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VI. Luther’s In Depth Theology is Good Theological Therapy

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VI. Luther’s In Depth Theology is Good Theological Therapy

(This lecture was in Scholardarity, but did not come through, so I’m re-publishing it here so that it is not lost.)

Peter Krey

(Also Check Out the Audio Article on YouTube)

The Full Liturgy Once More

Midweek Lenten Service

Themes in the Life and Thought of Luther

March 20, 2013 at 7:00pm

Gathering after having Soup Together

Taisé or Special Music


A Prayer of Martin Luther, Evangelical Lutheran Worship Hymnal, page 87

Out of the Depths I Cry to You” ELW # 600

Psalm 32: the Psychoanalytic Psalm

Bible Verse: Ephesians 2:8-9: For by grace you have been saved by faith, and this is not of your own doing; it is a gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

The Message:

Luther’s In Depth Theology is Good Theological Therapy.”

Discussion and sharing

Luther’s Evening Prayer:

I give thanks to you, heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ your dear Son, that you have graciously protected me today. I ask you to forgive me all my sins, where I have done wrong, and graciously to protect me tonight. Into your hands I commend myself: my body, my soul, and all that is mine. Let your holy angel be with me, so that the wicked foe may have no power over me. Amen.

Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father in Heaven,

hallowed be your name,

Your kingdom come, your will be done,

on earth as in Heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins

As we forgive those who sin against us.

Save us from the time of trial

and deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power,

and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.

Blessing: The grace of our Lord Christ Jesus, the love of God and the Holy Spirit’s fellowship, be with us all, be with us all. Amen. Amen.

In German: Die Gnade unsers Herrn Jesus Christus und die Liebe Gottes und die Gemeinschaft des Heil’gen Geistes, sei mit uns allen, mit uns allen. Amen. Amen.

Midweek Lenten Message: March 20, 2013

Luther’s In Depth Theology is Good Theological Therapy.

I’ve always believed that Luther’s theology was good therapy for someone with mental distress. Paul Tillich translated Luther’s justification by grace into modern language: God’s acceptance of those who are unacceptable, making them acceptable. In his book “The Theology of Pastoral Care,” he writes,

The power which makes acceptance possible is the resource of all pastoral care. It must be effective in [the person] who helps and it must become effective in [the person]] who is helped….This means that both the pastor and the counselee…are under the power of something that transcends both of them. One can call this power the new creature or the New Being. The pastoral counselor can be of help only if [she or] he is grasped by this power.”[1]

Thus Luther’s justification by grace is really basic to all therapy.

One time in an inner-city conference, some mentally challenged persons pleaded with us pastors not to give the secular psychiatric community the last word over them. When looking at the many places where Jesus heals the demon possessed, which was the psychological personality theory of that day, how can we Christians shirk the responsibility for the care of these souls and not delve into the spiritual roots of their distress? Luther [certainly] encourages us to care about those who suffer in this way. In mental disturbances we have, in the words of Luther,

the misfortunes that assail… even our very mind, which after all is the main target of all evils and the one trysting place of sorrow and every evil.[2]

I believe that Luther with an immense capacity for empathy with the mentally distressed, also has a theological version of the unconscious.

God shelters us from knowing and feeling all the evils that are inside us, even our innermost evils. One symptom of evil is nothing in comparison to a thousand evils hidden from us by God.

Although these evils are deeply hidden, they bear fruit that is   clearly seen.”[3]

On the blessing side of the consolations, Luther says,

To have faith is to have the Word and truth of God’s

self, the Maker of all. If all these blessings in their fullness were revealed to the soul, it would in a moment break free of the body, because of its exceeding abundance of sweet pleasure”[4] and “Since this life of ours cannot bear to have [the fullness of these blessings] revealed, God mercifully keeps them hidden from us….”[5]

Of course, to become more psychologically healthy, it is important that more and more of the unconscious become conscious. We fear only what we did not integrate.

In the lecture I gave at Gettysburg, I compared Self Psychology with Luther’s In Depth Theology. Heinz Kohut, who developed Self Psychology, noticed that Freud’s psychoanalysis no longer worked with many people who were suffering from mental distress today. In Freud’s society families became too tight and children were overinvolved with their parents. In today’s society many families have empty relationships and there is under-involvement of children with their parents. Thus personality structures have to be built from scratch and issues lie deeper in Narcissistic disorders.

