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Archive for April 2014

Blogging my thoughts: Lighting up the Thoughts of the Mind

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Blogging my thoughts: Lighting up the Thoughts of the Mind by Peter Krey

Reading about optogenetics in the New York Science Times for today (April 22, 2014) I read an article entitled, “Brain Control in a Flash of Light” by James Gorman. Reading it I had to think of the lightning flash of that preceded Luther’s entry into the monastery. (The incident took place before the Reformation on July 2, 1505 near the village of Stotternheim in Germany.)

Dr. Karl Dreisseroth and his team devised a practical way to turn neurons in the brain on and off with light. Is it far-fetched to think that the lightning strike that came so close to Luther that it knocked him down, also affected Luther, in this case, turning his mind on to ultimate questions? I’ve read how Karl Marx thought that that lightning flash began a change of mind not only in Luther but in all of Europe and I have somehow felt myself, that Luther’s whole Reformation came out of one flash of insight, that was not only intellectual but went way down to the enlightenment of his affects as well.

Dreisseroth talks of people with psychoses having a different reality from our own (New York Science Times, page D4). He describes bipolar disorder as “’exuberance, charisma, love of life, and yet how destructive’; of depression, [so] ‘crushing – it can’t be reasoned with.’” (D4) But what about on the positive side, that is, a brain that reaches a new level of integration and insight through an encounter with God? A Psalm speaks of God in terms of “the Light in which we see light.” (Psalm 36:9) Often we are locked with our thinking in the pathological, while we remain oblivious to the wholesome, the wonderful level of a new maturity in life. St. Paul on the road to Damascus and perhaps Luther, on his way back from home to Erfurt, experienced something along these lines.

Now to delve more deeply into the article: various laboratories experimented with using light to control brain cells. Needed in that process are proteins they call “opsins.” “When light shines on an opsin, it absorbs a photon and changes.” (D4) Smuggling opsin genes into nerve cells caused no harm. (D5) They found that one particular opsin called channelrhodopsin-2 “could be used to turn on mammalian neurons with blue light.” (D5) Dreisseroth used microbial opsins to get those neurons to respond strongly to light. With that Dreisseroth’s team could switch the neurons on and off.

Then working in his laboratory they took a step beyond optogenetics making the whole brain transparent in a method they have called “Clarity.” It cannot be used for living brains because a chemical called hydrogel has to be infused into the brain tissue, “which leaves the brain not only transparent, but also still available for bio-chemical tests.” (D5)

Dreisseroth’s aim continues to be helping people with severe mental illness or brain diseases “and he recently proposed ways that optogenetics, Clarity, and other techniques may be turned to this aim.” D5) It turns out that optogenetics is a crucial tool in understanding brain functions. “Clarity, on the other hand, is an aid to anatomical studies, basic mapping of structure, which, he says, is as important to understand as activity.” (D5) When as a psychiatrist he administered electro convulsive therapy (electric shock therapy) a general seizure results, in which the whole brain is disrupted. “’Within a few minutes the whole person comes back. Where does it come back from? From the structure,’ he said.” (D5)

It is interesting the way Dreisseroth speaks of the whole person coming back but then uses the pronoun “it” for merely the structure of the brain. Perhaps the mind envelopes the whole person, while the brain is just the seat of that source.

When Dreisseroth speaks of encountering a whole different reality in a person experiencing a psychosis then he needs to be completely cognizant that we all agree on a conventional, everyday level of reality which we call normal. This kind of scientific work, however, shows how there are deeper realities that go far beyond the everyday level of reality we accept as normalcy.

When a St. Paul or Luther experience the source of light, then perhaps they were treated to a shock therapy for a more wholesome reality through and after which the reality of the presence of the Divine has to be proclaimed. This ultimate reality, filled with healing love and compassion can also fill a psychotic person with healing light.

“Clarity” now for a live brain may provide a physical analogy to enlightenment, say of the Buddha, or the transfiguration of Jesus Christ. The transfiguration of the person or mind, if “mind” is understood as enveloping the whole person and the whole person’s intellect and affects as well are taken to be in the mind. When that mind becomes transparent, then perhaps the source of light can shine through a person.

Recently I wrote about the light of the eyes, as it was understood in Biblical times.[1] The light of the eyes, but really the light of the mind and all its wonderful functioning cannot hold a candle to “the Light in which we see light.” The whole verse from Psalm 36 also includes affects and more: “For with you is the fountain of life and in your light we see light.” That living light is the source of our being (structure) and consciousness (functioning and activity).

