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

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Monday, October 27, 2008

The Paradox of Lutheranism: Extra Nos--In Nobis

Adolf Köberle believed that, historically, there are three ways in which man attempts to sanctify himself. Köberle writes:

"The sanctification of conduct by the strengthening of the will; the sanctification of the emotions by a strenuous training of the soul; the sanctification of thought by a deepening of the understanding; moralism, mysticism, speculation, these are the three ladders on which men continually seek to climb up to God, with a persistent purpose that it seems nothing can check; a storming of Heaven that is just as pathetic in its unceasing effort as in its final futility." The Quest for Holiness, trans. John C. Mattes (Minneapolis, Minn: Augsburg Publishing House, 1938), 2.

Köberle especially found Lutherans being polarized between the two extremes of moralism and mysticism. Köberle writes: "[It is] necessary to guard against both [reactions], against a presumptuous mysticism by an anti-mystical, forensic emphasis and against a superficial moral intellectualism by the entire living force of the Lutheran views concerning [the need for] grace." 112

Köberle saw the two extremes as, on the one hand, a type of divine immediacy of union, capability, and activity--mysticism--, and on the other hand, a type of transcendence where holiness is relegated to a future hope, while daily life is solely determined by one's natural ability to live, at least externally, upright--moralism. Of the second, Köberle will write: "There is another [error] that makes so little testimony of the Holy Ghost, Who quickeneth us, that we might think Christ had never risen and Pentecost had never happened. Here the new life appears as a purely transcendental thing, as a mere object of hope and as something quite beyond the possibility of attainment in our present historical situation." viii

The solution to these two extremes is what Köberle calls the "paradox of Lutheranism": extra nos--in nobis, that is, "the more external--the more inward." We read:

"The task is exactly the same for the orthodoxy of today. Mystical religiosity, "German piety," Indian teachings concerning salvation, cosmic transfigurations demand a theology of "contrast." In opposition to utilitarianism, the mechanizing of life and critical skepticism, however, it is necessary to proclaim the Gospel of inspiration through the Spirit of God. The paradox of Lutheranism, "the more external--the more inward" (extra nos--in nobis), is always incomprehensible to natural thinking or party feeling. The one who contends against the dangers now on the right, now on the left, because he understands them, may be accused, by those who fail to understand, of a lack of steadfastness; they will class him now among the mystics, now among those of a Judaizing tendency and then again among the mediating theologians, who travel in "an uncertain twilight." It is the burden of faith that to be obedient to God it can only express itself on earth by means of two contradictory thoughts...[It is] a curious paradox of concealment and manifestation, of the distance and nearness of God, of hope and the present possession of the Spirit." 112

For Köberle the balance of the two extremes of immediacy and transcendence comes through the correct understanding of the mediatorial nature of the condescension of God in his Word (connected with the ever-present Holy Spirit) and the Word made flesh; what is incarnational and sacramental. If you will allow me an extended quote, Köberle writes:

"Lutheranism has built its dykes on both sides. To ward off spiritualism [mysticism] and Spinozism [rationalistic moralism] it has made the statement: "deus non dat interna nisi per externa, deus spiritum sanctum non mittit absque verbo." [Latin is not my thing, but I believe this means: "God does not give internally except through what is external, God does not send the Holy Spirit without the Word] The Word with its judicial claims, with its power of establishing and maintaining communion with God, excludes the idea that the reception of the Spirit has to do with some essential condition based on an existing divine relationship. But in opposition to the abridgement of the Gospel into a purely transcendental faith the Formula of Concord taught just as emphatically in its christology as well as in its pneumatology and doctrine concerning the sacraments the personal, indwelling of the deus ipse [God himself], and even rejected the teachings of those who declared that only the gifts of God were present in the believer.

"How little the presence of God that is assured to faith has to do with pantheistic immanence theology has shown most effectively under the four viewpoints of the condescension of God, the reality and amissibility of faith and of eschatology. How far the possession of faith reaches beyond a supposedly impassible transcendence of God theology shows most clearly through the maintenance of the doctrine of the unio mystica in Word and Sacrament.

"It is due to the creditable work of John Rupprecht on Hermann Bezzel that attention has again been drawn to the theological significance of the idea of condescension, which had already been stressed by Hamann. God's "condescension" to the world in creation, preservation, incarnation and sacrament [all acts of the Word of God or the Word made flesh] does not come from any rational or natural-philosophical relation between God and man [it does not arise out of an essential connection between God and man, but is purely and freely initiated by God alone]. The humiliation of Christ in the "likeness of man," in the insignificance of "wretched, every-day natural agencies" He used, is an utter paradox; it is the gift of a love that freely gives and sacrifices itself. God's pardoning Word is a real word of pardon on which man has no natural claim. His entrance into the limitations of human speech in Scripture and preaching, with the possibility of being thus despised, is a deep abasement which He has freely chosen for the salvation of the world. This truly evangelical idea of the condescension of God, in which all of Luther's theologia crucis lies hidden, should be applied, as Bezzel does (ch. 5), to the inspiration of men, not because the finite is able by itself to appropriate the infinite, even though it does possess spiritual abilities, but because the Spirit, as well as the Son, humbles Himself in His ministering love, therefore man can become partaker of contact with the divine. Infinitum capax finiti [The infinite contains the finite]. God, Who in freely exercised omnipotence has reached down into time through the sending of the Son, still imparts Himself everywhere where men believe in Jesus Christ.

