The Literature of the Protestant Reformation
Besides its sweeping theological changes, the Protestant Reformation had repercussions on the course of Western cultural history not only in its reaction to Catholic patronage of the arts, but also in its endorsing of universal education. The Reformation questioned the role of the Church as mediator between individual and God and instead emphasized the individual's direct relationship with the Divine through an introspective and active faith. Martin Luther's translation of the Bible into German and the mass distribution of theological writings in the form of instructional pamphlets required widespread literacy and so transformed the audience, medium, and subject matter of literature in early modern Europe.
The alliance between scholasticism (the sanctioned teaching of theology in accordance with contemporary church doctrine) and the Roman Catholic Church faced the challenge of a new humanism in the Renaissance, with its celebration of individualism and fine arts. The church had appropriated many diverse functions during the period and, as a result, had became materialistic and worldly. At the beginning of the sixteenth century the church was more than a religious institution; it had political and economic ties to governments throughout Europe, exerted complete control over the universities, and commissioned most of the continent's artistic production. Frustrated by what they viewed as corruption of spirituality by these materialistic entanglements, the leaders of the Protestant Reformation attempted to return religion to its intellectual and spiritual beginnings. The abuses of power committed by the church during the Renaissance were to be countered by a "universal priesthood" in which each believer has an unmediated relationship with God. Luther demanded a moral recovery based on the active faith of the individual, thereby circumventing the authority of the church and replacing it with a more personal spirituality.
The popular appeal of these ideas initiated various movements throughout Europe, including peasant rebellions in Germany and the establishing of a multitude of Protestant denominations which overturned the power and unity of Christendom. The Reformation also met with the fear of anarchy in the wake of the fragmentation of religious and political institutions. The Protestant emphasis on the individual as the bearer of spirituality liberated theological discussions from the ritualism, traditionalism, and hierarchy of the Catholic Church. The writings of Luther, John Wycliffe, and John Calvin were intended to instigate the general populace to question the basis and practice of faith, and to bring religion out of the institutional setting.
The rigorous spiritual purity of Luther and his followers transformed the cultural humanism of the Renaissance into a focus on religious education through didactic treatises and morality plays. Noting such trends, critics have traditionally claimed that the Protestant Reformation suppressed the cultural flourishing of the Renaissance by harkening back to medieval spirituality. However, the heightened attention given to each individual—of every social class—as the protector of faith required that both the will and the intellect be educated; religious texts and services were translated into the vernacular, printing presses flourished, and Luther advocated the establishment of universal public education. Many twentieth-century critics focus on these humanistic ideals and contend that the Reformation's pluralism and emphasis on education actually stimulated interest in art, music, and literature—as expressions of faith.
Karl Barth (essay date 1922)
SOURCE: "Reformation and Middle Ages," in The Theology of John Calvin, translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995, pp. 13-68.
[In the following excerpt from a work originally published in German in 1922, Barth surveys the intellectual history of the Protestant Reformation, particularly in relation to the historical period which preceded it.]
Loofs, Leitfaden, 4th ed., 601-62; Tschackert, Entstehung der lutherischen und der reformierten Kirchenlehre, 6-33; Seeberg, Dogmengeschichte, 2nd ed., IV, 1-55; Troeltsch, "Protestantisches Christentum und Kirche in der Neuzeit," in Kultur der Gegenwart, I/4, section 1; and on this Loofs, Luthers Stellung zum Mittelalter und zur Neuzeit (Halle, 1907); Troeltsch, Soziallehren der christlichen Kirchen und Gruppen, 427-512; Hermelink (in Krüger's Handbuch der Kirchengeschichte), 1-58.1 No matter what our evaluation of them, it will be seen that the works of Troeltsch had the greatest influence on early 20th-century discussion.
In the first instance Calvin's theology naturally interests us in its historical context as an outstanding record of Reformation theology that historically and at times even legally has served as a basis of proclamation in modern Protestant churches. If it is of concern to us as Protestant theologians to be clear where we come from and where we are going as such, then we have every reason to turn again and again to the question how far what we are and think and say does truly, and not merely according to the claim made or displayed on Reformation Days or similar occasions, correspond to what the founders of Protestant theology were and to what they thought and said about God and the world and humanity. And if beyond that perhaps it is also necessary that we should consider the justification of ourselves from a deeper angle, namely, as a question of truth, then we really have cause to be concerned why it was that Protestant theology came into existence as a newborn child, and how in that early period it put to itself and answered the question of truth.
Before we turn to Calvin in particular, we would do well to take our bearings in a brief survey of the relation of the complex of events that we usually call the Reformation to the age which preceded it and also more generally of what this complex meant, as a symptom, for the human situation as a whole. Naturally in this compass I cannot unfold the problem of the Middle Ages and the Reformation in all its breadth. Use the literature on the subject, but with caution. For nowhere is it so obvious how much the historical position of the historian affects the picture given, as we see in the controversies regarding this problem over the last fifteen years.2 Finally, even though our knowledge of the sources be modest, it is better to try to see with our own eyes than to follow one of the grandiose hypotheses now current, stimulating though these might be in detail. Since Calvin's theology is our theme, I will limit myself to showing how to get a basic grasp of the relation between Reformation theology and that of the Middle Ages which preceded it. When I compare the thinking of the reformers to that of medieval theologians so far as I know them both, the following picture emerges.
The first and most direct impression that the comparison gives us is of something strikingly new and different, especially in Luther. We find this man and his thinking moving in the reflection of a great and strange light that falls lightly upon him. We see him faced with an incomparable, unheard-of question and then at once, in and with the question, in possession of an equally incomparable, unheard-of answer. The thoughts in which he tried to give an account of what he saw both to himself and to others are disturbingly and wildly contradictory. Only with difficulty could he put them together, and even then they largely exclude one another. No specific, or, at any rate, no systematic or planned deeper meaning rules in these thoughts; he would clearly have liked to say everything much more simply, but with great embarrassment he constantly ventured paradoxes that in their significance may be placed alongside the boldest insights of philosophical thinking and that in their immediate force put far in the shade the formulations of most philosophers. Even where he does not speak in paradoxes a light like that of the morning sun shines constantly over his trains of thought. They breathe like fresh air after a storm. Was he offering edification? Was he preaching? Was he thinking academically? Who would be so pedantic as to make a distinction? What do categories3 mean here? In these thoughts something takes place, a decision, a breakthrough, an event. We have the feeling regarding them that the words are not just words. We witness a process of knowledge that we cannot distinguish from an act. And this act, the longer and more radically we let it speak to us in its own true sense, does it not significantly, but also with a claim, and erasing all the borders between here and there, thrust itself into our own existence? Can we escape this word, this act, or do we not feel, like those who heard Zwingli, that we are taken by the hair4 when we really hear this voice? That is Reformation theology, not just in Luther but also in Zwingli and Calvin and the lesser lights around them, for what counts here is not the genius or originality of the individual thinker but the quality of what all of them were thinking with more or less force and depth.
But precisely when we take seriously our direct impression of this theology, precisely when we believe we have to do here with something new and wholly different, precisely when we are inclined to ascribe to the event that unfolds before our eyes a dignity and significance that a word like "experience"5 does not really cover even though we do experience something also, precisely then we must be careful in describing this as a new theology compared to the old. If we take the word "different" seriously, what does it mean to confront something totally different?6 If we are not finally to be guilty of mere bombast, can the totally different be one thing in contrast to this or that other different thing? What do "new" and "old" mean when it is a matter of this new thing, when it is a matter of the knowledge of God in this theology? Who gives us the courage at once to divest the terms of their meaning again by excluding the poor Middle Ages, the old, from this new thing? Precisely when we sense somewhat the superiority of this theology, we must maintain its newness and difference on the plane of historical things only with reservation, only in a relative sense. On the plane of time one thing always and everywhere stands alongside another, certainly with significant differences, but in such a way that great differences often mean very little and little differences mean a great deal.
In assessing what we can see here, those who can only reckon, count, and measure run the risk of hardly being able to avoid serious confusion and mistakes. For the absolute is not directly visible on this world's stage. The great light in the reflection of which we see the reformers and their thoughts move is not itself a phenomenon; it does not become one thing among others. And what we see in the reformers, the reflection in which they stand, is only relatively and not absolutely different from what we see around them, in their predecessors and successors. It is a new and different thing, but not the new thing, different thing. It is at every point in continuity with what came before and what came after. The new thing is not something that we can establish in the reformers, and the old thing is not something that we can postulate of the scholastics and mystics preceding them. On both sides the old and the new confront one another on two fronts, first invisibly, never a perceptible phenomenon, as the distance and fellowship between God and us, eternity and time, infinity and finitude that is the point of the term "sacred history" which we discussed briefly at the outset—and then visibly, in a historically perceptible way, as the historical dialectic of different human possibilities, higher and lower, better and worse, here stronger and there weaker, that point to the original hidden antithesis of old and new, yet never in such a way that a human possibility coincides directly with that which all human possibilities can only indicate, and never in such a way that a human possibility is totally meaningless relative to that hidden antithesis—and we have in mind here the whole range of what is usually called secular history. Always and everywhere that which we see as historical occurrence on the second front stands only in relation to its origin in the primal antithesis, but always and everywhere historical events do to some extent stand in relation to this their origin. Historical events that do so to a higher degree than others can do no more than make us aware that fundamentally even events that do so to a lesser degree do stand in the same relation.
