Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Christ Present in Faith

I found out tonight that my church's adult education committee will, in fact, let me lead a class on anything I want. As of tonight, I'm on the schedule to lead a two week study on the new Finnish interpretation of Martin Luther's theology.

I've recently taken a hiatus from my journey through Fred Copleston's History of Philosophy in order to read Tuomo Mannermaa's Christ Present in Faith: Luther's View of Justification. It's quite a fascinating book.

The idea started when Dr. Mannermaa was asked to find a point of contact between Lutheran theology and Russian Orthodox theology. Now, it turns out that there is quite a lot of overlap to be found there, but for whatever reason, Dr. Mannermaa wanted to find contact specifically in the area of justification (probably because it is "the article on which the Church stands or falls"). And what he found was, that if you take Luther's words ontologically (for instance, when he says "in faith, Christ himself is present") you can discover throughout Luther's writings a harmony between his view of justification and the Orthodox view of theosis.

In the bit I was reading tonight Mannermaa was talking about the communicatio idiomatum (communication of attributes) that shows up frequently under various names in Luther's writings -- not the communicatio idiomatum between the two natures of Christ, but an analogous transfer of properties between Christ and Christians. This is the "happy exchange" taken to the nth degree. It's well agreed among Protestants that Christ took our sins on himself and we get his righteousness. But this isn't generally understood ontologically, which is the shift Mannermaa proposes. Christ is our righteousness!

Although Mannermaa doesn't cite this example in the book, the passage that jumped out in my mind is from Luther's later description of his "tower experience":

I meditated night and day on those words until at last, by the mercy of God, I paid attention to their context: "The righteousness of God is revealed in it, as it is written: 'He who through faith is righteous shall live.'" I began to understand that in this verse the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, that is by faith. I began to understand that this verse means that the righteousness of God is revealed through the Gospel, but it is a passive righteousness, i.e. that by which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written: "He who through faith is righteous shall live." All at once I felt that I had been born again and entered into paradise itself through open gates. Immediately I saw the whole of Scripture in a different light. I ran through the Scriptures from memory and found that other terms had analogous meanings, e.g., the work of God, that is, what God works in us; the power of God, by which he makes us powerful; the wisdom of God, by which he makes us wise; the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God.
The classical Protestant understanding of "the righteousness of God" is that of imputed righteousness, so that in the above passage we might just as well read "the righteousness of God ... that by which God declares us righteous." But notice that the rest of the passage doesn't make any sense read that way. God doesn't declare us wise, or declare us strong, or declare us to have worked.... On the other hand, if you read this as Luther talking about a kind of communicatio idiomatum, it all falls into place!


LutheranChik said...

I liked your dance analogy over on the Thinklings' blog.

Is it just me, or is this book a major "aha" experience hitting contemporary Lutheranism? Everyone, including our LMTP instructors, have been talking about it.

Andy said...

I've come across one or two Lutheran thinkers who believe the Finns are wrong, but in general there seems to be a lot of excitement about it. And let's face it, when there's excitement about the study of sixteenth century theology something is going on.