Full Text for The Origins of the Object - Subject Antithesis in Lutheran Dogmatics: A Study in Terminology (Text)

REC'D r~ ~. ( Concou()ia Theological· Monthly FEBRUARY • 1950 The Origins of the Object -Subject Antithesis in Lutheran Dogmatics A Study in Terminology By JAROS LA V PELIKAN I One of the tasks with which both Christian preaching and Christian dogmatics are confronted is the attempt to express Biblical testimony in non-Biblical terminology. Such an at­tempt is as difficult as it is necessary. In order to perform its re­sponsibility, the proclamation of the Christian message in preaching must resore to ways of speaking that are not found in the Scriptures. Similarly, theologians have always found it necessary to collect IDto one expression what is said in several different parts of the Scrip­tures. But the difficulty in any such expression is that a word taken over from extra-Christian sources may often bring with it conno­tations that are foreign to Biblical faith. That necessity and that difficulty are almost exactly parallel. In their definitions and discussions of the meaning of the Chris­tian faith the great Lutheran dogmaticians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were faced by this fact. From the example of the ancient Church it was evident to them that theology could not avoid the use of a vox aYQacpo~ to summarize a particular Bib­lical doctrine.1 And as Lutheranism came into conflict with various sects, it had to insist that not all dogmatic terms appear expressis verbis in the Scriptures, but that they are nevertheless justified as summaries of what the Scriptures teach.2 Professor Pieper has pointed out in this connection that we have the heretics to thank for the fact that the Church has had to invent these terms.s Several examples of such terms suggest themselves. The term sacramentum, practically indispensable in theology, is a vox aYQu­cpo~, having its origins in civillaw.4 In the latter part of the seven­teenth century it seems to have become necessary for Lutherans to point out that it was not the Lord Jesus, but Tertullian, who had 94 OBJECT-SUBJECT ANTITHESIS IN LUTHERAN DOGMATICS DO first called Baptism a sacramentttm.5 Another such term is persona as used in the doctrine of the Trinity; though there were some who regarded persona as a valid translation for im:o(na.av; in Hebrews 1: 3, the fact remained that the ancient Church had coined a dog­matic terminology for which it was not always easy to find Biblical equivalents.6 In the same connection, the term essentia as applied to God also created difficulties.7 All three of these terms -sacra­J1'tentltm, persona, essentia -were necessary; but they also consti­tuted a problem for the careful dogmatician. That problem became even more acute in the case of those terms which do not summarize a particular doctrine, as do those referred to above, but which are rather employed as methodological devices in the exposition of all Christian doctrine. Among the most familiar methodological devices of this latter sort in Lutheran dogmatics are the Aristotelian distinction of sttbstantia and accidens and the Aris­rotelian distinction of causes S B It fully ClS important as either of these is the disrinction of obiectttm and sttbjectttm. together wirh the assumptions that lie behind that distinction. Because this antith­esis between object and subject is so central in the terminology and methodology of the Lutheran dogmaticians, it deserves careful attention on the basis of the sources. In an effort to interpret the significance of the object-subject antithesis in Lutheran dogmatics, the present essay will seek to analyze the historical origins of that distinction in the dogmaticians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. II The ultinlate ongms of the object-subject antithesis lie in the Greek interpretation of truth, though the terminology itself is a later, medieval invention. In Professor Koehler's words, "these are not Biblical terms, but they are used by dogmaticians."9 Their origin is, then, to be sought outside the Bible and, more specifically, in the Greek understanding of uAll{tELa..lO For the Greeks, "truth" meant that a statement or proposition was an adequate representa­tion of an external reality. Underlying that view is Greek monism, by which God and man were thought of as living in continuity, so that the Idea in the mind and the reality outside the mind stood in relation to each other. Even when the external reality is vague, as in the Platonic doctrine of Ideas, this definition of truth remainedY 96 OBJECT-SUBJECT ANTITHESIS IN LUTHERAN DOGMATICS When Greek thought was amalgamated with Christian thought in medieval theology, this Greek view of truth played a prominent role. As Rudolf Eucken has pointed Out in his study of the object­subject antithesis, these terms first appear in Duns Scoms. As part of his metaphysics, Duns found he had to distinguish between truth as it is outside the mind and truth as it is inside the mind. "The word subjective was applied to whatever concerned the subject­matter 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 obicere (i. e., in the presenting of ideas) and hence qualifies the presenting subject." 12 It is evident that Duns' use of the term was the exact opposite of their use today; never­theless, it was he who introduced the objective-subject antithesis into the discussion of philosophical truth and from there into the framework of Christian theology. Because both luther (If fairh, rad thealagid, III, p. 350. 5G See, for example, Formula of Concord, Solida Dec!aratio, Arr. VII, par. 123, Triglo/ta, pp. 1012-1014.