12 Days of Christmas Carols- Vom Himmel Hoch

lossy-page1-220px-Martin_Luther_by_Cranach-restoration.tifI think it’s about time for a bona fide Reformation Christmas hymn.  “Vom Himmel Hoch” was written by Martin Luther in 1539 and has been translated into English by Catherine Winkworth under the title “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come.”  (The Trinity Hymnal lists Winkworth as the translator but then uses the later modification by Winfred Douglas titled “From Heaven High I Come to You”).  As a general rule, if Catherine Winkworth liked it, it’s good.  Additionally, Luther tunes are always solid, and this one is classic Luther.  The final bar sounds very similar to the end of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” and the whole thing is very easy to pick up.  The tune was made more famous by Johann Sebastian Bach, who wrote five more ornate variations for the organ in his Christmas Oratario and Magnificat.  Bach’s are fantastic listening, but the plainer earlier version is the one for congregational use.

But watch out friends, there are a whopping fifteen stanzas to this song!  That’s far too stout for most Americans these days, and so they tend to shorten it to five or six (which is still more than most can handle).  Of course, the jolliest among the faithful should demand to sing the entire song, but as that other Reformer John Calvin once said, “Good luck.”  It will work best if you play it at a brisk tempo or even split it up. Continue reading

Two Kingdoms Index

Here are the posts reviewing William J. Wright’s Martin Luther’s Understanding of God’s Two Kingdoms:

Introduction

Chapter 1- Interpretations of Luther’s Idea of the Two Kingdoms during the Last Two Centuries

Chapter 2- The Skeptical Challenge of the Early Italian Renaissance

Chapter 3- Northern Humanism: The Context of Luther’s Two Kingdoms

Chapter 4- The Two-Kingdoms Worldview: How Luther Used the Concept in Diverse Contexts

Chapter 5- The Reformer Applies the Two Kingdoms to the Christian Life

Martin Luther’s Understanding of God’s Two Kingdoms- A Review (Chapter 5)

Though insightful and historically faithful, the final chapter of Wright’s book is easily the weakest.  This really is too bad, as it would seem to be the appropriate time to get into the specifics of how Luther applied the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms in particular (some interaction with Torvend, for example).  Wright mostly sticks with theory though, even as he titles the chapter “The Reformer Applies the Two Kingdoms to the Christian Life.”  Wright does, to be sure, assert that Luther applies the doctrine to the Christian life, and he explains why and what Luther means, but he does not give us particular examples here.

Wright does say that, according to Luther, “the Christian was responsible for his spiritual life before God, as well as his physical life before the world.  Luther applied the gospel to the Christian person before God.  He applied God’s law to all people in their offices and stations before the world, that is, in all institutional life” (147).  This is good, and I suspect that some modern proponents of the Two Kingdoms would shy away from affirming that “God’s law” is applicable to all “offices and stations” in the world.  Perhaps they would appeal to natural law at this point, but as we’ve said before, natural law is God’s.  What is helpful to note here is that Satan battles against natural law.  Wright states: Continue reading

Martin Luther’s Understanding of God’s Two Kingdoms- A Review (Chapter 4)

The fourth chapter of William J. Wright’s Martin Luther’s Understanding of God’s Two Kingdoms attempts to lay out the doctrine in its fullest.  As Wright has said earlier, this is not simply a political doctrine, nor is it one aspect of Luther’s theology, but rather it sits under all of Luther’s thought.  “Luther’s understanding of God’s two kingdoms represented his basic premise about the nature of reality.  In short, it was his Christian worldview” (114).  Wright states that the two kingdoms were employed by Luther to explain creation, imago dei, Christology, grace, the sacraments, and the proper exegesis of the Old and New Testaments.  The two kingdoms even provide the foundation for Luther’s distinction between active and passive righteousness and the law and gospel.

