Jump to content


Photo
* - - - - 1 votes

Martin Luther on theosis


  • Please log in to reply
10 replies to this topic

#1 Speros

Speros

    Regular Poster

  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 75 posts

Posted 03 January 2011 - 10:51 AM

First Things
Books In Review

Union With Christ: The New Finnish Interpretation of Luther.
Edited by Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson. Eerdmans. 192 pp. $21 paper.

Reviewed by Ted Dorman

This brief but rich book introduces English–speaking scholars to ground–breaking research from Helsinki University that casts Martin Luther’s soteriology in a new light. The "new Finnish interpretation of Luther" finds the essence of his doctrine of salvation not in forensic justification—God declaring us just solely by virtue of Christ’s sacrifice—but in something more akin to the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of theosis, or deification...

Mannermaa expounds the book’s thesis as follows: "According to Luther, Christ (in both his person and his work) is present in faith and is through this presence identical with the righteousness of faith. The idea of a divine life in Christ who is really present in faith lies at the very center of the theology of the Reformer." The forensic element in Luther’s doctrine of justification is thus viewed by the Finns as a function of his central emphasis on the believer’s actual participation in the divine life through union with Christ.

This in turn means, in the words of the book’s editors, that for Luther "righteousness as an attribute of God in Christ cannot be separated from his divine being. The righteousness of God that is ours by faith is therefore a real participation in the life of God." To ascribe such views to the German Reformer flies in the face of the German Protestant tradition, which has "notoriously read Luther under the spell of neo–Kantian presuppositions" that ignore "all ontology found in Luther" and instead define faith as "purely an act of the will with no ontological implications [such as the believer’s actual participation in the divine nature]."

Mannermaa cites the German philosopher Hermann Lotze as one such neo–Kantian culprit whose ontology denies the idea of "being in itself" in favor of the notion of things "standing in relationship" and having no real existence apart from the effects they have on each other. An epistemological corollary of Lotze’s ontology is that "things in themselves cannot be objects of human understanding, but only their effects." Lotze’s approach places an epistemological gap between knowledge of Christ’s person (object, being) and of his work (effects).

Luther, on the other hand, "does not distinguish between the person and work of Christ. Christ is both favor of God (forgiveness of sins, atonement, abolition of wrath) and gift (donum)." Faith means "justification precisely on the basis of Christ’s person being present in it as favor and gift."

The fact that "favor" and "gift" are inextricably connected means, as Puera’s essay notes, that the "gift" of spiritual renewal in Christ "is not only aconsequence of grace [favor], as is usually emphasized in Lutheran theology, but it is in a certain sense a conditionfor grace as well" (emphasis added). This notion of conditional grace (as opposed to modern Lutheran and Reformed emphasis on unconditional grace) springs from Luther’s rejection of late Scholasticism’s concept of "created grace." Whereas Scholasticism defined grace as "a quality, an accident adhering to the human being considered as substance," Luther sided with the interpretation of Peter Lombard, "who claimed that the Holy Ghost himself is the love (caritas) of a Christian." In this way Luther "does not separate God’s essential nature ontologically from the divine attributes effecting salvation."

Since for Luther "Christ . . . is present in faith and is through this presence identical with the righteousness of faith," it follows that the first commandment of the decalogue demands "trust and faith solely in the Trinity." This is because for Luther, "To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe him with our whole heart." Puera therefore concludes that "the requirement to believe in God . . . is basically the same as the commandment to love God purely."

The new Finnish perspective on Luther offers a refreshing corrective not only to the post–Enlightenment dualism of German Lutheran scholarship, but also to neo–evangelical Protestantism’s tendency to define justification solely in forensic terms. It opens doors of ecumenical common ground by placing Luther’s thought within the context of classical Christian traditions that preceded the Reformation, as opposed to emphasizing Luther’s historically unprecedented notional distinction between Christ’s imputed righteousness (justification) and inherent righteousness (sanctification).
http://www.leaderu.c...ews/dorman.html


As Athanasius and later Martin Luther wrote, "For the Word becomes flesh precisely so that the flesh may become word. In other words: God becomes man so that man may become God."

