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

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Augustine, Luther, and the Formation of the Teaching on the Two Kingdoms

It will be remembered that I believe there needs to be a clear distinction made between a spatial understanding and temporal (by temporal, I don't mean worldly or transient but "of or relating to time") understanding of the two kingdoms. I think there is a general confusion between these two within the Lutheran understanding that leads to undesirable consequences. The confusion in the Lutheran church stems unfortunately from the work of Luther in this area. While Luther certainly is to be praised for the reemergence of this teaching which had been essentially dead and confounded since Augustine, he himself can address this issue with conflicting positions.

Indeed, a confusion can be seen beginning with Augustine, from whom Luther's thought is indebted. The problem with Augustine's construction is to be found in his categorization of who is "in" the kingdom of God and who is in the kingdom of the world. The Church Invisible is the kingdom of God, those who are subjects of Christ, and not subjects of the Devil, of whom the rest of the world is enslaved, thus being the kingdom of the world. In Augustine, therefore, we see a purely temporal understanding of the two kingdoms; it lacks Luther's clear explication of the Christian's role in "secular" society. Augustine, it can be said, was concerned with the who and not with the what; he is concerned with whether we are ruled by a love for the world or by a love for God, he is not concerned, so much, with the what, a la "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, render unto God what is God's" (Matt. 22:21). For this, that is, the what, we are indebted to Luther. Therefore, under my construction, the temporal understanding of the two kingdoms is concerned with who one is ruled by; The spatial understanding of the two kingdoms tells us what we are to render unto God and what we are to render unto Caesar based on "where" we are. One is temporally defined under lordship--we were at one time were ruled by sin, death, and the devil, at another by God--, the other is spatially defined by what our role is in creation--service to neighbor, obedience to superiors, stewardship of creation, etc.

Augustine focuses on the temporal and not the spatial. But even Augustine's understanding of the temporal is not quite correct. Augustine separated the kingdoms by whole individuals--this individual is ruled by worldly love, this individual by love of God. This, though, is not a the Scriptural depiction. Paul paints a much more complex situation seated in his understanding of the spirit and the flesh (Rom. 7). A correct understanding of the spiritual kingdom has to admit an already/not yet situation; in faith we are connected with the completion of our hope (in spe)--it is eschatologically determined--, while our state as it is now (in re) admits degrees, it is a continuing battle between flesh and spirit. Augustine has the ethical basis of the two kingdoms, the iustitia, but does not admit degrees, thus assurance of being in the kingdom of God rests on whether one feels they are righteous or not; the Lutheran understanding rests on the assurance of the Word of God, on the righteousness of Christ, the iustitia Christi. A proper understanding of the temporal aspect of the kingdom of God rests on the Word of God, in faith (justification), which is our entrance into and assurance of our status in the kingdom, and in what faith apprehends (the Holy Spirit and sanctification), because God rules through his Word (Cf. John 18:36-37). For this focus on the Word of God being the basis of the kingdom of God, we are also indebted to Luther.

Augustine's purely temporal understanding of the two kingdoms was highly dialectical, separating Christians from the rest of secular society. While Augustine could praise secular society to an extent for the limited good it could accomplish, overall, he aided in fostering a view that brought into question the Christian's role in the wider society. In the early formation of Luther's position on the two kingdoms, we see the influence Augustine's thought had on him. This is what William Lazareth says about Luther's early position:

"For the first half of the 1520s, [Luther's] early dualistic views on God's twofold rule (Regimente) of unbelievers with the law and believers with the gospel were coextensively incorporated within this cosmic cleavage. As in Augustine, the unfortunate societal result in the early Luther's theological ethic was a bifurcated humanity: (1) in the temporal kingdom, there was the law's realm of Satan, the fallen world, sin, death, and the temporal sword of Caesar; (2) in the spiritual kingdom, there was the gospel's realm of God in Christ, the redeemed church, faith, new life, and the sword of the Spirit... In so sharply severing creation from redemption, it virtually identified Caesar's realm (negatively) with Satan." (Christians in Society: Luther, the Bible, and Social Ethics (Minneapolis, Minn: Fortress Press, 2001), 139.)

What Luther's early position neglected was that Christians were not only ruled by the gospel. but also by the law, due to the flesh. Without acknowledging this, Luther unintentionally set Christians apart from the rest of society; the Christian had no need for the institutions of society nor no place within those institutions because they were ruled by the gospel. It was the societal problems going around Luther that gave him a more nuanced and mature approach to the two kingdoms. This is what Lazareth has to say:

"By the mid-1520s, however, Luther began to benefit from deepened scriptural study of both theological and social ethics. God's dialectical two governments increasingly interpreted the world's dualistic two kingdoms in such biblically based studies as Temporal Authority (1523), Sermons on Exodus (1524-27), Whether Soldiers, Too, Can be Saved (1526), climaxing in his Sermons (1530-32) and Commentary on Matthew 5-7 (1532).

