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date: 19 August 2017

Martin Luther and Rhetoric

Summary and Keywords

The Reformation was marked by fights with words, and the understanding of language and the use of it was central. This notion grew to a large extent out of the Renaissance movement in which new thinking on language had emerged, and the discipline of rhetoric, together with a renewed understanding of dialectics, had become more powerful than in medieval times. A turn toward the attention paid to rhetoric in antiquity took place, and a revival of ancient authorities on rhetorical and dialectical theory took root. Luther was a part of this, and rhetorical observations and thoughts play a substantial role throughout his oeuvre, not only in the way he made use of language in his struggle to find and spread new insights , but also in his thoughts, especially on spoken and written communication between God and man. The use of rhetoric is not the only key to explain how and why Luther’s theology developed in new and groundbreaking ways and became as influential as it did, but it certainly laid an important base for the unfolding of his creative thought.

Keywords: Martin Luther, Renaissance, humanism, Valla, Melanchthon, Augustine, dialectics, res, hermeneutics

The growing interest in the study of rhetoric as such in the second half of the 20th century has opened the eyes of scholars in the field of Reformation studies. During this period scholarship has increasingly been aware of the influence of classical rhetoric, arising from the humanist revival, upon Luther’s thinking.

It can be said of the epoch of the Renaissance and humanism that “Der primäre Impuls der Renaissance ist sprachlicher bzw. sprachkritischer Natur.”1 Criticism of the scholastic tradition with their simple Latin and rigid systems of thought, brought by humanists first in Italy and later in Germany, led to a different focus on language and the use of it, and promoted a new understanding of the teaching of grammar, dialectics, and rhetoric. A detailed analysis of the direct influence of humanist studies on the young student Luther in Eisenach and especially at the University of Erfurt during 1497–1510 makes it plausible, despite the limitations of the sources, that Luther was introduced by humanists both to readings of ancient poets such as Ovid and Vergil, and to important classical authorities on rhetoric and dialectics such as Cicero, Terence, and Quintilian.2 In addition, he had easy access to the debates between old-school learning and the humanist revival. For example, the leading light in Erfurt’s prominent humanistic circles, Nicholaus Marschalk, published two important textbooks in 1501 (the year Luther arrived in the city) and 1502: the Orthographica (1501) concerning correct writing of Latin and Greek and thus promoting the proper use of both languages, and the Grammatica Exegetica (1502) containing teaching on rhetoric, poetics, and metrics, and a description of correct letter writing. In the foreword to the latter, Marschalk formulated an open defense of the studia humanitatis and a simultaneous attack on scholastic methods. His criticism was especially directed against the specific scholastic use of logic.3

Before some examples of reflections upon rhetoric and on its use in Luther’s writings are given, two influences on his thinking demand special attention: his readings in Augustine, and his close relation to Philipp Melanchthon.

In 1509 Luther wrote marginal notes to several of Augustine’s books, among them De doctrina Christiana. These were among his first studies of the venerable Church Father, whose importance as a theological authority never ceased to prevail in Luther’s own writing. Most of his annotations are found in Book 4, which deals with the rhetorical communication of the Christian message. He had also carefully read those parts of Book 3 in which Augustine explains the recurrent figural use of language among biblical authors.4 Augustine’s praise and use of rhetoric was substantiated with—in Joachim Knape’s summary—three arguments which all appealed to Luther: (1) the pragmatics argument that Christianity should fight with the best oratorical weapons available; (2) the epistemic argument that Christian theology must serve the interpretation of scripture in the best way, that is, by applying the best possible language skills; and finally (3) the theological argument that God is the sender who helps the human being to receive and communicate truth.5

As for Melanchthon, he was actively engaged very early in rhetorical theory and praxis. Not least among historical discussions of the value of rhetoric that influenced his view of the discipline was that between Pico della Mirandola the Elder and Ermolao Barbaro in the 15th century, focused as it was on a sharp criticism of scholastic understanding and method. In many ways this discussion anticipated what was also at stake in the Reuchlin affair between 1510 and 1520, especially in the description of the viri obscuri in the Letters of Obscure Men (1515/1517). This debate was followed closely by both Melanchthon and Luther.6

Behind the Pico–Barbaro discussion stood the Italian humanist Lorenzo Valla (1407–1457).7 Valla had a unique view of rhetoric. In his Elegantiarum lingua Latina in six books (1440–1448), he argued for a correct and proper use of the Latin language in order to promote truth. In Book 4 he turned directly against the theologians of his time, accusing them of improper reasoning and diction. He questioned their notion of a split between truth and being on one side, and language on the other, and sought instead to promote an understanding of res present nowhere other than in verba—a notion developed largely through the reading of Quintilian’s Institutio oratoria, Valla’s favorite rhetorical authority. He even argued for the superiority of rhetoric over philosophy, saying that “philosophy like a soldier or a tribune stands under the command of rhetoric, who is the ruler and … the queen.”8 In his Dialecticae disputationes (1439), Valla criticized the scholastic concept of the relation between res and verbum/vox: “Wo die Scholastik (Thomas) die Rolle der Sprache nur innerhalb des Bezugs von erkennenden Geist und erkanntem Sein als eine Art Abbild der Sache thematisiert, betont Valla die ‘seinsschaffende’ Kraft der Sprache (Where scholasticism (Thomas) only made an issue of the role of language within the relation between the perceiving spirit and the perceived being as a kind of reproduction of the matter, Valla emphasized the power of language as “creation-of-being”).”9 This inspired the discussion between Pico and Barbaro in 1485, carried on in three public humanistic letters.10

Barbaro fancied Valla’s views and argued that form and content were inextricably connected. He exemplified it with a sculptor, whose creation could never consist of material alone. Like Valla, Barbaro deplored the influential theological thinking of the time, which he accused of rudeness in expression and consequently also in thought. To this Pico answered that Duns Scotus was possibly ignorant of good Latin, but was still preferable to Lucretius, who was conversely ignorant of God and the true nature. Pico also argued by referring to classical criticism of rhetoric in Plato, and adduced the outer ugliness and inner beauty of Socrates in preference to the outer beauty and inner hideousness of the Sophists.

Inspired by these debates—mirrored as they were in the actual conflicts between humanist learning and old-school theologians in his own time—Melanchthon wrote the following recommendation for rhetorical studies in his Encomium eloquentiae (1523): “I know very well, that many people believe that elegance and correctness of language (recte loquendi ratio) can be separated, and that the manner of speaking is unimportant, if the content is properly addressed. Nevertheless if they scrutinized this question in more detail, they would learn that teachers of eloquence are not just demanding useless and superfluous make-up.”11 “Necessity has created noble form. Neglected forms of expression remain unclear, whereas when the rhetorical form steps in and adorns, meaning becomes more evident. For this purpose the rhetorical figures are applied, says Quintilian. According to him usefulness and proper form are inseparable. What are the rhetorical figures good for in Scripture …? The prophets would not have used them, if they had not been servants of the matter. Now you see why I recommend rhetorical studies: for if we do not learn certain and profound guidelines for linguistic expression, we can neither present our own thoughts properly nor understand the writings coming to us from ancient times.”12 In the 1539 edition of his Wittenberger Rhetorik (the first edition having come out in 1531), he even chose to print Pico’s letter and a fictive riposte to it, written by his pupil Franz Burchard but presumably with the help of Melanchthon himself.

Thus, according to Melanchthon, following up on Valla, Barbaro, and also the work of the Dutch humanist Rudolf Agricola (De inventione dialectica, 1479/1480), content, res, and form, verba, are indissolubly connected, and this connection is mirrored in a new definition of an equally inseparable relation between dialectics and rhetoric.13 In the high Middle Ages, dialectics lived a life apart from rhetoric and was basically seen as an important auxiliary discipline bringing formal logic into the service of the higher sciences.14 Now in Agricola as well as Melanchthon, dialectics is identified with rhetorical inventio or topics, which is the task of searching for arguments for and thus a clear grasp of the relevant case, the res.15 This search is still substantiated by means of different, concrete classical logical tools such as the teaching of definitions (Porphyrius’s Isagoge) and categorically structured questions (Aristotle’s teaching about the categories of substance, quantity, quality, and relation).16 But it is no longer meant to stand alone and serve the definition of truth within the higher sciences. Instead, it is seen as a practical discipline of structuring arguments before the presentation of any case, whether it be in a scholarly discussion, in a courtroom, a church, or a political context—just as was the case in Roman antiquity.17 And as such it is closely tied to rhetoric, which serves the proper presentation, the elocutio, of the grasped res, in words, verba. A well thought-out and structured case with no apt presentation is of no use—and the other way around.

One final important thing is promoted by Melancthon, even in the short quotation from Encomium eloquentiae above, and is mirrored in Luther’s use of rhetoric: for both theologians rhetoric is not only a theory of speech, but also a theory of interpretation, a point of view, which continues the thinking on rhetoric present in Augustine.

