Martin Luther: Was He Pretty Confused?

Martin Luther, commemorated on February 18 Eva...

 Or A Lover of Paradox?

Martin Luther is one of my favorite figures in church history, both to praise and to criticize. I think that he and many other saints represent the meaning of being a Christ follower, to be fallen, to learn from our mistakes, to be both submissive recipients of tradition as well as iconoclasts, engaging the culture at large, while remaining as faithful to the Gospel as we know how. Now, I find Luther’s anti-semitism, for example, unacceptable, he let his emotions get the best of him. It okay to be passionate, but self-control is one of the cardinal virtues according to the New Testament. Oh, yeah and that whole salvation came to the Jews first, and um, Jesus was Jewish, and that loving your whole neighbor Golder Rule thing!

Reading through Luther’s Table Talk, he has some pretty strong words for the Church Fathers: “in Popedom the glosses of the Fathers were of higher regard than the bright and clear text of the Bible” or statements like “St. Bernard, Basil, Dominicus, Hieronymus,” “Ambrose, Basil, and Gregory” are all each against the good things that “the Divine word” had to offer. Yet, turn the pages a few pages latter, and Luther reflects on the Bible, using what else, images from Patristic thought, like St. Gregory’s  Holy Scripture as water, “an elephant swimmeth, but a little sheep goeth therein upon his feet.”

And you know how a lot of people like fairytales, folktales, and fables? Well, Martin Luther says just like the Church Fathers’ writings, Plato’s Fables are nothing but lies. But to explain the nature of the Bible? Luther uses a fable he remembers, about a lion serving a feast before swine.

I don’t think Martin Luther was pretty confused (well, maybe on a few things like infant baptism and Judaism), but I do think that if one looks at Luther, and Christian theologians before him, paradox, and neither linear logic or systematic theologies, were the norm for Christian theology. Paradox–because we worship the Supreme Paradox in Christ Jesus every Sunday. Fully human, fully divine, without confusion.

Is paradox a helpful term for theology?


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5 thoughts on “Martin Luther: Was He Pretty Confused?

  1. Chestertonian Rambler

    Someone once pointed out that, historically, “orthodoxy” tended to keep active contradictory tensions, whereas most heresies took one side of Scriptures to extremes. I think that makes sense.

    I’m also beginning to suspect that one point of paradox is to curb our human tendency towards self-serving simplistic answers. Simple answers have their place–certainly we can’t survive without looking for simple answers, say, to car problems, internet shutdowns, &c.–and there are good reasons for us to prefer them in our day-to-day lives. But when applied to an infinite God, or the near-infinitely strange subject of other’s perspective, the drive to simplicity could be a trap.

    This, I think, is why the Bible is made up of 66 books containing personal narratives, poetry, aphorisms, parables, chronicles, creation stories, prophecies, personal letters, lists of dietary laws, instructions for digging a toilet outside of camp, &c. &c. It may be useful to simplify Scriptures into a logically bound theological narrative, but (as C.S. Lewis reminds us) that isn’t the way God chose to write it.

    That said, I think Luther’s language is most clearly of his moment. I think there’s a certain basic consistency–his belief that Scriptures come before church traditions, for instance–but a lot of his language sounds like shouting to be heard.

    1. RodtRDH Post author

      I think Luther is right for the most part as well, the orthodox position should be uplifting paradox, but always giving in to the primacy of Scripture, which reveals Christ.

  2. Pingback: Theology Around the Blogosphere — August 2012 « Cheese-Wearing Theology

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