In blogging my thoughts here, I go all the way into opsins, photons, optogenetics, and “Clarity,” because Luther said that we cannot go into the flesh deeply enough. I first interpreted his sense of the word “flesh” to mean that we cannot go into everything concerning what it means to be human being deeply enough. In the words of Cicero, “I am a human being and I consider nothing that is human alien to me.” But here I interpret “flesh” as delving into this completely physical and natural study of the brain as a foray into theology.

Now Dreisseroth maintains that one cannot reason with depression. (D5) Of course not. But we should not discount the talking cure,[2] because insights enlighten the brain with optogenetic potential. And the encounter with the omniscient, compassionate, and wholly loving God, can bring a healthy person back from a “divine structure” into the wholeness of a new maturity, a fully functioning and fulfilling life. But God also has to encounter those like Dr. Dreisseroth, who go into a mind completely transparent or enlightened by the living Light of God to heal not only people with psychoses, but also as many of us who are walking around in an everyday reality unenlightened by the real presence of the One who “created the sun, moon, and the shining stars; for God commanded and these lights were created.” (Psalm 148:3 and 5)


[1] See “Your Eye is a Lamp for your Body.” Also see “Seeing the Light of God.

[2] Check out Ira Steinman’s book Treating the Untreatable. I relate a story from it in my Sermon of Feb. 8, 2009 called, “Not just the Healthy, the sick are saved too.”  Here of course, I take the neuroscientific approach of this article.


Blogging my thoughts: the Social Justification by Faith

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Blogging my thoughts:

In packing boxes while getting ready to move, I found some notes jotted down during the writing of my dissertation that I did not throw away:

In my dissertation, I worked with four of Luther’s most popular pamphlets: Sermon on the Ban, Sermon on Good Works, The New Testament, that is, the Holy Mass, and the Freedom of a Christian. In analyzing these pamphlets I found that they follow the same regular pattern in critiquing the church of that day for the wealth and power of the hierarchy, the exclusion of the Christian laity from the spiritual estate, the fact that cardinals, bishops and priests did not consider it their duty to preach, unless called to do so with a different call above sacramental ordination. These factors, among others, brought opposition to the hierarchy of the spiritual estate.

In the Great Peasants’ War of 1525, the peasants were looking to improve their lot. They could work as peasants on the level of being feudal serfs but they could also work as peasants, like farmers as the equals of burghers and the common man.

Patrick Collinson, in The Religion of the Protestants[1] works with the concept of elective affinity comparing laws. He wrote that the many laws of that day were not like the ones the Puritans would have attempted – for a severe and legally enforced religious and moral discipline. The laws in Luther’s days amounted to an unjust legally enforced exploitation of the peasants. A complicity of the laity and clergy existed in undermining the severity of the Christian moral mandate. Karl Holl would also have argued that the legal practice of the church ban was not used for moral discipline. It was used for debt collection for the spiritual estate and control of the laity.

I think that Holl is convincing in arguing that Luther emphasized the conscience and the intensification of the Christian moral mandate. But Luther’s mandate is more than that of a religion of conscience. With conscientia – according to Steven Ozment, heart, soul, and spirit have to be included as well, to grasp Luther’s anthropological concepts referring to the whole person,[2] (and I add) in terms of maturity and creativity as well. Luther’s concept of spontaneity refers to being moved personally, but who cannot see that it is involved with initiating and sparking social movement for justice as well – rather than merely the justification of the person? Thus Luther’s theology should also include shalom or the Russian concept of sobornost. This idea is not one of a collective emotionalism or an enhancement of religious pleasure, but the experience of a new social and personal harmony and creativity in the further approximations of the Kingdom of God, the Beloved Community – or what Luther describes as “the internal Kingdom of Christian Freedom in terms of the circulation of grace for the common good in the joyful economy of abundance” – (to patch in some of my later work)[3] – while realizing that the Christian state is a historical problem not yet at all solved. Basing it as Luther does on reason and law, rather than a particular faith and Gospel, should not preclude greater and greater approximations of justice.

How can justification merely apply to an individual person? That ignores the historical reality of the social dynamism unleashed by Luther: the Wittenberg Disturbances came first, then the Knights’ Rebellion, and then the Peasants’ War or the Revolution of the Common Man as Peter Blickle would have it.

I like to relate Henri Bergson’s first order feelings and reactive ones.[4] A charismatic social movement as well as a charismatic personal response can issue from a first order “feeling,” that is, not a reactive feeling – but a feeling that initiates new thoughts, feelings, and actions.

