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The Influence of Boethius on Theologia Germanica, and its Influence on Martin Luther

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Luther and Theologia Germanica

and the Philosophical Influence of Boethius

By Peter D.S. Krey

Part One: the German Mystic’s Influence on Luther

Martin Luther discovered a manuscript called Theologia Germanica written by an unnamed German mystic and felt that he had received an overwhelming learning experience about “God, Christ, humanity, and all things” from it. He then published the little book in 1516, adding a preface for its second edition in 1518. After just reading the 1854, quite antiquated translation by Susanna Winkworth,[1] I found that this mystic had a profound influence on Luther in many ways. Luther was no mystic, of course, but just like humanism and nominalism, it affected his theology in important ways.

The only indication we receive about the author of Theologia Germanica comes from his very short preface. He was a former priest and warden, i.e., curator of the House of the Teutonic Order in Frankfurt/Main and seems to have been part of a movement called the “Friends of God” and that quite marvelously long before George Fox (1624-1691) and the Society of Friends or the Quakers. This humble mystic probably wrote his booklet around 1350, because he refers to Johannes Tauler, Meister Eckhart’s student,[2] and in the humility of that movement, does not even attach his own name to the work.

The “Friends of God” may well have been the priests caught in the early fourteenth century conflict between the Avignon Pope John XXII and Emperor Louis IV of Bavaria.[3] The interdict that Pope John placed on him and his subjects in 1324 had already continued for 16 years, when the emperor declared the pope’s interdict invalid and ordered priests to celebrate masses once again. All those who held with the pope and the interdict were considered guilty of high treason (17-18) and some were exiled and others roamed the land. This mystic may well have held with such priests and been among their number. (20)

The Friends of God opposed the Beghards or “Brothers and Sisters of the Free Spirit” of that time. The latter are the “free thinkers” referred to in this book. They wanted reform by withdrawing people completely from the influence of the clergy, (15-16) while the Friends of God felt that an act of humility required accepting the church and clergy for the sake of order and discipline.

Martin Brecht, in his definitive biography of Luther writes that in his early lectures, Luther first emphasized a theology of humility. Reading these pages in Brecht, it seems to me that the early Luther is following the instructions of the mystical author of Theologia Germanica closely:[4] Luther requires deep contrition, magnifies sin, reduces the sinner to nothing, and teaches complete dependence on God.[5] Indeed, other than Luther’s early lectures on the Psalms and Romans, Theologia Germanica was Luther’s first publication, which he immediately followed by his early, extremely popular, non-polemical, pastoral pamphlets of 1518 to 1520.

These early pamphlets enjoyed many editions in his life-time[6] and in them, like the mystic, he speaks to common everyday people in German and not in an exclusionary academic German, let alone Latin. He writes “A Sermon on Indulgence and Grace,” (25 editions) “Contemplating the Holy Passion of Christ,” (32 editions) “On Preparing to Die,” (31 editions) “On the Estate of Marriage,” (19 editions) as well as pamphlets on the blessed sacraments: communion, (19 editions) penance, (18 editions) and baptism (18 editions). In 1520 his “Treatise on Good Works,” (23 editions) “On the Ban (excommunication),” (14 editions) and “Freedom of a Christian” (38 editions) are non-polemical and addressed to the laity, while his pamphlet on the “New Testament, that is the Mass,” (15 editions) already brings the light of his heart-felt faith on some of the practices of the church that needed to be reformed.

Not only did Luther address the laity in common everyday language like the mystic, but many features of his theology stem from having thoroughly digested this work. Many examples will follow.

Luther’s position on the free will could well derive from Theologia Germanica. For the mystic any self-will has to be surrendered to the will of God and freedom of the will can only be found in a complete surrender of one’s own will to the will of God, who is Pure Goodness and Perfection. In the words of the mystic,

“Humility springs up in the [human being], because in the true Light [s/he] sees (as it really is) that Substance, Life, Perceiving, Knowledge, Power, and all that pertains to them, all belong to the True Good, and not to the creature; but that the creature of itself is nothing and has nothing, and when it turns itself aside from the True Good in will or in works, nothing is left to it but pure evil.”[7] (89-90)

Luther’s basic argument in the Bondage of the Will against the freedom of the will as represented by Erasmus follows Theologia Germanica in that he argues a radical surrender of any good in human free will, finding that freedom can only be experienced in the will of God. The following sentence from the mystic could come right out of Luther: “A [human being], of [him/herself] and of [his/her] own power, is nothing, has nothing, can do and is capable of nothing but only infirmity and evil.” (73) The mystic follows Christ in utter self-denial:

“A [human being] should so stand free, being quit of [her or] himself, that is, of his or her I, and Me, and Self, and Mine, and the like, that in all things, [s/he] should no more seek or regard him or herself, than if s/he did not exist, and should take as little account of him or herself as if s/he were not and another had done all his or her works. “(56)

Only God counted to the mystic. For this mystic it is only insofar that the human will becomes one with God’s will that it can be free. In Luther’s words, “‘Free-will’ is obviously a term applicable only to the Divine Majesty; because only God can do and does (as the Psalmist sings) ‘whatever God wills in heaven and earth.’”(Psalm 135:6)[8]

In Susanna Winkworth’s introduction, she summarizes the mystic’s approach to the freedom of the will along with several other points very well:

“Their distinguishing doctrines [those of the Friends of God] were self-renunciation – the complete giving up of self-will to the will of God; – the continuous activity of the Spirit of God in all believers, the intimate union possible between God and [the human being] – the worthlessness of religion based upon fear or the hope of reward – and the essential equality of the laity and clergy, though for the sake of order and discipline, the organization of the church was necessary.” (20-21)

Working backwards through her citation, the essential equality of the laity and clergy, Luther may well have developed into the priesthood of all believers in his pamphlets, “The Treatise on the New Testament, that is, the Holy Mass” and “To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation.” (15 editions) In this Address, Luther states that “Whoever comes out of baptism can count themselves a sanctified priest, bishop, or pope, although not everyone may be fit to exercise such an office.”[9] The difference between laity and clergy for Luther is merely one of function and not status.[10] He demoted ordination to a mere ceremony from its previous status as a sacrament, in which the priest became ontologically superior to the lay person. Luther taught that there was not a spiritual estate made up of priests that excluded the peasants, burghers, and princes, but all Christians made up the spiritual estate as the priesthood of all believers.

In terms of what Winkworth calls “the worthlessness of religion based on fear or the hope of reward,” the mystic writes that a person “would rather die than do an injustice, and all this for nothing, but the love of justice. And to [such a person], justice is her own reward and rewards [the person] with herself.” (104) Another citation follows:

“But true Love is taught and guided by the True Light and Reason, and this true eternal and divine Light teaches Love to love nothing but the One True and Perfect Good, and that simply for its own sake, and not for the sake of a reward, or of the hope of obtaining anything, but simply for the love of Goodness, because it is good and has a right to be loved.” (108)

Luther’s theology is not quite that philosophical, because he aligns it more intentionally with biblical language, but in the “Freedom of a Christian” Luther underscores doing good works for nothing again and again, (umb sunst in his Early New High German) except sometimes he admonishes Christians not to do them out of self-interest, but only for the sake of the neighbor. “Look how love and pleasure for God” he writes, “flow out of faith, and how out of love flows a free, willing, and cheerful life [lived] freely, serving the neighbor for nothing.”[11] About a good work, Luther writes,

“Do not do it in the belief that you are doing something good for yourself, but give it way freely, so others can use it and enjoy it. If you do it for their good, then you will be a true Christian.“[12]

And again,

“All works should be directed for the good of our neighbor, for each and every person has enough by having faith, and all such a one’s works and whole life are left over to be able to serve the neighbor freely in love.”[13]

Luther does not write philosophically in terms of saying virtue for virtue’s sake like the mystic, but he may well have gotten that idea from him, an idea that goes through Luther all the way to Immanuel Kant’s concept of heteronomy, that is, giving or acting for an ulterior motive, rather than loving virtue for virtue’s sake.