In a metaphor, Kohut and Wolf describe the self as having two poles one for mirroring and one for merging and a tension arc of action around them. Luther always argues that we have to be justified by grace so that from a new self we do good works. Self Psychology also argues that the structure of the self has to be repaired and a weak enfeebled self needs to become a strong and rigorous, organized self. Self Psychology also separates the healing needed for the self from action, like St. Paul and Luther separate justification from works. Mirroring refers to reflecting one another:  all the transactions characterizing the mother–child relationship, including not only the reflections of grandiosity, but also constancy, nurturance, a general empathy and respect.”[6] Believers mirror Christ. Merging takes place “with an idealized, omnipotent, self-object,”[7] using the terms of Self Psychology and in Luther’s words, when bridegroom, Christ marries the believer’s soul, thus becoming merged into one. The merging and mirroring of Self Psychology are right in Luther’s theology. What these psychologists call the nuclear self, Luther calls the inmost self and his theology aptly shows how it is healed in justification.

I believe that a theological therapy can encompass the internal deep self and extended, social self, where the super-ego, the ego, and the id of psychoanalysis leave out the relational aspect of reality that is so necessary for healing.

Theologically these ego states can be replaced by Luther’s account of the four forums, (Let me just be crass, because the plural of the Latin word forum should be fora.)But the forums are the places where we relate with each other. Luther describes four:

The forum before God, before ourselves, before others, and before the world (in Latin coram deo, coram meipso, coram hominibus, et coram mundo).

One time struggling with self-knowledge I also came to the awareness that I was not only the person I thought I was, that I also had to take into account how other people saw me and that what I thought of myself or how they might want to define me, didn’t matter if it was not how God defined and created me. Thus I already touched on three forums and for me only a person’s image in the world is missing.

In the coram-relations, “The truth of our very being experiences the encounter of our becoming known [by God, by ourselves, by others, and by the world].”[8] The four coram-relations, before God, before oneself, before others, and one’s image in the world, [again] transcend and have a wider scope than ego-states like the superego, the ego, and the id, which are only intra-psychic. The coram-relations would be analogous to them, however, for Luther’s in-depth theology. Each coram-relation places the person in a forum of existence and evaluation, the forums ranging from the internal into the external.

The Latin preposition “coram” means “before” but most often used in the biblical Hebrew, it is derived from “being before the face of,” “existing in the eyes of,” “in the sight of,” either God, oneself, others, or the world.

Gerhard Ebeling has an important chapter in his book, Luther, an Introduction to his Thought,[9] explaining these coram-relations as the heart of how Luther’s theology opens directly into life-experience. Coram deo is one’s existence in the eyes of God. How one is seen by God, how one lives before the face of God. Ebeling has a whole rhapsody of insights about what goes on in the face. If God’s eyes go down, we know God disapproves of us and that constitutes our conscience. Is our conscience defined only by how others look at us? We can save face, lose face, fall on our face; someone can even turn his or her face away, that is, turn his or her back on us. These four coram-relations take place in forums. They are not mutually exclusive relations, because the person is in all of them at one and the same time simultaneously. Sometimes one has to turn one’s back on others, coram hominibus, to set one’s face toward God, coram-deo. But to live coram deo is to respond to the needs of others, coram hominbus. For some people the coram-hominibus is determinative because of peer pressure, keeping up with the Jones. We let others define our existence. In this respect, those living in the eyes of God have an advantage. Importantly we also exist in our own eyes, coram meipso. For some of us this forum is very weak and our self-definition derives almost completely from our living in the eyes of others. Bismark is said to have had a strong coram-meipso-self. Perhaps, when he introduced universal health coverage back in the 1800’s and unemployment insurance or perhaps other legislation, the parliament would go off into a tirade of noisy protest. He would take out the newspaper and read it until the raucous was over and then continue with his speech.

Interestingly enough, we do not see and know ourselves the way God does. We are naked in the eyes of God, because God sees the heart. Self-knowledge follows after God’s knowledge of us, takes real time, and is very difficult to attain. Hence we learn to know ourselves fully, even as [by God] we have [already] been fully known (1 Cor. 13:12).[10] I submit that these coram-relationships, these, forums because of their spiritual and relational character, hold real promise for Luther’s in-depth theology and therapy.

Now if you become aware of these coram-relations, then you will find them very helpful and easily thought in your everyday experience.

