Wednesday, October 31, 2007

On October 31, ...

... 2007 (today), is celebrated the holiday of Samhain, a "spirit-night" at the end of the harvest, a time when it is said the dead walk, a time that continues through the 1st days of November. Sometimes called the Celtic New Year, it's a precursor of the wildly popular secular holiday Halloween, itself marked by the Irish tradition of lighting hollowed-out gourds and so transforming them into Jack-o-Lanterns.
... 1517 (490 years ago today), a German monk by the name of Martin Luther nailed to the door of to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg 95 Theses, a condemnation of the Roman Catholic Church's practicing of selling the means to divine grace. The act launched the Reformation; in the words of 1 website: Nearly all Protestants trace their history back to Luther in one way or another. Luther’s relationship to philosophy is complex and should not be judged only by his famous statement that 'reason is the devil’s whore.'

1 comment:

Patrick S. O'Donnell said...

Here's the entry for Martin Luther from my glossary guide for Christianity that I hand out to my students:

"a German Roman Catholic monk and theologian who protested against corruption in the Church (e.g. the sale of indulgences) and argued against what he believed to be gravely flawed teachings propagated by the Church. He is held singularly responsible for the German Reformation and is thus, following his excommunication from the Church, the first Protestant.

Luther is known for his belief in the “justification by faith alone,” aided by the study of the Bible (and keeping in mind that faith itself, for Luther, is the work of God in man). Luther’s ninety-five theses on indulgences were interpreted as ecclesiastically disloyal if not “un-Catholic.” Luther eventually abandoned the theory of papal infallibility as well as the hierarchical authority of the Church.

Luther’s arguments were directed not only against the Church: Christian radicals inspired by the Sermon on the Mount, argued Luther (ever fearful of peasant revolution), were wrong to attempt to regulate society by the Gospel, as the political realm is best ruled by retributive justice. According to Luther, God rules over man with both the Kingdoms of Heaven and Earth, and they are not to be confused. This division has roots in the earlier Augustinian distinction between Civitas Dei (city of God) and Civitas Terrena (earthly city or city of man). Luther’s political theology is in effect a doctrine of “Two Kingdoms” and “Two Governments” on earth: one order is the “realm of the spirit,” the locus of the relationship between Jesus Christ and the soul of the believer, the other order is the “realm of the world,” the order of secular society and its institutions, governed through civil magistrates, laws and coercion. Luther also carried on polemics with Zwinglians and with Erasmus.

While Luther is infamous for describing reason as “the Devil’s Whore,” matters are a bit more complex. Reason does set man apart from other animals and is one of God’s greatest gifts (as evidenced in the arts, medicine, law, etc.), but this uninhibited reason is applicable only to man’s “earthly affairs.” In “spiritual affairs” it is shorn of its power and virtue, for here man can only rely on the Word of God (the Scriptures). In other words, with respect to God’s rule over man in the Kingdom of Heaven (which is outside the realm of economics and politics), reason is comparatively impotent. God’s work and word utterly transcend reason, and are to be apprehended by faith alone. Reason in this realm becomes subservient to, or the handmaid of, faith. All told, Luther distinguishes between three kinds of reason: (1) natural reason, operative in the Earthly Kingdom or the political realm, (2) presumptuous reason, which attempts to encroach upon matters that properly belong to faith, and thus cannot illuminate the way of salvation, and (3) regenerate reason, that is, reason humbled and illumined by faith, thus regenerated or born anew. Were it not for this last kind, it would hardly make sense to speak of Lutheran theology. Man is naturally but wrongly predisposed to let natural reason carry over into the Kingdom of Christ, where grace, not law, should reign supreme.

The principal tenets of Luther’s theology (Lutheranism) are as follows: (1) an emphasis on personal faith and a personal, direct (i.e., unmediated) relation with God and with the teachings of the Gospels (Sola Scriptura, or ‘scripture alone’ is the source of doctrine and practice); (2) acceptance of the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds; (3) recognition of baptism and holy communion as the two (and only) Holy Sacraments; (4) justification by faith (Sola Fide); (5) salvation as a gift—through grace—of God (Sola Gratia); and (6) belief in consubstantiation. Thus on several articles of faith, for instance, the Trinity and atonement, Luther adhered to the creedal tradition. Through faith alone a sinful person receives all that Christ has done for the world (notably, through the Passion and Crucifixion). And to God alone belongs glory (Soli Deo Gloria)."