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The Beginnings of Luther's Hermeneutics*


I. The Role of Hermeneutics in Luther's Theology1

essay by Karl Holl entitled "Luther's Significance for the Progress of the Art of Exegesis,"2 the research on Luther's hermeneutics has proceeded through numerous investigations. Not only does this reflect the universally growing interest in the hermeneutical problem, but it also bears witness especially to the insight that the question of Luther's theology must be transformed into the question of the methods of his scriptural exegesis, if we want to do justice to the origin and inner consistency of his theological witness. For the method of Luther's theological work was exegesis. That is attested in the first line of his lectures.3 If we wanted to classify Luther in terms of today's theological disciplines, then we would have to characterize him as a representative of biblical studies, or, in regard to the predominant subject of his earliest lectures, as a professor of Old Testament.4 And yet this kind of rubricizing produces a distorted picture. As an exegete, Luther was not of a mind to advocate only a separate theological discipline which was in need of completion elsewhere, perhaps through a course of lectures in systematic theology. The interpretation of biblical books, whether of the Old or the New Testament, afforded him the opportunity in each case to expound the whole of theology. Judged by modern standards, this gives us cause to doubt the purity of his exegetical methods. For what exegete today
T h e essay was originally published under the German title, "Die Anfnge von Luthers Hermeneutik," in Die Zeitschrift fur Theologie und Kirche 48 (1951)1172-230 (hereafter cited as ZThK)> and is reprinted in Ebeling's Lutherstudien I (Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1971), 168. Lutheran Quarterly presents the essay in English translation by permission of J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck). The translation was prepared by Richard B. Steele, with assistance from Franz Posset and Wilhelm Linss. Beginning at n. 6, and with a brief comment in n. 29, Ebeling makes frequent references to Luther's early Lectures (Dictata) on the Psalms, according to volumes 3 and 4, and occasionally volume 55, of the critical edition of Luther's works: Luthers Werke, Kritische Gesamtausgabe, 57 vols. Eds. J. F. . Knaake et al. (Weimar: Bohlau, i883F.). (Hereafter cited as WA; unless otherwise noted, all of the references to Luther's works are to this edition.) Much, but not all, of this material is available in volumes 10 and n of Luther's Works, American Edition, 55 vols. Eds. Pelikan and Lehmann (St. Louis and Philadelphia, Concordia and Fortress, 1955fr.). 129



would presume to act in the manner of systematic thinkers and periodically expound his systematic theology, if he were at that moment lecturing on Genesis or the Psalms or the Epistle to the Romans? That Luther only used the format of exegetical lectures because he lacked the talent for systematic thinking may certainly not be asserted, particularly by the person who alleges that he inferred the same systematic theology from each biblical book, or rather, read into each text the same thoughts. If, in fact, Luther possessed such a power of systematic thought, then it is all the more significant that he nevertheless held exclusively to the methods of exegesis. And we must inquire more deeply about what it was that made possible this theological unity and totality which characterized his scriptural exegesis, and ask which conception of the hermeneutical problem is manifested in it. In any case, this intermixture of exegetical and systematic thinking is probably instructive especially when we investigate the hermeneutical problem in the total scope of its references.5 As with the lecture activity discussed here, so the central significance of exegesis for Luther's theological thinking could also be shown in the rest of his works: in his sermons, in the translation of the Bible, as well as in the whole corpus which is saturated with scriptural exegesis in such an incomparable way. In its deepest sense, the word "understanding" means not only an intellectual grasp of the text, but also a coming to be grasped by it; it means that the comprehending proceeds from the Scripture and not from the expositor; it means that understanding is something passive and that all activity lies in the text; it means that the text turns into the subject and the understanding reader into the object, a captive of the text. This is probably more impressive in Luther than in virtually any other Christian exegete. Thus he writes: "The excellence of scripture is this, that it is not transformed into him who studies it, but that it transforms its lover into itself and its virtues.. . . Because you will not change me into you . . . , but you will be transformed in me. Nor will I be named by you, but you will be named by me."6 Considering the close interconnection of Luther's theology with the problem of scriptural exposition, one question claims special attention: how do the genesis of his theology and the genesis of his hermeneutic stand related to one another? As a point of departure toward answering this question, the following generally-recognized evidence presents itself: Luther acquired his new



hermeneutical standpoint in the years 1516 through 1519.7 Whereas in his incipient exegetical work, namely his early Lectures on the Psalms (Dictata Super Psalterium) of 1513-1515, he is still entirely confined to the paths of medieval exegetical practice and makes use of the method of the fourfold sense of Scripture (the Quadriga), the Operationes in Psalmos, which appeared in 1519, is his first great exegetical work in which the change of expository method is displayed in its fully matured form. In between, beginning with the Lectures on the Epistle To The Romans, lies a period of transition. It results in the radical abandonment of the Quadriga and also in a fundamental critique of allegory. However, while the abandonment of the Quadriga is consistent, theoretical insight and practical consequences do not correspond fully in regard to allegory. There remains a certain measure of inconsistency in his use of allegory, which he continues to practice from time to time in his scriptural exegesis. Even if, in the course of his further development, certain lapses in his theoretical renunciation of allegory may be identified,8 this does not change the fact that the decisive hermeneutical shift was completed by 1519. Positively, this means a turning back toward the literal sense. So, for example, he remarks in the Operationes in Psalmos: "I am not clever with allegories, especially when I seek that legitimate, proper, and genuine sense which contends in strife and stabilizes the erudition of faith."9 Luther recognized it as a fundamental mistake that "spiritual" means "allegorical" and that II Corinthians 3:6 ("The letter kills but the spirit gives life.") was a justification for mystical scriptural exposition. "For the mystical is one thing and the spiritual another."10 The increased usage of the primary text accords with this: "First let us see the grammatical matters; they are the truly theological matters."11 And herein, too, agreement prevails in the research that, in spite of important formal similarities with humanistic exegetical principles, and in spite of his appropriation of humanistic philology, Luther's hermeneutical position neither owes its beginning to humanistic influence nor is it finally congruent with humanistic hermeneutics.12 This indication, which certainly still contains difficult problems, may suffice at this point, for we are not at the moment concerned with the precise articulation and unfolding of the final form of Luther's hermeneutic. The real question, which is not yet sufficiently clarified and which we shall examine in the following exposition, is this: what



place does Luther's hermeneutical metamorphosis (which we have just now sketched) receive within his early theological development? In a justified departure from the position which derives the Reformation solely from Luther's inner experience, Karl Bauer has attempted to demonstrate that the germ of the Reformation was the new theology of Wittenberg University which Luther inaugurated, and he has with afirmgrasp started with the hermeneutical problem.13 Luther had "become a reformer through his new hermeneutic."14 Unfortunately, Bauer oversimplifies the task arising from this insight. He assigns the already well-established transformation of Luther's hermeneutic to the years 1516-1519 and contrasts it to the beginnings of Luther's exegesis in the Dictata Super Psalterium, maintaining that "the period of the Dictata still discloses nothing of the future reformer."15 Bauer himself draws out certain lines from that early period which partially contradict his own thesis. For example, he wants to see the roots of the new hermeneutic partly in Luther's rule for expounding the Psalms christologically,16 and partly in his practice of aiming his exegesis at the individual person;17 but he maintains on totally insufficient grounds that Luther had learned most of his exegetical method from Staupitz.18 Yet what the early Dictata immediately reveal about hermeneutical principles is considered by Bauer only in the way it stands in opposition to the new hermeneutic, without his realizing how that very meaningful revolution has, in fact, come to pass. In contrast to Bauer, Holl had already given greater attention to the problem of the hermeneutics of the Dictata,19 and had taken the trouble to discern in Luther's application of the traditional rules of exegesis traces of the new hermeneutic. The correctness and significance of this intention continues to endure, although in regard to this Holl was unable to fix the decisive points. What he so strongly stressed as "Luther's personal achievement" was this aspect of consistency between exegesis and personal experience, this "conformity of affect"20a position not without precedent in the tradition.21 Luther had seen, more clearly than had been customary, that the essential principle was the literal sense.22 To assert this has caused us to overlook the essential differentiation amongst the various traditional conceptions of the essence of the literal sense.23 On the other hand, the preference throughout Luther for the tropologica! sense, which Emanuel Hirsch accented,24 and which Holl also underscored,25 proves to be a very fruitful point of departure,



