Archive for February 2011
I just finished posting the first chapter of a book that I was writing on Luther and the Great German Peasants’ War of 1525. It is about 100 pages double-spaced in courier font. The wordpress font makes it about three quarters as long. I guess because of its size wordpress put it right into its category, Luther and the subcategory, the Peasants’ War, on the right of my blog.
I had to get the manuscript from little sections contained in 5 and 1/4 inch floppies. Where I thought a paragraph was missing, it turned out 40 pages were missing. But it was a labor of love. I have many more manuscripts that I never published. The next one I hope to get into my blog is Luther and the Niebuhr Brothers, again in relation to the position he took against the Peasants’ War. That is also a long chapter.
I had hoped to go to graduate school and start publishing my work, but after another six years of studying Luther and the Peasants’ War, I had to change my thesis to Luther and pamphlet studies. When I investigated what I thought was a legalistic ethos of his time, I was surprised to discover that there were actually two ecclesiastical court systems, the old arch-deaconal court and the newer episcopal courts besides all of the civil courts. Luther’s burning the canon law on Dec. 10, 1520 was incredibly revolutionary. The manuscript I just posted was my last writing before leaving for graduate school.
If only the German peasants could have known about a non-violent approach, they may have brought their regime down, the way the Egyptians just did. As it was, the murderous feudal transitioning to territorial structure of governance killed an estimated 100,000 peasants in that war that was no war but a massacre of peasants. Many an evangelical pastor sided with the peasants and had to stretch his neck out on the chopping block as well. I think that this underside of the Reformation is well worth remembering.
St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church in Coney Island, New York
All Saints’ Sunday, November 4th 1984
Text: Matthew 5:1-12
Blessed are the Poor in Spirit
A saint has to be an atheist.
“How can you say that, Pastor? You know how much we hate Madeline Murray O’Hare, who campaigned to get prayer cut out of the schools twenty to thirty years ago. How can you say that a saint has to be an atheist? You don’t want us to believe in God?”
And I answer, “Yes.” That is the way it is, because by-and-large, the god you’ve got and the god I’ve got is Mammon! Mammon stands for money, for the almighty American dollar, for power, property, and houses packed by possessions – all of which we tend to worship Mammon by. And I say that you have to stop trusting this god. Do not cling to money, property, power, and influence as if your lives depended on it. You have to learn to be atheists to Mammon – to the almighty dollar – before you can allow your heart to trust in and cling to the Holy One of Israel – the Lord Most High.
The trouble with communists is that by the power of Mammon they want to be free of Mammon and they have merely gotten deeper into Mammon’s clutches. But we say we believe in the one true God while our lives and our actions say we really believe in Mammon – and our hypocrisy is more offensive to God than the blatant atheism of communists.
What does it take to be a saint? St. Matthew says – (you notice that I do not say, “the Bible says,”) “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” while St. Luke says, “Blessed are the poor and woe to the rich!” Now is St. Matthew spiritualizing the words of Christ, so that Mammon can still be served and with lip-talk we can confess the Most Holy God? That depends upon what we mean by spirit.
Does Matthew mean that if we are poor in spirit, we are blessed, but if we are rich spiritually, we are not? No, because although St. Matthew is not as “Pentecostal” as St. Luke, Matthew also believes that we need to be rich in spirit rather than materially rich. What he really means is that in spirit we need to be one with the poor.
I submit that is where our whole country has started down the wrong path after the election of 1980 – because in spirit we became one with the rich against the poor – and St. Matthew is saying, woe to those who are not one with, at the side of, and part of the rescue of, the hungry, the homeless, that is, those without shelter, those who mourn not only their own lust, but mourn for the way our lives have become.
Blessed are we when we are lowly – and woe to the arrogant, the superior, the prejudiced, the people who have become machines – like you have one TV set that cost $300 and one costs $1,000 and you think people come the same way.
