, XL/2,328,32.

instance and God in the second, it is because they are, respec- tively, the active subjects, the agents responsible for what in each case is said about the divine-human relationship. In the cognitio hominis me:\n is the one who sins, not God. In the Dei God is the one who saves, not man. Yet in both cognitions, vastly different though the two cognitions are, man and God are known in intimate relation to each other. The cognitio hominis Theologica refers not to man alone but to man in his relationship, albeit his intolerabilis relationship, to God. “It means to feel and to experience the intolerable burden of the wrath of God.111

The cognitio Dei Theologica likewise means knowing not only God but man, so that the sinner may say of himself:

Though I am a sinner in myself, I am not a sinner in Christ, who has been made Righteousness for us (I Cor. 1:30). I am righteous and justified through Christ, who is and is called

t e Just fier because He belongs to sinners and was sent for sinners.

These are the 11duae Theologicae cognitiones 11 : “A man should know himself, should know, feel, and experience that he is guilty of sin and subject to death; but he should also know the opposite

[contrarium], that God is the Justifier and Redeemer of a man who knows himself this way.113

The present chapter is an example of the first cognitio Theologica, the sinner’s cognitio suipsius, drawn mostly from Luther’s De Servo Arbitrio. In the remaining chapters we return to the 11contrary11 cognitio, by way of Luther’s understanding of

1LW, XII, 310. WA, XL/2,327,14.
2LW, X I I , 311. WA, XL/2,327,31-35. 31w, X I I , 311-12. WP:_, XL/2,328,30-33.

the man Christ Jesus and of man the believer in Christ. It would

be misleading, however, were this division to suggest that Luther separates the two cognitiones as two chapters in a book, as though, when a man proceeds to the second, the first is over and done with.

The justified man continues to be, always and simultaneously, a sinner. And he knows himself as both, contrarily though not con- tradictorily: for he is not both sinful and righteous under the same circumstance. It is true–for Luther, shockingly true–that

most men never advance beyond the knowledge of themselves as sin- ners, and not even very far within this knowledge. And the pity of it is, their wretched condition obtains despite their inability to recognize it. So the first truth about men, that they are the condemned enem.ies of God, has a grim and conclusive validity inde- pendently of any second truth about them. But it is not the case, the other way around, that men may know themselves justified who do not know their own sin and lostness. Indeed, how abjectly lost they are does not fully come home to them until they discover the wondrous ends to which the merciful God has gone to effect their rescue. The first cognitio persists as a built-in presupposition

of the second–although then only as a presupposition and no longer as the last word.

Ira Dei
The De Servo Arbitrio reveals how personally and histori-

cally related to God a man is, not only in “the event of justifica- tion,” but also in his knowing himself a sinner. And not only in his knowing his sin but in his being a sinner. For that, let us repeat, is the issue before us. Not: how do we know we are


sinners. But: how are we the sinners we know? How is this sin in reality ours? Luther could not begin to answer the question

without direct and essential reference to God. Sinners we are because God knows we are, and his judgment is unerring. But if that wereall–and it might be more tolerable if it were–God 1 s transcendent judgment need involve no particularly personal and historical relation with the sinner himself. But it is just such a relation which is at work, with oppressive immanence, not only

in the sinner’s self-knowledge but in his very sin. According to the Scriptures and his own and others• substantiating experience, Luther finds the sinner face to face with a God who is actively implementing his angry judgment within the sinner’s life, rather in his death, fixing him in his sin, solidifying the hostility between them, and thus destroying the only real self the sinner has. And if such a God is a scandalous offense to everything a man holds reasonable and right (as he was also to Luther), then

that very offense is but further confirmation of the fatal truth. It is this unbearable fact, that a man dies of sin under a

God he finds hateful and yet irrefutable, which explains Luther’s previous, apparently subjective talk about “feeling” and “experi- encing” sin and wrath. Luther is not out to induce a mood of de- pression, or to invite others to experiment with its effects upon

themselves. Moreover, when a human self is perishing, what point is there in distinguishing nicely between his experience of dying and the fact of it? “This knowledge of sin,11 Luther explains, “is not some sort of speculation or an idea which ·l;hemind thinks up for itself • • • • It does not mean, as the pope taught, to call to

mind what one has done and what one has failed to do. rrl Rather it is the horrifying discovery a man makes whose despair of God and of himself “casts him into hell” [1in infernum deiicit1] :

In the face of a righteous God, what shall a man do who knows that his whole nature has been crushed by sin and that there is nothing left on which he can rely, but that his righteousness has been reduced to exactly nothing?2

His cognitio peccati, therefore, is “verus sensus, experientia et gravissimum certamen cordis.113 The gravity of the sinner’s ex- perience, in other words, lies not in the intensity of his despair but in its veracity, which is verified by the ira Dei.4

The desperateness of the sinner’s self-knowledge may seem at first to be belied by the level tone in which Luther announces his project in the De Servo Arbitrio. His critic, Erasmus, had virtually dismissed the questions of free-will and divine fore- knowledge as unessential to the Christian life. To say that, Luther replies, is like the poet or the farmer or the soldier who undertakes his life 1s work without asking in advance whether he has the necessary competence for it.5 So far, Luther’s cognitio

suipsius seems little more than a prudent act of personal stock- taking. It was somewhat in this prudential spirit, we recall, that a cautious self-assessment was advised, in their epistemo-

1LW, XII, 310. WA, XL/2,326,34-327,13. 21w, XII, 311. WA, xr/2,327,23-26.
3wA, XL/2, 326, 35-36. (Italics mine.) 11⁄4IA, XL/2,327,14 .

5 A, XVIII, 611,26-612,11.

logical inquiries, by John Locke and Immanuel Kant.1 ·

But Luther wastes no time in assuring Erasmus that the latter I s “moderate, skeptical theology” is worse by far tha.n “imprudent.” It is 11psychotic1 (insania).2 To keep men in the dark about what is and what is not within their power, says Luther, is to hide from them the life-and-death necessity to repent. “Impenitence, however, is the unforgivable sin.n3 “Cognitio suipsius, cognitio et gloria Dei1 are at stake here–and, with that, man 1s eternal destiny. 4 Erasmus’ prescription is suicidal ”folly.115 Reinhold Niebuhr, also on the issue of human destiny, has given us a household word: “Nothing is incredible as an
answer to an unasked question.116 For Luther, the cognitio suip- sius is the putting of that question, and he has his own stock of epigrams for this: ”Hunger is the best cook, 11 1D1 ry earth covets

111After we had arJhile puzzled ourselves, without coming
any nearer a resolution of those doubts which perplexed us, it came into my thoughts that we took a wrong course; and that before we set ourselves upon inquiries of that nature, it was necessary to examine our own abilities, and see what objects our understand- ings were, or were not, fitted to deal with. 11 John Locke, An Essa. Concerning Human Understanding, in Locke: Selections,ed.
s. p. Lamprec New York: Car es Scribner’s Sons, 1928), p. 85.

“My purpose is to convince all those who find it worth their while to occupy themselves with metaphysics: that it is ab- solutely necessary to suspend their work for the present, to re- gard everything that has happened hitherto as not 1having happened, and before all else first to raise the question: whether such a thing as metaphysics is possible at all. 111 Immanue 1 Kant, Pr•o- legomena to Any B1uture Metaph sics, trans ..and ed. Peter G. Lucas

Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1953), p. 3.
2wA, XVIII, 613, 3,7. 3Ibii·, 1. 23.
4 Ibid., P• 614 , 1.18; P• 613,1.19. 5Ibid., 11. 15,19.

6Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1943), II, 6.

rain, 1 etc •1 But the question does not originate with the sinner

himself, nor is it thrust upon him merely by the contradictions of his own existence. He is subjected to the question by a God who contradicts his own creatures, and apparently his own goodness, and by this contradiction impels sinners to their death. Luther’s cognitio suipsius is not only, as in John Osborne’s Luther it sometimes seems to be, a modern man’s search for his own identity.2 Rather it is that self-knowledge to which a sinner is driven by a God who in his holy fury refuses the sinner the comfort even of

his self-knowledge.
A first glance at the De Servo Arbitrio might leave the

impression that Luther, simply by showing the utter dependence of man upon the prior decision of God, intends this as the ground of

the gospel. Far from it. A presupposition of the gospel, yes. But not a sufficient reason. True, Luther does argue that, unless

everything comes to pass as God intends, there is no relying upon his gracious promises.3 And Luther repeatedly scores Erasmus for betraying this prerequisite of the Christian faith. But the bare

truth of God’s necessitating foreknowledge, and there is such a bare truth, is the truth about the bare God (Deus nudus), bared of

1WA, XL/1,509,23 -24.

2osborne sees 11in Luther’s problem not so much a sexual crisis as an 1identity crisis.• Who am I? was his basic question. How can I find and grasp a reliable meaning for my life? But this is rather different from Luther’s actual question: 1How can I find a gracious God? 1 And just there lies the most subtle yet most per- vasive modernization in the play–the shift that Paul Tillich has identified as the transition from the problem of 1guilt and conden1- nation1 in the Reformation era to the problem of 1emptiness and meaninglessness• in our own time.” Franklin Sherman, Review of Luther by John Osborne, The Christian Centur•y, LX:X.VII (December 27, 1961), p. 1562.

3wA, XVIII,619,1-5.

all forgiving mercy._1 Nor does Luther mean, when he speaks of

God 1 s 11clothing” himself in the mercy of Christ, that this “wrap- ping1 is but an earthly extension or disclosure of God in his
naked majesty. The God who wills all men to be saved is God only
as he is in Jesus Christ. As such, he does not simply continue
but opposes himself as the one who, in his terrifying majesty, “saves so few and damns so many.112 To appeal to the latter as though he were “kindness itself” is to fly in the face of the facts, sanguinely and irrationally, but worse than that: it is to call

God a 1 i. ar .1 Yet even that blasphemy could not occur without his insistent, inescapable co-operation.

Deus mala per malos faciat
Now the protest is irrepressible: How can God, a just God,

work evil in men? Luther replies that, for his part, it should be enough to take God’s word for it and not to press the question. Nevertheless, “in deference to reason–to human foolishness, that

is–I am willing to try aping its stupidity and folly if by that means we can budge it.114 Even then, Luther makes no attempt to

explain why God works evil in men–why God hardened Pharaoh, why he hated Esau before he was born, why the potter rejects his own handiwork (all passages which Erasmus had quoted and then figura- tively explained away)–for that Why is the very mystery God has forbidden us to search.5 Luther’s deliberate “folly” is meant

1WA, XVIII, 684,32-686,13.
2BoW, p. 101. WA, XVIII, 633, 16.
3-wA, XVIII,609,15-614,26; 618,19-619,15.
4Ibid., P• 709, 11. 8-9. Ibid., P• 684, 11. 32-40.


only to illustrate hoW’Go_dworks evil, in order to reassert that he does.

God drives a man in his evil, first of all, from within.1 The God of the Scriptures is no languid spectator but the omnipo- tent, ceaselessly active, all-effective Creator.2 Satan himself, and the compliant sinners he “rides,” do not for a moment escape God 1 s impelling operation upon them. 3 If they could, they would be “nothing, 11 which they are not, and God would not be the al- mighty Creator Scripture everywhere attests.4 AS God sweeps men relentlessly onward in their sin, they would like to alibi (per- haps heroically, perhaps in self-pity) that in that case they are not responsible subjects but mere automata, and that their sin is finally God’s doing.5 But their evasion is groundless, for God•

only takes them as the willing subjects they are, by nature self- centered and opposed to him.6 And, willing as they inevitably and universally do, he rushes them on–“allowing none of them to keep holiday”–to actualize the hostile and justly hated selves .they are.7 As nothing less than willing subjects does God treat them when, secondly, he confronts them from without, with his word, whether law or gospe1.8 But this word, again, only evokes from

them (as God foreknew and willed it should) their fury or scorn or

1Ibid., p. 7 12, 11. 6-7. 2Ibid., 11. 19-24, 3rbid., P• 709, 11. 12-28. 4rbid., 11. 15 -21, \,A, XVIII,7 20,28-7 22,29; 7 29,7-7 31,13° 6rbid., p. 709, 11. 28-36.

7BoW p. 206. WA, XVIII, 710,37 -711,1. 8rbid., P• 712, 11. 7-8.

indifference which is characteristic of their being.1 So it is

that God works evil in men. But to blame our evil on him only re- iterates how effectual in us his wrath really is.

Comes a new objection: To say of God that he is wrathful or, worse, that he hates is to make him out to be arbitrary and irrational.2 His judgments, if they are to be divine and not er- ratically human, must be occasioned by some reason–namely the deservedness or undeservedness of man. Luther, however, does not claim credit for inventing the language of div_ine hatred. 3 Didn I t Erasmus agree to be bound by Scripture14 Furthermore, the whole point in the biblical view of God 1 s hatred (for example, that he hated Esau before he was born) is that his hatred is anything but

impulsive, as ours is. That, precisely, is the awful truth of the matter. God 1 s hatred is altogether according to plan, rooted in his precedent, eternal, unwavering decision.5 If the historical

Esau subsequently proved to be deserving of God’s hatred, that was, so to speak, after the fact.6 The truth is that man does not make the rules of the game and that God, who does, deals with no one un-



He violates no promises, and his eternal rejection of

1Ibid., 11. 10-19.
2WA, XVIII, 639,6-12; 729,7-731,13; 724,27-725,6.
3Ibid., p. 639, 11. 6-12.
4wA, XVIII, 737,3-4; 639,13-14.
5WA, XVIII, 615,18-30; 724,32-725,6. 6Ibid., p.72_5,11.6-28.

7Men are commanded “to revere the majesty of God 1 s power
and will, against which we have no rights, but which has full rights against us to do what It pleases. No injustice is done to us, for God owes us nothing. He has received nothing from us, and He has

promised us nothing but WA, XVIII, 717,35-39°

what He pleased m d willed.” BoW, p. 216.

those he hates is invariably fulfilled by their rejection–their

spontaneous rejection–of him, completely consistent with his pre- vious decision.1 To complain because he does not save everyone is

to beg the question. The prior mystery is, Why does he save any- one?· And to protest his hatred is to exemplify it.


But exemplify his hatred we do. Witness the universal violation of the divine law. Yet here, in the relation which

Luther finds between sin and wrath and the law, it is easy to lose him. For instance, it might seem that man’s violation of the law is what sin is, essentially and by definition, and that it is the

sinner’s breaching of the law which in turn prompts God 1 s wrath against him. For Luther, however, this would seem to be only an external, phenomenological description of sin.3 In fact, if pressed to its moralistic conclusions, this view of sin would con- tradict that antecedent character of the divine wrath which Luther

is urging against Erasmus.4 Rather it is by means of the law that

1Ibid., P• 634 , 11. 14 -36. 2Ibid., p. 730, 11. 16-22.

3However, just as Luther does not equate sin with sinful

actions, neither does he equate it with God’s transcendent, con-

demnatory judgment. “Neither should we sin or be condemned by

reason of the single offence of Adam, if that offence were not our

own; who could be condemned for another’s offence, especially in

the sight of God? But his offence becomes ours; not by imitation,

nor by any act on our part (for then it would not be the single of-

fence of Adam, since we should have committed it, not he), but it

becomes ours by birth • . . . Original sin itself, then, does not

allow tfree-will1 any power at all except to sin and incur condem-

— –

nation.” BoW, po. 297-98. WA, XVIII, 773, 12-18.

4wA, XVIII, 724 ,27-725,6.

the sinner is exposed as the sinner he already is, law or no law; namely, as that rebel against God whom God eternally anticipated and whom God now proceeds to identify, historically and biographi- cally, through the law•s incriminating demands upon him.

“Through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20).1
“I should not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet 111 (Rom. 7 :7). 2 “The law was added be- cause of transgressions” (Gal. 3:19)–

not indeed to restrain them, as Jerome dreams, (for Paul is arguing that the promise to a future offspring was that sins would be removed and restrained by righteousness as a gift) but to increase transgressions. As he says in Romans 5, “Law came in, in order that sin might abound.13

It is this angry function of the law, to force into the open men1s concealed contempt for God as proof of God’s wrath against them,

which Luther finds throughout the Psalter and notably in the giving of the law at Sinai.4 The people of Israel had confidently declared, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do” (Ex. 19:B; 24 :3,7 ). But

what the Lord had spoken, to 11prove1 them (Ex. 20:20), quickly re- vealed their contempt of him and his wrath against them (Ex. 32: 9,10). 5 Yet even when men· resist the law •s exposure of them, as

usually they do, they still remain consistent with themselves (11manent semper sui similes” )6 –and consistent with the selves God

had decided they would be.

1WA, XVIII, 76 6,8-76 7,18. 2Ibid., P• 76 7, 11.12-13. 3wi, XVIII, 76 6,38-767,1.

wA, XL/1, 4 99,13-15 ; 520,13-17; 592,15-18. Sw,xr,/1,483,20-500,31-1-;517,24 -25.
6wA, xr/1,485,21.

It may seem enough, theoretically, to define the law as the

transcendent, eternal will of God and to define the sinner as the opposite of that will. Still, that he opposes that will at all, though always willingly (and therefore as his evil, not God’s), is itself the will of God. Because it is and because the divine will never goes unfulfilled, God executes his verdict against the sin- ner through a law which is altogether near at hand, immanently ac- tive within human existence, confronting men everywhere. God’s special revelations of his law, for instance at Sinai, are meant only to sharpen what ought to be inescapably clear in every life and history if men but had the humble sense to see it.1 It is the ubiquitous demand which operates in all their dealings with one another, the divine imperative which God has to add to his other- wise good creation, to enforce at least minimal responsibility be- tween them all and himself.2 Perhaps this same divine law is at work in the polemical give and take between scholars, by which an Erasmus is exposed for violating the orders of reason or the

”grammar and uses of speech which God creates among men113–falsi- fying imperatives as indicatives, fabricating terms without

1WA, XVIII, 766,8-10.

2wA, x1/1,479,17-480,31.

‘1A, XVIII, 700, 34-35• We had best not press this point too far, nowever, since Luther elsewhere mentions–with tongue in cheek, no doubt–that even “the Holy Spirit does not observe this strict rule of grammar.” LW, XXVI, 139. WA, XL/1,244,12-13. Of

course, the real charge against Erasmus’ violations of logic and grammar is that these violations are perpetrated in the cause of his destructive skepticism. But nthe Holy Spirit is no sceptic.”