Recently, a renewed re-examination of Lutheran thought has arisen which has appeared to find a vital connection between East and West. This modern research is coming for the most part out of Finland, at the University of Helsinki, and was begun initially by a growing dialogue between the Finnish Lutheran Church and the Russian Orthodox Church. [17] The work of Tuomo Mannermaa especially is influential in this developing and exciting study. Defining theosis as “the participation of the believer in the divine life of Christ” [18] Mannermaa examines Lutheran thought by contrasting what is truly Luther with later Lutheran developments. In the Formula of Concord, Mannermaa asserts that there was a separation of the justification of Christ and his indwelling, [19] with the idea of justification taking on purely a forensic declaration. In a study of Luther’s thought itself, however, Mannermaa finds no such distinction or separation finding rather that both the person and work of Christ are inseparable, with the forgiveness of sins resulting from the presence of Christ in the life of the believer.[20]

Lutheran thought from its source does not imply a differing work, or a passive reception of a divine pronouncement of innocence. Rather, “central in Luther’s theology is that in faith the human being really participates by faith in the person of Christ and in the divine life and the victory that is in it.” [21] Salvation is more than forgiveness to Luther, it is also a sharing of the divine life, in all of its fullness, between God and man. By understanding Christ as both God’s favor and his gift, Mannermaa finds an affinity between this reformer and classic Eastern thought. [22] The favor points towards the forgiveness of God and his removing of his deserved wrath, but the idea of gift comes in that God does more than simply forgive, he also offers himself to the believer through the person and work of Christ. This gift of God allows the believer to hold within herself a treasure which makes the Christian “greater than the entire world”. [23] This is not a passive presence either, but rather a presence which allows us to partake in the divine nature and participate in the essence of God. [24]

By sharing it the presence of Christ, the believer begins to take on the properties of God, the characteristics which define what God does, [25] in an ever increasing manner so that a Christian will exhibit the same qualities of “righteousness, wisdom, power, holiness, joy, peace, eternal life – and especially love.” [26] In the development of this idea Luther even reflects the basic affirmations of the Orthodox understanding of theosis when he states, “Just as the word of God became flesh, so its is certainly also necessary that the flesh may become word. In other words: God becomes man so that man may become God.” [27] Christ is not simply an object of faith for Luther, but is the source, strength, and result of faith which is really present in the life of the believer enabling life in it fullest form.
http://www.dualraven...ife/theosis.htm



#2 Fr Raphael Vereshack

Fr Raphael Vereshack

    Moderator

  • Moderators
  • 4,420 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member
  • Verified Monastic Cleric

Posted 03 January 2011 - 02:59 PM

A reminder that this isn't the place for confessional discussions. It's best then if we have them, to keep ourselves to questions and points about Orthodoxy.

Thanks.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#3 Speros

Speros

    Regular Poster

  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 75 posts

Posted 03 January 2011 - 04:07 PM

A reminder that this isn't the place for confessional discussions. It's best then if we have them, to keep ourselves to questions and points about Orthodoxy.

Thanks.

In Christ- Fr Raphael


Is this a place where we can discuss similarities in the theology of Martin Luther with Eastern Orthodoxy? In the spirit of ecumenism, which Orthodox Churches have participated in, perhaps finding common ground is a good idea.

#4 Herman Blaydoe

Herman Blaydoe

    Moderator

  • Moderators
  • 4,157 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 03 January 2011 - 05:06 PM

I do believe that a discussion on whether or not Luther did or did not share an Orthodox understanding of Theosis might prove useful. However, it is worth noting that the word "ecumenism" is an emotionally charged term within Orthodox circles and one should use it very carefully and circumspectly.

If, indeed, Martin Luther did have an understanding of theosis similar to Orthodoxy, this might prove a fruitful debarkation point for discussions with Protestant desputants?

Just a little thought from a bear of little brain.

Herman the Pooh

#5 Father David Moser

Father David Moser

    Moderator

  • Moderators
  • 3,581 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member
  • Verified Cleric

Posted 03 January 2011 - 05:10 PM

Is this a place where we can discuss similarities in the theology of Martin Luther with Eastern Orthodoxy? In the spirit of ecumenism, which Orthodox Churches have participated in, perhaps finding common ground is a good idea.


First - this is not a place for discussion of comparative theology. The very clearly stated purpose and scope of this forum is the discussion of Orthodox Christainity in its patristic, monastic and liturgical expression.

Second - ecumenism is not something that fits well with the Orthodox Church except in some very limited definitions and limitations. If we find "common ground" then from the Orthodox perspective it is because whatever other Christian confession involved has preserved intact a little bit of the revelation of Jesus Christ which is preserved whole and unaltered in the Orthodox Church. Thus, the purpose of "finding common ground" with heterodox Christian confessions for Orthodoxy can only be to open the door for those who have fallen away from the True Faith to return to the Church.