So Luther experienced justification by faith as an individual; the peasants wanted justification by faith in terms of social justice. I was thinking in those terms when I wrote against systematic racism and justification not by race, but by grace.[5] What would constitute justification on a social level? The way a whole and mature person can be described as self-aware, autonomous, with quality relationships, etc., the basic ingredients of social justification should also be worked out, as Luther attempts to do in the third part of his pamphlet on Christian Freedom.


[1] Patrick Collinson, The Religion of Protestants: the Church and English Society 1559-1625, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), p. 241.

[2] Luther’s thinking is holistic. When he refers to the anima, soul, cor, heart, spiritus, spirit, and conscientia, conscience, he always refers to the whole human being from a certain aspect. Steven Ozment notes that for Luther this totus homo is operationally united. Ozment, Steven, Homo Spiritualis: a Comparative Study of the Anthropology of Johannes Tauler, Jean Gerson, and Martin Luther (1509-1516) in the Context of their Theological Thought, (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1969), pages 89, 95, and 100.

[3] See the Third Mini-Lecture On Christian Freedom for Our Redeemer in South San Francisco. The existential rapture also applies to individuals and in face of personal realities can seem far-fetched. It is some flight of the imagination to take it to a collective level.

[4] Bergson, Henri, The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1935, 1954).

[5] See my writing: Luther’s Justification is not by Race and my Social Ethics developed from Luther’s Theology.

Blogging my thoughts further: “Seeing in the Light of God”

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A citation that I remembered today came from Theodor W. Adorno. It relates to being completely oblivious to thought and consciousness when the physicist deals with space-time. It is just like Plato, whose form of forms was invisible, because it was intellect. To translate Adorno: “Where science is dogmatically made into objectivity, [it is as if] it had not gone completely through a subject.”[1] Michael Polanyi refers to this failure of science as the “cult of objectivity.” In a similar way, Leibnitz had to remind John Locke, who opposed innate ideas, “Nothing that is in the intellect was not first in the senses, except the intellect itself.”[2] What has to be remembered is that in the very recent discovery of inflation and the ripples marking the gravity waves, is the concomitant expansion of thought or intellect, knowledge.

On the Sunday before last, the subject entailed Jesus healing the beggar, the man born blind, found in the Gospel of John, chapter 9. Calling Christ the light of the World reminds very much of the Face of God shining upon us, the invisible sun of intellect, Plato’s form of forms, the source of goodness, truth, and beauty. Another way to speak about it comes from Psalm 36:9: “For with you is the fountain of life and in your light we see light.” The light in which we see light, Plato would call the intellect and others might call it consciousness. For the Hebrew tradition it would also have to include faith, trust, and compassion. Because God became flesh in Jesus Christ, because God became a human being in Jesus Christ, he is the “Son of Man” and the Son of God. That makes it tempting to change “Son” to Plato’s “Sun” and identify Jesus as the source of goodness, truth, and beauty in the Greek Philosophical tradition and the shining Face of God, bringing favor and blessing and growth in the Hebrew tradition.

The Preacher that Sunday, Monique Ortiz, made the point that Jesus was almost stoned and then thrown out of the temple. It is in that condition that he sees the man blind from birth, an invisible beggar, who because he was always there, no one could see, until Jesus saw him there in the light of healing and compassion.

So the light in which we see light is not merely reason the way Immanuel Kant would have it. His ideal was the fully rational person. The affect also has to be involved, thus in my treatment of Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals in Kant and Luther in my website, you will see that I added “the fully mature person” as well. Graphically I illustrated Kant’s conception with a sphere. (The ascent up to the top axis is into Spirit and Freedom, the descent into the depths below is into necessity and nature.)

So in the light in which we see light, we are not only able to distinguish goodness, truth, and beauty, but those nouns become verbs. From Jesus the Truth, love and compassion flow out of him for this beggar representing all of humanity that is blind from birth and healing him so that he becomes a seer, like the prophets of old, and I believe that he also received physical sight as well. But as the chapter progresses his vision improves. He sees Jesus first as a good man, then as a prophet, then as the Son of Man, and finally as the Messiah of God.

This reminds me of the light of the eyes article Your Eye is the Lamp of your Body that I posted and to which my son, Mark responded. Like Kantian knowledge our sight is actively healing the world with trust, love, and compassion, affective components that have to fulfill the intellect, in the way Jesus proclaimed it.