WA, XVIII, 605, 32.

referents 1 –or by which a Luther is exposed in his prolixity or

his ill-will.2 The divine law, Luther observes, make use even of the universal order of cause and effect, employing it as an order of retribution, presenting sinful men with the necessary conse- quences of what they are–but not with the ability to make them- selves over.3

Luther seems to put the matter even more st ongly. Not only is the law immanent. It is so intimately interactive with the order of things that men cannot live uithout it–though nei- ther can they live with it. Thus men hate the very thing on which they have to depend, and thus the law proves how inescapably they corroborate the ira Dei against them. Although the hostile rela- tion between God and sinners is ever so personal, it is not for that reason a merely private encounter, some immediate mystique without any rational relation to the surrounding, supportive order

of things. The hatred of God toward the sinner, though always directly on target, is deployed against him mediately, through those orderly relations which sustain his existence and without which he could not survive: food, money, 11the judge, the emperor, the king, the prince, the lawyer, the professor, the preacher, the school- teacher, the student, the father, the mother, the master, the

3⁄4vA, XVIII, 677,24-3 1 ; 670,2-6.

21uther 1s De Servo Arbitrio “was four times the length of the Diatribe and strongly controversial in tone, considerably blunter than Erasmus had been.” “Erasmus called [the De Servo] ingens volumen (a huge book).” BoW, p. 39.

3w , XVIII, 693,30-36; 694,39-695,4°

servant”–“universa creatura.111 These are the very structures

which afford a man’s life its rationality and stability and satety –and which in the end, with the same orderliness, dispose of him in death. And in each relationship he is continually evaluated: for his lovelessness, his ambition, his idolatry, his fear.2

Without such evaluation human life would perish–as it does, with the evaluation.

Not that there is a neat balance between each human sin and each divine punishment, tit for tat, as though a man’s sin were but a collection of discrete sins. Indeed, he may flatter himself that that is the case and may protest when the world is not governed accordingly, “grumbling and angry at God because he obstructs our plans and desires and does not instantly punish the

impious and the scorners. 113 However, God’s wrath is not episodic but comprehensive, and his law claims a man’s life whole and en- tire, not divisibly but like a 11puncturn mathematicurn114: topograph- ically, all his heart and soul and mind, and chronologically, from birth to death. And in conformity with that total claim, the di- vine wrath does respond consistently, with a man’s death. And this rule of death is as orderly and universal as anything could be,

“killing kings and princes and all men altogether. 115 But the way 1WA, XI/1 .174,3,5-6; 175,17-1 8.

2Ibid., P•
3rbid., p. 526, 1 1 . 23-25. (Translation mine.)

4rbid., P• 292, 1. 12; xr/2,46,26, 75,22-23. X V III, 760, 38-39.

vA, XL/1 , 439,28-29.

175, 11.17-22.

a man faces his death is likewise evaluated. He II cannot bear the

judgment of God, his own death, and damnation, and yet he cannot escape them. Here he necessarily falls to hating and blaspheming God.” 1

That, however, is the story of a man’s whole life. Inher- ently he hates the law, though he cannot do without it, and in hating the law he hates the law’s Author.? How astonishing, Luther exclaims, that a man “cannot abide his own protection: 1You shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal. 1 For by these words God has, as with a rampart, fortified and defended your life, your wife, your property against every violence and in- and insult by evil men. 113 But ungrateful is what the sinner is, and his ingratitude is only intensified, as God foreknew it must be, by the always accusing law4–the good and holy law of God.5
So ‘the ungodly man sins against God, whether he eats or drinks or whatever he does, because he abuses God’s creation by his ungodli-

ness and persistent ingratitude, and does not from his heart give glory to God for a single moment. 116

But suppose that men acknowledge, as the best of them do, that they are ungrateful and do not give glory to God. Isn’t there virtue in their acknowledging that? Even that, Luther

1Ibid., P• 487, 11. 19-22.
2WA, XL/1, 505,22-23; 497,27-28. 3Ibid., P• 506, 11. 13-19.
L WA, XVIII, 725,28-726,4.

vA, XL/1, 498,22-23.
6Bo\v, p. 290. WA, XVIII, 768,24-26.

replies, is turned against them. Take the term, 11the glory of God”

(in Rom. 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”). And take it not as the Latin but as the Hebrew idiom it is: not the glory·God enjoys before us but the glory we enjoy before him (coram Deo). (Similarly, “the faith of Christ” or 11the right- eousness of God” denote in Latin the faith which Christ has or the righteousness which God has, but as Hebraisms they denote the f ith we have in Christ and the righteousness we have from God.) 11Now
he who glories in God is he who knows for sure that God looks on him with favor and deigns to regard him kindly, so that what he does is pleasing in God’s sight.111 But of all the champions of

free will, show me one, says Luther, who “seriously and from his heart can say of any of his efforts and endeavors: I know that this pleases God.112 And it is certain that he does not please God

if he cannot believe that he does. Still, that he must believe that is precisely what God demands of him. “This is the veryr sin of unbelief, to doubt the favor of God, who wants his favor be- lieved with the most certain trust.113 But that is an incredible, an impossible demandt Exactly.

Before this ”hidden God,1 who perpetuates within us the

very antagonism which he forbids from without, and yet trumps every insinuation of his injustice–before him, the human subject

1BoW, p. 291. WA, XVIII, 769,4-6. 2Ibid., 11. 14-15.

Ib id ., 11. 19-20.

turns to ashes.1 This is not merely a death in the undertaker’s

or even in the psychologist1s sense of the word, though it has strong implications for both.2 But here, if we are to grasp Luther’s meaning at all, we must keep steadfastly in mind the pre- supposition which for him seemed almost self-evident, at least

biblically self-evident. “He who • • • is righteous shall live” (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11). “We do not achieve life unless we have righteousness first.113 And there is no such righteousness, and

so no life, without the favor of God.4 Unless he has the assur- ance of real value before God, a man cannot live but dies. Yet
it is just that favor Dei which the Deus absconditus refuses to the sinner. What is 11abscondite11 about this God is not that we can know nothing about him. On the contrary, what we can know of him is all too much: that he demands from us what he withholds from us the power to be. But why? Indeed, that is the very ques-

tion we are forbidden to raise. “Who are you, a man, to answer back to God” (Rom. 9:20)? Still, the forbidden answer will not
be put down: Such a God is manifestly unjust. And with that ulti- mate blasphemy the sinner betrays his perversity and his perdi-

tion. 5
Rather than allow this judgment to fall upon them and to

despair of themselves, men will twist and turn to evade it, as if for dear life. They may prove that such desperatio sui is but the

1WA, XL/1,4 97,18-21.
2Ibid., p. 260, 11.15 -24; p. )20, 11. 25 -29.
3Ibid., p. 612, 11. 28-29. 4Ibid., p. 510, 11. 16-20. 5wA, XVIII, 631,32-632,2,8-11.

exceptional experience of a scrupulous few. But that is admitted,

yet the admission only raises the question anew: Why does God abandon the rest to their darkness.1 Or, instead of conceding that God could “harden ” a sinner and _still be just, they may pi- ously change the subject–lite1.,ally, 11change the persons”–from God to the sinner, and may reason that it is the sinner who hard- ens himself; thus they mean to clear God of blame on the ground that he could not destroy what he has created.2 But here the most elementary grammar intervenes to return the subject, as scripture does, back to God–even though the final aim is to expose that subiectu.m theologiae who is the peccator himself. Or, when the human subject does come under scrutiny, the plea is raised that the numerous commandments which are addressed to him in Scripture must surely imply his ability to fulfill them. Still, even with-

out invoking the biblical context of these passages, one must see, surely, that an imperative is not an indicative.3 And it is sig- nificant that the objectors themselves do not claim that the first and great commandment implies ability.4

Or, renewed attempts may be made to scale down the divine demands to a level where man can succeed at, at least a little. But how shamefully inferior such semi-pelagianism is in comparison with the original heresy. The original pelagians at least came out for free-will frankly and flat-footedly and did not cheapen the high price which God demands of a man.5 Or, once more,

1Ibid., p. 486, 11. 3 2-3 7 . 2Ibid., p. 703, 11. 30-36. 3rbid., P• 677, 11. 24-31. 4Ibid., P• 681, 11. 12-34. 5Ibid., P• 778, 11. 1-3·

the objection is advanced that, if God foreknew all things neces-

sarily, men would sin by external “compulsion” and would no longer be men. Hardly, for it is the very fact that men are willingly the sinners they are which God foreknows necessarily and which is so

ingredient in his hatred of them.1 Or it is argued that, in face of the divine judgment, some part of man must be exempted and in- tact: his moral self, his “reason and will,” his controlling ego

(egomonica), perhaps at least his future.2 But what an unbiblical scorn this betrays toward the body, not to mention what ignorance of the biblical meaning of 11flesh11–all of which is as grass.3 Or, as one last complaint: If all this is so, then at that rate who

will ever do good, who will repent, who can believe? At that rate, no one.4 But then a man must be nothing. Still, even that is an evasion.-5

To be sure, there is a very drastic sense in which, as Luther repeatedly says, a sinner is nothing (hihil). He is nothing God-pleasing.6 Or as an earlier quotation put it, “his righteoLtS- ness has been reduced to exactly nothing,” and 11his whole nature nas been crushed by sin” since “there is nothing left on which he can rely.117 However, it does not follow from this that the sinner

1Ibid., P• 634 , 11. 14-36.
2Ibid.,p. 742,11. 12-21;Xr/1,489,21-26. 3w A, XVIII, 74 0,1-6 ; 744,6-18; 780,35-781,1. 4Ibid.,P• 632,3-26.

5wA, XVIII, 709, 12 -18 ; 7 _8 ,8-753, 11. 61bid., p. 752 ,12-2 0.
7DN, XII, 311. WA, XL/2, 3 2 7,2 3 -2 6.

has therefore escaped the whole realm of creaturely being and has extracted himself from the clutch of his Maker. This may seem to be a way out, as it did to Judas, and like Job sinners may imagine they can elude their guilty fate and the wrath of God: ”for now I shall lie in the earth; thou wilt seek me, but I shall not be.111 But much as he may wish the opposite, the sinful creature cannot be nothing, any more than Satan himself can. ”Their will and nature, thus turned from God, are not for that reason nothing.112

Neither, therefore, could the sinner weaken the divine judgment upon him by supposing that man, without God 1 s enabling grace, is as yet only intermediate between being and nothing–“the

1chaos1 of Plato or the 1vacuum1 of Leucippus or the ‘infinite’ of Aristotle or some other nothing •. . , which by a gift from heaven might eventually become a something.113 Mari ‘1is certainly·something

already.14 He ”already has eyes, nose, ears, mouth, hands, mind, I.,.,

will, reason, and all that is in man.• 1We know,11 says Luther, “that man was made lord over the things which are subordinate to him, amon8 which he has jurisdiction and free will, so that they

might obey and do what he wills and thinks.116 Moreover, since “God did not make heaven for geese,” it is not plants and animals but

man “who has been created for eternal life–or eternal death.117

1Job 7:21. 2WA, XVIII, 709,15-16. 3Ibid., P• 752, 1 1 . 27-28.
4BoW, p. 266. WA, XVIII, 752,21 -22.
5BoW, P• 266. WA, XVIII, 752,24-25.

6Ibid., p. 781 , 11 . 8-1 0. 7Ibid., p. 636, 1 1.17-1 8,21 -22.

“An ungodly will is something and no mere nothing.111

The sinner, therefore,

as a creature and work of God, is no less subject to divine omnipotence and action than all God’s other creatures and

works. Since God moves and works all in all, he necessarily moves and works also in Satan and the ungodly man. But he wor s in them:as what they are, and as what he finds them to be.

“Hence it is that the ungodly man is never able not to err and sin, because under the impulse of divine power he is not allowed to be

idle, but wills, desires, and acts as what he himself is.113 His sinning, therefore, is as really a predicate of this subject as anything of his could be–”really,” because it is impelled into being by divine creation, and 1his1 because it is characterized by the self he is ‘taliter qualis ipse est1).4 Indeed, that is the only way hypocrites themselves will allow their righteousness to be called 11theirs’1–only when it is somehow, the divine assistance notwithstanding, their own subjective doing.5 F’or how else can it be the righteousness which the divine law demands of th ‘ and for which alone it promises life? “He who does [the works of the law]

shall live by them” (Gal. 3:12).6 But as the law makes equally clear, even though the sinner’s doing is dragged out of him by the divine omnipotence: 11what a man thus does is nothing, that is, nothing of value to God [nihil valere coram Deo], nor does it count as anything but sin.117 This judgment makes a man furious.

1Ibid., p. 75 1, 11.39-4 0. 3Ibid., 11. 34 -35 • 5rbid., P• 696, 11.22-29. 7wA, XVIII, 752,14 -15.

2Ibid., P• 709, 11.19-23. 4Ibid., 11.35-36.
6wA, x/1,425 ,26-4 32,16 .

However, “he can no more restrain his fury than he can stop his

self-seeking, and he can no more stop his self-seeking than he can stop existing–for he is still a creature of God, though a spoiled one. 111

At the core of the sinner’s being is his “presumption of righteousness” (opinio iustitiae ), his ingrained insistence upon a righteousness of his own by which and off which he can survive as a man and can justify his existence. But because of his opinio

iustitiae he is unwilling to be the sinner he is, “impure, miser- able, and damned,” and so he refuses to let God–the Deus incarnatus –accomplish his “proper work11 (opus proprium), the sinner’s salva- tion. Therefore, it is necessary that God employ the “hammer” of

the law to “shatter • and to reduce this monster to nothing.” ”For God is the God of the humble, the miserable, the afflicted,
the oppressed, the despairing, and those who have been reduced to nothing.” And it is the nature of God, the Deus incarnatus, “to exalt the humble, to feed the hungry, to give sight to the blind, to comfort the miserable and afflicted, to justify sinners, to vivify the dead, to save the desperate and damned.1 For, as Luther explains, God 11is an omnipotent Creator, making all things from nothing.112

As Luther assures Erasmus,

Doubtless it gives the greatest possible offence to common sense or natural reason, that God, Who is proclaimed as being full of mercy and goodness, and so on, should of his own mere will abandon, harden, and damn men, as though [as

1BoW, p. 205. WA, XVIII, 710,16-18.
2wA, XL/1,488,15-2 4. (Translation mine.)


Erasmus had charged] He delighted in the sins and great eternal torments of such poor wretches. It seems an iniqui- tous, cruel, intolerable thought to think of God; and it is this that has been a stumbling block to so many great men down the ages. And who would not stumble at it? I have stumbled at it myself more than once, down to the deepest pit f despair, so that I wished I had never been made a man.

But that, as Luther adds, “was before I knew how health-giving that despair was, and how close to grace. 112

1BoW, p. 217. WA, XVIII, 719,4-12. 2Ibid.


Iste Humanus Deus

1Mo.n 1s failure to grasp God 1s words 5 11 Luther tells Erasmus, 11does not spring from weakness of understanding, as you would sug- gest; indeed, there is nothing better adapted for grasping God 1 s

words than weakness of understanding, for it was for the weak and to the weak that Christ came.111 Was he not sent 11to preach the gospel to the poor and to heal the broken-hearted”? This “God is proclaimed with mighty praise throughout the scripture as being near to the broken-hearted.112 Here is Deus praedicatus, Deus incarnatus, not God hidden in his own nature and majesty. 11God hidden in majesty neither deplores nor takes away death, but works life and death and all in all; nor has he set bounds to himself by His word, but has kept himself free over all things.113 God incar- nate, however, “does deplore the death which he finds in his people • • . • God preached works to the end that sin and

be taken away and we may be saved.14

1BoW, PP• 133-34• WA, XVIII, 659,27-JO. 2BoW, p. 162. WA, XVIII, 679,29-Jl. 3BoW, p. 170. WA, XVIII, 685,21-23. 4Ibid., 11. 19-20.


death may

True, even God as incarnate still 1 offends many who ., being

abandoned or hardened by God 1 s secret will of majesty, do not re- ceive him thus willing, speaking, doing, and offering.” .EVen though it is characteristic of 11God incarnate to weep, lament, and groan over the perdition of the ungodly, r, still his othei-1 11w ill of Majesty purposely leaves and reprobates some to perish. Nor is it for us to ask why he does so, but to stand in a,we of God. 11 1 Luther is well aware of the objection this invi:tes. The objector will reply:

This is a nice way out that you have invented–that, whenever [you] are hard pressed by force of arguments, [you] run back to that dreadful will of Majesty and reduce [your] adversary to silence when he becomes troublesome, in t;he manner of the astx•ologers who, by inventing their “epicycles, 11 dodge 11

questions about the movement of the heavens as a whole.
By way of defense Luther can only plea.a, “This is not my invention but a command grounded on the divine scriptures, 11 and he cites

again the warning of Isaiah and Paul’s warning in Romans.-:i Yet,
as often as not, the warning goes unheeded. Consequently the very command to be quiet, which is intended by Deus praedicatus to si- lence men so that they may hear the word of reconciliation, becomes

instead a new occasion for their protest, and a further confirma- tion of the Divine Ha jesty I s “dreadful will 1 against them. If they persist, there is nothing left but to let them 11go on and, like

the giants, fight with God. rr4 As

1BoW, P• 176. WA, XVIII, 2Ibid., P• 690, 11. 9-13.

for the outcome of such titanism, 689,28-690,1.

690,13-19. 690,23-26.

3BoW, p. 177.
BoW, P• 177. WA, XVIII,


which spurns a God who comes only to the weak and the mute, there

can be no doubt.1
But this is not the will of Deus incarnatus. He wills

rather that he, “in his own nature and majesty, is to be left alone; in this regard we have nothing to do with him, nor does he wish us

to deal with him” in the nakedness of his majesty.
with him as clothed and displayed in his Word, by which he presents himself to us.112 So “let man occupy himself with God incarnate,

that is, •with Jesus crucified, in whom, as Paul says, ai,e all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.113 “In him the whole fullness
of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2.,9 ).4 “The world does not see this _. because it looks at him only as a man in his weakness.” But “you must pay attention only to this man, who presents himself to us as the Mediator and says: 1Come to me, all who labor. 111

Then, says Luther, “when you do this, you will see the love, the goodness,

and the sweetness of God. You will see his wisdom, his power, and his majesty sweetened and mitigated to y o m…ability to stand it. 115

1Y ou must pay· attention only to this man. 1 When the concern is for a man’s justification, “then you must know that there is no other God than this man, Jesus Christ • • • • We must look at no other God than this incarnate and human God.116 In these expl”‘essions

1Ibid., 11. 26-30. 2BoW, P• 170. WA, XVIII, 685,14 -16 . 3BoW, P• 176. WA, XVIII, 689,22-24.

-1w, XXVI, 30. WA, XL/1,79,21-22. 51w, XXVI, 30. WA, XL/1, 79, 16-20.



XXVI, 29. WA, XL/1, 78, 15-26.