The mystic writes that if what is done is not done out of such pure love, then one becomes a hireling:

“Those are enlightened with the True Light, who do not practice these things for a reward, for they neither look nor desire anything thereby, but all that they do is for love alone.” (96) [Otherwise one is a hireling[14] and] “A lover of God is better and dearer to [God] than a hundred thousand hirelings.” (97)

Luther also speaks about union with God in many ways, e.g., the marriage of the soul to Christ the bridegroom, but it is the real ascent in faith that runs through the whole “Freedom of a Christian.” As Luther writes in the famous last paragraph, “Through faith one ascends above oneself into God. From God one descends through love again below oneself and yet always remains in God and God’s love.”[15] The mystic writes about three stages by which one is led upward to attain true Perfection: “first, the purification, secondly, the enlightening, thirdly, the union.” (55) A threefold way is also in each of these stages. “Union is brought to pass by pureness and singleness of heart, by love, and by the contemplation of God, the creator of all things.” (55-56)

To just list some other very relevant influences on Luther: the mystic uses the terms “inward person” and “outward person” (78-79) the same way Luther does in the “Freedom of a Christian.” Indeed, Luther organizes his whole pamphlet by means of this distinction.[16]

In the false light of nature and reason that turns away from God seeking its own ends, people begin to feel that “the more like God one is, the better one is, and therefore I will be like God and will be God.” (99) After reading the mystic’s description of the devious ways people substitute themselves for God, one can easily see Luther formulating his slogan: “Let God be God!”[17]

The mystic writes of the “light of nature and reason” as well as the light of grace much like Luther does in the Bondage of the Will, although Luther adds, the light of glory. Luther argues that what cannot be understood in the light of nature can be resolved in the light of grace and what cannot be understood in the light of grace can be resolved in the light of glory.[18] “In this threefold light, each higher step explains what was insoluble at a lower one.”[19]

The mystic has an emphasis on experience (118) much like Luther, who, however, receives it from nominalism. The mystic speaks of creatures bent on themselves and away from God, (74 and 101) much like Luther’s definition of sin: curvatus in se, i.e., curved in upon the self.

There is a section in which the mystic seems to describe the Anfechtungen that Luther went through intermittently during his life.  This section is called, “How a righteous [Person] in this present Time is brought into Hell, and there cannot be comforted, and how the [Person] is taken out of Hell and carried into Heaven, and there cannot be troubled.” (50-52) The mystic has quite an explanation for why one goes down into the depths: “Now God has not forsaken such a [one] in Hell, but is laying God’s hand upon him [or her].” (51) Real suffering ensues from the laying of God’s hand upon a person.

The mystic is more philosophical than Luther, who seems to avoid that kind of reasoning. At one point he speaks of the Delphic oracle, who heard the voice from Heaven, “[Human], know thyself!” (47) He also refers to Boethius, who may well be a philosopher, who influenced him.[20] His understanding of evil, as non-being or the destruction of God’s created being, comes from St. Augustine. “Therefore it is evil or not good, and is merely nought.” (to use Winkworth’s old word once) (117) Luther does not refer to God as Pure Goodness and Perfection or see him as the Perfect One of whom we are all only imperfect parts, as creatures caught up in “this and that, here or there, now or then” who need to reorient ourselves to the Eternal One. The whole of mystic’s work seems to be a meditation on the Pauline verse, “For when the Perfect comes, then the parts will come to an end.”[21] For him the parts represent all creatures, who have come out of the wholeness and Oneness of God and need to return to God for their true being in God. Luther, of course, continues on his way like a fountain overflowing with theological insights. But he does not reason like this:

Now s/he who shall or will love God, loves all things in One as All, One and All, and One in All as All in One; and s/he who loves something, this or that, other than the One, and for the sake of the One, does not love God, for s/he loves something which is not God. Therefore s/he loves it more than God. (116)

What the mystic never tires of repeating is the self-denial required by Christ: “Behold one or two words can utter all that has been said by these many words: ‘Be simply and wholly bereft of the Self.’” (67) But that gives the person a very intimate oneness with God, who is pure Love, Goodness, and Perfection.

Part Two: The Influence of Boethius (A.D. 480-524) and the Consolation of Philosophy on Theologia Germanica  

The German mystic does more than just cite Boethius,[22] his philosophy is very much influenced by him. These are some of the statements of Boethius that come up in and get developed in Theologia Germanica:

“You have daily reminded me of Pythagoras’ saying, ‘Follow God.”[23] That intimate way with God rather than Christ, is also in Theologia Germanica. Boethius is very theocentric and filled with Roman and Greek mythology; he never mentions Christ. Perhaps the German mystic is also slightly more theocentric than Christocentric, but he does include Christ and St. Paul, because his book as a whole is a philosophical meditation on St. Paul’s love poem, where he singles out one of its verses: 1 Corinthians 13:10.


“If the things which you complain about losing were really yours, you would never have lost them.” (24) Everything in our earthly existence really belongs to God and can only be had in returning to God.

“Now the good is defined as that which, once it is attained, relieves [humans] of all further desires. This is the supreme good and contains within itself all the lesser goods. If it lacked anything at all, it could not be the highest good.” (43) The mystic uses the term “lack” for parts of the whole and speaks of the good and perfect this same way.

“The human soul seeks to return to its true good.” (45) Boethius makes clear that highest good is God just like the mystic.

“Nature inclines [humans] toward the true good, but error deceives them with partial goods.” (46) The German mystic would not speak of nature that way, for he sees it as a deceptive light. But in using 1 Corinthians 13:10, “When the complete/ perfect/ whole comes, then the part will come to an end,” the German mystic must have read the following words of Boethius:

“Human depravity, then, has broken into fragments that which is by nature one and simple; [humans] try to grasp part of a thing which has no parts and so get neither the part, which does not exist, nor the whole, which they do not seek.” (58) The German mystic could well develop this thought describing creatures as parts, who need to return to God for their true and whole being.

“You order the perfect parts in a perfect whole.” (60) The German mystic would not speak of perfect parts, but his ideas come from Boethius. Like the triple threefold way the he uses to describe a soul’s development until it attains union with God. Along this line Boethius writes:

“You release the world-soul throughout the harmonious parts of the universe as your surrogate, threefold in its operations, to give motion to all things.” (60) The translator of Boethius comments that the early medieval commentators read Boethius to present nature itself as threefold and the soul to be of a threefold nature. (60) The German mystic presents a triplet of threefold ways for the stages by which a human being is led upward to attain perfection. (TG 55-56)

“Now no one can deny that something exists which is a kind of fountain of all goodness; for everything which is found to be imperfect shows its imperfection by the lack of some perfection.” (61) For the German mystic the parts lack being and receive more and more being insofar as they return and unite with God, for “All things have their Being in God, and more truly in God than in themselves.” (TG 91 and 117)

“Nature did not have its origins in the defective and incomplete but in the integral and absolute; it fell from such beginnings to its present meanness and weakness.” (61)

“For, since nothing can be thought of better than God, who can doubt that [God] is the good, other than whom nothing is better.” (62) and “Whatever is the source of all things must be its substance, the highest good.” (63) and “Clearly when two things differ, one cannot be the other; therefore neither can be perfect since it lacks the other.” (63) and “It follows that [humans] become happy by acquiring divinity.” (63) The German mystic would not speak of becoming happy, but of eternal bliss. The German mystic, however, reasons very much like Boethius and uses these ideas.

“Thus everyone who is happy is a god and, although it is true that God is one by nature, still there may be many gods by participation.” (63) The intimate union with God that the German mystic challenges Christians to attain seems to relate to this kind of union with God expressed by Boethius.

