Full Text for In Response to Bengt Hagglund: The Importance of Epistemology for Luther's and Melanchthon's Theology (Text)

CONCORDIA THEOLOGICAL QUARTERLY Volume 44. Numbers 2-3 ---- - - JULY 1980 Can the Lutheran Confessions Have Any Meaning 450 Years Later? .................... Robert D. Preus 104 Augustana VII and the Eclipse of Ecumenism ....................................... Siegbert W. Becker 108 Melanchthon versus Luther: The ......................... Contemporary Struggle Bengt Hagglund 123 In - Response to Bengt Hagglund: The importance of Epistemology for Luther's and Melanchthon's Theology .............. Wilbert H. Rosin 134 Did Luther and Melanchthon Agree on the Real Presence?.. ..................................... David P. Scaer 14 1 Luther and Melanchthon in .................................................. America C. George Fry 148 Luther's Contribution to the Augsburg .............................................. Confession Eugene F. Klug 155 Fanaticism as a Theological Category in the Lutheran Confessions. .............................. Paul L. Maier 173 Homiletical Studies 182 In Response to Bengt Hagglund: The Importance of Epistemology for Luther's and Melanchthon's Theology Wilbert H. Rosin Dr. Hagglund has given us much to think about on a very basic topic for understanding the sixteenth century Reformation and for meaningful theological discussion today. In a few well chosen words he has provided a corrective in the debate over Melanch- thon versus Luther. He is breaking with the nineteenth century theory that there was a fundamental antithesis and basic dis- agreement between Melancht hon's and Luther's theology. Dr. Hagglund states that Luther and Melanc hthon were essential1 y in agreement, though they differed on some points, at least in their exposition of them. I believe that Dr. Hagglund is basicallycor- rect in his interpretation, though obviously he could not exhaust the issues in one essay. That varying opinions about Melanchthon would develop is quite understandable, for scholars cannot empty themselves com- pletely of their prejudices, emotions, and predispositions and can- not achieve Voraussetzungslosigkeit. Each person in t he six- teenth century who knew anything about Luther and Melanch- thon formed his own ideas about themjust as we today have our individual opinions of Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, Hans Kiing, or John Paul 11. In their zeal for truth, the contemporaries of Melanchthon naturally feared that dire consequences would fol- low from any kind of compromise. Who was the real Melanch- thon? The debate over that question was to intensify after both Luther and Melanchthon were gone. A number of questions remain. Among them are these: (1) Why did the historians of .the last century emphasize the differences rather than the similarities in Luther's and Melanchlhon's theolo- gy? What does this mean for the theology of today in a practical way? (2) How did Luther and Melanchthon agree or differ on the matter of freedom of the will and predestination? (3) How clear was Melanchthon's thinking on the matter of adiaphora? (4) Did Melanchthon make a "fruitful mistake," as Dr. Hagglund puts it - a felix culpa, a fortunate error - in some matters of policy and in matters involving the state? (5) Why did Luther and Melanch- thon condemn certain theological positions, and how does this play into the Lutheran stance towards ecumenism today? (6) Did Melanchthon's contemporaries really understand him? Do we understand him? Can we? How can we best get a more objective evaluation?' The Importance of Epistemology 135 Dr. Hagglund has devoted most of his essay to the period up to the Interim prior to the deep controversy that develops when the views and counter-views of the Melanchthonians or Philippists, the Crypto-Calvinists, and all the others become almost hope- lessly entangled, especially after Melanchthon died in 1560 and before the Formula of Concord was completed in 1577. I shall not undertake to answer directly the questions just raised. Instead I want to speak ab0ut.a key topic that impinges on all of these ques- tions. To understand Luther as compared with Melanchthon, it will be helpful and perhaps necessary to know something about the philosophy of these two men, especially their epistemology - their view of how we come to know. In dealing with the broader question as to whether Melanch- thon was good or bad for the movement, the trend for the last cen- tury has been to say that Luther was existential - that is, he divorced theology and philosophy, faith and reason, absolutely - and that it was Melanchthon who was the villain, as it were, in reinstating Aristotle7s authority in theology. For example, Richard R. Caemmerer in an article entitled "The Melanch- thonian Blight," takes that position.