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

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Gerhard Ebeling on the Two Kinds of Righteousness

This post will mainly be from the words of Gerhard Ebeling. I will use this as a transition from the concept of the two kinds of righteousness into the two kingdoms, which is so closely related to Luther's two kinds of righteousness. We see in this quote an unnatural distinction between faith and works, God's activity and our own, and The kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world. What I will be posting on in future posts is the confusion between a spatial understanding and a temporal understanding of the two kingdoms. What I see is often purported is a purely spatial understanding of the kingdom of the world and then a purely temporal understanding of the kingdom of God. This plays out in determining our life in the word purely spatially, that is, where we are, and then determining our life in the kingdom of God in a purely temporal way in which we only participate in it through faith in the Word of God; that is, the kingdom of the world is a place, and the kingdom of God is a transcendent event which is ultimately directed eschatologically. As Ebeling writes, "The regnum Christi as the event of the iustitia Dei is and remains a word-event and therefore a faith-event. For that reason, however, until the final presence of the kingdom of God we are left with a distinction between the two kingdoms as a distinction between two modes of iustitia." ("The Necessity of the Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms" in Word and Faith, trans. James W. Leitch, 386-406 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963), 401.) Ebeling does make a distinction between the regnum mundo as it temporally exists before the "final presence of the kingdom of God" when he says that it is a sphere of self-contradiction, and as it is, ideally understood, as a spatial distinction, though this still means its spatial character is the ultimate determining factor. He sees the sphere of the regnum mundo, written into its very creation, as a sphere that is the field of the iustitia civilis; that is, despite the temporal state of the regnum mundo of self-contradiction, the regnum mundo without this self-contradiction is still ideally a realm of the iustitia civilis. Ideally, and this is only understood in faith, he argues, the two kingdoms demands a strict separation of activity letting God be God and the world be world, that is, the realm of the iustitia civilis.

I don't think this takes into account a proper understanding of the judgement of God. God's judgement of Adam and Eve in the garden and our future judgement at death or at the second coming is not a judgement on our civil righteousness, our external fulfillment of the law, but a judgement as to the full extent of the law with the bar set at perfection. Civil righteousness, if properly understood in its historic Lutheran context, is not concerned with perfection but with external obedience; righteousness that avails before God is a righteousness that is in full conformance to the Law of God, both external fulfillment and internal disposition. While this side of the grave we can only stand before God with the righteousness of Christ, this does not mean that God does not still demand perfection from us, in fact it proves that he does still demand this of us. A proper understanding of the Atonement is not that Christ fulfilled the requirements of civil righteousness for us but that he fulfilled the righteous requirement that alone can avail before God, that can stand in his court and be declared blameless. The judgement of Adam and Eve show perfectly well that civil righteousness was not what the world was created for, but original righteousness, a righteousness that can stand before God blameless, and live in fellowship with him.

This problem between only considering civil righteousness and a proper understanding of God's judgement is brought up by our Confessions. They write:

"These notions were expressed among philosophers with respect to civil righteousness, and not with respect to God's judgment. [For there it is true, as the jurists say, L. cogitationis, thoughts are exempt from custom and punishment. But God searches the hearts; in God's court and judgment it is different.]...these notions are read in the works of scholastics, who inappropriately mingle philosophy or civil doctrine concerning ethics with the Gospel. Nor were these matters only disputed in the schools, but, as is usually the case, were carried from the schools to the people. And these persuasions [godless, erroneous, dangerous, harmful teachings] prevailed, and nourished confidence in human strength, and suppressed the knowledge of Christ's grace. Therefore, Luther wishing to declare the magnitude of original sin and of human infirmity [what a grievous mortal guilt original sin is in the sight of God], taught that these remnants of original sin [after Baptism] are not, by their own nature, adiaphora in man, but that, for their non-imputation, they need the grace of Christ and, likewise for their mortification, the Holy Ghost." (Apology Art. II, Par. 43-45)

A strict separation of a kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world is shown as fallacious when the account of creation and life in the garden is read. We read that man not only lived in fellowship with his neighbor and creation, but also in fellowship with God (Gen. 3:8). This shows that a purely spatial understanding, determined by the act of creation, of the two kingdoms cannot be upheld. The kingdom of the world, temporally understood, is the unfortunate result of man's fall into sin. In this way, the kingdom of the world may more properly be deemed the regnum diaboli, the kingdom of the devil. This is how the Scriptures untilize kingdom language. The temporal understanding of the two kingdoms tells us of an apocalyptic battle between the reign of sin, death, and the devil, Luther's "unholy trinity," and man's redemption from these through the blood of Christ and the restoration of man into his orginal pristine state of living righteously before neighbor, creation, and God.