Luther’s View of Languages and the Art of Speech

There are two ways of approaching Luther’s relation to rhetoric.18 One is through a study of how he actually employs language and communicates. This would demonstrate why he was called “the German Cicero” in his own time.19 The other is a study of what he says about rhetorical theory and how this relates to his theological thinking. In the present context, the second way will prevail, whereas some examples and references to the first are given at the end of this article.

Luther never wrote rhetorical textbooks or gave a systematic and detailed account of his view of rhetoric. In order to describe his view of the matter, one must therefore look through numerous texts from his pen. The following will give an idea of his thoughts by choosing a few exemplary individual utterances from very different contexts, and then one concrete contextual explanation of the use of rhetoric and dialectics in a polemical tract against a scholastic theologian.

Luther has a highly positive view of the importance of language in general. In his writing to the German councilmen of the cities about the creation of schools (1524), he explains the necessity of learning languages: “Languages are the sheath, where the knife of the Spirit is kept, they are the shrines in which one carries this treasure. They are the vessel in which one carries this drink. They are the pantry where this food is placed. And as the gospel itself shows, they are the baskets where one keeps these bread and fish and scraps.”20 And in his foreword to the Psalter of 1528, we find an even more fundamental assertion as to the importance of language for the human species: “The noblest work of man is that he can speak. Compared to a talking person a mute is like a half dead being. And there is no stronger or more noble work in the human beings than speaking, since the human being primarily is distinguished from other animals due to speaking more than shape or other feature. For wood can also be shaped like a human being through the art of woodcarving. And an animal can see, listen, smell, sing, walk, stand, eat, drink, fast, feel thirst, hunger, cold and hardship just like a human being.”21 All these assertions are suspiciously close to the rhetorical view of the human being as expressed by Quintilian in his Institutio Oratoria—not only in content, but also in regard to concrete ways of expression. Quintilian says quite the same as Luther, even though the image is turned upside down. He compares animals with human beings and says that what makes man human is not necessarily the virtue of ratio, reason, since it can also be said about animals that they have a kind of reason. It is sermo, speech, which makes him human, since in this he is different from the other, speechless creatures. And, Quintilian continues, what would ratio be good for, if there were no speaking? Not until reason is formulated in language is it of any use. Without language, reason is like a sword stuck in the sheath.22 We will come back to Luther’s relation to Quintilian.

What Luther says here is that words and speaking are not just vehicles or reflections of something different and more profound. They are fundamental to human existence, and this is the reason why he—just like Melanchthon and the humanists mentioned—finds rhetoric to be a discipline of crucial importance. In Luther we find both critical and constructive remarks on the use of rhetoric. This indicates that he sees it as a practical art, a τεχνη‎, and as such it may be used for good as well as for bad purposes, similar to Plato’s argument in the Gorgias and Phaedrus against the Sophists and for the beneficial use of rhetoric.23 Seeking out some of Luther’s positive statements about the purpose of rhetoric, often found in his table talks—by some scholars viewed as a dubious source—he says, for example, the following, which is in accordance with what we have seen in Melanchthon24: “Dialectics teaches, rhetoric touches. The first contributes to the intellect, the second to the will …”25In another table talk he illustrates this further: “Dialectics says: give me something to eat. Rhetoric says: All today I have been hard at it, I am tired, sick, hungry etc., I have not eaten anything; dearest, give me a good piece of meat, a good roast and a good pint of beer to drink.”26 That he, like Melanchthon, holds dialectics and rhetoric close together also comes to the fore in a quotation from his large commentary on Galatians of 1531/1535: “But dialectics and rhetoric are separate arts and nevertheless mutually related, so that one cannot be separated from the other. For the rhetorician without dialectics cannot teach anything certain, and in turn, the dialectician without rhetoric cannot affect the listeners, but he who unites both, he teaches and convinces.”27 So Luther keeps the focus on the unity between the orientation toward the “case,” res (dialectical), and the appropriate account of that case in words, verba (rhetorical).

This last statement about the one who unites dialectics and rhetoric, and thus both teaches and convinces, could be a slightly altered reflection of an enthusiastic assertion on Quintilian dating from 1519.28 In a letter to Spalatin that November, Luther writes: “Quintilian truly seems to be the only one, who really improves the young, well even grown men … I totally prefer Quintilian to all other authorities, he who both instructs in eloquence and also demonstrates it, that is, he teaches in the most reliable way by means of both word and example.”29 This was written just after a public lecture on Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria had been given in Wittenberg in the fall of 1518, and after plans had been made to introduce teaching on it in the reformed curriculum of arts at the University.30 And Luther’s enthusiasm seems to have lasted. He refers to Quintilian more than once in his writing against Latomus (1521), and in a table talk from 1531 he is recorded as having said, “The reading of Quintilian is so joyous and stimulates the reader so much that he is forced to keep reading without pause, for he [Quintilian] enters one’s heart.”31

Quintilian had a tremendous revival in the late medieval and Renaissance periods, after his Institutio Oratoria was rediscovered and made available. We have seen how Valla held him to be the most important authority, and in his Encomium eloquentiae Melanchthon expressly mentions him. Luther does not only mention him directly; his formulations on the importance of language for human beings are quite close to those of Quintilian.

Luther and Quintilian’s Rhetoric: The Writing against Latomus of 1521

In 1521 Luther conducts what may be called his last concrete discussion with a scholastic theologian.32 The interesting fact about this dispute, which makes it relevant in this context, is that the discussion unfolds between two combatants who are both deeply embedded in the heated discussion between the old and the new learning. In Jacob Latomus, Luther comes up against a theologian who is strongly engaged in the contest with the humanists. Latomus was active in Leuven, where Erasmus had spent several years promoting the renewal of studies of the arts in his Ratio verae theologiae (1518) and more concretely had supported an institution teaching Latin, Greek and Hebrew; there Latomus had established solid arguments against the studia humanitatis, and not least against the necessity of language studies for the pursuit of theology. In his Dialogue on the Matter of the Three Languages and Theological Study (1519), he had promoted arguments quite similar to those put forward by Pico della Mirandola some fifty years before.33 Pico said that Duns Scotus had the best knowledge of God and true nature, even though he did not boast eloquent Latin. Similarly, Latomus explains in the Dialogue that the mastery of languages should not be overestimated, since concepts exist before spoken words (voces), so that he who knows the concepts need not know the exact words.34 Knowledge is created through the meeting between the natural soul and the thing, before the existence of spoken words, and thus the scientific, spiritual, and learned occupation with the known truths needs only the concepts dealt with and promoted in the speculative auxiliary disciplines of dialectics, mathematics, and metaphysics. The use of rhetoric, in contrast, is a lower, carnal, and practical art—here viewed in a different and more negative way than in Luther—serving the more rude and ordinary people. In a later apology written against Erasmus, who wrote an answer to the Dialogue, Latomus specifies this view in detail. Here we see even more clearly what Luther was up against, and we also get an insight into the perception of dialectics within old-school learning:

Erasmus attaches importance to rhetoric and knowledge of languages, whereas I am of the opinion that knowledge of dialectics, metaphysics and moral philosophy is more necessary, not from my own judgment but according to Augustine’s De doctrina Christiana, which prefers the art of concluding, defining, dividing and differentiating to the art of speaking well, called eloquentia … Augustine says that concluding, defining and differentiating have obvious importance in relation to cognition and investigation of important questions … Eloquence teaches us more to practice the things we have acknowledged, than to know them, when they are placed in front of us.35

The discussion between Latomus and Luther is a quarrel about the better interpretation of scripture, which in the Melanchtonian and Lutheran view involves the art of rhetoric just as much as the concrete communication man to man. According to Luther, Latomus is an infelix interpres,36 an “unfortunate interpreter.” The problem with Latomus is that he interprets the text according to his understanding of the overall conceptual coherence, of which the individual verbal expressions are only reflections. He takes his starting point in what he already knows to be the truth and adapts his reading of the texts to that. This, according to Luther, prevents him from reading contextually, and from taking the concrete expression into account. The hermeneutical task is quite different, says Luther. Words, he says, have a simple, pure, and primary meaning,37 but this does not mean that the literal sense is always the only valid one. A word must be understood contextually, and the context might force through a different and figural meaning, which is then the right one (perhaps the only right one) at that specific place.38 Luther tries to give Latomus examples of how this interpretative work is put into practice. There are no certain rules to apply, he says, but there are different guidelines. It is not possible, he emphasizes, to resort to figural interpretations at one’s pleasure.39 If so, a Babylonian confusion of words and languages would arise. But a word can have a figural meaning if, for instance, the overall meaning or an evident textual absurdity prompts it.40 If understood correctly, the linguistic figures—and Luther actually uses the common term figura for all of them in his Antilatomus41—are the sweetest and most important use of words, not least in the biblical texts. Scripture is filled with figures such as synecdoche, metalepsis, metaphor, and hyperbole,42 and they are absolutely uncontrollable, says Luther, since they belong exclusively to the speaker, who can create a numerous array of significations. That again does not mean that thereby he creates a numerous array of primary meanings, which would then be equivocations. The need for the speaker as well as for the listener is to find the primary meaning and then posit images and figures next to it, so that they will all go together in one large picture. Holding onto the primary meaning prevents confusion, whereas the meaning of the figures will produce joy, engagement, the effect of the assertions, and even sometimes the only proper and true sense. As Luther puts it, “I do not know what kind of energy the figures have, that they so forcefully enter and affect. This is why every human being naturally desires both to listen and to speak by means of them”43; he goes on, “Figural speech is sweeter and more impressive than simple and rude speech.”44 The figures will strengthen memory and cognition, and they will bring pleasure to the soul.45

We see here that Luther’s view of semantics is different from that of Latomus. He does not subscribe to the relation between things, concepts, and uttered words found in Latomus, which seems to be a quite classical and realist semantics, probably of Thomistic derivation.46 Instead Luther refers to context and use for the finding of the case argued, just as in the humanist writings. Luther’s statements greatly resemble Quintilian’s linguistic theory in the Institutio Oratoria.47 In Quintilian we see similar thoughts on the relation between significatio propria and significatio translata and on contextual analysis. Quintilian likewise argues that the figural meaning is not only meant to create emphasis, better understanding, and joy, but that it is also sometimes the necessary and only true meaning of an assertion.48

In the Antilatomus we finally also find a concrete example of the topical use of dialectics within a rhetorical frame.49 Here, in a discussion about the proper meaning of the word “sin,” Luther even explicitly mentions Quintilian in preference to Aristotle, a concrete example of the close unity of dialectics and rhetoric, which Luther reads out of Quintilian and promotes. Latomus must know, he says, that he, Luther, understands the concept of substance moreQuintiliani (“in the manner of Quintilian”) instead of according to Aristotle—at least in the way the scholastics understand Aristotle. Aristotle himself, Luther observes, might actually be more in accord with Quintilian’s understanding. Quintilian’s definition of “substance,” he explains, comes into being through a discussion of something in the world, quavis res mundi, first by asking quid sit (“what it may be”), and thereafter by asking for the quantity and quality of it, to whom it belongs, its action, passion, location, temporality, and so on. By structuring the parts, loci, of the speech through these distinct categories, Luther explains, starting with the quid and following up with the others, the cognition and knowledge of the case in question, res, will be optimal, and it will benefit both the eloquence and memory of it. But, as Luther concludes, “It is totally unknown to the sophist schools.”

God as Orator

It seems that Luther has gone through a process of liberation in order to be able to begin reading scripture in this way, and that humanist dialectical-rhetorical observations of how res and verba interrelate and work might have provided him with some of the tools to make that move. But interestingly enough, his “rhetorical” acceptance of context and respect for the sender of a message make him capable of an art of reasoning within theology that is quite different from what we see in the humanist movement, and more in correlation with Augustine’s thought.50 Luther, so to speak, takes the rhetorical observations at their word and concludes that biblical writings should be understood as a spoken message from within. Seeing God as the speaking creator,51 in whom acting and speaking are one (cf. the story of creation and the prologue of John), Luther interprets Christ and the Holy Spirit as God’s word and his orator, respectively.52 Studying Luther’s hermeneutical arguments for specific contextual readings and naming of linguistic figures in the Bible and his topical analyses of biblical concepts, we see how he often argues by means of the biblical context; that is, he lets the theological content determine the reading.53 This is not least the case in the famous passage about Christ as “sin in a metaphorical way” in the Antilatomus, and also in the dialectical-rhetorical analysis presented above, that being an analysis of the concept of sin outside the metaphor.54 It seems that the determining factor for Luther’s concept of language within theology is his preoccupation with the content of Psalm 33.9, “He speaks and then it is present”; compare the following quotation from Von Abendmahl Christi: “So ist sein wort freylich nicht ein nachwort, sondern ein machtwort, das da schaffet, was es lautet. Psalm 33 (9).”55 This is what gives rise to Luther’s concept of a new divine language, nova lingua, which differs from the old one used and reproduced by humankind. In one of his Christological disputations (1540), Luther says that this language is made new through a baptism of the old words,56 “not so that it is a new and different thing, but so that it signifies in a new and different way—unless you also want to call that a new thing.”57 The cipher of the new semantics within this language is Christ, and since it both expands and breaks with the old, the linguistic figures play a prominent part. Precisely, the figures are the means by which such a new development or a new creation within hitherto accepted linguistic usage is possible. So again, even though this specific theological understanding of word and reality differs quite substantially from the more classical rhetorical descriptions of the relation between res and verbum, whether in the Renaissance or in antiquity, the rhetorical view of language as primary access to the world, and the way the rhetoricians worked with and described the creative functions of language, seems to have had seminal importance for Luther’s thinking.

A New Word for an Old World

Now how does this new semantic work more concretely in relation to the old?58 This Luther explains in detail in his Christological disputations, and in the same breath he illustrates the limits of the old methods—for example, syllogistic and dialectical methods—in theology by referring to Augustine, who says that in theology we must follow the prescribed way of speaking.59 Christ, Luther says, is a new word, God’s word, which has never been heard in the world before. He is not just a word in the normal sense of a sound or a voice, a mathematical sign or a physical word. He is a divine uncreated word; indeed, he is divinity, its very own essence and person. 60 He is the utterance of the inseparable union in ineffable ways between the creature and the Creator in the same person,61 and this character of being an utterance of the ineffable, a speaking of the unspoken, a res ineffabilis,62 complicates human commerce with him. He is a word, which has entered into the world through the incarnation and made himself known in the existing. But at the same time, he transcends the existing and is outside, inside, over, under, on both one side and the other of any old truth.63 The only access to him is through the old, which in him becomes new. And this newness continues to transcend everything, even though it makes itself known. Therefore it carries with it a constant provisional character, a hiddenness within the revelation, which Luther also formulates when he states that “the gospel is not known to any creature, since it is a secret hidden from the world.”64 To acknowledge this hidden revelation, this transcendence within the present, is for Luther the hermeneutical kernel: this is the knowledge with which, at the back of his mind, the receiver of the Christian message must carefully study the context and the communicative situation of the divine word.65

Here we find a possible explanation of the simultaneity within Luther’s authorship between theological assertion on the one hand, and on the other his awareness of the abiding human incapacity to grasp the truth. The fact that the hiddenness of the gospel never disappears despite its making itself known through the word means that the expression of the new in the old will always carry the character of a similitude, and such a thing “limps and never … runs on all four legs.”66 Since the case, res, is incomprehensible and larger than what can be made clear through grammar and philosophical rules, the receiver will always find himself in a cloud or fog of darkness as far as his natural intellectual capacity is concerned.67 Therefore, Luther admonishes us, the best thing sometimes is to abstain from private attempts to clarify, and then instead to stick to the formulations provided by the Spirit in scripture. This he also formulates in Von Abendmahl Christi (1529): “When we surrender ourselves and confess that we do not understand his words and deeds, we must satisfy ourselves by speaking about his deeds with his own words, plain and simple as he has prescribed and promised, and not try to use our own words thinking that they might possibly be better and different.”68 So we see that Luther solves human weakness or incapacity in acceptance of the word with reference to the divine certainty of the biblical formulations.69 Thus, if something unclear is one day said about the gospel, especially among the learned who know both their own incapacity and the external clarity of the word, it is no problem, Luther concludes, since “when the heart does not err, then the tongue will not err either. The Holy Spirit will forgive us our stuttering.”70

Rhetoric and Anthropology

The key word “heart” takes us to the last paragraph in this essay. Evidently the talk of rhetoric turns the attention to the effect of the speech, since the classical aim of the oratio has always been to teach, move, and please the listener—docere, movere et delectare; we have seen Luther repeating as much in his table talk. It is generally accepted within contemporary Luther research that the concept of affectus and the human experience is central to Luther.71 Often his statement from the second lecture on the Psalms is quoted to substantiate this: “Well, a theologian is created through living, dying and being cursed, not through knowing, reading or speculating.”72

Birgit Stolt has emphasized Luther’s use of the affectus and his biblical concept of the heart very strongly. Luther has what she calls a “holistic” Old Testament-inspired view of the human being, which does not operate with a split between intellect and emotion, but sees them as connected and situated together in the heart. She finds a great resemblance at this point between Luther and the mystical tradition.73 According to her this holistic anthropology has an uncomplicated, undisturbed structure: “ Der enge Zusammenhang zwischen Gedanke, Gefühl, Wort und Glaube erklärt, warum Luther im ‘Sendbrief vom Dolmetschen’ als Voraussetzung für einen Bibelübersetzer nicht Gelehrsamkeit und Sprachgewandtheit zuerst nennt, sondern: “Ah, est ist dolmetschen ja nicht eines jeglichen Kunst […]. Es gehöret dazu ein recht, frum, treu, vleissig, forchtsam, Christlich, geleret, erfarn, geübt hertz.”74

Stolt’s view of Luther’s anthropology is no doubt correct when seen from the perspective of the perfect Christian, about which Luther sometimes talks. In his Deutsche Messe (1526) he paints the zenith of the perfect service to God by the consummate Christian75; in Von weltlicher Obrigkeit (1523) he turns to the ideal Christian citizen and states that not one out of a thousand is like that76; and in his interpretation of the Magnificat he depicts Mary as the exemplary humble believer.77 But as we have seen, Luther can also talk about an understanding within the heart, which conflicts with another understanding in the same person. This should be kept in mind when trying to sort out how Luther understands the effect of speech upon the human mind, not least the speaking of the divine word. The image painted by Stolt, and also by the Danish scholar Jan Lindhardt78 needs revision, or at least expansion. What they seem to overlook is the difference between the perfect Christian, who is actually in accord with the undisturbed holistic view, but who is maybe no more than an ideal, and in contrast the ordinary Christian. The latter is characterized by a more complicated anthropological structure because of the simultaneous full presence of sin and righteousness, old and new, spirit and flesh. This is a structure that draws on the thinking of Paul and Augustine, but otherwise in its radical form has no intellectual precedent within tradition.79 Luther often mentions it, for example in his commentary on Galatians (1519): “One whole man loves chastity and the same whole man is stirred by the incentives of lust. There are two whole men and one whole man.” And thus “he will and he will not.”80 This is a Janus-like existence, which takes the shape of a struggle, not as a question of partly this, partly that, but wholly this, wholly that. Thus we can say that a holistic anthropology is fully present in both a positive and a negative form, at the same time. But of the utmost importance, and repeatedly stressed by Luther, is that all believers, whoever they are—this Christian person or that depicted ideal Christian—are equal and dear to God, since God is no respecter of persons. They are all totally righteous in the eyes of God, coram deo, and thus the positive side and grace has the upper hand.

When we search for the experience and the affectus of this Christian human being marked by simultaneity, a more complex picture emerges. In the long excursion De spe et passionibus to Psalm 5:12 in Operationes in Psalmos (1519–1521), Luther explicitly says that the affects or emotions of the believer, such as certainty and joy, are rare and difficult feelings which need exercise and strengthening.81 Their difficulty stems from the fact that the object that creates these feelings, the pleasing justifying grace of God, is invisible, whereas what is visible is the horrifying annihilation of the sinner (gospel/law; opus proprium/opus alienum). Of this Luther gives a vivid description in his commentary to Psalm 3:3: “… it is a difficult thing, and a work of the divine grace, to believe in God as the lifter up of our head and the bestower of the crown in the midst of death and hell. For this lifting-up is hidden and what is seen is only desperation and no salvation in God. Thus we are taught to believe ‘in hope against hope’ (Rom. 4.18), which wisdom of the cross until this day is deeply hidden in a profound mystery. For there is no other way to heaven than the cross of Christ … The cross is the safest of all things. Blessed is he who perceives this.”82 What Luther actually says here is that to the ordinary Christian believer, joy and certainty are often created despite, through, or across the presence of anxiety and fear of God.

Seen from this perspective, the words in Sendbrief vom Dolmetschen quoted above by Stolt could be interpreted differently. When Luther says that the good translator of the Bible must be among other things pious, hardworking, fearful, and learned, he could be pointing to the previously presented hermeneutical kernel, now seen from a soteriological perspective: the good translator should be aware of his own ignorance, and of the anxiety of the old man who, in hearing the gospel, is confident and happy that despite his imminent eradication he is saved and made new in Christ. This interpretation also seems to be consistent with the line quoted from Operationes in Psalmos above, which does not emphasize joy and happiness as substantial for the creation of a theologian, but “living, dying and being damned.”

Luther Himself as Communicator in the 16th Century

Several issues can receive only scant attention in this limited space, but should be mentioned. First and foremost, Luther’s theory of preaching is central to the theme of Luther and rhetoric, since it entails important deliberations on the use of words and ways of addressing an audience. Here we must restrict our focus on a single illustrative quotation, and then refer to previous instructive outlines and treatments of the theme.83 What Luther says about the art of preaching seems to be much in accordance with the thoughts presented above. He emphasizes the importance of definition (dialetic/res), appeal (rhetoric/verba), and the workings of the word of God through figural speech. Witness the following line from the table talks: “A preacher must be a dialectician and a rhetorician, that is, he must teach and admonish. When he seeks to learn a theme, he must first distinguish it, then define it, then thirdly he must adduce scriptural verses for it and fourthly he should illustrate it with examples from scripture or from elsewhere, fifth he must further ornament his words with parables and sixth he should reprove the wicked, the lazy and the slothful etc.”84

With reference to Erich Auerbach’s work, Birgit Stolt emphasizes Luther’s often observed preference for the Augustinian notion of sermo humilis in preaching, a style specific to Christian language use, and foreign to the traditional division in the three stylistic forms subtile, medium, and grande. The idea here is that the most elevated content takes the shape of the most humble form, just like Christ in the crib at Bethlehem or, even more radically, Christ on the cross. Thus the word of God, which is the most elevated, should be spoken in the most humble—that is, the most plain and ordinary—way.85

Exactly the choice of style86 and the many genres in which Luther chose to express himself and mastered as formal ways of communication are central to a treatment of the importance of his rhetoric.87 The consideration he gave to expression affected and strengthened his notion of the diversity of genres, their possibilities and aims. His output is first and foremost transmitted in prose, but prose as broad and varied as scriptural interpretation, tracts and pamphlets, theses, prefaces, postscripts, sermons, and letters. An exception is his use of images in the form of woodcuts, as in the Passional Christi und Antichristi (1521), created with Melanchthon and Lucas Cranach the Elder.88 Luther, however, never touched widespread and popular genres such as dialogues, allegories, didactic poems, rhymed chronicles, visions, dramas, or epic tales.

Finally, what has been almost elided in this presentation of the theme is the description of the Reformation “as a rhetorical cosmos.”89 This is an important addendum to the topic: the whole situation out of which the possibilities for popular prints emerged, the public audience grew and took new shape, the use of the vernacular in addressing these new receivers flourished, and new literary and oral forms arose.

Future Research

The importance of rhetoric for Luther’s thinking needs further substantiation. Several of the themes outlined above have been studied before, but nevertheless they would benefit from further scholarly investigation. This is especially so for the following subjects, and several more could no doubt be mentioned: the relation between res and verbum and dialectics and rhetoric in Luther; his understanding of affectus and experientia and his concept of faith and hope seen in a rhetorical perspective; his use of sermo humilis in a cross-theological context; his use of figural interpretation; the differences between Luther and Melanchthon as regards the use of both dialectics and rhetoric; Luther’s use of the rhetoric of Aristotle; his understanding of the relation between linguistic, mental, and physical images; and finally, the relation between the use of linguistic figures and musical expression, especially polyphony.

Review of the Literature

A selection of the relevant literature deserves some brief mention. The bibliographical data appear in the Further Reading section, which does not pretend to be complete, but in which other important works on the theme are also to be found.

Two scholars in particular stand out with regard to the theme Luther and rhetoric. Taking up the ideas of, in particular, the American scholar Lewis S. Spitz, who very early pointed to the importance of humanist learning for Luther, Helmar Junghans shows in Der junge Luther und die Humanisten (1985) how dependent Luther was upon the humanists’ erudition and not least their fascination with rhetoric. This coheres with the works of the Germanic philologist Birgit Stolt, who in her analyses of the treatise The Freedom of a Christian (1969), of the sermon about keeping children at school, and of Luther’s discussion with Hieronymus Emser (1974) has demonstrated the concrete use of rhetoric in Luther’s works. Stolt followed up on these works with further investigations of the theme, including research on Luther as a preacher, Luther’s rhetorical anthropology, and Luther as a Bible translator, all collected in Martin Luthers Rhetorik des Herzens (2000).

In 1974 Eberhard Jüngel wrote, together with Paul Ricoeur, a long article about Metaphorische Wahrheit in a volume about metaphors and theology. Here Jüngel suggests the rhetorical Luther as a forerunner of modern theories of the metaphor later followed up by the thinking of Vico and Nietzsche. In American scholarship, Dennis Bielfeldt has also worked in this direction in his article “Metaphor and Theological Language” (1990), developing further the understanding of the concept of metaphor and the new language in Luther. Finally, more recently Jens Wolff too, in Metapher und Kreuz (2005), has strongly emphasized the importance of a theological Metaphorologie (Jüngel’s term) in his analysis of Luther’s Christology, particularly in the Second Lecture on the Psalms.

A handful of scholars have contributed smaller but no less important articles on the theme. The German rhetorician Klaus Dockhorn wrote a substantial article in 1973 as an answer to Gerhard Ebeling’s interpretation of Luther. Here Dockhorn suggests the close relation between Luther and Quintilian, and also that Luther’s concept of faith should be viewed in the light of the rhetorical concept of trust. In 1987 Knut Alfsvåg was the first to analyze the treatise against Latomus from a strictly rhetorical perspective in “Language and Reality.” In 1999 Andrea Grün Oesterreich and Peter L. Oesterreich wrote the short but substantial article “Dialectica docet, rhetorica movet,” taking steps here toward a more radical interpretation of the importance of rhetoric for Luther’s concept of language and theology. In the same direction is Wolfgang Maser’s concise article “Rhetorik und Dialektik” (1998), which succeeded Maaser’s larger dissertation about rhetoric, ethics, and theology of creation of 1995 (published 1999).

We find a different direction within research into Luther and the rhetorical tradition in Johan Anselm Steiger’s work. Steiger points to a concept of multimediality in Luther’s theology, especially via its focus upon the dynamics of communicatio idiomatum (1996). According to Steiger, this Christologically based communicative/rhetorical thinking comes especially to the fore in the writings of its inheritors, the 17th-century Lutheran theologians.

One very important contemporary scholar within the field is Gesche Linde, who with her comprehensive and dense book Zeichen und Gewissheit (2013) has delivered core and enlightening interpretations both of Luther’s use of dialectic and rhetoric and of key concepts such as sign, experience, faith, and certainty. Linde’s book is not a quick read, but the effort pays off, since she touches upon, expands, and throws more light on several of the themes touched on in the present article. Future research on Luther and rhetoric ought to begin with her book and seek out the important questions from there.

Finally, Philipp Stoellger has edited the annual volume of the journal Rhetorik: Ein internationales Jahrbuch (2015) on the theme “Rhetorik und Religion,” and here Luther plays a crucial role in several articles.

Further Reading

Alfsvåg, Knut. “Language and Reality: Luther’s Relation to Classical Rhetoric in Rationis Latomianae Confutation.” Studia Theologica: Scandinavian Journal of Theology 41 (1987): 85–126.Find this resource:

Bader, Günter. Assertio: Drei fortlaufende Lektüren zu Skepsis, Narrheit und Sünde bei Erasmus und Luther.Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 1985.Find this resource:

Bader, Günter. Psalterium affectuum palaestra: Prolegomena zu einer Theologie des Psalters. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 1996.Find this resource:

Bader, Günter. Psalterspiel: Skizze einer Theologie des Psalters. Hermeneutische Untersuchungen zur Theologie. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2009.Find this resource:

Beutel, Albrecht. In dem Anfang war das Wort: Studien zu Luthers Sprachverständnis. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 1991.Find this resource:

Bielfeldt, Dennis. “Luther, Metaphor and Theological Language.” Modern Theology 6.2 (1990): 121–135.Find this resource:

Breen, Quirinus. “The Subordination of Philosophy to Rhetoric in Melanchthon, A Study of his Reply to G. Pico della Mirandola.” Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte/Archive for Reformation History 43 (1952): 13–28.Find this resource:

Dockhorn, Klaus. „Luthers Glaubensbegriff und die Rhetorik: Zu Gerhard Ebelings Buch, Einführung in die theologische Sprachlehre.“ Linguistica Biblica 3 (1973): 19–39.Find this resource:

Fix, Ulla, Andreas Gardt, and Joachim Knape, eds. Rhetorik und Stilistik: Ein Internationales Handbuch historischer und systematischer Forschung/Rhetoric and Stylistics: An International Handbook of Historical and Systematic Research, vol. 1. Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 2008.Find this resource:

Grün-Oesterreich, Andrea, and Peter L. Oesterreich. „Dialectica docet, rhetorica movet: Luthers Reformation der Rhetorik.“ In Rhetorica movet: Studies in Historical and Modern Rhetoric in Honour of Heinrich F. Plett. Edited by Peter L. Oesterreich and Thomas O. Sloane, 25–42. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1999.Find this resource:

Jüngel, Eberhard. „Metaphorische Wahrheit: Erwägungen zur Relevanz der Metapher als Beitrag zur Hermeneutik einer narrativen Theologie.“ In Entsprechungen: Gott—Wahrheit—Mensch. Theologische Erörterungen, by Eberhard Jüngel, 103–157. Munich: Chr. Kaiser, 1980.Find this resource:

Junghans, Helmar. Der junge Luther und die Humanisten. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1985.Find this resource:

Junghans, Helmar. „Martin Luther und die Rhetorik.“ Sitzungsberichte der Sächsischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig 136.2 (1998): 3–27.Find this resource:

Knape, Joachim. Philipp Melanchthons “Rhetorik.” Tübingen, Germany: Max Niemeyer, 1993.Find this resource:

Leroux, Neil R.Luther’s Rhetoric: Strategies and Style from the Invocavit Sermons. St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 2002.Find this resource:

Linde, Gesche. Zeichen und Gewissheit: Semiotische Entfaltungen eines protestantisch-theologischen Begriffs. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2013.Find this resource:

Lindhardt, Jan. Knowledge and Mediation in the Renaissance. Lewiston: E. Mellen, 1986.Find this resource:

Maaser, Wolfgang. Die Schöpferische Kraft des Wortes: Die bedeutung der Rhetorik für Luthers Schöpfungs- und Ethikverständnis. Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1999.Find this resource:

Maaser, Wolfgang. „Rhetorik und Dialektik: Überlegungen zur systematischen Relevanz der Rhetoriktradition bei Luther.“ Luther 69 (1998): 25–39.Find this resource:

Nembach, Ulrich. Predigt des Evangeliums: Luther als Prediger, Pädagoge und Rhetor. Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1972.Find this resource:

Oberman, Heiko A. “‘IMMO’: Luthers reformatorische Entdeckungen im Spiegel der Rhetorik.” In Lutheriana: Zum 500. Geburtstag Martin Luthers von den Mitarbeitern der Weimarer Ausgabe. Edited by Gerhard Hammer and Karl-Heinz zur Mühlen, 17–38. Cologne and Vienna: Böhlau, 1984.Find this resource:

Saarinen, Risto. „Metapher und biblische Redefiguren als Elemente der Sprachphilosophie Luthers.“ Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophie 30 (1988): 18–39.Find this resource:

Steiger, Johann Anselm. Fünf Zentralthemen der Theologie Luther und seiner Erben: Communicatio—imago—figura—Maria—exempla. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2002.Find this resource:

Stoellger, Philipp. Rhetorik und Religion. Rhetorik, ein internationales Jahrbuch 34. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2015.Find this resource:

Stolt, Birgit. Studien zu Luthers Freiheitstraktat mit besonderer Rücksicht auf das Verhältnis der lateinischen und der deutschen Fassung zueinander und die Stilmittel der Rhetorik. Stockholm: Almquist & Wiksell, 1969.Find this resource:

Stolt, Birgit. Wortkampf: Frühneuhochdeutsche Beispiele zur rhetorischen Praxis. Frankfurt am Main: Athenäeum, 1974.Find this resource:

Stolt, Birgit. Martin Luthers Rhetorik des Herzens. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2000.Find this resource:

Ueding, Gert, ed. Historisches Wörterbuch der Rhetorik online. Berlin: de Gruyter.

Vind, Anna. Latomus og Luther: Striden om hvorvidt enhver god gerning er synd; En teologihistorisk afhandling. Copenhagen: Det Teologiske Fakultet, 2002/2007. Forthcoming in English as Latomus and Luther, the Debate: Is every good deed a sin? Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.Find this resource:

Vind, Anna. “‘Christus factus est peccatum metaphorice’: Über die theologische Verwendung rhetorischer Figuren bei Luther unter Einbeziehung Quintilians.” In Creator est Creatura: Luthers Christologie als Lehre von der Idiomenkommunikation. Edited by Oswald Bayer and Genjamin Gleede, 95–124. Theologisches Bibliothek Töpelmann 138. Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 2007.Find this resource:

Wolff, Jens. Metapher und Kreuz: Studien zu Luthers Christusbild. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2005.Find this resource:

Wolff, Jens. “Ursprung der Bilder: Luthers Rhetorik der (Inter)Passivität.” In Hermeneutica Sacra: Studien zur Auslegung der Heiligen Schrift im 16. und 17. Jahrhundert. Bengt Hägglund zum 90. Geburtstag. Edited by Torbjörn Johansson, Robert Kolb, and Johann Anselm Steiger, 33–58. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2010.Find this resource:


(1.) Ulla Fix, Andreas Gardt and Joachim Knape, eds., Rhetorik und Stilistik: Ein internationales Handbuch historischer und systematischer Forschung/Rhetoric and Stylistics: An International Handbook of Historical and Systematic Research, vol. 1 (Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 2008), 370.

(2.) Helmar Junghans, Der junge Luther und die Humanisten (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1985), 79 ff.

(3.) Junghans, Junge Luther, 36–37.

(4.) Junghans, Junge Luther, 209 ff.

(5.) Fix, Gardt, and Knape, Rhetorik, 82–83.

(6.) Luther was asked by Spalatin to comment on it; see WA BR 1:23, 15–30, no. 7/WA BR 1:24–28, no. 9. Melanchthon, for his part, related as he was to Reuchlin, probably helped edit the Epistolae obscurorum virorum, which were most likely written by Crotus Rubeanus and Ulrich von Hutten.

(7.) Melanchthon commented on his dialectics in his early writing on the same, and later both he and Luther quoted Valla’s text on the question of the human will. Furthermore, they were highly enthusiastic about Valla’s criticism of the Donatio Constantini, propagated by Ulrich von Hutten, which they viewed as a splendid example of philological source criticism attacking the papal church. We find several references to Valla in Luther’s works, indicating that Luther had read a great deal from his hand and appreciated him highly. Valla was equally of great importance to Erasmus of Rotterdam, who among other things put out an edition of Valla’s annotations on the New Testament in 1505. See Morimichi Watanabe, “Martin Luther’s Relations with the Italian Humanists: With Special Reference to Joannes Baptista Mantuanus,” Lutherjahrbuch 54 (1987): 23–47, especially 37–38.

(8.) “Siquidem philosophia velut miles est aut tribunus sub imperatrice oratione et … regina,” quoted after Fix, Gardt and Knape, Rhetorik, 77, with reference to Lorenzo Valla, De vero falsoque bono, ed. Maristella de Panizza Lorch (Bari: Adriatica, 1970), vol. 1, 3.

(9.) Gert Ueding, ed., Historisches Wörterbuch der Rhetorik, vol. 2, “Dialektik“ (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2012), 577.

(10.) Martin L. McLaughlin, Literary Imitation in the Italian Renaissance: The Theory and Practice of Literary Imitation in Italy from Dante to Bembo (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 229 ff.

(11.) Corpus Reformatorum, XI, 52f: “Non ignoro esse, qui elegantiam a recte loquendi ratione separant, nec referre putant, modo rem indicent, qualicunque oratione utantur. Qui si rem proprius inspexissent, neutiquam adsciticium et supervacaneum ab eloquentiae professoribus fucum requiri iudicarent.”

(12.) CR XI, 54: “Peperit elegantiam necessitas, quod et barbara omnia incerta sunt, et quae oratoriis ornamentis illustrate sunt, clarius percipiuntur. Nam in hunc sensum adhiberi schemata Fabius scripsit, neque unquam veram speciem ab utilitate recti divide sentit. In sacris literis, ut interim prophanos omittam, quid quaeso desideras rhetoricorum schematum? At his opinor non usuri errant Prophetae, si nihil ad rem facere iudicassent. Videtis qua ratione vobis eloquentiae studia commendem, quod nec exponere, quae volumus ipsi, nec a maioribus recte scripta extant, intelligere possimus, nisi certam dicendi normam perdidicerimus.” Quoted in German in Fix, Gardt and Knape, Rhetorik, 79, and in Joachim Knape, Philipp MelanchthonsRhetorik” (Tübingen, Germany: Max Niemeyer, 1993), 11.

(13.) See Gesche Linde, Zeichen und Gewissheit: Semiotische Entfaltungen eines protestantisch-theologischen Begriffs (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2013), 336 ff., for an elaborate presentation of this.

(14.) The history of dialectics is more than complicated and has numerous nuances and sub-definitions; cf. the short but instructive overview in Ueding, Wörterbuch, vol. 2, “Dialektik.”

(15.) Clearly the inner relationship between dialectics and rhetoric here represents a challenge: Agricola and after him Peter Ramus separated the topics and the elocutio and treated them separately within dialectics and rhetoric, respectively, whereas they often overlap in Melanchthon’s work; cf. Ueding, Historisches Wörterbuch, vol. 7, “Reformation” (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2011), 1083.

(16.) For more information about the substantive content of Melanchthon’s dialectics, see Knape, Philipp Melanchthon, 7–8.

(17.) Thus this view was actually not new, but in many ways a return to the way dialectics was conceived in Rome by Cicero and Quintilian; cf. Ueding, Wörterbuch, vol. 2, “Dialektik,” 567.

(18.) Knut Alfsvåg, “Language and Reality: Luther’s Relation to Classical Rhetoric in Rationis Latomianae Confutation,” Studia Theologica: Scandinavian Journal of Theology 41 (1987): 85–126, points to this: “To demonstrate rhetorical features of the language of Luther, as is done so convincingly by B. Stolt, is then not the main task here, but to use our knowledge of rhetoric as an important aspect of Luther to get a better understanding of him as a theologian.”

(19.) Concerning the name „the German Cicero,“ see Birgit Stolt, Studien zu Luthers Freiheitstraktat mit besonderer Rücksicht auf das Verhältnis der lateinischen und der deutschen Fassung zu einander und die Stilmittel der Rhetorik (Stockholm: Almquist & Wiksell, 1969), 121.

(20.) WA 15:38, 8–12: “Die sprachen sind die scheyden, darynn dis messer des geysts stickt. Sie sind der schreyn, darynnen man dis kleinod tregt. Sie sind das gefess, darynnen man disen tranck fasset. Sie sind die kemnot, darynnen dise speyse ligt. Und wie das Euangelion selbs zeygt, Sie sind die koerbe, darynnen man dise brot und fische und brocken behellt.” All translations of Luther are the author’s own, so there are no citations of LW.

(21.) WA B 10/I:101, 12–18 ff.: Das edlest werck am Menschen ist, das er reden kan. Es ist ja ein stummer Mensch gegen einem redenden, schier als ein halb todter Mensch zu achten. Vnd kein krefftiger noch edler werck am Menschen ist, denn reden, Sintemal der Mensch durchs reden von andern Thieren am meisten gescheiden wird, mehr denn durch die gestalt oder ander werck. Weil auch wol ein holtz kan eines Menschen gestalt durch Schnitzer kunst haben. Vnd ein Thier so wol sehen, hoeren, riechen, singen, gehen, stehen, essen, trincken, fasten, duersten, Hunger, frost vnd hart lager leiden kan, als ein Mensch.” Quoted in parts in Andrea Grün-Oesterreich and Peter L. Oesterreich, „Dialectica docet, rhetorica movet: Luthers Reformation der Rhetorik,“ in Rhetorica movet: Studies in Historical and Modern Rhetoric in Honour of Heinrich F. Plett, eds. Peter L. Oesterreich and Thomas O. Sloane (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1999), 25, and in Birgit Stolt, Martin Luthers Rhetorik des Herzens (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2000), 44.

(22.) Marcus Fabius Quintilianus, Institutionis Oratoriae, Libri XII, ed. and trans. Helmut Rahn (2d ed.; Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1988), II, 16, 14–16/VIII, Pr. 14.

(23.) See WA 39/I:546,21f.; WA 42:555, 5 ff. This was inspired by Augustine, who said something similar in De doctrina Christiana, IV, 3, cf. Grün-Oesterreich and Oesterreich, Dialectica, 27 and n. 13.

(24.) The following examples all appear in Grün-Oesterreich and Oesterreich, Dialectica.

(25.) WA TR 2:359, 18 ff.: “Dialectica docet, rhetorica movet. Illa ad intellectum pertinet, haec ad voluntatem …”

(26.) WA TR 2:186, 24–28: „Dialectica spricht: Gid mir zu essen. Rhetorica spricht: Ich bin heitt den gantzen tag schwerlich gangen, bin muhet, kranck, hungerig etc, hab nichts gessen; lieber, gib mir doch ein gutt stuckh fleisch, ein gutten pratten, ein gutt humpen bir gib mir trinckhen.“

(27.) WA 40/II:28, 15–18: “Sicut autem Dialectica et Rhetorica distinctae artes sunt et tamen adeo inter se cognatae sunt, ut altera separari non possit. Quia Rhetor sine Dialectica nihil firmi docere potest, Et econtra Dialecticus sine Rhetorica non afficit auditores, Qui vero utramque coniungit, is docet et persuadet.”

(28.) It is debatable whether Cicero or Quintilian was the most important authority within rhetorical studies for Luther; Junghans, Junge Luther, argues that’ they were both important. Voting for Quintilian are Alfsvåg, “Language”; Ulrich Nembach, Predigt des Evangeliums: Luther als Prediger, Pädagoge und Rhetor (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1972); and Klaus Dockhorn, „Luthers Glaubensbegriff und die Rhetorik: Zu Gerhard Ebelings Buch ‘Einführung in die theologische Sprachlehre,“ Linguistica Biblica 3 (1973): 19–39. Both classical authors are often quoted and referred to in Luther’s works, but as we see in the quoted letter, there is no doubt that Quintilian meant a lot to him in 1519, after Melanchthon had come to Wittenberg. Maybe he even studied Institutio Oratoria at that time, cf. Archiv zur Weimarer Ausgabe 1, 388, n. 152. The present article does not seek to substantiate the view that Luther saw Quintilian as the one and only rhetorical authority. Cicero and Aristotle were also important for his thinking. The aim is to try to elucidate the important points in Luther’s rhetorical thinking by comparing it to Quintilian.

(29.) WA BR 1:563,7f; 9–12: “Quintilianus vero unus sit, qui optimos reddat adulescentes, immo viros … Ego prorsus Quintilianum fere omnibus authoribus praefero. Qui simul & instituit, simul quoque eloquentiam ministrat, id est verbo & re docet quam fidelissime.“

(30.) Cf. AWA 1:388 and WA BR 1:155,44.

(31.) WA TR 2:411, 19–21, no. 2299: ”Quintiliani lectio adeo iucunda est et ita trahit lectorem, ut continuo cogatur pergere legendo, den er dringt einem ins herz hinein.”

(32.) Much has been written about the Luther-Latomus debate, but for the specific rhetorical content viewed in its historical context, see especially Alfsvåg, “Language,” and Anna Vind, Latomus og Luther: Striden om hvorvidt enhver god gerning er synd. En teologihistorisk afhandling (Copenhagen: Det Teologiske Fakultet, 2002/2007).

(33.) Jacobus Latomus, „De trium linguarum, et Studii theologici ratione,“ in Geschriften uit den Tijd der Hervorming in de Nederlanden: De oudste Roomsche bestrijders van Luther, ed. Fredrik Piper (Leiden, The Netherlands: Dialogus Biblioteca Reformatoria Neerlandica, 1905), vol. 3, 41–84. The dialogue is briefly mentioned in Vind, Latomus, but needs further profound research, just as does the rest of Latomus’s authorship.

(34.) Latomus, “Trium Linguarum,” 61–62: ”Tamen ne linguis nimium tribuat aliquis altius repetens dicebat, conceptus esse vocibus priores, et propterea non sequi quod necessario rem ignoret qui vocem nesciat.” See Vind, Latomus, 18–20.

(35.) Guelluy, Robert, “L’évolution des méthodes théologiques à Leuven, d’Érasme à Jansénius,” “Revue d’Histoire Ecclésiastique 37 (1941): 31–144, 67, n. 3: “Erasmus plus tribuit rhetoricae et peritiae linguarum, nos autem magis necessariam dialecticam, metaphysicam et moralis philosophiae peritiam arbitramur, non nostra auctoritate, sed Augustinum secuti, qui, secundo de doctrina christiana, connexionum scientiam et definiendi, dividendi, sive partiendi scientiam, longe anteponit praeceptis uberioris disputationis, quae eloquentia nominatur … et addit rationem connexionum, definitionum et divisionum magnam vim habere in intelligendis et disserendis magnis quaestionibus, addens de eloquentia, haec pars addiscitur magis ut proficiamus ea quae intellecta sunt, quam ut intelligamus adhibenda est.”

(36.) WA 8:60, 9.

(37.) WA 8:63, 29: ”… simplex, pura primariaque verborum significatio.”

(38.) In WA 8:85, 18–19 Luther argues that the figural translation is probably the only true translation of a specific Hebrew word into a Latin term. It is thus not only a better or more pleasing translation.

(39.) WA 8:63, 28. This is a criticism of previous traditions for applying the fourfold sense of scripture in ways that were in Luther’s eyes unacceptable; cf. Vind, Latomus, 245–247 with reference to Operationes in Psalmos, WA 5:644, 1–646, 23. Cf. also Jens Wolff, Metapher und Kreuz: Studien zu Luthers Christusbild (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2005), 397 ff.

(40.) WA 8:63, 30; 64:10–11; 64:18–20.

(41.) Where Quintilian tries to give a diligent account of the difference between tropes and figura, Luther in the Antilatomus seems to use figura for what Quintilian considers tropes, whereas in Vom Abendmahl Christi he uses tropus for both. See Anna Vind, “‘Christus factus est peccatum metaphorice’: Über die theologische Verwendung rhetorischer Figuren bei Luther unter Einbeziehung Quintilians,” in Creator est Creatura: Luthers Christologie als Lehre von der Idiomenkommunikation, eds. Oswald Bayer and Benjamin Gleede (Theologisches Bibliothek Töpelmann 138; Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 2007), 95–124.

(42.) For the following, WA 8:83 ff.

(43.) WA 8:84, 24–25: “Nescio enim, quae sit figurarum energia, ut tam potenter intrent et afficiant, ita ut omnis homo natura et audire et loqui gestiat figurate.”.

(44.) WA 8:87, 10–11: “Proinde sicut figurata locutio est dulcior et efficatior quam simplex et rudis…”.

(45.) WA 8:84, 22-24.

(46.) See the discussion of this in Vind, Latomus, 21–23.

(47.) For a more detailed examination of this, see Vind, “Christus,” 101, n. 39.

(48.) This is not least seen in Quintilian’s account of metaphor as the trope par excellence, which is used either because it is more expressive or suitable or because it is necessary, since otherwise there would be no appellation; cf. Quintilianus, Institutionis, VIII, 6,5f., and Vind, “Christus,” 102. Thus he actually anticipates modern theories of the metaphor, where it is seen not only as an ornament but as a necessary tool in language. Thus it is not ahistorical to view Luther as a pioneer of the modern theory of metaphor, as do a good number of systematic interpretations of Luther without actually presenting a historical account as to how this is possible; cf. among others Wilfried Härle, “Christus factus est peccatum metaphorice”: Zur Heilsbedeutung des Kreuzestodes Jesu Christi,” Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophie 36 (1994): 302–309; Eberhard Jüngel, “Metaphorische Wahrheit: Erwägungen zur Relevanz der Metapher als Beitrag zur Hermeneutik einer narrativen Theologie,“ in his Entsprechungen: Gott – Wahrheit – Mensch: Theologische Erörterungen (Munich: Chr. Kaiser, 1980), 103–157; and Joachim Ringleben, „Luther zur Metapher,“ Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche 94 (1997): 336–369. See Vind, “Christus,” 100, n. 34.

(49.) WA 8:88, 9–25: “Ut ergo crassissime loquamur pro sophistis, peccatum secundum praedicamenta tractemus, si forte possint nos sequi. Peccatum citra metaphoram, ubi ubi fuerit, vere peccatum est natura sua, nec unum magis peccatum quam aliud iuxta proprietatem substantiae, quae non suscipit magis neque minus, licet unum sit maius et fortius alio, sicut et substantia una maior quam altera, non enim minus substantia est musca quam homo, nec minus homo infirmus quam robustus. Porro, ne me in verbis captent, “Substantiam” hic accipio non more Aristotelis, sed Quintiliani, quo modo de quavis re mundi possis primum disputare, quid sit, deinde quanta, deinde qualis, et sic de aliis: quod et Aristoteles observat, ubicunque disserit, sed et sophistae cuivis praedicamento suam tribuunt quidditatem. Sic enim de iustitia disserturus, per praedicamenta dispones locos orationis, primum, quid sit secundum substantiam suam, deinde, quanta, qualis, quorum, quid agat, quid patiatur, ubi sit, quo tempore sit, quid habeat, quo modo gerat sese. Nam hic de praedicamentis intellectus meo iudicio ad eloquentiam, ad memoriam, ad intellectum, ad cognitionem rerum utilissimus foret, si exerceretur, sed scholis sophisticis prorsus ignotus.” Cf. Alfsvåg, “Language,” 94–98.

(50.) The additional influence upon this of mystical theology should not be underestimated; cf. Emanuel Hirsch’s explanations of the influence of Tauler in “Luthers Predigtweise,” Luther: Mitteilungen der Luther Gesellschaft 25 (1954): 1–23, and also Volker Leppin’srecent book Der Fremde Luther: Luthers Mystische Wurzeln (Munich: Beck, 2016). Luther’s understanding of the Word of God can also be seen as a combination of inspiration from both the via antiqua and the via moderna: from the via moderna Luther may have taken over the concept of the freedom of God to express himself—according to his potentia absoluta—transversely to all human knowledge of being. In some of his table talks he rejects the conceptual realism of the antiqui, cf. WA TR 4:403, 1–7, no. 4612 (1539); see also Linde, Zeichen, 509, n. 187. From the via antiqua he may have been inspired to an extreme Word-of-God realism, quite different from conceptual realism; see Reijo Työrinoja, “Nova vocabula et nova lingua: Luther’s Conception of Doctrinal Formulas,” in Thesaurus Lutheri: Auf der Suche nach neuen Paradigmen der Lutherforschung. Referate des Luthersymposiums in Finland 11.-12. November 1986, eds. Anja Ghiselli and Simo Peura (Helsinki: Luther-Agricola Gesellschaft, 1987), 221–236, here 233.

(51.) For the following see Birgit Stolt, Martin Luthers Rhetorik, 47 with reference to Helmar Junghans, “Die Worte Christi geben das Leben,“ in Wartburg-Jahrbuch, Sonderband 1996, 154–175.

(52.) The best-known expression of the spirit as the perfect speaker is found in Operationes in Psalmos, WA 5:329, 7–8: “… qui solus est optimus Orator …”

(53.) See Vind, “Christus,” 108.

(54.) For the comprehensive literature on this specific passage, see Vind, “Christus.” Not listed there is Wolff, Metapher, and Joachim Ringleben, „Metapher und Eschatologie bei Luther,“ Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche 100.2 (2003): 223–240. Concerning the dialectical-rhetorical analysis, see Vind, Latomus, 277 ff.

(55.) WA 26:283,4f. Cf. Vind, „Christus,“ 117; Grün-Oesterreich and Oesterreich, „Dialectica,“ 39; and Stefano Leoni, „Nicht Nachwort, sondern Machtwort: Die Grammatik des Geistes in Luthers ‘Vom Abendmahl Christi. Bekenntnis’,“ Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophie 42 (2000): 246–266. “Nachwort” indicates a word explaining something existing, whereas “Mactwort” is a word that creates something new.