* It is true that Luther, especially in the early years, declared Aristotle to be a pagan pig, the man who through the scholasticism of Thomas Aquinas, the great admirer of Aristotle, distorted all theology. Luther also took an anti-Aristotelian point of view on other matters. However, we need to digress for a moment to understand first the debate in philosophy that was going onat the time. We need to know what is meant by "realism," "nominalism," and "moderate realism." Through the five senses we have a knowledge of material objects. This knowledge is specific and concrete. It is individualized. We speak of this particular mountain, this flower. But we can also think of a flower as such entirely apart from thinking of a particular, individual flower. So we have an abstract concept of flower or mountain - a universal idea of flower or mountain that can be applied to any number of flowers or moun- tains. But is this universal concept real? In late medieval scholasticism one group followed the Platonic realist point of view, namely, that the idea is the real thing, and the particular is just a shadow and represents an example of the eternal idea which is indestructible. A second school, the most prominent spokes- man of which was William of Occam (who died in 1349), repre- sents the nominalist point of view, contending that only the par- ticular flower exists but not the concept of flower. One can see immediately that a consistent nominalist view would make it very difficult to hold such concepts as the Trinity or transubstantia- 136 CONCORDIA THEOLOGICAL QUARTERLY tion in the Lord's Supper. In addition to the realists, who held that the idea is the only real thing, and the nominalists, who con- tended that only the particular (and not the abstract concept) exists, there were moderate realists, such as Aquinas, who fol- lowed Aristotle, the pupil of Plato. Aristotle said that the parti- cular thing alone has real existence, but the human mind can abstract common elements from any number of individual things such as flowers or mountains so that one acquires a concept of flower or mountain as such, a universal concept as compared with the particular thing (universalia in re). To use a different example, it is possible to think of pinkness without having anything specific that is pink in mind. (Obviously, we are oversimplifying the three positions for the sake of discussion). Now what does all this have to do with Luther and Melanch- thon? We noted before that Luther is commonly said to be totally opposed to Aristotle. Luther was very much influenced by Wil- liam of Occam, the nominalist. But when it came to epistemology, that is, how we come to know, Luther was not an extreme nominalist, but a moderate realist. In other words, Luther believed that one could have an abstract concept and also know the particular or individual thing. In that respect ~uther was like Aristotle. In his later years Luther relented and came to say that Aristotle was a great philosopher, and the evidence shows that it was not just Melanchthon who reintroduced Artistotle. A well known book by Peter Petersen, Geschichte der aristotelischen Philosophie im protestantischen Deutschland (Leipzig, 1921), shows that Aristotle was never dead, but that his views dominated the philosophical faculties and the science faculties of the northern European universities all the way through to the early seventeenth century, when, thanks to Galileo and other scientists, Aristotle's comprehensive authority was broken. So far as theology is concerned, it was quite natural that Melanch- thon should have reintroduced Aristotle's rules for good think- ing and rhetoric. But what some analysts of Luther and Melanch- thon forget is that Luther also was an ontologist. He was philosophically not an existentialist but held the concept of essence prior to existence and experience. He believed that rea- son tells us that there is a God; Luther did not rule out all use of reason, and to that extent Luther could also make room for an Aristotelian approach to the question of realism. He denied that reason could tell us that God is gracious, a burning cauldron of love - a truth which God revealed in Christ, despite the negative evidence of nature and history. What made Luther so opposed to Aristotle in the early years The Importance of Epistemology was the fact that most of the intellectual world of his day, includ- ing also the theologians, had been taken in by Aristotle's philosophy. The theologians had been influenced by men like Thomas Aquinas who overemphasized reason and argumenta- tion and logic in matters of theology and faith. Thomas Aquinas, who is considered the most important theologian who applied Aristotle to theology, did not believe that one must put faith in one category and reason in another; he believed that the one can support the other. But he overemphasized the use of Aristotelian logic and reason in theology. Luther commented, "Thomas has been seduced by metaphysics. Therefore he is so loquacious." Luther based his theology in the Scriptures and held to what comes to man through revelation.