While I won't closely evaluate what Ebeling writes, we can see how some of these issues are confused. Namely is an implication that, because we live in the world, that we stand coram mundo, we somehow don't stand coram Deo at the same time or in the same way. It is implied that we are only expected to fulfill the requirements of civil righteousness, to let the world be world, and that if we attempt to live righteously up and above this we are essentially not letting God be God. As Ebeling writes: "By works we can do justice only to the world, not to God." The problem with this is that it, again, ignores the judgement of God, that God judges us to the full extent of the righteous requirement of the law. The fact is, we are asked to do justice to God, and it is for this very reason that the Atonement of Christ is so important. And this same justice before God was demanded of Adam and Eve, thus their judgement for their lack of justice. Much like Arand's definition of civil righteousness being "ever active, never passive," Ebeling likewise makes a strong distinction between "what God does and what man does," saying that faith does not empower works but simply corrects our understanding of the proper place works are to take on earth. All of this, though maybe a little over simplified, implies this attitude: "We are down here, God is up there; We are expected to do what is expected of us down here through our own power and strength because God's kingdom is only participated in in faith, which does not communicate power; God does not expect us to do anything other than try our best to do the right things, though our hearts may be corrupt; This is the proper understanding of the world, to say otherwise is presumptuous dreams of storming heaven by works righteousness; The "presence" of God's kingdom has no other effect than as an object hoped for."

Gerhard Ebeling writes:

"But this distinction is valid only in virtue of the closest association. For who can let the world be world in such a sober, matter-of-fact way? The freedom to do so comes of letting God be God. For we cannot truly let the world be world unless we let God be God. For that reason the iustitia Christiana as iustitia coram Deo, and indeed as iustitia fidei, opens the way to, and so makes possible, the iustitia civilis in its character of iustitia coram mundo, and indeed as iustitia operum. Yet this fundamental insight must at once be shielded against misunderstandings in three directions.

"Firstly, it is usual to regard the relation between faith and works-- and for that we can say, between what God does and what man does-- in the first instance as a relationship between power and performance. Faith is supposed to give the power for works. This way of speaking requires to be very critically examined. The basic relation of faith and works is not the communication of power for works, but the communication of freedom for them-- that is, freedom to do the works in their limitedness as works and therefore also in the limitedness of the powers that are at our disposal for them. Just as faith too does not, though it is easy to misunderstand it so, primarily receive the revelation of what is to be done; but faith gives the freedom to perceive the right, because faith assigns works their due place.

"A second misunderstanding is to suppose that faith does indeed make room for the iustitia civilis by inciting to it, yet also produces over and above it much higher works which far surpass the iustitia civilis. This misunderstanding is partly caused by the ineradicable tendency to adopt a working attitude even before God and therefore to set about special works coram Deo, and partly by the disastrously one-sided practice of letting the iustitia coram mundo take its cue from the political sphere and therefore from what can be compelled if necessary by force. That is certainly the standpoint which is highly significant for the worldliness of the world. But if we grasp the basic theological sense of iustitia civilis, then we must ascribe to the iustitia civilis all works which can sensibly be done and are therefore right works. Even the man who is so unworldly as to give all his goods to the poor or to surrender his life in martyrdom remains, if it is rightly done (and that means if the man in question knows in faith what he is doing), within the sphere of the iustitia civilis, the iustitia coram mundo; i.e. he submits to the test of how far he is doing justice to the world by these works. For by works we can do justice only to the world, not to God. For that reason the criterion of works, precisely from the standpoint of the iusitia civilis, is love. In the realm of works there is no higher iustitia than the iustitia civilis! Yet for that very reason we should not imagine that with mere law-abidingness and bourgeois good conduct we have already done justice to the world and fulfilled all iustitia civilis in the basic sense.

"A third misunderstanding is to suppose that without faith there is no iustitia civilis at all. Christian circles indeed are repeatedly haunted by the idea that an atheist is an immoral man and that if Christian colours do not justify an undertaking, then at least they certainly recommend it a priori as inspiring confidence. It is true that faith is the presupposition of the iustitia civilis in so far as it communicates the freedom to let the iustitia civilis be really only the iusitia civilis and not to seek to derive somehow from the works the justification of the person. But in spite of such misuse of the iustitia civilis, it can still materialiter very well be iustitia civilis. Where the iustitia civilis is concerned there is cause enough for believers to be shamed by non-believers, both as to discretion and as to readiness to make sacrifices. Over and above that, however, the freedom to matter-of-factness which is communicated in faith is a thing the world has to thank faith for, even without an immediate awareness of the connexion. That the idea of iustitia civilis has attained an isolated independence (which is admittedly wide open to falsification), is of course a major factor in the modern world. As Christians we do have ground for taking care that that is rightly understood, but hardly for seeking in principle to set it aside again. On the contrary, there are many reasons for the church to let the children of the world, who are often wiser in this respect also, remind it of the true meaning of the iustitia civilis." (404-405)

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