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The Word of God in Martin Luther’s Theology

Summary and Keywords

Luther develops a new concept of the Word of God that concentrates on the word and image of Christ. He uses performative images and presence metaphors not only in the field of Christology, but also in the field of creation and consummation. The Word of God and the image of Christ are the only medial possibilities for proclaiming the presence of God with the prevalence of the oral word over the written word (scripture). Christ is understood as the personal Word of God, which can be communicated only through interpersonal mediality and polysemy. The cultural technique of communication makes faith possible (e.g., through the sermon, Lord’s Supper, or baptism). Rhetoric is the effective and affective way to communicate this Word of God.

The rhetoric of the crucified as the imaginative Word of God is the medium that liberates the believer from being entangled with sin, hell, and death. Yet speech cannot be functionalized to become a guaranteed presence of this word—although Christ understands himself as a communicator. At the same time, his word is a rhetorical strategy for coping with the absence of God. The cry at the cross, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) is a verbal expression of the complete Godforsakenness of the crucified. The words on the cross express the radical absence of God. The rhapsodic cry is centered on abandonment. It cannot be whitewashed by ontology or logic. With these words Luther accentuates the negativity of the dead body as a communicative practice. The Word of God (and the word of the Christian) is characterized by polysemy: the word of the resurrection of Christ is gospel. Only this oral word enables the perception of resurrection. In many other dogmatic fields, such as creation, theological anthropology, incarnation, the sacraments, ecclesiology, and eschatology, faith and words belong together because God’s companionship with us is verbal. The iconic and metaphoric character of the word is not a representation of the fourfold sense of scripture, but a unique way to accentuate the performativity and at the same time the polysemy of the Word of God.

Keywords: Martin Luther, Christology, mediality, presence, absence, metaphor, rhetoric, abandonment, eschatology, anthropology, creation, image, withdrawal

The Mediality of the Word of God

Luther develops his concept of mediality concerning the Word of God in a theological, Christological, and eschatological sense. The Word of God can be understood only in its performative functions. In the three fields of creation, redemption, and consummation, Luther uses performative metaphors, images, and elements of the visual culture of his time to understand the power (and powerlessness) of the Word of God. Creation, redemption, and consummation are figures of the manifold Word of God which can be heard (and seen) by its believers within the horizon of law and the gospel.

Concentration on the word and image of Christ allows Luther to develop a new concept of mediality. The Word of God as figurative speech has its center in the cross and the resurrection of Christ. The suffering crucified and resurrected is depicted in a performative way through realistic word metaphors. They indicate the reality of passion and resurrection. The Word of God concentrates on soteriological metaphors which express the effects of passion and resurrection: Christ overcomes the law, destroys sin, and conquers death. These realistic word metaphors and metaphors of existence (Daseinsmetaphern) are at first glance a powerful way to emphasize the event of Christ’s coming into the world. But they are not a guarantee of his actual presence. The performative “success” of the Christocentric Word of God is always accompanied by its weakness or disempowered sovereignty. Moreover, the other two fields of dogmatics, creation and consummation, are centered on the Word of God, which (on the part of believers) oscillates between deafness and insight (or faith).

The Word of God (as a performative and realistic metaphor) remains the only medial possibility (or impossibility?) to proclaim the simultaneous presence and absence of God and his son in the world. Christ is the Word of God, as it is seen by many interpreters of Luther. But this Word of God, paradoxically, can be absent and present at the same time. A metaphor is the realistic and performative way of proclaiming God and his son through words of the imagination. But metaphors as one possible Word of God cannot guarantee God’s uninterrupted or constant presence in the world. Christ is absent not only in the Old Testament (as Christus absconditus) but also among his disciples. His withdrawal, non-presence, and denial cannot be underestimated. On the other hand, the word of Christ is (like metaphors) the only and unique way to express his presence: it is the crucified Christ who overcomes the law, who destroys sin, and who conquers death. Realistic metaphors as communicative practice depict this event of salvation in signs; for example, the word of the cross (as a metaphor of passion) proclaims the forgiveness of sins, and it proclaims the cross itself. Metaphors are offered to believers by the external word of Christ as a sign in medial or homiletic practices. Christ himself is a medium. He is the bringer of the word, the one who talks to us.1

The communicative speech act of Christ cannot be limited and drawn in to his person alone, since speaking and hearing belong together. The consoling and communicative word of Christ is transferred to interpersonal communication: you are the disciple of Christ and you are listening to him.2 This medial and consoling concept of the word transfers the Word of God itself into a metaphor: Christ’s word gives words of eternal life. This image is consoling mediality in an eschatological sense, depicting consummation.