-' It would interesting to explore some of the implications of nominalism and realism for the questions which Dr. Hagglund has raised. While the doctrine of the Real Presence in the Lord's Supper can never be ~escribed to the satisfaction of human reason, the moderate realism of Luther and Melanchthon made it somewhat more acceptable to speak of the ubiquity of Christ's body and at the same time of the Real Presence, a topic which Ralph Quere has discussed in a number of article^.^ Likewise it was possible to speak of individual Christians, particular Chris- tians, and at the same time use the concept of t he universal church with all the implications for ecumenism. A moderate realist could speak, in one context, of the abstract concepts of state and authority and, in another context, speak of individual citizens and their responsibility.5 The controversy between nominalism and realism has signifi- cance for today. Realism stood for the old order; its trust was placed in authority, and the group was considered more im- portant than the individual. Nominalism stood for the order which was to come in the modern age; it revolted against authority and state (the concept of state), and the individual was considered superior to the group. That point, in turn, could lead to discussion about the attitude toward authority today. Nominalism also stood for inductive science, just as realism favored deductive philosophy. Moderate realism, of course, would take in both .the group and the individual, the nation and the individual, the concept of church and the individual Chris- tian. Today the positivists and empiricists are t he legitimate intel- lectual descendants of the nominalists. Their dominance represents the triumph of natural-science approaches to philosophy and epistemology- Philosophically, then, and specifically in terms of epistemology with its important implica- 138 CONCORDIA THEOL,OGICAL QUARTERLY tions for theology, ~elanchthon and Luther were very close to each other. The relationship between Melanchthonand Luther was always very subtle. They understood each other, and they com- plemented each other very well. Melanchthon was not a func- tional psychologist, but he was trying to be more precise in terms of human psychology. In terms of anthropology Melancht hon thought that man was more complicated. Melanchthon was try- ing to explain how the Christian accepts - what is involved in terms of his mind, his wi11.6 Luther does not go into the matter on that level. He just said that the whole man - body, soul, and spirit - accepts and trusts. As a technical theologian Melanch- thon had a somewhat more perceptive theological insight than Luther. For example, when Luther interpreted St. Augustine as a Pa ulinist, largely on the basis of his anti-Pelagian writings, Melancht hon perceived that Luther was himself a better Paulinist than was the Plantonically-tinged St. Augustine. Melanc ht hon was technically a careful theologian. As we have observed, Luther was not philosophically an existentialist, as some contemporary theologians imply. The Fin- nish scholar, Lennart Pinomaa, in an early book emphasized the existential element in Luther's t heology.7 Luther stressed that every man must do his own believing, just as every man must do his own dying. The most important words in religion, he held, are the personal pronouns - "I," "thou," and "he, my brother." His, like Martin Buber's, was an I-thou theology. Luther's theology had an existential element, but his philosophical presuppositions were basically in line with a traditional ontological position. The existential element in Luther's theology has been emphasized by some contemporary theologians who speak of the viva vox (the living voice) of the Gospel and stress the kerygma, the one glad proclamation of the Gospel, and thereby do not take into ac- count the whole counsel of God. Critics of Luther such as Joseph Lortz claim that Luther was nicht voll horend, that he stressed only St. Paul's Gospel. But Luther produced straightforward commentaries on the four Gospels and on so many other books of the Bible that Lortz's assertion lacks credibility. But Lortz makes a valid point when he asks the question, "Did Luther think ontologically?" ("Hat Luther ontisch gedacht?"), and answers in the affirmative. Melanchthon, too, was a student and exegete of the whole of Scripture and no less than Luther emphasized the centrality of the kerygrna, the evangelical proclamation. Dr. Hagglund makes a good point when he observes that Luther was complimenting Melanchthon when he said that The Importance of Epistemology 139 Melanchthon spoke "softly and lightly." It is the kind of compli- ment that Luther pays to Melanchthon over and over again. Luther says, "Well I'm crude. I stomp on the chinaware, and Melanchthon knows how to handle these things and how to speak like a good Christian." Part of thedifference between the two men was a difference of style. There may be a temptation to look upon the discussion of Melanchthon's relation to Luther