The new thing that in Reformation theology makes on us the impression of something new and totally different is obviously the hidden new thing of the first front. We need not be surprised, then, that as we seriously follow up that direct impression, as we translate it from more or less contingent experience to knowledge, we come to see the relative degree of the distinction between the Reformation and the Middle Ages on the historical plane. Those who let themselves be taught by a study of the reformers what is in truth old and what is in truth new can hardly set up a fixed and more mythological antithesis between two ages and historical groups. They will appreciate the distinction, but they will really appreciate it, that is, value it, see its worth. That is, they will see its worth and meaning and point, and also its context, the deeper problematic of which all historical problematic is only a likeness. It will be impossible for them to point to this or that saying in Luther or Calvin, to this or that day in their lives, and to say that here the new and totally different thing was present or was spoken, as though those men could, for example, experience and express the new and totally different thing as others can experience and express what is beautiful. No, even what was there experienced and said is as such relative. It stands in continuity with the old that is so sharply different from it. Calvin and Sadolet were pieces on the same chessboard. Only when we see what they experienced and said in this relation of earthly continuity can it take on significance for us in its difference within the relation. And it is then impossible for us to focus too tenaciously on this or that dubious feature of medieval theology and church life, as though that were really the old thing in contrast to the reformers and their position. No, no pope or scholastic was so diabolical as to be able to do or say the old thing absolutely, just as no reformer was so heavenly as to be able even for a moment to embody the new. Let us leave it to the Roman Catholic philosophy of history to place Protestantism under the category of apostasy, which is so freighted with meaning and for that reason, in the judgment of history, so empty of meaning. Let us not in any circumstances play the same game. What was experienced, thought, and said in the Catholic Middle Ages was also relative, relative, we may say, to the origin that things on the historical plane, be they ever so different, have in common. It stands with the Reformation counterposition in the one basic nexus of the first front where the antithesis is not that of Protestant and Roman Catholic but of God and humanity. Apart from that antithesis, which also means unity, the confessional antithesis was a tragedy in the 16th century and has now become a comedy.7 If we are aware of the seriousness of the profound problematic of that antithesis, then we have to see the nonseriousness of the confessional antithesis on the second front between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism as historical forces. But one could also put it differently, namely, that the confessional antithesis on the second front can be really serious, important, and full of promise only when we are aware how nonserious it is in the last analysis.
You can check the truth of what I have just said if you reflect again on the direct impression of something new that we get from Luther's commentary on the Psalms or Zwingli's theses8 so long as we have eyes in our heads. Must we not honestly admit that in these cases the new and wholly different thing that speaks forcefully to us confronts not only medieval and modern Catholicism but no less diametrically what we ourselves think and feel? Can we fail to hear, then, the strong accusation that the writings of Luther and Calvin constantly bring against our so-called Lutheran and Reformed Christianity, church life, and theology, not simply because there has been declension from the Reformation, true though that is, but because the new and wholly different thing in the writings of Luther and Zwingli accusingly confronts all Christianity, church, life, and theology even when at their conceivable best? If we accept this judgment, if we recognize the antithesis that runs through the whole four hundred years of Protestant history, how then can the new and wholly other thing four hundred years ago simply be one thing among other historical entities, and how can it have been passed on to Protestant theologians to do with it as they like and with the possibility of handing it down to their successors? Is it not obvious that this new thing critically confronts the theology of the reformers themselves, being absolutely other than the old thing that in its relativity here also is part of the historical plane? And if that is so, must we not conclude that the antithesis between the true new and the true old runs also backward to the time before the Reformation, that what is old in time (i.e., medieval thinking) has its own share, as I see it, in what is eternally old, which is the situation and problem of all history, but that it also has, of course, its share in what is eternally new, the solution to the problem?9
So far as I can see, the reformers themselves had a much more restrained view of the epoch-making nature of their work than one might expect and than is often stated in later accounts in church history. It is clear that they had a strong sense of the unique importance of the historical moment in which they stood. Luther spoke again and again about the fact that, in contrast to the past, they were now once more in an age when God was sending forth his Word among us as the most precious of all his gifts. He liked to portray the Reformation under the image of a light that was now kindled and shining for a while.10 He knew well—perhaps too well—his own personal significance for the process. Calvin, too, in his work against Pighius on the Liberum Arbitrium (6, 237) called the Reformation a miracle of supreme divine power, and in sermon 162 on Deuteronomy (28, 466) he could even call it a resurrection from the dead.11 In his work On the Need to Reform the Church he expressly ascribed the same sending to the reformers as to the OT prophets who had to stir people out of the blindness of idolatry (6, 477).12 In keeping was the eclecticism and the freedom that the reformers allowed themselves vis-à-vis the great theological authority of the early church. "Oh, the fathers were men as we are; we should consider this well and lay what they say on the scales, watching what they say," said Luther in his Table Talk ([M. Luther, Samtliche Werke (Erlangen, 1826-57); hereafter EA] 62, 109) of the fathers, and of the scholastics he said that they had good heads but did not live in a time like ours (EA 62, 114).13 As we know, apart from the Bible, the only strong authority for the whole Reformation was Augustine, but if I am right it was Augustine almost exclusively as the opponent of Pelagius and in such a way that Luther at least in his later years moved increasingly apart from this decisive teacher of his theological youth. It is also striking to me that Calvin in his relation to Scholasticism made no use of Anselm's doctrine of the atonement or proof of God as he might well have done in his own system, and that he had no links to Thomas Aquinas, so that there is no connection between the greatest Catholic and the greatest Protestant systematician, and how sparse in him are the references to the late Scholasticism of Duns Scotus, with whom we have the impression today that there would have been many positive points of contact.14
From all this we learn that the reformers were aware of standing at a decisive turning point in theological thinking when much that was old was perishing even if much was also at least quietly remaining. At all events, however, the reformers did not share the philosophy of history that we find in a saying of Schwenckfeld that Seeberg quotes and that he calls "monumental": "A new world is coming and the old dies away" (Lehrbuch, IV. 2). The Radicals and Humanists talked that way, that is, those specifically who had little awareness of the deeper antithesis that was being played out before them; but for all the zeal with which they, too, took part in the movement in their own way, they were interested for the most part only in what was taking place on the surface. Those who took part genuinely and radically, who saw what it was all about, felt differently, although they too, as we have seen, experienced powerfully enough the historical antithesis between the old and the new.
At least in Luther, however, a more powerful feeling than that of experiencing the dawn of a new age and being its strongest agents and heralds was that of the continuity of the divine work, his reverence for all that had come into being and was now there—a reverence that rested, of course, not merely on insight but also on nature and setting. It was as a monk and in the context of medieval theology that Luther came to his reforming thoughts that snatched him finally out of that context. We know how unwillingly, in obedience to the need,15 he resolved to build a new church. As long as he lived, his heart still clung to the concept of the one holy catholic church in a way that for reasons deeply rooted in his specific situation was not the case with Calvin.
The fervor of the new age and world, of the new spirit and work, was something that we know again to some extent in our own postwar present. We perhaps find it best among the reformers in Zwingli, it being typically alien to Calvin, although, as I have said, with less sentimental emphasis than Luther, Calvin agreed with the latter that the concept of antiquity was most important for Protestant theology. In the epistle in which he dedicated the Institutes to Francis I he could not protest too strongly that what he and those like-minded with him in France were advocating was not something new.16 He adduced a long list of witnesses from the church's past in which he thought he saw what he called the gospel, and in the Institutes itself he was at great pains to prove his agreement with the authorities of the early church. We have said already how eclectic his procedure was, but that does not alter the intention. For him as for Luther, if with an essential difference of mood, the break with the Christianity of the past was not felt to be one of principle. In Luther an example of this is the relatively friendly way in which Bonaventura is treated among the medieval fathers, and in Calvin we note the warmth even with which he speaks of Bernard of Clairvaux.17 Both were in their different ways typical representatives of what the reformers zealously combated as papism.
An even more striking example is the way in which both Luther and Calvin avoided the man in whom they must have recognized, even if he was not then the most widely read author, and whom they ought to have fought as their most dangerous opponent, the true genius of the Catholic Middle Ages. I refer to Thomas Aquinas. We have in his case a demonstration how often even the greatest among us, precisely in fulfilling their deepest intentions, often do not know what they are doing. The reformers engaged in close combat with late scholastics of the age of decline, about whom we say nothing today, when all the time behind these, and biding his time, stood their main adversary Thomas, in whom all modern Roman Catholicism has come to see more and more definitely its true classic; and apart from a few inconsequential complaints by Luther,18 they left him in peace, apparently not realizing that their real attack was not on those straw figures but on the spirit of the Summa, on the Gothic cathedral and the world of Dante. How could it be possible that in the first half of the 17th century a Lutheran theologian from Strassburg could write a book entitled Thomas Aquinas, veritatis evangelicae confessor! (Loofs, 690).19 All this shows strikingly, however, that the reformers did not see their work in the context of a great philosophy of history but in a fairly relative pragmatic context. Perhaps it is precisely the manner of truly creative people to take this view.
If we ask positively in what they saw the importance of their work, Luther's reply, so far as I can see, would be a sober reference to the fact that the Word of God was again being preached loudly and purely. Thus in a Coburg letter to the elector on May 20, 1530, he described the grace that God gives each of us as follows: "For, of course, your Grace's lands have the most and the very best of good pastors and preachers, more than any other land in all the world, and they teach so faithfully and purely, and help to keep the peace so well. There are thus growing up among us tender young people, boys and girls, who are taught the catechism and scripture so well that it does my heart good as I see how young boys and girls can pray and believe and talk about God and Christ more than all the foundations and monasteries and schools could do or still can" (EA 54, 148).20 In face of these happy descriptions, no matter what we think of the catechetical success, we cannot possibly say that Luther made great claims for the breadth of his reformation.
There is a similar passage in Calvin. In his work on the need for church reform he described as follows what the reformers had done and achieved: "They aroused the world out of the profound darkness of ignorance to a reading of scripture; they worked hard at a purer understanding and were able successfully to expound certain important concepts of Christian doctrine, whereas formerly foolish fables and no less unnecessary definitions were heard in sermons, the universities echoed with the strife of words, scripture was hardly mentioned, and the clergy had an eye only to money" (6, 473).21 Calvin did add, of course, that these were improvements that their foes ought to have acknowledged as made, but it is typical that he was content with this rather dry academic description of the significance of the new epoch.
We may note in addition that Luther used the expression "Word of God" both in the absolute and eternal sense that was naturally primary for him and in a relative sense as the Word that takes its course, that comes and goes, that falls like a shower, now here and now there, that can also be chased away and extinguished.22 It is plain that the latter is the Word of God whose blessings he can extol so eloquently to the elector. For him it is to this category that his own reforming work belongs. It is part of the new thing in the second and relative sense. It is not for him the new thing. It is not even as new as appears in most of our historical accounts today, the theological at least. Nevertheless, it is something new, something very new, of course, even if he has to recognize its limits and end: "I am concerned that the light will not last and shine very long, for God's Word has always had its specific course" (57, 19).23 This looking ahead to the end of the new time, often stated in a bitter and threatening way, is not uncommon in Luther.