in order to draw the lines of communication directly from the traditional forms of hermeneutic to the central problem of the origin of Luther's doctrine of justification. Erich Vogelsang has worked out this connection in a worthwhile way.26 And Erich Seeberg has followed him in this, considering the positive meaning of the fourfold sense of Scripture to be of great importance for the origin of Luther's theology.27 Fritz Hahn, a student of Seeberg, in his work entitled "Luther's Expository Principles and their Theological Presuppositions," has put the emphasis on the investigation of the Dictata.28 This approach, in contrast to Karl Bauer's, makes the increasingly evident tension in the research on Luther's hermeneutic especially cleara tension which indeed is not to be resolved into a simple alternative, but rather asks for clarification in such a way that we may investigate the interdependency between two different understandings of Luther's development. Luther had first developed the "new" hermeneutic in the years 1516-19. But in the years 151315, Luther had already laid the ground for his reformation theology along the paths and from within the methods of the traditional hermeneutic. In what relation do these two propositions stand to one another? If the new hermeneutic is regarded only as a consequence of the turn toward Reformation, how would Luther have reached his new theological understanding? This has obviously happened in the exegetical process! But how is it conceivable that Luther, as long as he was constrained by false exegetical methods, came to his pioneering new and correct exegetical insights? Or is it, rather, that a definite, though not immediately recognizable, new position on the hermeneutical problem already had a share in the beginning of Luther's reformation theology? That would be to say that since we can trace the beginning of the reformation theology back to the Dictata, we can proceed on the following hypothesis: The major hermeneutical change during the years 1516-19 was obviously preceded by another hermeneutical change. And this earlier change was not, like the later one, the subsequent result of a new theological understanding, but rather stood in immediate and simultaneous connection with it, and then with its inner necessity pushed on toward that new hermeneutic. Therefore, our investigation of the beginnings of Luther's hermeneutic must begin with an examination of the Dictata Super Psalterium29 and the associated Annotationes to the Quintuplex Psalterium of Faber Stapulensis (Lefvre d'Etaples),30 to determine if any peculiarity in



Luther's hermeneutic is to be identified therein. This peculiarity should stand in internal relationship with the beginnings of his theology, and also answer the question which previous research has failed to answer satisfactorily: why the hermeneutical revolution of the years 1516-19 was necessary.31

II. The New Factor in the First Lectures on the Psalms The Dictata Super Psalterium32 are the first, as well as an unusually rich, example of Luther's exegetical writings. They stand in very close temporal proximity to the fundamental reformation discovery which Luther described in his biographical fragment from the year 1545.33 I will not go into the difficult question of how the relationship between the so-called "tower experience" and the Dictata is to be fixed, whether it immediately preceded them, or followed soon after them, or occurred as they were being given; or whether it is even perhaps to be identified with a definite passage of the Dresden Psalter.34 To go into this question would bid us to discuss a profusion of literature.35 And with all due respect to this advancement of knowledge, I must raise a fundamental objection against all this literature, namely, that it poses the question in a manner which is painfully constricting. Admittedly, it is objectively not inappropriate that in his retrospective Luther sees the origin of his theology condensed in the doctrine of justification. And, too, the formulations of this doctrine are in an astonishing measure confirmed by the Dictata. To be sure, these variations are to be perceived only from the very much later term oflustitia Dei Passiva. Still, this indicates that the idea is not foreign to the Dictata. And indeed, these matters appear differently if we proceed from reading the Dictata. It is not only that the fluctuations of Luther's manner of expression (which are especially clear in his treatment of the concept of merits)36 destroy all attempts to determine from his notes on the doctrine of justification the precise point when day suddenly dawns after deep night. For the understanding of justification is already thereand yet at the same time it is not yet there in the sense of a conceptually sharp, distinctly etched doctrine, as if for the Luther of the Dictata the sum total of his entire theology had been concentrated. The same thing could also be said about his conception of the relationship between law and gospel in the Dictata. And, in



my opinion, this leads to the insight that it is mistaken to want to hunt out the new factor in the Dictata along the lines of the various formulations of the question of justification. Certainly the question of justification plays an important role in the Dictata. But from the outset it is supported by a much wider stream of theological thinking, pregnant with the new factor which is to be born. Whoever has Luther's later development before his eyes is able to recognize that in these early lectures he is unconsciously aiming, with extraordinary emotional intensity, at that which only later obtains clear form as the reformation teaching on justification. On the other hand, whoever attempts to put aside the knowledge of Luther's later development, reading the Dictata as the work of a late Scholastic, will have difficulty discovering the common denominator of the whole work in the doctrine of justification. But at the same time he would not have the impression of an unorganized mixture of entirely dissimilar thought patterns. He would, rather, be astonished at the unity of its impulse and theme. But how is this to be explained? It seems to me that what urges itself upon us as the unifying common theme of these early lectures on the Psalms, if one approaches them without prejudice, is something that is exceedingly rare for a late-Scholastic theologian, namely, the existential struggle for the right understanding and exposition of the text of the psalms as God's Word, and more precisely as the testimony to Christ, and thus as the struggle with the hermeneutical problem itself !36a There were two hermeneutical schemes with which Luther worked. If we may allude to Luther's frequent comparison of the Scripture to a hard nut, these two schemes are the arms of the nutcracker with which he tried to open the nut.37 One hermeneutical scheme is the Quadriga, and the other is the antithesis of letter and spirit. Both schemes stand in a certain relationship with one another. But we must first investigate them separately. I begin with the latter as the more frequently used. For the word "spirit" and its derivatives is by far the most heavily used theological concept in the Dictata. III. The Distinction Between Letter and Spirit in the Tradition It is self-evident that the distinction between letter and spirit already played an important role in the tradition with which Luther



was familiar. Two different understandings of this pair of concepts must be clearly distinguished. The one was derived from Origen.38 According to this understanding, the letter and spirit are technical hermeneutical terms for a double sense of Scripture. The spiritual, or rather the mystical sense is the deeper, allegorical meaning of Scripture, hidden behind the literal sense. The equation of the literal meaning with the killing letter and of the allegorical meaning with the life-giving spirit in II Corinthians 3:6 naturally gives the latter absolute precedence. Yet here at the very outset lies a certain contradiction. Obviously it cannot be the intention simply to discard the literal meaning of each scripture passage as the killing letter and handle the passage in exclusively allegorical terms. Rather, the literal understanding is only the killing letter if it produces a sense which is not in agreement with what we understand as the spirit of Scripture, that is, if difficulties and absurdities arise in the literal meaning or if the text cannot in this way be made profitable for edification. Therewith, the door is wide open to speculative fancy in exegesis. Now certainly it is an established fact that the church has adopted this hermeneutical scheme in a more sensible way then was intended by Origenistic scriptural exegesis. So it was not a question of a fundamental devaluation of the literal sense in medieval hermeneutics. The hermeneutical sense of the term as "literal" and "spiritual" was largely neutralized. It was a general principle that the literal, that is, the historical sense, was the foundation of scriptural exposition, and that it alone had the power to prove or disprove any proposed doctrine. It was the norm for the spiritual sense, insofar as this sense could not put forth from a scripture passage anything that could not be proven with clear words from another place in Scripture. Thus, for example, St. Thomas said: "Nothing necessary for faith is contained under the spiritual sense which the scripture does not relate somewhere clearly through the literal sense."39 It was quite unusual, but not revolutionary, when, in his exposition of Scripture, Nicolas of Lyra confined himself as much as possible to the literal-historical sense. If nevertheless, the spiritual (that is, the allegorical) sense received wide scope in medieval scriptural exposition in general, the reasonaside from apologetic motives, dealing with unacceptable positionswas a concern with two problems which were posed to scriptural exposition: first, to loosen the tension between the Old and New Testaments; and second, to bridge the gap between text and hearer, that is, to make



the Scripture applicable where no edifying application manifested itself. The hermeneutical theory, which perhaps arises from Thomas, about the possibility ofjustifying the spiritual sense alongside of the literal sense, is as follows:40 The literal sense is that which the Author of Scripture intended. But then, the Author of Scripture is God. And such is his power that not only do the words as such have meaning; but, in addition, the things which are signified by the words have, in their turn, the function of indicating the meaning of something yet beyond that. Thus, the words of Scripture do not, properly speaking, have a double sense in and of themselves; rather, they receive the second, allegorical sense only through the meaningfulness of the thing signified. But then the inference may be drawn (an inference which Thomas had not drawn) that, if the sense which the Author of Holy Scripture intended already comes to expression directly through the words, this literal sense is in essence also the spiritual sense; whereas, if the sense which is intended by the Holy Spirit is expressed only indirectly through the words, but must rather be elicited from the meaning of the things signified, the allegorically advanced spiritual sense is the proper literal sense, that is, precisely the sense which the Author of Scripture intended. That Thomas had not drawn this conclusionwhich amounts to this, that in the end the literal and spiritual senses of Holy Scripture are identicalhas perhaps the following basis: The concept of the spiritual sense was so formalized into the meaning of the term "allegorical" that it could not at the same time signify the literal sense, wherever this brought the intention of the Holy Spirit directly to expression. Conversely, the spiritual sense, which was obtained by allegory, was so far removed from the verbal meaning of the text that no one would suggest that it was also the literal sense. And yet, that problemhow the literal and spiritual senses in the Scripture relate to one anotherhad been continuously investigated in the indicated direction. Faber Stapulensis, whose exposition of the Psalms Luther had used in the preparation of his own lecture course, had strongly stressed that the sense which was intended by the Author of Holy Scripture (namely, the Holy Spirit himself) or else by the prophet, deserved to be termed the literal sense.41 To anyone who did not recognize the sense intended by the Holy Spirit, that is, who did not understand that the spiritual sense really is the true literal sense, the Scripture indeed also rendered a literal sense. This reader would grasp only