“But, if you also grant that every good is good by participating in the perfect good, then you should concede by a similar line of reasoning that the good and the one are the same.” (66) and “Do you also understand that everything that is remains and subsists in being as long as it is one; but when it ceases to be one it dies and corrupts?” (66) Every time I read that thought in the Theologia Germanica, I wrote “Kierkegaard” in the margin, because it reminded me of Kierkegaard’s Purity of Heart is the Will One Thing! After reading Boethius, I understand the rationale behind this insight. In the words of Boethius, “Therefore partial goods cannot be truly good if they are different, but are good if they become one, then clearly they become good by acquiring unity.” (66) To go back to Boethius’ heading of this section: “God is One and [God] is the goal toward which all things tend.” (66)

Boethius also has Augustine’s teaching about evil as does the German mystic: “Then evil is nothing, since God, who can do all things, cannot do evil.” (72) Augustine’s conception of evil has been compared to the cavity in a tooth. The tooth in its being is good, where it has lost its being – that hole in its being and its decay into nothingness is the issue. It is not God’s good creation but its destruction and reduction to nothing that is evil. “So you will find that the evil which is thought to abound in the world is really non-existent.” (96)

“Virtue is the reward of a virtuous [human], so wickedness itself is the punishment of the wicked.” (82) That first idea certainly comes up again and again in Theologia Germanica. The mystic does not, however, mention the wicked.

“Human souls, however, are more free while they are engaged in contemplation of the divine mind, and less free when they are joined to bodies, and still less free when they are bound by earthly fetters.” (104)

“[Without prayer] what will be left to unite us to the sovereign Lord of all things? And so [human]kind must, as you said earlier, be cut off from its source and dwindle into nothing.” (107)

If Luther developed his conception of the light of glory from the German mystic’s light of nature or reason and light of grace, then the German mystic could well have gotten such concepts from Boethius. But Luther may also have gotten them from Plato.[24] “Light” in this sense speaks of an activity of the mind, a seeing of the mind, like “the light of the eyes” in biblical language. Now Boethius similarly underscores the activity of the mind, and in that way much anticipates Immanuel Kant’s rejection of the “blank slate” (tabula rasa) theory of the mind, where it is passively receiving only external impressions from the external world.

“Everything which is known is known not according to its own power but rather according to the capacity of the knower.” (110)

Boethius argues further: “Various and different substances have different ways of knowing.” (113) He discusses the sentient nature of lower animals and then writes, “Reason is characteristic of the human race alone, just as pure intelligence belongs to God alone.” (113) When he speaks of “the power of the mind,” (113) using the word “light” to express that idea is very imaginable. Boethius delineates the different ways that sentient minds can know: through the senses, e.g., shellfish that cling to rocks; imagination, e.g., beasts seeking and avoiding many things, like trees while running through a forest. Then he makes the statement from which the light of reason and the light of glory may have been developed from the German mystic to Luther: “But reason is characteristic of the human race alone, just as pure intelligence belongs to God alone.” (113) With the groundwork of Boethius, it would now be possible to speak of the light of reason, the light of grace, and the light of glory in terms of human reason and intelligence as opposed to the pure intelligence of God.

It is in this way – and now we are leaving the German mystic and relating to Luther, that Boethius resolves the freedom of the will by describing God’s pure intelligence as surpassing the reasoning of human beings.

“But if we, who are endowed with reason, could possess the intelligence of the divine mind, we would judge that just as the senses and imagination should accede to reason, so human reason ought justly to submit itself to the divine mind.” (114) Thus Luther can take the next step and speak of the light of glory above the light of reason, the light of grace, meaning with it what Boethius called the pure intelligence of the mind of God.

Luther distinguishes between two kinds of necessity in his debate about the free will with Erasmus, that of compulsion and that of immutability,[25] by which he seems to mean an unchanging necessity. Boethius also separates necessity into a simple and contingent one. But this gets into Luther and Erasmus’ debate about the free will and goes beyond Theologia Germanica, which does not explicitly delve into this issue, which becomes Boethius’ climax of The Consolation of Philosophy.

At the end of his work, Boethius has a very clear and cogent argument by which he affirms human free will and God’s foreknowledge of all things, because of God’s vantage-point from eternity, where the past, present, and future of time are grasped in one glance of God’s eternal mind, which also sees and comprehends the contingencies in which human free will transpires.

Perhaps it is too quickly that in the debate about the freedom of the will I said we left the German mystic behind. Although he does not mention this debate explicitly, he writes, “Now in the whole realm of freedom, nothing is so free as the will, and [s/he] who makes it his [or her] own, and does not suffer it to remain in its excellent freedom, and free nobility, and in its free exercise, does a grievous wrong.” (TG 123) When the will is at one with the Will of God, in an intimate union, which the mystic holds as all too possible, the will is free. Where it tries to call this freedom its own, it becomes enslaved. Thus the mystic affirms the freedom of the will for a follower of Christ, but paradoxically, he notes that the world will give such a person no end of suffering, pain, and grief. “So likewise was Christ’s human nature the most free and single of all creatures and yet felt he the deepest grief, pain, and indignation at sin that any creature ever felt.” (TG 124) Freedom of the will comes about by following Christ, which means that one must forsake all things. (TG 125) That brings to mind Janis Joplin and her song, “Bobby McGee”: “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” But in God, all things are gained, giving one the spiritual possession of the heavens and the earth and one’s true self as a brand new creature on the face of the earth and celebrating the glorious freedom of the children of God, to boot.


Susanna Winkworth, Translator. The Theologia Germanica of Martin Luther. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2004.

Richard H. Green, translator. The Consolation of Philosophy: Boethius. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1962.

Martin Brecht. Martin Luther: His Road to the Reformation 1483-1521. Philadelphia: Fortress press, 1981. This is the first of three volumes.

Peter D. S. Krey. Sword of the Spirit, Sword of Iron: Word of God, Scripture, Gospel, and Law in Luther’s Most Often Published Pamphlets (1520-1525), Ph.D. diss., Graduate Theological Union, 2001.

J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston, translators. Martin Luther:  The Bondage of the Will. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Fleming H. Revell, 1957.

The latest American edition of Luther’s Works: LW

Pelikan, Jaroslav, and Helmut Lehmann, eds. Luther’s Works. 55 vols. St.Louis and Philadelphia: Concordia and Fortress, 1955-86.

The Weimar Edition of Luther’s Works: WA

Luther, Martin. D. Martin Luthers Werke, Kritische Gesamtausgabe.  61 Volumes. Weimar, 1983-1993.

Clemen, Otto, ed., unter Mitwerkung von Leitzmann, Albert. Luthers Werke in Auswahl. Vol. 1- 8. Berlin: Verlag von Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1929.

Philip D.W. Krey and Peter D.S. Krey, editors. Luther’s Spirituality. Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2007.

Ulrich Asendorf. Luther and Hegel: Untersuchung zur Grundlegung einer Neuen Systematischen Theologie, (An Investigation for the Foundation of a New Systematic Theology). Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, GMBH, 1982.

Eric Warmington and Philip Rouse, editors. The Great Dialogues of Plato. Translated by W.H.D. Rouse. New York: a Mentor Book, the New English Library. Ltd., 1956.


[1] Susanna Winkworth, Translator, The Theologia Germanica of Martin Luther, (Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2004). Numbers in parentheses will represent pages in Winkworth’s Theologia Germanica.

[2] The Dominican mystic, Johannes Tauler’s dates are c.1300-1361 and those of Meister Eckhart are c.1260-c.1327.

[3] Pope John XXII was the second Avignon pope, who reigned from 1316 to 1334 and Emperor Louis IV of Bavaria ruled from 1314 to 1337. Louis of Bavaria gave protection to Marsilius of Padua and William of Ockham from the pope, who also declared the Spiritual Franciscans and Meister Eckhart heretical.

[4] See  Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: His Road to the Reformation 1483-1521, (Philadelphia: Fortress press, 1981), page 133. “The only way that [the human being] can now appear before God is in complete humility and abasement with his poverty and guilt, completely dependent on [God]. Poor, lowly humility as the proper attitude before God – that is the mark of Luther’s piety in these years.” Luther took this little book to heart. Brecht writes, however, that Tauler’s sermons also influenced Luther.

[5] Ibid.

[6] For the number of editions of Luther’s most popular pamphlets, see Peter D. S. Krey, Sword of the Spirit, Sword of Iron: Word of God, Scripture, Gospel, and Law in Luther’s Most Often Published Pamphlets (1520-1525)” Ph.D. diss., Graduate Theological Union, 2001.

[7] Susanna Winkworth translated this text in 1854. I updated the English in the citations, e.g., “springeth” to “springs” and “seeth” to “sees.” I left the older capitalization. I also inserted feminine pronouns with the masculine ones to overcome sexist language.