Luther could also say once (57, 17) that God's Word comes down always on the same time. I would comment that in its sober but very profound sense this statement is much more monumental than the dictum of Schwenckfeld that a new world was dawning. The context is as follows: "The world now faces God's Word exactly as it did two thousand years ago. God's Word comes down always on the same time. The world is still the world, the devil's bride."24 The meaning, then, is primarily negative and pessimistic, as was befitting the mood of the older Luther. But be that as it may, the saying embodies the thesis that there are no different times in relation to God, or, as I would put it, that there is no progress in world history. The Word of God, when it makes itself heard, confronts the same world reality in the same tension even when the situation in world reality is supremely critical and significant and God's Word makes itself heard with great power. Indeed, Luther could go so far as to say that at all times from the beginning of the world, when God's Word is purely taught and preached, people are most offended and sins are at their worst and most horrible (57, 22).25
Finally, this highly relevant situation had for Luther a positive reverse side. If the world is always the world and even God's Word in history is transitory in its presence and limited in its effects, it is also true that God is always God even when his Word would seem to be lost in history. "God has preserved his Word," Luther can say most unexpectedly, and it is plain that he is not now speaking of a relative and transitory Word: "God has preserved his Word and Christ's kingdom has remained in the world under the papacy" (57, 53). Naturally the fact that this is so, he adds, "is the greatest miracle of our Lord God," but he does count on this miracle.26 That was the radicalism of Luther's philosophy of history, and it was much greater than that of people of the stamp of Schwenckfeld with their jubilant shouting about the dawn of a new era. The threads of the kingdom of Christ and of God on the one side snap no more than do those of the world on the other, no matter what may be the specific course of God's Word. If it is true that in the so-called new age the old is truly present for the first time, it is also true, and even more true, that the new was also present in the so-called old age. If any had the right to see the old and the new not merely in the light of the kingdom of God but also historically in harsh antithesis, it was the reformers themselves who were engaged in a violent battle in which everything was at stake, life or death. Yet they did not see it that way. They paradoxically left it to those who were further from the fray to view absolutely and mythologically the historical processes of which they were the heroes.
They themselves confirmed the insight that we gained last time by more basic discussion, namely, that nothing really new came into history with the Reformation, that its significance is to be sought instead in a survey of the connection. We must now pursue this insight both negatively and positively.
Let us look first at the relation between the Reformation and the Middle Ages as that of opposites, realizing that while the antithesis is great, important, and significant, it cannot in any case be clear-cut or absolute. The spirit of the Middle Ages is hard to grasp and especially to judge. Incredibly often and easily on the Protestant side (even the learned Protestant side; cf. Loofs, 498-99!),1 efforts are made to characterize the essence of Scholasticism. Terms, highly critical terms, such as "formalism," "pedantry," "credulity," "artificial reconciliation of reason and revelation," and the like,2 come almost automatically into our minds and on our lips when we hear the word "scholastic." Though there is naturally some truth in them, they are polemically crude, reminding us with some aptness of the foxes who could not get at the grapes.3 We can hardly complain of formalism if we ourselves have no form at all, nor of pedantry if we want to establish our supposedly better truth no less perspicaciously or simply than the scholastics could do, nor of credulous submission to authority if we are not to ignore the serious problem of authority but be willing to think it out to the end, nor of the way of combining reason and revelation unless we have better counsel to offer on the relation. We have here presuppositions that in general are missing among modern Protestants. Semler was right when he once observed that the poor scholastics have laid themselves open to too much derision, often on the part of those who cannot use them (Hagenbach, 297).4 Those older theologians had the ability to think and they took pleasure in thinking. They had dialectical courage and consistency. Their academic tradition has had four hundred years of vitality. Once the reformers were no longer present, Protestant theology could do no better than adopt that tradition, and yet comparatively quickly it came to grief, while the older branch from Trent to our own time entered upon a second period of remarkable fruitfulness. All these are things that ought above all to give us respect for medieval theology if we do not already have it. The situation is the same with Scholasticism as with the Roman Catholic church in general. Those who do not admire them, those who are not in danger of becoming scholastics themselves, simply have no inner right to pass judgment on them. We cannot dismiss historical entities of this power by simply tossing around catchwords.
If we are to catch the essence of Scholasticism I would like to propose that we first pursue the direct impression one gets of it when speaking about it unconfused by modern preconceptions. If you ask me how and where to get this direct impression, I would suggest the following indirect way. Go to Cologne cathedral and study it well. Then from a good compendium of the history of philosophy acquaint yourselves with what Aristotle had in mind. Then by means of Dante's Divine Comedy learn to know poetically the path of the medievals, as taught by Thomas Aquinas, from hell through purgatory to paradise. You may then take up a dogmatic presentation such as that of Seeberg or Loofs, though I would advise you that in so doing you should check the sources of all the quotations—a history of dogma that consists almost entirely of quotations is that of Hagenbach, 1888.5 Then perhaps you may try to read a work from the great age of Scholasticism like Bonaventura's Breviloquium (ed. Hefele, 1845), supplementing this on the right hand with an ascetic work like the Analecta on the history of Francis of Assisi (ed. Boehmer, 1904), and on the left hand with a mystical work like the sermons of Meister Eckhardt (Diederichs, 1911).6
The impression that I have gained of medieval theology may be summed up in a phrase coined, I believe, by Luther at the 1518 Heidelberg Disputation: it is a theology of glory.7 It attempts and achieves a knowledge of God in his glory, purity, and majesty. In the word of the Bible and the theology of the church it does not simply find denoted and described the mystery as such but signposts marking a dialectical path to the heart of the mystery, so that for those who take this path there is no longer any mystery. It recognizes no barrier, no command that it should stop at the object intended in the word of the Bible or in dogma. In the difficulty and obscurity that first conceal the object it simply hears a challenge in some way, notwithstanding the problems, to lay hold of the object. It is venturesome in the way in which it sets its goals and tries to reach them. It is youthfully fresh and healthy and robust and sparkling in all that it does. As readers we feel that we are in the hands of guides who with absolute certainty and confidence know what they want.
Some kind of unequivocal and direct communication of the depths of deity, and perhaps a well-arranged system of such depths, is in any case the goal of our journey if we entrust ourselves to them. In these theologians there is no place for banalities, generalities, or obscurities. Nor is there any place for the basic uncertainty, which oppresses many other theologies, whether theology itself is necessary or useful, nor for the related teeth-chattering question whether and how far theology is a science. Thomas teaches us that esse is intellegere (to be is to know), that God's essence is his knowledge, that the universal and absolute epitome of all that is known, of all being, is actuality, the first cause in all things.8 To a lesser degree angels, and to an even lesser degree humans, have a share in this eternal knowledge of God.9 That is theology. How can it not be a science when it is participation in the knowledge of God,10 in the a priori of all science? And how can it not be necessary? It is the one thing necessary; it is our blessedness.11 We have to read the descriptions of heaven that this theology gives12 if we are to understand what it meant for the people of the Middle Ages.
At this point the academic theology of all the schools is at one with both orthodox mystics and heretical, pantheistic sects. "To have life is to see life," said Peter Lombard.13 Two hundred years later Tauler, whom Luther greatly honored, said the same thing even more clearly: "Those who see the glory of God, that is paradise" (Hagenbach, 445).14 According to the Elucidarium, an eschatological work of the 12th century, there is a triple heaven: the visible, which is the firmament; the spiritual, where saints and angels dwell; and the intellectual, where the blessed enjoy the vision of the triune God, drink from the fount of God's wisdom, and have knowledge of all things, simply all things and all relations (Hagenbach, 444, 447).15 Listen to the way Heinrich Seuse, a contemporary of Tauler, puts it: "Look up to the ninth heaven, which is much more than a hundred thousand times bigger than the whole earth, and there is another heaven above, the Coelum empyreum, the fiery heaven, not called this because of fire, but because of the immeasurably sparkling clarity that it has by nature, unmovable and unchangeable, the glorious court where the heavenly Lord dwells and the stars praise God together and all God's children rejoice. See around you the countless throng, how they drink from the living, murmuring fountain to their hearts' desire; see how they fix their gaze on the pure and clear reflection of naked deity, on the mirror in which all things are open and manifest" (Hagenbach, 447ff.).16 Or read the classic description in the final song of Dante's Paradise:
That is what Thomas calls the fruition of God and Eckhardt the supraforming of the soul with God, or even the birth of God in the soul.18 That is the theology of glory, the fiery living heart, the essence of medieval theology. On this vision of God from face to face [1 Cor. 13:12]—and think of the ecstatic portrayal of the faces of the blessed as you surely know it from pre-Renaissance art—that theology counted as on an unheard-of possibility to which it had access by a steep but direct path. Here is the essence of celestial bliss, and for that reason all the medievals, or at least all the more free and profound among them, never spoke of it except with a certain awe and restraint. But it was also part of our human essence, the supreme possibility of the human soul, which in exact parallel to the idea of a triple heaven is depicted in three divisions, as sensuality with the capacity for cogitation, as reason with a capacity for meditation, and finally and supremely as simple intelligence with the capacity for contemplation. This is how Gerson saw it at the beginning of the 15th century and Hugh of St. Victor three hundred years before him.19
This basic view of the fundamental accessibility of the mystery and glory (doxa) of God is what stamps medieval theology. It changes, of course, in keeping with the teaching of the later schools of Duns Scotus and William of Occam, and especially that of Eckhardt and his followers. Access became extraordinarily difficult,20" but all the difficulties with which it was seen to be surrounded simply made it higher and more precious and caused it to be lauded more fervently. In a disturbing parallel the cathedral pillars became improbably more lofty and the naked eye had reason to fear they might not ever meet. Yet with unerring certainty they converge in the Gothic arch, even if only in the semi-darkness of the vault. The basic concept of the theology remains intact. It is the serious and final thing in all medieval thoughts about God and the world. It does not rule out sharp antitheses. On the contrary, it evokes them. Triunity as the solution of all puzzles, how can that not be the source of all theses and antitheses? But it also embraces the antitheses. It is always also a synthesis. It stands on both this side and the far side of the tensions of intuitive and dialectical thinking, of world denial and world affirmation, of Aristotelianism and Augustinian Neoplatonism, of devotion and skepticism. It contains all these within itself, ejects them all, and takes back again that which is developed into a unity. For Thomas evil was a lack of good, a corruption of the good, which in the long run could only increase perfection.21
The theology includes various individual thinkers and groups of thinkers, an Anselm and an Abelard, and later the Dominican and Franciscan schools, and later still the via antiqua and via moderna, but all in an invisible discipline and fellowship that only seldom needed the corrective hand of church authority and in relation to which one had to be an outsider like Amalrich of Bena (d. 1205)22 to be really a heretic, that is, not to be able finally to think the most extreme thoughts under the protection of the same vault along with less radical investigators. Most of the 15th- and 16th-century Humanists saw no good reason to leave that shelter. What nonsense to assume that only the outward, rigid concept of the authority of church dogma had the power to set in motion this host of youthfully fresh seekers and thinkers in its defense, and for half a millennium to keep it in step. It was the basic thought of open and direct access to the final mystery, the conviction as to the necessity and possibility of immediate knowledge of God, that made that possible, and the concept of church authority was simply an outgrowth of the basic perception, and for that reason was not felt to be an alien body that fettered thought.