"By means of the idea of condescension the sovereignty of God is preserved in the evangelical conception of immanence. The emphasis on the real nature of this "in-dwelling" gives to every statement a still stronger note of reverent dependence. As we have already pointed out, mysticism describes the union of God and the soul in sentimental naturalistic terms. It speaks of a substantial marriage of the human and divine spirit that ends in an act of union where all distinctions cease. But wherever the Deus in nobis [God in us] is affirmed on the basis of the Christus pro nobis [Christ for us], Who is accepted by faith, there can be no talk of an absorption and submersion into a state of static being. When the Word becomes the vehicle of the Spirit the ideas of judgement and guilt are not excluded, then the awakened conscience discards the presumptuous idea of identity, and the ecstasy of a being-like-God. Only in the attitude of simple faith can the nearness of the Lord be received, for in all His gracious surrender to man He is never absorbed by him, any more than the Creator disappears in His creation." 104-105

There are a couple of key lines I want to point out: 1) "The Word with its judicial claims, with its power of establishing and maintaining communion with God, excludes the idea that the reception of the Spirit has to do with some essential condition based on an existing divine relationship." 2) "When the Word becomes the vehicle of the Spirit the ideas of judgement and guilt are not excluded, then the awakened conscience discards the presumptuous idea of identity, and the ecstasy of a being-like-God." That is, it is the Word of God that tells me who I am and what my relationship is before God and before man. It tells me I am a saint and a sinner. The law exposes and condemns me and the gospel shows me that I am forgiven and creates new life. The Word of God tells me I am am neither autonomous from God nor that I can become God. It establishes the social and vocational structures of life. In this social and vocational structure, the Word of God shows me the qualitative character of what life is supposed to be like, that is, a life of reciprocal love where I love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and where I love my neighbor as myself. As Piotr Malysz points out, it is only through God's relation to us that we can define who we are. He writes:

"The problem is not alien even to the Bible itself. The Psalmist asks, "what is man that you are mindful of him" (Ps 8:4). It must not be overlooked that, in contradistinction to the questions posed from within human experience, this one implies going beyond that experience; that is, a relationship. The theological definition of humanity presupposes involvement on God's part. Humanity can only be defined from the outside, and that because of the mindfulness of God. Only by making reference to this external perspective can the questions that originate within the world be given meaningful answers." "Third Use of the Law in Light of Creation and the Fall," Logia 11, no. 3 (2002), 11.

A little later Malysz will write: "To be human is not so much to have some capacity for God as to have God relate to one and to reflect his being oneself." 13

It is only through this external factor, the extra nos, that we can determine the internal, the in nobis. To say otherwise is to reject the relational structure of our very existence (see my post: The Word, Communication, and Sanctification). Without taking this into consideration man becomes either the autonomous locus of his existence, or on the other hand, expresses a divinization of being where all distinctions between God and man cease.

With this also understood, Lutherans can combat the criticism (often from our own camp) of sanctification being a theology of glory. On the contrary, Köberle's "paradox of Lutheranism" is a rejection of either an autonomous or divinized "in nobis" that exalts the self, and on the other hand, the extra nos gives us the immeasurable glad tidings that God condescendingly loves us and desires to relate to us. The paradox of Lutheranism is the ultimate theologia crucis: the condescension of God and the rejection of "man in himself." The hidden God comes to us, and we are driven to the hidden God in the forms of Word and Sacrament.


Augustinian Successor said...

What a gem! If one wants true "Pietism" without the errors of Pietism, this is it, I guess. Who needs the error of Wesleyan "entire sanctification", Keswick-type quietism, Puritan mysticism and other forms of Protestant legalism when one has Adolf Koberle and the theologians of the Wauwatosa tradition??? The gallows with revivalism and long live Lutheranism.

Joel Woodward said...

Well...yeah, us Lutherans are pretty cool...j/k :)

Augustinian Successor said...

Dear Joel,

I didn't mean to sound deprecating or disagreeable. I am hoping to get the Quest for Holiness myself. I have a lot of criticisms of my own ("prior") Reformed tradition, especially on Puritanism. Assurance is one critical area of weakness in that respect.

Extra nos, in nobis --- the more external, the more internal it is ... how very biblical, Reformational and true.

Joel, I'm sure you've heard of Jonathan Edwards before. These days, some confessional Reformed are beginning to realise the deficiencies in Edwards' approach towards the Christian life vis-a-vis revivalism.

Joel Woodward said...

No, I'm sorry. I didn't think that about your post at all! I was imitating "proud Lutheranism" as a joke.

I agree, I think this is a good remedy of that type of revival spirit. Instead of focusing on self and my own feelings one is driven to the Word of God.

I think Oswald Bayer does a nice job of this in Theology the Lutheran Way. He emphasises the need look out of self and its subjectivity, while still acknowledging that the external still has an impact on our thoughts, emotions, and human experience. If you read the last section of my thesis I make it clear that it is a matter of our perspective--its external but it (the Word) does have a real and powerful effect in the lives of believers, but we should never devolve back into that incurvitas in se.

Much of The Quest for Holiness is a historical appraisal of all the different ways man engages in self-sanctification, I don't remember though if he addresses revivalism, which I think was mostly an American phenomena. But I think his address on mysticism might hit on some of those type of issues.