[8] J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston, translators, Martin Luther:  The Bondage of the Will, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Fleming H. Revell, 1957), page 105.  Also see Helmut T. Lehmann, ed., Luther’s Works. Vol. 33, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1957), page 68. Also see WA 18:635-638. The WA is the Weimar Edition.

[9] Martin Luther, Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, In the beginning of the section considering the first wall around the papacy. LW 44:129.  WA 6:c.408.

[10] LW 44:127.  WA 6: c. 407.

[11] Philip D.W. Krey  and Peter D.S. Krey, editors, Luther’s Spirituality, (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2007), page 87. Our book has a translation of Luther’s popular German version of “Freedom of a Christian.” In the LW 31:333-377 and all American anthologies, English readers have access only to the translation of the more academic Latin version of the pamphlet. This one is shorter by a third, much more simple, direct, and spiritual and ends with a very famous paragraph, not quite as featured in the Latin version that goes on to analyze ceremonies.

[12] Ibid., page 89.

[13] Ibid., 86.

[14] I need to comment on this point. One has to brace oneself for a great deal of suffering when student loans and credit card balances mount up after graduate studies and bury a person in debt only thereafter to face unemployment. The pressure not to become a hireling is intense and one can really become desperate. I’m sure that the mystic would grant that “a laborer is worthy of his wages,” (1 Timothy 5:18) even though Jesus and even St. Paul did not ask for them. God can be trusted to provide, but one has to really pray that God increase and strengthen one’s faith.

[15] Philip and Peter Krey, editors, Luther’s Spirituality, page 90.

[16] See my “Notes on another Reading of the ‘Freedom of a Christian”:

[17] Luther, “A Sermon on Preparing to Die,” LW 42:105. WA 2: c.687.

[18] In Luther’s Bondage of the Will, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Fleming H. Revell, 1957), page 316-317 or see Luther’s Works, Vol. 33, page 291 or the Weimar Edition, Vol. 18, c.787.

[19] Ulrich Asendorf’s Luther and Hegel: Untersuchung zur Grundlegung einer Neuen Systematischen Theologie, (An Investigation for the Foundation of a New Systematic Theology), (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, GMBH, 1982), page 160.

[20] Part Two will demonstrate the powerful influence of Boethius over the German mystic.

[21] 1 Corinthians 13:10.

[22] His full name is Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius: c. A.D. 480-524.

[23] Richard H. Green, translator, The Consolation of Philosophy: Boethius, (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1962.) page 3. Numbers in parentheses will now represent pages from Boethius, while those including a TG come from Susanna Winkworth, translator, The Theologia Germanica of Martin Luther, (Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2004).

[24] In Plato’s Republic, he distinguishes different kinds of knowing: conjecture for shadows and reflections under the sun, belief for the world of sense objects there, understanding for thoughts and ideas, and fourthly, reasoning for the ideal forms of the good, true, and beautiful in the world of the mind. Eric Warmington and Philip Rouse, editors, The Great Dialogues of Plato, translated by W.H.D. Rouse, (New York: a Mentor Book, the New English Library. Ltd., 1956), page 309. Boethius distinguishes passive knowing by taking in sense impressions, imagination for animals in motion, where their minds can seek and avoid things; reasoning by human beings, whose minds by virtue of their own power can make distinctions; and fourthly, intelligence, a higher power of the mind, which is wholly free from all bodily affections and does not need the stimulus of extrinsic objects. Boethius ascribes pure intelligence to the mind of God. (113)

[25] J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston, translators, Martin Luther:  The Bondage of the Will, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Fleming H. Revell, 1957), page 181.  Also see Helmut T. Lehmann, ed., Luther’s Works. Vol. 33, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1957), page 151. Also see page 38, footnote 37. WA 18:693-696.


Written by peterkrey

March 28, 2012 at 6:22 pm

When You Come to the End of Your Rope…

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A Lenten Devotion for Christ Lutheran 18. of March, 2012

When we are young, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, we think we can change the world; we can tear out trees by their roots, in short, there is nothing we think we cannot do. Then life and the world catches up with us, slaps us in the face, and shows us our limits.

In a particularly difficult period in my life, when I was ministering in Berlin, Germany, when my troubles just wouldn’t go away, one night I felt like I was dying. I was lying in bed and I thought I was getting a heart attack. I had come to the end of my rope. I was at my end. “O Lord,” I said, now the fire in my oven has gone out!” I had no strength to go on.

Then I remembered how my counselor said, “The resurrection is our business!” I suddenly realized that I could only live out of the strength of another life!

I got up and said, “O Lord, now I have to live out of your strength, because I have no more of my own.” As I got up out of bed, I realized that I no longer lived, but Christ lived in me. Christ, of course, does wonders and one step after another resolved my problems.

Later I was reading Luther’s Theology of the Cross in his Heidelberg Disputation. Thesis No. 18 states, “It is certain that we must utterly despair of our own ability, before we are prepared to receive the grace of Christ.”

In our day as well as in Luther’s we believe that if we do what is in us, then God will come and do the rest. That is only true for someone who knows about what we do with our hands, but not the troubles we encounter in our hearts. We foolishly believe that what we do is partly by our own strength and effort and partly by God’s grace. That did not jive with Luther’s experience nor after that experience, with mine. And what a difference between doing what we can do and Christ doing God’s work through us! It is true that we do nothing, now knowing, that we have died in Christ and the risen Lord is doing everything through us and we can continue living out of God’s gracious strength, which is really gracious, because there is truly nothing God cannot do. So when our lives really come to an end here on earth, Christ will raise us up in that life in heaven where we’ll be home. Amen.

Pastor Peter Krey

Written by peterkrey

March 19, 2012 at 5:31 am

Worship Song Book Concert in El Cerrito, CA

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Worship Song Book Concert

Recently we played all 12 songs from my Worship Song Book and CD. I don’t know why I had so much trouble playing my trumpet. Perhaps I was nervous because I never perform. I always accompany congregational singing.

My son, Mark sang with us. Brian Reynolds played bass, Randy Mayer and Mark Krey played guitars, George Fosselius, who last minute  stepped in for my son Joshua, played drums, I played the trumpet, and we all sang. Brian insisted we be called the Peter Krey Band and I thank him for putting this 50 minute video on Youtube. Randy plays a song of his own composing at the end.

Worship Song Book and CD’s are available. Should you like one just leave a comment.

Written by peterkrey

March 14, 2012 at 2:08 am

Sixteen of My Songs on Myspace

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All Sixteen of my songs on Myspace:
  1. We Three Kings Rap

    1:01 | 176 plays
  2. 2

  3. 4

    The Law of Love

    2:44 | 46 plays
  4. 5

    God will Provide2.wav

    1:01 | 45 plays
  5. 6

    Christmas Song

    1:34 | 21 plays
  6. 7

    CA Route 128

    2:24 | 21 plays
  7. 8

  8. 10

  9. 12

    John the Baptist3.wav

    0:57 | 3 plays
  10. 14

  11. 15

  12. 16

    Little Donkey Song.wav

    0:54 | 0 plays

Written by peterkrey

March 14, 2012 at 12:49 am

Have you seen Les Mis?

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Blogging my thoughts:

Have you seen Les Mis?  It is a story about the law and gospel. Jean Valjean is a convict with the number 24601, imprisoned and doing 19 years of hard labor for having stolen a loaf of bread for his sister’s starving children. (Five years for theft, the others for escape attempts.) Javert is the lawman, who has Valjean’s number and who notices Jean Valjean’s great strength.

Upon his release, Valjean finds shelter in the home of a bishop, and now really having become a criminal, he steals all the silverware during the night, only to be brought back to the bishop by the gendarmes in the morning. To Valjean’s surprise, the bishop tells the gendarmes that he had given him the silverware as a gift and wondered why he had not also taken the golden candlesticks, which he then put into Valjean’s sack!

When the gendarmes leave, the bishop tells Valjean that he has purchased his soul for Christ and that he now belonged to Jesus. The experience of this amazing grace, melts Valjean’s heart and he becomes a new man. He becomes a factory owner and then the mayor of a town giving jobs and a livelihood to thousands. But in the process he has broken parole and Javert is ever out to recapture him.