“We· have to do

and others like them Luther betrays that accent in his theology

which Karl Barth criticizes as an excessive preoccupation with “man man the man Jesus.111 So our recurrent question returns,


How is Luther’s theology about man, this time about the man Christ Jesus? More specifically, how a:r•e -the assertions of Christ is deity ascribable to him as a man? Our question is not, just as it previously was not, primarily an epistemological question: How do

we know “no other God than this man”? The question is rather (dare we say?) an ontological one. If Christ is, as Luther says,

true God (‘1Christus est verus Deus” )2 then by reason of what, we ask, is he that? Or, to see it as a problem of meaning: If II it follows that Christ is truly God by nature” (“sequitur eum esse vero et natura Deum”),3 what is the meaningful function of esse? How does the predicate, 11est verus Deus,” really belong to the sub-

ject, 1iste homo”? We have been referring to this as a problem in theological predication. The double meaning of the Latin praedicare –to predicate, but aiso to preach–suggests a (perhaps esoteric) pun. If Deus praedicatus, God preached, is in reality “Jesus cru- cified, 1 then how is deity predicable of him, preachable of him,

as truly his? If the theology about the man Christ Jesus is that he is simultaneously God, then how is this logos tou Theou about him? Indeed, how is he this Word of God, verbum Dei?4·

1EC, p. xxiii.
2wA, XL/1,8O,18. See also XL/1,81,22; 82,25,29; 297,29. 3Ibid., p. 81, 1. 22.
4wA, XVIII, 685,26.


Sequitur eum natura Deum
That Jesus is true God is presupposed by what he did. So

Luther, at least, sees the matter. What it means for Jesus to be God follows from the why, the gracious purpose for which, he had to be that. His deity is necessitated by the redemptive action which prompted him and which he accomplished. As Luther puts it,

Here you see how necessary it is to believe and confess the doctrine of the divinity of Christ. When Arius denied this, it was necessary also for him to deny the doctrine of redemp- tion. For to conquer the sin of the world, death, the curse and the wrath of God in himself–this is the work, not of any creature but of the divine power. l

So pervasively does Luther orient Christ I s person to his work that it would be tempting at this point to invoke a Barthianism and to say that Jesus Christ is as he does–that is, that he is verus Deus as he does what only God coul d do.

Yet this dare not be understood as though the man Jesus somehow became God, was somehow exalted to deity, in return for the godlike things he did. No, here Luther is quite wi l ling to employ the metaphysical language of pre-existent “nature” and “essence.” He says of Christ that “he himself is life, righteous- ness, and blessing, that is, God by nature and in essence.112 Still, that 11he shoul d be true God by nature” is “necessary”

(necesse) in view of what he had to accomplish.

For in opposition to this mighty· power–sin, death, and the curse–which of itself reigns in the whole world and in the entire creation, it is necessary to set an even higher power, which cannot be found and does not exist apart from the divine

1LW, XXVI, 282. WA, XL/1,441,14-18. 2Lw, XXVI, 282. WA, XL/1,441,19-25.

power. Therefore to abolish sin, to destroy death, to remove the curse in himself, to grant righteousness, to bring life to light, and to bring the blessing in himself, that is, to annihilate these things and to create those–all these are

works solely of the divine power.l
What it is about Christ•s work which necessitates his deity is re- vealed finally in the little prepositional phrase 1 in himself.”

“To remove the curse in himself, 1 11 ,:o;bring the blessing in him- self, 1 is precisely the thing which no power in earth or heaven, except the divine power itself, could achieve. Nore on that later. Meanwhile it is enough to notice that the deity of Christ, though it is his by nature, is itself demanded by the magnitude of his re- demptive action. “Therefore it was necessary that he who was to conquer these in himself should be true God by nature. 1 1 2

Another way of saying the same thing is to note how, in Luther’s theological reasoning, faith is first of all a faith in Christ’s beneficial work (else it would not be faith) and only for that reason, as if by necessary inference, a faith in Christ•s deity. That Christ has graciously justified us is, for faith, the given. That in order for him to justify us as he has he must be God, follows from faith tautologously, as an indispensable presup- position, an analytic statement. Faith always begins with Christ 1 s merciful achievement in its biblical concreteness. Divorced from

that, faith in Christ•s deity is a vulnerable abstraction, actually a fiction, mere fides historica. 3 The Devil, too, may believe that Christ is God, but that hardly qualifies him as a believer. Indeed,

lLW, XXVI, 282. WA, XL/1,441,19-25. 21w, XXVI, 282. WA, XL/1,441,18-19, 31w, XXVI, 168. WA, XL/1,285,22.

one of his wiliest tricks is to come looking like Christ, not “the


entire Christ,
Son of God and man
ogy seems orthodox
else to this, some
Christ who is thus
Christ, our· high-priest and mediator, 11 but a new lawgiver and a tormentor.1 11No,rtLuther says,

• only a part of him, namely,
born of a virgin.” So far the devil’s Christol- enough. But “eventually he attaches something

saying in which Christ terrifies sinners.” The presented to us is not “the pleasant sigh-l; of

grasp the true definition of him, namely, that Christ, the Son of God and of the Virgin, is not one who terrifies, troubles, condemns us sinners or calls us to account for our evil past but one who has taken away the sins of the whole world, nailing them to the cross and driving them all

the way out by himself.2
“For you do not yet have Christ, even though you know that he is God and man.rt Rather, says Luther, 1you truly have him only when you believe that ••• [he] has been granted to you by the Father as your High-Priest and Redeemer, yes, as your Slave.113 1This

very good and true definition of Christ” is always dominated by what he has mercifully done.4

Luther’s Christological reasoning, in other words, does
not proceed along the l i m s of a cur Deus homo which begins by be- lieving obediently that this man is God and then advances to 11under- standing11 in terms of a theory of atonement. Rather the Incarna- tion only validates what faith believes from the outset, “that men are justified through Christ and that Christ is victor. 11



XXVI, 39. WA, XL/,1,92,24-93,17.

w, XXVI, 37 WA, XL/1,90,25-26.


XXVI, 37-38. WA, Xr/1,91,11-15. 3LW, XXVI, 288. WA, XL/1,448,20-23.

that he is the

As I often warn, therefore, the doctrine of justification must be learned diligently. For in it are included all the

other doctrines of our faith; and if it is sound, all the others are sound as well. Therefore when we teach that men are justified through Christ and that Christ is the victor over sin, death, and the eternal curse, we are testifying at the same time that he is God by nature. l

Doesn’t Paul in his greeting to the Galatians wish grace and peace not only from ”God the Father” but also from “our Lord Jesus Christ”? Hence

the true deity of Christ is proved by this conclusion: Paul attributes to him the ability to grant the very same things that the Father does • • • • This would be illegitimate, in fact, sacrilegious, if Christ were not true God. For no one grants peace unless he himself has it in his hands.2

Therefore, Luther concludes, by way of what a logician may disap-

prove as petitio principii or a Tillich may approve as the circu-

larity of faith: “It follows necessarily that Christ is truly God


ing as he di.d.

Communicatio Idiomatum
There is still another way to illustrate how Luther con-

ceives Christ 1 s person in terms of his work, his incarnate deity in terms of his accomplished purpose: namely, Luther’s tPeatment of the notorious communicatio idiomatum. This is the “Lutheran” doctrine according to which, as Barth complains, the divine and

by nature.”., If the question is, How can Jesus be God, Luther’s reply could only be that of a question-begging faith: If Jesus were not God, he could not have replaced the curse with the bless-



X X V I , 2 8 3 . W A , X L / 1 , l μ _ i . l 2, 9 – 3 3 .
2 1w, XXVI, 31. WA, x1/1,so, 2 5-s1,13. 31w, XXVI, 31. WA, XL/1,81,22 .

human natures of Christ are described in abstracto.1 Luther does

admit, rather he insists, that there is that in Christ’s work which could be done only by the divine nature, by Christ 1 s divinitas.2

But notice what it is that could be done by his “divinity alone”: Christ had to “conquer sin and death.” And he conquered them not me1 e1y by the fact, as Barth might say, that “he believed, he quite simply believed”–“only the eternal Word of God could do that.113 That much, Luther might say, could have been done by Jesus as man. Rather, to conquer sin and death Christ had “to remove the curse

in himself, • • • to bring blessing in himselr. 114 (This is a theme, as we said, to which we shall return shortly.)

But what is more, Luther makes a point of arguing that Christ 1 s divinity is not in concrete fact separable from his human- ity and that his conquest of sin and death, even though strictly the act of his deity, does in truth characterize his whole person, both human and divine. The full rationale for this assertion must

wait until a later section in our discussion, where Christ is de- scribed as victor not only in his own person, “in himself,” but
in the person of sinners as well. At the moment we neea only to show that, for Luther, not only is Christ’s divinity not; to be ab- stracted from his humanity but neither of them together, in the unity of Christ’s person, is to be abstracted from his divine work. Thts would mean, in the stilted language of the old dogrnaticians, that the genus maiestaticum can have meaning only in terms of the

1EC, p. xxiii. 2Lw, XXVI, 267. WA, XL/1,417,29-418,1. 3LG, P• 74, 411:1, XXVI, 282. WA, XL/1,441,22-24.

genus apotelesmaticum–the unity of Christ 1 s person only in terms

of his redemptive mission. This compels Luther, of course, to de- part from the usual law-bound mode of personal predication, for the sake of the gospel. But that is his point exactly.

Sometimes, as Luther observes, Scripture speaks of the two natures of Christ separately, but then it is speaking of him 11abstractly11 (absolute)•1 On the other hand, when Scripture “speaks about the divine nature united with the human in one per- son, then it is speaking of Christ as composite and incarnate.1 Then “it speaks about his whole person.112 And when it does, it speaks of his whole person as the doer of the divine deed, even though, abstractly speaking, the deed is the doing only of his divinity.

The humanity would not have accomplished anything by itself; but the divinity, joined with the humanity, did it alone, and the humanity did it on account of the divinity.3

Note the prominence of the action verbs “accomplished” and “did. n What is 1com.municated11 to, predicated of, Christ’s humanity is not just his divinity as such, as an abstract “nature,” but the divine

saving deed, as really as if the man Jesus had done it himself. Normally, where the norm is the law, the idea.l of moral

predication may well be the predicate of personal achievement. The predicate belongs to a personal subject only if it is his own doing. But so real is the incarnation, so real the wholeness of

1LW, XX:VI, 265. WA, xr/1,415, 30.
21w, XX:VI, 265. WA, xr/1,415,28-31. .1w, XXVI, 267. WA, XL/1,417,33-418,1.


Christ’s person, and so necessary for his saving work, that even though “creation is attributed solely to the divinity, since the humanity does not create, rr

neverthless it is said correctly that “the man created,1 because the divinity, which alone creates, is incarnate with the humanity, and therefore the humanity par tic ipa te s in the

attributes of both predicates. l
0 rn this sense,” says Luther, “I can truly say: The infant lying in the lap of his mother created heaven and earth, and is the Lord of the angels. rr2

However, the word “man” in this context is an instance of Luther’s “new and theological grammar. 11 3 “· • • 1Man 1 in this proposition is obviously a new word and, as the sophists themselves say, stands for the divinity.14 Whether this “new” predication is absolutely unique with theol ogy, as distinguished from all other fields of experience, is not important here. Luther does find (at
l east rhetorical) ana l ogies to it, as the ancient fathers did, in

the physical world. “Anyone who touches the heat in the heated iron touches the iron; and whoever has touched the skin of Christ has actually touched Goa.115 What does mark the newness of such predication is that it supersedes the -sort of moralism, based upon the divine law itse l f, which will credit no one with predicates which he himse l f has not enacted. It is this same mora l istic

1LW, XXVI, 26_5. 2v.,,r, XXVJ!, 26_5. 3Lw, x:xvr, 267. 411,,J, XXVI, 26_5. ‘nJ, XXVI, 266.

WA, XL/1, 416, 12-1_5.
WA, XL/1, lj.15, 31-416, 10. WA, XL/1,418,24.
WA, xr/1, 416, 10-12.
WA xL/1,417,17-18.

predication which refuses to ascribe divine value to faith except

as faith is actualized in the believer 1s own work. Instead, says Luther, “in theology let faith always be the divinity of works,

diffused throughout the works in the same way that the divinity is throughout the humanity of Christ.111 So the old and legal grammar must yield to the grammar which is “new and theological, 11 to take

account of what God was doing in Christ graciously.
Luther was careful to preserve the distinctions of Chal-

cedon and of the tradition he inherited of the cornrnunicatio idio- matum,2 but not to the point of abstracting the two natures from

each other at the price of Christ’s personal unity, nor of ab- stracting his person from that which he did. ”I am obliged to dis- tine;uish between the humanity and.the divinity, and to say: The humanity is not the divinity.” This distinction, Luther agrees, is inviolable. “And yet,” he continues, “the man is God. 11 3

Thus Christ, according to his divinity, is a divine and eter- nal essence or nature, without a beginning; but his humanity is a nature created in time. These two natures in Christ are not confused or mixed, and the properties of each must be clearly understood. It is characteristic of the humanity to have a beginning in time, but it is characteristic of the divinity to be eternal and without a beginning.

“Nevertheless,” Luther adds, 11the two are combined, and the divinity 1riw, XXVI, 266. WA, xr/1,417,15-17.

2The following sentence does not appear in the 1535 edition of the lectures, but it does appear in the 1538 edition, on which the following English translation is based. “There is a common rule among the schoolrnen of the communication of the properties, when the properties belonging to the divinity of Christ are attributed to the humanity: which we may see everywhere in the Scriptures.” Gal, pp.

— 3nv, XXVI, 273. WA, xr/1,427,21-22 (Hs.: 427,5).

256-57. WA, XL/1,415, 34-36.

without a beginning is incorporated into the humanity with a begin-

ning.111 “Thus it is said: The man Jesus led Israel out of Egypt, struck down Pharaoh, and did all the things that belong to God.112

If Luther I s “very good and true definition of • . . the Son of God and of the Virgin” is determined by what Christ gra- ciously did, then the question is now upon us: What is that re- demptive action of Christ which necessitated his being true God? Specifically, what was required for Christ to abolish the curse in himself and to bring the blessing in himself? It is to that ques- tion that we turn next.

Mirabile Duellum
In the course of his exegesis upon Galatians 4:5, 11to re-

deem those who were under the law, 11 Luther pauses to ask: “But in what manner or way has Christ redeemed us?” Finding us “confined

and constrained under the law,” as he did, “what did he do11?3 Briefly, he did this: he allowed the law to accuse him, who was himself the righteous lord over the law, and thereby he incrimi-

nated the law as insubordinate and despoiled the law of its author- ity. This would have been impossible, of course, had he not been the law 1 s own lord, the Son of God. 11He himself is Lord of the law; therefore the law has no jurisdiction over him and cannot ac- cuse him, because be is the Son of God. 114

1LW, XXVI, 2uJ, XXVI, 3u,r, XXVI, 41w, XXVI,

272-73. WA, XL/1, 427, 14-20. 26,5. WA, XL/1,416,15-17. 369. WA, xr/1, 564, 26-29.

369-70. \rJA, XL/1, 564, 29-30.

Still, “he who was not under the law subjected himself

voluntarily to the law.111 That Christ did this “voluntarily” (sponte) is, as we shall see, extremely important for Luther’s

Christology. But in the passage before us Luther seems more in- tent upon emphasizing the initiative taken by the law, the more to emphasize the law’s culpability.

The law did everything to him that it did to us•••• But Christ “committed no sin, and no guile was found on his lips •11 Therefore he owed nothing to the law. And yet against him–so holy, righteous, and blessed–the law raged as much as it does against us accursed and condemned sin- ners, and even more fiercely, 2

It would not have been enough for Luther’s purposes to say that Christ was accused by the Sanhedrin or Pilate or by false witnesses, lest this suggest a law whose accusations would not extend to us. No, Christ’s accuser was the same law which accuses every man, and does so by authorizatio from God. It was this universally valid

law of God which

accused him of blasphemy and sedition; it found him guilty in the sight of God of all the sins of the entire world; finally it so saddened him and frightened him that he sweat blood; and eventually it se11teneed him to death, even death on a cross.3

11This was truly,11 in one of Luther’s favorite phrases, 1a remark- able duel” (mirabile duellum))!- “The law, a creature, came into conflict with the Creator, exceeding its every jurisdiction to vex

1LW, XXVI, 370. WA, 21w, XXVI, 370. WA,

..,LW, XX:-TI, 370. WA,

41w, XXVI, 370. WA,

XL/1, 564, 30-31. XL/1,56l ,31-565,14. XL/1, 565, 14-17. xr./1,565, 18.


the Son of God with the same tyranny with which it vexed us, the sons of wrath.111

Next, Luther imagines a courtroom scene in which the law, having over-reached its authority, is brought to trial. Isn’t it noteworthy that in the usual forensic picture of the atonement, where it is the law which demands its due and gets “satisfaction, 11 this very different feature which Luther introduces into the drama

is likely to be missing: the law itself is the culprit?

Because the law has sinned so horribly and wickedly against its God, it is summoned to court and accused. Here Christ says: “Lady Law, you empress, you cruel and powerful tyrant over the whole human race, what did I commit that you ac- cused, intimidated, and condemned me in my innocence?” Here the law, which once condemned and killed all men, has nothing

with which to defend or cleanse itself. Therefore, it in turn is condemned and killed, so that it loses its jurisdic- tion • • • over Christ–whom it attacked and killed without any rie;ht.2

Isn’t it noteworthy that in the Christus Victor Christologies the dynan1ic-dramatic element of conflict is supposed to supplant the forensic preoccupation with legality, whereas Luther mounts the very climax of Christ 1 s victory on a question of lee;ality? The law stands cort.1.Lcted on its own terms, as unlawful. The law, whose own first ond great demand has been for love toward God with all one’s heart and soul and mind, has now by its condemnation of that Goel been hoist on its own petard, and all very legally.