That this theology was a theology of glory, a bold and confident theology sensing victory, is what we have to remember when we look at the decisions it reached on the individual problems that gave it its characteristic features and over against which the basic contradiction of the Reformation revolted (but only revolted!). If we adopt the same approach as that with which the scholastics tackled these problems, seeing and feeling them in all their unequivocal seriousness and beauty, then we cannot really be surprised that their decisions were so Catholic, but we can also see that the transition from the Middle Ages to the Reformation was not in truth as simple and self-evident as it might often seem if we look only at the polemical positions and counter-positions of individual thinkers and their adversaries.
In the light of that basic concept it was natural that the relation of God, the world, and humanity should be seen at every point as a graded structure of possibilities that are clearly different yet no less clearly in continuity, all leading up to the final possibility of a pure vision of God, and all experiencing their relative consecration and dignity from that supreme pinnacle and in virtue of their continuous connection with it. It was thus that the relation between reason and revelation was fundamentally regulated. They could not really contradict one another. They flowed from the same source, namely, the wisdom of God. So said John Scotus Erigena in the 9th century.23 On the eve of the Reformation age, as though time had stood still, the Humanist Pico della Mirandola could say similarly: "Philosophy seeks the truth, theology finds it."24 Between them, of course, lay a whole ocean of possibilities stretching the bow to the very limit. In any case one has to see two sides, not just one, even though one might be called William of Occam, who went as far as is humanly possible in exploring the problems of theology.25 There was no serious or sharp opposing of reason to revelation or revelation to reason. All along the line the result was a kind of pyramid, the possibility, no matter how paradoxical, of striding across from the one to the other, the supplementing of reason by revelation, the understanding of revelation by means of reason.
Nor could there be any real antithesis between the authority of the Bible and that of the church, problematic though their unity might often appear to be. The authority of the church embodied the idea of the theology of glory, the unbroken possibility of a path to God. No medieval teacher contested the truth that the church's authority rests on that of the biblical revelation, but in the scales against this they all set the dictum of Augustine: "I would not believe the gospel if the authority of the church did not move me to do so,"26 a saying that caused endless difficulties for his faithful followers, the reformers. Unlike the reformers, the medievals really saw no antithesis between a greater and lesser or a more distant and more immediate authority. Reconciliation was always possible.
In the knowledge of God, too, we have the bold ascent from the demonstrable existence of God to his essence, which is accessible to us humans only by revelation, though in the very same movement from us to God. In mystical terms we have here the movement from the finite to rest in the infinitude of the ground of the soul that is one and the same as God. Either way the step that can be taught and taken is bold but also one that can be envisioned methodically. Thus in the doctrine of God and the world we find the brave thesis that God as first cause is present in second causes, a thesis that leaves the possibility of miracle open but also makes it basically superfluous.
Similarly we have the ingenious and meaningful doctrinal structure of the first estate, the fall, original sin, freedom, grace, and justification, a structure which I cannot in this context depict in detail but relative to which, before we dismiss it with the catchword semi-Pelagianism,27 we need to consider its basic and helpful and consistently observed practical aim of showing there really is a path from earth to heaven, of giving visibility to eternal paradoxical truth, expounded in time and basically divested of its paradoxical character. Those who want this—and where are the Protestant theologians who are sure they can really do without it?—must at least examine closely the minute scholastic distinctions to see whether they contain just what they seek, or whether, if they despise them, they can truly do without a new and probably much worse semi-Pelagianism. For the Catholic doctrine of the appropriation of grace is truly remarkable in the way it considers all the elements, neglecting none and exaggerating none: nature and grace, humanity and God, freedom and dependence, a justifiable sense of self and humility before God, doing and receiving, meriting and being given, time and eternity. The later Reformation doctrine of salvation hardly contains anything that does not somewhere find a place in scholastic teaching in a heavily emphasized and underlined way.
At the same time there is nowhere any one-sidedness, any ultimate either/or. We always find the way, the possibility, the method, the theology of glory, which knows no final difficulty and is never at a loss vis-àvis the object before which it stands. Human innocence before the fall consists of a sure combination, free of all friction, between sensuality, understanding, and reason with its vision. Original sin is the absence of righteousness; we have been dealt a wound that is in need of healing. But we can become healthy—that is the famous freedom of the will (liberum arbitrium) we can be redeemed if we are diligently concerned, and when love from above, gratia gratis data, as Goethe said wholly in the spirit of the Middle Ages, plays its part in us.28 For grace can make what we do meritorious, or, according to Duns Scotus, God in his grace can accept what we humans do as meritorious.29 If this happens, then the prior grace that aids and disposes us becomes gratia gratum faciens or infusa, which is wholly God's work in us but is even so a wholly real and objective event, for grace does not abolish nature but perfects it (Scotus).30 By it human nature becomes capable of faith, which is infusa in terms of its origin and implicita in terms of its scope: it orients itself wittingly or unwittingly to what the authority of the church commands us to believe, being formed by love (caritate formata) in order that there should be no question as to its efficacy or merit. For the justification of sinners is real factio iustitiae (Thomas).31 It coincides with the infusion of grace.32 From the work of Christ on the cross that procures forgiveness of sins an unbroken chain of equations leads to the love that is the work of the Spirit of grace. Or, as Eckhardt put it, the conceiving of God in the soul, that triumph of the theology of glory, is the blossom that contains within itself, and will never fail to do so, the action of Martha, the desire and love of virtue, producing them out of itself.33 I ask again where in Protestant theology we find all this described in a way that is better or more illuminating or credible?
For this reason, too, the church in the Middle Ages was a real saving institution in which something was set up and achieved. As we have seen, the knowledge of God that marked the community of the elect was as such a possessing of God. This community not only had something to show but something to give. In virtue of the infinite merit of Christ's sacrificial death which was its basis, it was the place where grace is present and is dispensed, and outside it was no salvation.34 We cannot contest this concept by urging against it the usual slogans. It was a bold and titanic concept, significant in its titanism. To overcome it we have to understand it. It explains the dominant position of the sacraments in that church. The sacraments were the visible form of invisible grace,35 but as Scholasticism laid down with increasing decisiveness and consistency, they were not just signs. As signs they were the thing signified. They were not just signs of power but direct, real, sanctifying power. That is the difference between OT circumcision and NT baptism, taught Peter Lombard and Thomas Aquinas. The one merely signifies and takes its course with faith on the part of the recipient. The other, in the new covenant, has sacramental force (virtus sacramenti) by which the recipients are irresistibly given (ex opere operato) a sacramental character.36
We can see precisely from a study of the doctrine of the Lord's Supper how the principle of a theology of glory gradually established itself in this field that is so important in practice, first in the ideas of Gregory the Great, then in the debates focused on Radbert in the 9th century and Berengar in the 11th, then in the as yet uncertain definitions of Anselm, Hugh of St. Victor, and Peter Lombard, and finally in the full and unequivocal doctrine of transubstantiation proclaimed by Lateran IV in 1215. Later thinkers like Durandus of St. Pourçain, William of Occam, or Peter d'Ailly might express the victorious principle, in this case the equation of bread and wine with Christ's body and blood, in new forms, but in no instance did they question the principle itself.37 The principle is that of our immediacy to God. That is what triumphed no less in the scholastic doctrine of the Lord's Supper than in Dominican mysticism, and any who are concerned about this principle should ask whether it does not really find justice done to it in the best and most appropriate way in the Roman Catholic church.
In the history of the sacrament of penance again the valleys were filled in and the hills laid low [cf. Isa. 40:4] as obligatory confession developed out of a pious monastic practice, as priestly absolution, which was originally intended to recognize and crown preceding works of satisfaction, became a means of liberation from guilt and of reconciliation to God, to be followed by imposed duties that would make satisfaction and free from sin's penalties, whether in this life or under purgatorial stress in the next life. Irritation at the well-known indulgence system that was meant to soften and regulate the later penitential exercises should not blind us to the intention underlying the whole doctrine. Here again we have something that is often regarded as specifically evangelical, namely, the making of a simple and direct way to God, the principle of immediacy. What Scotus would finally proclaim as the essence of this sacrament was precisely the exclusion of preceding works of merit, even a meritorious heart's attrition, and the immediate relation of the soul to God by grace, the only point being that we have to be aliqualiter attriti, that we must not put anything in the way of grace, that we have to receive it. For that reason it could be said of this sacrament—the most personal and incisive, we have to say—that no other way is as simple or as sure.38 It would not be too hard to express this concept of penance in the language of a modern philosophy of immediacy, the only point being that the scholastics had at the outset the foresight to link the counterweight of works to be done after penance to the boldness of laying hold of what is immediate with such assurance of salvation.
If we try to listen to the whole of medieval theology from which I have selected a few typical details, we are surprised again and again by the great harmony, the mixture of boldness and sagacity, of profundity and common sense, that we find there. It is the harmony of the monastery garden with its rows of cherry trees and its splashing fountains and its surrounding walls that remind us of the world with its joy and grief39 but also shut it out. Or again, this is the harmony of the Gothic cathedral with its high altar, its soaring pillars, its roomy transepts, its hidden penitential stools, its eternal light, the dark glow of the windows of the choir—the cathedral where sinners and saints, worldlings and penitents, may all join together in common reconciling worship, where the last and deepest things may take place, where the donkey of Palm Sunday and the laughter of Easter are not out of place, where earth and heaven do indeed seem to touch. A "complex of opposites" is what Harnack called this church,40 and that is also true of its theology.