The mayor gives himself away to Javert by lifting a heavy cart that had fallen on a man and was crushing him. Seeing his strength Javert recognizes him. Then Valjean does not allow a mistaken man to be convicted in his place. As the mayor he confesses in court that he is the real Valjean, saving the man. He escapes in order to keep his promise to a poor dying woman that he will bring up her daughter.

In Paris years later, a revolution is taking place. Valjean’s “daughter” falls in love with a fellow behind the barricade. To save all their tomorrows, Valjean goes behind the barricade himself. There Javert has been captured as a spy and Valjean is ordered to shoot him. Instead he shoots in the air and allows Javert to escape, saving his life! Then after all the young fighters are killed and wounded, he carries the wounded fellow his daughter loves through the Paris sewers back to her without their knowing that he did it.

Thus Victor Hugo’s character, Jean Valjean, saved many lives, even the life of the lawman, Javert, who however, cannot believe that a criminal can change and representing the law, commits suicide. Valjean represents the Gospel, whose life ransomed and redeemed so many, even Javert’s, who represents the law.

Les Mis is the story of the Gospel, in the lovely melodies of which our lives are being purchased for Christ, where the law is cancelled, and God’s completely undeserved grace saves us, making our lives unfold and blossom even here, as well as there, when Christ wakes us up in heaven.

Written by peterkrey

March 13, 2012 at 5:21 pm

Notes from the Book “Luther and Hegel” by Ulrich Asendorf

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How is Luther’s Theology Related to Hegel’s Philosophy?

notes taken by Peter Krey

Notes from reviewing Ulrich Asendorf’s Luther and Hegel: Untersuchung zur Grundlegung einer Neuen Systematischen Theologie, (An Investigation for the Foundation of a New Systematic Theology), (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, GMBH, 1982), an 11 page Bibliograpgy, 529 pages in all.

I studied sections of this book when I was working on the question: „Does the Immanent Trinity Precede the Economic Trinity in Hegel?” It became a 200 page unfinished manuscript. When I was writing it I was really exploring Hegel and books about the Holy Trinity in order to understand the question. I was in an open ended, exploratory mode of thinking, which precludes the possibility of finishing a work.

Now I realize that the economic Trinity refers to God as relating to creation, redemption, and sanctification of humankind on earth, while the immanent Trinity is the blessed Triune Godhead in God’s self; the Aseity of God, in philosophical terms.

According to the paradoxical principle, which Hegel as a Lutheran held, that the finite is capable of containing infinity (finitum capax infiniti) and thus in concert with it, for Hegel the economic Trinity does precede and hold the immanent Trinity. Then again, however, for Hegel, the matter goes through a reversal, because of his arguing for logical precedence over chronological precedence; or as in Jesus saying, “Before Abraham was, I am,” that is, the precedence of God’s Son’s divine nature coming before his human nature.

Thus the question has to be understood in its double paradox, namely that first, the economic Trinity precedes the immanent Trinity and then secondly, that logical and ontological states precede chronological time. But from this vantage point it is now possible to read Hegel and determine what his position is on the question. In this way my work on Hegel could once again proceed and not try to cover the whole waterfront or to say the same thing in German: um nicht ins Uferlose zu vergehen.

Here are some notes taken while rereading Asendorf’s Luther and Hegel: (N.B.: All the following translations from the German are mine.)

Asendorf, page 151: “Luther’s teaching concerning the Trinity concentrates on the coming of God to us, thus on the economic Trinity. With this salvation-economic conception of the Trinity, Luther joins himself above all with Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Athanasius, in once again placing a different accent on this teaching from that of Augustine, for whom the salvation-economic interest clearly begins to disappear.”

Asendorf, page 152: Luther discloses (erschliesst) the immanent Trinity from the economic Trinity: “In view of early Scholasticism [with its emphasis on the immanent Trinity] [Luther] continues his tendency of placing a strong emphasis on the economic Trinity in [an ever greater] opposition to Scholasticism, thus liberating the teaching of the Trinity from its isolation. From the revealed Trinity he discloses the immanent Trinity. Again Luther sustains his thinking through salvation history, when he understands the teaching of the Trinity essentially from an economic salvation perspective, or better yet, he opens up access to the teaching of the Trinity from this vantage-point, and this fact is precisely the strongest proof for his historically mediated thinking. It seems therefore justified that such a conceptualization of the teaching of the Trinity can be recognized as a prefiguration of Hegelian thinking. With the prior significance of history and with it, the economic Trinity, the secret of the inner workings of the Trinity (opera trinitatis ad intra]; whose explication is impossible without speculative help, opens up.”

Asendorf cites R. Jansen in a footnote: “If Luther can use the same Bible verse (John 15:26) to give both economic Trinitarian and immanent Trinitarian interpretations even at the same time, then it is an index for the way the immanent Trinitarian statements for him are only the necessary, preliminary theological statements for economic Trinitarian sentences. The opera trinitatis ad extra and the opera trinitatis ad intra allow themselves to be distinguished but not separated.”

Page 158: “In Hegel’s thinking both the logical process of the self-realization of the Spirit, as well as the history of the whole, point to theological relationships, which were thought out beforehand by Luther and are philosophically rethought by Hegel.”

Hegel and Luther, of course, work from different presuppositions, [with philosophy using reason and theology using faith], but Hegel was and remained a good Lutheran.

N.B. For Luther’s theology and Hegel’s philosophy, the operative word again has to be mutatis mutandis, i.e. the necessary changes having been made.

Page 159: “Luther’s teaching of justification and Hegel’s Philosophy of the Spirit can be seen as different delineations of the same phenomenon.” Luther said that the Spirit makes the lover and the beloved one.

Page 160: Luther at the end of the Bondage of the Will writes of the light of nature, the light of grace, and the light of glory:

In note 32, page 160, Asendorf explains: “In a threefold light, each higher step explains what was insoluble at a lower one.“ In German: „In dreifachen Licht erklärt die jeweils höhere Stufe das, was der niederen verschlossen war.

Thus Luther writes that what cannot be understood in the light of nature can be resolved in the light of grace and what cannot be understood in the light of grace can be resolved in the light of glory.[1]

Asendorf, page 160, quotes Luther this way: “In the simple world of morality there is no explanation why the good have to suffer, this however becomes resolved in the light of grace. In the light of grace it cannot be understood why someone who can do nothing but sin, becomes punished by the righteousness of God. But what cannot be solved by the light of grace will be, in the light of glory. Each lower step becomes resolved in the higher one. (aufgehoben) All three are caught up in the unity of their teleological movement. Only from the vantage-point of the telos, can the whole process become understood.”

Page 162: N.B. Is Hegel’s philosophy based on Luther’s theology? According to Asendorf, different from Hegel, there is a double reflection [of realized eschatology and still outstanding eschatology for theology]. Although history before and history after the crucifixion are there for both theology and philosophy; but only history itself can be the court of judgment [for Hegel’s philosophy] while the last judgment when history comes to an end (can be taken into account for theology as well). Instead of simple reflection involving [only] the realized eschatology of Hegel, Luther’s double reflection [upon realized eschatology and the eschatology that still stands out] takes place theologically. “What Luther in his explication of justification thought out beforehand in [that double reflection], becomes for Hegel a new starting point for philosophy.” (162)

“In a strict sense Hegel’s philosophy is the historical thought of the reality transformed by Christ. It is both a philosophy from revelation and of revelation.”

“Luther’s teaching or theology about the sacrament of communion is the classical locus of Hegel’s concrete spirit thinking.”

Page 163: The Trinity, Christology, the theology of the sacrament, and the theology of the Trinity, all form a direct line toward the concrete spirit of the economic teaching of the Trinity. The Spirit is mediated historically, oriented toward the Incarnation and Passion. Luther comes close to Monophysitism (one incarnate nature of Christ) and Theopaschitism, i.e., that God the Father also suffered on the cross) by holding to the concrete spirit and saying “God is dead” and by calling Christ, the God-martyr.