Blessed are you when you are merciful and when you stand in your life mercifully. The other day the first woman stood to be executed by lethal injection. She is the first woman who received capital punishment in 26 years by our country. Don’t tell me that the Bible says: if a murderer kills, his hand shall be upon him – because the Sermon on the Mount says, “You have heard the call of old – an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, but say to you, do good to those who despitefully use you.” Have the murderers now stopped murdering people in our streets because we have introduced capital punishment? Blessed are you if you stand with the merciful. That does not mean that the law should not be brought down to bear on murderers.
What about this CIA pamphlet [in our news]. We are instructed by a certain Mr. Kirkpatrick, no relation to our dear member, Thomas Worthington Kirkpatrick, to hire criminals to kill some of our own hired Contras in order to make them martyrs for the cause. It seems that everything goes – no matter how devious and murderous, as long as it is against so-called communists. [We say it of others] but sometimes it seems to me, that life seems cheap to us Americans.
Don’t say that I am not a patriot, because there is patriotism and there is patriotism. There is love for our country that would see her envision a new city and a new way of life; a love for our country that features her best traditions – democracy, freedom of speech and assembly, of a government by checks and balances, but not the patriotism that lives on the military and militarism. The latter is the worst kind of patriotism. I’m sorry, but I am not proud that we marched into Grenada. It makes me ashamed of this country. And the limitations placed on our free press – that no reporters were allowed to go in and watch our boys kill people and be killed – is a new thing in America, where if continued, you will only get the news Washington wants you to have! Patriots have to protest that.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Blessed are those who stand with the poor, the grieving, the hungry, thirsty, with the homeless, who like our Lord have nowhere to lie down and rest their heads. Blessed are those who reject the many things they want and accept the fact that they are human beings with the same needs as the poor and that with greater justice and social mindedness and compassion – their needs could be met. [There would be no poor among us.]
Why should we live in a world where six million Ethiopians are on the brink of death by starvation? We need to understand that the times as they are, are not God’s times, but belong to the powers and principalities and it is high time that we repented and yearned for the Holy City and yearned for the new persons that God is changing us to become – in the image of Christ … so that we hunger and thirst for righteousness, instead of beer and pretzels. We need to repent so that we have hearts filled with compassion instead of stomachs bloated with overeating. That we become person-centered and reject this power and money centered culture and society of this world we live in called the USA.
See the Holy City coming down from Heaven! See the new beatific people, who inhabit it! God is in their midst. Their persecutions are ended – their life by the river that makes glad the City of God, is now begun.
Now in your hearts you can reject Mammon and become poor and one with the poor in your heart. This is the land of opportunity. Take the opportunity to become poor. Scoff at the lottery – the way Mammon lines you up to buy tickets and laughs at you and your faith. Take the opportunity to look to the cross of Jesus Christ and by the way of the cross enter the Holy City, enter your new existence, which Jesus has described:
Blessed are the poor in spirit: the reign of God is theirs. Blessed too are the sorrowing; they shall be consoled. Blessed are the lowly; they shall inherit the land. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness; they shall be filled. Blessed are they who show mercy; mercy shall be theirs. Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. Blessed too are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God. Blessed are those persecuted for righteousness sake; the reign of God is theirs. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of slander against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven, because they persecuted the prophets who were before you in the very same way. (Matthew 5: 3-11)
Pastor Peter D.S. Krey
Dr. Peter Krey, January 31, 2011
Reading Nicholas Berdyaev again after thirty-five years has been eye-opening to me. There are so many themes in his book on Dostoevsky that I also have in my dissertation and in my thought about Luther’s spirituality. I wonder whether my earlier reading of him actually came out in my writing unconsciously.
Writing from the perspective of the Orthodox Church, Berdyaev denounces the attempt of Roman Catholicism to want a temporal sword, an earthly kingdom among other earthly kingdoms. Because God wants humanity to come to freely love the Christ sent by heaven, no compulsion is allowed on the part of the church. That is precisely what I meant by denying the church the sword of iron, that is, its coercion, and allowing it only the sword of the spirit, thus my dissertation title, Sword of the Spirit, Sword of Iron.