such a sense that was not meant by the Holy Spirit, and which is therefore certainly not the spiritual sense, but rather the carnal sense, or, in other words, the killing letter. So according to Faber there was a double literal sense, namely, a literal-historical sense and a literal-prophetic sense, an improper literal sense and a proper literal sense, a literal sense fancied by the human mind and a literal sense infused by the Divine Spirit. Applying this to the Psalms, a purely historical understanding of them, such as the Jews have, for example, is certainly a formally literal sense, but measured by the prophetic intention of the Psalter it is the killing letter. On the contrary, the prophetic understanding of the Psalms as a prediction of Christ is not at all an allegorical frivolity, but rather their true literal sense, which grasps their Author's meaning. The Psalms are therefore to be interpreted as literally referring to Christ. The intention of Faber's hermeneutical thinking is to counteract the confusion of spiritual and allegorical; to orient scriptural exposition upon the solid fundamental principles of a hermeneutic which allows only the literal sense to carry weight and which pushes allegory to the side as much as possible; and yet to fully preserve the christological understanding of the Psalter. Hence it bespeaks the concern of a humanist who was affected by the piety of mysticism. The question remains whether he really overcame the ways of traditional hermeneutics. Nevertheless, he did subject hermeneutical terminology to a thorough revision and he did endeavor to restore the deeper theological content to the concepts of letter and spirit which had degenerated into formal ciphers of various exegetical methods. That is, he strove to explain the extent to which the very same letter of Scripture becomes the killing letter for some people, and yet mediates the life-giving spirit for others. According to Faber, this is determined by whether the expositor is filled with the same Spirit who is the Author of Scripture; and that means, in turn, whether the expositor is pointed from the text of Scripture toward Christ. Thus, in the meaning which Faber gives the concepts of letter and spirit, a kind of understanding is asserted which points in an entirely new direction from the one inaugurated by Origen. This other understanding is represented by Augustine, who, in his treatise, On The Spirit And The Letter, determines the original sense of II Corinthians 3:6, namely, that by "the killing letter" is meant the law, which, without the support of the Holy Spirit, that is,



without grace, only increases sin and therefore kills.42 Thus Augustine clearly recognizes that II Corinthians 3:6 has nothing to do with the usual hermeneutical application of this passage, though he too does not in principle want to discard this application. But II Corinthians 3:6 essentially concerns not the distinction between literal and allegorical exegesis, but rather the distinction between law and grace. Certainly to that extent this passage also talks about a difference in understanding; for example, that the man under the law understands himself according to the flesh, but the man under grace according to the spirit. Here therefore, the difference between understanding oneself under the law and under grace is touched upon, but not, however, the difference of technical methods of exegesis. But does that have nothing to do with a difference in understanding the Scripture? Does not the Scripture obtain an entirely different appearance for the one who lives not under the law but under grace? It is unmistakable that the Augustinian understanding of spirit and letter has something to do with the hermeneutical problem, but in an entirely different way from the Origenistic understanding. In his treatise, On The Spirit And The Letter, Augustine had not discussed the consequence of his understanding of these concepts for the hermeneutical problem. Therefore he had not really overcome the customary hermeneutical starting-point in the sense of a double meaning of Scripture. He had, of course, imparted to medieval theology the reminder that II Corinthians 3:6 is not the appropriate proof text for the right to engage in allegorical exegesis. For example, Paul of Burgos, the glossator of Lyra, stresses this expressly in his detailed discussion of the question whether the literal sense or the spiritual sense should have a fundamental preeminence.43 But Augustine had not been able to make the distinction between letter and spirit in the sense of law and gospel hermeneutically fruitful, and thus leading the history of exegesis in new directions. These observations on the history of the concepts of letter and spirit were necessary in order to open access to Luther's use of this distinction in his first Lectures On The Psalms. Obviously he was familiar with the traditional application as a hermeneutical scheme. He was also acquainted with the peculiar modification of this scheme in Faber Stapulensis. On the other hand, according to what we know about Luther's reading, he was not yet acquainted with Augustine's On the Spirit And The Letter.44 He had first become



acquainted with this work after these lectures, and he evidently took it up because he expected to find in it a discussion of the hermeneutical problem.45 Nevertheless, he probably knew from what had at that time been transmitted to him through the tradition, that the opposition of spirit and letter was not merely that of literal and allegorical exegesis, but also that of law and gospel, or, as one said, rather, of the old law and the new law. Above all, a heavily freighted theological concept of spirit had probably been transmitted to him through the influence of mysticism, a concept which certainly differed from the equation of spiritual with allegorical, but which nevertheless involved an Origenistic-Neoplatonic understanding and must therefore have had an intensifying influence upon the traditional distinction between the literal and spiritual senses. This concept of spirit certainly lay hidden also in the numerous writings of Augustine which Luther had already read, especially Augustine's Expositions On The Book Of Psalms which Luther used far more than any other source in the preparation of his lecture series. And along those same lines are the impulses from Staupitz and the encounter with Bernardine mysticism which had such an influence on Luther. Certainly it would be necessary to determine more precisely from among these different streams of the tradition that flowed together into Luther which specific contribution had thereby furnished the distinctive stamp on these concepts of spirit and letter. But on that point there seems to me no doubt that both of these main ways of understanding the distinction between spirit and letter were operative therein, intricately intertwined. But this drives home to us the suspicion that the great struggle with the hermeneutical problem which permeates the first Lectures On The Psalms is a passionate search for the correct point of intersection between these two divergent meanings of the concepts of spirit and letter.

IV. The Dualism in the First Lectures On The Psalms (Dictata) Now we must apply ourselves to the situation in the Dictata themselves. In spite of all the influence through the tradition, the intensity with which the concepts of letter and spirit are used here is an oddity which to my knowledge has no parallel in any of the expositions of the Psalms which Luther used, nor in anything else.



In this respect a relationship seems to exist most nearly to the thought-world of Faber Stapulensis. But I believe it is impossible to explain the situation in the Dictata from that place only. Luther is too far removed from that world to formalize and to neutralize the concepts of letter and spirit with the meanings these terms possessed in customary hermeneutical usage. Rather, they are placed within a far-reaching dualism which finds its expression in the most diverse pairs of antitheses. Here we touch the keynote by which Luther's theological thought in the Dictata is determined. Like spirit and letter, the following pairs of terms stand antithetically related to one another: the spiritual and the carnal, the invisible and the visible, the intelligible and the sensible, the hidden and the manifest, the interior and the exterior, the superior and the inferior, the divine and the human, the heavenly and the earthly, the eternal and the temporal, the future and the present, or finally, truth and vanity. And, one could includefor there are good indications of thisgood and evil. In these constantly recurring categories, Luther cracked open the opposition between that which is handy to and at the disposal of man, and that which is secret and unavailable to him; between that which is transient and earthly, and that which is changeless and divine; between the deceptive illusion of the visible world and the true reality of the invisible world. "The letter is the earth, but the spirit is heaven; the former is the lowest level, the latter the highest."46 Or: "All things are vanity which do not help the spirit to the future life, but only help the flesh to the present life, so that the former is the killing letter, while the latter is the life-giving spirit."47 And Luther explained the concept of discernment (judicium) as the capacity "to judge good from evil, and the letter from the spirit, and vanity from truth."48 By these antitheses the behavior of humanity is decided: Some pursue the visible, others the invisible;49 some prefer the flesh to the spirit, others prefer the spirit to the flesh.50 The existential disposition (Existenz) of the one sort is "to loathe spiritual things and seek carnal things";51 "to know temporal, transitory and carnal things, spiritual and eternal things having been lost";52 "to trust in the present and not in the future";53 "to place love and fear in temporal things."54 People of that sort are "crooked and curved in on themselves, and on their possessions, and on temporal, literal and carnal things."55 The existential disposition of the other sort is "to love the invisible and despise the visible,"56 to turn away