Let us come back with a few general characteristics to the direct impression that it makes. We are astonished at the certainty about life that the authors display and spread abroad in spite of opposing symptoms. They stand with both feet on the earth precisely because they stride on up to the world above, for that world is also for them a wonderful but attainable possibility. It is only a step between the kingdom of the world and the kingdom of God, between the trivial and the ecstatic, and good care is taken to see that balance is constantly achieved between the two extremes. Even the most broken of these people seem to be able to take the step from below to above and to put the two worlds together. We are astonished at the completeness and subtlety with which this theology handles all its problems no less carefully than radically. What a waltz it dances in its investigations out from the center to every side! Everything is important, everything has to be elucidated and discussed, everything has to be at least prepared for further treatment by means of meaningful divisions and subdivisions in which the numbers three, four, and seven are particular favorites. The question of the hierarchical ranking of angels and the question what happens to Christ's body if the host is accidentally eaten by a mouse come under discussion with equal seriousness.41
We come away with the happy impression that we have really heard everything that we might want. We are also astonished at the definite way in which we are told about things regarding which we might at first ask with surprise how the authors can possibly know about them, but then have to admit shamefacedly that they have simply expounded to us in a meaningful and often very poetic way a dialectical possibility that is by no means obvious. Thomas, for example, assures us that the blessed ones in heaven are adorned with a golden crown (corona aurea), which, being both golden and circular, signifies the perfection of the fruitio Dei in the contemplation and love of which they share. Superadded for martyrs and saints, however, and especially for monks and nuns, is an aureola (diminutive of aurea) because that essential thing cannot be transcended by anything greater but only by something less.42 Or listen to what Heinrich Seuse has the damned in hell say about their punishment being eternal: "Woe on us, we did not want anything but this: if a millstone were so broad that it covered the whole earth, and if in the beginning it were so big that it even touched heaven, and if a little bird came every 100,000 years and bit out of it as much as the tenth part of a little millet seed, we wretches would wish nothing more than that when the stone was gone our eternal torment would have an end, and that cannot be."43
We are surely barren thinkers if we cannot see what insight is everywhere concealed in the imagery, yet we are no less astounded by the confidence with which these authors translate their insights into imagery that may often be striking. We must also be astounded at the remarkable peace that breathes over their discussions. It is true that here and there, for example, in Abelard or in scholastics of the age of the gathering 14th- and 15th-century storm, we detect highly existential inner conflicts and a hard struggle for composure before things can be as certain and unequivocal on paper as they now are. No doubt Scholasticism is renowned for its controversies and even conflicts. But what distinguishes it is the obvious rule that people spoke only when they were clear about things, only when what they had to say was ripe, so that there was no need to air abroad inner problems or unsolved questions or doubts, only at most to give an account of conflicts that had been ended. Hence, bitter though the quarrels between school and school might be, they took place within the same fellowship and on the same basic premises. The anger and tone of voice that we find in Reformation battles were alien to the Middle Ages. As we have to admit, Reformation contests were like peasant brawls compared to the elegant fencing of the scholastics…. One could then make very radical assertions unhindered without going over the line or really getting out of step. When getting out of step finally began to happen, when a Bradwardine or Wycliffe or Huss began to say really bad things to others, the Middle Ages were at an end. In the best classical age, that was not done, and the stake did not come into action as a theological argument.
But we must stop and ask what all this meant compared to Reformation theology. In relation to Scholasticism, as we have generally described it, that theology was obviously something "wholly other," if we may again put it thus, though we are agreed that there was no real breach of historical continuity. Within the continuity, however, we find first the emergence of a totally new style, the outbreak of a total restlessness, we must say, for along with the intellectual habitus that medieval theology had developed, and in contrast with it, the theological attitude of the Reformation, so long as it was in flux as a true countermovement, was so as a deliberate and angry rejection of that habitus, as a wild and elemental event at the heart of a cultivated land. The harmony of the monastery garden was broken and instead we seem to be in the virgin wilderness of mountain forests, if not in the terrors of the Wolfsschlucht.44 The harmony of the Gothic cathedral was at an end. The parallel lines to which we referred yesterday no longer intersected in the finite sphere no matter how high they might reach. No, they now relentlessly strove upward to a point of unity and rest in the infinite, the result being that the vault was broken open and heaven's daylight shone in from above. All was sober, nondevout, secular. The glory of God itself brought disaster to the theology of glory.
In saying this we have already disclosed the secret of the new theology. It made the discovery that theology has to do with God. It made the great and shattering discovery of the real theme of all theology. The secret was simply this, that it took this theme seriously in all its distinctiveness, that it names God God, that it lets God be God, the one object that by no bold human grasping or inquiry or approach can be simply one object among many others. God is. He lives. He judges and blesses. He slays and makes alive [cf. 1 Sam. 2:6]. He is the Creator and Redeemer and Lord. The Reformation did not really engender any new thoughts about God. It did the simple thing of underlining the He. And that put an end to the Middle Ages. For all the building stone by stone, all the mounting up step by step, all the moving from conclusion to co]nclusion, all this action in which the Middle Ages found its answers, had to become a question when it was underlined and understood that He, God, is the point of the whole enterprise. The basic Reformation view is God himself and God alone, He the way, He possibility; and therefore all our action, even though oriented to God, is vain even in the very best life;45 all humanity, the whole world, even in its supreme possibilities, is guilty, lost, but still justified, yet saved only by sheer mercy. The Reformation, too, knew of the glory of God and could speak about it. But it said: To God alone be the glory! That put an end to the theology of glory.
Let us find out first, however, what the emergence of this insight had to involve externally relative to our final survey of the Middle Ages. What are we to say in this regard precisely when we have taken pains to do justice impartially to Scholasticism, precisely when we have learned to like the medieval thinkers, precisely when we have perhaps recognized in them our own deepest longings and desires? May it not be that much of what we have thus far regarded as our supremely modern striving, our whole modern style of religion even with its Christian coloring, is at its deepest level medieval? Who is Goethe closer to, Dante or Luther? That is a question we may at least raise. Where do we belong with our Romanticism, with our drive for immediacy, with our urgent concern to be shown a path that we can tread? Can we stay on those heights on which the reformers ventured, no, on which they were set against their own wishes or expectations, and where an immovable barrier arrests all striving for immediacy, where steps are possible but no path opens up before us, where we can live but only as the dying [cf. 2 Cor. 6:9]? Would we not do better to turn back? Instead of Calvin might we not take Thomas as the one we can really understand better.46
If we want the security that we find in the scholastics, then it might be as well for us not to turn to the reformers. Certainty about God, indeed, we may expect that here, but a certainty that entails a supreme lack of security, that makes of life a problem, a question, a task, a need, that makes of the Christian life an unceasing battle: a battle for existence itself in which we constantly confront the impossible and the intolerable that Scholasticism, at least in its teaching, could always adroitly sidestep; a battle in which in truth God wills to be and can be the only helper.
We may well ask whether we are wise to leave the solid Catholic ground of balance and to launch out on the wild sea of Reformation thinking. Even the symmetrical completeness of subtle responses to all that we might want to know is something we cannot seek in Reformation theology. That theology is an emergency structure, not a well-appointed house. It offers no answers at all, or only incidental answers, to many interesting questions. The symmetry of the numbers three, four, and seven, the ladder to heaven that gives us confidence, the theological interplay, the highly intellectual feast—we find none of these things. The only concern in thinking here is to be serious and to keep the real theme in view. What a pile of ruins we have in Melanchthon's Loci, what a dark and threatening forest in Calvin's Institutes! Not everyone surely can have to tread these desolate places.
Nor may we seek in the reformers what is at least in part such reassuring and profound information about invisible things of which I gave you a couple of examples. The reformers were astonishingly eloquent on those relations between God and us about which one can speak, but astonishingly silent when it came to matters about which one can only be imaginative. They did not deny the possibility of speaking about such things but used the possibility sparingly.
And as for the peacefulness and decorum and good manners that might allow for disagreement but not quarreling, I have told you already that we cannot see these in the reformers. In them we do find quarreling. All the evil spirits of discord seem to have come to life. All the possibilities of quiet academic discussion between one view and another seem to have been excluded. Everything is so much a matter of principle, everything is in such deadly earnest, everything is so angry. Last things are always at issue. Innermost feelings are always exposed. Attacks on opponents are always pressed to the uttermost. For this reason the more delicate like Erasmus who found this hard stayed clear of the tumult so far as possible. Even Calvin would rather have passed his days as a private scholar than as a reformer, and he knew why. As a reformer, he found his life filled with conflicts on every hand concerning which we today can only with difficulty, if at all, convince ourselves that they had to be fought, or had to be fought in the way they were. Lovers of peace cannot possibly approve of this kind of life and this kind of theology in which there was constant hewing and stabbing on all sides. Is that really what the Reformation age involves? we might ask. But we do better to ask why it was that it had to be so and could not be otherwise in this new age.
The slogan that Luther used in the theses of the Heidelberg Disputation to distinguish his own theology from that of the scholastics was "theology of the cross." In what he said then, and in a similar situation and on the same front in his Disputation against Scholastic Theology a year earlier [M. Luther, Sämtliche Werke, Opera Latina (Erlangen, 1826 ff.); hereafter EOL] V, Arg. 1, 315ff., 387ff.),47 we can see how it was that the reformers did not just cause an incidental disturbance but attacked the basic view of the Middle Ages. In essence we find two trains of thought in the records of Luther's initial attack on medieval theology, the first more apparent in the earlier Wittenberg Disputation (1517), the latter more so in the later Heidelberg Disputation (1518), but both deeply involved in one another and both pointing to one another.