So far in our description of Luther’s mirable duellum we have deliberately abstracted from it, for reasons of’ analysis, in- gredients which Luther would not have thought of omitting. These

1LW, XXVI, 370. WA, XL/1,565,18-20. 21w, XXITI, 370. WA, x1/1,565,20-27.

ingredients may be added as we are ready for them. Meanwhile we

ought at least note what they are, so as not to mistake our ab- stract analysis for Luther’s synthetic concreteness. For one, Christ I s “wondrous conflict” is meaningless if it is abstracted from the sinners for whose sake he waged it. The law

loses its jurisdiction not only over Christ . . • but also over all who believe in him. Here Christ says: “Come unto me, all who labor under the yoke of the law. I could have

overcome the law by my supreme authority, without any inJury to me•..• But for the sake of you, who were under the
law, I assumed your flesh and subjected myself to the law •

. . • Therefore I have conquered the law by a double claim: first, as the Son of God, the Lord of the law; secondly, in your person, which is tantamount to your having conquered the law yourselves.1l

It is for the sake of these sinners, moreover, that the concrete imagery of a duel is employed at all. Paul ”usually portrays the law by personification as some sort of powerful person who con- demned and killed Christ–and why, except ”to make the subject more

joyful and clear” for us? 2
Nor dare we abstract Christ’s conquest from its theologi-

cal antithesis, that heretical contrary which Luther is opposing: namely, the notion that the law is somehow to be overcome by man’s fulfillment of it. It is a ground-rule of Luther-research, just as Luther saw it as a ground-rule of biblical exegesis, to see every theological assertion in the light of its relevant antithe-

sis.3 And the antithesis which Luther steadfastly holds in view as he portrays the mirabile duellum, and without which antithesis

1L1tl, XXVI, 3.7.0-71. WA, XL/1,565,26-566,17.
2LW, XX:.!I’ 371, 162. WA, XL/1,566,18-19; 277,21-29. “.l LW , XX:.!I’ 2 .8. WA, XL/1, 391, 17-20.

his portrayal becomes pointless, is the contrary Christology of his opponents. When Christ is defined as a lawgiver rather than as one who undergoes the law, or when he is seen as obeying the law “actively” rather than ”passively” as its victim, then the synepgistic distortion is near at hand. The immense power of the

law is under-rated, and the 11divine power they have attributed to our own works. 111 1 In this way they have made U 8 true God by nature.112 It is only in face of this falsely optimistic, man- exalting antithesis that Luther’s mirabile duellum, waged by God himself, is understood in its polemical concreteness. “He himself had to remove the curse • , but he could not remove it through the law, because the curse is only increased by this.113 “There- fore, there has to be another righteousness, one that far surpasses the righteousness of the law. 114 ”So what did he do’? • • • He con-

cealed his blessing in our sin, death, and curse, which condemned and killed him. But because he was the Son of God, .•• he con-


struggle with the law, sin, and death. , and to struggle in such a way that he undergoes then, but, by under’going them, con- quers them.116 Only the Son of God could conquer in such a struggle,

1LW, XXVI, 283. WA, XL/1,442,22-23.

2LW, XXVI, 283. WA, XL/1,442,24.

-:iLW XX:-.!I, 289. WA, xr/1,451,13. .,;_,,

4u,, XXVI, 289, 372. WA, XL/1,450,28-29; 567,24-568,24. 5u-J, Xx:-.JI,289-90. WA, XL/1,451,14-22.
611:J, YJ.VI, 373. WA,, XL/1,569,18-21.

quered them and triumphed over them. 1::>
“Therefore, it is Christ’s true and proper function to

since it was only because the law here contended against its own

lord that it could be condemned. “Therefore the law is guilty of stealing, of sacrilege, and of the murder of the Son of God. It loses its rights and deserves to be damned.”1 1]herefore,

since Christ has conquered the law in his own person, it necessarily follows that he is God by nature. For except for God no one, neither a m n nor an angel, is above the law. But Christ is above the law, because he has conquered and strangled it.

“Therefore, 1 Luther concludes, 1he is the Son of God, and God by nature.112

Verus homo
On the strength of what we have hea d from Luther so far

we might be tempted to protest that, while the one who conquered the law may well have had to be God, it is hard to see why the same person needed simultaneously to be man. In other words, it

might appear that the very Luther who insisted upon 1man, man, the man Jesus” did so merely out of “ingenious overemphasis” but had

little need, in his systematic Christology, for anything more than

a docetic Christ. If it is true that ”except ·for God no one, nei-

ther a man nor an angel, is above the law” and that Christ, because

he is above the law, is for this God to be man? therefore, when he says

1LW, XJGTI, 371. 211:v, XXVI, 373. 3Ibid.

4nv, XXVI, 273.

“God by nature,”-‘ then what need is there Can Luther at all mean what he says,


II the man is God174 IsnI t this only a WA, XL/1, 567, 17-18.

WA, XL/1, 569, 25-28. WA, xL/1,427,21-22.

disguised way of saying God is God? Is the predicate, after all,

really about the subject, “this man11? If so, how human actually is this one who in his selfsame person is divine?

To answer the question we coul once more, simply repeat Luther 1s previous discussion of the connnunicatio idiomatum: because Christ is one “whole person, 1 indivisibly human and divine, the action of his deity must be credited to him also as man, though 1man11 in this connection then bec.:.omes a “new and theological”
word. 1 But to say only that much would ignore what it was about

the work of this person which required that he be man at all. Or we might content ourselves with the reminder, given previously, that Luther always proceeded from Christ 1 s redemptive achievement

concrete, biblical given, and that the biblical picture simply presupposed not only Christ 1 s deity but even more so his

humanity. Certainly that is true, and that could have been reason enough for Luther, with his biblical realism, to accept Christ 1 s real manhood. But Luther also finds that, right within the scrip- tures, Christ 1 s humanity is required for his mission by an inner necessity–that is, by his redemptive purpose. Or for that matter

in our very search for that redemptive purpose, we might suppose, prematurely, that the purpose for which God became man (according to Luther) was that God might thus reveal h_imself to man, that 11he might present himself to our sight.11 Luther does talk like that sometimes.

Begin where Christ began–in the Virgin I s womb, in the man- ger, and at his mother’s breasts. For this purpose he came

1Lw, XXVI, 265. WA, XL/1,416,10-11.


down, was born, lived among men, • • • so that in every possibl e way he might present himself to our sight. l

But does this revelational purpose of Christ say al l that Luther means to say, even pastorally, when he speaks of Christ rs humanity?

Not nearly.
Luther has not yet said all that he needs to say about

Christ’s humanity until he has said with Paul th8.t “for our sake

God made Christ to be sin.112 Still , as we must quickly add,

Luther does not equate Christ’s manhood with his sinnerhood.

Christ is not a sinner merely by virtue of his being human. “For


”which was righteous and invincible and therefore could not become guilty.114 “The person is made up of the divine and the human nature, .•• true God and true man,1 and he “himself was made a true man by birth from the female sex. 11 5 Yet his incarnation a s

such is not his accursedness., his poverty, his humiliation. Lutrer pictures Christ as saying, “For my own person of humanity and divinity I am blessed., and I am in need of nothing whatever., but I

shall empty myself; and I shall assume your clothing and mask.116

1LW, XXVI, 29. WA, XL/l,77,28-78,11.

Christ is innocent so far as his own person is concerned.,”..,and by ‘1his own person” Luther clearly means Christ I s “whol e person,” hurnan as well as divine. It was this person, both God and man,

2U’1′, XXVI, 278.

WA, xr/1,434,36-435,11.
WA, JCT./1,433, 17-18.
WA, XL/1, l. 43,21-22.
WA, XL/1, 560.,25-27; 561.,22-23.

WA, XL/1.,443,26-28. (Italics mine.)

3n-1, XY)JI,
4v:1, XY)JI,
5ur., XY)JI,
6LW., XXVI, 284.

277. 284. 367.


Which clothing and mask? “The mask of the sinner, • • • [the] vestige of death.111 But uas an innocent and private person, • . .

it is of course true that Christ is the purest of persons, .•• God and man. 112

It is only fair to admit, however, that these quotations from Luther about Christ’s sinless humanity have been pieced to- gether from passages which stress, more emphatically still, that Christ 1is a sinner.”3 Thereby hangs a lesson, the same lesson which we have observed previously; namely, that the descriptions
of Hho Christ is derive their determinative significance from what he did. What he did, as Luther repeatedly quotes, was that for
our sake he was made to be sin who knew no sin that we might become the righteousness of God. But from the very fact that he was made sin and, beyond that, was able to overcome sin, it follows neces-

sarily for Luther that Christ is first a pure and innocent person, both as God and as man. For, if he were not, how could he have taken “upon himself our sinful person and granted us his innocent

and victorious person11?4 If Christ’s being man meant eo ipso his being a sinner, then how could we, who are as human as he was and is, now be es sinless as he is? For 11just as in his person there

is no longer the mask of the sinner or any vestige ofd3ath, so this is no longer in our person, since he has done everything for us.”5

lu.r,XXVI, 2u1, XXVI,


-5LW, Y..:WI,

284. VIA, XI/1,41+4,17-18. 287-88. WA, xL/1,448, 17-21.

.Lw, XXVI, 277. 4L\,J, XXVI, 284.

WA, XL/1, 433, 29.

:!I.A, XJ/1, 443, 23-24. 284. WA, xL/1,441-1., 17-18.

Although Christ1s becoming man is not yet the same thing

as hi.s becoming a s inner, this doe s not s eem to imply for Luther
two chronologically separate s tages in Chri s t ‘s incarnation.
Still, whether they began simultaneously or not, the first (Christ’s divine-human s inles s nes s ) always continued as an abiding presuppo- sition of the second (his assumed sin).1 But neither does it fol- low that, because in his own person the God-man was sinless, he

was for that reas on any les s human. Actually, for Luther it s eems to be the mark of all genuine humanity, of all that men are meant to be, that they are not only s inles s but the very righteous nes s

of God,2 that they are above the law, 3
that they live forever, 5 changed from
God6 –n born of God, 117 als o bodily8 –and yet are all this as men.

lord s of heaven and earth, 4 s ons of Adam into s ons of

1There are passages in which Luther’s language seems to sug- gest that, when Christ as sumed our sin, he shed his own sinlessnes s. But the s e pa s sages mus t be read in context, s pecifically in connec- tion with Luther’s description of Christ’s blessedness as being hidden, clothed, dre s sed in s in . For example, Luther can s ay of Christ, “Now he is not the Son of God, born of the Virgin, but he is a s inner .” Yet this s entence is preceded by: 11He is not acting in his own pers on now. 11 And it is followed by the qualification: “al- though he was innocent s o far as his own pers on was concerned.”
LW, XXVI, 277. WA, XL/1,433,28-434,13. Again: “Putting off his in- nocence and holiness and putting on your s inful person, he bore your

sin.11 But this follows right after the sentence: “As an innocent and private person •.. it is of course true that Christ is the purestofpersons.” LW,XXVI,287-88.WA,xr/1,448,17-24.

2Lw, Xl’VI,


5 Lw , XXVI,

16 0. WA, XL/1,273 ,23. 156. WA, xr/1,268,19. 352. WA, XL/1, 539, 31. 134 . WA, XL/1, 236 ,3-32.



7WA, XVIII, 777, 3.

8. WA, XL/1,4.6,31-47,12. 8wA, XL/1, 48 ,19-20; 538 ,25-26 .

1 93
In a theology like Luther’s, in which the incomrnensurability of

finite and infinite does not speak the last word, it is not incon- ceivable for an Abraham to be “a completely divine man, a son of God, the inheritor of the universe11 (or even to be made GodJ2 ) without ceasing to be man.

On the contrary, it is the Manichaeans who, because they equate humanity with sinfulness, shrink from letting God become truly human.

The Manichaeans • • • say that Christ is not truly man, but a phantom who passed through the Virgin like a ray of light passed through glass, and then fell, and so was crucified.3

As Luther exclaims, “This would be a fine way for us to handle the scriptur•esJ 114 He frankly admits that 11 it is the highest absurdity by far–foolishness to the Gentiles and a stumbling-block to the Jews • • • –that God should be man, a virgin’s son, crucified,

sitting at the Father’s right hand.115 Yet if this Jesus Christ were not as sinlessly human as he is sinlessly divine, and as bodily incarnate in his present glory as he was in his previous

lowliness, then it could not be sald of him that “sin and death have been abolished by this one man11; 6 “that the grace of God is

1 LW , XXVI, 247. WA, XL/1,390, 2 3 .

2wA, XL/1 ,1 82 ,15. 3wA, XVIII, 707,2 9-31 .

4rbid. ”When God 1 s relation to the world is that of the infinite tothe finite, finitude invariably carries a stigma. One is ashamed of finitude, regarding it as a blemish, a mark of in- feriority, a cause for disgust.” E. LaB. Cherbonnier, “The Logic of Biblical Anthropomorphism, 11 The Harvard The ologica 1 Review, LV(July,1962),205-206 .

5wA, XVIII, 707, 2 5-2 7 . 6Lw,XXVI,280.WA,XL/1,438,15-16 . (Italicsmine.)

••. given us only in and through the grace of this one great

man” ;1 “that through him the whole creation was to be renewed” ;2 “that in the Lord’s Supper the body and the blood of Christ are presented113–11so that the Son of God might be glorified through us, and the Father through him11;4 11that through this Christ everything was to be changed, renewed, s.nd put in order. 1 5 In other• words, if for him to be man meant automatically ·i.;hathe was a sinner, then we could not cease being sinners unless we ceased to be men. But the truth, for Luther, is the other way around. In order for us men to have become true men who, in Christ, are no longer evil or worthy of death, it first has to be the case

that this ”man has never committed anything evil or worthy of death. 116

1BoW, p. 304. WA, XVIII, 777,3-34• (Italics mine.)
21w , XXVI, 282. WA, XL/l,y.40,29-30. (Italics mine.) 31wJ XXVI, 227-28. WA, xr/1,36 1,21-22. (Italics mine.)

A, XL/2,136 ,24-25.
5DtJ, XXVI, 293. WA, XL/l,l 56,19-21. (Italics mine.) bDN, XXVI, 277-28. WA, XL/1,434,15-16.



Peccator Peccatorum
The sinlessness of Christ, indispensable as this was for

Luther’s Christology, was still not the main point at issue. In fact, Christ 1 s innocence, readily enough accepted by Luther’s op- ponents, threatened to overshadow what was equally essential to Christ ts redemptive achievement: that “for our sake God made Christ to be sin, ul II a curse for u s , 112 or, in the words of Isaiah,

“numbered among the thieves.13 In Luther’s own words, Christ 1has sinned or has sins,14 he was “a sinner of sinners,115 indeed “the highest, the greatest, and the only sinner.116

Again, therefore, we confront a problem in predication. How can the theological predicate, est peccator, really and sig- nificantly be about the subject, this purissima persona, deus et homo? By reason of what can he be both the sinless God-man and

at the same time a sinner? And again we encounter Luther’s charac-

WA, XL/1,434,36-435,11. WA, XL/1,432, 17-18.

WA, xL/1,433,25. WA, XL/1, 436, 13. WA, XL/1, 434, 35 · WA, xL/1,439,13.



XXVI, 278. 2LW, XXVI, 276.

1w·, XXVI, 277. 4LW, XJ(VI, 279.

5u1, XXVI, 278. 61w, XXVI, 281.


teristic solution. What finally makes the predication meaningful

and real is that it is soteriologically necessary. Unless Christ was our sinner, we ourselves must be; but since through him we are

not sinners, it follows that he was a sinner and had to be. “Our sin must be Christ 1 s own sin, or we shall perish eternally. 111 “If he is innocent and does not carry our sins, then we carry them and shall die and be damned in them. 1But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ J, Amen. 112

Cernere Antitheses
As we observed before, Luther’s positive assertions are un-

intelligible apart from the antitheses they negate. “When two op- posites are placed side by side, they become more evident. 113 It

is important ”to discern the antitheses, 114 and not only for polem- ical reasons–to “drag them into the light, in order that the doc- trine of justification, like the sun, may reveal their infamy and shame115–but also for affirmative reasons. The unevangelical an- titheses

should not be lightly dismissed or consigned to oblivion but should be diligently considered. And this, by contrast, serves o magnify the grace of God and the blessings of Christ.

Presumably, then, if the opponents deny that Christ is a sinner,

lu,1, XXVI, 278. WA, 2L1rI, XXVI, 280. WA, 3u1, XXVI, 12L . WA, 4n,,, X”X:JI, 248. ltlA, 5Lw, xmI, 136. WA, 61w, XYJJI, 135. WA,

XL/1, 4:35, 18. CL/1,438,30-31. XL/1, 220, 18-19. xL/1,391,18-19. xr.,/1,238,24-26. XL/1,237,34-238,13.

Lut;her 1 s polemic must serve both a negative and a constructive

function. First, he must reveal the “infamy and the shame” of their antitheses. But that still leaves the second, the construc- tive question. What is there about their false antithesis by con- trast with which, and only by contrast with which, Christ 1 s sinner- hood takes on its fully positive meaning? Offhand, the opponents 1 reverent insistence upon Christ’s sinlessness would seem to be by far the more positive of the two Christologies. It is not imme- diately apparent how Luther can exploit that antithesis in the in- terest of his own contrary and apparently pessimistic insistence upon Christ’s sin, and how in the bargain Christ 1 s sinnerhood can be 11magnified11 into, as Luther calls it, our “most delightful com- fort.111 Still, as we shall see, unless Christ 1 s sinnerhood does

appear as “delightful” as that, it has no warrant as a predicate of its subject–that is, as the real sin of a really sinless God-


What actually is the antithesis to saying that Christ is a sinner? One would think it is the simple counter-assertion, Christ is not a sinner. Still, that is not the extent of the opposition. Just as Luther’s affirming Christ•s sinnerhood is necessitated by soteriological, not only christological, considerations, so the opponents• denying Christ’s sinnerb.ood is likewise inspired by their contrary soteriology. And there, for Luther, lies their “infamy
and shame. 11 The papists 1 real motive for clearing Christ of sin, Luther claims_, is not to honor Christ, as they would pretend, but

1LW, XXVI, 278. WA, XL/1, L 34,21.

rather to promote 1justification by works.11 “They want ••• to

unwrap Christ and to unclothe him from our sins.” However, “to make him innocent” is 1to burden and overwhelm ourselves with our

own sins, and to behold them not in Christ but in ourselves.112
And the reason the papists do this is that they prefer to have their sins removed and replaced, not in Christ, but within their own selves– 1by some opposing motivations, namely, by love, 113 or by the sort of faith which is actualized in love.4 It is this wish of theirs to be valuable inherently and biographically which prompts them to protest, with such deceptive reverence for Christ, that he 1is not a criminal and a thief but righteous and holy,115 or that 1it is highly absurd and insulting to call the Son of God a sinner and a curse.116 “Perhaps,” Luther shrugs, “this may- im- press the inexperienced, for they suppose that the sophists are

• defending the honor of Christ and are religiously admonish- ing all Christians not to suppose wickedly that Christ was a curse.11.7 Yet if the sophists had their way, if it were true that Christ “is innocent and does not carry our sins, then we carry them and shall die

1 L W , 21w., 31w, 4 1 w ,


2 7 9 . 279. 286. 2 7 9 . 277. 278. 277.

WA ,

X L / 1 .,4 3 6 , 2 7 . XL/1,436 .,29-31. XL/1, 445, 28-29. X L / 1 .,4 3 6 .,2 4 – 3 1 . x1/1/432, 33 XL/1, 434, 29-30°

.51w., 61w,

W A ,
WA., xL/1.,! 32-33-433,12. WA, XL/1.,438, 29-31.