The Christocentric concept of the Word of God cannot be restricted to the word of Christ alone or to Christ alone as the Word of God. The Word of God also is his written word: the holy scripture is like a matrix (or a womb), like a nurturing breast (cf. Jes. 66:1) which gives us consolation and sermons to feed the sad with milk. The holy scripture can be read, heard, or preached as a scientific or emotional word. The “written” word can be experienced by its believers in relation to the wrestling school of the affects, the Psalter. In particular, the differentiation between law and the gospel is depicted through affective metaphors.3 The word of the law is the symbol of wrath; it increases the sin and is a word of death. The word of the gospel symbolizes consolation. Entangled with the law, the gospel is obscured, and the human begins to waver in his belief in Christ.4 The soul is without the medium of consolation, the gospel of Christ. Believing in Christ can be depicted as an extreme struggle between the word of the law and the word of the gospel; it is a process that cannot be solved once and for all. The fundamental differentiation between law and the gospel are two imaginative ways of the Word of God, which can be compared with sun (gospel) and moon (law). Without the sun, the moon appears like a horrible red disc. If the sun shines upon it, the moon has a bright light. The sun is a symbol of eternal life only because both lights shine. Night and day can be differentiated, but without the two lights, darkness and blindness begin.5 The Word of God is a performative sign that never deceives. It always “causes”6 certainty—it cannot be confounded with skepticism. Once again, the significance of the word appears as the demonstration and/or incarnation of the realism of communicative metaphors.

The Proto-Word of God-forsakenness: Absence of God as Non-mediality of the Word

Christ as the Word of God appears on the cross like a dying animal. This is an expression of the experience that dying means blood and tears. The cross is a horrible reality. It cannot be transferred into a harmless context of a transfigurative image or a harmonic or well-tempered word. Is the bloody event a bloodless cipher? This would be a docetic interpretation. Instead, Luther uses the communicative metaphor of a dying animal both expressively and hypotrophically to emphasize the meaning of death for us.7 This dying animal is a central negative word for the forgiveness of sins: if you see the figure of the crucified and that shed blood, look at this like a picture that terrifies you, so that the heart says, “My sin and the wrath of God are over me.”8 Rhetorical realization and visualization of that negative word in communicative practices facilitate affective self-awareness in the believer, as if it is her or his own sin that suffocates the crucified. The meaning of these negative rhetorical signs cannot be limited to its dark context. At the same time, this is a bright word: the relief of one’s own sins, which are depicted in the process of being taken away by the death of the crucified. Once again, this is not only a semiotic or rhetorical process of negativity, but the strange fact of the passion (which has “nothing” to give). It cannot be realized without the horror under the signs or symbols turning into semiotic or iconic signs, symbols, images, or speech and word.

The Word of God appears once again as an expressive rhetorical instrument for stating the significance of the death of the crucified through an interpersonal rhetoric. The hearer appears as the one who actively “kills” the pictorial word through her or his sins. At the same time, this rhetoric of the crucified as the imaginative Word of God is the medium as a message which liberates one from being entangled with sin or death.

Trust in rhetoric as the medium of the Word of God is fundamental for Luther’s conception of the word. Promissio is like an invulnerable and invincible fortress of belief against vagueness.9 Does this finally only reproduce an ontology of the word, as if one could construct a word-ontology like a silo? Is God-forsakenness a (or the) proto-word? Luther’s “theology of the word” does not always imply a strict monolithic ontology of the word. Rather, his understanding of a “promise” can be divided into promissio generalis and promissiones particulares. The “singularity” of the word, its “aura” and its exclusiveness, are not destroyed, but instead semiotically differentiated. The word of the promise is not one word but many words in creation, redemption, and consummation. The diversity and polysemy of these words cannot be reduced to the single Word of God as an axiomatic principle of revelation.10

Still, the semiotic differentiation between a general and a special promise, or whole and part, seems Aristotelian at first glance, with a tendency toward a holistic interpretation of the word: the general promise is a general address against evil, sin, death or temptation (e.g., the word of Christ, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved”11 [Mark 16:16]), which establishes communion with him.12 The special promise, however, is an individual word for a singular person in case she or he is overwhelmed by sin or threatened by death.13 The “objectivity” or “ontology” of the Word of God is individualized through medial and individual speech. In this case, “the word” does not only have a general ontological meaning any more (cf. Ringleben vs. Tillich and Barth)14 but is an expression of a personal and affective relation15 with the alienated human as verbum externum. The Word of God might be interpreted as the objectivity of an embodied ontology, but at the same time the word is in an existential and disturbed “relation” with the alienation of the human sinner through an embodied dead body which paradoxically “communicates” through the verbum externum.