"from all visible things with the intellect and the affections and to turn to the invisible and divine things";57 "to hope in the future and to despise the present";58 to turn "from the outside to the inside, to return to oneself";59 to proceed "from exterior things, from sensory experience, and from vanity into interior things, spiritual things, and truth."60 A person of this sort is "stimulated to a loathing of temporal things and kindled by the desire for spiritual things."61 For the one, the movement of life passes "from the spirit to the letter";62 for the others, "from the letter to the spirit."63 A. W. Hunzinger has interpreted this as Neoplatonism, "as a purely philosophical substructure to Luther's early theology . . . obtained from purely speculative processes . . . and determined ontologically."64 And, in fact, Luther made use of these dualisticontological concepts in such profusion that it does not suffice to dispose of this, following Vogelsang, as "a gentle breath of Neoplatonizing terminology."65 Even the typical Neoplatonic opposition between the One and the Many occurs in Luther: "Temporal things divide man into many parts, but spiritual things unite what is divided into a single whole."66 Nevertheless, the overall picture which Hunzinger sketches is mistaken. He himself had to concede that the decisive fundamental thought of Neoplatonism, the scheme of emanation, was missing in Luther and was replaced by the principle of creation.67 We could indicate this further by the antithesis between present and future which is not in any case conceived Neoplatonically. But the matter is settled that, taken in isolation, what is in fact a purely speculative and ontological manner of expression from the context in which it occurs in Luther undergoes an entirely different interpretation. Therefore it is unsatisfactory to derive this idea from Faber Stapulensis, in whom it certainly occurs in a similar, though also a characteristically somewhat different form,68 and again, it points to a dependency upon Nicolas of Cusa and the Neoplatonizing philosophy of he Renaissance.69 If one asks about the sources of these intuitions in Luther, it is to be regarded above all else that almost all the concepts with which Luther signified this opposition are also found in the Bible.70 And in my judgment it suffices completely to explain the remainder as the degree of Neoplatonic influence which was brought to Luther through Augustine and mysticism. But that it was condensed with him in such an intensely felt dualism is not based on a philosophicalspeculative foundation, but rather upon his realization that the Holy



Scripture cracks open an antithesis of ultimate depth, because the Word of God is judgment, and therefore the Scripture can only be rightly interpreted in the working-out of this antithesis.

V. The Theological Character of Luther's Doctrine of Antithesis It is therefore to be asked whether this is really a question of an ontological dualism. Above all it would have to refer to the numerous expressions in which Luther turns against purely spiritualizing interiorization. For example, when in the Psalms the point at issue is watchfulness, both the corporeal and spiritual kinds are to be understood.71 For "inner" and "outer" are indivisibly joined in human beings: "It is not enough for any virtue to be internal, unless it also proceeds into the open to a work of the senses."72 The joy of the Christian is not merely in the heart, but makes itself public in words.73 The singing to God takes place "according to the letter and spiritually."74 To perceive Christ is to understand "not only from an interior act, but also from an exterior act."75 Self-condemnation in the heart must also be demonstrated bodily, namely, in one's readiness for suffering.76 For the lordship of God extends just as much over the visible world as over the invisible world. Luther interprets "the heavens are yours" to mean both the visible and invisible heavens; he interprets "and the earth is yours" to mean both the corporeal and the spiritual world.77 So too: "Yours is the day and yours is the night" he interprets to mean both the visible and the invisible world.78 God's marvelous works are both visible and invisible.79 His punitive action is accomplished in the soul and the body, before God and humanity,80 and also now and in the future.81 So, too, the resurrection is just as much spiritual as corporeal.82 For Christ is the author of corporeal and spiritual immortality.83 He is God and Man, and rules in both kingdoms.84 Now it must certainly be observed that if Luther establishes such a positive relationship between these antitheses, he differentiates them in a very distinctive way. Either in a comparative form, for example, "spiritual things are one hundred times more important than temporal things."85 Christ should be praised not only externally in the body, but rather inwardly in the spirit.86 The gifts which are offered are certainly also temporal ones, but much more are they spiritual ones.87 "For as the things which the flesh knows are good,



so the things which the spirit knows are much better."88 Or the relationship of these antitheses is set into the eschatological trajectory: here at first in the spirit and in the conscience, but in the future also at the same time in the body.89 The fire of divine wrath, which now is spiritual, will then be a real fire.90 And that again refers to the characteristic dialectic of the concept of reality which stands behind it. There are instances when present, immediate things are called "res." Thus it is true of the believer: "I live in hope, not in actuality."91 "All our blessedness is in hope for future things and not in the actuality of the present."92 But these future things are the true things. Thus, it cannot merely be said "at present in hope, but in the future in actuality."93 It can also be said with respect to the present: "But while they thus hope and live by hope in the sight of men, they have the perfect reality in the sight of God."94 What is reality for the one group is, for the other only appearances and vice versa. What for the one group are the things themselves (res ipsae), for the other group are only signs, shadows, and figures. But even with this a further positive relationship is established: "Truly good things, which are spiritual, are contained in visible things as their signs, shadows, and vessels."95 Therefore, it is not the fault of the things themselves that they are vain, but rather of human beings. "The sense that all things are vanity is not a matter of the things themselves, but of the man who uses them vainly. Therefore, to say that there is vanity in them is to say that man is vain and uses them vainly. And thus truly all things that exist are vanity, not in themselves, but to the extent that the living man himself is vanity."96 For temporal things can also be rightly understood and used, namely, by a spiritual use.97 In all of this there is exhibited a thought structure which is not to be explained as a purely ontological dualism, but rather points to the profoundest theological consistencies in which the understanding of man as one before God is at issue. From this point of view, Luther's hermeneutical scheme of letter and spirit must derive its interpretation. That Luther's dualistic conceptual material in the Dictata is oriented theologically and not philosophically is already indicated by his occasional remarks about philosophy, and especially about Aristotle. Certainly Luther's language betrays his training in scholastic philosophy, and one can detect in him a certain joy in formulating a theological matter with the help of the concepts of formal logic, wherein the terminology used in the schools is made serviceable to



a non-Scholastic way of thinking. So, for example, he says of Christ: "He is our abstraction and we are his concretion/'98 Although Luther occasionally still refers to philosophy with approval, still this is outweighed by the entirely unequivocal knowledge that the language of Holy Scripture is different from that of philosophy, and therefore that terms like substantia" and intellectus100 here and there have an entirely different meaning. Already this characterizes Luther's attitude of hatred toward the loquacity and audacity of scholastic theologians who have derived this from Aristotle and transferred it to divine matters, and who handle the holy name of God, before whom heaven, earth, and hell all tremble, entirely without fear.101 They dispute about the Trinity like a cobbler chatting about leather.102 That is also the reason why he once praised "negative theology" above "positive theology" as the "most perfect theology."103 But above and beyond such general opinions, it is quite instructive to recognize in the interpretation of specific concepts where Luther sees the difference between philosophical and biblical-theological thinking. In philosophy, the term "substance"104 means the essence of a thing, the essence of the thing itself, its "quiddity" [whatness] as opposed to its accidents and qualities. This is conceived ontologically. In contrary fashion, the Holy Scripture does not worry about the "quiddities" of things, but rather about their qualities. How is this meant? In the Scripture, substance does not mean the essence of a thing of and for itself, but rather what it means for the person who associates with it; and furthermore, what a person takes it for and how he understands himself in relation to it. Thus, substance means substaculum or subsidentia, that is, that upon which one can take his stand so as not to sink into the bottomless pit. So the substance of the wealthy person is his wealth, the substance of the healthy person is his health, and so forth. Thus, substance is in each case that which one regards as the ground of his existence. Luther explicitly formulated substance in this biblicaltheological sense as "the total extent of existence." For in one way or another, the definite being of people ends with the things in which they have their substance: "tarn diu sunt tales, quam diu ista durant." Therefore a substance is not to be distinguished from its accidents; on the contrary, something is substance precisely because of its accidents, because of the fact that it is directed outward to the human being, because of what is extrinsic to it, or, in short, because of its qualities. This is an unheard-of reversal in the concept