71w, XXVI, 81w., XXVI,


and be damned in them.118 But., says Luther.,

“this is to abolish Christ and make him That is the

“shame and infamy” of denying Christ 1 s sinnerhood.
Then how does the sophists’ denial, their divesting Christ

of our sins, now provide the foil for Luther’s positive thrust– serving, 1by contrast, to magnify the grace of God and the bless- ings of Christ?112 Ironically, it was the scholastics’ (and the Scriptures’) whole profound understanding of moral predication, that same grammar of legality which insures that our sins are ours and no one else’s and least of all the Son of God’s, which now furnishes Luther with the very key for discovering the ways in which sin, our sin, belonged instead fo the Son of God. True, our sins did not belong to him in the sense that he comraitted them. Still, it is that kind of culpability, a guilt by active commis- sion, to which Luther appeals for a comparison to underscore how real a sinner Christ was. Our sins “are as much Christ 1 s own as

if he himself had committed them. 113
How much our sins truly are “Christ I s own” Luther elabo-

rates in half a dozen ways, recalling strangely the very ways in which our sin ought ordinarily be own. These half dozen vari-

ations on how our sin is rightfully and culpably predicated of Christ (culminating in the reminder that his guilt was after all

intentional) will occupy us in the next six sections of this chap- ter. Thenj in the chapter’s concluding section, we shall note how it was precisely this recourse to moral predication in his portrayal

1LW, X:X:-.!I, 279. WA, XL/1,436,31.
2 u 1 , XXVI, 135. WA, XL/1,238,12-13. 311,11, XXVI, 278. WA, x1/1,435,17.


of Christ•s sinnerhood which enables Luther finally to explode that type of predication in his discussion of Christ•s surprise victory. In other words, it was just because Christ “was made under the law” that he could be the death of it–the law and its

whole tyrannizing mode of predication. For, in the end, his in- tentional self-incrimination, which rightfully rendered him guilty before the law, was the selfsame intention which in turn incrimi- nated and annihilated the law–his intention, namely, of invin- cible divine mercy. Here, in the selfsameness of Christ 1 s loving will, willing to be a sinner in order to be a Redeemer, Luther finds the secret bond which unites the personal subject with its paradoxical predicate, the sinless God-man with the sins of all men. Nevertheless, their sins are Christ’s own, not simply by a fiat of his will, but in much the same way that those sins are

ours–that is, 11as if he himself had committed them.”

Sub lege, ergo peccator
For example, first of all, our sins are so much Christ’s

own that we dare not say he bore merely our pu.nisbrnent. What he bore was our sin. If he did not, the law had no reason to punish him. Luther refuses to explain away Paul•s statement that Christ was made a curse for us, or that he was made sin for us, by so

diluting 11sin11 and 11cur•set that they mean merely the consequences of sin.1 Such an exegetical tour de force, Luther argues, would be an evasion of the clear meaning of the text–and, let us note, not only of the text 1 s words but also of the text•s purpose, its

1LW, XXVI, 278. WA, XL/1,434,29-435,13.

who hangs on a tree,1 the disclaimers of Jerome to the contrary notwithstanding.5


native reasons. The critics who “want to deny that [Christ] is a sinner and a curse” prefer to say rather that he “underwent the torments of sin and death.111 But that is not all that Paul says, and 1 surely these words of Paul are riot without purpose.112

Neither are the words of John the Baptist, about 1the Lamb of God.11 Nor the

cries of the ps.almist: “My iniquities have overtaken me”; 11Heal me, for I have sinned against thee 1; 110 God, thou knowest my folly. 1

(11In these psalms the Holy Spirit is speaking in the person of Christ and testifying in clear words that he has sinned or has sins. 1 ) 3 These ”clear words 1 are all to some purpose, testifying as they do to the real sin, and not merely to the suffering, of Christ. And remembe1• the way Isaiah speaks of Christ, 11God has laid on him the iniquity of us all.1 Of course, for Christ to bear iniquities, Luther agrees, does include his bearing our pun- ishment. “But why is Christ punished? Is it not because he has sin and bears sins?114 That must be Paul1s reason, too, for apply- ing to Christ the passage from Deuteronomy, “Cursed be everyone

For what is it that causes the law, the whole retributive order of things, to retaliate with punishment at all? What else

but the culprit1s sin and accursedness? If our sin had not really

1LW, XXVI, 2Lw, XXVI, 3ur, XXVI,

278. WA, xr/1,434,32-34. (Italics mine. ) 278. WA, xr/1,434,36.
279. WA, XL/1,435,31-436,13.
279. WA, XL/1, 435, 27 • (Italics mine. ) 276, 287. WA, XL/1,432,18-24; 448,17-19.

4u1, XXVI, 5Lw, XXVI,


been Christ’s, he coul d not have been l iabl e to punishment, he could not have been kil led. “For unless he had taken upon himself

[our] sins, . • • the l aw would have had no right over him, since it condemns onl y sinners and holds onl y them under a curse,
since the cause of the curse and of death is sin.1 It is for that reason that the law says to Christ,

Let every sinner dieJ And therefore, Christ, if you want to repl y that you are guil ty and that you bear the punishment, you must bear the sin and the curse as wel l .l

For that reason, accordingly, Paul was correct in app l ying to Christ “this general l aw from :Moses.112 To predicate sin and ac- cursedness of Christ is lawful and rational : 11Christ hung on a tree, therefore Christ is a curse of God”l-a l awful ly accursed

sinner, not mere l y the innocent bearer of sin’s punishments.

Socius Peccatorum
Second, our sins are so much Christ’s own that, when he

fraternized with sinners, he himse l f stood condemned for the com- pany he kept. And right l y so. For, says Luther, “a magistrate regards someone as a criminal and punishes him if he catches him among thieves, even though the man has never committed anything evil. 114 “Among thieves, 11 indeed. Jesus was consorting with the enemies of God. He was a socius peccatorum.5

1LW, x.::t::-J’I’ 279. WA, xr/1, 436, 16-20. 2uJ, XXVI, 279. WA, XL/1,L36,21.
3u,1, x.::t::-J’I’ 279. WA, XL/1,L36,22-23. 4LW, XXl!I, 277-78. WA, XL/1,434,14-16. 5Lw, XXVI, 278. WA, XL/1,434,17•

Of this Christ, Luther complains, ttthe sophists deprive us

when they segregate Christ from sins and from sinners and set him forth to us only as an example to be imitated.111 They err in their too aloof definition of Christ, but also in their too sanguine def-

inition of “the world,” in which Christ dwelt.· For, says Luther., what is required here is that “you have two definitions, of’ rworld1

and of ‘Christ. 112 That is to say, we must remember that Christ delivered us, “not only from this world but from this ‘evil world, 1113 11from this evil age., which is an obedient servant and a willing follower of its god, the devil.14 What links sinner to sinner in this worldwide syndicate of evil is not merely that they all mis- behave in the same way., or even that they all aid and abet one another. Rather they are all under the tyrannical jurisdiction of
a demonic lord, so that, whatever their efforts at good behavior,

1the definition still stands: You are still in the present evil age.,,5 What makes it evil is that “whatever is in this age is sub-

ject to the evil of the devil, who rules the entire worla.116 The company of sinners is a kingdom, a realm, of evil.

This realm, being under divine curse, is off-limits. Yet it is into this realm that Christ came. 11He joined himself to the company of the accursed. 117 “And being joined with us who were

1LW, XXVI, 2LW, XXVI, 31w, XXVI,

278. WA, XL/1,434,22-24. 42. WA, XI/1, 97, 26.
42. WA, XL/1,97,24-25.

w, XXVI,
51w, XXVI,
61w, X X V I .,
7aal, p. 281. WA, XL/1,451, 14.

41. WA, XL/1, 96, 17-18. 40. W A ., x r / 1 ., 9 5 , 1 2 – 1 3 . 3 9 . WA, XL/1,94,16-17.

accursed, he became a curse for us.111 “Therefore when the law found

him among thieves, it condemned and executed him as a thief.112

Ego commisi peccata mundi
Third, our sins are so much Christ’s own that, no matter

who committed them originally, all of ‘them have now been committed, in effect, by Jesus Christ personally. The sins he bore, as John says, are nothing less than “the sins of the world.113 And “the
sin of the world,” as Luther understands the phrase, is not sin

in general. It is no abstract universal. It is exhaustive of
every actual sinner and sin in history: ”not only my sins and yours, but the sins of the entire world, past, present, and future. 114 Luther represents Christ as saying, “I have committed the sins that all men have committed11.5–11the sin of Paul, the former blasphemer,

• • • of Peter, who denied Christ, of David, • • • an adulterer and a murderer and who caused the Gentiles to blaspheme the name of the Lord.116

Still, even in the face of such specific enumerations, we in our false humility are wont to exempt Christ from our sins, at least from those sins of ours which seem to us more than Christ should be expected to bear and which, alas, we alone must bear.

1LW, XXVI, 290. WA,
21w, XX:VI, 278. WA,
31w, XX:VI, 1.51. WA,
41w, X X V I, 281. WA,
.51w, XXVI, 283-84. WA, xr/1,442,34-41+3,14. 61w, XXVI, 277. WA, XL/1,433,29-31.

xr/1,4.51,18-19. Xr/1, 434, 19-20. xr/1, 261, 20. xr/1,438,33-34.


It is easy for you to say and bel ieve that Christ, the Son of God, was given for the sins of Peter, Paul, and other saints, who seem to us to have been worthy of this grace. But it is very hard for you, who regard yourself as un- worthy of this grace, to say and bel ieve from your heart that Christ was given for your many great sins.l

But fal se humil ity is what this is, and disdain for Christ. Luther shows smal l sympathy for the neo-pharisaic pseudo-publ ican who prays, 11God be merciful to me a sinner,n and yet who means no more by ”sinnert than the doer of trivial sins, 1an imitation and coun- terfeit sinner.112 1Christ was given, not for sham or counterfeit sins, nor yet for sma l l sins, but for great and huge sins, not for one or two sins but for al l sins.113 “And unless you are part of the company of those who say 1our sins, 1 ••• there is no salva- tion for you.14

Converse l y., it is only because “the sin of the worl d” is no mere abstraction but an enumerative tota l ity of every real sin and sinner that Luther can perform the inference he repeated l y does: Christ is “the one who took away the sins of the worl d; if the sin of the world is taken away, then it is taken away also from me.115 Accordingly, Luther de’Scribes the Father sending his Son: 11Be Peter the denier, Paul the persecutor, ••• David the

adulterer, the sinner who ate the apple in Paradise, the thief on the cross; in short, be the person ••• who had committed the sins of all men.116


2LW, XXVI, 311.v,XXVI,



34. WA, XL/1,86,9-13. 34. WA, XL/1,86,26-30. 35. WA, xr/1,87,25-27. 35 • WA, XL/1,87,29-31.

151. WA, XL/1,261,20-21. 280. WA, XL/1,437,23-26.


Ipsurn Peccatum
Fourth, our sins are so much Christ 1 s own that, by his

acknowledging them as his, he himself–not only the sins he bore, but he who bore them–becomes a sin and a curse. This drastic conclusion is suggested by Paul 1 s strong use of “curse” in its

substantive rather than its adjectival sense. Christ is said to have been made a curse and not merely accursed, not just a sinner but sin itself. And isn1t this the way it is, Luther recalls, whenever II a sinner really comes to a knowledge of himself?” He can no longer distinguish nicely between his sin, on the one hand, and himself, on the other, as though the two were still separable.

“That is, he seems to himself to be not only miserable but misery itself; not only a sinner and an accursed one, but sin and the curse itself.111 And not only is that what he seems to be. A man

who feels these things in earnest really becomes (fit plane) sin, death, and the curse itself.112

This recalls our earlier chapter on man the sinner, as Luther pursued that matter against Erasmus. When a man knows him- self a sinner, he becomes in that act a sinner all the more. For to know that I am a sinner is to know, by verus sensus and ,9t least by definition, that I anger God. Yet if I believe that I anger God, then of course I am disbelieving that I delight God. Still, as Luther reminds Erasmus, that is exactly the impossible

thine which God demands: that we who do indeed anger him must

1rw,XXVI,288. WA,XL/1,449,14-15.
2Lw, XJc..vI, 288. WA, XL/1,449,18. (Italics mine.)

nevertheless believe we please him. So the more certainly a man

recognizes he is a sinner, under the divine curse, and forsaken of God, the more certainly his sin is 1magnified1–his sin of unbelief. Although the sinner admits his sin (and it is right and true that
he should), yet he does not by that act become right and true him- self. By repudiating the sins which God repudiates, the penitent does not thereby extricate himself from his sins, as though the

sins which he repudj_ates were one thing and the self which does the repudiating were something else, something creditable; as though the predicates were separable from their subject. And the reason they are not sepa11able is that the subject, the very self, who confesses his accursedness (and rightly so) thereby incrimi- nates himself anew by denying (contrary to God rs command) that he pleases God. That is why na man who feels these things in earnest really becomes sin, death, and the curse itself”–“not only • • • adjectivally but ••• substantively. 111

Luther is all but saying the same thing of Christ. Although Christ himself did not commit sin, yet he so acknowledged our sins as his own and himself accursed because of them that this very ac- knowledgment alienates God and makes Christ a sinner, not only ad-

jectivally but substantively.

All our evils- • • • overwhelmed him once, for a brief time,- and flooded in over his head, as in Psalm 88:7 and 16 the prophet laments in Christ rs name when he says: 1Thy wrath lies heavy upon me and thou dost overwheLrn me with all thy waves, 11 and: “Thy wrath has swept over me, thy dread assaults destroy me.”2

1LW, XXVI, 288. WA, XL/1,448,35-449,19. 2LW, XXVI, 290. WA, XL/1, 452, 12-2 0.

Luther can even say of Christ: “He is not acting in his own person

now; now he is not the Son of God, born of the virgin, but he is a sinner.111 For that is the way it is with the law. “All it does is to increase sin, accuse, frighten, threaten with death, and disclose God as a wrathful Judge who damns sinners.112 And “where terror and a sense of sin, death, and the wrath of God are pres- ent, there is certainly no righteousness, nothing heavenly, and

no God.13 In the case of Christ, the law raged even more fiercely than it does against us. “It accused him of blasphemy and sedi- tion.14 “It frightened him so horribly that he experienced greater anguish than any man has ever experienced. n5 Witness his “bloody sweat, the comfort of the angel, his solemn prayer in the garden, and finally ••• that cry of misery on the cross, 1My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?1116 “A man who feels these things in earnest really becomes sin, death, and the curse itself.117

In Corpore Suo
Fifth, our sins are so much Christ’s own that he bore them

not only psychologically but also, as we do, bodily–11in his body.” That prepositional phrase, sometimes quoted directly from I Peter

11w, 21w, 31w,

XL/1,433,28-29. Xr/1, 558, 18-20. XL/1, 55l.J.,2L -555, 13.

XL/1, 565, 14. XL/1, 567, 27-28. XL/1,567,3-31.

XXVI, 277. WA, XXVI, 365. WA, XXVI, 363. WA, XXVI, 370. WA,

XXVI, 372. WA, 611,J, XXVI, 372. WA,




71w, XXVI, 288.

WA, xr/1,449,18-19.

2 :2L , occurs so often and so habitually in Luther I s Ohr istologi-

cal discussions that its very frequency demonstrates how somati- cally Luther conceived of sin, whether ours or Christ 1 s.

What precisely Luther understood the connection to be be- tween sin and bodily existence (if indeed he did understand the connection precisely) is well-nigh impossible to determine from the two documents of his which we are considering. For that mat- ter, whatever understanding Luther did have of this connection

might well prove unintelligible to an age like ours which, for all its appreciation of psychosomatic man, still inclines to spiritu- alize sin, and death as ”the wage of sin.” What we can say about

Luther, at the very least, is that he would have found it hard to speak of our sin as really ours, and hence of our sin as really Christ’s, apart from the bodies in which our sin rages and, in Christ’s body, is destroyed. Of course, such expressions as “the body of sin” and “in his body on the treeII were not original with Luther but came to him on rather high recommendation.

It is true, Luther has been commended for not succumbing to the gnostic temptation, as some theologians have, of equating the New Testament 1flesh11 with sins merely of the body. That Luther does warn against this error we have already seen from his arguments against Erasmus.1 In his Galatians lectures, likewise, he reminds his students: “Now in Paul I flesh: does not, as the sophists suppose, mean crass sins. • • • ‘FleshI means the entire

nature of man, with reason and all his powers.112 Neither are crass,

1WA, XVIII, 742,12-21; 740,1-6; 744,6-18; 780,35-781,1.

2vr1, XXVI, 139. WA, x1/1,24L ,14-17. see also WA, XL/1, 3L 8,lLj.-17-.

bodily sins, just because they are more obvious, for that reason

more culpable than the sins of the spirit. On the contrary, the sins against the first table are more to be feared than the sins against the second table,1 the 1white devil” more than the nblack devil. 112 Nor could Luther, any more than he could say all sin is of the body, say that all bodily existence is sinful. we need only to recall that the Son of God, by being “made a true man by birth from the female sex,” was not by that token a sinner.3

Nevertheless, Luther seems equally sure that there is for Christ no bearing of our sins without his doing so “in his body.”

Why? In one passage, and perhaps no oftener than that, Luther seems to explain Christ 1 s bodily bearing qf our sins in terms of
a theory of 1satisfaction.11 Christ, he says, “took these sins, committed by us, upon his own body, in order to make satisfaction for them with his own blood. 114 Yet the theme of satisfaction–a term which Luther seldom uses and, when he does, tends to use dis- paragingly5–is not characteristic of his Ghristological language, even when he speaks of Christ I s 11blood’1 (which is usually coupled with the language of redemption and sacrifice and not of satis- faction). 6

11w, XXVI, 36. WA, XL/1,88,18-19.

2LW, XXVI, 41, 49. WA, XL/1,96,10; 108,18-22.

3LW, XXVI, 367. WA, XL/1,561,22-23.

41w, XX:J’I,277• WA, XL/1,433,33-434,12.

5v.n1,XXVI, 23, 132, 180, 411. WA, xL/1,83,30; 84,13-14; 85,22; 232,30-33; 301,34; 623,18-21.

6nrJ, XX:J’I,33, 99, 132, 175, 176, 296, 360. WA, XL/1, 84,12-15;-Y81,18-19; 232,33-233,14; 295,25-28, 33; 30-;;25-29; 458,23-33; 550,23-26.

No, the function which Luther most usually ascribes to

Christ 1s bearing our sins 1in his body11 is that, by his bodily dying, he put those sins in his body to death. 1He bore and sus- tained them in his own body, 111 where, by his death and apparent defeat, they were exterminated. Or, in Luther’s own strong and variegated language, they were “destroyed,11 11conquered, 1 r1emoved,1 “annihilated, 11 “purged,” 1expiated,11 1abolished,1 “killed,” “bur-

ied,” 1damned,11 1devoured,12 Christ “conquers and destroys these monsters–sin, death, and the curse–without weapons or battle, in his own body and in himself, as Paul enjoys saying (Col. 2:15):

1He disarmed the principalities and powers, triumphing over them in him. 1113 “All these things happen ••• through Christ the cru- cified, on whose shoulders lie all the evils of the human race–

• .• all of which die in him, because by his death he kills them.114 Something else remains to be said. Christ bears our sins

in his body, not only because they are thereby destroyed, but also because they are ours. There is no question in Luther 1s mind that Christ could have vanquished the tyrants without submitting to the

cross, by an outright exercise of his divine sovereignty. But such an alternative completely overlooks how intimately his victory was to be ours, and how it was therefore to be achieved 11 in our sinful person. 115 Luther has Christ saying,

1LW, XXVI, 288-89. WA, XL/1,449,31-32.
21w, XXVI, 159, 280, 281, 282. WA, XL/1, 273,21; 438,14;

3LW’ XXVI’ 282. Wk, xr/1, 440, 24-25.