Let me conclude with Luther’s Anfectungen and recovery because that is why Luther had an in depth theology, from my point of view. Anfectungen are episodes of spiritual conflict that attacked him and disabled him sometimes for months at a time. Now from my lecture:

Luther himself plummeted into the depths when he felt crushed in his spiritual conflict (Anfechtung) between Satan and Christ. Gerhard Ebeling spends 82 pages analyzing this Anfechtung from many different angles. Here’s a very brief account: this spiritual conflict lasted from the middle of 1527 until deep into 1528,[11] by far the worst of his life (365 and 409). The plague was rampaging in Wittenberg (starting late in July and climaxing early in November), but Luther refused to leave the souls who were sick and dying, who depended on his care, even when the Elector commanded him to flee to Jena with the rest of the faculty [of the university]. Luther felt left alone because all the students fled as well, except that Bugenhagen and his family moved in with them (378). Imagine an empty Wittenberg University, like a ghastly gospel! Luther needed the company and support of his friends and students. His and Katie’s home, the Black Cloister, where he gave all his table talks, became a hospital filled with the dying. The wife of the mayor, Tilo Dene, died almost in his arms.[12] George Rörer’s wife, Hanna, had a miscarriage and died soon afterwards (378).  The sack of Rome took place May 6th but Luther writes about it July 13th.  Then on August 16, 1527 Luther received the news that Leonhard Kaiser, a promising graduate freshly out of Wittenberg was burned at the stake in Passau for his evangelical faith (390). “Why was he, Luther, himself not worthy of martyrdom?” was Luther’s excruciating question to God (393) just before he went unconscious. “Why was I not worthy to shed my blood” was also the first thing he said after awakening (393). When Agricola sent his disturbed wife, Else, to join the Luthers for a change of atmosphere, Luther wrote that her sickness was more spiritual than physical (374). Else and Katie, too, argued that the Word of God did not concern them directly, but really the men who protected them (402). In a half joking tone, Luther said that they should know that precisely they also were addressed, when the Gospel was preached (402).

On July 6th 1527 the Anfechtung started by his life-strength draining out of him and [as already said] his going unconscious (366, 372-373). Being held in the arms of Katie and his friends, he thought he would die. It seemed like Luther slipped down into the unsheltered abyss, where for weeks he felt like a ping-pong ball bouncing between death and hell. His limbs and his whole body shook and he felt as if the whole Christ was gone[13] (368 and 373). He felt like a rudderless ship tossed about in the floods and waves of a storm of despair and blasphemy (368 and 407-408). He said that Satan assaulted his person because he had not been able to prevent the Gospel truth from being proclaimed (404), so Satan clobbering him with his fists. [One could say that Luther experienced a demonic spiritual ad hominum. (The ad hominum fallacy in thought attacks the person when the argument cannot be refuted.)]

Even when the plague was being overcome, late in 1527 and students were returning, Luther felt hell within. Outside the world was again healthy, inside are the devil and all his angels, (he wrote). Outside the enemies plague us and inside [as weak and few as we are] the devil is among the children of light (403). Luther asked everyone in his letters to pray for him. Not that the Anfechtung would cease, but that Christ would not leave him. But his connection to Christ was by a gossamer thread and the devil had a chain and an anchor on his leg dragging him into the abyss (371 and 408).

Luther finally recovered again late the next year, having once again received a gracious God and having had a firsthand experience of the in-depth dimension, the in-depth theology that from experience, counted on the grace of Christ, whose strength was manifest in Luther’s weakness that made the devil’s victory a defeat.[14]

With Carl Gustav Jung’s psychological approach using the theory of opposites I believe that Luther’s Anfechtung can be explained. Jung may get his theory from Luther, who took delight in placing opposites together.[15] The tension arc is so very interesting for Luther’s theology, because for him it does not only issue into the action agenda, but he places tension right into the self, the God-encountered-event-of-the-self in the union of opposites, human and divine, sovereign but slave, raptured but groaning in the spirit. We know the sinner and saint opposition best, in the formula simul iustus et peccator. Luther continually places opposites together in the “Freedom of a Christian” and he insists they are in us at one and the same time! Did you notice his putting together “confident despair” in George Spenlein’s letter in our book?[16]

This tension, which Luther brings directly into the self, is key to the dynamic growth of a person’s maturity in Christ, from human to divine. Luther enfolds believers inside his Christology. “For the Word of God comes, whenever it comes to change and renew the world,”[17] but also “the Word of God comes, whenever it comes, to change and renew the person.”

