Thursday, March 08, 2007

Bondage of the Will and the Luther-Erasmus Debate

Bondage of the Will is exhibit A in the arguments of the Reformed that Luther is really on "their" side, that we Lutherans canonize him with our lips, but in reality anathemize the doctrine he taught.

In fact, the situation is this: Luther did go further in double predestination than the Concordianists later did, but he also vehemently diasgreed with the idea of the Perseverance of the Saints, calling its proponents deluded enthusiasts. His whole theology was built, more importantly, on universal atonement.

For explication of these points relating to Martin Luther's Bondage of the Will and his debate with Erasmus, I have a number of posts:

First of all, a straight forward comparison of the Reformed vs. (Augsburg) Evangelical teaching on predestination here:

Lutheranism Between Calvinism and Arminianism

Second of all, a screed against Erasmus's position in the debate:

My Take on Erasmus

Now let's get into Luther's response in particular.

The main issue for Luther, I contend, is not the philosophical one of abstract free will, but rather that of theodicy, or the justification of God's justice:

A Florilegium on Luther's Theodicy

Here's the key quote: "Free will is taught, he contends, in the end because no other teaching seems to man's intellect to acquit God of the charge of being unjust. But to make free will the reason why some are saved and some aren't, he argues, makes God no longer God. So what theodicy does he present? That of leaving God God, but insisting that He is also the Son of Man."

I present this issue again in the writings of two other Judeo-Christian writers generally not seen as being relevant, but both of whom think and plead in ways remarkably parallel to Martin Luther and both of whom find "free will" to be utterly inadequate as a theodicy:

The Theodicy of Bondage of the Will in Novel Form


"How Do I Get a Gracious God?" in the Intertestamental Era

My reading of the issues is very different from the usual one in Catholic circles which sees Luther's problem as basically personal, and in the end morbid. More here:

Why the Pontificator and I Don't Agree What the Issue Is

Essential point: "As indicated in his title, Fr. Kimel thinks the crux of the issue is 'who is responsible for Luther's anfechtung [temptations to curse God and die]'? This is another outgrowth of his seeing such anfechtungen as a species of spiritual illness. Perhaps it is relevant to some other debate over Luther's anfechtung, but I don't think it is relevant to my reading of it. Why? Because I don't blame . . . "temptation"-inducing thoughts . . . on the late medieval Catholicism, on Judaism, on double predestination or any other culturally/theologically contingent phenomenon. I blame them on the facts of life that anyone can see around them. One can eliminate such thoughts only by eliminating injustice, unbelief, and immorality in the world, or else by abandoning belief in a just and good Creator who orders all things and is holy and condemns sin. . . . I don't believe free will solves the issue at all. Uriel's comfort is no comfort to those who mourn."

Next there is a sharpening of the polemical point with the Calvinists:

Luther Did Not Believe in Limited Atonement

Here's the key quote:

"Luther based his whole theology on the will of God Incarnate being for the salvation of all Adam's children. And since he also indignantly rejected Perserverance of the Saints, and clearly thought the means of grace of God Incarnate resistible by unrepentant sinners, Luther was at best a 2.5 point Calvinist, which is not much of a Calvinist at all."

And on the perseverance of the saints:

The Perseverance of the Saints: We're Right, They're Wrong

Key graf: "Luther regarded David in his year after murdering Uriah as having lost the faith, while just as clearly the Westminster divines thought the opposite. Rarely do we have such a nice and clear-cut distinction."

But isn't Luther's position different from that of the Concordianists? Well, yes, it is, something which Hermann Sasse already pointed out. See here:

TULIP and God's Universal Salvific Will -- Again

I let Dr. Sasse have the last word:

We would say, in reply to Calvin, that it is not our task to reconcile these Scripture passages in such a way as to resolve the contradiction between the God of wrath and the God of mercy, between the Judge and the Savior of the world, into a logical and consistent idea of God. We must rather acknowledge that the reality of God has two sides. We dare not gloss over the words of judgment and wrath, nor may we take the greatness and the glory away from the words of grace and mercy.

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