The way the light of Jesus’ compassion heals the blind beggar, the man blind from birth, that creative love and compassion also makes us come into existence. The beggar standing there invisible to people must have felt like he didn’t exist. We sometimes feel as if we did not exist. The compassionate eyes of Jesus see us into existence, because we are contemplating the light of life, thought, and love, nouns that become verbs in the continuous creation of God.

We used to speak of active listening. Those who have ears to hear let them hear and faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17) and morning by morning God awakens my ear so I hear like an apprentice (Isaiah 50:4b). But all the senses have to become active rather than passive: sight and touch as well. Thomas Aquinas had all the senses come together internally into the common sense, an invisible hand, by which intellectual things could be grasped. Origen believed that spiritual senses intensified into higher sensations, spiritual sensations, to which the physical senses could not hold a candle.

Spiritual seeing is difficult to describe. A fellow seminarian, Dave Zimmer, saw a drunken man walking, no stumbling down the sidewalk, clinging and holding on from one parking meter to the next so that he would not fall down. David said, “See that fellow? He has never learned to walk.” Later I also thought, as an alcoholic, he has also not been able to give up the bottle, the way every baby has to learn to do. This is the kind of seeing that represents the spiritual sense of sight, but also filled with the compassion that brings healing.

We see with our minds – with our intellect and we see with our hearts – with compassion. That Sunday Monique Ortiz talked of sing the homeless in the streets of San Francisco with the eyes of the soul.

At the end of chapter 9, Jesus closes by reproaching the religious authorities in a Socratic way. Because you say that you can see, even though you are blind, your guilt remains with you. If they had confessed that they too were blind from birth and they too needed eyes that see and ears that hear and a heart full of compassion (participating in the light in which we see light and walking by the Light of the World and continuing the creation with Jesus) then they would have no sin. But because they said that they could see, their sin remained.

When a person said that they knew something, Socrates would begin questioning him. After some probing questions a person would soon come to the limits of their knowledge and become confronted with the great unknown. (The more we know the more we know we don’t know. The less we know the more we think we know.) When so confronted and so unwilling to face their ignorance, some left Socrates in a huff quite offended, while Socrates’ disciples laughed at the person’s ignorance. If the person confessed his ignorance, Socrates would put his arm around him and say, “Let’s try to learn more together. The unexamined life is not worth living.”

So because the religious authorities said that they could see, they were blind. Had they confessed their ignorance, that is, their lack of compassion, confessed that they could not see, then the Light of the World would have dawned within them.


[1]Wo Wissenschaft dogmatisch zu einer Objektivität gemacht wird, die nicht durch das Subjekt hindurch gegangen sein soll…” Theodor W. Adorno, Aufsätze zur Gesellschaftstheorie und Methodologie, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1970), p. 190.

[2] William F. Lawhead, The Voyage of Discovery, (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Thomson Learning, 2002), p. 259.

Written by peterkrey

April 9, 2014 at 12:21 am

Hopes for Berlin from back in 1975

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I worked as a fraternal worker, vicar, and then Pfarr-verweser in West Berlin from 1971-1975. During that time I wrote this statement and tucked it into my book, Die Gespiegelte Stadt:

Ein Sonderweg durch Christus, das Licht der Welt:

Berlin leidet als eine Stadt. Nicht nur ist sie geteilt und gedemütigt, (weil fremde Mächte über sie und die ehemaligen stolzen Berliner bestimmen) sondern sie kann auch nicht über ihr Leiden – wegen des Schattens der Vergangenheit glaubwürdig erscheinen.

Die Humor von den Berlinern wird schon durchkommen und die alte Preussische Toleranz wird nochmals einen Durchbruch erlangen – diesmal für politische Verfolgten und nicht religiöse Verfolgten wie die Hugenotten. Aber einmal wird Berlin ihr klares Protest finden, d.h., nachdem sie den westlichen Lebensstil durchschaut hat. Und nachdem sie ihre Auseinanderssetzung mit der Vergangenheit mehr komplet vollzogen hat, wird sie wieder erstehen und den Menschen einen neuen westlichen Europäischen Mensch zeigen, der nicht diese Welt kaput macht, sondern eine Lösung, ein neuen Weg in die Zukunft für die Menschheit bietet.


In English:

Berlin’s special calling is through Christ, the light of the world:

Berlin is suffering as a city, not only because it is divided and humiliated, (because alien powers make decisions for it and for the once proud people of Berlin) but Berlin can also not be taken seriously in its suffering because of the shadow cast over it from the past.