Especially Christ’s words on the cross are a radical contestation of an abstract speech event (Sprachereignis) or a restricted dogmatic or ontological icon.16 The cry of abandonment is not abstract, but instead a concrete sign of withdrawal—a sign of non-relation with God (whom at the same time he paradoxically cries out to as “My God”). The relational ontology is not only disturbed but breaks into pieces on the cross—and evidently, Luther does not use the terminology of relation at this point.17

The cry as question and radical contestation of a restricted dogmatic or ontological icon at the same time does not dissolve ontological expression in general, and Luther’s concept of the word still uses ontological expression18—not only in the two-natures doctrine, but also in his doctrine of creation.19 This has led many interpreters of Luther to the conclusion that ontological language can be used to describe the crucified or redeemer: atonement through Christ, for example, can be described in ontological language as an initial form of forgiveness. But the concrete cry of abandonment differs from ontological language, for these words are words of “singular” sensation20: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? … My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). First of all, this is a highly emphatic expression by the evangelist, because he repeats “my God.” Therefore, it is a misinterpretation within the scholastic or ontological tradition if some theologians try to understand these words as if God would withdraw only his help of Christ.21 Especially Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas as commentators of these words underestimate the total God-forsakenness that is expressed through them. They are simply a rhapsodic expression of the real absence of God, which cannot be rationalized through the logicalization, ontologicalzation, or subjectivization22 of these words. The cry as voice and phenomenon is as emotive as it is ugly. This cannot be interpreted from a logical, semiotic, or ontological perspective. It is believed as radical passion between promissio and fides—but the passion itself is not “in between” but external. The pain of the passion forces out these words23—this is the only “explanation” of the Word of God as a cry.

Of course, the problem of the medial a priori remains. It is not possible to postulate a total non-intermediateness of these words, since they still are (iconic or semiotic) signs. The mediality of these words on the cross as a radical passion of God-forsakenness cannot be extinguished like the crucified one himself is extinguished. The words spoken on the cross become a new medium, realistically centered on abandonment. Radically, Luther does not postulate an eternal presence of the crucified because of Easter, but rather emphasizes the actual withdrawal, deprivation, and denial of God’s presence and word.

Luther avoids at this point a mediated immediacy of the word of the cross as a scheme of thinking which refers to reason or ontology. Instead and quite simply, he emphasizes the concrete and minimal linguisticality of the cry of abandonment. The crucified cries out loud because of pain and anxiety like a human being who is transfixed by a sword.24 The concrete absence of “My God” results neither in a non-mediality of the word nor in a holistic withdrawal or denial of the word, since he cries aloud.25

The difficult question remains of how Luther developed this new verbal concept of abandonment and withdrawal, since the medieval tradition of biblical commentaries usually do not interpret the cry of abandonment with such intense negativity. The power of philology for an exact and novel interpretation of the Bible was the major source for these new understandings of the Word of God. It is a creative process leading toward the unique invention of the radical verbal abandonment of God in the words of the crucified Christ and their minimal linguisticality.26 If and how Luther transferred images of contemporary art—their pathos of images as cultural technique—is elusive.

The pathos of the crucified is not taken as a speechless image or icon, but rather as a minimal communicative embodiment of death, denial, withdrawal, or negativity. Philosophically interesting is the fact that the “embodied” dead body does not solve the problem of negativity speculatively or theoretically (like Schelling in his early negative philosophy27), but in a way that has a concrete focus on the crying Christ as the Word of God paradoxically forsaken by God. This is one way to liberate this word from pure ontology or pure iconicity into negativity. Christ’s forsakenness becomes present in negative speech as a figurative and/or realistic embodiment of death (or negativity).28 This weakness (of the Logos?) cannot be equated with a dogmatic, ontological, or iconic concept of the crucified Word of God. Still, the cry of abandonment cannot negate its own tendency toward iconicity or ontology, since abandonment is both a sensation29 and a realistic and communicative metaphor, but it is not identical with an ontology of tropes.

The thesis that the cry is the/a proto-word of God-forsakenness (Ebeling) finally brings up the problem of the genealogy and validity of that word. Luther’s interpretation of these words is not a more or less negative theory of Ur-Wort, proto-word or arche, but rather a semantic crucifixion of it. The cry does not solve the question of validity or genealogy. As a negative sign of withdrawal, the cry ends as a question.30 Evidently, the dying or crying animal as a minimal “metaphor” cannot easily be harmonized and mediated with theory.31 The cry of negativity as abandonment of reason and icon32 is not identical to iconicity or ontology. At the same time, it cannot be denied that (not the cry of withdrawal but) other tropes as Word of God still have a slight tendency toward an ontology of the tropes.

Refusal of Communication and Lament—and Paradoxically Gift and Belief

The actual withdrawal, deprivation, and denial of God’s presence and his word has already been mentioned. God has ended the protection of his son as his own word—an extreme abandonment in solitude, desperation, and helplessness. The crucified is brought into subjection under weakness, death, and hell. God does nothing to save him. God refuses communication while his son cries. Even if he should cry night and day, this all would be in vain. God does not hear. Christ is the one of all humans who experienced in a radical way the meaning of being abandoned by God and not being answered.