"This exegetical work was prompted not least by the socially isolated, former monk/s unprecedented public challenges (often now experienced first hand): rulers' piety and profligacy, knights' uprising, free-church iconoclasm, limited youth education, competitive trade and usury, emptying of monastic cloisters, peasants' rebellions, sectarian theocratic romanticism, and threatened wars against the Turks-- in short, the disintegration of medieval feudalism within an institutionally integrated Western Christendom." (Lazareth, 139)

It was these challenges, not to mention Rome's abuse of the two swords, that forced Luther to make it explicitly clear what it meant to be servant, father, priest, prince. Luther placed this, often confusedly, into his understanding of the two kingdoms. So Luther's early work that focused on God's temporal twofold rule (Regimente) through law and gospel, was then connected with a spatial distinction of the two kingdoms (Reiche). At its best, Luther could make it clear that, insofar as one were spirit, one was ruled by the gospel, and insofar as one were flesh, one was ruled by the law; and further he could make it clear that, just because one was a Christian, this did not mean that he was separated from the world by a distinction of a secular ethic and a sacred ethic, rather Luther made it clear that God desired for Christians to serve neighbor through the secular institutions and also to exercise God's judgement through them. Here is a good example of how Luther could hold these two understandings-- one temporal, one spatial-- in a fruitful correlation:

"Here we must divide all the children of Adam and all mankind into two classes, the first belong to the kingdom (Reich) of God, the second to the kingdom of the world. Those who belong to the kingdom of God are all the true believers who are in Christ and under Christ...and the gospel of the kingdom...as Psalm 2:6 and all the Scripture says...All who are not Christians belong to the kingdom of he world and are under the law. There are few true believers, and still fewer who live a Christian life, who do not resist evil and indeed themselves do no evil. For this reason God has provided for them in a different environment beyond the Christian estate and the kingdom of God. He has subjected them to the sword so that, even if they would like to, they are unable to practice their wickedness.

"For this reason God has ordained two governments [rules] (Regimente): the spiritual, by which the Holy Spirit produces Christians and righteous people under Christ; and the temporal [worldly] which restrains the unchristian and wicked so that--no thanks to them--they are obliged to keep still and to maintain outward peace.

"One must carefully distinguish between these two governments (Regimente). Both must be permitted to remain; the one to produce righteousness the other to bring about external peace and to prevent evil deeds." LW 45:88-92 passim

While it is widely debated how and to what extent Luther distinguished God's twofold rule or government (Regimente) with the two kingdoms (Reiche), it seems clear that while he always saw them as related, he never equated them conceptually. Personally, I believe the more they are confused, the more trouble we get into. At Luther's worst, he can make it seem as if there were no rule of God through the gospel at all that takes shape in the wider society. In fact, he can talk, saying that in the one realm "nothing is known of Christ," but rather one is in subjection to the law and Caesar, and that in the other realm "nothing is known of law, conscience, or sword." Gods rule (Regimente) through the gospel that produces righteousness in the sphere of the world is left out, remaining only Caesar's, and by extension, God's rule through the law. This is where the spatial and the temporal get mixed up: Where we are determines how we are ruled, that is, because we are in the world, we are ruled by the law and Caesar. Thus the kingdom of God is relegated to the corner of my inwardness. Oswald Bayer depicts and criticizes one depiction by Erik Peterson of how this Christian inwardness is played out in Lutheranism:

"The new human is no grotesque caricature who spends his life in a darkened room, reciting with closed eyes, "I am justified by faith alone, I am justified by faith alone." By contrast, the passive righteousness of faith with its new relation to God and the self creates a new relation to all creatures, to the world, including a new perception of time and space." (Living by Faith: Justification and Sanctification, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2003), 27.)