It is crucial that Luther’s distinction be given full treatment.  The two kingdoms were sometimes referred to as the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man or the Kingdom of Satan.  This is not the best nomenclature, however, because both kingdoms truly belong to God and are ordered by his divine laws, whether they be revealed biblical laws or the natural law.  There is ultimately only one king.  More precise is the language of “inner” and “outer” or “eternal” and “temporal.”  Wright states, “The kingdom of the world and all material, temporal things were part of the visible dimension of man’s existence, while the kingdom of Chirst and spiritual matters were part of the invisible dimension” (115).

The two kingdoms are not the Church and the State. Continue reading

Martin Luther’s Understanding of God’s Two Kingdoms- A Review (Chapter 3)

Wright’s third chapter moves to the Northern humanists.  They were inspired by both Southern schools of humanism, the rhetorical and mystical.  Wright briefly summarizes Rudolph Agricola, noting that he was the first to introduce the “loci” method of theological writing.  Agricola continued Valla’s emphasis on rhetoric, rejecting assertions of truth in favor of persuasion of the heart.  Wright also mentions that the humanist-emphasis on history and philology lead to them rediscovering “the views of Christian antiquity in the works of the Greek Fathers and the Greek New Testament” (83).

Wright then moves to Erasmus of Rotterdam.  Erasmus saw himself as following ancients like Clement of Alexandria, Jerome, and Origen.  Wright lists Erasmus’ humanist distinctives involving skepticism:

Erasmus doubted the ability of reason to know reality and religious truths with any certainty.  He demonstrated the skeptical penchant for severely questioning all dogma.  He tended to doubt that Christian spiritual realities could be certainly known.  Hence, the prince of the humanists sought some external source of verification or probability in attempting to understand even the Scriptures, which he thought often obscure or ambiguous.  This was the origin of his emphasis of developing a consensus of the church over time, from the days of the church fathers to the present.

p 84 Continue reading

Martin Luther’s Understanding of God’s Two Kingdoms- A Review (Chapter 2)

The second chapter of William Wright’s book is really fine stuff. He explains the philosophical movements of the early Italian Renaissance, particularly focusing on the role of skepticism in humanism. Wright briefly explains the role of William of Ockham in leading up to these intellectual movements and then goes on to investigate in more detail the works of Petrarch, Lorenzo Valla, and the Neo-Platonists: Ficino, Pico, and Giles of Viterbo. Brief mention is also made of other critics. The most significant figure for Luther, according to Wright, is clearly that of Lorenzo Valla and his brand of humanism.

Wright begins with Ockham, an important precursor to the Renaissance and humanist thinkers. Ockham critiqued the Realists, particularly taking issue with abstractions and the multiplication of terms. Wright points out that Ockham “reduced the number of Aristotelian categories from ten to two, retaining only substance and quality” (47). Yet Ockham was not a skeptic. Even though his emphasis on will seemed to undermine the intellectual status quo, Ockham still intended on resolving problems.

The intellectual skepticism which characterized the Renaissance humanists owed its inspiration to a more global picture. According to Wright, the larger academic culture was quite capable of producing new doubt:

One may point to several other sources of the general threat to certainty at the onset of the sixteenth century. Increasing trade and continuing warfare with the Moslems introduced competitive religious and cultural ideas. The Portuguese beginnings of European exploration and expansion along the coast of Africa during the mid-to late fifteenth century raised doubts about the authority of Aristotle and other ancient authorities with regard to the nature of humankind and what constituted human society. Accounts of the Spanish explorations in the New World fed a growing curiosity in Europe. Astronomical observations and theorizing raised questions about the accuracy of the Aristotelian-Ptolemaic understanding of the universe (Weltbild) and cosmology. The recovery and translation of early manuscripts brought forgotten ideas back to the forefront and sharpened the differences between ancient authorities. All of this information, both new and old, was widely disseminated by the newly developed printing press.