The humor of the Berliners will be a real help and the old Prussian tolerance will once again experience a break-through, but this time for politically persecuted people rather than religiously persecuted ones like the Huguenots. But one day Berlin will discover a clear protest, that is, after it has seen through the shallow western style of life. Then after it has come to terms more completely with its past, Berlin will arise again and show people a new western European human being, who does not destroy this world, but finds a solution, offering the world a new way into the future.


Written by peterkrey

April 5, 2014 at 8:19 pm

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Book Review: Martin Luther, On the Freedom of a Christian by Tryntje Helfferich

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Book Review with Translation Issuesby Peter D. S. Krey

Tryntje Helfferich, On the Freedom of a Christian with Related Texts, edited, translated, and with Introductions by the author. (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2013), 132 pages with a 21 page introduction and important introductions before each translated text, a two page bibliography for further reading, and an index slightly longer than seven pages. The footnotes are well researched, informative, filled with background and biographical notes, and very helpful for the reader as an introduction to this material.


It is always welcome to see Luther texts presented for readers today, especially with the coming Luther Decade and the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation October 31, 2017. I was surprised that not the Latin, but the popular German version of Luther’s most popular pamphlet was translated by Tryntje Helfferich, because I had just translated it for Luther’s Spirituality, (New York: Paulist Press, 2007), in an anthology for The Classics of Western Spirituality edited by my brother Philip D.W. Krey and me. Translation is such a challenging art, so I read Tryntje’s work avidly to compare her translation decisions with mine.

First to the contents of this short book and then to translation issues with what I hope is constructive criticism and a help for future translations.

Perhaps the title of the book should not read “with Related Texts,” but “with Opposing Texts,” because along with one of Luther’s most famous non-polemical pamphlets, Freedom of a Christian, containing the whole sum of the Christian life,Tryntje included Johannes Eck’s Handbook of Commonplaces against Luther and the Enemies of the Church, John Fisher’s Sermon against the Pernicious Doctrine of Martin Luther, Thomas Műntzer’s Highly Provoked Defense against the Spiritless, Soft-living Flesh at Wittenberg, (He’s referring to Luther of course.) and finally, Luther’s most notorious pamphlet, Against the Rioting Peasants, which registers down there with Luther’s most inexcusable outbursts full of rage, like his Anti-Semitic writings at the end of his life. During most of Luther’s life, he was able to keep opposite extremes in a tension that brought deep theological insights, but it seems at the end of his life he fell apart and produced scurrilous writings on the one hand and the wonderfully rich and rewarding Genesis Lectures on the other. How can one fathom that?

Again, what drew me to this book was Tryntje’s translation of the popular German version of Luther’s Freedom of a Christian. I thought that I had been the first to translate it until I discovered Bertram Lee Woolf’s translation for London’s Philosophical Library in 1956 in a two volume work named, Reformation Writings of Martin Luther (reissued in 2001). All the common translations of this very important writing that were available until now are from the intellectual Latin version and not this more spiritual one.

Tryntje’s translation is very strong and may well be “smoother and more faithful to Luther’s tone and meaning” (p. xxvi) than Woolf’s and mine, but the following criticisms are meant for a future translation that can provide the basis for one very much more improved. This pamphlet is worth it and even the foremost Luther scholar today, Oswald Bayer, asserts that it deserves more study.[1]

I believe that Bertram Woolf and I agreed on the significance of a passage of Freedom of a Christian of Luther’sin point 6: “What is the word that gives such great grace, and how shall I use it? Answer: It is nothing other than the preaching of Christ contained in the Gospel, which should be, and indeed is, presented so that you hear your God speak to you, explaining how all life, etc.” In my translation which, if I remember correctly, Woolf also affirmed when I discovered his translation, we made a full stop after “you,” namely, “so that you hear your God speaking to you! It shows how your whole life and work, etc.” There’s a vergula or slash in the pamphlet and in Otto Clemen’s Luthers Werke,[2] left out by the Weimar Edition. The vergula used by the printers can be interpreted as a comma or period. Placing a period there brings out the point that in, with, and under the words proclaimed by the preacher, God is speaking to you. As a preacher, one often marvels at what a listener in the congregation heard, something you realize that you did not say.

As opposed to Tryntje, I avoided using the word “doctrine” and always translated “teaching” because of how the doctrinal emphasis has distorted and dampened the creativity in Luther’s thought.[3] Then in Luther’s St. Paul’s citations, Tryntje uses the word “predestined” (p. 28) and “reprobate.” (p. 32) From Lutheran sensibilities, these are Calvinist words that do not belong in this quintessential Luther writing.