As Berdyaev writes, quoting Dostoevsky, “Thou didst desire [a hu]man’s free love, that [s/]he should follow Thee freely, a willing captive.” And further that Roman Catholicism’s conception was one “of the compulsory organization of an earthly kingdom” (page 145) and its system made “a denial of freedom of conscience and, [because of its] having misunderstood the mediaeval doctrine of ‘the two swords,’ [Dostoevsky] claimed that the Roman Church aimed at temporal dominion and had grasped the sword of Caesar” (page 145).
I also forgot that I had read about “centripetal and centrifugal movement of human beings” in Berdyaev (page 44). Having forgotten about it, I discovered the concept again in a British historian and it has become prominent in my analysis of Luther’s spirituality. His centripetal spirituality moves toward the center of community with involvement, participation, and commitment; not out of it and away from it, centrifugally, with detachment as in monasticism. Thus Luther’s theology is always centripetal, toward marriage, toward the source and center of community.
Another scholar also said something enlightening to this effect, helping me to understand Luther’s theology, i.e., that there were two kinds of abstractions, one that leads away and the other that leads toward the body and concrete realities. Again the movement of the latter is centripetal and the former is centrifugal.
Berdyaev also champions a dynamic dialectical mind (Note how good a description that is of Luther’s mind!) and he criticizes static monolithic kinds of minds. (Luther is often criticized from a static absolute point of view that fails to take account of his nuanced, dialectical approach.) As Berdyaev describes Dostoevsky, to me he seems a kindred spirit with Luther. Both were dynamic dialectical thinkers. Luther also puts opposites together in tension with one another and finds that his opponents claim that his arguments are nothing more than a pack of contradictions, e.g., their response to being sinners and saints at one and the same time, being sovereign over all and enslaved to all at the same time, having freedom in faith and being enslaved in love.
Look at the similar way Berdyaev describes the thought of Dostoevsky: “There was a dash of the spirit of Heraclitus about him: everything is heat and motion, opposition, and struggle” (page 12) and “His conception of the world was to the highest degree dynamic and we must look at it this way; the internal contradictions of his work will then vanish, and it will verify the principle of coincidentia oppositorum,” that means, the coincidence of opposites (page 13) and “The battle between the divine and hellish elements is carried on deep down in the spirit of man” (page 58) and “[Beauty] is a terrible thing because it can’t be fathomed, for God makes nothing but riddles and in this one extremes meet and contraries lie down together…” (page 59) and “There is an antinomy in the nature even of God” (page 58).
Could the antinomy derive from deus absconditus, that is, the hidden God versus how God wished to be revealed in Jesus Christ? Or could it derive from the Creator and Redeemer’s diverse ways of ruling the world, – in the terms of Luther’s theology, through judgment and grace, the law and the gospel, command and promise?
Luther’s sense of freedom also often seems contradictory. Listen to Berdyaev write of Dostoevsky’s view. “Behind the renouncement of [freedom] there is also an excessive affirmation of freedom, of a [human’s] own arbitrary will. Here again is an ineluctable dialectic” (page 84).
Think of Luther’s manifesto against the “Babylonian Captivity of the Church,” i.e., “The Freedom of a Christian Person.” (Both were written in 1520.) Then he writes the “Bondage of the Will” in 1525. Berdyaev says that Dostoevsky finds all contradictions of freedom resolved in Christ: “In Christ freedom is given grace, wedded to infinite love, and no longer need it become its own opposite” (page 144). Finally, according to Berdyaev, Dostoevsky’s “system of ideas is highly dynamic and contradictory: it is no use stopping one in motion and asking for a plain “yes” or “no” about it” (page 154). Like Dostoevsky, Luther went deep into the spirit and found good and evil there, God and the devil struggling there.
Like Luther, Dostoevsky according to Berdyaev strides beyond Humanism. Before Humanism spiritual realities like heaven and hell were felt to be very real. Spiritual realities, however, were shut out by Humanism by its anthropo-centrism [man as the measure of all things], leaving the human being with psychological realities alone. Berdyaev puts it this way: “The ecclesiastical authorities’ hostility to all Gnosticism led to increased agnosticism” and “their attempts to make spiritual profundity external to [humanity] resulted in the denial of all spiritual experience and the shutting-up of all humankind in a material and psychological reality” (page 36).