Page 163: “In a double way Hegel remains in Luther’s footsteps, when he not only articulates the concrete spirit in a new way, but makes the death of God the cornerstone of his thinking.” Luther first encountered the abstract spirit in Zwingli and the latter [not Luther’s concrete spirit] became victorious in the Enlightenment. Zwingli’s is the opposite figure encountered in Luther’s understanding of the concrete spirit. In Hegel there is a new awakening of anti-spiritualistic thought.

Page 172-173: Kant loses sight of history in his philosophy. “In that Kant established his concept of [human and natural] science on Newton’s physics, in a compulsory way the realm of history had to be precluded.” N.B.: Perhaps Kant replaced religion with rational morality.

Page 193: Here Asendorf finds just the right words for a thought: “This interpretation does not only change the original meaning, but succeeds to make it mean the exact opposite.”

“Bultmann’s demythologization style is a kind of an existentialist interpretation carried out under the banner of morality.” Bultmann follows Kant’s deletion of history from philosophy and thus the Incarnation, Ascension, etc. all become meaningless. God does not come up in the naturalism of science. [And Kant’s metaphysics are very much oriented around the physics of the natural sciences.]

Page 193 bottom: N.B. Do an economic study in the spirit of Luther. Perhaps the new orientation of evolutionary economics in Eric D. Beinhocker’s The Origin of Wealth and Gar Alperovitz and Lew Daly’s Unjust Deserts could be helpful in this endeavor.[2]

Page 194: In Kant and those who follow in his footsteps, giving any objectivity to theology becomes impossible. “Theology cannot accept the way Kant excludes it from claiming to have objects. [With Kant’s objectivization Verbot] Theology loses itself at the same time as it loses its object.”

Page 196: “For Kant contradiction does not lie at the heart of reality.” In German; „Hier gehört der Widerspruch prinzipiell nicht zum Wesen der Wirklichkeit.”

N.B: I believe Michael Polanyi describes a contradiction in the middle of reality or one close to it in his book, Science, Faith and Society. Polanyi is speaking about the experience of scientists in a Marxist-Leninist ideology that “denies the intrinsic creative powers of thought.”[3]

And “Since this power regards itself as the embodiment of historic destiny and as a dispenser of history’s promises to humankind, it can acknowledge no superior claims to truth, justice or morality. Alternatively, materialistic (or romantic) philosophies, denying any universal claims to standards of truth, justice or morality, may deprive citizens of any grounds for appealing to these standards and thus endow the government with absolute power. The two practices are in fact fused in their joint justification of force as superior to mind.

“But we must add here an additional process which makes violence the embodiment of the values it overrides. Those in our day who brought into power governments exempt from standards of humanity were themselves prompted by an intense passion for the ideals which they so contemptuously brushed aside. They had rejected the overt professions of these ideals as philosophically unsound, hypocritical and specious, but they had covertly injected the same ideals into the new despotisms which they set up. Thus these ideals became immanent in the violence that ruthlessly rejected them. By virtue of the moral inversion (as I have later called it), the very immoralism of this power became a token of its moral purity. In view of its internal structure it could honestly reject any accusations of immorality in the very breath of proclaiming its own immorality.”[4]

N.B.: Perhaps it would be more accurate to say “force as superior to mind” is a contradiction in the midst of a social reality. But Polanyi’s description of modern despotisms reminded me of what Martin Luther faced in an unreformed church headed by corrupt popes. Instead of honest debate for the sake of truth, he was labeled a heretic, and what an irony, that one of the statements listed as heretical, was that burning heretics at the stake was wrong, and should not be allowed for the church! In burning a person at the stake, the Christian ideals of love and righteousness “became immanent in the violence that ruthlessly rejected them.” To forbid coercive power to the church, but allow it as a lesser of evils to the civil government, still plants a contradiction into reality, but one that needs to be overcome by ever decreasing the coercion of governments as well, when the evil and violence they block internally and externally also decreases. Note that Kant’s categorical imperative constituted immorality as a rational contradiction.

On pages 196, 358, and 389 Asendorf mentions the Latin formula, finitum capax infiniti: the finite is capable of containing the inifinite. Kant held that finitum non capax infiniti, i.e. that it was not. Zwingli and Calvin provide science with a foundation for the empty finite. God is repressed or expelled from the world. (Gott Verdrängung) (“Verdrängung” is a psychological word meaning driven into the unconscious where God cannot be remembered nor accessed).

Page 198: Nominalism splits reason and revelation.

Page 200 top: “Kant’s religion of morality leaves the human being alone, unredeemed or feeling no need of redemption. In a transfigured light, over the complete horizontalism of his thinking, hovers the utopian cloud of a kingdom of God; of course, as the perfected kingdom of humanism. The cross of Christ has become superfluous. And in the schizophrenia of our time, theologians have remained Kantian.”

Page 182: Theology can be inside Philosophy, much like the infinite inside the finite. “The unity of [Hegel’s] form consists of the unending togetherness and mutual indwelling of theology and philosophy.”

N.B. A verse in the spirit of Luther

The One greater than the all in all

Now lies in a crib so small.

Page 262: From the German Christmas Song by Martin Luther:

Der aller Welt Kreis nie beschloss,

der liegt in Marien Schoss.

The One too great for the universe to wrap

is now sweetly lying in Mary’s lap.


N.B. Again in his Bondage of the Will, Luther’s thinking is dialectical and tends to ascend toward higher levels of resolution. Thus his thinking etches out nuances that monological thinkers often fail to grasp. For example, in his different relational fora, Luther does not reject free will on the horizontal level, i.e., coram hominibus (before others), but only before God, coram Deo. In a similar way Luther does not reject reason, the way some think he does, monolithically, charging him with fidéism. Reason remains the queen of its earthly house. Only when caught up in human pride, when it goes out of bounds, interferes with a person’s faith, and tries to set itself over God, does Luther reject it. Luther’s levels of understanding ascending from the light of nature through the light of grace and into the light of glory in his Bondage of the Will,[5] remind me of Hegel’s thinking ascending from a philosophy of substance to one of the subject, which he finally brings to the concept in the philosophy of the spirit.

I will translate the following long citation from U. Asendorf:

Page 408: Die allgemeine theologische Bedeutung von Hegels Logik

Diese ergibt sich aus der Auseinandersetztung mit dem Denken der Aufklärung. Der Verstand als das Trennende, am Widerspruch scheiternde Denken, zerstört die Religion. Aufgabe des Denkens, nicht nur des theologischen, ist es, den Bereich der einander entgegengesetzten Reflexionsvorstellungen und ihre Abstraktheit zu überwinden. Der Gegensatz zwischen Betrachtetem und Betrachtendem muss aufgehoben werden. Die logische Bestimmungen sind daher doppelt, insofern sie dem Seiendem wie dem Denken zuzuschreiben sind.

Das Denken muss zur Höhe der Idee hinaufgehoben werden, in welcher Subjektivität und Objektivität gleich sind. Hier geht es um den ersten Zusammenhang der Idee mit dem Ganzen.

Hegels Logik formuliert dann den Aufbau der logischen Welt in einem dreifachen Aufstieg von der Seins- über die Wesens- zur Begriffslogik.

Page 409: Wenn sich Hegels Logik ferner um eine neue Erschliessung des Ganzen bemüht, so ist das Leben die Idee, so dass dieses teils Leben, teils Erkennen, teils Wissenschaft ist. Dieser Bezug der Idee auf das Ganze impliziert einen hohen theologischen Anspruch, nämlich das Wissen des Absoluten, welches darin begründet ist, dass Gott Geist ist und im Geist und in der Wahrheit erkannt werden will. Deswegen gilt beides, dass Gott das Ganze ist und dass er absoluter Begriff ist. Es ist darum nicht zufällig, wenn Hegels Begriffslogik offenbarungstheologisch begründet ist. Wenn aber die Begriffslogik als offenbarungstheologisch begründete, wenngleich unzulängliche Kommunikationstheorie verstanden werden kann, so gilt das nicht zuletzt trinitätslogisch in den doppelten Bezugssystem der immanenten und der ökonomischen Trinität. Es liegt also in den Konsequenz des Hegelschen Denkens, wenn die entwicklung der logischen Kategorien die Entwicklung der metaphysischen Bestimmungen Gottes ist, wie ferner die Vernunft erst im Licht des geoffenbarten Absoluten zu sich selbst finden kann, weil Hegels Ansatz ein rein immanentisches Vernunfstverständnis ausschliesst. Auch darin hat er die äussersten Kantischen Grenzmarkierungen hinter sich gelassen. Aus allem Gesagten folgt, dass der Geist erst mit begriffslogischen Kategorien voll erfasst werden kann.