I respectfully disagree that gender inclusive language transforms the text, because in Luther’s day the masculine, patriarchal language did not offend women, but it does in our day, and that offense is the real transformation of the text, from my point of view.

Luther’s theology is misrepresented in the Introduction (p. xx), with Tryntje perhaps taking the cue from Johannes Eck, Luther’s life-long adversary, who “strongly criticizes Luther’s claim in Freedom [of a Christian] that the believer is his own priest.” (p. 50) Along the same line, in the Introduction, Tryntje writes, “Furthermore, Luther argued, Christians did not need a priesthood to mediate for them with God. Each man was his own priest and the overseer of his own soul.” (p. xx) Perhaps like Pope Leo X, Eck never read Freedom of a Christian, because in Tryntje’s own translation of the pamphlet, Luther writes, “Therefore in all his works his thoughts should be free and directed only so that he thereby serves and benefits other people. He should conceive of nothing else than what is necessary for the other.” (p. 37) (As an aside, Tryntje entitles this section “Man’s Relationship to Man,” which today is no longer inclusive of women.) Again just before the concluding paragraph of his pamphlet, Luther’s writes that we are not to seek our own benefit and intend thereby to expiate our sins and be saved, but “God’s goodness [must] flow from one to the other and become common to all, so that each one accepts his neighbor as if he were himself…the holy apostle said of love that it does not seek its own interests, but those of the neighbor.” (1 Cor. 13:5)(p. 41). Because each person is his or her neighbor’s priest,[4] Lutherans do not even sing hymns where the “I” is pronounced, as in “I Walk in the Garden Alone,” but only hymns using the pronoun “we.” That may also be why Scandinavian countries that are Lutheran are very socially advanced and Lutheran Social Services in this country makes a strong witness.

Tryntje’s decision to allow masculine language to dominate allows the structure of language to reinforce patriarchy. Language does not, of course, have absolute control and is not the only reinforcement of sexism, but it has a measure of influence. For example, when translating point 12, I wanted to soften the word “whore” and replace it with “harlot” in the marvelous exchange. The passage in question goes, when “the rich, noble, pious bridegroom Christ takes the poor, despised, evil whore in marriage, absorbs all of her wickedness, and adorns her with all goodness,” (p. 26) my decision was overturned and the word “whore” was replaced into the text. A woman that I know was really offended by this passage. The masculine gets to identify with the innocent Christ, while the soul, referred to in the grammatical feminine somehow sticks women with the very worst epithet: a whore.

Now God did not become a man as opposed to a woman in Christ, but God became a human being in Christ. So the passage could also be turned around: “the rich, noble, pious bride Christ takes the poor, despised, evil schmuck in marriage, absorbs all of his wickedness, and adorns him with all goodness.” That puts the man into the pejorative for a change. At least now there is a growing awareness that the woman in the streets should not be arrested, but all the Johns and pimps should be, because of their victimization of women and the rampant violence perpetrated against women. Linguistics has a way of forming social realities and shaping social policies, sometimes against women.

Tryntje uses the words “pious” and “piety” to translate the German word “fromm,” to use the modern spelling. I first translated the word as “religious.” A decision in my case was made to translate each occurrence of the word with “upright,” a word that I believe does not capture the whole meaning. “Spiritual” does not have the traditional churchly sense of the word. Today I would use the word “devout” which can be a noun or modifier. Very seldom are the words “pious” and “piety” used today.

The following assertion by Tryntje in the introduction to Eck’s Handbook left me skeptical. “Indeed, sixteenth-century Catholics were just as prolific as Protestants in publishing pamphlets, essays, sermons, and books to defend their own ideas and attack the ideas and character of their enemies.” (p. 43) David Bagchi estimates that there was a ratio of about five Reformation to one Catholic publication, especially when Luther’s non-polemical publications and his polemics against other Protestants are included.[5] Between 1521 and 1525 Luther himself published 192 titles while all his Catholic opponents between them published only 128. Many pamphlets in that day developed from sermons and while Luther preached two or three times a week, Cochleus, a staunch opponent of the Reformation at age 62 had never preached a sermon in his life.[6] Other evidence to the contrary of Tryntje’s assertion is the consideration that Catholic authorities frowned upon disputations that included the laity and thus Catholics wrote in heavy scholastic styles and mostly in Latin. Bagchi reports that publishers refused to publish Catholic works because they would not sell. Murner and Emser had to bear their own publication costs.[7] Meanwhile Luther became a best-selling author in his life-time with over a million copies of his pamphlets in the homes of the people.