of substance. Thus, substance is not that which things are, but rather that which a person values in these things; and indeed, that in which, one way or another, he derives his existence and relates himself to the things: "Qualiter unusquisque est et agit, secundum hoc habet substantiam." What substance is is thus determined by human existence; that is, it is not conceptualized ontologically, but rather existentially.105 But we have not yet said everything on this matter. For now the theological background of this thought first unveils itself. Christ did not possess any such substaculum vitae, which prevented his full plunge into death. If he had merely suffered, but not unto death, so he would certainly have had a substance, a floor under his feet. But he was without substance, that is, he regarded nothing in this world as the ground of his existence. And thus Christ destroyed everything that people make into their substance. "Has . . . substantias christusper suam nonsubstantiam omnes destruxit," that is, he has pulled the ground of their existence out from under people's feet through the realization that nothing which they have in themselves and in the world is substantial, that in truth one cannot stand on these things at all, because they are a bottomless swamp. Thus, whoever believes in Christ cannot have his substance, the ground of his existence either in himself or in the world; he is without substance. But faith steps in the place of what elsewhere is the substance of human existence. Thus, "faith is the substance of things hoped for"; "it is a possession and abundance not of worldly things but of future things." This is an entirely different substance, namely, the substance of God. And here, too, one further must avoid the philosophical misunderstanding that the term "God's substance" might refer to God's "quiddity." For in Luther's thought the substance of God and the substance of faith are one and the same. We must keep in view what has here unveiled itself as Luther's theological thought-structure if we are now to press on to a positive explanation of what spirit and letter, along with the corresponding parallel concepts, mean in Luther. If we say that the dualism in the Dictata is oriented theologically, so we might understand this in the first place in the sense that it does not concern an inner-worldly dualism, but rather a dualism between God and the world. And it is true that Luther understands by "spiritual, invisible, and intelligible things," not the realm of ideas in the philosophical sense, but ratherand this is why the multitude of neutral things need



not deceive usthat which has to do with God. For God is Spirit. But this exposition of the dualism regarding the antithesis of God and world could certainly also be understood in a purely abstract philosophical sense. However, Luther's interpretation does not fall in with this. Rather, Luther shifts the dualism onto God himself, when he distinguishes between the back side of God (i.e., temporal things)106 and the countenance of God (i.e., his Spirit),107 or correspondingly, between the left and right hands of God. But to what extent can a dualism be established within God? How Luther understands this manner of expression is exemplified in the following statements: "The light of his countenance is known by the living spirit or the spiritual understanding. The light of his back side is known by the killing letter."108 Or: "The right hand is spiritual life in spiritual works. The left hand is corporal life in temporal works."109 Here we are again confronted by the same way of thinking which became clear in Luther's interpretation of the concept of substance. The back side and the countenance of God, his right and left hands are, for Luther, nothing in and of themselves, but rather signify the posture of a relationship, namely, whether the back side or the countenance is turned towards one, or stated more properly, whether God is turned towards or away from one. Or else, whether one stands on the right or the left hand of God, or stated more properly, whether he takes cognizance of spiritual matters or temporal ones. Therefore, it is meaningful, and in no way a frivolous conceptual game, when Luther makes use of the same designations for people and thus gives expression to the same thing: "For God is saving only for those who turn their face to him and their back to temporal things," and do not "turn their face to temporal things and their back to God."110 And in the same way, Luther can speak, instead of our standing on the right or the left hand of God, of God's standing on our right or left hand.111 And he expands these thoughts even further: "To whomever God stands on the right hand, the Devil stands on the left. And to whomever God stands on the left hand, the Devil stands on the right."112 What results from this? That, in fact, his theological thought is drawn toward existential thinking in an unusual manner and that the dualism, by which the Dictata is dominated, is of a sort that concerns the relationship between God and man, and thus does not simply place God and man in static opposition to each other, but rather discloses two antithetical ways in which God and man are related.



But in view of this last citation, is it not in fact a metaphysical dualism between God and the devil? The conception of the devil plays a relatively minor roll in the Dictata. To me there is only one actual passage which, to a cursory overview, could give the impression of Gnostic-Manichaean dualism, namely, when Luther draws a comparison between the person who lives according to flesh and is thus a work of the devil, and the person who lives according to the Spirit and is thus a work of God;113 and specifically, so that through the work of God the work of the devil is destroyed. But Luther obviously does not believe that the man who favors the flesh is the human body per se, nor that this body as such is the work of the devil. Rather, Luther here makes use of the correctly-understood Pauline manner of speaking, namely, kata sarka / kata pneutna, by which he does not mean a static ontological opposition. Rather, he means an opposition between two existential possibilities for one and the same "whole person." And yet, this explanation of the dualism is still not satisfactory. Moreover, if Luther does not understand man's corporeality as such as a work of the devil, but rather, in accordance with the doctrine of creation, as a work of God, is it not true, first, that the perversion of the relationship of God and man breaks out precisely upon the works of creation, and therefore, second, that the antithesis of creation and redemption determines Luther's dualism? Luther frequently places creation and redemption in relation to one another. Yet he is not led by the thought that through the fall into sin which occurred after the creation, redemption was made necessary and therefore would be the restoration of creation. Rather, Luther brings creation and redemption into relationship without this reflection on the fall, a relationship which simultaneously means both opposition and coordination. And indeed, he thereby makes use of such schemes as shadow/truth or sign/thing-signified: " . . . [A]ll visible things are shadows and figures of spiritual goods."114 " . . . [E]very visible thing is a worldly affair, just as it is a prelude and a show of a spiritual thing."115 Hence, the world is duplex: there is the visible world and the invisible world;116 the sensible world and the intelligible world.117 But although Luther expresses this in such general philosophical terms, saying, for example, that "every visible creature is a parable,"118 he means something entirely different from the idealist thinking that everything transitory is only a likeness. For he can also say the opposite, that the world is a copy of hell.



Not because it is bad in itself, but rather because, and precisely to the extent that the world (which is to say, humanity) does not recognize the wisdom of God and therefore moves with increasing rapidity toward that destination where there is no wisdom whatsoever, namely hell.119 Thus, the being of the world is movement and therefore, like every movement, shares in a goal toward which it is directed. It is therefore not a self-evident insight that the world is a shadow and a figure of spiritual things. So there can certainly be no more doubt about the fact that by "spiritual things" Luther does not refer to the intelligible world of ideas, but rather to the redemptive action of God, toward which the creation already points, as toward its goal, and without which every creature would be vanity. "The creation of corporal things is the beginning and the figure and the shadow of the redemption even of spiritual things."120 And even more clearly: "Therefore Christ is the end and center of them all. To him they all look and point, as if they were saying, 'Behold, he is the One who is real, and we are not; we are only signs.' "121 Therefore the church is the intelligible world.122 The world as creation is a prophecy of this fulfillment, exactly as the Old Testament is a shadow and figure of the New Testament.123 Its true being is therefore also not to be, but to signify. And thus it also becomes clear that this statement compels us to inquire how a person understands himself as related to creation. For whoever takes the things of this world as "things," and not as "signs," has immediately fallen prey to their vanity. But whoever observes the world with enlightened eyes, whoever possesses the right understanding, whose nature it is to "recognize allegories in the scriptures and in creatures,"124 recognizes the allegorical structure of the world, that it is not but that it signifies; and to him each creature becomes an indication of the incarnation125 and of the cross of Christ.126 From this Luther derives the right to understand the creation psalms not to be about the creation as such, but about the new creation.127 Certainly we can understand them to be about visible works, but we may not absolutize this; rather, we must understand them with respect to invisible works.128 For if the intention here is to praise the wisdom of God in creation, then we may not stop at creatures. They are but the products of the Creator, not his activity, to his creative work itself.129 The essential work of God, namely his wisdom, only "plays" in the creation,130 and thus also allows the creatures their own room to play, allows them to do



their own work. 131 Thus the works of creation are only the literal works of God, 1 3 2 which have their fulfillment in the spiritual works. 133 Only then does the wisdom of God become quite serious! In the new creationand this means in the redemptive work of God, in Christ, in the gospel, in the churchthere is no room for creatures to play, for here God alone does everything. 134 For while all the works of creation are signifying works, Christ is the end of all things and the thing signified by all things. 1 3 5 Therefore every thing which is outside of Christ is vanity. 136 For Christ is the truth; 1 3 7 the spirit rejects literal things, which are only shadows of truth. 1 3 8 Part two of the essay, serialized in three parts, will appear in our next issue (autumn 1993).