Aus den Gesagten folgt aber auch, dass die oft zu hörende Kritik, Hegel verstosse in einer gradezu klassischen Weise gegen Luthers Verbot der Spekulation, nicht zutrifft. Luthers Kritik nämlich richtet sich dagegen, mit Hilfe der Spekulation an der Offenbarung vorbei zu Gott gelangen zu wollen and damit die Vernunft an die Stelle der göttlichen Offenbarung zu setzen, wodurch diese gegenstandslos würde. Hegels Denken wird von diesem Vorwurf nicht getroffen, weil er von der in Christus geschehenen Versöhnung her philosophisch denkt.

To translate the notes from page 408 and 409 in English:

Page 408:

8.5 The General Theological Significance of Hegel’s Logic

This ensues from the confrontation of his thought with the Enlightenment. The kind of reason that brings separation and fails in face of a contradiction destroys religion. It is the task of thinking, and not only of the theological kind, to overcome abstraction and the realm of representations of reflection that oppose each other. The opposition between the observer and observed has to be overcome (aufgehoben). The logical determinations are therefore doubled, insofar as they are attributed to being and thinking.

Thinking has to be lifted up to the level of the idea,[6] to the point where subjectivity and objectivity become the same. Crucial here is the first relationship of the idea with the whole.

Hegel’s logic, therefore formulates the ascension of the logical world in a threefold rising level [of logic] from being- through essence- to concept logic. [N.B. like the progression from substance to subject to concept or spirit]

Page 409: Because Hegel’s logic further concerns itself with an opening up of the whole, thus life is idea, such that the latter is partly life, partly perception, and partly science [again science as understood as both natural and human.] This relation of the idea to the whole implies a high level claim on theology, namely, the knowing of the absolute, which is therein grounded in that God is spirit and wants to be known in Spirit and in truth. That is why it is both valid that God is the whole and that God is the absolute Concept. Therefore it is not by chance that Hegel’s concept-logic is grounded theologically in revelation. If however the logic of the concept is grounded in revelation theologically, even if an inadequate communication theory could be understood by it, then it is valid not last of all for the logic of the Trinity in the double relational system of the immanent and economic Trinity. Therefore abiding in the consequences of the thinking of Hegel, it is the case that the development of his logical categories is [at the same time] the development of the metaphysical determinations of God, and further, reason can only find its way back to itself in the light of the Absolute, because Hegel’s thinking precludes an understanding of reason as purely immanent. Even here it shows that he left the outermost markings of the Kantian limitations behind him. From all that has been said, it follows that only with concept logical categories can the Spirit become fully grasped.

But from what was said it also follows that the often heard criticism is misplaced, namely, that Hegel violated Luther’s prohibition against speculation in a diametrically classical way. That is because Luther’s criticism is directed against that kind of thinking, which by the help of speculation wants to reach God through by-passing revelation and by wanting to place reason alongside God’s revelation, thus taking away the latter’s object. This reproach fails to touch Hegel’s thinking, because his philosophy has its starting point and is based on the atonement that happened through Christ.

Now paraphrasing Asendorf further in English:

Page 410: Hegel knows well that he is following the philosophical tradition and cannot proceed by faith. But his philosophy provides a place for Christian revelation, because his thinking starts from it. Hegel’s thinking demonstrates its theological and revelatory source in three ways.

1. The language form of his thinking that brings reconciliation to opposites

2. Because of his mutual and reciprocal relation of the Spirit and History his logic also contains the movement of history

3. And finally the concrete nature of his thinking demonstrates its theological and revelatory source.

Very early already Hegel criticized the false infinity of Kant, because he wanted to strengthen his commitment to finitum capax infiniti: the finite could grasp the infinite. To separate both completely, Hegel held to be Manichaean.

Page 410: Hegel’s concrete spirit is spirit moving through history.

His reference to a doubly wrong world reminds me of a place in Luther’s Commentary on Psalm 117: “Grace appears outwardly as if it were pure wrath, so deeply does it lie hidden under two thick [covers]…which is probably why St. Peter says, ‘the word alone shines upon us as in a dark place’ (2 Peter 1:19). Yes, certainly in a dark place!”[7]

Page 411: After considering the separation of the finite from the infinite, Asendorf states: “The option for the absolute finite and [abstract] spiritualism are factually identical. A similar negative judgment can only also be made for a pure theological horizontalism. The latter in the truest sense of the word by dint of its logical incapacity, does not know what it is talking about….In this sense the concept in its theological significance has to be disclosed and considered anew, insofar as it is the process, in which the infinite and the finite are connected.”

Page 411 (bottom): Dialectic

“By the fundamental schema of his “Encyclopedia,” three steps need to be differentiated, namely, the abstractly understood, the dialectical-negative reasonable, and the speculative positive reasonable (Vernünftige). The first two belong to Enlightenment thinking. The third reaches the fullness of the concept. Only in this way does the idea realize itself fully in the concept.”

Page 412: “Therefore, the Spirit is not a state of being but a movement. Luther’s Deus semper actuosus [God’s always living, acting, and working] reaches all the way into Hegel’s logic. Because of that, logic can be the philosophical organum [instrument] for grasping the things of God, the way faith is, for the theological.”

Page 435: “Luther’s tract, “The Freedom of a Christian” is the secret center of the philosophy of the Spirit, which is as such at one and the same time the philosophy of history.”

Page 435: Hegel held fast to Lutheranism his whole life, like the Latin speech he gave as the rector of the University of Berlin on the third anniversary of the Augsburg Confession, 25th of June, 1830. “The unending pain embodied in Israel, stands opposite the unending positivism in Christ. The birth of Christ is the dialectically understood turning point in the history of the Spirit.”

Page 435-436: “Hegel wanted to lift up the representation of faith, love, and hope to the reality of a self-conscious rationality (Vernünftigkeit), namely, in a worldly kingdom of a community of free people. In its mere subjectivity, it is a kingdom of arbitrary choice and barbarism, which is not mediated by and does not stand opposite to an other-worldly kingdom. Thus Hegel speaks of the difficult conflict between the different [sides] of this idea, in which the kingdoms are rooted, the spiritual [kingdom] of a heavenly existence and the [kingdom of] a common, earthly reality. When heaven descends and settles down on the earth and the worldly ‘gets built upward’ out of its abstract being-for-itself to the rationality of justice (Recht) and law, then the old opposition is weakened to insignificance. The presence has stripped itself of its barbarism and the truth has stripped itself of its other-worldliness. With that, the atonement has become objective, so that the state has unfolded as the image of the reality of reason. Religion and science (understood as both natural and human science) become complementary manifestations of truth.”

N.B. Luther relegates reason and law to the state and faith and the Gospel to the church. Hegel seems to be thinking this position through in all its implications. Only if Hegel then substituted the state for the church would he have gone wrong. But if he saw a kind of partnership of the church and state via such different ways of operating, then he would still be thinking in the spirit of Luther.

Luther could see those in the vocation of the state as saviors. Like a Norwegian theologian, who disagreed with me, when I said that Luther’s theology was used there for the aggrandizement of the state at the expense of genuine faith and the church.[8] He said that Luther’s theology had changed the whole paradigm of the church and state, because they became the two wings of a new butterfly.

Page 436: “The concept is the subject as well as the object of the idea.”

“The double movement of estrangement and return are understood together as the concept of the Spirit.”

Page 437: A criticism of Hegel is that for him an unknown future does not exist. It is a problem that for the sake of philosophy Hegel excludes faith. [N.B. But that is legitimate when reasoning under the auspices of philosophy and the state.]

Page 440: But he places the Christ event in the middle of his philosophy.