To consider Luther’s Anfechtung once more, now the opposing powers of Christ and the devil fight inside him. Carl Gustav Jung argues that the union of opposites is required for differentiation and integration of the psyche.[18] (Note that when needed, Kohut saw no problem in complementing Self Psychology with the classical psychoanalytic approach,[19] when the (Freudian) guilty self needed to be treated along with (Self Psychology’s) tragic self.)[20] Jung’s opposites which are relevant here are the conscious and unconscious. For Jung, the directedness of the conscious mind always has an opposite countering it in the unconscious (276). When the tension increases as a result of too great [a] one-sidedness, the counter tendency breaks through into consciousness, just at the moment when it is most important to maintain the conscious direction (276).

Jung is speaking of an unconscious balance where opposition in the unconscious accompanies the direction taken in the conscious.

Thus, using this theory of opposites, I believe Luther went too far into the direction of his Christ and the Gospel in many ways without the support of his close companions and then the devil broke through from his unconscious. When Luther found a more refined integration of justification by faith, as the one who proclaimed the pure gospel precisely because he was a most wretched sinner, the integration of these opposites brought back a gracious God.

Jung says that the tendencies of the conscious and unconscious are the two factors that make up the transcendent function (279) and it manifests as a quality of conjoined opposites (298). The shuttling to and fro of arguments and affects [Luther felt like a ping pong ball, his whole self, bouncing back and forth] represents the transcendent function of opposites. The confrontation of the two opposites, Jung continues, generates a tension charged with energy and creates a living third thing – not a logical stillbirth…but a movement out of the tension between opposites, a living birth that leads to a new level of being (page 298). So long as [the opposites] are kept apart, naturally for the sake of avoiding conflict, they do not function and remain inert (298).

Christ and the devil, the opposing powers fought over Luther, until he received a new integration in a higher level of being in faith for a deeper level of service in love.

Jung seems to explain the engine of our growing and maturing into the stature of Christ. Gracious, while painful, Christ-self experiences written about and lived by Luther, bring hope, I believe, alongside secular treatment, for those who also have primary disturbances of the self. Psychiatrists are no longer unanimous about people with a psychosis being beyond the talking—cure.[21]

(Also Check Out the Audio Article on YouTube)

[1] Clinebell, Jr., Basic Types of Pastoral Counseling, p. 306-307. Page 4 in Tillich’s book.

[2] LW 42:128.

[3] LW 42:127.

[4] LW 42:147. (For the Latin text of the “Fourteen Consolations,” see WA 6, (99) 104-134.)

[5] Ibid. I substituted “God’s self” for “God himself.”

[6] From Wikipedia,

[7] Kohut, The Restoration of the Self, page 265.

[8] Gerhard Ebeling, Luther, and Introduction to his Thought, page 225.

[9] Ibid., pages 192-209.

[10] Ebeling, Luther: an Introduction to his Thought, pages 192-209.

[11] Ebeling, Luthers Seelsoge, page 426. The following page numbers in this section refer to this book.

[12] LW 43:115.

[13] I associate his allusion to the “whole Christ” with his passive righteousness in the experience of justification and to having Christ, in the sense of being in the power of Christ.

[14] In Luthers Seelsorge, Gerhard Ebeling analyzes this Anfechtung of Luther for 82 pages, p. 464-446.

[15] From a static kind of logic, these opposites are viewed as crass contradictions. Luther states, “What is our teaching to unbelievers than a pack of contradictions?” Ebeling, Luthers Seelsorge, page 460.

[16] Philip and Peter Krey, Luther’s Spirituality, page 4.

[17] From Luther’s Bondage of the Will,  LW 33:52, WA 18:626.25-27, 31-32. What follows about the person I have extrapolated from this Luther citation.

[18] Joseph Campbell, ed., The Portable Jung, translated by R.F.C.Hull, (New York: Penguin Books, 1971), pages 273-300. The page numbers that follow are from this book. I thank Pr. Rod Seeger of Mill Valley, CA for making me aware of the usefulness of the integration of opposites, simul iustus et peccator in therapy.

[19] Heinz Kohut, The Restoration of the Self, page 279.

[20] Ibid., page 206.

[21] See Ira Steinman, a psychiatrist, affirms that the talking cure works with people who suffer from psychoses in his book, Treating the Untreatable. I mention his work in a sermon online with the above URL.


Written by peterkrey

October 22, 2015 at 2:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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