4-LW, XXVI, J.60. WA, xr/1,273,20-29. 51w, XXVI, 284. WA, XL/1,443,23-24.


I could have overcome the law by my supreme authority, without any injury to me; ••• but for the sake of you, who were un- der the law, I assumed your flesh; .•• I went down into the same imprfusonrnent • • • under which you were serving as captives .1

That is why “all men, even the apostles or prophets or patriarchs, would have remained under the curse [lJ if Christ had not put him-

self in opposition to sin, death, the curse .•. , and [2] if he had not overcome them in his own body. 112 For, as Luther seems to see it, Christ does not bear our sin as ours unless he assumes “our sinful person,” and our sinful person is inseparable from our bodies. 3 “The old man • . • is born of flesh and blood. 14

John Osborne has captured a characteristic insight of Luther1s in the line, spoken by Hans to his son: “You can I t ever get away from your body because that1s what you live in, and it1s all you1ve got to die in.11.5

Therefore, even though Christ in his incarnation through the Virgin was the purest of persons, and even though since his resurrection ”there is no longer the mask of the sinner or any vestige of death” in him,6 still, as he describes his historic

11w, Y..XVI, 370. WA, xr/1 , 565,27-566, 1 3.

21w, XXVI, 2B7. WA, XL/1, 447,29-33. (The bracketed numbers aria italics are mine.)

3see how, in connection with Gal. 2:20, Luther understands persona (WA, XL/1 ,281-82 ) as inseparable from being “present in
ybe flesh,”””‘Iiving your familiar life, having five senses, and doing everything in this physical life that any other man does.” LW, XXVI, 1 70ff . WA, i/l,288,20ff.

4Lw, XXVI, 7. WA, XL/1,45,28.

5John Osborne, Luther (New York: The New American Library of American Literature, 1963), P• ,50.

61w, XXVI, 284. WA, XL/1 ,444,17-1 8.

mission, “I shall empty myself, I shall assume your clothing and

mask, and in this I shall walk about and suffer death, in order to set you free from death.111 So “even though you know that he is God and man,11 “you do not yet have Christ11 until you know that “putting off his innocence and holiness and putting on your sinful person, he bore your sin. 112 ”He attached himself to those who

were accursed, [not only by occupying the same world with them, nor only by fraternizing with them, but by] assuming their flesh and

blood.113 Nor dare his assumption of our flesh be understood merely

as a sinless incarnation, 11 in a purely physical way. 114
t;ook along with him whatever clung to the flesh that he had assumed for our sake. 115 Granted that this mystery 1 is impossible to under- stand and to believe fully, because all this is so contradictory
to human reason.116 Nonetheless, the whole thrust of the mystery
is clear: 11Just as Christ is wrapped up in our flesh and blood,
so we must ••• know him to be wrapped up in our sins.117

Sixth, our sin is so much Christ’s own that, since it is

his by choice, it incriminates his very motives, his innermost
self. Because he attached himself to our sins “willingly” (sponte),



WA, XL/1,443,27-29. (Italics mine.) WA, x1/1,448,23-26.

XXVI, 284. 21w, XXVI, 288.


31w XXVI, 289.

WA, XL/1, 451, 14-15 • WA, xr/1,452,8.
WA, xr/1,451,22-23. WA, XL/1, 452, 10-11.

4tw, XXVI, 290. r-

:::i1w. XXVI, 290. _,

61w, XXVI, 290.

71w, XXVI,

278. WA, x1/1,434,26-27.

Rather “he

he has only himself to thank for the fact that he is liable for

them. “Because he took upon himself our sins, not by compulsion but by his own free will, it was right for him to bear the pun-

ishment and the wrath of God.111
The deliberate, intentional character of Christ 1 s sinner-

hood seems to illustrate most graphically for Luther how truly Christ bore our sin “in himself.” And it may be that at this pcint Luther I s meaning comes closest to being intelligible to an age like our own, with its definitions of selfhood in terms of “responsi- bility” and ”decision. 11 “Modern man, 1 Bultmann reminds us, “bears the responsibility for his own thinking, willing, and doing.112 We are reminded once more of Luther 1 s exchange with “the modern man,” Erasmus. Even though sinners are like compliant beasts ridden by their rider, the devil, or like evil seeds who are never free from

the pressures of the Creator to produce their evil fruit, still what identifies their sin as characteristically their own is that it always expresses what they themselves will and are. It is ex-

actly as the ones who will and think as they do that God ”neces- sarily foreknows” them as sinners. So understood, Luther is even

willing to grant F asmus that the determinative function of the human ego is “the throne of will and reason, 11 “his rational and truly human part. 11 3 Similarly, in his lectures on Galatians, Luther can agree with the moral philosophers that what character-

lLW, XXVI, 284. WA, XL/1,443,19-21.

2H. w. Bartsch (ed.), Kerygma and Myth, trans. Reginald H. Fuller (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1957),

P• 6.
3BoW, PP• 308-309. !, XVIII, 780,18-19, 37-38.

izes a man’s actions as real ly and personal ly his is the ethical

qua l ity of his motives ., his rationa l wil l .l
It is against this background that we might appreciate the

intensive emphasis which Luther gives to the fact that Christ bore our sin 11willingly.112 In an earlier quote we heard Luther speak of Christ as a socius peccatorum, and heard him explain, “Thus a

magistrate regards someone as a criminal and punishes him if he catches him among thieves, even though the man has never committed anything evil .113 But in the case of Christ this was no arbitrary guilt by association. Christ could not plead that, though he was indeed among sinners, he was there in innocent ignorance or against his will . For, as Luther adds immediately, “Christ was not only found among simmers; but of his own free will ••• he wanted to

be an associate of sinners. 114 Accordingl y, “the l aw came and said: 1Christ if you want to reply that you are guilty and that you bear

the punishment, you must bear the sin and the curse as wel l .115

Ex Magna Charitate
It was not for nothing that Luther invoked every biblical

description of Christ 1 s sinnerhood which would show that, accord- ing to the moral grammar of predication, Christ was rightful ly and l egal ly subject to the l aw ‘s condemnation, that our sins “are as


21w, 12 (libensT;

3 1 w , 4nv’


XXVI, 256ff. WA, xr/1, L 02-403.

XXVI, 284, 292, 564,31 (sponte).

370. WA, xr/1,443,25 (volens); 455,

X X V I , 2 7 7 – 7 S – . W A , X L / 1 , 4 3 1 – 1 . ,l L – 1 6 •
XXVI, 278. WA, XL/1,434,16-17. (Ital ics

XXVI, 279 0

WA, XL/1,436,19-20.


much Christ1s own as if he himself had committed them.111 For, by granting the legal order its maximum due, it is now drawn into the fray, not at its worst–not as the emasculated legalism of the scholastics, not as some miscarriage of justice by the Sanhedrin– but at its best. As a consequence, it is the divine law in its own holy integrity–that is, as it justly condemns every sinner, no matter how pious, as the enemy of God–which now does what it has to do to this peccator peccatorum. And it is this same law

at its holiest and best which, in the mirabile duellum which en- sues, is eternally discredited. The other antagonists as well– sin, devil, curse, wrath, death–are present not as caricatures but at the height of their power.

It is only because the enemies involved are the real ene- mies–the ones, in other words, with whom men have to reckon for life and death before God–that the mirabile duellum becomes in- deed a “very joyous duel, 11 iucundissimurn duellum.2 Here we find

Luther applying his own hermeneutical rule, exploiting the antith- esis of the opponents (and doing so even more trenchantly than he. did in his dialectical display against Erasmus) in order not only to “reveal their infamy and shame”3 but to celebrate in turn our

”knowledge of Christ and most delightful comfort.14 The whole legal mode of predication, so elaborately employed for what seemed a merely negative detailing of Christ 1s sinnerhood, now 1by



XXVI, 278. WA, XL/1, 435, 17 • 21w, XXVI, 164. WA, XI/1, 279, 25.

Drf, XXVI, 136. WA, xr/1,238,25-26. 41w, XX:VI, 278. WA, XL/1, 43 -, 21.

contrast serves to magnify the grace of God and the blessings of

The grace of God and the blessings of Christ”–that is the

secret of the i-ucundissimu.m duellu.m. Or rather what is the secret is that this divine grace, “the blessing,” is locked inmort.a lcom-

bat with the curse “in this one person,1 “Now let us see,1 asks

Luther, 11how two such extremely contrary things come together in

one person.112 The answer, as might be expected, is that when they

do come together it is the divine powers–divine righteousness,

life, and blessing–which of course prevail over their lesser con-

traries, sin and death and the curse.. But the secret, indeed the

prerequisite, of the victory is that it all occurs ”in his own body and in himself.14 Both sets of contraries are really his. If the sin had not been his, as truly as the righteousness was, the law could easily have avoided its blasphemy against him by cursing

only the one and not the other. However, “he joined God and man in one person. And being joined with us who were accursed, he be- came a curse for us; and he concealed his blessing in our sin, death, and curse, which condemned and killed him.115 His inten- tional self-incrimination, his personal decision to attach him- self to the enemies of God–the very reason he was cursed, and

l1w, XXVI, 135. WA, x1/1,238,12-123.

21w, XXVI, 280-81. WA, x1/1,438,32-33.

311For if the blessing in Christ could be conquered, then God himself would be conquered. But this is impossible.” LW, XXVI, 282. WA, XL/1,440,19-21.

41w, XXVI, 282. WA, x1/1,440,23. 51w’ XXVI, 290. WA, xr./1, )-i.51,20.

rightfully–was the selfsame decision of the selfsame person (the

merciful decision of the divine person) which to curse was sheer blasphemy. The wonder, therefore, is not just that the curse was

conquered by the blessing. The prior wonder is, Why should the curse want to attack the blessing in the first place? Luther’s answer is that, because God’s blessing and our sin were so inti- mately joined in this one person (as intimately as the “person” and his 11work111 ), therefore the curse, which had no choice but to

condemn our sin, necessarily condemned the divine blessing as well. “This circumstance, 1 in himself, 1 makes the duel more amazing and outstanding; for it shows that such great things were to be achieved

in the one and only person of Christ.112
We began the chapter by asking, as a problem in theological

predication, By reason of what can such a contradictory predicate as sin, our sin at that, really and meaningfully belong to Christ, this “purest of persons, ••• God and man?113 Luther1s answer must finally be, by reason of Christ I s love. He 1did this because of his great love; for Paul says [of Christ, in Gal. 2:20]: 1who loved me. 1114 In the last analysis, the explanation of Christ’s paradoxical sinnerhood is simply that 11he is nothing but sheer,

infinite mercy, which gives and is given”;S “the kind of lover who 1LW, X:X:.TI, 367. WA, XL/1, 560, 24-28.

2nJ, XJ::.TI, 282. WA, x1/1,440,26-27. 31w, XXVI, 287-88. WA, XL/1, 4Ll.8,19-20. 4uv, XXVI, 177. WA, x1/1,297,14.

S 1w , XXVI, 178. WA, XL/1, 298, 20-21.

gives himself for us and ••• who interposes himself as the Medi-

ator between God and us miserable sinners.111
Yet to speak of Christ as the “Mediator between God ahd us

miserable sinners11 seems to suggest that, while Christ may lovingly have predicated our sins of himself, 1God’1 (perhaps the first per- son of the Trinity) may not so spontaneously concur in this predi- cation but prefers to reserve judgment. For Luther this would be tantamount to saying that the ultimate and terrifying truth about the Divine Majesty is that he is our judge and that the whole proj- ect of overcoming his judgment and abolishing our sin must be

achieved “in the person” of someone other than himself, finally in our own persons. And that is exactly ·the fatal heresy, Luther

would say, of those who prefer to speculate about the Divine Majesty apart from Christ, and who prefer to do so just because

they suppose they can face his judgment on the strength of what- ever behavioral transformations occur within their own persons.

But this is to deny what Luther, as we saw previously, so vigorousiy affirmed: namely, that 11to conquer the sin of the world,

• and the wrath of God in himself–this is the work, not of

any creature but of the divine power.12 “Therefore when we teach

that men are justified through Christ and.that Christ is the vie-

tor over sin, ..• we are testifying at the same time that he is God by nature.113

11w, XXVI, 178-79. WA, XL/1,299,24-26. 2Lw, XXVI, 282. WA, xr/1,440,17-18. 31w, XX’TI, 283. WA, XL/l,4lj.l,31-33•

Accordingly, the final explanation which really and mean-

ingfully predicates our sin of Christ is that same loving will which he who “is God by nature” shares with his Father. “The in- describable and inestimable mercy and love of God, n who saw “that

we were being held under a curse and that we could not be liber- ated from it, .•• heaped all the sins of all men upon him.111
The culpable decision by which Christ attached himself to the ene-

mies of God is simultaneously the decision of this very God. “Of his own free will and by the will of the Father he wanted to be an associate of sinners.112 Indeed, it is “only by taking hold of Christ, who, by the will of the Father, has given himself into death for our sins, 11 that we are “drawn and carried directly to the Father. 113 The only alternative is to withdraw our sins from Christ, hoping wanly that God might enable us to remove and re- place them in our own persons, and thus to be left alone with the mortifying 11majesty of God.” –

Yet even the Divine Majesty, the very name by which Luther had described the hidden and intolerable God of the De Servo Arbitrio, becomes for believers the same God who lovingly destroys

our sin in the person of his Son. “For this is a work that is ap- propriate only to the Divine Majesty and is not within the power of either man or angel–namely, that Christ_has abolished sin.115


2nv, XXVI,

3uv, XXVI,

4uv, XXVI,


280. WA, XL/1,437,19-22. 278. WA, XL/1, .34,17-18. 42. WA, XL/1, 99, 10-13. 42. livA, XL/1, 99, 17.

41. WA, xr,/1,96,15-16.

22 1
“The Divine Majesty did not spare his own Son but gave him up for

us all. 111 The PJ.aiestas Dei, before whose inscrutable depths and dreadful judgments the sinner was forbidden to ask Why, now, in Christ, provides the sinner with new depths of mystery and perhaps even an answer to his question, but of an altogether different order.

The human heart is too limited to comprehend, much less to describe, the great depths and burning passion of divine love toward us. Indeed, the very greatness of divine mercy pro- duces not only difficulty in believing but incredulity. Not only do I hear that God Almighty, the Creator of all, is

good and merciful; but I hear that the Supreme Majesty cared so much for me ••• that he did not spare his own Son, ••• in order that he might hang in the midst of thieves and be- come sin and a curse for me, the sinner and accursed one, and in order that I might be made righteous, blessed, and a son and heir of God. Who can adequately proclaim this good- ness of God? Not even all the angels.2


By reason of what, then, is our sin Christ’s own? 11By love sin was laid upon him. 11 3



XXVI, 182. W·A, XL/1, 303,30-31. 21w, XXVI, 292. WA, x1/1,455,17-27. .-,D,,J, XXVI, 279. 1.:[A, XL/1,436,18.


Theologia De Nobis
The other side of the truth that Christ conquered our sin

in his own person is that the sin which he conquered, “having put on our person, 11 really was our sin, and that his triumph, the re – fore, is no less ours than his.l 11My sin and death are damned and abolished in the si.n and death of Christ.112 As we saw, Luther could say, on the one hand, that our sins “are as much Christ1s own as if he himself had committed them.113 But he could also say, or could represent Christ as saying, to us, 11Therefore I have con- quered the law. in your person, which is tantamount to your having conquered the law yourselves.” It is no less a one than the harassed sinner himself who now stands up to the divine law.

Law, what is it to me if you make me guilty and convict me of having committed many sins? In fact, I am still com-

mitting many sins every day. This does not affect me; I am deaf and do not hear you…• For I am dead to you; I now live to Christ.5

l v , 1 ‘ XXVI, 371. WA, XL/1,566,16-567,12. 2u,.r, XXVI, 160. WA, XL/1, 273, 31-32 • 3nr, XXVI, 278. WA, xL/1,435,17.
4Lw, XXVI, 370-71. WA, XL/1, 566, 14-17. 5uv, XX:,JI, 158. WA, XL/1, 271, 23-29.


22 3
Not only does Christ say, “I am as that sinner who is attached to

me • . • ,” but the believer also says in turn, “I am as Christ.11 If, in view of such extravagant predicates about man,

someone should charge Luther with having made the human subject into the object of theology–not only the human sinner as the ob•· ject of the law, but also the human believer as the object of the gospel–it would be difficult to refute that charge. Nor, it seems to me, would a refutation be particularly necessary. Not as long as we keep in mind that for Luther the one subject whom the gospel is pre-eminently and consistently about is the Deus iustificans in Jesus Christ–”from whom, through whom and unto

whom all my theological thinking flows, back and forth, day and night112 –and that, precisely because the gospel is about Christ

and because Christ about us.

So it is. impossible to deny the believing “I,1

is about us, Luther 1 s theology is therefore

In a quotation like the following it is simply the persistent references to the human subject, even to the point of his being the subject

syntactically of every one of the sentences–but notice, only be- cause he is the beneficiary of Christ.

Although I am a sinner according to the law, . . . neverthe- less I do not despair. I do not die, because Christ lives

who is my righteousness and my eternal and heavenly life. In that righteousness and life I have no sin, conscience, and death. I am indeed a sinner accordir.g to the present life and its righteousness, as a son of Adam where the law ac- cuses me, death reigns and devours me. But above this life

I have another righteousness, another life, which is Christ,

1LW, XXVI, 168. WA, XL/1,205,26-27. 2see p. 48, n. 1.


the Son of God, who does not know sin and death but is right- eousness and eternal life. For his sake this body of mine will be raised from the dead and del ivered from the slavery of the l aw and sin, and wil l be sanctified together with the Spirit. l

It might just be then ·that the gospel as Luther understands H is indeed about man the believer, ii’ we mean that what is true of Christ is, by happy exchange, true of his be l ievers . “By this fortunate exchange with us he took upon himself our sinful person and granted us his innocent and victorious person.112 “What is ours becomes his and what is his becomes ours. 113 Abraham’s prom- ised 1offspring1 is of course Christ but, for that very reason, the offspring includes us. “Al though it was not promised to us, it was promised about us; for we were named in the promise, ‘In your Off spring, etc.’ 14

Actually, thou h, this is not the whole of the problem. The offense of Luther’s anthropocentrism arises, not just with his theol ogy 1s being about man, but presumably with its being about man as a subject–that is, as a doer, or at least as a be-

l iever, as one who is what he is because of what he bel ieves and does. Is Luther’s theology about that man? If his theology, also as gospe l , is about man, is it about man in his subjectivity? How does he become what he most definitively is, coram deo, nam iy, righteous and a Christian? Does the question sound suspicious l y Kierkegaardian, l ike Johannes Cl imacus1 question in Concluding

1nr, XXVI, 9. WA, XL/1,L 7, 30-48, 20.