as no more than an esoteric topic for debate by impractical theologians who crave theologi- cal and intellectual stimulation, however unnecessary or useless that may be. But it is not just interesting to know whether or not Luther and Melanchthon agreed. We are really getting close here to the jugular vein of theological understanding. This matter has practical implications - for Lutheran doctrine itself, for the sub- ject of ecumenism, for our view of church-state relations today, for understanding why there has been a strong anti-Melanch- thonian bias throughout the past century. We are discovering t hat Melanchthon had a more positive influence on Luther through- out the years than scholars have appreciated in the past. Melanch- thon contributed to Luther's ever increasing appreciation of the classics and humanist learning.8 There is strong evidence that Luther's clear understanding of faith and justification with all its implications did not come suddenly in the Turmerlebnis, or even earlier, as some have said, but that it came as late as 15 18, and that Melanchthon figured into Luther's understanding and later formulation of the doctrine of justification by faith.9 It is there- fore appropriate that pictures of Melanchthon and Luther should be placed side by side, as Dr. Hagglund observes. It is probably significant that both men are buried in the front part of the nave of the Castle Church in Wittenberg and that their statues are standing on the same level in front of the Rathaus in Wittenberg, as Helmar Junghans of the University of Leipzig shows in his Wit- tenberg als Lutherstadt. (1979) Luther, the outsized man, the rough-hewn, overtly forceful, courageous Reformer, surely deserves full recognition and credit. There also seems more than enough to discuss about Philipp Melanchthon, that mere wisp of a man with the unusually high forehead, one shoulder lower than the other, a frail body, a tendency to stammer, but a profound and brilliant mind, who, in the phrase of one biographer, Clyde Manschreck, through his "struggle with the ageless problem of reason and revelation" became the "quiet Reformer," "a finite man seeking to serve an infinite God."Ia 1 40 CONCORDIA THEOLOGICAL QUARTERLY Footnotes 1. A number of other questions concerning Melanchthon's role in Reformation history are raised in Franz Hildebrandt, Melanchthon: Alien or Ally? (Cam- bridge: University Press, 1946). 2. Concordia Kheological Monthly, XVIII (1947), pp. 321-338. A decade later this view was questioned in Clyde L. Manschreck, Melanchthon, The Quiet Reformer (New York: Abingdon Press, 1958), p. 15. 3. Cf. Wilhelm Link, Das Ringen um die Freiheit der Theologie von der Philosophie (Miinchen: C. Kaiser, 1955). 4. Ralph W. Quere, "Melanchthon's Motifs in the Formula's Eucharistic Christology," in Lewis W. Spitz and Wenzel Lohff, eds., Discord, Dialogue, and Concord (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), pp. 58-73. Cf. also Ralph W. Quere. Melanchthon's Christum Cognoscere, Christ's Efficacious Presence in the Eucharistic Theology of Melanchthon (Nieuwkop: De Graff, 1977). 5. Cf., for example, Eike Wolgast, Die wittenberger Theologie und die Politik der evangelischen Stiinde (Giitersloh: Mohn, 1977). 6. Cf. Erdmann Schott, Fleisch und Geist nach Luther's Lehre unter besonderer Beriicksichtigung des Begriffs '"totus homo" (leipzig, 1928). Also Erdmann Schott, "Luthers Anthropologie und seine Lehre von der manducatio oralis in wechselseitigen Beleuchtung," Zeitschrififrii. systematische Theologie, IX (1932), pp. 585 ff. Concerning Luther's formula "Sunt duo toti homines et unus totus homo," Heinrich Bornkamm in Luthers geistige Welt (Gutersloh: Mohn, 1953), p. 87, states: "Dieses Bild des totus homo, des Menschen der wir immer ganz sind, ist Luthers grundlegende anthropologische Intuition." 7. Cf. Lennart Pinomaa's more recent work, Sieg des Glaubem, Grundlinien der Theologie Luthers (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1964). 8. For a stimulating discussion of Luther and the humanists cf. Lewis W. Spitz, "Headwaters of the Reformation," in Heiko A. Oberman, ed., Luther andthe Dawn ofa New Era, (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1974), pp. 89-1 16. Cf. also Lewis W. Spitz, "The Course of German Humanism," in Heiko A. Oberman, editor, Itinerarium Italicum. The Profile of the Italian Renaissance in the Mirror of Its European Transformations (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1975), pp. 371-436. 9. Cf. Wilhelm Maurer, "Motive der evangelischen Bekenntnisbildung bei Luther und Melanchthon," in Martin Greschat and J.F. G. Goeters, eds. Reformation und Humanismus, Robert Stupperich zum 65. Geburtstag (Witten: Luther Verlag, 1969), pp. 9-43, for an interesting contrast between Luther, who learned from the history of the early church that open confessional statements were necessary, and Melanchthon, who became a spokesman for Wittenberg theology. 10. Clyde Manschreck, op. cit., pp. 18, 21.