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date: 19 August 2017

Reason and Philosophy in Martin Luther’s Thought

Summary and Keywords

Throughout his academic life, Martin Luther was in constant discussion with philosophy. He was prepared for this with a substantial study of philosophy at the University of Erfurt, finishing with a master of arts degree. In many parts of Luther’s work, there are explicit discussions of philosophy, in the interpretation of biblical texts and in the definition of theological concepts. Quite early in his theological career, Luther became aware of the problematic dominance of Aristotelian scholastic philosophy in the formation and definition of theological concepts. He was always attempting to develop a clear distinction between philosophy and theology, which freed theology from the concepts of Aristotelian philosophy and from the limits of Aristotelian logic, but the same time respected the significance of philosophy. As Luther preferred clear critique and often used strident language for this, his sometimes polemical critique of philosophy, logic, and “the philosopher” (Aristotle) was often interpreted as a fundamental dismissal of philosophy. Since the late 20th century, research has presented a very different picture of Luther’s understanding of philosophy, of the role and significance he gave to philosophy theoretically and in his practical academic work, and of the relation of Luther’s references to Aristotle and the concrete Aristotelian philosophy in scholasticism, as well as to the relationship between theology and philosophy in general. All this research showed how deeply Luther was rooted in the philosophical discourses and contexts of late scholasticism and involved in the debates of nominalism. But this research also made clear how Luther successfully struggled to come to a very different model of the relationship between theology and philosophy than the models of scholasticism, which secured the independence of both intellectual disciplines despite their close relatedness their relatedness. Luther’s understanding of philosophy and philosophy’s significance for theology is closely related to his concept of reason. Again, there is some polemical critique of reason in Luther’s writings, but in fact Luther had a high appreciation of reason, when reason was in exploring the physical, social, and psychic reality and in shaping the natural, social, and moral world. Luther was critical and polemical toward reason when it was used in matters of faith. But although the use of reason in theology had its limits, it was nevertheless indispensable in theological work. This was especially clear in Luther’s hermeneutics, as reason was the means to come to the external clarity of biblical texts in the process of interpretation.

Keywords: Martin Luther, logic, anthropology, Aristotle, scholasticism, metaphysics, epistemology, hermeneutics, nominalism, faith

The Influence of Nominalism and Humanism

From 1501 to 1505, Luther was a student at the Faculty of Liberal Arts at the University of Erfurt. Luther studied intensively within the seven classical disciplines of the liberal arts (grammar, rhetoric, dialectics, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy), as well as in what we now call philosophy in a narrower sense. When Luther was promoted to “magister artium” in January 1505 after a successful exam, he was familiar with the philosophy of scholasticism and its Aristotelianism, as well as with the philosophy of his time. The Faculty of Liberal Arts at Erfurt University at the beginning of the 16th century had a reputation as a modern faculty, emphasizing nominalism and to humanism, as well as modern methods in philosophy and philology. When Luther was a student at Erfurt, the leading professors there were Jodocus Trutfetter (d. 1519) and Bartholomäus Arnoldi von Usingen (d. 1532), who both followed the via moderna, the nominalism (or terminism) of William of Occam (d. 1349). Trutfetter and Usingen were experts on Aristotle, and both published books on logic, grammar, and natural philosophy based in their interpretation of Aristotle. Luther learned from them the modern way of reading and interpreting Aristotle, which was different from the old way (via antiqua) represented especially by Thomas Aquinas (1224/1225–1274). Crotus Rubeanus, Luther’s housemate in the dormitory where he lived as a student at Erfurt, wrote in a letter to Luther in 1520 that Luther was, among the students in their dormitory, a well-educated philosopher and musician.1 Calling him a philosopher while looking back to his time of being a master’s student surely had a double meaning: on the one hand, Luther was familiar with the philosophical areas of the liberal arts; on the other hand, he was deeply connected to humanism. As his teachers Trutvetter and Usingen had been open to humanism, Luther not only learned Aristotelian philosophy from them, but through them he also became aware of the humanist agenda. It may be typical of this interest that Luther reported later that, with his entry into the monastery in Erfurt, he had given back all his books to the bookseller—except Plautus and Vergil,2 who were both praised by humanists. Humanist influence can also be seen in Luther’s studies in the liberal arts. For a long time, grammar and rhetoric had been neglected among the liberal arts, while the main emphasis was put on dialectics (logic), natural philosophy, and moral philosophy. Among humanists there was a preference for the study of grammar, rhetoric, mathematics, and music within the liberal arts. It is obvious that Luther was especially familiar with these subjects, which shows the influence of humanism in his academic education. With respect to the influence of nominalism, Luther saw himself coming from the school of the terminists3 and in 1520 linked himself to William of Occam and the modernists, calling himself a member of Occam’s school.4

When Luther earned his master’s degree with the second-best results out of a group of seventeen candidates, he had acquired a robust and solid knowledge of the philosophy of his time, including Aristotelian and scholastic philosophy as it was taught at Erfurt, and he joined the teaching staff with the possibility of delivering lectures in philosophy and participating in philosophical disputations;. It is still not fully known within Luther research how the Aristotelian philosophy that Luther had learned was related not only to the work of Aristotle himself but also to the many interpretations of Aristotle in the 13th–15th centuries.5 It is helpful to keep this difference in mind when Luther critically dismissed Aristotle later on. The same distinction has to be applied to Luther’s critique of scholasticism and of philosophy in general. Therefore, the question has to be what Luther meant when he was talking about philosophy in various contexts. Luther’s understandings of philosophy, scholasticism, and Aristotle are good examples of the many different understandings of philosophy that developed in that period of the history of the mind, which is called scholasticism, and which started with the reception of Aristotle in Christian theology in the 13th century. As there might not be a unity of scholasticism, surely there was not only one understanding of philosophy and of the philosophy of Aristotle in that period or at the beginning of the 16th century. As Luther later often referred to philosophy in a very critical and even polemical way, one has to be aware that his critique and polemics were not a result of ignorance but were based on his familiarity with the dominant schools of philosophy in his time. In a certain sense, he identified philosophy with the philosophical concepts and schools that he had studied.