XXVI, 28L. WA, XL/1,443,23-24. .1 . . , L W , X Y J / I , 2 9 2 . W A , X L / 1 , 4 5 L , 3 2 – 3 3 ‚ 41w, XYJJI, 358. WA, XL/1,5L7,22.


Unscientific Postscript, What is it to become a Christian?1
Really the·question is almost identical, at least verbally, with the one which Luther poses for himself and Erasmus: “Our question

is • • • , how may we become good men and Christians? 112 And how, according to Luther, do we become Christians? By means of a Chris- tian subjectivity? So, even if we concede that Luther’s determin- ative evangelical predicates do finally describe man, we still

face this new question, Do they describe him in terms of what he subjectively does?

The answer to that question, at least at first glance,
must be an emphatic No, in view of Luther’s constitutive denial
of all justification by “works.” But it takes only a second thought

to recall that Luther just as emphatically insisted that that by 1-Jhich we are justified is our faith. And surely faith is, if any-

thing is, a function of the Christian subject–without ceasing to be, of coctr•se, simultaneously tho work of the Holy Spirit. Isn’t it that, then, namely the faith of the believing subject, which ac- counts for his theological status, his righteousness–“the right- eousness of faith, 11 as Luther calls it? 3 Isn’t it this one feature

of his subjectivity, not his “worksn but his faith, which defines him as Christian? “Therefore we define a Christian as follows:

• He is someone to whom, because of his faith in Christ, God

111To put it quite simply: How may I, Johannes Climacus, participate in the happiness promised by Clu•istianity?” Kierke- gaard 1s Concluding Unscientific Postscri t, trans. David F. Swenson and W a t e r Lowrie Princeton: Princeton University Press, 19 4)’ p• 20•

2 B oW , p. 86. WA, XVIII, 620,35. 31w, XXVI, 122. WA, xr/1,218,7.

does not impute his sin. 11 “But,” as Lu·i;her adds, ””Ipurposely said, ‘To the extent that he is a Christian’ ••• ; that is, to the ex-

tent that he has his conscience •.. enriched by this faith, . which cannot be exalted and praised enough, since it makes men

sons and heirs of God.111 rs it therefore because of this one righteous thing which they do, namely that they believe, that Christians are righteous? Luther does say, “If you believe, you are righteous. 112 “And so a man does not live because of his do- ing; he lives because of his believing.”3

It must be apparent by now that the way we have framed the question is deliberately naive. For how could we overlook what Luther says everywhere, that faith justifies only because it is faith in Jesus Christ, who alone is our justification? Obviously,

11for the sake of our faithin Christ” is just Luther’s way of saying, “for the sake of Christ.14 For, as everyone knows who has read

Luther at all, our faith is but weak and imperfect, and only Christ ‘1 is perfec.tly righteous. 15 Accordingly, “because faith is weak,
as I have said, therefore God’s imputation has to be added, .•• not for our sakes or for the sake of our worthiness or works but

for the

sake of Christ himself. 116
Still, is this the end of the matter? If it is, if Luther

1LW, XXVI, 133, 2LW, XXVI, 233. 31w, XXVI, 274. L LW, XXVI, 233. 5uv, YY::.I.,l 233. 61w, XXVI, 232.

134. WA, XL/1, 2J5, 15-236, 16.

WA, XL/l,369,24. WA, XL/1, 369, 2L . WA, xL/1,.368,21-25.

XL/1, 369, 21.

xL/1,428, 21.

has said all he means to say when he says simply that our right-

eousness is Christ alone, then why should he complicate that sim- plicity by saying in addition such exalted things about faith? Wouldn’t it have been enough in that case to oppose justification by works with justification by Christ alone or with justification by grace alone, without further encumbering his case (and embar- rassing his descendants) with justification by faith alone? That that has been an alluring way out of the difficulty the subsequent history of Protestant theology amply demonstrates. Of ourse, the plea might still be made that Luther himself would have underplayed his emphasis upon the “righteousness of faith” if he could b.R”v·e

anticipated, say, the Osiandrian heresy or the fideism of the pietists. That is only a conjecture. The fact, in any case, is that in his own time and place he clearly regarded it as indis- pensable to the gospel to say, “Faith alone justifies.111

On the other hand, it might be equally tempting so to lit- eralize Luther’s “righteousness of faith” that we conclude from
it that righteousness means faith, On this view, then, the be-

liever would have only so much righteousness as he has faith.
His believing would be the measure of his actual value before God, Then faith is as righteous as faith does. In that case the Chris-

tian, since his faith is less than perfect, is something less than really righteous. While his sin may be forgiven as a negative ben- efit, he does not yet enjoy the gift of righteousness as positively his own. But this tack, if it intends to represent Luther,

lLW, XXvI, 372, WA,: XL/l:,_567,13,

conveniently skirts the “paradox” which Luther himself W l l S unable

to skirt, namely that “a Christian man is righteous and a sinner at the same time,!! and that righteousness in this case means “per- fect righteousness, 11 and that that w h i c h perfectly righteous is ”faith, ho-wever imperfect it may be. 111

rustitia Fidei
The problem we confront, therefore, is but one more vari-

ation of the one which has occupied us from the beginning, the problem of Luther’s theological predication. It is not just a matter of affirming or denying that his theology is about man, even about man in his subjectivity as believer. Beyond that looms a prior question. Why is it that faith, the faith of a sinner, can be called that sinner’s righteousness? By reason of what, ac- cordine; to Luther, do such lofty predicates as njustify, 11 “makes men sons and heirs of God,” “makes a man God, 11 apply to such a

lowly subject as faith–to the faith, that is, of men who other- wise are anything but God’s sons and in fact are his enemies?2

The answer to that question, at least the first obvious answer, is that in assigning such paradoxical predicates to faith Luther was only following the lead of Scripture. No doubt that is true. And incidentally, whatever misgivings we may have about Luther’s biblical warrant at this point, one hoary criticism which ought not be perpetuated is that the sources of his view of faith are narrowly Pauline. Even if they were, one reason the Pauline

1Dd, XXVI, 232, 234. WA, xr/1,368,26-27, 371,20-21, 21w, XXVI, 100. WA, x1/1,182,15.

sources so captivated Luther was Paul 1 s remarkable insight into

the prior sources of the Old Testament–of which Luther, after
all a doctor of Old Testament Scripture, knew something, sometimes even without Paul’s help.1 Still, granted that much of Luther’s doctrine concerning faith is unabashedly and cheerfully Pauline, the truth is that some of his most enthusiastic claims for faith are drawn from non-Pauline sources: from the Book of Acts, 2 from the eleventh chapter of Hebrews,3 not to mention the Apostles’ Creed.4 Furthermore, it was not Paul who said, !!Your faith has made you well,” to blind Bartimaeus, 5, to the Samaritan leper, 6
to the woman with the hemorrhage;? and who said to the woman in Simon’s house, “Your faith has saved you.118 Certainly one of Luther’s favorite quotations which best described his high esti- mate of faith, even within his lectures on Paul’s Epistle to the Galatfans, was not from Paul but from John: “This is the victory

that overcomes the world, our faith. 11 9
1For example, LW, XX’JI, 289, 226, 438, 210, 211-12. WA,

XL/1,449,3; 359,32; 66u,26-661,19; 338,31-33; 341,22-25. 2LW, XXVI, 205ff. WA, XL/1, 333f’f·



31w, XXVI, 263, 264, 291+. WA, XL/1, 412,25-27; 413,3L -414, L 14,1i+-=-2’0;457,28-29.

4For example, WA, XVIII, 650,3-651,30.

5Mark 10:52; Luke 18:42. 61uke 17:19.

?Mark 5:34; Matthew 9:22; Luke 8:48. See LW, XX.VI, 404. XL/1, 614, 27-28.

81uke 7:50. See WA, XVIII,747,13-14°

9I John 5:4. LW, XXVI, 31, 162, 282, 369. WA, XI/1, 80,23; 277,13-14; 444,14-35; 564,15.

But if our victory is now identified with our faith, then

why did Luther previously identify it so exclusively with the work of that other subject, Christ? Wasn’t his victory already ours?

Wasn’t Luther’s whole point precisely this, that Christ conquered the law not only in his own person but also in our persons, so that that was already tantamount to our having conquered the law

ourselves? wasn 1 t that Luther’s fundamental understanding


of Paul Is ilrrEe “” not just that Christ conquered for our sakes



or for our benefit, not just that he conquered instead of us, but that he conquered “in our persons,” as really as if we ourselves had? 1 Yes, that was the point. Then why does Christ 1 s once-for- all victory, in order to be subjectively ours, still have to be actualized in our subjectivity?

“Have to be actualized,” indeedJ To put the question that way is to beg it. That seems to assume that, until we make the victory our own by faith, the victory is in suspense–a real vic-

tory perhaps but not really ours, achieved but as yet anonymous and unspecified. That is an assumption which, so far as I can tell, Luther does not share. For him the question :might better read, not why does Christ 1 s victory have to be actualized in our subjectivity, but why does it to be actualized? Better yet: Not why does it get to be actualized in our subjectivity–for it was actualized already in Christ, also as ours–but why does it get to be identified with our subjectivity, that is, with our faith? Luther’s answer would seem to be, as the sequel should

show, that Christ 1 s victory is identified with our faith exactly 111r, XXVI, 370-71. WA, XL/1,566,14.-17•

because lb.isvictory was, from the beginning, a victory “in our

person.” But because it was, any denying that his original vic- tory was already ours is to deny not just his victory in general

but our own victory, and thus to identify ourselves not with those who conquered in his person but with those whom he defeated. Con- versely, it is not that Christ’s victory first becomes ours as and when we proceed to believe it, but rather that our believing it

only confirms that those who now believe are the same ones in whose person he conquered originally, and ever since. Because

they are the same ones, ther•efore their believing, “however imper- fect it may be, 11 is the believing of those who triumphed perfectly in Christ, who are free to disown whatever of theirs he defeated and to own whatever of his he won.

At any rate, it is in quest of 8ome such theological ex- planation as this that we shall now attempt to see how Luther re- solves the knotty problem of predication posed by the “righteous- ness of faith.” In pursuing an “explanation,” a rationale as it were, there is no intention of minimizing Luther 1s frank biblicism. That we hav8 cordially admitted. Still, given the Scriptures, Luther seemed all the more bent on discovering by what internal

logic the scriptures explained themselves–all the way from the native intention of their authors,1 through the dialectic of their own historic antitheses, to their final resolution in Christ, “the Author and Lord of Scripture 112 –but explained themselves, let us

lsee how, in this connection, Luther appeals to the author- ity of Hilary. WA, XVIII, 728, ll -17.

2LW, XXVI, 295. WA, XL/1,458,33-34

add, always as resources for Luther’s own day. Moreover, in pursu-

ing an explanation which is theological, we shall be proceeding dif- ferently from the way we did in Chapter vr. There, even though we traversed some of the same material on the righteousness of faith, we did so in the interest of Luther’s understanding of subiectum,

an issue which was only tangential to his theological purposes.

Quantum Comprehendo, Tantum Habeo
“The highest learning and even theology,” says Luther,

”even God and Christ, are of no avail without faith.111 How very closely the believer’s victory or, what amounts to the same thing, his justification is linked to his faith will appear from disjunc- tive statements like these. “Wherever there is faith in Christ, there sin has in fact been abolished • • . • But where there is no faith in Christ, there sin remains.112 God “is not a father to me unless I respond to him as a son. First the Father offers me grace and fatherhood by means of his promises; all that remains is that

I accept it.13 “But where Christ is not known, there these things remain [namely, sin, death, and curse]. And so all who do not be- lieve lack this blessing and this victory. 1For this, 1 as John says, ‘is our victory, faith. 111 4 “You must either take hold of the blessed Offspring . . • or you must have Moses.115 Either • or,

1uv, XXVI, 2Lw, XXVI, 31w, XXVI, 41v1, XXVI, 51w, XXVI,

114,122. WA, XL/1, 205,24-25; 217,23-24. 286. WA, xr/1,4.45,32-34.
390. WA, XL/1, 593, 20-22.
282. WA, XL/1,440,33-35°

324. WA, XL/1,502,12-15.

aut • • . aut. Either faith and therefore victory, or no faith

and so defeat.
In addition to this either-or disjunction between faith

and no faith, Luther seems to distinguish degrees of victory within faith itself, 1partim .•• partim,1 so that even the Christian is

more righteous or less righteous depending on the measure of his faith. In one of Luther’s lectures on Galatians (October 9, 15 31 ), when he is contrasting the perfect victory of Chrj_st with the still

unfinished victory of our weak faith, he makes the startling state- ment, “As much as I grasp, that much I have.11 Quantum comprehendo,


in the later translations. Earlier in the course, one month before, Luther had told his class essentially the same thing, “To the ex- tent that you believe this, to that extent you have it.112 Quatenus

igitur hoc credis, eatenus habes.3 This time the sentence did get into the printed text, but the early English translations domesti- cated it somewhat. Instead of 1to that extent you have it,11 they read 1so much dost thou enjoy it.114 Still, this sort of statement occurs often in Luther, even in his sermons. Glaubst du, hast d . 5 And much the same thought is expressed, though usually more

1WA, XL/1, 5 35,18. 21w, XXVI, 284.

3wA, XL/1,414,14(Hs.:4, 1-2). 4Gal, p. 276.

SA similar statement occurs in the De Servo Arbitrio:
11And as they believe, so it is unto them.” BoW, p. 305. WA, XVIII, 778, 13-1L1.•

tantum habeo.l Georg Rohrer, though he copied the statement into his class notes, evidently saw fit to keep it out of the published edition, with the result that the statement also does not appear

guardedly, elsewhere in the course on Galatians.1 In fact, the

very lecture from which R hrer withheld the statement, “quantum comprehendo tantum habeo, 11 does include, also in its published version, similar statenmnts which are hardly less drastic. Re- ferring to the sins which believers continue to experience in themselves, Luther says, “To the extent that these are present, Christ is absent; or if he is present, he is present weakly. 112

Also: “To the extent that I take hold of Christ by faith, there- fore, to that extent the law has been abrogated for me.113

This is risky talk, to be sure_, especially when we ponder the ways in which Luther’s meaning could be misconstrued. But one misconstruction, however tempting it might be on ulterior grounds,

is too patently erroneous to require serious refutation.
the notion that Luther, in expressions like those we have quoted, is advocating the sort of blatant subjectivism in which “believing

makes it so.11 Faith in that case would amount to little more than auto-suggestion, and the benefits of Christ to little more than pious self-assurance. Of course, if this actually were Luther’s view of the matter, the whole problem of predication which emerges from the “righteousness of faith” could easily be solved. Better than that, it could be obviated. Faith would not be righteous ex- cept in that the believer himself supposed it were.

1For example, WA, XL/1,438,16-17. Here, too, however, the dependence upon faith T s slightly mor•e forthright in RBhrer I s Hand- schrift text (438, 3) than in the printed text. See also WA, XL/1,440,31-33; 566,34-567,11.

21w, XXVI, 350. WA, XL/1, 537, 28-29. But this printed ver- sion, again, is more qualTfied and careful than the blunt, categori- cal assertion in the Handschrift: Quia nondum ibi Christus (537,8).

3Lw, XXVI, 350-51. WA, XL/1,538,19-20.

In any

That is


realistic sense, the 11righteousness of faith1 would then be a wish- ful illusion, and there would be no need to deal with the tension between a really sinful subject and a really righteous predicate. That that interpretation of Luther is quite groundless was clear even from our modest word-study of Luther’s use of obiectum–that is, from the all-important “objectivity” of the Christ of faith. Perhaps isolated statements, torn from their contexts, could be exploited in favor of a theory of subjectivism. For example, “If you believe that sin, death, and the curse have been abolished, they have been abolished.111 But see how that sentence immediately

continues and is directly explained: 1 • because [quia] Christ conquered and overcame them in himself.112

However, subjectivism aside, there is another misconstruc- tion of Luther’s intention which is not immediately transparent and which, let us admit, finds much to recommend it on the basis of Luther’s own assertions–at least, at first glance. Luther’s provocative ”quantum comprehendo tantum habeo, 11 and other like ex- pressions, may sound like so much fideism. They seem to suggest,

in other words, that for Luther the iustitia fidei refers to that righteousness which faith has inherently, as an active fulfilling of the divine demand, as a right and lawful thing to do. Such a fideist interpretation of Luther might even concede,without being

inconsistent, that it needs to guard against its own distortions. For instance, as even the fideist might admit, it could easily de- generate into a faith in faith itself. But Luther’s fideism,

11w, XXVI, 284. WA, XL/1, 44L,ll.1.-16. 2Ibid.

supposing that that is what it is, would also be thought to provide

its own safeguards. We would only have to remind Ol’trselves that a faith which looks to itself is not at all what Luther means by faith, and that for him faith is by definition a looking only to Christ–with the fideistic result that only such Christ-centered faith is sufficiently unselfconscious to satisfy, say, the First Commandment. Again, lest faith become proud, we could quickly quote Luther to the effect that the believer, after all, has not created his own faith but is entirely indebted for it to the

Creator Spirit–with the fideistic result that the believer is righteous only in the measure that he assigns all glory to God. Finally, to insure that this fideism does not become self-confident, we could always insist that, exactly because righteousness is be- lieving, no one yet believes righteously enough to qualify as al- ready righteous–assuming that it really is the iustitia fidei which Luther is talking about in his ”quantum comprehendo tanturn habeo. 11 But dare we assume that, namely, that the righteousness which characterizes faith according to the gospel (Luther’s

iustitia fidei) is the same righteousness which characterizes it according to the law, as though iustitia fidei itself were only “quantum . . • tantum”?