I believe that Humanism often goes even further today into a materialism and biological naturalism, which becomes a reductionism of spirituality to psychology and that often, like the young Sigmund Freud, to a physiology that slowly evolved to a psychology. In biological naturalism, we can be trapped in our bodies, nowhere to go. This movement is very distant from a spirituality of personhood that is grounded in the eternal soul, based on the promises of the eternal God, who came down to receive a body (Hebrews) and celebrate our humanity in Jesus Christ our Lord.
To continue with Berdyaev and Humanism, “The human had been left with only his body envelope and the lesser faculties of the soul, s/he could no longer see the dimension of depth” (page 36). “The human [her or] himself became a flat creature in two dimensions – s/he had lost that of depth; his soul was left to him, but his spirit had gone” (page 48). “The Humanist conception of the world, a conception directed towards its psyche and not its spiritual aspect, turned away from the human’s ultimate spiritual self” (page 48).
Dostoevsky, however, opened up our human inward spiritual depths again. He “unveiled a new spiritual world; he restored to the human the spiritual depth of which s/he had been bereft when it was removed to the inaccessible heights of a transcendent plane” (page 36). Dostoevsky opened up the spiritual life imminent in humans; not at all, however, denying transcendence as well (page 50). “In the human himself an abyss opened [for Dostoevsky] and therein God and Heaven, the Devil and Hell were revealed anew” (page 49).
Luther was also influenced by Humanism and for a while he gave himself the name, Elutherius, meaning the Liberator, much like the Humanist names, Melanchthon, Schwarzerd in German; Agricola, Bauer, etc. but Luther’s intense religious convictions made him transcend Humanism and experience and confront spiritual realities. Berdyaev claims that Dostoevsky also opened up these spiritual realities again after they had been shut off for a long while for a great many.
Berdyaev points out that there are demonic forces at play in the Dionysian spirit of a Friedrich Nietzsche wanting to become God, a man-god, a superman. Luther had the slogan, “Let God be God,” meaning that our calling is to be human beings. Wanting to be God is a source of evil, perhaps the main source among others. In his Christian Existentialism, Berdyaev champions the God-Man, Jesus Christ, who taught us love of neighbor, as well as love of the other, even love of our enemy, our opposite.
Berdyaev now, not Dostoevsky, however, whose human being was ultimately male, believed that the final expression of human nature was androgynous (page 115). Berdyaev is thinking in spiritual terms, in terms of the spiritual body, not the psychological terms of Carl Gustav Jung. The latter had a theory of Syzygy, i.e., of opposites being yoked together, where in the union of a man and woman, there were two triads: the masculine subject opposite the feminine subject with a transcendent anima, i.e., a female soul in the male; while the reverse holds true for the woman: her feminine subject is opposite the masculine subject with her transcendent animus or a male soul in the female. Jung also speaks of a chthonic mother or Earth mother in the woman and wise old man in the man.
Granted, when introducing the transcendent dimension here, Jung does not remain strictly psychological. But Berdyaev underscores the spiritual realm so much more when he speaks of an eternal person, because belief in God predicates a person being eternal and belief in God is the affirmation of human beings, while the rejection of God in atheism or the shutting out of God and the spiritual realm in agnostic Humanism, also becomes a rejection of the human being. Berdyaev interprets Nietzsche’s superman as a rejection of human beings as inadequate. As Berdyaev puts it, “Nietzsche…was dominated by the idea of the superman and it killed the idea of the real [human being] in him. Only Christianity has cherished and protected the idea of [humankind] and fixed the human image forever and ever. The human essence presupposes the divine essence; kill God and at the same time you kill the human [being] and on the grave of these two supreme ideas of God and the human [being] there is set up a monstrous image – the image of the human [being] who wants to be God, of the superman in action, of Anti-Christ” (page 64). Berdyaev writes, “Self-deification was the inevitable goal of Humanism” (page 64). Again Luther’s dictum rings the warning, “Let God be God!”
Thus in philosophical terms as opposed to psychological ones, Berdyaev speaks of the masculine and feminine principles, whose final human expression is androgynous. Androgyny then is taken in a spiritual sense for a spiritual union, a spiritual body that has become complemented by the opposite sex.