The first is a negation, a protest, a sharp offensive. It contains what seemed to those outside the surprising and scandalous theses of the nexus of thought with which the reformers broke out of the circle of medieval possibilities. At Wittenberg we are told that once a person becomes a bad tree then that person can will and do only what is bad (4); or that by nature we cannot will that God be God but will always will that we be God and God not God (17); or that on our part there is no preceding disposition for grace but only the opposite, or even rebellion against grace (30); or that nature knows no righteous command or goodwill (34); or that by nature we cannot overcome our ignorance of God, of ourselves, or of the doing of the good (36); or that we cannot become theologians unless we do so without Aristotle (44); or that the law and the will are two foes that cannot be reconciled apart from grace (72); or that every work done according to the law is outwardly good but inwardly sin (77); or that love for God cannot coexist with love, even the highest love, for the creature (94).48 Then from the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518 we read that human works, no matter what worth they have or how good they seem, are to be judged as mortal sins (3), or that arrogance is unavoidable, and true hope impossible, if in every human work the sentence of condemnation (God's) is not feared (11).49 For, as Luther said in explanation, it is not possible to hope in God if one does not despair of all creatures.5" We read again that those who do what they can to attain to grace heap up sin upon sin and become doubly guilty.51
So much from the first and negative train of thought. What is typically and decisively nonmedieval here is not the content in detail but the harsh one-sidedness with which Luther pursued the thought that in all circumstances we stand under judgment. He left no place for an "also" or a "but" or a "nevertheless." He did not look ahead to any higher stage of the way or any further possibility. The last and supreme possibility is that we are sinners. This was not an expression of humility before the eternal God. The Middle Ages knew that, too. By rudely stopping at such humility, Luther's thinking was an assault upon Scholasticism, upon its very heart. What was questioned was not just an aberration or subsidiary teaching of a Thomas, a Dante, or an Eckhardt, but what was best and highest and most inward and vital in them, if Luther's protest was right.
The second train of thought in the Luther of that period was positive, a proclamation or affirmation about God. And what a one it was, of course! Its content is that we live by the grace of God. In itself this is not surprising. It is no more new than the negation. Scholasticism was in truth aware of it, too. But it was suspect and dangerous and even more non-Catholic than the first line of thinking because of its association with the negation, namely, because here the grace of God is taken seriously, with bitter yet saving seriousness, only in connection with that radical protest against us humans as sinners. Set in that context, the proclamation of the mercy of God became the heart of the new Reformation theology.
Listen to Luther himself. At Wittenberg in 1517 he said that the best and infallible preparation for grace, the only disposition for it, is God's eternal election and predestination (29), that the presence of grace is enough to make works meritorious, yet grace is not idly present but present as a living, moving active spirit (54f.), that blessed are those who do the works of grace (81), that the good and life-giving law is the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (85), and that to love God is to hate self and to know nothing outside him (95).52
Then at Heidelberg in 1518 he said that the works of God, no matter how hidden they are or how evil they might seem to be, are in truth immortal benefits ("merits").53 In explanation Luther gave the following important exposition. The Lord humbles and terrifies us by the law and the sight of our sins, so that to others and to ourselves we seem to be empty, foolish, and evil, and truly are so. When we see and confess this, we have no form nor comeliness but live in the hidden God, in the concealment of God, that is, in naked trust in his mercy; and in and of ourselves we can appeal to nothing but sin, folly, death, and hell according to the apostolic saying in 2 Cor. 6 [vv. 9-10]: As sorrowful, but always rejoicing, as dying, and behold we live. That is what Isa. 28 [v. 21] calls God's opus alienum, his strange work, for his work has to take place (in us), that is, he humbles us in ourselves by reducing us to despair in order to exalt us in virtue of his mercy, and by bringing us hope, as Hab. 3 [v. 2] says: When you chide, you remember your mercy. When this happens to us, we have no pleasure in ourselves and see no beauty in us but only deformity. Indeed, we do outwardly what must seem foolish and perverted to others.54 Human existence of this kind under humility and the fear of God is what Luther calls the work of God that is eternally beneficial ("meritorious") in spite of appearances. (It need hardly be said that Luther's use of the category of merit here casts a special light.) We then read that this kind of talk is no reason for despair but is a reason for humility and a spur to the seeking of the grace of Christ (17).55 For, says Luther in explanation, it is hope and not despair that is preached when the preaching is that we are sinners.56 Nevertheless, we have to despair of ourselves if we are to be able to receive the grace of Christ (18).57 For, the explanation adds, if we do not, we still rely on doing what we can, and we remain presumptuous.58 The good theologian is the one who sees in the cross and passion the visible side of God that is turned to us and does not look directly at the invisible things of God, his majesty and glory, by way of profound spiritual vision.59
To support this thesis Luther argues that it helps no one to see God in his glory and majesty if he is not seen in the lowliness and shame of the cross.60 Along the lines of a theology of glory Philip in John 14 [v.8] says: "Lord, show us the Father," and he receives the answer: "Philip, whoever sees me sees also my Father." True theology and the true knowledge of God lie, then, in the crucified Christ.61 A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil, but the theologian of the cross calls things by their right names (21).62 For, Luther explains, the theologian of glory does not see God hidden in the passion and thus prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, power to weakness, wisdom to folly; in sum, evil to good. Such are enemies of Christ's cross.63 Friends of the cross, however, call the cross good and works evil. For the cross demolishes works, and Adam, who is built up by works, is crucified.64 The wisdom that would know the invisible glory of God by the way of human works puffs up, blinds, and hardens (22).65 In itself, of course, it is not bad, but without the theology of the cross we make the best worst by ascribing wisdom and works to ourselves (24).66 We are not righteous by doing much, but by believing much in Christ without works (25).67 The law says, "Do this," and nothing happens. Grace says, "Believe in him," and all is done already (26).68 The love of God does not find its object present but creates it (28).69 For the love of God that is alive in us loves sinners, the wicked, the foolish, the weak, to make them righteous, good, wise, and strong. It overflows and lavishes good on them. Sinners are good, then, because they are loved; they are not loved because they are good.70
What we have in these theses of Luther is truly and literally a theology of the cross. Luther, too, sees a horizontal line before him,71 our human striving, knowing, willing, and doing. The theology of glory thinks that somewhere on an extension of this line it will reach the goal of infinity, the invisible things of God. Its slogan is that grace does not destroy nature but perfects it.72 Luther does not deny that there is this wisdom, this beatific vision, much, much further along that line. His objection is that one thing is overlooked, namely, that at the center, where each of us stands, we willing and knowing humans with our works, there is a break that throws everything into question.73 To say human is to say sin, rebellion against grace, invincible ignorance of God, irreconcilable hostility to his law. What is radically set in question by this break in the middle of the line is not simply our banal everyday willing and doing, but just as much what we regard as our love of God, not simply our "sensuality" and reason but just as much our "simple intelligence," as Gerson would put it, at the heart of which, sunk in contemplation, we see God face-to-face.74
The theology of glory boldly pushes on beyond the gap that makes all this problematical. It storms ahead without a halt on the horizontal line toward the invisible things of God, not considering how seriously it is threatened in the rear and how much it increases the damage with its striving. In contrast Luther tries to draw attention to the vacuum, to the fact that passion (suffering) stands at the heart of life and speaks of sin and folly, death and hell. These fearful visible things of God, his strange work, the crucified Christ—these are the theme of true theology. A preaching of despair? No, of hope! For what does that break in the center mean? Who is the God hidden in the passion with his strange work, and what does he desire? Explaining Heidelberg Thesis 16, Luther pointed out that the strange work leads on to the proper work, that God makes us sinners in order to make us righteous.75 The gap in the horizontal line, the disaster of our own striving, is the point at which God's vertical line intersects our lives,76 where God wills to be gracious. Here where our finitude is recognized is true contact with infinity. He who judges us is he who shows mercy to us, he who slays us is he who makes us live, he who leads us into hell is he who leads us into heaven. Only sinners are righteous, only the sad are blessed, only the dying live. But sinners are righteous, the sad are blessed, the dying do live. The God hidden in the passion is the living God who loves us, sinful, wicked, foolish, and weak as we are, in order to make us righteous, good, wise, and strong. It is because the strange work leads to the proper work that there can be no theology of glory, that we must halt at the sharply severed edges of the broken horizontal line where what we find is despair, humility, the fear of God. For despair is hope, humility is exaltation, fear of God is love of God, and nothing else. The center of this theology, then, is the demand for faith as naked trust that casts itself into the arms of God's mercy; faith that is the last word that can be humanly said about the possibility of justification before God; a faith that is sure of its object—God—because here there is resolute renunciation of the given character of scholastic faith (infused, implicit, and formed) as an element of uncertainty; faith viewed not as itself a human work but as an integral part of God's strange work, sharing in the whole paradox of it.
We see now why this theology was so basically polemical and militant. Without a constant critical debate with the infinitely attractive tendency, represented with such virtuosity by the scholastics, to press on to the goal, with the help of grace, by works, by "high-flying thoughts" (57, 208),77 the demand for faith cannot possibly be made. Hence a second focal point of this theology was a constantly repeated reference to Christ as God's visible word and work in contrast to the lofty invisible things of the theology of glory. Luther admonished and warned us all to leave off speculating and not to float too high but to stay here below by the cradle and diaper in which Christ lies, in whom dwells all the fullness of the deity bodily (57, 211).78 This reference to Christ is truly necessary here, grounded in the matter itself, for here Christ does not simply bring grace as a second thing, so that we can then go on without him, as mysticism in particular has blabbed, but he is himself grace, the proper work of God, the promise of the mercy of God that is grasped in faith, the one God who makes us righteous, even as he is the Crucified, the scandal, the strange work of God, which threatens our works at their very root, the same God who makes us sinners in order to make us righteous.
It was this theology of the cross as a theology of the justification of sinners that Luther rediscovered in Romans and the Psalms, and Augustine as the word which finally routs completely even the true longings of mysticism and Nominalist Scholasticism. That this word should be loudly proclaimed and thoroughly heard was for him the Reformation once he became aware that with this concept a reformation of Christendom, the church, and theology had in fact begun. Initially Luther had no other concern than to refer to the forgotten cross at the beginning of our human way, or rather, this one concern basically included all others, though pursuing them could not be for him a matter of incisive or decisive importance. We are forced to say that this one concern in all its one-sidedness is indeed the true essence of the Reformation. Where people have this concern, there is Protestantism; where they do not, or have moved on past it, there is a prolongation of the Middle Ages!