That made me question Tryntje’s assertion that John Eck’s Handbook of Commonplaces appeared in almost a hundred printings in its various editions before 1600. (p. 49) But in reading the introduction of what seems a magisterial work of reconstructing Eck’s Latin text by Pierre Fraenkel – to translate the Latin title, “The Handbook of Commonplaces against Luther and the Enemies of the Church,”[8] it turned out that there could have been a hundred printings of Eck and his many revisions, some with the help of others. To explain the difference: Eck’s Handbook is probably an exception, because Bagchi does not follow printings until 1600, focuses more on Germany, rather than Italy, France, Spain, and pre-Elizabethan England, where the Reformation did not take hold; and most interestingly, Eck took Melanchthon’s popular Commonplaces as a model; and finally also translated his work into German. For those reasons, Eck’s Commonplaces was probably an exception.

Let me end with these comments: If Eck and Fisher are to be taken seriously asserting that good works are required and demanded for salvation, then those among us with wealth and power will be saved. Who can equal the works possible by a very powerful president or wealthy philanthropist? Exactly how many good works will save us? Sorry, a poor woman with MS in a wheelchair, who can do nothing, will be condemned. Such a woman said to me, “Will you please tell people that although I have MS and cannot be productive, that I still have value?” Good works leave us with the limitations of the law. We have to go to the source of good works, into the grace of the Gospel.

And Tryntje should have also included Eck’s chapter 27, his justification for burning heretics at the stake to balance Luther’s notorious pamphlet against the Thuringian Peasants, who in his area under Thomas Műntzer were plundering monasteries and burning down castles. That Luther supported going into battle against the peasants in those frightening times remains a blemish on his career and an inexcusable injustice on his part.

But while there is plenty of ammunition for an ad hominem argument demolishing the man, Luther, that will not refute the Christian truth of the Gospel of grace that he proclaimed. God’s Word and Luther’s teaching will remain for eternity. In German: Gottes Wort und Luthers Lehr vergehet niemals and nimmer mehr. His is a version of the authentic subjective truth of Christianity that the unreformed, objective Church of that day wrongly rejected. Reconciliation, however, is on the horizon, because the times are changing.


[1] Oswald Bayer, Schöpfung als Anrede, (Tübingen: J C B Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1990), p. 61: “Freedom of a Chrisitan [has] not received from Lutheran scholars the attention it deserves.“ (my translation) But see my dissertation, Sword of the Spirit, Sword of Iron, (PhD diss. Graduate Theological Union, 2001) where I have a seventy-five page analysis of the Freedom of a Christian and have posited the structure in terms of “Existential Rapture.” For the latter see Peter Krey’s Website.

[2] Otto Clemen, Luthers Werke in Auswahl, Zweiter Band, (Berlin: Verlag von Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1929).

[3] In a conversation with Hartmut Lehmann about Thomas Kaufmann’s biography of Martin Luther that I am translating for Eerdmans Publishing, I asked why Kaufmann called Luther a heretic throughout his book. Lehmann explained to me that he was calling him a heretic not from a Catholic point of view, but in order to honor Luther as an independent thinker! That is somewhat analogous with the Hamburg publishers in Luther’s day calling themselves Die Ketzerpresse, the Heretic-press, feeling honored to be so-called.

[4] In Freedom of a Christian, Luther even maintained that much more than a mere priest, believers should become Christs to their neighbors.

[5] David V. N. Bagchi, Luther’s Earliest Opponents (1518-1525), Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991), pp. 198-200.

[6] Ibid., p. 197.

[7] Ibid., pp. 199-200.

[8] Pierre Fraenkel, Johannes Eck: Enchiridion locorum communism adversus Lutherum et alios hostes ecclesiae, Published by Irwin Iserloh in Corpus Catholicorum: Werke Katholischer Schriftsteller im Zeitalter der Glaubensspaltung, (Aschendorff, Műnster Westfalen, 1979).

