-Wir sein pettler. Hoc est verum.--"We are beggars. This is true."--Martin Luther-

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Lutheran Quote of the Day: Thielicke on Identity

First we heard from Piotr Malysz on Identity
Second we heard from Oswald Bayer on Identity
Now we hear from Helmut Thielicke:

"The worth of the self is decided by whether the alien factor to which it is related is above or below it. If it is determined by what is below it, its own rank accords with this. The man who is controlled by things is himself drawn into the world of things. Only he who has the alien dignity which being in relation to God confers can escape the enslaving grip that values him as a thing and drops him when he no longer has utility as such. Here alone do we find the protection, the impregnability, and the sacred privileges which man has when he is recognized as the bearer of an alien worth. Even when he ceases to be useful, he is still the one whom God created. He is still, in the Old Testament term, the apple of God's eye. God himself offers protection, so that to touch him is to touch God.

"Similarly in the New Testament the dignity of man is not found in outstanding people, in the great examples of the race, in the genius or moral hero, but in the lowly, in those who need mercy, in the ptochoi, in the extremes of the opposite and darker side.

"The hidden Christ encounters us in the hungry, homeless, naked, empty, and imprisoned. He makes himself the brother of all these. To receive or visit or feed or clothe them is to do it to him. Along the same lines Paul can speak of the inviolable dignity even of those who want to restrict Christian freedom and lay burdens upon us. Christ died for them and therefore we are not to get angry with them (Rom. 14:15; 1 Cor. 8:11). The alien dignity is what makes them sacrosanct.

"Here, then, man is not related to self or things or his utility but to the glory of God which wills to manifest and magnify itself in him. He is sheltered in the alien righteousness of Jesus Christ. God wills to see him in his Son. As, therefore, he has infinite worth in the eyes of God, so he is given true humanity in the eyes of men. The humanity of the Son of God who calls us brethren is hidden and shamed herein, but it is shamed and honored precisely in its hidden dignity.

"It is not true, then, that man becomes small because he is a servant, that the excess of God's glory presses him down. God is not like the oriental despot who shows his greatness by degrading the slaves around him. The idea that the greatness and absoluteness of God means the littleness and devaluation of the men related to him is a false one. The very opposite is the case. The greater the object to which man is related (so long as this object is God himself and not a superior created entity which relativizes man), the more unequivocal his humanity is, and the more inviolable as such. We see this from the marginal cases of humanity which will be understood either as the apple of God's eye or as the playthings of human opportunism.

"The Decisive Insight:

"For us, then, this is the decisive insight. The image of man is always vitally stamped by the alienum actualized in it. This is the key to the remarkable and at first surprising fact that Marxism, in spite of its concern for man, eventually makes of him a thing. It sets him in a false relation and it is then unable to get at him through the autonomy of this relation or even find him. It never sees man at all.

"Man can be shaped by what is below him. In this case his humanity is consumed by the material alienum and at the last we find only the glazed face of inhuman nature or the equally inhuman because uncovered mechanism of dialectical puppets. On the other hand man can be shaped by what is above him, by the alienum of the divine image. In this case the goal is the impress of God's glory which chooses us as its instrument. As the glory of God addressed to us, however, this is, in the traditional vocabulary of Christianity, gratia or grace."

-Helmut Thielicke, The Hidden Question of God, trans. Geoffry Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1977), 63-65.


Augustinian Successor said...

My dear Bro. Joel and fellow Lutheran,

Thank you so much for this gem. It's a timely reminder. (I feel depressed from time to time, even though it's not crippling).

Joel Woodward said...

placing our lives on Christ is utterly terrifying.

Augustinian Successor said...

Dear Joel,

What do you know about Wilhelm Dantine, the author of "The Justification of the Ungodly"? Do you have his out-of-print book?

Joel Woodward said...

Nothing...fill me in.

Joel Woodward said...

oh, my library has it...I'll have to check it out.