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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.

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