To be sure, when Luther was criticizing philosophy, referring to Aristotelian philosophy as it was developed in scholasticism from Thomas Aquinas onward, he surely did not have in mind all philosophy and all philosophical writings. Luther criticized especially a specific use of philosophy in theology, but he did not dismiss philosophy in general. Luther’s critique of and polemics against philosophy was not directed at philosophy as a discipline within the university and the liberal arts, but mainly at the use and dominance of philosophical concepts and definitions in theology. The main intent of Luther’s critique of and polemics against philosophy was to limit the influence of philosophy in theology and, therefore, to establish an awareness of the difference between theology and philosophy.

Theological Reservations about Philosophy

Throughout his writings, Luther often referred to philosophy and the philosophers. In many cases, he was referring to ancient philosophy as it was taught in his time: in a plurality of interpretations. But he often talked about philosophy in a more general understanding, having in mind the general human capacity to do philosophy. In this respect, the subject of philosophy was, for Luther, all knowledge about affairs in the world, whether theoretical or practical knowledge. For Luther, then, philosophy was rooted in a specific ability of human beings to use their reason by themselves. With respect to the subjects as well as the methods, Luther’s concept of reason is wider than the modern understanding and is oriented toward the subjects of the liberal arts. But at the same time, Luther’s concept of philosophy seems to be reductive with respect to the metaphysical parts of classical philosophy. In Luther’s positive use of the concept of philosophy, we can observe a shift away from some of the metaphysical questions to a stronger emphasis on empirical observations, based on sensual experiences and followed by reasonable, logical conclusions and grammatical, rhetorically sound expressions. As Luther also looked positively on the other sciences of his time, he emphasized and supported (especially within philosophy) logic, epistemology, and methodology on the one hand and prudent ethics on the other. To be sure, Luther often talks about philosophy in a metaphysical sense, but in almost all cases critically. In a positive sense, philosophy stands for Luther as a rational, autogenous empirical knowledge, which includes the understanding of the formation of such knowledge by sensual experiences, conceptual formation, and logical conclusion. So philosophy does not come to know something “behind” or “above” or “below” the empirically conceivable appearances of whatever is and happens in the world (including the human being in its unity of body and soul). In this understanding, Luther follows Occam’s tradition, in which general terms refer to empirical appearances and not to an underlying substance that would unite the appearances ontologically. From his philosophical education, Luther had a general reservation against the metaphysical presuppositions and conclusions of realist philosophy. However, this reservation was not grounded in a philosophical, anti-metaphysical skepticism but in theological considerations. For Luther, it was the metaphysical presuppositions, definitions, and conclusions in particular that quite often were mixed up with theological truths and with the knowledge of faith. So we can observe in Luther’s struggle with philosophy a fine example of an intellectual process of differentiation in order to more clearly and precisely define the difference between philosophy and theology, as in the earlier era of scholasticism, with its fine models of a synthesis of philosophy and theology, but in which we can already find some attempts similar to those of Luther to come to a stricter and clearer differentiation between philosophy and theology, reason and faith.

The Difference between Philosophical and Theological Knowledge

For Luther, the difference between philosophical (metaphysical) and theological knowledge was, first of all, about a different perspective—or, to use another terminology, a different conceptual scheme and, as a result, a different order of things. For Luther, theological knowledge was characterized by its eschatological perspective, through which things were perceived within and in relation to the divine reality, which the faithful, as well as all other creatures, were hoping for. In one of his first lectures, the lecture on Romans in the winter of 1515–1516, Luther tried to differentiate in that sense between philosophy and theology in the Scholia to Romans 8:19. With respect to terminology, it is interesting to note that Luther considers the apostle Paul as philosophizing, but in a different way than the philosophers. This difference Luther saw not in the formal mode of reflection in theology and philosophy, Luther did not see the difference between theology and philosophy.

For the creation waits. The apostle philosophizes and thinks about things in a different way than the philosophers and metaphysicians do. For the philosophers so direct their gaze at the present state of things that they speculate only about what things are and what quality they have, but the apostle calls our attention away from a consideration of the present and from the essence and accidents of things and directs us to their future state. For he does not use the term “essence” or “activity” of the creature, or its “action,” “inaction,” and “motion,” but in an entirely new and marvelous theological word he speaks of the “expectation of the creation,” so that because his soul can hear the creation waiting, he no longer directs his attention to or inquires about the creation itself, but rather to what it is awaiting.6

In this lecture, Luther saw the limits of “the philosophers” in their fixation on reality (“what things are and what quality they have”), because of which they ignore—to put it in Aristotelian categories—the possibilities of things (their “expectations,” what creation “is awaiting,” what they could be and hope to be). Unlike these philosophers, the apostle Paul is rather—to use a later phrase—a theologian of hope. Theological knowledge, then, is different from philosophical knowledge in that it understands and knows what things are in the light of God—that is, what they are in an eschatological perspective. If such theological knowledge is reformulated within the conceptual framework of the philosophical knowledge of the empirical world, then it formulates what things could be; that is, it understands things as a set of possibilities. Luther “rejected Aristotelian essentialism . . . , but he thinks in terms of ‘natures’ as sets of possibilities by which we generalize and classify objects in the world.”7 In the eschatological perspective of theology, things are what they could be, especially what they could be in the light and presence of God. Within the eschatological perspective, then, Luther can use concepts very similar to those of the realists.

In the follow-up to this commentary on Romans 8:19, Luther complained about the limits of a simplifying realist philosophy, using as authority the humanist tradition of Seneca.

But alas, how deeply and painfully we are ensnared in categories and questions of what a thing is; in how many foolish metaphysical questions we involve ourselves! When will we become wise and see how much precious time we waste on vain questions, while we neglect the greater ones? We are always acting this way, so that what Seneca has said is very true of us: “We do not know what we should do because we have learned unimportant things. Indeed we do not know what is salutary because we have learned only the things that destroy us.”8

But in Luther’s understanding, this type of philosophy was not only in vain but in fact was destructive to theological knowledge, as it obstructs it with its insistence on reality. Already in this early lecture on Romans 8:19, therefore, Luther formulated his opposition to this kind of philosophy and recommended to his students to study philosophy in order to know it, but then to quickly overcome the limits of this kind of philosophy with true theological knowledge.

Indeed I for my part believe that I owe to the Lord this duty of speaking out against philosophy and of persuading men to heed Holy Scripture. For perhaps if another man who has not seen these things, did this, he might be afraid or he might not be believed. But I have been worn out by these studies for many years now, and having experienced and heard many things over and over again, I have come to see that it is the study of vanity and perdition.

Therefore I warn you all as earnestly as I can that you finish these studies quickly and let it be your only concern not to establish and defend them but treat them as we do when we learn worthless skills to destroy them and study errors to refute them. Thus we study also these things to get rid of them, or at least, just to learn the method of speaking of those people with whom we must carry on some discourse. For it is high time that we undertake new studies and learn Jesus Christ, “and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).

Therefore you will be the best philosophers and the best explorers of the nature of things if you will learn from the apostle to consider the creation as it waits, groans, and travails, that is, as it turns away in disgust from what now is and desires that which is still in the future. For then the study of the nature of things, their accidents and their differences, will quickly grow worthless. As a result the foolishness of the philosophers is like a man who, joining himself to a builder and marveling at the cutting and hewing and measuring of the wood and the beams, is foolishly content and quiet among these things, without concern as to what the builder finally intends to make by all of these exertions. This man is empty-headed, and the work of such an assistant is meaningless. So also the creation of God, which is skillfully prepared for the future glory, is gazed upon by stupid people who look only at its mechanics but never see its final goal. Thus are we not completely off the track when we turn our thoughts to the praises and glories of philosophy? Look how we esteem the study of the essences and actions and inactions of things, and the things themselves reject and groan over their own essences and actions and inactions! We praise and glorify the knowledge of that very thing which is sad about itself and is displeased with itself! And, I ask you, is he not a mad man who laughs at someone who is crying and lamenting and then boasts that he sees him as happy and laughing? Certainly such a person is rightly called a madman and a maniac. Indeed, if only the rude common people foolishly thought philosophy was of some importance and did not know how to interpret the sighing of the natural order, it would be tolerable. But now it is wise men and theologians, infected by this same “prudence of the flesh,” who derive a happy science out of a sad creation, and from the sighings they laughingly gather their knowledge with marvelous display of power.9

At the end of this passage it becomes clear that Luther’s goal was not to show the vanity of philosophy; instead, he was concerned about the influence of a problematic philosophy on theology: theologians are infected by the “prudence of the flesh” and “derive a happy science out of a sad creation.” Luther criticized the fact that in theology a given order of things was established via philosophy by defining what things are, with the consequence that in theology the widespread misery of the creatures in the world was overlooked, while their possible being—what they could be and what they were longing for—was ignored. In following the philosophical perspective, theology contributed to the perpetuation of a miserable reality, instead of understanding things from the beginning in an eschatological framework, conceiving of them in their possibilities and hoping for changes in the world that will end the sighing of the creatures.

So Luther ends his interpretation of Romans 8:19 in his 1515–1516 lecture with the advice to follow the apostle in keeping distance from philosophy.

Thus the apostle is right in Col. 2:8 when he speaks against philosophy, saying: “See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition.” Clearly if the apostle had wanted any philosophy to be understood as useful and good, he would not have condemned it so absolutely. Therefore we conclude that whoever searches into the essences and actions of creation rather than its groanings and expectations is without doubt a fool and a blind man, for he does not know that creatures are also a creation of God.10

Philosophical Concepts and Their Problems for Theology

In his first lectures on the Psalms in 1513–1515, Luther was already trying to understand and explain the difference between a philosophical and a theological definition and use of words. In his interpretation of Psalms 69:2, in which the Vulgate uses the word “substantia,” Luther reflected on the major difference between the philosophical and the theological use of this term. He defined the theological understanding of the term “substantia” in the Bible in opposition to the philosophical concept of substance. This method became characteristic for Luther’s hermeneutics, the foundation for which was laid in these first lectures on the Psalms,11 as well as for his formation of theological concepts in general. Luther’s hermeneutics was characterized by his attempt to read the Bible on its own and to interpret biblical texts only within the context of the whole Bible, without introducing concepts derived from outside the Bible, such as in philosophy. In the formation of theological concepts, Luther also tried to construct them only on the basis of the Holy Scripture and instead of following the understanding of these concepts in other disciplines. Nevertheless, these philosophical understandings of concepts used as well in theology have been important for Luther’s conceptual and hermeneutical work, as Luther often develops his theological understanding of concepts in discussion with their philosophical use. For this, Luther’s interpretation of Psalms 69:2 is a fine example:

In Scripture the word standing (substantia) is used metaphorically both in a grammatical and in a physical sense. And it must properly be so taken here, not as the philosophers talk about it, but in the sense of a foothold or settled ground, on which a man can stand with his feet, so that they do not slip into the deep and are submerged. And thus Christ did not have such a foothold on life that would keep Him from falling altogether into death. But if He had only suffered without going into death all the way, He would assuredly have had a place on which to stand firmly. Second, the word can here be understood as Prov. 3:9 says: “Honor the Lord with thy substance.” And the apostle says: “In this matter of glorying” (2Cor. 11:17). Thus “substance” refers to everything by which anyone subsists in his life, as, for example, the rich man subsists by riches, the healthy man by health, the honored man by honor, the pleasure seekers by pleasure. For they will be that kind of people just as long as those things last. And so “substance” properly is a quality or something from the outside rather than the very being of a thing. For Scripture is not interested in the quiddities of things, but only in their qualities. Thus in whatever manner a person exists and acts, according to that he has substance, and if he does not have it, he no longer subsists . . . Therefore, in short, whatever is in the world by means of which anyone can subsist and prosper in this life is called substance. But the saints do not have that kind of substance. Heb. 10:34: “Knowing that you had a better and a lasting substance.” And “faith is the substance of things to be hoped for” (Heb. 11:1), that is, the possession and supply of things that are not of this world (that is, sight or feeling) but things that are to come. I believe, however, that the Holy Spirit uses substance . . . in a manner contrary to the philosophers.12

On the one hand, theology has a task similar to philosophy, that is, to construct adequate concepts and find adequate expressions for its subjects. But on the other hand, theology is responsible for its concepts and its language in general. It was Luther’s main interest in his discussion with the leading philosophies of his time to find the genuine understanding of Holy Scripture, and for this to go beyond and even destroy the concepts of Aristotelian philosophy, which were used in and were even guiding the interpretation of the Bible. Therefore, Luther often tried to find the genuine understanding of biblical texts in contradiction to the traditional and philosophically constructed concepts of scholastic theology.13

Aristotelian Philosophy

To understand Luther’s use of the concept of philosophy, we also have to consider how he used Aristotle and referred to his writings. Theodor Dieter has published a book of almost seven hundred pages on the significance and understanding of Aristotle for the young Luther, collecting and interpreting all relevant direct and indirect references of Luther to Aristotle and Aristotelian philosophy until 1518.14 Dieter is more critical of Luther and does more justice to the writings of Aristotle and the scholastic Aristotelians than most previous writers on this issue. He carefully locates the various references by Luther to Aristotle within their contexts and relates them as well to the contexts of scholastic theology and philosophy. In this way, he develops a very different picture of Luther’s references to Aristotle and of Luther’s positive and critical use of Aristotelian philosophy. Dieter especially examines Luther’s critique of Aristotle’s teleological understanding of the human soul, the background of Luther’s critique of Aristotle’s concept of the justification of the human being and, with that, of Aristotle’s concept of virtues, Luther’s positive receptions of the Aristotelian concepts of knowledge and movement, Luther’s critical and sometimes polemical comments of Aristotelian logic, and the twelve philosophical theses of the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518, in which Luther was mainly discussing parts of Aristotle’s De Anima. In his examination of the philosophical theses of the Heidelberg Disputation especially, Dieter presents Luther as a theologian who carefully discusses philosophical problems in a philosophical way.15 The consequences of this observation of Luther’s overall understanding of philosophy have probably not yet been finally discussed. It may be that Luther himself sympathized with the attempt to turn the true Aristotle against Aristotelian philosophy in scholasticism, but the concrete arguments used by Luther in the Heidelberg Disputation do not attest to this strategy. A brief reference by Luther to Plato’s philosophy in thesis 36 of the Heidelberg Disputation could perhaps lead in the right direction: “Aristotle wrongly [criticizes and mocks the philosophy of Platonic Ideas, which is] better than his own.”16

Luther’s preference for Plato over Aristotle may have been the result of his intensive studying of Augustine, as well as his reception of the German mystics. In all empirical matters, the epistemology of Aristotle, which was based on sensual experience, had Luther’s sympathy. But for Luther this epistemological approach was of no use, and was even misleading in matters of faith and the divine. In these matters, Luther had sympathy with Plato’s priority of the infinite and divine, and the corresponding idea of a complete dissimilarity between the finite and the infinite. Therefore, the philosophical epistemology of Aristotle seemed for Luther of very limited use in matters of faith and theology. In the Heidelberg Disputation, he defines a theologian in consequence of the limits of Aristotelian epistemology in the theological theses 19 and 20: “That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened . . . He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.”17 In his critique of Aristotle, Luther had sympathy with Plato, but he did not fully follow a Platonist via negativa, as this would lead to a different understanding of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. In consequence, Luther concentrates his theology fully on the word of God.

Throughout his theological career, Luther always referred back to Aristotle and Aristotelian philosophy. Sometimes Luther testified to his respect for Aristotle, such as when he referred to him as “the philosopher,” but he criticized the influence of Aristotelian categories in biblical interpretation, as well as within other areas of Christian doctrine. In the doctrine of God, Luther criticized Aristotle’s understanding of a God who cares only for himself and not for others, and who knows nothing about grace. But beside such theological critiques of Aristotle, Luther was happy to use Aristotelian categories in logic and epistemology. So, for example, in the Disputation Concerning Man (1536), Luther used the categories of Aristotelian logic constructively, knowing that in the end, philosophical anthropology would be inadequate for theological anthropology, as the epistemological access of human beings concerning themselves and their trans-empirical matters is limited.

Perspectives and Contexts: Conceptual Schemes and Frames of Reference

Besides rare passages like the philosophical theses in the Heidelberg Disputation in 1518, Luther did not produce texts as a philosopher. Most times, when he talked about philosophy or used philosophy, he related it to theology and to faith and its language. Luther is mainly interested in philosophy—in critical and in positive use—for the sake of theology and faith. In The Disputation Concerning the Passage: “The Word Was Made Flesh”18 in 1539, he stated this very clearly in argument 20:

The art of logic is a means divinely given for the sake of searching for the truth. Therefore, it is to be used also in theology. I prove the inference, because logic is the art of arts, the science of all sciences in all the fields of learning. Response: It is not as mistress but as maidservant and bondwoman and most beautiful helper that it teaches a person to define and to classify. But even for theology [logic has this function]. There [i.e., in theology], if logic falls short, this maidservant also lies dead.19

So logic and philosophy in general have a function in theology, and surely an indispensable one, namely, to show how to define and classify. Logic teaches reasonable epistemological and methodological operations that are necessary for good theology. But in theology, logic and philosophy in general do not set the overall conceptual framework of theological knowledge. Despite this general appreciation of logic and philosophy and its use within the theological framework and horizon, Luther nevertheless was strongly aware of the limits of logic in various theological matters, especially in Christology. According to philosophy, the finite cannot include the infinite, but for Luther Christology showed that in matters of faith and theology the finite surely can include the infinite and that in Christ there is a unity of the finite and the infinite. Setting all matters of faith and theology in a theological—Christological and eschatological—framework made it necessary to challenge traditional and reasonable logical operations and philosophical concepts. In the disputation The Word Was Made Flesh, Luther discussed at length the limits of syllogisms in theology, which lead to wrong conclusions: “This is indeed not because of the defect of the syllogistic form but because of the lofty character and majesty of the matter which cannot be enclosed in the narrow confines of reason or syllogisms.”20 This is the subject of faith and theology, which does not fit to the logic and conceptual framework that philosophy in the Aristotelian tradition developed in respect to a very different goal: to grasp and know and conceive the empirical world. But it is not only logic that is challenged within the conceptual framework of faith and theology, but even more the meaning and use of concepts in theology within a theological grammar. Luther was a translator and exegete of the Bible, and he was a preacher of the Word of God. His main task was a hermeneutical one, and his work was predominantly one of finding adequate words and parables in the translation and interpretation of biblical texts. Especially for conceptual terms, Luther wanted to go beyond their philosophical definitions—which were useful in guiding access to biblical matters with the preconceptions and prejudices they provided—and find their meaning only within the semantical and conceptual net of the Bible and the theological grammar.21 When it comes to conceptual formation, we can observe a similar attempt by Luther, as in the area of logic and philosophy in general, to define the difference between philosophy and theology. In the Disputation on the Divinity and Humanity of Christ from 1540, Luther formulates this difference in the seventh argument in simple words: “The Holy Spirit has his own grammar. Grammar is useful everywhere, but when the subject is greater than can be comprehended by the rules of grammar and philosophy, it must be left behind.”22 With the new grammar, the words have a new meaning in faith and in theology. In the same disputation, Luther formulated in thesis 20 a kind of general hermeneutical rule: “Nonetheless it is certain that with regard to Christ [in Christo] all words receive a new signification, though the thing signified is the same.” Luther then explains this rule in the following theses, 21–24, with examples:

For “creature” in the old usage of language and in other subjects signifies a thing separated from divinity by infinite degrees . . . In the new use of language it signifies a thing inseparably joined with divinity in the same person in an ineffable way . . . Thus it must be that the words man, humanity, suffered, etc., and everything that is said of Christ, are new words . . . Not that it signifies a new or different thing, but that it signifies in a new and different way, unless you want to call this too a new thing.23

We can conclude from this that “philosophy and theology deal not with different things but with the same things in different ways.”24 Ingolf Dalferth has pointed to this modal difference between philosophy and theology, with specific references to Luther’s disputation The Word was Made Flesh from 1539:25

According to Luther, philosophy and theology are fundamentally different, yet they neither contradict nor complement each other (WA 39/II:27, 31–32). Philosophy has the world for its field and whatever it talks about, even in metaphysics, must make itself felt in the present and experienced world. Theology, on the other hand, has “the invisible things as subject” (WA 39/II:15, 8–9), i.e., those “which are believed, i.e., which are apprehended by faith” (WA 39/II:6, 26–28) . . . Philosophy and theology are neither different stages in our knowledge of things nor knowledge about different sorts of things. They are different kinds of knowledge of the same things, placed in different perspectives and different frames of reference: viz. the coram mundo-deo-perspective of its relation to God . . . Confusion is bound to result from mixing philosophical discourse about things coram mundo with theological discourse about things coram deo; and precisely this mixing of discourses Luther diagnoses as having been the endemic evil of scholastic theology.26

A fine example for the modal difference, as well as for the general relation of philosophy and theology, is Luther’s Disputation Concerning Man from 1536.27 The basis of this disputation was forty theses. The first twenty theses involve a philosophical understanding of the human being; the second twenty theses present a theological concept of the human being. Sometimes the theological theses have been interpreted as a contradiction of the philosophical concept of the human being, proving them to be wrong. But, in fact, both sets of theses are true, as they consider the same thing (“the human being”), respectively, in different perspectives and contexts, in different conceptual schemes and frames of reference. In this disputation, like in many other texts, we see Luther examining the meaning and reality of the topic by putting it into the two different perspectives and contexts, conceptual schemes, and frames of reference of philosophy and theology. As such, the first thesis from philosophy states about the human being: “Philosophy or human wisdom defines man as an animal having reason, sensation, and body.”28 And theses 20 and 21, the first two theses on theology, state: “Theology to be sure from the fullness of its wisdom defines man as whole and perfect: . . . Namely, that man is a creature of God consisting of body and a living soul, made in the beginning after the image of God, without sin, so that he should procreate and rule over the created things, and never die.”29

Set into a different framework, the same thing (“the human being”) is not only seen as something different but is different from what it is in the other framework. This is the reason for Luther’s statement in thesis 11: “Therefore, if philosophy or reason itself is compared with theology, it will appear that we know almost nothing about man.”30 Luther was not saying that philosophical knowledge about the human being is wrong, nor was he saying that philosophy knows a lot about the human being, but not everything, and so theology can make our knowledge about the human being complete. To state that philosophy or reason knows almost nothing about the human being when it is compared with theological anthropology, despite Luther’s praise of the competence of reason in all human affairs in the first ten theses of the disputation, makes it clear that, for Luther, theology has a very different perspective on the human being, and he locates it in a very different context than philosophy and reason. Therefore, theology presents a very different kind of knowledge about the human being than philosophy. In consequence of this modal difference between philosophical and theological knowledge, philosophy and reason appear, in the perspective and context of theology, to know almost nothing about the human being.