Page 438, footnote: Hegel no longer wished to allow the paradoxical and oppositions to diverge infinitely, (like Kant and Kierkegaard did) but sought their reconciliation through his thought. “Thus Hegel concerns himself with melting the absolute and the concrete, the universal and the particular, [together] into the concept.”[9]

Page 445: “The reasonable is reality and what is real is reasonable.” or “The rational is reality and what is real is rational.” Another permutation: “The real is rational and the rational real.” (Vernünftig, “Vernunft” means reason.) (N.B. When my father said, “Sei doch vernünftig!” he meant “Behave! Be reasonable!”

N.B. The philosophy of being holds the whole world in stasis. It as if it were based upon the Ptolemaic Universe, where the earth stood still and the sun, moon, and stars rose and set around it. Movement was peripheral, while the still-standing earth allowed for a static logic. But now we understand that the planet earth revolves around the sun, the sun is moving inside the galaxy of the Milky Way, which is swirling around a black hole, while all the galaxies are diverging in an expanding universe. Now a logic of becoming, one that has movement at its center, thinks in terms of grasping a moving target. Hegel’s is a logic of becoming, of life, of development.

Page 456: “In the absolute Spirit, freedom and history interpret each other.”

As on page 484, here Hegel presents the Trinity in his language:

Page 476: “God is Spirit, – i.e. that, which we call the Three-in-One God; – God is Spirit – the absolute activity actus purus i.e., Subjectivity – eternal personality – unending – differentiating himself from himself – [thus] begetting – but this differentiation is in the eternal concept, i.e. held in generality as absolute subjectivity, – so it is placed in his unending differentiation, not for the sake of darkness – i.e. Being-for-itself – non-transparency, impenetrability and coming to end – but at the same time as his differentiation remaining in an immediate oneness, and in his differentiation in himself – so with that, the whole divine Concept – Son – and God, this absolute unity as in his-self, in his difference, identical with himself, as eternal love.” N.B.: Hegel seems to be contemplating the Holy Trinity through the Holy Spirit, where we usually do through the Son or the Father.

Page 483: “Love is, namely, the gazing at oneself in the other.” N.B. Elsewhere Hegel would says, the differentiating of oneself from the other.

Page 484: Here Hegel presents the Trinity in his language.

Page 484, footnote 57: J. Splett writes, “[Hegel’s] logic as a whole is the presentation of the speculative truth, which Christian dogmatics calls the immanent Trinity, like his whole system is the economic Trinity.”

N.B. Wow! That is quite a claim!

Page 485: “The Spirit is to be grasped as Being himself, For-himself, and In-and-for-himself.” („Geist ist damit nach seinem Ansich-, seinem Fürsich- und seinem An-und-für-sich-sein zu begreifen.“)

N.B. Hegel challenges Kant’s phenomenal limitation of the noumenal. For Hegel knowledge of a limit means that ne already knows something beyond the limit. Thus Kant’s things and things- in-themselves do not relate with Hegel’s movement of thought and life expressed in being-itself, being-for-itself, and being–in-and-for-itself.

Page 495: “Love is to be understood in its endless pain and its healing of it.”

Page 495: “The concept of the absolute oneness of the divine and human nature – is the reality of God.”

N.B. Perhaps this is the contradiction in the midst of reality.

N.B. Reading Asendorf’s considerations for a new systematic theology helped by Hegel’s philosophy, I realize that perhaps when I ascribe growth to the theory of opposites, it may be more a philosophical insight than a theological one. That way I introduce the mediation of reasoning. It resembles the way I’ve begun to speak about God in another dimension rather than in heaven. A philosophical and intellectual mediation seems to replace faith as much as when Asendorf argues that justification by faith has no place in Hegel’s philosophy (page 514) where it is quite central in Luther’s theology.

Thus the presuppositions as well as the different associations or contexts of meaning have to be taken into consideration in theology on the one hand and in philosophy on the other. That is why when taking a philosophical word and using it theologically, it first has to undergo a bath, like baptism. (Page 511) Otherwise the distortion and mistakes produced by a mixing of categories could occur, i.e., a categorical error.

Page 514: “The statement, in its association of meanings, “contradictio est regula veri” [contradiction is the basis of truth] could not have been understood in classical Greek philosophy and logic.”

Page 515: The ancients would not have understood negation as an essential in dialectical thought, the double negative as affirmative, the doubly wrong world or the atonement of opposites as a task of logic.

Page 515: A principled shake-up of metaphysics cannot be addressed merely by Nygren’s presuppositional analysis. („Eine prinzipielle Perhorreszierung der Metaphysic hindert also die Theologie genauso wie die Philosophie daran, ihere logischen Klärungsfunktion gerecht zu werden.“)

To translate: “A principled shake-up of metaphysics hinders theology as well as philosophy from carrying out their logical clarifying function adequately.”

Page 516: “In the sense of modern philosophical anthropology, the world-openness of people is brought into a three-fold expression, namely, in the schema: God/human, human/nature (creation), and Spirit/history.”

N.B. Hegel may have been citing Luther in saying that the Holy Spirit was involved in justification. (I seem to have read that in Luther’s Genesis Commentary. While Hegel does not speak of faith, he does champion the concrete spirit.

Page 517: Asendorf claims, “Hegel did not sacrifice faith for philosophical speculation.”

Page 517: Hegel said, “A half of philosophy leads away from God…, true philosophy, however, leads toward God.” Perhaps the text for Hegel’s philosophy comes from 2 Corinthians 3:17: “The Lord is Spirit and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

N.B. I wonder why philosophy cannot consider the future, nor faith? Why is it in principle that eschatology is closed to philosophy?

Page 518: Hegel’s philosophy looks backward not forward. Think of the owl of Minerva! Hegel concentrates on realized eschatology, but not the eschatology that still stands out.

N.B. Asendorf has quite a wonderful last paragraph: “The remaining difference only makes [more] clear the deep relationship of Luther and Hegel, which has its source in a common philosophy of love, in the joyful exchange, the recognizing oneself in the other. Crucial is the vis unitiva, ex amante et amato unum quid constituenz, [the uniting power that makes the lover and the beloved one], which comes out of Luther’s Epistle to the Romans Lectures, as well as from his great meditation on Galatians 2:20 in his later lectures on the Epistles to the Galatians, where it receives its classical formulation. Out of love, as Hegel discovered it in the Gospel of John, the whole philosophy of Spirit develops in ever new onslaughts. In a similar and comparable way for Luther the “love of Christ” is taken in the sense of the double genitive [i.e. of our loving Christ and Christ’s loving us], which finds its form in justification, the center of the circle that encloses all.”


[1] In Luther’s Bondage of the Will, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Fleming H. Revell, 1957), page 316-317 or see Luther’s Works, Vol. 33, page 291 or the Weimar Edition, Vol. 18, ca. page 787.

[2] Eric D. Beinhocker, The Origin of Wealth: the Radical Remaking of Economics and What It Means for Business and Society, (Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Press, 2006, 2007). And Gar Alperovitz and Lew Daly, Unjust Deserts, (New York: The New Press, 2008).

[3] Michael Polanyi, Science, Faith and Society: a Searching Examination of Meaning and Nature of Scientific Inquiry, (University of Chicago Press, 1946), page 17.

[4] Ibid., pages 17-18.

[5] In Luther’s Bondage of the Will, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Fleming H. Revell, 1957), page 316-317 or see Luther’s Works, Vol. 33, page 291 or the Weimar Edition, Vol. 18, ca. page 787.

[6] Mostly I have been using the term “concept” where Asendorf uses the term “idea.”

[7] Philip and Peter Krey, editors, Luther’s Spirituality, (New York: Paulist Press, 2007), page 142. Check out Luther’s dumbfounding, divine, diabolical dialectic in this place.

[8] In a private conversation in Washington, D.C. with either Inge or Per Lønning at the Luther Jubilee, November 6-12, 1983.

[9] Asendorf is citing H. Schmitz, Hegel als Denker der Individualität, (MPF XX, Meisenheim/Glan, 1957).



Blogging my thoughts: Science Should not Step Out of Bounds

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Blogging my thoughts:

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Science should not Step Out of Bounds

(in the light of Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge)