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Dogmen- und Theologiegeschichte


Dietz, Thorsten


Der Begriff der Furcht bei Luther.


Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2009. XIII, 413 S. gr.8° = Beiträge zur historischen Theologie, 147. Lw. EUR 99,00. ISBN 978-3-16-149893-0.


Anna Vind

The dissertation with the title Der Begriff der Furcht bei Luther written by Thorsten Dietz was defended at the Philipps-University of Marburg in July 2008. D.’s supervisor was Dietrich Korsch, Marburg. D. is now engaged at Evangelische Hochschule Tabor in Marburg as a reader in systematic theology.
D. is interested in the relation between theology and psychology and seeks to re-examine Der Begriff der Furcht bei Luther from this perspective. Because of the shift from liberal to dialectic theology in the 20th century psychological aspects of theology has been set aside in Luther research. In the liberal theological tradition ethical and psychological explanations of the concept of fear were predominant, but after World War I the way of dealing with fear and anxiety turned in a more existential or dialectical direction. A number of works and monographs appeared which sought to analyse the young Luther’s theology, including his concept of timor/ Furcht, in relation to the tradition. Some of these dealt extensively with the interpretation of Luther’s early writings, others more explicitly with his concept of spiritual doubt (»Anfechtung«). In most of them, including those dealing with spiritual doubt, the psycholog­ical interpretation was clearly remote. A typical example is Horst Beintker’s book Die Überwindung der Anfechtung bei Luther (1954), which expresses a clear opposition between theology and psychology: »Wenn die Anfechtung reine Empfindung wäre, bliebe sie ein innermenschliches Phänomen und die Beziehung zu Gott der subjektiven Deutung überlassen« (22–23).
D. emphasizes his awareness of the dangers of reducing Luther’s theology to psychology and describes his aim as, first and foremost, to explain »den inneren Sachgehalt der theologischen Deutung im Verhältnis zur artikulierten Erfahrungsebene« (31). This should be done in a diachronic as well as a synchronic perspective, seeking for historical context as well as for fear as systematic core. D. is aware of the traditional conceptual division between fear and anxiety, but finding no such distinction in Luther, he here uses the two concepts synonymously. In a final chapter D. then attempts to relate this theological analysis of Luther’s experience, and especially his interpretation of fear, to specific psychological perspectives.
D. divides his book into nine chapters. Chapters 1 and 2 introduce the subject-matter and state of current research, whereas chapter 3 delineates the background of Luther’s concept of fear in the patristic and medieval context. Notwithstanding the major individual differences between the various thinkers, D. subsumes the result in what he, with Berndt Hamm, calls a »medieval gradualism«. Here we find descriptions of a development of human fear and trust in relation to God, where the logic of synergy and ethical-religious behaviour is central.
In chapters 4 and 5 D. reads two of Luther’s early sermons, his first lecture on the Psalms (Dictata) and his lecture on Romans (1513–1516). Luther’s doctrine of justification begins in the first lecture on Psalms according to D. (drawing on Vogelsang). Here Luther turns against medieval gradualism and develops a christocentric concept of justice grounded on faith in Christ and the conformitas Christi.
At the time of his lecture on Romans, D. continues, Luther has been influenced by Paul, Augustine and Tauler. This leads to a fur­-ther tightening of his unconditional concept of grace, and is expressed in the formulations of the passivity of man, the extra nos and the simul justus et peccator: In faith man is totally passive in relation to God, salvation is found outside of man in Christ creating man’s double existence as simultaneously sinner (in himself) and righteous (in Christ). This, according to D., breaks with all medieval thinking and leaves no possibility of talk of a »prereformatory theology of humiliation«. What we find here is an »early reformatory doc­- trine of justification«. On the other hand D. is critical of the theo­logy in Dictata and the Lecture on Romans. He finds the negativity in both of them too overwhelming, and a threat to the certainty of salvation. Man has nothing to cling to beyond his sufferings, which recall those of Christ (Dictata), or his own nothingness (Romans), and thus the experience of fear becomes a sign of salvation. D. talks about a »paradox certainty«, where an uncertainty of salvation creat­ing fear becomes certainty seen in the light of grace. And this, he concludes, is a kind of synergy where salvation presupposes human emotions.