With this new concept of the word and communication, Luther redefines an overly simple construction of the so-called homo audiens or the philosophical scheme of challenge and response. Christ is the one who is neither heard by God nor can himself hear God. Word-concepts that are centered on an exclusive positive meaning of hearing and answering, or challenge and response, are literally destroyed at and with the cross.33 The crucified Word of God is not identical with the many Logos Christologies of patristic authors.34

The exaggerated lament depicts the hidden God with no way out.35 Luther’s reinvention of lament indicates that it is not possible to recognize the sacred God as a positivistic revelation at the cross: God stays distant and alone in his sacredness and hiddenness and does not care about his son. He does not care about Christ, who appears like an animal on the cross. The word situation here is a language of derision by his fellow human beings. Christ, the alleged pure word of God, becomes a swear word. Abstract differentiations between the Word of God and the human word are reversed. The Word of God is negated and rejected by the humans. The old skeptical problem of whether one could speak in an anthropomorphic manner, mixing the word of “God” and the “human” word (e.g. Fritz Mauthner) is debated on a different level of the word, with careful analysis of a variety of word phenomena. Derision is a negative language event wishing to extinguish a person. The crucified is constantly confronted with urgent and verbal action which focuses on negation. He is castigated, but nobody helps; he is spat upon, but nobody helps; he is crowned with thorns, but nobody helps; he is crucified and nobody saves him.36 The rhetorical repetition indicates the experienced negation through “nobody.” Derision in public is central for this concept of the word—an extreme use of language against the crucified “word,” especially at a moment when his enemies have already prevailed over him. This new concept of language widens the horizon toward the negativity of the word, which is not always life-giving promissio, but rather lament.

Regarding the words of the cross, Luther interestingly equivocates. The words of extreme abandonment (as not heard by God) also address the sinner.37 They have a double effect beyond being a sign of Christ’s own forsakenness. First, they console desperate people who are tortured by the experience of death.38 And second, they shake secure people who like metaphysical speculation.39 The word of the death of Christ itself is the word of promise.40 Without that word, he would merely be like a thief at the gallows.41

Many perspectives are possible while looking at the death of the crucified. The existence metaphor (Daseinsmetapher) of a gift or treasure is one way to understand the difference between a pure production of faith and Christ present in faith through the word. “The Lord Jesus on the cross is not a work but a treasure put into the word and proclaimed for us and received through believing.”42

Life of God and Resurrection as Word

God is the one who “calleth those things which be not as though they were” (Rom. 4:17). Although the non-sovereignty and weakness of the Word of God is evident in the real abandonment of the crucified, paradoxically the resurrected Christ himself tells of and praises the new life of God. This life is not identical with normal human life. Rather, the life of God establishes a relation with the death of Christ. God’s life is in relation to the dead Christ in that God brings him to life. The vitality of God is a communicable attribute if the “life of God” is a synonym for “waking the dead to life.” The cross and the resurrection are in fact one event of salvation which can be interpreted as the event of the word. Christ’s experience of being abandoned and his lament about God’s absence turn into praise of the one who resurrected him from death as an experience of the presence of God. The resurrection of the dead body is like new life through the word. Only faith that is itself innovative can speak of resurrection and signify it metaphorically as a new matter. Luther offers an anthropological interpretation of resurrection focused on the supplication of Christ, as depicted in his Christocentric interpretation of Psalm 22. The intense request to be liberated from death and to be liberated from its zone of dominion is made by someone who really is at the mercy of death. But the one who is delivered into death is the one who is going to say the name of the Father after his death. This can only be understood as a prophetic word. The new and admirable narrator publicly proclaims his death, and paradoxically the dead and crucified prefigures that he is going to tell and praise the name of God.43 The experience of believers after the resurrection of Christ from the dead is that his appearance is experienced as a responding event.

Resurrection is, like crucifixion, a conjunction of extremes. Christ, who predicted that he would die, is the one who narrates and praises the name of God. The resurrection is not to be misinterpreted only as a pure metaphor without evidence in Christ. Luther uses metaphors in a performative way to accentuate this innovative event in order to make it present in the new language. The fruit of the resurrection is its proclamation. The event of the resurrection and the event of the word belong together. The word of the resurrection is gospel, and the gospel is the word of resurrection.44 Apart from its mediality, it is impossible to grasp the resurrection. The New Testament shows that the word of the resurrection is anchored in the resurrected himself. He himself is the medium. And he himself indicates rhetorically to his disciples that the word should be a testimony of his resurrection. This verbal testimony is even more certain than the resurrection itself.45 The verbum vocale is the only medium that enables perception of the resurrection.46

But again, negativity of the word is at stake again, because the word of the resurrection is not believed by anybody. Not to believe in the message of the resurrection is not an exception, but rather the rule. Farmers, citizens, and the gentry talk clumsily about it. Even among wise people like cardinals or the pope, there are only two or three who believe in the resurrection.47 Reason is insufficient to understand the resurrection. Christ’s empty grave is not proof of the resurrection. The rational disciples who see the empty grave think that he was brought away. Without the word, no resurrection exists. The mediality of the resurrection cannot be underestimated. Finally, it is a hearing event to be perceived passively. Christ resurrects through the sermon.48 A person without the word only perceives the emptiness of the grave.49 It is an interesting point that this is not a interpretation of scripture as the written Word of God in a fundamental sense: orality relativizes the written word. The oral word of the resurrection must more or less stick in the heart. Scripture as the written word is not a written thing—otherwise it could not be in one’s heart. Luther is concerned with the prevalence of orality over scripture.