Quid Facit Lex in Iustificatis?
For all its apparent fidelity to Luther’s words, this

fideism misses his actual meaning already at the point of his diag- nosis of the problem, and all the more so at the point of his solu- tion. The problem, in his lecture on October ninth, is a problem

posed by the law: The law continues to accuse even Christians.1

But how can this be, since “Christ came once for all at one time, abrogated the law with all its effects, and by his death delivered the entire human race from sin and eternal death1.1?2 If such com- prehensive claims are to be made for the victory of’ Christ (that he abrogated the law “cum omnibus effectibus suis11 and delivered from sin the 11totum genus humanum”) then how are we to explain that the very law which Christ abrogated can still declare our victory to be only partial (“partim ..• partim11)3 and not yet

( 11nondum11)?1+ The problem, as Doctor Luther assures his class, is far from academic. He has in mind the people in the churches who quite practically object: 111 All right, Christ has come into the

world and abolished our sins once for all. .•. Then why should we listen to the Gospel? What need is there of the Sacrament and

of absolution?'”5
So when Luther now adds, “quantum comprehendo tantum habeo, 11

he is not yet solving the problem. He is only dividing the question, thus bringing new clarity to the painful diagnosis. For if we have only so much of Christ’s victory as we grasp by faith, then, however complete Christ’s victory may have been for him, it is hardly com- plete for us, and hardly our victory at all. But if so, that in

1This section of the lecture is prefaced by an explicit announcement of the problem which is before the house: “But what does the law do in those who have been justified through Christ?” LW, XXVI, 348. WA, XL/1,534,31-32°

21w, XXVI, 349. WA, XL/1,535,19-22.
3wA, x1/1,536,11. 4wA, xr/1,538,15. 51w, XXIJI, 350. WA, XL/1,537,35-538,14.

turn reflects adversely on the once for all character of Christ’s

own achievement, his conquering “in our person.” Of course, one way to solve the problem (a way which would be open to a fideistic

interpretation) might be to distinguish between the victory which was Christ 1 s and the victor•y (at best, a very tenuous victory) which

is ours. At first, that is what Luther himself seems to be doing when he draws the distinction: “The defect is not in Christ, it

is in us. 111 It might seem to have the advantage at least of exon- erating Christ, to say: “If we could perfectly take hold of Christ, who has abrogated the law and reconciled us sinners to the Father by his death, then that custodian would have no jurisdiction what- ever over us.112 If we couldJ But it is exactly because we cannot

“perfectly take hold of Christ” that the law still does have juris- diction over us. Then what becomes of Luther’s claim that Christ ”has abrogated the law, 11 not for himself but for us? Luther ex- plicitly says: “He truly abolished the entire law; but now that the law has been abolished, are no longer held in custody under

its tyranny; but we live securely and happily with Christ, who now reigns sweetly in us by his Spirit. 11 3 Clearly then, by his “quantum comprehendo tantum habeo,11Luther does not mean that the

victory of Christ is 11 totu s11 only for Christ • tantum” for us. Yet that still leaves

not the solution.

1LW, XXVI, 349. WA, XL/l,53. ,30-31. 2LW, XXV’I, 349. WA, XL/1,535,26-29. 3v,1, XXVI, 349. WA, XL/1,535,23-26.

but merely “quantum us with the problem,

(Italics mine.)


Si Christum Inspicio, Totus Sanctus Sum
The first step toward a solution (a second and third will follow) comes in the form of a very diff1:irent distinction. It is

not the distinction between Christ 1 s total victory and our partial one, but the distinction rather between our own total victory,

which we find only in Christ, and our partial victory, which we find in ourselves. The situation in either case is ours, in the one case faltering and vulnerable, in the other case secure and triumphant. But the difference between our two situations depends altogether on where we find them, in ourselves or in Christ. The difference does not depend on how intently and faithfully we be-

lieve, even in Christ. For if that is the meastue, the verdict is

always ambiguous–”quantum • • • tantum, 11 “partim • partim, 11 –

11nondum11–and always incriminating and deadly. To put it in other words, iustitia fidei is not determined by the subjectivity of the believing subject but by the obiectum, Jesus Christ, whom the be-

lieving subject believes. In Christ there is no defectus, of course, but in him ther•e is also none in us. “But if I look at

my flesh [and it is the law1s business to see that I do], I feel greed, sexual desire, anger, pride, the terror of death, sadness, fear, hate, grumblin5, and impatience against God.111 It is from these clues within the believer himself that the law draws its stern inference: ”To the extent that these are present, Christ is ebsent; or if he is present, he is present weakly. 112 That is the

1LW , )OCVI, 350. WA, XL/1,537,26-28. 2LW, XXVI, 350. WA, XL/1, 537, 28-29.

case 1if I look at my flesh.:; But 1if I look at Christ, I am com- pletely holy and pure, and I know nothing at all about the law.111 That is why the Christian is to listen to the gospel, for it is there that he listens, not to his own heart and the law, but to the victory of Christ, and his own victory.

Ut Fides Crescat et Lex Minuatur
A second step in the solution is that, as the believer

finds his victory in the once for all achievement of Christ, his own Christian subjectivity also matures. As he listens to the gospel, that very “quantum” of faith which is measured strictly by the law, and which the law disparages for its meagerness, grows from less to more. But surely this new interest in the 1more and

more” of faith sounds like fideism if anything does. Not really. Fideism it would be, no doubt, if faith had to answer to the law,

if the real value of the Christian’s faith depended upon his be- lieving as righteously as the law demands he should. But that, for Luther, is exactly what faith is not; faith is not accountable to the law. On the contrary, faith is dead to the law, “as dead to the law as a virgin is toward a man.12 For faith “there is no law anymore.113 And the reason there is no law for faith is not

that, with an increase in faith, the law is more and more ful- filled. True, it does happen that, as faith grows and the flesh

3n-J, XXVI, 349. WA, XL/1, 53S,23. Luther has developed this pointeven more graphically and at greater length in his exegesis of Galatians 2:19, on August fourteenth. WA, XL/l,266ff.


– ; , ., -r .,,, – – , ., _.,,, . ., –

XXVI, 350. WA, XL/1,537,24-25. 2r.w_ YYiTT ) 1q_ icT./l. C::(,l.8-20.


diminishes, the law has less right to complain. But that process is always only becoming–only ”beginning, 1 as Luther says–and

will not be completed until the resurrection.1 Moreover, it is not really the nature of the law to be satisfied; its nature is rather to accuse and terrify, not only the flesh but even the be- lieving “conscience, 1 over which it has no II jurisdiction. 112 No, the reason that faith is not accountable to the law, and “that ac- cording to our conscience we are completely free of the law,” is simply this: ”Christ the crucified ..• abolished all the claims of the law upon the conscience, ‘having canceled the bond which


stood against us with its legal demands. 111…., “Thus the conscience takes hold of Christ more perfectly day by day.114 And what does this “more perfectly day by day,” this growth in Christian subjec- tivity, entail for the law? llJust as Christ came once physically, according to time, abrogating the entire law, abolishing sin, and destroying death and hell, so he comes to us spiritually without

interruption and continually smothers and kills these things in us” –also the totam legem.5 Hore and more, faith grows free from the law, not because it is more and more fulfilling the law, but be- cause more and more it realizes that the law has nothing to say

to it at all.

1 L W , X X V I , 3 5 0 , 3 5 1 . WA , X L / 1 , 5 3 7 , 2 2 ; 5 3 8 , 2 3 – 2 6 . 21w, XXVI, 349. WA, x1/1, 5 36,23-25, 13-16; 535,28. 31w, XXVI, 349. WA, XL/1, 5 36,13-14, 16-18.
4u-1, XXVI, 35 0. WA, XL/1, 5 36,28-29.

5nv, XXVI, 35 0. WA, XL/1, 5 37,31-3L1-. (Italics mine.)

Cum Accusas Me, Me Consolaris
This is not to say, however, that the law 1 s nagging dis-

criminations of more and less, “quantum • tantum, 1 11 nondum ,1 are useless. In fact, for Luther, the matter stands quite the other way around. 1rhat brings us to a_third stage in his solution. For Luther to have denied the law any hearing at all would amount to backing away from the problem. The larger problem which occa- sioned his lecture still remains: Doesn1t it continue to be a re- flection on Christ’s once for all abrogation of the law if that

same law is still abroad, accusing the very ones whom Christ claimed to have liberated? Of course, one way to resolve that dilemma
would be to deny one of its horns–for example, by insisting that the law, the law of God, is not really accusing at all. But that

is not Luther’s way. Not only does he concede the fact of the
law I s accusations–11the law, the custodian who continually terri- fies and distresses the conscience with his demonstrations of sin and his threats of death.”l Not only does he make the law ines- capable, by linking it causally with other concomitant facts–”So long as the flesh remains, there remains the law.112 He even finds

the law to be indispensible, 11extremely necessary. 113 And with this stroke, astonishingly, Luther (really Paul) finds the way to re- solve that dilemma which had seemed to threaten the victory of Christ. By its very accusations the law is made to serve a ”need,11

11w, XXVI, 349. WA, x1/1,536,2 3-2 5. 21w, XXVI, 349. WA, XL/1,536,23-24. 31w, XXVI, 348. WA, xr/1,53L ,2 9.


which is nothing less than the victorious, saving purpose of Christ. “The need for a custodian, 1 says Luther, is “to discipline and torment the flesh, that powerful jackass, so that by this disci- pline sins may be diminished and the way prepared for Christ.111

The law with its insinuating ”quantum comprehendo tantum habeo, 1 now in the service of its victor, is but “performing its function,

• not to harm but to save.112 All this it does, not by ceasing to be an accuser, but by being just that, the diametric opposite of the gospel. But then right on the heels of its accusations, with ilthe way prepared for Christ,11 along comes Christ, whose com-

ing “spiritually every day • • • through the Word of the gospel,” is as real and triumphant as when 11he once came into the world at a specific time to redeem us from the harsh dominion of our cus- todian.113 Each day over, therefore, the once for all victory over the law is renewed. Before the superior presence of Christ’s daily, spiritual coming through the gospel, before the presence of faith which locates its own victory in Christ’s, “our custodian, with his gloomy and grievous task, is also forced to yield. 114 So the law’s accusations do not deny but only confirm, and confirm

in action, that Christ is victor still, 11 1the same yesterday and today and forever. 1115

1nv, XXVI, 350. WA, XL/1, 537, 29-31. 2Df’I, XXVI, 350. WA, XL/1, 537, l7-18.

31w, XXVI, 411,1, XXVI,

351, 349-50. WA, xr/1,538,30-31; 536,26-27.

351. WA, XL/1,538,32-33.

5Hebrews 13:8. (il’l, XXVI, 351, inadvertently cites the passage as Hebrews 13:4. )-WA, XL/1,538,27.

After all, then, that “quantum comprehendo tantum habeo”

is not the decisive measure of the believer’s iustitia fidei. His righteousness does not depend on how righteously he believes. So Luther’s provocative formula is not the embarrassing thing it at first seemed to be. Or rather it is embarrassing, but therein lies

its distinct advantage. The law, with its continuing exposures of the 11partim … partim, 11 “nondum.,” meagerness of our personal victories, does indeed embarrass and discourage and mortify. But

with that, with 11the daily mortification of the flesh, the reason, and our powers, 1 comes “the renewal of our mind, 11 the growing 1 in faith and in our knowledge of him1 in whom “I am completely holy and pure, and I know nothing at all about the law. 111 The humili- ating “quantum comprehendo tantum habeo, 11 in its strange and daily dialectic with the gospel, is actually employed to refute itself

in favor of the ‘1totus sanctus et purus sum.11 Frequently, in Luther’s lectures, this dialectic is acted out in direct dialogue between the believer and the law. The fact that the following

sample (which might serve as a paradigm for all the rest) casts the antagonist in the role of the devil, rather than the law, is incidental. Elsewhere Luther records the same sort of give-and- take with the law.2

·when the devil accuses us and says: “You are a sinner, there- fore you are damned, 11 then we can answer him and say: “Because

1LW, XXVI, 350. WA, XL/1,537,18-20; 536,28; 537,2 .-25.

2Fo!’ example, in a later lectu1,e much the same 11iucun- diss imum duellum” (WA, XI/1, 279, 25) occurs seven times: once with the devil (276,24-277,15), once with death (276,20-23), and fj_ve tin1es with the law (275,23-276 J l2 ; 276,15-20; 277,25-29; 277,34- 278,12; 278,34-279,18).


you say that I am a sinner, therefore I shall be righteous saved. 11 “No, 11 says the devil, 11you will be damned.” 1No,11 I say, “for I take refuge in Christ, who has given himself for my sins•••• In fact, when you say that I am a sinner, you provide me with armor and weapons against yourself • . . • You are reminding me of the blessing of Christ my Redeemer. On his shoulders, not on mine, lie all

my sins•••• Therefore when you say that I am a sinner, you do not frighten me; but you bring me immense consola- tion.1fl

Earlier we quoted Luther as saying, God “is not a Father


to me unless I respond to him as a son,”c.;_ leaving the impression perhaps that the Christian pleases the Pather only in the measure that; he responds to the demand for faith. Really, that is not
what Luther says. He says, “There is no demand here.113 Then what is there? “There is only the Father here, promising and calling
me his son through Christ.11L 11And I for my part accept, reply with a sigh, and say, ‘Father, 111 .5 Yet this sigh, 1Abba, Father,” is the most meager quantum of faith, 1so faint that it can hardly be felt,11 for it is all but drowned out by the “terrors of the law, thunder-

claps of sin, tremors of death, and roarings of the devil.116 Nev- ertheless, “this sight, which seems so meager in the flesh, is a loud cry and a aigh too deep for words.117 For in truth it is the

sigh of none other than the Holy Spirit, a sigh thB.t “i-•eaches all

2u,,, XXVI, 390. 311,,r, XXVI, 390. 4Lw, XXVI, 390.

51w, XXVI, 390. 6u,r, XXVI, 389, 71w, XXVI, 382.

36-37. WA, XL/1,89,19-90,13.

WA, XL/1, 593, 20. WA, XL/1,593,29,25. WA, XL/1′, 593, 24-27 ‚ WA, XL/1,593,28.

381. WA, XL/1, .592, 11; 580, 25-26. WA, x1/1,582,28-29.

the way to the ears of God,” “that fills heaven and earth, 11 “so loudly that the angels suppose that they cannot hear anything ex- cept this cry.111 “Then the Father says: 11 do not hear anything in the whole world except this single sigh. 112 And all this with the help, left-handedly, of the terrifying law. Here again is that same dialectic from “quantum • • • tantum” to “totum. 11 God


l11,r1,XXVI, 381, 382. WA, XL/1,581,10,29-30; 582,33.
21w, XXVI, 384. WA, xr/1, 585, 28-29.
31w, XXVI, 384. WA, XL/1,584,24-25.
41w, XXVI, 391, 388-89. WA, XL/1,596,19,21-22; 591,28-30.

is “nearest to us when we are at our weakest.”_.., The Christian has only 11this faint sigh and this tiny faith,” and yet “what a Christian has is in fact something very large and infinite”: a Father who is delighted with him for one reason, proper christum, and not by the quantity of his faith.4



Fides Imputatur Ad Iustitiam
Fideism, by measuring the believer’s righteousness in pro-

portion to his faith, interprets Luther one-sidedly. But so does that opposite interpretation which, perhaps in reaction to the fideistic distortion, fixes so exclusively upon the “objective,” trans-subjective accents in Luther that it fails to account for the importance of faith, which Luther everywhere extols. But here again, just as with Luther’s apparent fideism, the interpretation

in question is an attractive one because it seems at first to be well attested by Luther’s own statements, particularly by what he

says on the matter of divine imputation. Accordingly, his doctrine of imputation can hardly be ignored. The weakness of a one-sided imputationist view of Luther, however, is that it interposes a false separation between the righteousness which God imputes and the righteousness of the believing heart. But neither do we solve our problem, namely the problem of how faith is righteous, by ju- dicious compromise, by steering a middle course between the two extremes of fideism and, shall we say, imputationism. Luther’s

own procedure, characteristically, is more dialectical than that, and puts the doctrine of imputation to fullest use. But by just


that dialectic he accounts for and safeguards–and, more than that, finds cause for joy in–the iustitia fidei.

A good place to look for a sample is Luther’s lectures on the twenty-eighth and twenty-ninth of August, 1531. He is taking his students–‘1students of the sacred scriptures, 11 as he calls them1 –through an exegesis of Galatians 3:6, 11Thus Abraham be- lieved God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” In the course of the two lectures on this verse Luther uses “reckon”

(reputare) interchangeably with ”impute11 ( imputare).2 Our ques- tion is this: rs a man justified so exclusively by that right- eousness which God imputes to him that he is not justified at all by his righteous faith? It is possible, at least in one instance in these lectures, to find an isolated statement which seems to make for an exclusive imputationism. “Righteousness is not in us

in a formal sense, as Aristotle maintains, but is outside us, solely in the grace of God and in his imputation. u3 So exclu- sively does this statement seem to locate righteousness “outside us, 11 solely in the divine imputation, that it makes faith almost superfluous. At the very least, it makes the t1righteousness of faith” completely unintelligible. Of course we could still argue that faith is indeed righteous but that its only righteousness is that which God imputes to it. Still, is that the only kind of righteousness Luther means faith to have?

1Lw, XXVI, 231. WA, XL/l,366,23.

211Which faith is imputed [imputatur] as righteousness •
• . • God reckons [reputat] this imperfect faith as perfect right-

eousness.” DI, XX’TII, 231. WA, XL/l,366,26:…3O. 31w, XXVI, 234. WA, XL/1,37O,27-3O.


Emphatically not. Earlier in these two lectures we find Luther at the very opposite extreme, playing the rhetorician–the Rhetor, as he says–in praise of faith and apotheosizing it in terms which are usually reserved only for deity.1

Paul makes faith in God the supreme worship, the supreme allegian e, the supreme obedience, and the supreme sacrifice •

• . • Faith is something omnipotent . • • its power is estimable and infinite; for it attributes glory to God,
which is the highest thing that can be attributed to him.
To attribute glory to God is ••• , in short, to acknowledge him as the author and donor of every good. Reason does not do this, but faith does. It consummates the deity; and, if

I may put it this way, it is the creator of the deity, not in the substance of God but in us. For without faith God loses his glory in us•••• Nor does God require anything greater of man than ••• that he regard him, not as an idol but as God, who has regard fo him, listens to him, shows

mercy to him, helps him, etc.
“To be able to attribute such glory to God, 11 Luther concludes, “is

wisdom beyond wisdom, righteousness beyond righteousness, religion beyond religion, and sacrifice beyond sacrifice. 11 3

This ”sacrificium sacrificiorum, 11 which is faith, gives glory to God not only by believing him, but, in that very act, by slaying that beast which disbelieves him, the beast Ratio. “For what is more ridiculous • than when God says to Abraham that he is to get a son from the body of Sarah, which is barren and al- ready dead?114

It does indeed seem ridiculous and absurd to reason that in the Lord’s Supper th body and the blood of Christ are pre- sente9, that Baptism is “the washing of regeneration and

111,1, XXVI, 227. WA, XL/1,360,18. 21w, Y.XvI,227. WA, XL/1,360,17-27.

_,LW, XXVI, 227. WA, XL/1, 360, 33-34•

41w, XXVI, 227. WA, XL/1,361,16-18.