From all this we derive two insights. First, we see why there had to be the sharp clash between the Reformation and the Middle Ages that I have just intentionally depicted for you with almost futuristic vividness. Schwenckfeld was right when he said that two worlds dash against one another here.79 We cannot both believe with Luther and also engage in mysticism with its devotional excesses, even though it be the finest and most insightful mysticism of an Eckhardt and his school. Medieval mysticism seeks with all its powers to move away from what Luther called God, though it could certainly speak a great deal about the cross and darkness and Christ. Luther turned his back with increasing resoluteness on what mysticism called God, although at first he thought he found his own outlook in the glorious little book of the German Theology and in Tauler.80 We will come back to the connection, which was undoubtedly there. But at the very point where it is there we see clearly that a choice has to be made: Luther or Eckhardt. Once we realize that the Middle Ages also knew the vertical line but lived wholly and utterly on the horizontal, whereas Luther also knew the horizontal but lived wholly and utterly on the vertical, or, more accurately, at the point of the intersecting of the vertical by the horizontal, we need no longer be surprised by the harsh either-or that had to arise there, nor by the shattering of security that the Reformation entailed, nor by the incomplete and fissured nature of its theological presentations, nor by the paucity of its metaphysics, nor by the atmosphere of anger that lay over the whole of the first half of the 16th century and that began to dissipate only when the spirit of the Reformation also fled, nor by the much-noted coarseness of Luther, nor by the cold virulence of Calvin, nor indeed by Ignatius Loyola and the pyres of the Counter-Reformation. When the theology of the cross really becomes part of the theological problem, when theologians begin really to note what is the true theme of their generally peaceful vocation, it is inevitable that something primal, wild, undomesticated, and demonic in religion will be aroused as between friend and foe. It had to be so then, and it might be that if the Creator Spirit brings on the stage another theology of the cross it will have to be so again. Insight into the ineluctability of these consequences will keep us straight when we assess certain secondary phenomena of Reformation history with which we might have little sympathy. It will also keep us from looking for the essence of the Reformation in these secondary phenomena when we might well be in sympathy with them, as can happen.
The second insight clearly arises out of our account of Luther's starting point, where we have to look for what is problematic in the Reformation itself. We obviously turn to the horizontal line of human thought and action in time that is so sharply broken by the vertical line of the knowledge of God in Christ. The problem of human life and striving as the Middle Ages unbrokenly pursued it cannot be simply cut off by being put under the shadow of its finitude, that is, in the light of its origin. What does the attack of the vertical mean for what takes place horizontally? What becomes of all that we will and work here below on the line of death that is suddenly made visible,81 that we have to will and work because as people in time we are always here below on that line of death? What becomes of all this when we confront the absolute beyond that meets the present world in a way that crushes it but is also full of promise, when we arrive at the sharp edges of despair, humility, and fear of God which… still have their positive side, when we face God the Judge who all the same is none other than the merciful God? The Middle Ages died with Luther's discovery, but their problem, the problem of the active life, of ethics in the broadest sense, did not die with them. Nor can it be put to death. From the very first Luther was aware of this problem in his theology of the cross. Remember Thesis 55 at Wittenberg in 1517: Grace is not idle but a living, moving, active spirit."82 On innumerable occasions he tried with great seriousness to solve the problem. Simply to make Luther a Quietist is an illegitimate simplifying of the situation. We may at least say that this question was not primarily his question. Luther's great concern was for the pure content and free course of the Word, no matter what might become of works. Here, however, in the matter of establishing the positive relation between the vertical and horizontal lines—the cross has to be left open in Luther83—we find the point at which the second turn in the Reformation, the Reformed theology of Zwingli and Calvin, had to enter and did in fact do so.
3 COMMON FEATURES
What I have said raises the question of features common to the Middle Ages and the Reformation despite the sharpness of their differences. At the beginning of the section I argued that the new thing in the Reformation in the serious sense is something eternally new, and closer investigation confirmed the insight that the new thing then discovered was something so great that it is a priori impossible to assume that it was simply not present at all previously; conversely, the old thing that the reformers vanquished was so all-encompassing and universally human that it could not possibly disappear completely.
The Reformation was the expression of a crisis that secretly ran through all the Middle Ages. I have referred already to the tensions and contradictions that the medieval church was able to reconcile, but in truth the tensions were serious. The Middle Ages were in self-contradiction long before Luther came along and made the contradiction irreconcilable. But the Middle Ages could always find a way victoriously through the tensions to the triumph of the theology of glory. They did not finally accept their own self-contradiction. In spite of every shock, they could always restore equilibrium. We see the existence of that crisis of the medieval spirit at the most varied points.
In this regard we recall especially the problem of monasticism that was always present in the church from Benedict of Nursia by way of the Cluny1 reform to Francis of Assisi. Originally we had here a real protest of the first order against the theology of glory even though later precisely the Franciscans and Dominicans became that theology's most brilliant champions. Initially monasticism questioned and even attacked a selfassured and worldly Christianity. It was an uplifted finger to remind people that we cannot have the kingdom of God so cheaply. The world took notice and caused the finger to drop. It made a place for asceticism. It offered this hard and dangerous function to the brave who were ready for it. It celebrated a new triumph by putting this possibility too, this highest level of human action, on the church's horizontal line. Thus the ascetics, though often with great pain, as in the case of a Francis, became protagonists of the triumphing world church instead of protesting against it. That does not alter the fact, however, that the Reformation was at least also an extension of the monastic line. The question of true penitence that brought the theology of the cross to the fore was a variation on a typically monastic question. Monasticism now mounted its most powerful offensive. With full seriousness and with no holding back it now broke out of the cloister and became a universal matter. It would now question the world, not as before from outside, but from inside, not in the form of the ascetic lifestyle of the few, but in that of a cross lifted up in the life of all. It achieved perhaps its greatest victory in the man in whom it finally went bankrupt.
To do justice to the new thing that was already concealed in the old we must also look at the innumerable traces that Augustine left in the Western church, and along with Augustine examine Paul's epistles and the philosophy of Plato.2 Wherever Augustine made an impact, no matter how faintly, there still glowed under the ashes some recollection of the vertical line. In almost every century during the Middle Ages Augustine won over some resolute disciples for himself, and if they were strong enough, also for his own teachers, Paul and Plato. As regards the transcendental knowledge of God, John Scotus Erigena followed in his steps in the 9th century, Anselm in the 11th, Bonaventura in the 13th, and Eckhardt in the 14th. As regards predestination, we find an echo of his teaching in Isidore of Seville in the 7th century, an extreme and defiant proponent in Gottschalk in the 9th, a renaissance in the 14th century in Bradwardine (the profound doctor, who wanted to defend it as "the cause of God" against a Christian world that had fallen into Pelagianism, Elijah against the 450 priests of Baal), and also in Gregory of Rimini, in whose formulas some have sought a source of the theology of Luther.3 Again, at least as a restraining force, Augustine played a decisive part in the development of the scholastic doctrine of the appropriation of salvation. If at this point the doctrines of free will, of the possibility of earning merit, of infused grace and making righteous were hemmed about by so many distinctions that even in typical representatives of Scholasticism one might at a pinch expound them in better part along Reformation lines, or at least find in them a starting point for Luther's revolution, then unmistakably this was due, if not to the spirit, at least to the shadow, of Augustine. Augustine's spiritual emphasis played a similar role in eucharistic teaching, though here the last powerful opposition to the theology of glory, that of Berengar of Tours, was broken already in the 11th century.4 Finally medieval theology took over from Augustine something that it found congenial, his mystical devotion and his attachment to the church, while quietly ignoring his less congenial Platonism and Paulinism. Nevertheless, it could no more prevent the latter elements than the former from retaining their vitality. Those latter elements had only to be reasserted, which is precisely what happened with great force.
Along with monasticism and Augustinianism, a third Reformation element in the Middle Ages was undoubtedly the anti-Thomistic theology of Duns Scotus (d. 1308) and the so-called modern way of William of Occam (d. 1349), which had a similar orientation but went even further. With special reference to Calvin we must devote a few moments to these two British thinkers. A first distinctive feature in both was the questioning of the unity of the path of knowledge, of the stairway from reason to revelation. Not metaphysically but methodologically the statements of reason and revelation were for them irreconcilable. We are unable to mount up from reason to revelation. Theology is a practical, not a speculative, discipline, said Duns,5 and Occam agreed that we cannot know God's existence, essence, or reality intuitively from ourselves or from the things of nature. God cannot be an object for us.6 Occam went further, however, when he showed that our reason not only cannot prove dogma but might make it appear absurd.7 Reality consists only of individual things, said Duns, and again Occam went further with his even sharper thesis that this is the reality originating in the idea of God, whereas the terms or names or concepts out of which reason constructs science exist only in the soul of the knowing subjects, so that logic is the only real science.8 This thesis explains the historical use of the term Nominalism for the Occamist school, though the name by no means exhausts the significance of the school.
Something like the gap in the middle to which we referred in connection with Luther was undoubtedly the result of this agnosticism, and it seems to me totally out of the question that Luther, who could call himself an Occamist,9 was not methodologically influenced at this point. But the difference comes to light at once when we note to what end the Nominalists made the rent. Unfortunately, at least so far as we can detect their theological purpose, they did not seek like Luther to humble us humans and to make way for the unique self-glory of God. Instead, as apologetics likes to do in every age when it is very refined, they were aiming to bring about a total subjection to all church doctrines, even though these might be as contrary to reason as they are! Occam expressly advocated implicit faith,10 and their purpose was to make this seem to be the only possible means of rescue from the sea of doubt. If, as they believed, there was no direct path to the theology of glory by way of reason, they would attain to it by the sacrifice of reason.
This maneuver is certainly not the same as Luther's theology of the cross, which simply bids us halt before God himself and appeal to his mercy. We should not fail to see, of course, how insightful and significant it still was from a formal standpoint. We need only look at a saying like that of Occam to the effect that faith is a free gift by which the mind believes on account of God and against itself (Tschackert, 36).11 Were it not for the fatal knowledge that this believing against the intellect does not lead to pure negation and hence to a true transcendental grounding of natural knowledge, but to the paradoxical superstructure of an additional supranatural knowledge that is not in pure antithesis to the natural; were it not for the knowledge that this believing is simply a secret understanding of a higher type, its object not being the origin of all that may be known, not the crucified Christ, but the hinterland of church dogma that is accepted for all the skepticism, one might say that here an insight into the relation to infinity that takes place precisely in an awareness of human finitude as such (the mind against itself), an insight into the freedom of this relation from any discursive basis ("on account of God"), an insight into its origin by creation ("free gift"), had been wonderfully achieved.