Reason and its Ambivalence

In the Disputation Concerning Man, Luther presented within the philosophical theses a very positive concept of human reason. Here we can see clearly how Luther appreciated and praised human reason in almost all earthly affairs as the God-given means to explore the psychic, social, and physical reality and to shape the natural, social, and moral world. Luther considered reason within classical anthropology as one of the good faculties of the human soul and, therefore, as part of nature itself and bound to the created world, to time and space.31 For Luther, reason was a gift from God. In the explanation for the first article of the Apostles’ Creed in his Small Catechism (1529), Luther formulated this positive understanding of reason for the catechesis of children: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my limbs, my reason, and all my senses, and still preserves them.”32 With reason, human beings are able to exercise their dominion over creation (Gen. 1:28) and to develop and preserve art and science, medicine and law, and culture in general. As Luther formulated in the Disputation Concerning Man, in its fifth thesis, reason is “the inventor and mentor of all the arts, medicines, laws, and of whatever wisdom, power, virtue, and glory men possess in this life.”33 Consequently, Luther generally welcomed the scientific endeavors of his time, although looking on some of their achievements critically. But surely reason for Luther was something majestic and in its activities showed its divine origin, as he states in thesis 4: “And it is certainly true that reason is the most important and the highest ranking among all things and, in comparison with other things in this life, the best and something divine.”34 In the earthly life of human beings, reason was for Luther almost like the divine. Much like Aristotle’s De anima, Luther could say in thesis 8 that reason “is a sun and a kind of god appointed to administer these things in this life.”35 But unlike Aristotle, Luther thought reason shows its divineness not in its theoretical mode of life but in its active, practical mode of life, in which it shows its competence in knowing and organizing economy, politics, sciences, and culture in general in the best possible way. This shift of emphasis within the use of reason was a result of Luther’s giving up the scholastic distinction between a superior and an inferior part of reason (a portio superior and a portio inferior).36 In this traditional concept of reason, the superior part of reason was directed toward the aeterna, the eternal things, while the inferior part was directed toward the temporalia, the temporal objects. But this distinction also reflected two different mechanisms of knowledge: The superior part of reason was understood to act especially by way of an intellectual act (intelligere), unlike the inferior act of reason, which was characterized by discursive thinking (ratiocinari). The inferior part of reason was understood to have to deal with all temporal creatures, unlike the superior part of reason, which was understood to deal with God. Luther replaced the distinction of a superior and an inferior part of reason more or less with the distinction between reason (ratio) and faith (fides). So Luther no longer conceived of reason as being competent in matters of eternal things, which can only be known in faith. But regarding the knowledge of all matters of spatiotemporal objects, all competence was, for Luther, in reason. Through reason, human beings are equipped with a capacity to shed light on the twilight of earthly life, with all its problems. Practically, however, human beings quite often use reason to contribute to the twilight of human life and even to intensify it. Therefore, for Luther, true faith is necessary to illuminate the twilights that are produced and intensified by human reason. In faith, reason is enlightened about its own role and limits and about its own competence and dignity. But because Luther saw the true role of reason within worldly affairs, he denied a specific religious significance and competence of reason. For Luther, the competence of reason with respect to all affairs of the spatiotemporal, natural, and social world has not been corrupted or lost with Adam’s fall. For Luther, the good use of reason did not presuppose Christian faith, but he considered all people, including godless ones, to be able to organize and develop earthly affairs well with reason, as he formulates in the ninth thesis of the Disputation Concerning Man: “Nor did God after the fall of Adam take away this majesty of reason, but rather confirmed it.”37 For Luther, reason loses its way if it ignores its own dignity and, as a result, its own limits. With the capacity to explore and to shape the natural, moral, and social world, reason is equipped as well with the possibility to go beyond its limits. This might not only be the case where reason reaches out to eternal things, but already within anthropology, when it ignores other capabilities of the human soul and claims to be responsible for the whole of a person’s life.

So, for Luther, reason misconceived things when it went beyond the perspectives and horizon of the empirical, spatiotemporal world. Therefore, reason was for Luther not only a useless medium when it came to matters of faith and theology but even a misleading one. Using reason in matters of faith and theology, not only in a formal but in a constructive sense, would bring forth a concept of God as a human construction within the conceptual framework of the empirical world, which would reveal almost nothing about the true God. Therefore, Luther could even call reason—when used in matters of faith and theology—a “whore”38 that is in the service of everyone who wants to use it, but especially in the service of the devil, who wants to raise distrust in faith.

Reason within Theology

Within theology, reason became especially relevant in Luther’s biblical hermeneutics.39 Luther’s hermeneutics concentrated on the principle that Scripture is self-authenticating: Scripture not only guaranteed its truths in itself but also defined its concepts in itself. With this principle, Luther freed the interpretation of biblical texts from the dominance of authorities external to the biblical texts. In this direction, he criticized explicitly the biblical interpretation in the Roman Catholic Church, which, in the end, referred in the interpretation of disputed biblical texts to ecclesiastical authorities. But in the same direction, he also criticized the Anabaptist way of interpreting biblical texts, which ultimately followed the authority of the inspired charismatic. In his concrete exegetical work with the biblical texts, Luther also tried to free the interpretation of the Bible from the definitions of concepts provided by philosophy. As Luther did not hold a simple doctrine of the divine inspiration of the Bible, he had to develop a new biblical hermeneutics based on the principle of the self-authentication of the Holy Scripture. Consequently, he had to define biblical texts and concepts within the semantic net of their context in the Holy Scripture. But as Luther’s biblical hermeneutics is not one of a pure lingual coherentist but rather one of a realist coherentist, he saw the unity of the biblical texts in their joint reference to Jesus Christ and the divine process of human salvation. Therefore, for Luther, the Holy Scripture is “totally certain . . . , quite easy to understand, completely revealed, its own interpreter”40 and “is its own light. It is splendid when Scripture interprets itself.”41 For the biblical hermeneutics based on these principles and insights, reason is indispensable. Luther considered the Bible to be clear in itself for reason. Luther’s main text on the question of the clarity of the Holy Scriptures for the human mind is his answer to Erasmus of Rotterdam in On the Bondage of the Will (1525). In this writing, Luther distinguished an external and an internal clarity of Holy Scripture.

To put it briefly, there are two kinds of clarity in Scripture, just as there are also two kinds of obscurity: one external and pertaining to the ministry of the Word, the other located in the understanding of the heart. If you speak of internal clarity, no man perceives one iota of what is in the Scriptures unless he has the Spirit of God. All men have a darkened heart, so that even if they can recite everything in Scripture . . . yet they apprehend and truly understand nothing of it . . . For the Spirit is required for the understanding of Scripture . . . If, on the other hand, you speak of the external clarity, nothing at all is left obscure or ambiguous.42

Erasmus had claimed that Scripture contains obscure parts that make it necessary to have their interpretation decided by church authorities or to follow authoritative interpretations of these texts in the tradition of the church. Opposing this position of Erasmus, Luther distinguished between an external and an inner clarity of biblical texts: on the one side is the inner clarity of the message of the biblical texts, which is located in the understanding of the heart, and on the other side is the external clarity of the biblical texts, which is located in the understanding of the signs and meanings in the texts by human reason. In this last respect, in Luther’s opinion, nothing was obscure or ambiguous in the biblical texts. But the distinction of an inner and an external clarity also showed the limits of human reason in the reading and interpretation of biblical texts. Luther was convinced that human reason could discover the meaning of biblical concepts and the insights of biblical texts, but he was also convinced that this would not bring forth an inner clarity of the texts in the sense that it would convince the human heart to trust in the message of the texts, especially in the promise of the gospel in the Old and the New Testament.