1. The present essay reproduces a series of guest lectures which were held at the beginning of November 1950 at the University of Lund. In the introductory sections I have made a few changes and significant cuts in places which rehearse material in my previously published studies; "Church History Is [sic] the History of the Exposition of Holy Scripture," The Word of God and Tradition (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968), 11-31, and "The Significance of the Critical Historical Method for Church and Theology in Protestantism," Word and Faith (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1963), 1-61. With this publication I add my thanks for the cordial reception which was extended to me in Sweden, and in particular for the stimulating discussions which followed the lectures. 2. "Luthers Bedeutung fur den Fortschritt der Auslegungskunst," Gesammelte Aufsatze zur Kirchengeschichte I (Luther), 7th ed. (Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1948), 544-582. (Hereafter cited as Ges. Aufs.) This lecture was held on November 11, 1920 at the Prussian Academy of Sciences and was published in the first edition of the Luther book. 3. That Luther as a professor gave only exegetical lectures was a new realization. Herein lies a fundamental decision. Cf. . Bauer, Die Wittenberger Universitatstheologie und die Anfinge der Reformation (Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1928), 14; and O. Scheel, Martin Luther II, 3rd ed. (Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1930), 5646., 62if. 4. . v. Schubert and K. A. Meissinger, "Zu Luthers Vorlesungstatigkeit," SAH, Phil.Hist. Kl., 1920, 9 Abh. 2of, H. Bornkamm, Luther und das Alte Testament (Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1948), III and the valuable tables, 229f. 5. It should be asked whether even today, although under changed circumstances, a skilled exegete, even and precisely when working with all the equipment of the historicalcritical method, does not reveal an overall theological conception every time, regardless of what text is interpreted. And it should further be asked whether this really is nothing but a violation of the textas true as it may be!, whether such a thinking of the exegete in terms of the totality cannot be reconciled with the ability to consider carefully the uniqueness of the text and whether this observation does not lead to the center of the hermeneutical problem. 6. 3:397-9-11,15-17 ( I 5 I 3/ I 5) Luther employs here a quotation from Augustine, Confes-

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stones, lib. 7, cap. 10, n. 16, Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 33, 157. (Hereafter cited as CSEL ) Augustine writes that he has seen the unchangeable light of eternal truth with the eye of the soul and has heard, bedazzled and confused but also captured by it, from God as the voice of the truth: "I am the food of the adult, grow and you will eat me. And you will not change me into you as the food of your flesh but you will be changed into me." Augustine did not yet relate this statement to the sacrament of the altar, but later this statement found entry into the medieval doctrine of the euchanst. Cf. G. Biel, Canoms Misse Expositio, lect. 84D and 86A, d. H. A. Oberman and J. Courtenay (Wiesbaden: F. Steiner, 1967), 80 and 119; Verffentlichungen des Instituts fur europaische Geschichte in Mainz, 34.4. I owe these references to a communication by letter from R. Schwarz. Cf. also R. Schwarz, "Fides, spes und cantas beim jungen Luther unter besondere Bercksichtigung der mittelalterlichen Tradition," Arbeiten zur Kirchengeschichte 34 (i92):22i, . 468. (Hereafter cited as AKG ) 7. Cf. . Holl, Ges Aufs I^ofF.; . Bauer (see above, n. 3), 14fr., and F. Hahn, "Luthers Auslegungsgrundsatze und ihre theologischen Voraussetzungen," Zeitschrift fur systematische Theologie 12 (i934/35):i65~2i8 (here, 199^) (Hereafter cited as ZSTh ) Cf. also G. Ebeling, Evangelische Evangehenauslegung Eine Untersuchung zu Luthers Hermeneutik (reprint, Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1962 and 1969), 274-89. (Hereafter cited as Evangelische Evangehenauslegung ) 8. Cf. Evangelische Evangehenauslegung 48 ff. (eh. 2: Die Entwicklung in Luthers Evan gehenauslegung) and 274fr. (eh. 4. Die Haupthmen der hermeneutischen Entwicklung Lu thers). H. Bornkamm confirms (p. 80, see above, . 4) the finding reported there. 9. 5:75.2-4 (1519). 10. 1:461.27 (1518). Cf. the schohon to Romans 7:6, 56:336, 24fr. (1515-16). 11. 5:27.8 (1519). 12. Cf. . Holl, Ges Aufs L552; . Bauer (see above, . 3), 2of. and 146, E. Seeberg, Luthers Theologie I (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1929), 620, Evangelische Evange henauslegung, 1386., 324fr. 13. Op. cit. (see above, . 3), 14fr". 14. Op. cit., 145. 15. Op. cit., 147. 16. Op. Cit., 22. 17. Op. cit., 145. 18. Op. Cit., 2lf. 19. Ges Aufs I, 545-50. 20. Op. cit., 547-9. 21. Cf. Fr. Hahn, "Faber Stapulensis und Luther," Zeitschrift fur Kirchengeschichte 57 (1938): 4o8f., 432. (Hereafter cited as ZKG ) 22. Ges Aufs I, 546. 23. Hahn (op. cit., 427) has pointed this out. 24. "Initium theologiae Luthen," Festgabe fur ] Kaftan (Tubingen, 1920), 150-69, now in E. Hirsch, Lutherstudien II (Gtersloh: C. Bertelsmann, 1954), 9-35; see especially pages 167 and 33f., respectively. 25. Ges Aufs I, 546f. 26. "Die Anfange von Luthers Chnstologie nach der ersten Psalmenvorlesung," AKG 15 (1929): i6ff, especially 27 . 2, 48ff., and elsewhere. 27. "Die Anfange der Theologie Luthers," ZKG 53 (i934)-.229-4i; Luthers Theologie II (Stuttgart, W. Kohlhammer, 1937), 4fr*.; Grundzuge der Theologie Luthers (Stuttgart: W Kohl hammer, 1940), 63f., 84f., 114. 28. "Luthers Auslegungsgrundsatze und ihre theologischen Voraussetzungen," ZSTh 12 (i934/35):i65~2i8. Strangely enough, Hahn never refers to the work of Vogelsang.



29. WA 3 and 4: 1-462. The newly edited parts are cited according to WA 55:1.1 and WA 55:2.1, with references to the earlier WA 3 in parentheses. 30. 4:463-526. 31. This question is not addressed by F. Hahn either. The issue of further investigations is related most closely to his essay on Luther's principles of interpretation. Despite several similarities in conception, my work differs so greatly from that of Hahn that it did not seem superfluous to me to address the theme anew. The present contribution also is only prelim inary. The problem of hermeneutics in the Dictata would necessitate a very comprehensive monograph for which I do not have the necessary time at present and for which it would be desirable to wait for the new critical edition in the WA. But since the present debate on the question of hermeneutics begins to develop into an argument concerning the interpre tation of Luther (cf. the principal objection to this work in the ZThK and against my essay in ZThK 47 [1950] by H. Laurerer in Evangelisch-lutherische Kirchenzeitung 4 [1950] 290-94), I considered it necessary not to postpone the publication of my studies indefinitely but to enter the discussion with the admission of their preliminary character. Therefore I limited myself to the most necessary items in citing source material and in references to the literature. I have spoken on the relation to traditional hermeneutics to the extent that it immediately serves the illumination of Luther's position. However, I have given up dealing with those theological and intellectual relations which have influenced the specific structure of Luther's thinking. This refers specifically to his relationship to nominalism and mysticism. Significant work would be necessary for further elaboration of that presentation. I was first concerned to interpret Luther's statements in their internal interdependence. In order to counter possible objections, I would like to emphasize two items from the beginning: 1. I use partly modern terminology in the interpretation because I am not aware of conceptions which would enable one to formulate the situation emerging from the text more poignantly. Those who suspect that Luther is here adapted to a certain taste of the time, I ask not to raise this objection in a general fashion but to ground it in detail from intensive study of the Dictata 2. I must urgently warn against the opinion that Luther's theology as such is characterized in what follows. The essay is limited exclusively to the years 1513/15. It is a separate question how far in the later development of Luther the approaches here emerging have been influential or were corrected. It also is far from me to cite this early state in Luther's theology against the later Luther. Those who exploit the following exposition theologically in a shortsighted manner, make the task of an encounter with Luther's theology too easy for themselves. However, I consider it a basic methodological requirement for the interpretation of Luther to make the way from his theological beginnings to the whole in order to sharpen the eyes in this way for otherwise easily overlooked peculiarities of his thinking. However, I do believe that this historical investigation does furnish a contribution to the entire problem of Luther's theology and therefore I also do not deny an element of present-day importance, aiming at the present theological situation. These admonitions to caution have not always been observed sufficiently in the discussion of this contribution. A. Brandenburg, "Gericht und Evangelium. Zur Worttheologie in Luthers erster Psalmenvorlesung," in Konfessionskundhche und kontroverstheologische Studien IV, ed. by the Johann-Adam-Mohler-Institut (i960), attributes too much weight for the entirety of my investigation to the term "exis tentialist interpretation," which, as far as I know, occurs in this essay on Luther only in conclusion (section 12, cf. . 105). He does not observe the hesitation toward a direct appli cation to the present problems which I deliberately preserve. What I mean in using this ominous cue word as a summarizing formulation of certain traits of Luther's tropological interpretation m their relationship to (but also distinction from) the chnstological interpre tation, is taken not from my description of the circumstances in Luther but from theological phenomena of today, and the historical difference is no longer sufficiently respected. So he says (op. cit., 15): "Ebehng does not name Bultman but intends his method of interpretation." Furthermore (op. cit., no): "The word 'existentialist interpretation' is expediently considered