The resurrection can be compared with the mysterium et ministerium Euangelicum (cf. 1 Cor. 4:1). The secret of the Apostles, the resurrection, is not ineffable or speechless. The secret does not speak for itself, but instead wants to be proclaimed as the sermon of “God honor,” which does not mean anything other than Christ.50 The resurrected crucified and the word of the cross narrates God’s name and honor, his faith and human sin. This word of salvation is vocal and public. That has two consequences. First, it cannot be limited to the location of the church, and second, it cannot be limited to pure knowledge.51

Christ himself is like a new interpreter of life and death. His interpretational power is new, because he “interprets that everything should live for him. Abraham is dead for you and me, but Christ says, for me he is not dead, because he has grasped that I am his God. He should stay complete and resurrected, to me he is already alive.”52 Luther thinks that these word-signs cause certainty. They cannot simulate. “God would be more likely to lie or stop being God, than you should remain in the earth.”53 These are vocal signs against death. They translate the reality of death and the reality of the fear of death into a new perspective of the word: “In the grave I don’t see life. But this word ‘I believe in the resurrection’ packs a punch.”54

Apart from its mediality, the resurrection cannot be communicated. The word is not a human dream, but the Word of God, and in this word Christ has to remain alive in the grave.55 It is not only the word that is the medium of God, but also individual belief: “Faith is the medium which connects me and Christ.”56 For believers, the resurrected Christ devours death and hell.57 The promising faith (fides promissionis) ridicules death. Concrete belief adheres to the word of the resurrection and transfers and refers everything that Christ has done for us and to us, the believers: the killing of death, the cursing of hell, and the destruction of sin.58

Preaching is a way of being integrated into Christ’s own sermon. The coincidence of the Word of God and the word of humans is possible if the preacher adheres to the way Christ himself narrated and praised the name of God. “To praise” does not mean anything other than to preach the gospel. Interestingly, this is not simply seen as a cultural practice, but also as a theological one. The one who lets Christ narrate does not do that through his own power, but through Christ.59

Homology with the language of Christ is, as Gerhard Ebeling wrote, an effect of Christology.60 But can this still be a subtle self-empowerment of the believer? Is she or he the only and always homologous resonance of Christ’s language? First, the abandonment language of Christ must be differentiated from the abandonment language of the believer, because it has a different dimension when God’s son suffers. Second, there can be a resemblance between the cry of Christological God-forsakenness and the lament of a dying human. Dying is a symbol of extreme passivity. It would be a rationalization if the crying dying person would instrumentalize his own death as self-empowerment, egotism, or self-preservation. Although the cry could be misused for one’s own ends (crying as a simulation of dying), death is presumably ultimately a symbol of passive inoperativeness.

The helplessness Impuissance fits better here (JW) and powerlessness of the human being in confrontation with God are still characteristics of Hebrew anthropology. The negative anthropology of the Hebrew testament indicates that the Word of God is directed at the poor and the oppressed. In the New Testament, the self-awareness of one’s own poverty and helplessness Impuissance fits better here (JW) coram deo have their linguistic prefiguration in the crucified Christ. Moreover, Augustine connected negative anthropology with negative theology and Christology (although in a different way).61 According to Luther, the word of the abandoned, crucified, and powerless calls the God, who listens against all experience. This faith as Christ’s praise of God comes into life by finding the belief of its hearers. The heart of the believer hears under the No of God his secret Yes.62 Despite being poor and powerless, the weak soul of the believer has the power to believe steadily in the word. With this, the soul takes him for a person who is true and just.63 Belief—which can be verbalized in praise and thanks—is faith itself, and not an automatism.

The Universal Presence of the Word—and its Withdrawal?

Luther depicts God as deus verbosus. He has a “big plow which is named DIXIT. This is how everything walks and grows.”64 God is the one who “from the beginning puts his word into paintings both in the Old and the New Testament, for example the tree of knowledge and the Ten Commandments. He gave us scripture and the picture that we should read them, he gave us a voice that we should sing, he gave us a heart that we should serve him by heart. Also in the gospel, he puts a picture in front of him that should be looked at daily to make the world happy. If you see a bride and groom, look at that like a picture that God has painted. This should be Christianity.”65 The Word of God is apparently iconic. Iconicity does not mean an escape from the loci system, but a new reformulation of the word in a metaphorical, topical, and rhetorical sense—and that is one reason why Luther never explicitly wrote dogmatics.

The hermeneutical limitation of the so-called literal sense which Luther favors does not imply that he negates metaphors, icons, parables, or allegories. Luther learned to perceive the alterity of metaphors for his concept of the Word of God with the Hebrew language, especially with the prophets.66 This language can teach German hearers that one has to inculcate the same thing always in different variations. The intensive interpretation of the Hebrew leads to a metaphorical interpretation of the Word of God in the contexts of the New Testament.

Christ himself is the one who talks metaphorically.67 He initiates new communication in parables and proclaims new images of faith, representing himself as a new narrator and eulogist, proclaiming the death of death through his word as the quintessence of the new. Within his concept of the word, Luther aims at a theological grammar as a new Christological doctrine of the word. He is not only aiming at an epistemically reduced concept of the word, but develops his theological grammar as a Christological doctrine of a picture. This image is oral and communicative, and it is a special picture in the eye of the beholder: Jesus as the personal Word of God. It produces vivid communication between God and the one who accords credibility to this picture-word. God pictured himself through Christ and the word.68 But it is clear, at the same time, that Luther did not reduce his word-concept to Christology alone. The word of creation is seen as world-making, and theological anthropology describes the human being as a creature of the word. The word becomes flesh in Christ in an incarnational perspective; the Lord’s Supper and the sacrament69 of baptism are constituted by the word; and Lutheran ecclesiology understands the church as creatura verbi. Faith and words belong together, because God’s company with us is verbal, and eschatology also depicts the new creation in pictorial words as a new birth.

Luther’s relation with traditional rhetoric still needs further research. Until now, an exact analysis of the relation between the rhetoric of Aristotle and Luther’s rhetorical approach does not exist, because Luther at first sight refers to the Institutio oratoria of Quintilian, well-known as his favorite author. Especially the Lutheran concept of sensation, persuasion, and word might be connected with the logocentric and emotional and ethical rhetoric of Aristotle.70 Luther seldom mentions Aristotelian rhetoric, but confessed that he liked it.71 The relation between ontology and (new) rhetoric still needs to be analyzed. Obviously, Luther still uses ontological language, especially (but not only) in his Christological disputations.72 There is a contiguity with ontological concepts, as, for example, Wilfried Joest shows with his ontology of the person, Tuoma Mannermaa with his ontology of the real presence of Christ73 in the believer, and Gerhard Ebeling with his relational (completely anti-Aristotelian?) ontology. Concepts of the word are often reformulated as a “rhetorical ontology.”74 Luther’s interest in parables, allegories, and metaphors could be interpreted as an ontology of tropes or bare particulars75; this needs further research.

The negativity of the word, its withdrawal as being expressed in the cry of abandonment, and the “absent Christ” of the prophets and his real absence in believers and sinners, are probably difficult to express within a word-concept strictly structured by an ontological frame. On the other hand, Christ is in us. The negativity of the word differs from word-ontology or trope-ontology. The latter can be reformulated as a theory of dominion and determination of reality, but this causes interpretational ambivalences and conflicts with the theologia crucis as the weak word of the lost divine—and its believed reappearance in a minimal way.

Further Reading

Anderson, Sandra Mosher. “Words and Word in Theological Perspective: Martin Luther’s Views on Literature and Figurative Speech.” Diss., Northwestern University, 1973.Find this resource:

    Bader, Günter. Symbolik des Todes Jesu. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 1988.Find this resource:

      Bayer, Oswald. Promissio: Geschichte der reformatorischen Wende im Luthers Theologie. 2d ed. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1989.Find this resource:

        Belting, Hans. Das echte Bild: Bildfragen als Glaubensfragen. Munich: Beck, 2006.Find this resource:

          Belting, Hans. An Anthropology of Images: Picture, Medium, Body. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.Find this resource:

            Besch, Werner. Die Rolle Luthers in der deutschen Sprachgeschichte. Heidelberg, Germany: Winter, 1999.Find this resource:

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

                Dalferth, Ingolf U. Religiöse Rede von Gott. Munich: Kaiser, 1981.Find this resource:

                  Du Toit, David S. Der abwesende Herr: Strategien im Markusevangelium zur Bewältigung der Abwesenheit des Auferstandenen. Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 2006.Find this resource:

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                                                            (1.) WA 49:372, 22.

                                                            (2.) WA 41:524, 8f.

                                                            (3.) Birgit Stolt, Martin Luthers Rhetorik des Herzens (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2000).

                                                            (4.) WA 31/I:621, 7, 19f.

                                                            (5.) WA 37:174, 13–20.

                                                            (6.) The problematic implications of this interpretation are analyzed by Risto Saarinen, Gottes Wirken auf uns: Die transzendentale Deutung des Gegenwart-Christi-Motivs in der Lutherforschung (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 1998).

                                                            (7.) WA 5:600, 23–25.

                                                            (8.) WA 46:286, 9–12.

                                                            (9.) WA 10/III: 84, 28–37.

                                                            (10.) The Word of God can be differentiated. Some Luther scholars still use the orthodox differentiation between verbum aeternum/creatum/scriptum/auditum/praedicatum as orientation, cf. Johann Gerhard, Loci theologici, vol. 9 (Berlin and Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1610–1622).

                                                            (11.) WA 10/III:83, 20f.

                                                            (12.) For reinterpretation of this topos in the history of post-Lutheran dogmatics, see Friederike Nüssel, Allein aus Glauben: Zur Entwicklung der Rechtfertigungslehre in der konkordistischen und frühen nachkonkordistischen Theologie (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2000), 294ff. For a new lyrical interpretation of orthodox justification, see Sigmund von Birken, Anhang zu Todes-Gedanken und Todten-Andenken: Emblemata, Erklärungen und Andachtlieder zu Johann Michael Dilherrs Emblematischer Hand- und Reise Postill, Part 1: Texte; Part 2, Apparate und Kommentare, in Sigmund von Birken: Werke und Korrespondenz, vol. 7 (Berlin: Niemeyer, 2012).

                                                            (13.) Cf. Jens Wolff, “Auf der Suche nach der verlorenen Anfechtung: Konstellationen nach Luther, Flaubert, Bataille und Foucault,” in Anfechtung. Versuch der Entmarginalisierung eines Klassikers eds. Pierre Bühler Stefan Berg/Andreas Hunziker/ and Hartmut von Sass (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2016), 101–139. Cf. Jens Wolff, “Im Labyrinth von Luthers Theologie: Eine Arabeske,” in Interpassives Mittelalter? Interpassivität in mediävistischer Diskussion, ed. Silvan Wagner (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2015), 243–275.

                                                            (14.) Cf. Joachim Ringleben, Sprachloses Wort? Zur Kritik an Barths und Tillichs Worttheologie—von der Sprache her (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015).

                                                            (15.) Sibylle Rolf, Zum Herzen sprechen: Eine Studie zum imputativen Aspekt in Martin Luthers Rechtfertigungslehre und zu seinen Konsequenzen für die Predigt des Evangeliums (Leipzig: Evangelische Verlangsanstalt, 2008).

                                                            (16.) Luther’s Christology can be described as a dogmatic icon, but this underestimates the intense anti-dogmatic interpretation of the words of the crucified and forsaken in comparison with medieval Christology; cf. Christian Danz, Grundprobleme der Christologie (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2013).

                                                            (17.) For a careful, detailed analysis of relatio, etc., see Risto Saarinen, “Martin Luther and Relational Thinking,” in Oxford Research Encycopledia of Religion.

                                                            (18.) As he generally does in Christology; cf. Tuomo Mannermaa, Der im Glauben gegenwärtige Christus: Rechtfertigung und Vergottung; Zum ökumenischen Dialog (Hannover: Lutherisches Verlagshaus, 1989). Cf. Risto Saarinen, “Justification by Faith: The View of the Mannermaa School,” in The Oxford Handbook of Martin Luther’s Theology, eds. Robert Kolb, Irene Dingel, and L’ubomír Batka (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 254–263.

                                                            (19.) Kjell Ove Nilsson, Simul: Das Miteinander von Göttlichem und Menschlichem in Luthers Theologie (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1966).

                                                            (20.) WA 5:601, 14.

                                                            (21.) WA 5:601, 14–17.

                                                            (22.) Jens Wolff, “Martin Luthers ‘innerer Mensch’,” Lutherjahrbuch 75 (2008): 31–66.

                                                            (23.) WA 17/I:68, 9–11.

                                                            (24.) See footnote 23.

                                                            (25.) Joseph Vogl, Über den Schrei (Göttingen, Germany: V&R Unipress, 2013).

                                                            (26.) For the relation with the arts, see Steven Ozment, The Serpent and the Lamb: Cranach, Luther and the Making of the Reformation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011). Cf. Hans Preuss, Martin Luther: Der Künstler (Gütersloh: Bertelsmann, 1931).

                                                            (27.) For a further historic account, see Raoul Mortley, From Word to Silence, vol. 1: The Rise and Fall of Logos; vol. 2: The Way of Negation, Christian and Greek (Bonn: Hanstein, 1986); Deirdre Carabine, The Unknown God: Negative Theology in the Platonic Tradition, Plato to Eriugena (Leuven: Peeters, 1995); Edouard Wéber, “Négativité et causalité: Leur articulation dans l’apophatisme de l’école d’Albert le Grand,” in Albertus Magnus und der Albertismus: Deutsche philosophische Kultur des Mittelalters, eds. Maarten Hoenen and Alain de Libera (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 51–90; and Knut Alfsvåg, What No Mind Has Conceived: On the Significance of Christological Apophaticism (Leuven: Peeters, 2010).

                                                            (28.) For an account of negativity concerning negative giving see Risto Saarinen, God and the Gift: An Ecumenical Theology of Giving (Collegeville, PA: Liturgical Press, 2005), 60–79.