Reason and Faith

In Luther we find on the one hand a high praise of reason and on the other hand a clear awareness about the limits of reason, which was the result of a theological evaluation of reason. The main limit of reason for Luther was that reason cannot call forth trust and that questions of the heart cannot be clarified and decided by reason. Even when taking the reflections of reason into consideration, it is, in the end, not by reason that the human heart comes to its decisions and develops trust or distrust. It is in this sense that in 1528 Luther explained the third article of the Apostles’ Creed in his Small Catechism: “I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him.”43

For Luther’s theology, clear distinctions are essential, because only with clear distinctions can things be related adequately to each other. To distinguish is an act of human reason. So the basic working process of Luther gives witness to his appreciation of reason and to his understanding of reason. But in its acts of distinguishing, reason is not only categorizing and classifying the objects and events in the world but also differentiating between the different ways human beings are relating to objects, to themselves, to others, and to God, and between the perspectives and contexts, the conceptual schemes and frames of references, within in which human beings are located. Therefore, Luther distinguished faith and reason, heart and mind, trusting and understanding, an inner and an external clarity of biblical texts, and so on.

But Luther was aware that the tendency of human beings to muddle what has to be kept distinct follows from their being sinners. This becomes especially clear when people try to build up trust in others and in God based on considerations and convictions of reason and thus miss the essence of faith and trust, or when they operate with rationally unjustified trust in areas in which human action has to be based on reasoning, or when they use reason when they should rely on God, who alone is fully trustworthy. In this confusion lies the core of Luther’s critique of reason.

But may there nevertheless be some positive use of reason in the human endeavor to get to know God? According to Luther, human beings can come to know with reason that there is a God, that God is transcendent, that God is almighty and eternal. In his interpretation of Jonah 4:11, Luther discussed the question of what we can “learn from nature and from reason what can be known of God.” His conclusion was

That is as far as the natural light of reason sheds its rays—it regards God as kind, gracious, merciful, and benevolent. And that is indeed a bright light. However, it manifests two big defects: first, reason does admittedly believe that God is able and competent to help and to bestow; but reason does not know whether He is willing to do this also for us . . . The second defect is this: Reason is unable to identify God properly; it cannot ascribe the Godhead to the One who is entitled to it exclusively. It knows that there is a God, but it does not know who or which is the true God.44

With this position of Luther’s, natural theology and philosophy of religion have their merits. But the specific relationship of God to the world and to every single human being cannot be revealed by reason. In a Lutheran perspective, the project of rational theology has very narrow limits. Nevertheless, reason is necessary to describe exactly that structure with its difference of reason and faith, of knowing and believing, of the responsibilities of human beings and the responsibilities of God, and of the problems human beings have to take care of and the problems that are not theirs because they are God’s.

Review of the Literature

In 1940, a substantial study on Luther’s struggles to free theology from philosophy by Wilhelm Link, who died in an accident shortly after his promotion to doctor of theology at Tübingen University, was edited by Ernst Wolf and Manfred Metzger.45 Link examined especially how Luther’s doctrine of justification was related to Thomism, Augustine, nominalism, and mysticism. In 1955, Bengt Hägglund published a small book on Luther’s position on the theory of double truth, in which he related Luther to the tradition of Occam.46 This direction of research to relate Luther to nominalism and especially to William of Occam and his tradition was supported by publications that explicitly examined William of Occam and the Occamist tradition in order to better understand Luther’s intellectual background. A paradigmatic publication in this respect was the book by Klaus Bannach, Die Lehre von der doppelten Macht Gottes bei Wilhelm von Ockham.47 Other publications, articles, and books, from Hägglund’s book onward, document the research, especially in Protestant theology, into the roots of Luther’s thought in late medieval and scholastic theology and philosophy. Of importance for further research is Bernhard Lohse’s book on the concept of reason in Luther.48 A lot of stimulation for research into Luther’s understanding of philosophy in relation to the philosophies of scholasticism came from Wilfried Joest’s book on the ontology of the person in Luther, published in 1967.49 Joest emphasized especially the anti-Aristotelian and anti-metaphysical sides of Luther’s thought and presented an anti-substantial, exocentric, and relational ontology of the person in Luther. In his understanding of ontology, Joest could especially relate to Gerhard Ebeling, who by the beginning of the 1960s had begun to use a more formal and wider concept of ontology as in traditional philosophy. Ebeling continued to contribute to the examination of Luther’s understanding of philosophy and his concept of reason, starting with these topicsin his introduction to Luther.50 In 1971, Ebeling published the first volume of his “Luther Studies,” a collection of various articles on Luther, followed by an extensive commentary on Luther’s Disputation Concerning Man in three volumes.51 In 1985, Ebeling published a further collection of his studies on Luther.52 In his articles, and especially in extensive excurses in his commentary on Luther’s Disputation Concerning Man, Ebeling analyzed Luther’s texts on the background of the philosophical (and theological) traditions Luther referred to. As Ebeling in his own systematic theological writing practiced himself the discussion with philosophy, he contributed a lot to understand the deep relatedness of Luther’s thought to philosophical discourses. Nevertheless, Ebeling emphasized the innovations in Luther’s thought more than Luther’s dependency on the traditions he was using. It is the achievement of the Finnish school of Luther interpretation of Tuomo Mannermaa and his pupils to reemphasize the dependence of Luther on scholastic and Aristotelian philosophy. A key publication in this respect is Sammeli Juntunen’s book on the concept of nothing in Luther.53 The new emphasis of this direction of Luther research was documented in articles by various authors collected in Thesaurus Lutheri: Auf der Suche nach neuen Paradigmen der Lutherforschung, edited by T. Mannermaa and others.54 A fine example of these new emphases in Luther research, with an attempt to connect Luther’s thought more strongly with the philosophy of scholasticism, is Theodor Dieter’s book on the young Luther and Aristotle.55 This still seems to be the current dominant trend in the research on Luther’s understanding of philosophy and his concept of reason: to integrate Luther’s thought into the intellectual history of late scholasticism.