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as a terminus tecknitHS for Bultmann's theology and every theology which in any way is connected with Bultmann." And occasionally "existentialist" becomes "existentialistic" (e.g., op. cit. 22). In using the concept of the method which is intertwined with the ontological thematics (see below n. 105), I only wanted to indicate a trajectory for whose relationship to (not: identity with) present ways of thinking associations in the history of ideas and theology would have to be adduced. I did not want to burden the emphatically historical task of this investigation with the discussion of these connections, including the questions of present-day systematic theology. In contrast, Brandenburg puts his work directly in the service of polemical-theological interests of the present. Op. cit. 159: "Our work has the task to demonstrate that Luther has attributed to the event of salvation, which takes place in the proclaimed word, an explicitly one sided-existential character." Further (op. cit., 154): "The foundations for the critical problems of present-day Lutheran theology have been laid already in the work of the pre-Reformation Luther." Cf. below n. 315. Exactly because Brandenburg generally agrees with my interpretation of the Dictata, it seemed necessary to me to draw boundaries in this direction. On the book by Brandenburg, cf. also E. Iserloh, " 'Existentiale Interpretation* in Luthers erster Psalmenvorlesung?," Theologische Revue 59 (1963): 73-84. (He even speaks once [74] of "the 'existentialist interpretation* of Luther by Ebeling"a slip of the pen?) See also H. Geisser, "Das Abenteuer der Lutherinterpretation als verbindendes Element zwischen den Konfessionen. Zu Albert Brandenburgs Buch 'Gericht und Evangelium'," Materialdienst des Konfessionskundlichen Instituts 14 (1963), 81-90. Preference to the review by Geisser (especially n. 11) makes some corrections by me superfluous. 32. I presuppose as familiar the textual-critical and historical problems which have to be considered in using the Dictata. Cf. on this especially E. Hirsch, "Initium theologiae Lutheri" (see above n. 24). H. Boehmer, Luthers erste Vorlesung. Berichte ber die Verhandlungen der sachsischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig, Phil.-hist. Kl. 75 (1923) fascicle . E. Vogelsang, "Die Anfange von Luthers Christologie" (see above . 26). . Wendorf, "Der Durchbruch der neuen Erkenntnis Luthers im Lichte der handschriftlichen berlieferung," Historische Vierteljahrsschrift 27 (1932), 124-44, 285-327. See also R. Schwarz, "Beschreibung der Dresdener Scholien-Handschrift von Luthers 1. Psalmen-Vorlesung," ZKG 82 (1971): 65-93. 33. 54; 185,12fr". On the problems of interpretation see O. Scheel (see above n. 3) 664f. and the literature listed there. On the discussion caused by E. Bizer, Fides ex auditu. Eine Untersuchung ber die Entdeckung der Gerechtigkeit Gottes durch Martin Luther (NeukirchenVluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1958, 3d ed. 1966), see Der Durchbruch der reformatorischen Erkenntnis bei Luther, ed. B. Lohse, Wege der Forschung CXXIII (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1968). 34. Thus first, E. Hirsch (see above . 24), i6ifF. (26.) and, in modified form, E. Vogelsang (see above n. 26), 59. 35. Cf. on this matter the survey on the course of research in W. Link, Das Ringen Luthers um die Freiheit der Theologie von der Philosophie. Forschungen zur Geschichte und Lehre des Protestantismus IX, 3 (Munich: Chr. Kaiser, 1940), 6fF. See also n. 33 above and especially the excellent report of research by O. H. Pesch, O. P., "Zur Frage nach Luthers reforma torischer Wende. Ergebnisse und Probleme der Diskussion um Ernst Bizer, Fides ex auditu/* Catholicisme 20 (1966): 216-43, 264-80. Reprinted in the collection mentioned above in n. 33 445"55 36. E. Vogelsang (see above n. 26) 72, n. 2. A Hamel, Der junge Luther und Augustin I (Gtersloh: C. Bertelsmann, 1934), i86ff. On the question of how far progress can be determined concerning Luther's statements on the idea of merit in the lectures, I would support the reservations of Hamel against Vogelsang. 36a. A. Brandenburg (see above n. 31), no, puts the accents differently: "for the rest . . . the decisive question remains whether here the specific central point is really the beginning breakthrough of hermeneutics or the statement on the iudicium (judgment), as it



takes place in the Word from God toward human beings. We have decided for the latter." Brandenburg correctly criticizes me in that in the condensed article "Luther II. Theologie," Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (hereafter cited as RGG) 3d ed., vol. 4: 495-520, I did not explicitly discuss the concept iudtcium. But it seems to me that the total characteristic of the uniqueness of the Dictata against the background of the tradition by reference to the struggle for the hermeneutical problem does not exclude the significance of the theme contained in the term iudicium, whereas on the other hand the theme of iudicium in my opinion is too narrow to retain the comprehensive width and the necessary openness of the total characterization. 37. In using this illustration I am indeed conscious of the fact that Luther designates not the mentioned hermeneutical schemes but rather Christ as the means to get to the sweet kernel hidden behind the hard shell of the text. 55:1.1, 6.29-34 (3:12.32-35): " 'Come to it and be illuminated, and your faces will not be distorted.' But others go around and may, as if after an effort, flee from Christ and so they delay to come to him with the text. But sometimes I have a text like a nut whose shell is hard for me, but I quickly throw it on the rock and find the sweet kernel." But, as will be shown, the mentioned schemes are the means of the christological interpretation, precisely in their common application to the text of the Psalms. 38. Evangelische Evangelienauslegung, 113. Cf. also my article "Geist und Buchstabe," RGG, 3. ed., vol. 2, 1290-96. 39. Summa theologiae I, q. 1 a. 10 ad 1. 40. hoc. cit. 41. On what follows, cf. the preface of Faber to the Quincuplex Psalterium and the work by F. Hahn, "Faber Stapulensis und Luther," ZKG 57 (i938).*356-432. It will become clear later what distinguishes my view on the relation of Luther to Faber from that of Hahn. Cf. furthermore the more differentiated statements on the hermeneutical theory of Faber in my essay: "Luthers Psalterdruck vom Jahre 1513," ZThK 50 (i953):93F. 42. See especially chapter 4.6 to 5.8; CSEL 60, 157-60. 43. Evangelische Evangelienauslegung, 1336e., . 89. 44. O Scheel (see above . 3), 4o4f. A Hamel (see above n. 36), 96e. But cf. E. Kahler, Karlstadt und Augustin. Hallische Monographien no. 19 (Halle: M. Niemeyer, 1952) 56* n. 1. Hahn, (ZSTh 12 [1934/35]: 174) wrongly presupposes Luther's acquaintance with De spiritu et litera in his Dictata. Also the assertion that the understanding of spirit and letter, advocated by Augustine in this writing, is Neoplatonist (op. cit., 174, 179) is not tenable. 45. K. Bauer (see above n. 3), 34. Bauer, however, then gives a completely wrong impression of the significance which reading De spiritu et litera had for Luther. He presents it as if Luther came to the correct understanding of Romans 1:17 only through this reading. But Luther's own testimony of 1545, on which Bauer relies, speaks clearly of a subsequent confirmation by Augustine. It is decisive that the understanding of the righteousness of God in the sense of that "which makes us righteous" is already present in the Dictata. This is only one example among many of how Bauer's good starting point is distorted regarding the hermeneutical problem by his lack of knowledge of the Dictata. 46. 3:498-23 47 3 : 6 422-24. 48. 3 :i44-5 f 49 3:583-3 5 4:3 0 0 - I 9 f 51. 3:574.6. 52. 4:11.17. 53 4*222.18. 54 4:250.19. 55 4:25i.29f.

T H E B E G I N N I N G S OF L U T H E R ' S H E R M E N E U T I C S 56. 4:216.17. 57 4:io7-32f 58. 3:205.36.