                                                            (29.) Jens Wolff, “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, eds. Torbjörn Johansson et al. (Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 2010), 33–58.

                                                            (30.) For a careful interpretation of the “Why?” in a different context, see Bruno Liebrucks, “Ist Sprache Handlung?,” in Irrationaler Logos und rationaler Mythos, by Bruno Liebrucks (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 1982), 347–371.

                                                            (31.) Cf. Edgar Thaidigsmann, Identitätsverlangen und Widerspruch: Kreuzestheologie bei Luther, Hegel und Barth (Munich: Kaiser, 1983).

                                                            (32.) Cf. Mortley, From Word to Silence, vol. 1, 160.

                                                            (33.) On history, see John Durham Peters, Speaking into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009).

                                                            (34.) Cf. Günter Bader, “Das Bild des Gekreuzigten als Text und als Bild: Ein Versuch,” in Bild und Tod: Grundfragen der Bildanthropologie, eds. Philipp Stoellger and Jens Wolff (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2016), 823–846.

                                                            (35.) Reflected by Jochen Schmidt, Klage: Überlegungen zur Linderung reflexiven Leidens (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2011).

                                                            (36.) WA 5:36–615, 1.

                                                            (37.) WA 5:606, 2.

                                                            (38.) Wolff, “Ursprung der Bilder.”

                                                            (39.) WA 5:606, 12f.

                                                            (40.) WA 15:525, 14.

                                                            (41.) WA 29:201, 8.

                                                            (42.) WA 30/I: 216, 32–34. Cf. Marcel Hénaff, Die Gabe der Philosophen: Gegenseitigkeit neu denken (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2014).

                                                            (43.) WA 5:657, 4.

                                                            (44.) WA 29:293, 9–294, 2.

                                                            (45.) Cf. WA 32:60, 10–12.

                                                            (46.) WA 29:272, 8.

                                                            (47.) WA 36:482, 7.

                                                            (48.) WA 15:520, 13f.

                                                            (49.) WA 29:274, 2.

                                                            (50.) AWA 2:450, 1–6.

                                                            (51.) AWA 2:450, 1–6.

                                                            (52.) WA 47:435, 12–15.

                                                            (53.) WA 36:531, 8.

                                                            (54.) WA 29:333, 1–3.

                                                            (55.) WA 29:332, 7–333, 1.

                                                            (56.) WA 49:99, 10f.

                                                            (57.) WA 13:64, 6f.

                                                            (58.) WA 43:219, 29–31.

                                                            (59.) WA 5:658, 5–7.

                                                            (60.) Cf. Gerhard Ebeling, “Leitsätze zur Christologie,” in Theologie und Verkündigung, by Gerhard Ebeling (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 1963), 83.

                                                            (61.) Paul van Geest, The Incomprehensibility of God: Augustine as a Negative Theologian (Leuven: Peeters, 2011), 125–127; and Basil Studer, Gratia Christi—Gratia Dei bei Augustinus von Hippo: Christozentrismus oder Theozentrismus? (Studia Ephemeridis Augustinianum 40; Rome: Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum, 1993), 227f.

                                                            (62.) WA 17/II:203, 29–35.

                                                            (63.) WA 7:25, 9–12.

                                                            (64.) WA 42:27, 3.

                                                            (65.) Cf. WA 27:386, 14–387, 4, 571.

                                                            (66.) WA 25:88, 9–14.

                                                            (67.) WA 25:88, 9–14. Cf. Jens Wolff, Metapher und Kreuz: Studien zu Luthers Christusbild (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2005).

                                                            (68.) WA 37:458, 5.

                                                            (69.) Jens Wolff, “Das ist mein Leib: Die Poesie des Abendmahls nach Martin Luther,” Luther-Bulletin 18 (2009): 44–58.

                                                            (70.) This future research can only be conducted by someone who knows both rhetorical systems well; cf. Aristoteles, Rhetorik: Übersetzung, Einleitung und Kommentar, ed. Christof Rapp (2 vols.; Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2002).

                                                            (71.) WA 6: 458, 26. Cf. Theodor Dieter, Der junge Luther und Aristoteles (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2001).

                                                            (72.) Oswald Bayer and Benjamin Gleede, eds., Creator est creatura: Luthers Christologie als Lehre von der Idiomenkommunikation (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2007).

                                                            (73.) Cf. Mannermaa, Der im Glauben gegenwärtige Christus.

                                                            (74.) Cf. Joachim Ringleben, Gott im Wort: Luthers Theologie von der Sprache her (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2010).

                                                            (75.) Peter Simons, “Particulars in Particular Clothing: Three Trope Theories of Substance,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 54.3 (1994): 553–575; and Peter Simons, “The Ties that Bind: What Holds Individuals Together,” in Substanz: Neue Überlegungen zu einer klassischen Kategorie des Seienden, ed. Käthe Trettin (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 2005), 229–244.