Unfortunately, this grotesque caricature is not without its basis as a reflection of Lutheran teaching, especially on the two kingdoms. We get this sort of impression from the following quote from Luther:

"As regards his own person, according to his life as a Christian, he is in subjection to no one but Christ, without any obligation either to the emperor or to any other man. But at least outwardly, according to his body and property, he is related by subjection and obligation to the emperor, inasmuch as he occupies some office or station in life or has a house and home, a wife and children; for all these are things that pertain to the emperor. Here he must necessarily do what he is told and what this outward life requires. If he has a house or a wife and children or servants and refuses to support them or, if need be, to protect them, he does wrong. It will not do for him to declare that he is a Christian and therefore has to forsake or relinquish everything. But he must be told: "Now you are under the emperor's control. Here your name is not "Christian," but "father," or "lord," or "prince." According to your own person you are a Christian, but in relation to your servant you are a different person." LW 21:109

While the main point is certainly true, the implication that, as to our "outward life" we are subject to the law, and that our Christianity is relegated to our "inner life," is an error. A proper understanding of participating in the kingdom of God does not ignore the world or relegate the kingdom to our inwardness, rather, it tells us who we are "of." While we are certainly subject to the emperor, we are subject to him through the providence of God, that is, through the God ordained structures of life in this world. We are not "of" the emperor or the world, but "of" God, though we may be "in the world" (Cf. John 17:15-18). Being "of" something, is to be subject to something; Christ tells us, though we may be in the world, we are not of the world, but of God. This at the same time neither denies the world and our place in it, nor does it demand a quietistic inwardness of our being Christian. This doesn't even necessarily change the shape of our life, rather it tells us who we are subject to.

Often times the Sermon on the Mount is set in antithesis to the reality of a sinful and fallen world to explain the need for the teaching of the distinction of the two kingdoms. Indeed, it is certainly true that we cannot suffer injustice, as commended in the Sermon on the Mount, at the expense of our neighbor. Luther tells us that to suffer injustice from our children, according to the Sermon on the Mount, and to not punish them is the equivalent of hatred of them. That means that to truly love them we must punish them. The explanation of this disjunction is not, therefore, a disjunction of evangelical love and civil law, but of different forms of the same love. Just as God has his proper work (opus proprium) of grace and love, so too does he have his alien work (opus alienum) of law and judgement, but this does not mean that God stops being love or stops being loving, but rather, his love takes on another form; "For whom the Lord loves, He disciplines" (Heb. 12:6). The law is given to prepare for the gospel: "So that the Law has become a trainer of us until Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Gal. 3:24). So too, just as God, a Christian has his own alien work: "In a fallen and sinful world, Christian love will often have to do some strange and even dirty work (opus alienum) in order to protect the good and punish the wicked against the public assaults of Satan." (Lazareth, 166) This, then, does not mean that there is a disjointed ethic, along the lines of the two kingdoms, the one private--in accordance to the Sermon on the Mount-- the other public--often doing some "dirty work"; rather, it is the same ethic of love taking different forms, all stemming from love of God and love of neighbor. As William Lazareth writes: "Since both the gospel of love and the law of justice are complementary expressions of the same sovereign will of God, they are not to be perverted--as in some later forms of Lutheranism-- into just another ethical double standard that virtually divorces private and public morality." (Lazareth, 165)

From this we would see that participating in the kingdom of God does not exclude the activities of our "outward life," as Luther put it. Unfortunately, Luther at some times seems to affirm this, and at others to deny this, as in the previous quote. The consistent witness of the Book of Concord though, from both Luther and Melanchthon, affirms this "outward life" within the kingdom of God:


"Thy kingdom come.
What does this mean?--Answer.
The kingdom of God comes indeed without our prayer, of itself; but we pray in this petition that it may come unto us also.
How is this done?--Answer.
When our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead a godly life here in time and yonder in eternity." (Small Catechism, Lord's Prayer, Par. 6-8)

"But what is the kingdom of God? Answer: Nothing else than what we learned in the Creed, that God sent His Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, into the world to redeem and deliver us from the power of the devil, and to bring us to Himself, and to govern us as a King of righteousness, life, and salvation against sin, death, and an evil conscience, for which end He has also bestowed His Holy Ghost, who is to bring these things home to us by His holy Word, and to illumine and strengthen us in the faith by His power.

"Therefore we pray here in the first place that this may become effective with us, and that His name be so praised through the holy Word of God and a Christian life that both we who have accepted it may abide and daily grow therein, and that it may gain approbation and adherence among other people and proceed with power throughout the world, that many may find entrance into the Kingdom of Grace, be made partakers of redemption, being led thereto by the Holy Ghost, in order that thus we may all together remain forever in the one kingdom now begun.