59 4:-3 f 60. 55:1.1, no.iof. (3:101.28F.). 61. 4:i58.22f. 62. 3:551.16; 4:128.11. 6 3 4-3239 64. Lutherstudien, I: Luthers Neuplatonismus in der Psalmenvorlesung von 1513-1516 (Leipzig: A. Deichert, 1906), 18. 65. Op. cit. (see above . 26), 9, . 2. 66. 3:5 3^ Cf. a ^ s o 4 : 4 9^ 67. Op. cit. (see above . 64), 19 68. Cf. the pairs of opposites which Faber employs, collected by Fr. Hahn, ZKG 57 (i 93 8):356f. 69. ZKG 57 (i 93 8): 3 62ff. 70. Naturally the vocabulary of the Vulgate has to be employed for the comparison. 71. 3:357.12. 72. 3:248.27^ 73 4:4"5 74. 4:192.9. 75 3 :2 3*-9 f 76. 3:466.i5f. 77 4:3 8 - I l f 78. 3:491.1. 79 3 : 5 2 8 - l 6 f 80. 4:423-981. 4:92.20. 82. 4:43 2 5 83. 3:401.1. 84. 445432 8 5 . 3:564.17 86. 4:io8.36f. 87. 3:46o.if. 88. 4:82.27f. 89. 3:478.5^ 9 3 : 577 2 3 9i. 4:91.20. 92. 4:3 8 35 93- 4-.412.32f. 94 4:355-3lf95 3 : 5 l 6 - 8 f 96. 3:223-32-35 97 4:45234" 98. On Ps. 104:1b (you are clothed with confession and decoration [honor and majesty]) 4:173.21-23 [Luther says]: Christ is called according to the humanity "confession and dec oration," and we "confessors, decorated," just as he [is called] "righteousness, redemption, salvation," and we "righteous, redeemed, saved"; thus he is our abstraction, and we are his concretion. Cf. 4:172.26-28: Because he formerly put on negation and ugliness, that is negated and made ugly. But now he has put on decoration and praiseworthiness. But it is said abstractly, because we are his concretion. On Ps. 111:3 (Hebr. Psalter: Honor and majesty is his work):... that it be the humanity of Christ itself which is "honor and majesty" . . . For



according to this he himself is the object of faith and the reason and source and the head of our glory and majesty, for through him, that is through faith in him, we are made clear and made majestic, as every concretion through his abstraction. E. Vogelsang (see above n. 265), 58, characterizes the situation as follows: "It is noticeable how Luther fills the traditional forms of thinking with completely and uniquely new content; for the clarification of what he has to say he deals freely with the scholastic concepts, even at the danger of breaking them." Furthermore, Vogelsang brings these earlier statements of Luther into relationship with his remark of 1542/43 that at the discovery of the understanding of the righteousness of God the harmonization of the abstract and the concrete has played a role (WAT 5:210.11 no. 5518. O Scheel, Documente zu Luthers Entwicklung, 2d ed. (Tbingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1929), 172, i2f. no. 474. Cf. further 43:537-23-25; 40.1; 594.8f.). Vogelsang sees the reliability of Luther's memory confirmed in this matter and considers the observation of "the originally christological significance of these terms" important for the interpretation of the statement in the Table Talk. H. Bornkamm, "Iustitia dei in der Scholastik und bei Luther," Archiv fr Reformationsgeschichte 39 (i942):29, on the other hand, has contested the assumption of a necessary connection between the Table Talk passage in which the concepts "abstractum" and "concretum" are understood "purely grammatically" and the way of expression in the Dictata. He speaks of the latter as of "the formula, used by Luther occasionally, from the nominalist christology: he is our abstraction, we are his concretion." Vogelsang, who found here something new expressed with traditional means, hadnot quite fortunatelyadded in explanation, "On the nominalist terminology cf. Biel . . . . " It is a matter of basic elements of traditional logic and not specificities of nominalism. Nevertheless it is instructive, especially in view of passages from the Dictata, to refer to a corresponding remark of G. Biel, Coll. Proi, q. 3, conci. 4 C: "the abstraction signifies principally that to which a certain concrete name belongs. Thus warmth signifies that by which something is called warm, whiteness by which something is called white, ridiculousness by which something is called ridiculous, similarity by which something is called similar, humanity by which someone is called a human being, corporeality by which something is called a body, blindness by which something is called blind, and so forth." Although it is indeed possible to interpret the statement mentioned from the Table Talk only on the basis of the grammatical meaning of the terms (abstract: righteousness, concrete: righteous), nevertheless, probably the viewpoint of a causal relationship between abstract and concrete is implied. Luther transferred it, in analogy to the conception of the abstract as the formal cause of the concrete (cf. the Biel quotation), on the relationship of Christ to the believer as his or her cause, source, and head. This makes use of scholastic forms of thought not completely arbitrarily but quite unscholastically. This follows not only from the fact that in this case the causative connection between abstract and concrete is of a completely different kind, but also from a comparison of how, within scholastic christology, the differentiation of abstraction and concretion becomes relevant. In discussing the correct possibilities of statements concerning the person of Christ within the doctrine of the exchange of attributes (communication idiomatum) it is the concern whether, e.g., the abstraction of the divine nature can be stated on the basis of the human nature of Christ. But when Luther interprets the relationship between Christ and the believers by means of the distinction of abstraction and concretion, then he does something without an example in scholastic christology. On the whole complex of problems cf. also W. Maurer, Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen. Zwei Untersuchungen zu Luthers Reformationsschriften 1520/21 (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1949), i4if. and R. Schwarz (see above . 6), 9, 92. A Brandenburg (see above . 31), 113, reveals a quite erroneous understanding in saying in reference to Luther's supposed inclination to treat historical matters as indifferent (cf. op. cit., 17), "It is necessary to recognize the certain abstractness of time (Christ is our abstraction) in the tropological concept of salvation 'the work of God.' " It is more correct when Brandenburg, op. cit., 88, interprets it as follows, "Christ is . .. the example to which we are to be conformed. He is, as Luther expresses it so wilfully, our abstraction, we are

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his concretion. What is accomplished and demonstrated in him, becomes in us the concretion by the gospel." But even this remark is in my opinion too strongly guided by a modern conception of the distinction between the abstract and the concrete. And the causal rela tionship suggested by Luther is understood onesidedly in the scheme of prototypeimitation (originalcopy). Nonsensical: E. H. Erikson, Young Man Luther: A study in psychoanalysis and history (New York: Norton, 1958). 99. 3:419.25fr; 3:440.34fr*. ioo. 3:176.3fr.; 3:507.34fr.; 4:324.1fr*. . 3:382.19fr. 102. 3:382.9fr.

3 37 3^'

4 In what follows, I am interpreting the two sections 3:419.25-420:13; 440.34-441.10. 105. As can be seen in this contrast, I use here the term "ontologically" in the sense of medieval ontology as influenced by Aristotle. It is a separate question, not to be discussed in this connection, how the ontological problem is presented on the basis of existential thinking. Furthermore, it has to be observed that Luther does not draw the lines into the general philosophical questioning but is only concerned to expose the specificity of biblical theological thinking. He has not reflected on the consequences for the problem of meta physics. Rather, in his metaphysical conception he has remainedwe may saynaively within the frame of common sense. This does not answer the question of what philosophical impulses are slumbering in Luther's theological approach and how far they have to be unfolded when it is a question of keeping the Reformer's theological approach pure in the unavoidable contact of theology and philosophy. This points to a fundamental problem in the total history of the theology of Protestantism. On this matter, cf. the excellent book by W. Joest, Ontologie der Person bei Luther, (Gttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1967). 106. 4:288.37^ 107 4*334-23f108. 55:177; 24:7-9 (3 : 39-3 lf ) 109 3 : 475- 2 9"3 8 no. 3:236.12-15. in. 4:235.8fr. 112. 4:235.146. 113. 4:49.29fr. 114. 55:2.1; 67:i6f. (3:49-6f.). 115. 4:190.iif. 116. 4:189.11fr. 117 4*-525-25ff 118. 3:560.35. 119. 4:381.22fr. 120. 3:550.33^ 121. 3:368.22-24. The same idea is found in the early sermon on John 3.16 (1510? 1512? 1514?): 4:6oo.6fF. = BoA [Luthers Werke in Auswahl, ed. O. Clemen] 5.32.8fr. 122. 3:429-25f.; 3:533.2^; 4-.189.17fT. 123. 3:264.25f.; 3:368.18fr. 124. 4:33 8 22 2 5 3 : 5333 8 126. "Who still doubts that the cross of Christ is described and depicted by the finger of God in all creatures?" 3:647.2^ 127. E.g., 4:8i.2f.; 4:489.23fr.; 4:514.22fr. 128. 4:i89-27f. 129. 4:189.1fr.; 4:24i.i6f.; 4:444.26fr. 130. 4:171.27fr.; 4:187.37^; 4-.190.10fF.

158 131. 4-*24i-i5fJ 2 3 3:533-5f133 4I7 1 28 134. 4:241.20. ?>5- 3 375-3* 136. 3:167.9fr. !37 -g-> 3 4348 138. 4:40.2.
E : : f


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