That fundamentally nonmedieval insight did hover before those thinkers even though they did not develop it but were encysted and incapable of the grim seriousness with which Luther proceeded at this point. To see how it hovered before them we need look only at their distinctive doctrine of God.12 Over against the whole system of causal necessity that we call the world God stands contingently as himself an indeterminate first cause, as free will in the absolute, as will that has its norm only in itself. In virtue of the absolute power of this will the whole world might have been different. In fact, of course, God simply acts in accordance with his plan that aims at the saving of the elect, in accordance with his ordained power. He thus wills everything as it actually is. Nevertheless, and this is the decisive point, the possibility remains, and has to be considered, that God might have willed and acted differently. God is not a prisoner of his own plan that we see worked out in the church, or of the logical and moral orders in which he executes the plan. It might happen, said Duns, that people attain to glory that do not receive the grace, the knowledge of God, that Scotists and Occamists, like other scholastics, think of as infused faith (Seeberg, III, 578). It might be, Occam ventured to say, that God could have made the morally good other than it is in fact, that hatred of God, theft, and adultery could be meritorious, had not God's command ordained the opposite (Loofs, 612).13 In both the religious and the moral sphere we thus have to consider that things are pleasing to God only because of his acceptance of them on the basis of his free will (Tschackert, 36), and that when we speak of God in the forms of the age, when we speak of what he did, does, or will do, the now of eternity that we mean is the truth of what we say.14 Only God's own essence is the proper object of his will. To all else he stands in a basically contingent relation; he is free relative to it (Loofs, 593-94).15 Even Christ's passion is meritorious only by God's "acceptation." An angel or another human might have made reconciliation for the world just as well (Hagenbach, 387).16 On this path that leads to Luther Occam put out such powerful ideas as that forgiveness of sins is not a making righteous but non-imputation.17
Most church historians and histories of doctrine tell us that the God of Duns and Occam was a capricious God,18 but I believe with Seeberg that this view is wrong. As these theologians studied and deepened the concept of power, their unsettling reminder of God's absolute power was meant to anchor the more firmly the authority of the truth that holds good by God's ordained power.19 They knew very well that one can not establish a thing better or more effectively than by taking it back to its premise by the sharpest criticism of the way it is. The premise of all that God has ordained, however, is deity, God's freedom and majesty. What good is all our zeal toward God, or with God, or even for God, if we do not consider at all who and what God is, if there is no basic interruption of our zeal by the recollection that God's thoughts are not our thoughts nor his ways ours [cf. Isa. 55:8]?
To give a sure place to that recollection Duns and Occam introduced into theology a final uncertainty as to God's will and work. They did so for the very same reason—and this is why I deal with the point so fully—as that which would later lead Calvin to think he had found in the doctrine of double predestination the core and lodestar of the doctrine of God. Against the concept of God in Duns and Occam we are not to bring the charge of arbitrariness that has equally wrongly been made against Calvin, but rather—and this is what produced the misunderstanding—that of a charming and playful intellectualism, the lack of seriousness with which, unlike Calvin, they handled these necessary but dangerous ideas. They had no intention at all of using the critical principle of absolute power that they had discovered to call into question the given factor of the church that rests on the ordained power, to subject the church to this critical insight, and in this way actually to destroy the whole theology of glory. Instead they used the insight as a paradoxical means to make a free path for scholastic dogmatics, ethics, and mysticism, for the whole titanic striving of the Middle Ages of immediacy. With this great caveat of the divine freedom they established the validity of such distinctive medieval ideas as infused and implicit faith, free will, merit, grace as habitus, justification as infusion, opus operatum in sacramental administration, eucharistic transubstantiation, and penance as a sure and easy path. They could advocate all these things precisely in a more vital way, and by reason of the piquant critical background in a more ingenious way, than the earlier and in the last resort naiver scholastics. Occam was the most important medieval advocate of the inspiration of the Bible and Duns Scotus was the hero of his Franciscan order as the highly regarded pioneering defender of the immaculate conception of Mary.20
That matters could take this course naturally forces the word "treason" upon our lips. We recall with shame and anger how 19th-century theologians sat at the feet of Kant in order that with the help of his critique of reason they might justify instead of challenge modern Christianity. Theologians have always been adept at ingeniously toying with the most radical and dangerous thoughts and feelings and then devaluing them in an attempt to justify and confirm contemporary religious thoughts and feelings. But who are we to complain in this regard? It makes no sense to doubt the personal sincerity of those who acted thus in the 14th and 19th centuries. Who among us do not have to complain of ourselves in this regard? Nominalism was a great theological possibility. If for a moment we look beyond the confusing interrelation of excellent intention and lamentable execution, in spite of everything we cannot fail to see how hopeful this theology was. It rendered its historical reforming service and is definitely part of the new thing in the old to the extent that it had a destructive effect on the proud structure of Scholasticism and at least greatly undermined the towers that it was neither able nor willing to overthrow. It is not in vain that we think the thought of God's freedom and majesty, the great and solemn thought of the critical negation of everything given, even though we take the thought no more seriously than did Duns and Occam. If the thought cannot work as a remedy, then it works as a poison. If it does not lay a foundation, then it creates uncertainty. If it does not equip theology for rethinking and renewal, then it results in culpable obduracy. If the Reformation found theology in a state of disarray and uncertainty, of poisoning and hardening; if it found its way easier as a result; if it could succeed in doing what an Anselm or Bonaventura or Thomas perhaps could not do, then that is the tragic merit of Duns, to whom contemporaries gave the honorary title of the subtle doctor, while the frank but crude Gottfried Arnold (Kirchengeschichte, I, 421) called him the foremost eccentric,21 and perhaps he was both. This was also the tragic merit of Occam, whose contemporary honorary title of venerable inceptor was no less ambivalent. Luther called himself an adherent of this school.22 Calvin, and perhaps also Zwingli,23 studied in Paris, its main center, and must have been greatly stimulated by it. Yet as an Occamist neither could have become a reformer.
As a fourth line leading to the Reformation we may cite mysticism. You will have noted in the last hours that I regard mysticism only as one factor among others on the soil of the basic common view of the relation of God to us in the Middle Ages, and that I thus see it along with Scholasticism as the latter's finest flower, so that of almost no medieval theologian can we say where the scholastic leaves off and the mystic begins. All of them were to some extent both. We may rightly count many of them as mystics in the narrower sense and then trace a line from Hugh of St. Victor and Bernard of Clairvaux in the 12th century to Bonaventura in the 13th, Meister Eckhardt and his school, Tauler, Seuse, and the author of the German Theology in the 14th, and if one will Thomas à Kempis in the 15th.
Yet we should not lose sight of the scholastic element in these mystics, or of the mystical element in the other scholastics, or of the medieval problem common to both. The common factor in medieval mysticism, the human striving for immediacy, Luther was already calling the theology of glory in his 1516 lectures on Romans at the very time when he was also speaking in friendly terms about mysticism and had come into contact especially with German mysticism. He both knew it and rejected it as the theology of glory. He said in the lectures that mystics wish "to hear and contemplate only the uncreated Word Himself, not having first been justified and purged in the eyes of the heart by the incarnate Word" (Tschackert, 41).24 … By the "uncreated Word" understand the invisible things of God that the enemies of the cross, as Luther calls them, contemplate, by justification of "the eyes of the heart" understand the strange work of God in which is hidden the proper work of his mercy, and by the "incarnate Word" understand the crucified Christ. Then this critical saying will make sense to you.
Our present task, however, is to trace the positive relations of mysticism to the Reformation. We face the fact that in spite of that and similar sayings Luther did speak in very favorable tones about mysticism, in tones that he never used for Nominalists, and elsewhere only for Augustine and the Bible. He drew from the same source as Bonaventura and Eckhardt, namely, Augustine, and historically the element in Augustine that had the most influence in the Middle Ages was his Neoplatonic mysticism. In later life Luther once expressly confessed that for a long time, and to his hurt, he had been occupied with the mystical theology of Dionysius the Areopagite (Loofs, 724).26 In the middle of 1516, as we see from the Romans lectures, he was acquainted with Tauler and the German Theology, and he was deeply influenced by them, so that a modern scholar...
(The entire section is 42459 words.)
Lewis W. Spitz (essay date 1974)
SOURCE: "Humanism and the Reformation," in Transition and Revolution: Problems and Issues of European Renaissance and Reformation History, edited by Robert M. Kingdon, Burgess Publishing Company, 1974, pp. 153-67.
[In the following essay, Spitz examines the historical link between humanism, a cultural movement that flourished in the Renaissance, and the Protestant Reformation.]
The intense scholarly debate over historical periodization and the concept of the Renaissance, the "most intractable child of historiography," has resulted in a better understanding of the true nature of the Renaissance and of its...
(The entire section is 18745 words.)
Perez Zagorin (essay date 1982)
SOURCE: "Agrarian Rebellion," in Rebels and Rulers, 1500-1660, Vol. I, Cambridge University Press, 1982, pp. 175-227.
[In the following excerpt, Zagorin argues for the importance of religious pamphlets, such as the Twelve Articles, in inciting the German peasant revolts of the sixteenth century which contributed to the social rebellion of the Protestant Reformation.]
The hundreds of articles of grievances put forward in the course of the revolt [German peasant insurrections of the sixteenth century] along with the numerous proposals that emerged looking to freedom, reform, and reconstruction, faithfully reflected...
(The entire section is 10174 words.)
Bainton, Roland H. Studies on the Reformation. Boston: Beacon Press, 1963, 289 p.
Centers on Martin Luther and on "the radicals of the reformation."
Buck, Lawrence P., and Jonathan W. Zophy, eds. The Social History of the Reformation. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1972, 397 p.
Addresses numerous aspects of the Reformation's social history, with essays on the control of morals in Calvin's Geneva, the dynamics of printing in the sixteenth century, "John Foxe and the Ladies," and other themes.
Durant, Will. The Reformation: A History of European...
(The entire section is 605 words.)