"For the coming of God's Kingdom to us occurs in two ways; first, here in time through the Word and faith; and secondly, in eternity forever through revelation. Now we pray for both these things, that it may come to those who are not yet in it, and, by daily increase, to us who have received the same, and hereafter in eternal life. All this is nothing else than saying: Dear Father, we pray, give us first Thy Word, that the Gospel be preached properly throughout the world; and secondly, that it be received in faith, and work and live in us, so that through the Word and the power of the Holy Ghost Thy kingdom may prevail among us, and the kingdom of the devil be put down, that he may have no right or power over us, until at last it shall be utterly destroyed, and sin, death, and hell shall be exterminated, that we may live forever in perfect righteousness and blessedness." (Large Catechism, Lord's Prayer, Par. 51-54)


"This entire topic concerning the destruction between the kingdom of Christ and a political kingdom has been explained to advantage [to the remarkably great consolation of many consciences] in the literature of our writers, [namely] that the kingdom of Christ is spiritual [inasmuch as Christ governs by the Word and by preaching], to wit, beginning in the heart the knowledge of God, the fear of God and faith, eternal righteousness, and eternal life." (Apology Art. 16, Par. 54) (To read more on Melanchthon's treatment of the terms "spiritual" and "eternal righteousness," see this post)

"Virginity is recommended, but to those who have the gift, as has been said above. It is, however, a most pernicious error to hold that evangelical perfection lies in human traditions. For thus the monks even of the Mohammedans would be able to boast that they have evangelical perfection. Neither does it he in the observance of other things which are called adiaphora, but because the kingdom of God is righteousness and life in hearts, Rom. 14:17, perfection is growth in the fear of God, and in confidence in the mercy promised in Christ, and in devotion to one's calling; just as Paul also describes perfection 2 Cor. 3:18: We are changed from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. He does not say: We are continually receiving another hood, or other sandals, or other girdles. It is deplorable that in the Church such pharisaic, yea, Mohammedan expressions should be read and heard as, that the perfection of the Gospel, of the kingdom of Christ, which is eternal life, should be placed in these foolish observances of vestments and of similar trifles." (Apology Art. 27, Par. 27)

"For good works are to be done on account of God's command, likewise for the exercise of faith [as Paul says, Eph. 2:10: We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works], and on account of confession and giving of thanks. For these reasons good works ought necessarily to be done, which, although they are done in the flesh not as yet entirely renewed, that retards the movements of the Holy Ghost, and imparts some of its uncleanness, yet, on account of Christ, are holy, divine works, sacrifices, and acts pertaining to the government of Christ, who thus displays His kingdom before this world. For in these He sanctifies hearts and represses the devil, and, in order to retain the Gospel among men, openly opposes to the kingdom of the devil the confession of saints, and, in our weakness, declares His power... To disparage such works, the confession of doctrine, affliction, works of love, mortifications of the flesh, would be indeed to disparage the outward government of Christ's kingdom among men." (Apology Art. IV, "Love and the Fulfilling of the Law," Par. 68-72)

We see in these examples from the Book of Concord that the activity of God through the gospel is the activity of the kingdom of God that reintroduces us to our lives and our vocations. While the Confessors are certainly intimately aware of the confusion of the operation of the Church through the Word and the structures of society that uphold the law and outward peace, they do not put forth the opinion that our external lives are therefore an autonomous sphere within which the ministry of the Word stops its activity in the lives of believers and is replaced by the compulsion of the law. Rather they make it clear that the work of God through the Word, the kingdom of God, actively draws us back into our external lives and provides sanctifying power, and governs "us as a King of righteousness, life, and salvation against sin, death, and an evil conscience." In fact Melancthon can talk in this way, almost making the gospel sound like law: "These opinions greatly obscure the Gospel and the spiritual kingdom...For the Gospel...bids us obey [the State and family] as a divine ordinance, not only on account of punishment, but also on account of conscience." (Apology Art. 16, Par. 57)

It should be noted that, as far as the temporal understanding of the two kingdoms (Regimente) there is inherent with this an inseperable connection of the law with the kingdom of the world and the gospel with the kingdom of God; God rules the kingdom of the world through his law, and the kingdom of God through his gospel. Confusion comes in when we are determined spatially in the world and thus temporally under the rule of the law; a confusion of where we are and who or what we are ruled by. Because of this, the kingdom of God has no tangible role in the daily lives of believers, we participate in it only through faith in the Word, or as Ebeling puts it, "it remains a word-event," and then we enter our lives under the kingdom of the world, under the law. This is especially put forth by Gustaf Wingren who saw the first, or civil use of the law the primary function of the law; he will write: "To stress the doctrine of the first use of the Law means not only to affirm that the world belongs to God, but to reject any other religious interpretation of the world." (Creation and Law, trans. Ross Mackenzie (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1961), 160.) In my next post on this topic we, in light of what we have seen so far, will look at Wingren's work on creation, law, and vocation.


Jim Robertson said...

Thank you for your articles on Lutheran doctrine. I have shared several with my pastor. They are also very useful in my teaching ministry.

L P Cruz said...


Thanks for pointing out that Augustine could be wrong - some have an idea that he was an infallible interpreter of Scripture.