Written by peterkrey

April 4, 2014 at 5:07 pm

A Humorous Letter from Rev. Graham, thankfully not discarded

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Rev. Graham and his wife, Gusty, an elderly couple, who befriended my father when he was a pastor in Ambridge, PA, visited us back in Wilmington Massachusetts and I remember how he admonished my father that he should also learn something from his children. My father became angry and said that the children learned from their parents and not the other way around. I sent a letter to the Grahams because I said I saw them as such a model couple. I had never spoken with any friend of my father’s ever before. That I saw him as such an example is the reason that this gentle soul sent the humorous farce about fighting with his wife. They really had a great relationship. He calls her a little bundle, but she was six feet tall! At the table he would always say, “Gusty, are you still in love? Have a pickle!”

We’re moving. Here is the letter I just found going through boxes of old papers:

June 2, 1966

(I’ll add a line to Mother’s full letter.)

Dear Peter and all the other good Kreys (There ain’t no other kind of Kreys than good ones):

Have just come in from a game of golf – a game I try to play twice a week in order to get a fresh supply of oxygen into my red blood corpuscles. Today I played with an architect (born in Switzerland and now retired) and with a retired postmaster (born in Italy). I did not play too well. A comrade of mine became suspicious of my orthodoxy. He watched me drive the ball, not straight ahead but first across to one side, then across to the other side, then across again, and so on. He accused me of trying to play Catholic golf, because I had too many crosses.

I’m afraid, good Mr. Peter, that you set Mother and me too high as examples to be followed. Mrs. Graham is a rough character, and so am I. I become enraged and exceedingly violent. And I seize the little woman by the hair and give her a terrific shaking up. Then I seize her and explode into many, most abusive vituperations at her, and then I pitch her with utmost unchivalry through the back door into the back yard.

But does my violence subdue her? Not in the least. Back into the house flies the little bundle of dynamite; she hurls herself at her spouse, grasps my hair by the handfuls and yanks them out with female efficiency, so that my poor pate is soon going to be as smooth as the skin of a Baldwin apple. To be sure, I have reported her unseemly roughness, (reported it to the police department, indeed). But did I get relief? No, the big, huge policeman turned upon me and denounced me as a rogue, a villain, an unchivalrous helpmeet, and threatened to put me behind bars.

So there! Unhappy me! I think I’ll get an airplane and sail off to Argentina and reside among the Indians in some deep, dark jungle.

Still, upon reflection and quiet meditation, I am concluding after all that, having been patient, really patient with her husband for over fifty years, she really is a gentle and sweet lady, and if she will accept me, I’ll give up all notions of flying to a jungle in South America to live among the Indians. Anyhow, they might roast me in a fire and make a meal out of me.

Coming down out of nonsense to the level of sense, we thank you for the account of the doings of Mother and Father Krey, and Ruth – she is a stately lady – and Esther – all bright and gay with her Harvard professor; and Matthias graduating and on his way to Borneo, Japan, or “somewhere East of the Suez, where the best is like the worst” (as Kipling says); and yourself looking out along the same path which was trodden by your good father; and Mr. Andrew, mounting proudly up to six feet – tell him that Goliath mounted up to nine feet but his height got him into trouble near the Vale of Elah; and Mother Krey is feeling lively again – what a wise and lovely soul she is and an excellent companion to your father; and your father now sixty-eight – yes, we join in wishing him many more years of progress in theology and as the head of his household.

And what shall I more say – of Johanna – bless her heart; of Phoebe, whose two children love her; of lovely Tirzah; of manly John; of Mother Mirjam, whose warm heart warms up the cold city of Quebec; of school teacher Rhoda; of twenty-year old Priscilla, beautiful and fair and pleasant; of high-schooler Philip; gentleman Shem, the teenager and strong; and the twelve year old tender of the geese, little Suzie who has many charms.

Congratulations to you all. You are millionaires in the wealth of love and family life and faith.


Mr. Graham

N.B.: Esther’s husband, Al Lowrey, was a comptroller of Brown Brothers and Harriman, who lived in Harvard Square, but was not a professor at Harvard. Matthias was designated by my father to become a missionary, but he became a pastor to the people who usually say “Eh!” in Canada. So that did make him a missionary, I suppose. Tirzah was the teacher. Rhoda became a physicist. Those are really the only mistakes he made trying to relate with all of us sixteen children. (James had already died.)

Also note how he has the style of St. Paul’s greetings at the end of his Letter to the Romans, where he also greeted Phoebe, who delivered the letter for him to Rome, and Priscilla (and Aquila), who are also greeted by St. Paul there. While he reminds of the dastardly humor in the “Ransom of Red Chief” and mentions Kipling, he has the artistic touch, imitating the style of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, quite easy to miss. I’m so happy that this letter survived.

Written by peterkrey

April 4, 2014 at 12:44 pm