The way the final expression of humanity is male in Dostoevsky, some theologians maintain that men and women become sons of God and there is no such thing as a daughter of God. Rather than ultimate masculinity there may well be better arguments for ultimate femininity. Our traditional values (vir-tue, manliness versus being effeminate or a “sissy,” that is, “like a sister”) are reversed by divine light. A medieval artist depicting souls in hell, purgatory, and heaven unconsciously moved from the most masculine image of the soul in Hell to the most feminine looking soul in Heaven. Some theologians argue that angels are sexless. In sexual intercourse, Berdyaev’s androgyny can be maintained, because a man unites with his femininity in the woman and she unites with her masculinity in the man. Berdyaev’s saying the “final expression of human nature is androgynous” precludes it being male or female and argues for the children of God being complete men-women.
As far as I know, Luther does not say anything about androgyny. But returning to how deeply Berdyaev influenced my later thought, I can refer to the main thesis of my projected work on Luther and the Great German Peasants’ War of 1525, viz., that Luther was not conservative, but was involved in a more subtle and profound revolution than the peasants. I was going to write my dissertation about this subject after studying it for many years, but then had to change my subject at the very end of my graduate work.
Luther took a very harsh stand against this revolt. Listen to Berdyaev on this topic. He shares Luther’s stand against revolt and revolution and depicts Dostoevsky as being “revolutionary-minded in a deeper way” (page 135). Berdyaev maintains that “no one has denounced more strongly [than Dostoevsky] the falsehood and unrighteousness that make revolutions” (pages 134-135). Berdyaev, it seems, never read Luther on the subject. I sincerely wonder if Dostoevsky’s stand against revolution could match the harshness and vehemence of Luther against the revolting peasants! Interestingly enough, Dostoevsky saw in the revolutionary falsehood, “the mighty spirit of the Anti-Christ, the ambition to make a god of man” (page 135).
Of course, Dostoevsky is reacting to an earthly unbounded messianism, which depicts Thomas Müntzer’s position, but not those of many of the other very moderate peasant leaders in other arenas of the Peasants’ War. He also does not know the approximations of justice, a private personal ethic versus public collective ethic, and working out the fine art of the possible of a Reinhold Niebuhr or Max Weber. Nor does he know Bonhoeffer’s this-worldliness of Christianity that the apocalyptic spirit does not dissolve.
Be that as it may, I often argued that Luther was a more subtle revolutionary. Berdyaev’s words capture this thought: “Dostoevsky was revolutionary-minded in a deeper way” (page 135). Continuing with Berdyaev, the one who “marches with Christ with his face towards the last great battle at the end of time is a human [being] of the future and not the past, every bit as much as the [one] who marches with the Anti-Christ and fights in his ranks on the last day. Generally speaking, the conflict between revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries is a superficial affair, an opposition of interests: [Luther also said this in so many words!] on the one side the ‘has beens’ who have been supplanted, on the other, the supplanters, who now have the first place at the feasts” (page 135).
Here Paulo Freire comes to mind with the Pedagogy of the Oppressed. The oppressed cannot just turn the tables and themselves become oppressors, but have to complete their mission of also liberating the oppressors. In Paulo Freire’s words: “As the oppressed, fighting to be human, take away the oppressors’ power to dominate and suppress, they restore to the oppressor the humanity they lost in the exercise of oppression. It’s only the oppressed who, by freeing themselves can free their oppressors. That latter oppressive class, can free neither others nor themselves. It is therefore essential that the oppressed wage the struggle to resolve the contradiction in which they are caught; and the contradiction will be resolved in the appearance of the new human [being]: neither oppressor or oppressed, but human beings in the process of liberation.” and “This is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well. and “The authentic solution of the oppressor-oppressed contradiction does not lie in a mere reversal of position, in moving from one pole to the other. Nor does it lie in the replacement of the former oppressors with new ones who continue to subjugate the oppressed- all in the name of liberation.”)