Fr David Moser

#6 Herman Blaydoe

Herman Blaydoe

    Moderator

  • Moderators
  • 4,157 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 03 January 2011 - 05:32 PM

Um, well, what the good clerics have said! Certainly a discussion of whether or not Orthodoxy should agree with Martin Luther is well beyond this forum. That being said, however, to examine whether or not Luther did agree with Orthodoxy and to what degree might have some benefit?

#7 Speros

Speros

    Regular Poster

  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 75 posts

Posted 05 January 2011 - 04:35 AM

That being said, however, to examine whether or not Luther did agree with Orthodoxy and to what degree might have some benefit?


Has anyone discussed yet whether or not Luther did agree with Orthodoxy on theosis? What I've seen in this thread so far is mostly reasons why it shouldn't be discussed.

#8 Fr Raphael Vereshack

Fr Raphael Vereshack

    Moderator

  • Moderators
  • 4,420 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member
  • Verified Monastic Cleric

Posted 05 January 2011 - 05:06 PM

Has anyone discussed yet whether or not Luther did agree with Orthodoxy on theosis? What I've seen in this thread so far is mostly reasons why it shouldn't be discussed.


A strong indication of the answer Speros would be that in Orthodoxy we believe that deification can never fully be accomplished outside of Christ's Body; ie the Church as we understand this.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#9 Aidan Kimel

Aidan Kimel

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 440 posts

Posted 05 January 2011 - 05:32 PM

The question of theosis has been an important theme in the Finnish Lutheran/Orthodox dialogue. To the surprise of worldwide Lutheranism, the Finnish Luther scholars, as noted above, have appealed directly to the writings of Luther, who allegedly taught something similar to theosis. Consider this interesting passage from one of Luther's homilies:

And so we are filled with "all the fullness of God." This phrase, which follows the Hebrew manner of speaking, means that we are filled in all the ways in which He fills a [person]. We are filled with God, and He pours into us all His gifts and grace and fills us with His Spirit, who makes us courageous. He enlightens us with His light, His life lives in us, His beatitude makes us blessed, and His love causes love to arise in us. Put briefly, He fills us in order that everything that He is and everything He can do might be in us in all its fullness, and work powerfully, so that we might be divinized throughout--not having only a small part of God, ,or merely some parts of Him, but having all His fullness. Much has been written on the divinization of man, and ladders have been constructed by means of which man is to ascend to heaven, and many other things of this kind have been done. However, all these are merely works of a beggar. What must be done instead is to show the right and straight way to your being filled with God, so that you do not lack any part but have it all gathered together, and so that all you say, all you think and everywhere you go--in sum, all your life--is throughout divine.


This text demonstrates both similarities and differences between Luther and the patristic understanding of theosis. Like the Orthodox, Luther rejected all notions of created grace; for him grace is uncreated. As Tuomo Mannermaa comments about this text, "faith denotes the true and complete 'divinization' of a human being." One wonders if Luther's understanding gives any place to the ascetical life in the journey of theosis.

If anyone is interested in this subject, a good book with which to begin, in addition to the Braaten/Jenson volume cited above, is Tuomo Mannermaa, Christ Present in Faith.

#10 Paul Nurmi

Paul Nurmi

    Regular Poster

  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 31 posts

Posted 07 May 2011 - 07:18 AM

As a Finn, I am glad to have read the book Union With Christ: the New Finnish Interpretation of Luther. It has always been obvious to me, having read and re read St. Athanasius and Martin Luther alike, they both realized God became what we are so He could make us what He is as members of His mystical body. The fact that Luther realized, in his Heidelburg Disputation for example, that true knowledge of God is found in the cross-theology of the cross, as he called it-makes clear, he realized the value of asceticism. But there is also the danger of people turning their own ascetism into an end in itself and not denying ourselves in order to lose our lives for Christ's sake. What makes the Gospel liberating is, it is not us trying to earn our way to God but Christ descended to our level, put our sin to death on the cross so all who share in His death to sin could rise with Him into divine life by grace through faith. And yes, to make progress means we have to deny ourselves for the sake of Christ.

In the risen Lord, Paul Nurmi

#11 Owen Jones

Owen Jones

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,341 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 08 May 2011 - 12:23 PM

I would think of the topic having relevance more in terms of the potential for Orthodox evangelism.




0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users