(56.) WA 39/I:229, 18–19, ”Füret sie mal zum Bade.”

(57.) WA 39/II:94, 23–26 (thesis 23 and 24), ”Necesse est vocabula: homo, humanitas, passus etc. Et omnia de Christo dicta, nova esse vocabula. Non quod novam seu aliam rem, sed nove et aliter significet, nisi id quoque novam rem dicere velis.” See also Dennis Bielfeldt, “Luther, Metaphor and Theological Language,“ Modern Theology 6.2 (1990): 124 f.

(58.) For the following, see Vind, “Christus,” 120 ff.

(59.) Cf. WA 39/II:4, 1-36; 4, 13-14: ”(ut Augustinus docet) secundum praescriptum est loquendum.”

(60.) WA 39/II:103,5-10: ”Est nova locutio, quae non est antea audita in mundo. Christus non est verbum mathematicum seu physicum, sed verbum divinum et increatum, quod significat substantiam et personam, quia verbum divinum est divinitas. Christus est verbum divinum. Ergo est divinitas, id est, ipsa substantia et persona. Philosophice heist verbum sonus aut vox, sed theologice loquendo verbum significat filium Dei.”

(61.) WA 39/II:94, 21 f: ”Novae linguae usu significat rem cum divinitate inseparabiliter in eandem personam ineffabilibus modis coniunctam.”

(62.) WA 39/II:96, 3–4, ”Quia rem ineffabilem volebant effari …” See also WA 39/II:98, 14–21.

(63.) WA 39/II:4, 32–35. Luther says here that the Christological question transcends “all dialectical truth,” “omnem veritatem dialecticam.”

(64.) WA 39/II:26, 5f.: ”… Evangelium non est notum ulli creaturae, quia est mysterium abscondito mundo.”

(65.) WA 39/II:105, 7–10; 105, 16–18; 112, 31–113, 8.

(66.) WA 39/II:96, 3–4, “Omnis similitudo claudicat, nec umquam … currit quatuor pedibus.”

(67.) WA 39/II:104, 24–105, 4, ”Spiritus sanctus habet suam grammaticam. Grammatica omnibus modis valet, sed quando res maior est, quam ut comprehendi possit grammaticis et philosophicis regulis, relinquenda est. In grammatica analogia optime valet: Christus est creatus. Ergo Christus est creatura. At in theologia nihil minus valet. Quare eloquentia est restringenda et manendum est in formulis praescriptis Spiritus sancti. Non exeamus absque ulla necessitate, quia res est ineffabilis et incomprehensibilis.” 109, 6–7, “Non est sequenda analogia, sed ductus Spiritus sancti, quemadmodum ipse praescripsit, ita loquendum est.” For this, see Reinhard Schwarz, “Gott ist Mensch: Zur Lehre der Person Christi bei den Ockhamisten und bei Luther,” Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche 63 (1966): 292; and Walter Mostert, “Luthers Verhältnis zur theologischen und philosophischen Überlieferung,” in Leben und Werk Martin Luthers von 1526 bis 1546. Festgabe zu seinem 500. Geburtstag, ed. Jelmar Junghans (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1983), vol. 1, 353. Concerning the cloud or the fog, cf. the following quote: AWA 2/II:107, 24–108, 5: “Nam praesentium rerum prosperitas vel adversitas penitus subvertit omnem hominem, qui fide non intelligit invisibilia. Hic enim intellectus ex fide venit, iuxta illud [Is 7,9]: “Nisi credideritis, non intelligitis,” et est ingressus ille caliginis, in qua absorbetur, quicquid sensus, ratio, mens intellectusque hominis comprehendere potest. Coniungit enim fides animam cum invisibili, ineffabili, innominabili, aeterno, incogitabili verbo dei simulque separate ab omnibus visibilibus, et haec est crux et “phase” domini, in quo necessarium praedicat hunc intellectum.”

(68.) WA 26:439, 36–39, “… wenn wir denn nu uns gefangen geben und bekennen, das wir sein wort und werck nicht begreiffen, das wir uns zu friden stellen und von seinen wercken reden mit seinen worten einfeltiglich, wie er uns davon zu reden furgeschrieben hat, und fursprechen lest und nicht mit unsern worten als anders und besser davon zu reden furnemen.”

(69.) See Linde, Zeichen, 476 ff., where she introduces the distinction between infirmitas and incertitudo. This appears in Luther’s thought quite late, from the year 1538 onward.

(70.) WA 39/II, 113, 6–7, “non errante corde non erret lingua, balbutiam nostram condonat nobis Spiritus Sanctus.”

(71.) See Linde, Zeichen, 497–509, where she summarizes Luther’s concept of experience. On 457–461 Linde explains how the aim of her book is not least to correct previous understandings of a solid identity between faith and certainty, which overlooks the more complex structure of the human experience.

(72.) WA 5, 163, 28–29: ”vivendo immo moriendo et damnando fit theologus, non intelligendo, legendo aut speculando.”

(73.) Stolt, Martin Luthers Rhetorik, 49–55.

(74.) WA 30/II:640, 25–28; cf. Stolt, Martin Luthers Rhetorik, 55.

(75.) WA 19:73, 10–17.

(76.) WA 11:251, 12–13.

(77.) For this interpretation of the Magnificat and the difference between the two kinds of Christians sketched there, see Anna Vind, “Luther’s Reflections on the Life of a Christian—Expounded on the Basis of his Interpretation of Magnificat, 1521,” Transfiguration: Nordic Journal of Religion and the Arts (2012/2013): 7–27.

(78.) Jan Lindhardt, Knowledge and Mediation in the Renaissance (Lewiston: Edward Mellen, 1986).

(79.) Even in mysticism, where the resemblances are striking, sin is not as radically conceived as in Luther; cf. Leppin, Fremde Luther, 41; and Sven Grosse, “Der junge Luther und die Mystik: Ein Beitrag zur Frage nach dem Werden der reformatorischen Theologie,” Gottes Nähe unmittelbar erfahren: Mystik im Mittelalter und bei Luther, eds. Volker Leppin, Berns Hamm, and Sven Grosse (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2007), 229.

(80.) WA 2:586, 15–17: “Totus homo est qui castitatem amat, idem totus homo illecebris libidinis titillatur. Sunt duo homines et unus totus homo.” WA 2, 586, 17–18, “vult et non vult.” For the following, see Anna Vind, “The Human Being According to Luther,” in Anthropological Reformations, eds. Anne Eusterschulte and Hannah Wälzholz (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015), 69–85.

(81.) AWA 2/II:281, 5–6.

(82.) AWA 2/II:136, 15–137, 4: “Arduum est enim et divinae gratiae virtus deum credere exaltatorem capitis et coronatorem in media morte et inferis. Hic enim abscondita est exaltatio, et paret nonnisi desperatio et nulla salus in deo. Itaque contra spem in spem hic docemur credere, quae crucis sapientia nimis hodie est abscondita in mysterio profundo. Neque enim ad caelum alia via est quam ista crux Christi … Crux autem res omnium tutissima. Beatus qui intelligit.” Quoted also in Vind, “Human Being,” 2015, 80.

(83.) For outlines cf. Stolt, Martin, 63–83, and Joachim Knape, “Rhetorik,” in Das Luther Lexikon, eds. Volker Leppin and Gury Schneider-Ludorff (Regensburg: Bückle & Böhm, 2014). See also Nembach, Predigt des Evangeliums.

(84.) WA TR 2:368, 23–28, no. 2216: “Praedicatorem opportet esse dialecticum et rhetorem, id est, docere eum oportet et exhortari. Docturus autem de aliquo themate distinguat illud primo, deinde definiat, tertio afferat de hoc locos scripturae, quarto illustret illud exemplis scripturae vel aliunde, quinto coornet illa sua verba similibus, sexto corripiat malos et immorigeros, pigros etc.”

(85.) Cf. Stolt, Martin Luthers Rhetorik, 6 ff.; Stolt, Studien, 129 ff.

(86.) See Stolt’s analysis of “Ein Sermon oder Predigt, Dass man Kinder zur Schulen halten solle” (1530), in Birgit Stolt, Wortkampf: Frühneuhochdeutsche Beispiele zur rhetorischen Praxis (Frankfurt am Main: Athenäeum, 1974), 31–77.

(87.) Cf. Herbert Wolf, Martin Luther: Eine Einführung in germanistische Luther-Studien (Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler, 1980), 130. For an overview of this and also the concept of genres in Luther, see Anna Vind, “Luthers Thought Assumed Form in Polemics,” in The Oxford Handbook of Martin Luther’s Theology, eds. Robert Kolb, Irene Dingel and Lubomir Batka (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).

(88.) Cf. Gerald Fleming, “On the Origin of the Passional Christi and Antichristi and Lucas Cranach the Elder’s Contribution to Reformation Polemics in the Iconography of the Passional,” Gutenberg Jahrbuch 48 (1973): 352–368.

(89.) Cf. Ueding, Wörterbuch, vol. 7, “Reformation,” 1096, with reference to Peter Matheson, The Rhetoric of the Reformation (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998).