In these citations from Freire, it is obvious that he is thinking in terms of social groupings, while Berdyaev is an existentialist. Luther also first made the mistake of thinking that the peasants were going to protect and carry out the Reformation. But they had not been conscientized enough, to use Freire’s terminology, i.e., they did not have “a deepened [enough] attitude of awareness of their emergence” I would add, of the spirituality of grace. To use Freire again: “the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed [is] to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well….Only power that stems from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both, the oppressor and the oppressed.” As God answers the prayer of St. Paul: “My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). In Freire’s conscientization, however, I think he does not yet understand the apocalyptic notes that Berdyaev, Dostoevsky, and Luther are striking.
Thus Berdyaev continues, “A revolution of the spirit opposes a spirit of revolution. Dostoevsky was very much the apocalyptic man and the usual standards of revolutionary and counter-revolutionary cannot be applied to him. For him revolution was as near as may be to reaction” (page 136).
Luther’s apocalyptic stand again made him a kindred spirit in this regard. For example, in the pope’s naming himself the vicar of Christ on earth and very much wielding a temporal sword and fervently involved in aggrandizing his territorial monarchy in Italy, he was presenting himself as a man-god and hence, very much an anti-Christ, who destroyed human consciences. He could be seen in the ranks of those fighting against Christ in the last battles. He fits Dostoevsky’s description of the Grand Inquisitor very much more than the powerless Christ, who had “only” the Holy Spirit with him.
God becomes a human being in Jesus Christ. The kingdom cannot be taken; it can only be received when given by the hand of God. In Luther’s apocalyptic view, he saw the Peasants’ War as being fought on the wrong side of the future. It certainly locked the peasants into the past for several hundred years and perhaps it is the reason Mennonites and other representatives of the “radical reformation” have stepped out of history altogether. And although Luther would say that people can be transformed while institutions can only be reformed; the incredible changes in the relationship of the church and state, the elimination of two ecclesiastical court systems along with the canon law, the secularization of price-bishoprics, and the end of monasteries to arise in new secular corporate transformations – are just some of the revolutionary changes brought about because of Luther’s concern with ultimate questions and the ultimate spiritual battle.
So the spirit of the revolution is the story of human beings trying to be God, lusting after the absolute power that corrupts them absolutely. In a penultimate sense, a limited this worldly sense, very much mindful of our accountability to the one at God’s right hand in Heaven, standards of living can be increased and greater approximations of justice can be achieved. But the revolution of the spirit is a revolution of hearts and minds, where in a centripetal sense, God became a human being in Jesus Christ, receiving a body, as Epistle to the Hebrews says, “a body you have prepared for me” (10:5). And in this spirituality we continue by becoming Christs to one another in the movement of the incarnation, realizing that “we are strangers and foreigners on earth” (11:13) who “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (11:16). “For here we have no lasting city, for we are looking for that city which is to come” (13:14). Thus in the spirit of receiving the New Jerusalem, all manner of good this-worldly changes do come about, while our direct grasping and man-handling such realities tend to shut out the spiritual realities for the sake of earthly ones. I dare say that Berdyaev, Dostoevsky, and Luther stand in the ranks of Christ fighting the last battle at the end of time.
 Nicholas Berdyaev, Dostoevsky, (New York: Meridian Books, the World Publishing Company, 1968), page 69. Page numbers in the text will hereafter be those of this book. Wherever possible, I have also changed quotes so that they contain non-sexist language. “Man” to “human” or “humanity,” then “he to “s/he.” Because this is very difficult, I’ve not in all cases been consistent.
 Ibid. Actually at that time I did not finish the book. I had read it only to page 94; but I could well have followed Berdyaev’s line of thought.
 In Francis Oakley, The Western Church and the Later Middle Ages, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1979).
 Bram Dijkstra speaking about his book, “Naked: the Compelling Role Nudity Plays in America,” Michael Krasny on Forum, NPR (January 25, 2011 at 10AM).
 Carl Gustav Jung, The Portable Jung, (New York: Penguin Books, 1971-1976), page 161.
 Paulo Freire, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, (New York: the Corinthian Publishing Company, 1970, 1993), page 38.
 Ibid., page 26.
 Ibid., page 39.
 Ibid., page 90.
 Ibid., page 26.
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