Continuing in chapter 6 to the controversy over indulgences, D. follows in the footsteps of Bizer, Bayer and Kroeger, saying that here we find a crucial turn in Luther’s thinking. The question of certainty is basic to Luther when arguing in these years with the scholastics, and he thus, says D., develops a more precise concept of faith and the Word. The Word is no longer just a sign, but is now the true allocation of salvation (Bayer). The Word is here understood as the promise of forgiveness of sins and the one who hears and believes this Word is saved, »allein der Glaube wird das ganze Gottesverhältnis« (245). This faith, D. concludes, is certain and creates joy, peace and comfort – and no fear.
The conclusions in chapter 6 are indirectly criticized by the content of chapters 7 and 8. Here D. shows how Luther’s concept of faith and the relation between faith and fear grew more complex again in the later years because of new situations and new comba­t­ants: the visitations, the Peasant’s War, the plague and not least the concept of faith and gospel developed by the antinomians. Interestingly enough, Luther here seems to revive substantial insights from his earliest years: the passivity and passion, the mortification linked to salvation and the paradoxical statements of simultaneity. D. himself sees this as substantiating his thesis that Luther’s theology can only be reconstructed in the field of tension between biblical-theological interpretation and personal-affective experience (32).
In chapter 9 D. tries to relate his studies of Luther to psycholo­gical theories bearing on anxiety (Freudian psychoanalysis and em­- p­irical psychotherapy). He points to the fact that Luther’s critique of securitas seems to be a way of dealing with avoidance, whereas his critique of timor servilis can be seen as an attempt to reduce compensation. Nevertheless this part of the book is not convincing and it points to problems in the Luther interpretation. When D. de­- scribes Luther’s way of overcoming fear in a psychological perspective (364–367) he paints a picture of man in relation to God, where (even though D. is aware of the necessity for buzzwords like vertical­ity, externality, givenness and beyond possession) man is torn out of his destructive self-relation and feels the givenness of his relation to God. He receives a unity with God »am Ort des gelebten Lebens« (366) experienced as confidence. Thus he receives a strengthening of the »I« (Ichstärkung) and this can be seen in his affective self-experience: he becomes a happy, peaceful and comforted human being.
D. knows that this, according to Luther, is not the only thing to be said about the Christian and at the end he emphasizes the exis­tence of spiritual doubt, Anfechtung. The fundamental question is, though, how this spiritual doubt can be fitted into D.’s picture (chapter 9) of the life of a Christian, when D. himself at the same time concludes: »Diese geistliche Anfechtung ist nicht einfach identisch mit einen bestimmten Gefühlszustand ... das Ausbleiben der Anfechtung [sei] die schlimmste Form von Anfechtung« (378). Maybe the fact, that the spiritual reality sometimes escapes human sensory perception is the reason why psychological interpretations of Luther’s theology are quite rare in contemporary research. Is it possible not to reduce Luther’s theology when trying to express it in terms of psychology?
The treatment of the theme might have benefited from a closer reading of texts from one of the chosen periods, either the young or the antinomian Luther. The interpretation of the »evangelical breakthrough« would have been nuanced through an analysis of parts of the Operationes in Psalmos (1519–21), for instance Psalm 5, and also the Antilatomus (1521). Both texts contain elaborate explanations of sin and faith, law and gospel, simul justus et peccator and not least of spiritual doubt. A glance at Luther’s answers to the anabaptists would also have given a more faceted picture of his concept of fides. Futhermore an amount of international literature is missing in the bibliography. For instance it is striking that there are no references whatsoever to contemporary Finnish Luther research. Several of the Finnish monographs try to interpret the same texts as D. (Raunio [1993], Juntunen [1996], Kärkkainen [2008]) and Juntunen indeed focuses on the related concept of nihil, the reduction of the human to nothing. A diligent reading of the Fins would maybe also have cast light upon the role of Christ. Even though D. ends his book with a reference to Christ as the center of it all, there is no elaborated reflection here upon the unio with Christ, of Christ as the subject and actor in faith, or of the content of the Word of God being not just a message to be heard, but being Christ himself.
Regardless of these critical remarks the book is informative and challenging and it is also stylistically well presented and written in a pleasing style. The appendices and the formal layout are unexceptionable.