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Skepticism was thus perfectly understandable, as the vast amount of that which we did not know became apparent. The humanists would use this in their critiques against traditional human knowledge, but as Wright repeatedly points out, they did not use this skepticism against religion. To the contrary, religion was many times the great antidote to this situation. Continue reading

Martin Luther’s Understanding of God’s Two Kingdoms- A Review (Chapter 1)

In the first chapter of William Wright’s Martin Luther’s Understanding of God’s Two Kingdoms, we are given a summary of various readers of Luther. The wide-spread misunderstanding of Luther’s teaching on the two kingdoms can be explained, according to Wright, by a series of commentators who continue to develop the erroneous position. Each building on prior secondary sources, the later readers of Martin Luther found themselves quite removed from his original position.

Wright begins with 19th century Lutheran, Ernst Luthardt. According to Wright, Luthardt is one of the first Luther-commentators to promote the idea of autonomy in the civil sphere. Wright states:

The natural world, in this case, would be autonomous or free of God’s law, so that people could make their own rules as they go about their lives and work. Moreover, this talk of spiritual life and Luthardt’s general emphasis on morality seem to demonstrate charges that Luthardt reduced Christianity to a matter of mentality or Gesinnung, to the interior of the Christian. This would clearly be contrary to Luther’s teaching.

(21)

Wright then goes on to show that this is actually an inaccurate reading of Luthardt. Due to the recent misuse of traditional terms like “natural law” and “reason,” readers are easily confused when they read Luthardt. According to Wright, “Luthardt declared that even though these institutions were under reason, they ‘are not really profane, but God’s endowment, order, and will, and God is present in the same'” (22). Wright adds, “The natural law, which humankind knows through reason, was God-ordained too.”

So while many modern readers might be tempted to lay the blame of the modern “two-kingdoms” view on Luthardt, this is actually not the case. Of course, this is not to say that Luthardt plays no role in the development of the modern doctrine. In fact, Wright goes on to show that Luthardt was influential on the next major thinker in this line of thought, Ernst Troeltsch. Continue reading

Martin Luther’s Understanding of God’s Two Kingdoms- A Review (Intro)

I just got in my copy of William J. Wright’s Martin Luther’s Understanding of God’s Two Kingdoms.  It looks to be quite valuable, and my plan is to blog a sort of summary and review of the book.  Wright is going to argue that Luther’s doctrine of the two kingdoms has been misunderstood in recent days, and he will seek to explain the true doctrine.

This is particularly relevant for my ecclesiastical community, because recently two reactions to Martin Luther’s doctrine of the two kingdoms have come to prominence. Continue reading

New Book: Luther on Two Kingdoms

Y’all be sure to get this book now.

The description says:

Leading Reformation scholar William Wright contends that those who read Luther politically and see in Luther a compartmentalized approach to the Christian life are misreading the Reformer. For Luther, both kingdoms were under the laws and rule of God. Wright reassesses the original breadth of Luther’s theology of the two kingdoms and the cultural contexts from which it emerged, showing the influence early Renaissance humanism had on Luther. He argues that Luther’s two-kingdom worldview was not a justification for living irresponsibly or carelessly on planet earth. The book includes a variety of Luther’s writings that reveal what the Reformer did and did not intend by the concept. These writings show how the two kingdoms converge in all areas of life: family, church, and society.

Martin Luther on Prelapsarian Works

In his On Christian Liberty, Luther writes:

We should think of the works of a Christian who is justified and saved by faith because of the pure and free mercy of God, just as we would think of the works which Adam and Eve did in Paradise, and all their children would have done if they had not sinned.  We read in Gen. 2[:15] that “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”  Now Adam was created righteous and upright and without sin by God so that he had no need of being justified and made upright through his tilling and keeping the garden; but, that he might not be idle, the Lord gave him a task to do, to cultivate and protect the garden.  This task would truly have been the freest of works, done only to please God and not to obtain righteousness, which Adam already had in full measure and which would have been the birthright of us all.

~pg. 38 (Fortress Press Facets edition)