Further Reading

Andreatta, Eugenio. Lutero e Aristotele. Padua, Italy: CUSL Nuova Vita, 1996.Find this resource:

Becker, Siegbert W.The Foolishness of God: The Place of Reason in the Theology of Martin Luther. Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House, 1982.Find this resource:

Büttgen, Philippe. Luther et la philosophie: Études d’histoire. Paris: Vrin, 2011.Find this resource:

Dalferth, Ingolf U.Theology and Philosophy. Oxford: Blackwell, 1988.Find this resource:

Dieter, Theodor. Der junge Luther und Aristoteles: Eine historisch-systematische Untersuchung zum Verhältnis von Theologie und Philosophie. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2001.Find this resource:

Dieter, Theodor. “Martin Luther’s Understanding of ‘Reason.’” Lutheran Quarterly 25 (2011): 249–278.Find this resource:

Ebeling, Gerhard. Lutherstudien II: Disputatio de Homine. 3 vols. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 1989.Find this resource:

Gerrish, Brian Albert. Grace and Reason: A Study in the Theology of Luther. Oxford: Clarendon, 1962.Find this resource:

Grane, Leif. Contra Gabrielem: Luthers Auseinandersetzung mit Gabriel Biel in der Disputatio Contra Scholasticam Theologiam 1517. Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1962.Find this resource:

Grosshans, Hans-Peter. “Luther on Faith and Reason: The Light of Reason at the Twilight of the World.” In The Global Luther: A Theologian for Modern Times. Edited by Chr. Helmer, 173–185. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2009.Find this resource:

Hägglund, Bengt. Theologie und Philosophie bei Luther und in der Occamistischen Tradition: Luthers Stellung zur Theorie von der doppelten Wahrheit. Lund, Sweden: C. W. K. Gleerup, 1955.Find this resource:

Janz, Denis R.Luther and Late Medieval Thomism. Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1983.Find this resource:

Joest, Wilfried. Ontologie der Person bei Luther. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1967.Find this resource:

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

Kirjavainen, Heikki. “Luther und Aristoteles: Die Frage der zweifachen Gerechtigkeit im Lichte der transitiven vs. intransitiven Willenstheorie.” In Luther in Finnland. Edited by M. Ruokanen, 111–129. Helsinki: Luther-Agricola-Gesellschaft, 1986.Find this resource:

Lohse, Bernhard. Ratio und Fides: Eine Untersuchung über die ratio in der Theologie Luthers. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1958.Find this resource:

Mannermaa, Tuomo, Anja Ghiselli, and Simo Peuro, eds. Thesaurus Lutheri: Auf der Suche nach neuen Paradigmen der Luther-Forschung. Helsinki: Finnische Theologische Literaturgesellschaft, 1987.Find this resource:

Mattes, Mark. “Luther’s Use of Philosophy.” In Luther als Lehrer und Reformer der Universität/Luther as Teacher and Reformer of the University. Edited by Christopher Spehr, 110–141. Lutherjahrbuch 80. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013.Find this resource:

Mühlen, Karl-Heinz zur. Nos extra nos: Luthers Theologie zwischen Mystik und Scholastik. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 1972.Find this resource:

Mühlen, Karl-Heinz zur. Reformatorische Vernunftkritik und neuzeitliches Denken. Dargestellt am Werk M. Luthers und Fr. Gogartens. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 1980.Find this resource:

Moustakas, Ulrich. “Differenz und Relation: Zum Verhältnis von Theologie und Philosophie bei Luther.” Kerygma und Dogma 46 (2000): 92–125.Find this resource:

Oberman, Heiko A. “Luther and the Via Moderna: The Philosophical Backdrop of the Reformation Breakthrough.” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 4 (2003): 641–670.Find this resource:

Olivia, Adriano. “Luther et la philosophe: Sur un ouvrage récent.” Revue des Sciences Philosophiques et Théologiques 96 (2012): 293–312.Find this resource:

Olsson, Herbert. Schöpfung, Vernunft und Gesetz in Luthers Theologie. Uppsala, Sweden: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1971.Find this resource:

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Theologie und Philosophie: Ihr Verhältnis im Lichte ihrer gemeinsamen Geschichte. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1996.Find this resource:

Pawlas, Andreas. “Glaube und wirtschaftliche Vernunft bei Luther.” Luther 85 (2014): 164–178.Find this resource:

Saarinen, Risto. “Luther und humanistische Philosophie.” In Lutherjahrbuch 80. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013.Find this resource:

Työrinoja, Reijo. “Proprietas Verbi: Luther’s Conception of Philosophical and Theological Language in the Disputation Verbum caro factum est (Joh. 1:14) 1539.” In Faith, Will, and Grammar: Some Themes of Intentional Logic and Semantics in Medieval and Reformation Thought. Edited by H. Kirjavainen, 141–178. Helsinki: Luther-Agricola Society, 1986.Find this resource:

Vainio, Olli-Pekka. “Martin Luther on Perception and Theological Knowledge.” Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophie 57 (2015): 87–109.Find this resource:

White, Graham. Luther as Nominalist: A Study of the Logical Methods used in Martin Luther’s Disputations in the Light of their Medieval Background. Helsinki: Luther-Agricola Society, 1994.Find this resource:


(1.) Cf. WA B 2:91, no. 281.

(2.) Cf. WA TR 1:44, no. 116.

(3.) Cf. WA TR 2, no. 2544a; WA TR 5, no. 6419.

(4.) Cf. WA 6:600, 11; WA 6:195, 4f.

(5.) For the understanding and role of Aristotle in the young Luther’s development and writings and about the relation of theology and philosophy in the young Luther see especially: Theodor Dieter, Der junge Luther und Aristoteles: Eine historisch-systematische Untersuchung zum Verhältnis von Theologie und Philosophie (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2001).

(6.) LW 25:360f.

(7.) Mark Mattes, “Luther’s Use of Philosophy,” in Luther als Lehrer und Reformer der Universität/Luther as Teacher and Reformer of the University, ed. Christopher Spehr, Lutherjahrbuch 80 (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013), 110–141, 117–118.

(8.) LW 25:361.

(9.) LW 25:361f.

(10.) LW 25:362.

(11.) Cf. Hans-Peter Grosshans, “Luther’s Early Interpretation of the Psalms and his Contribution to Hermeneutics,” in Singing the Songs of the Lord in Foreign Lands: Psalms in Contemporary Lutheran Interpretation, eds. Kenneth Mtata, Karl-Wilhelm Niebuhr, and Miriam Rose (Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2014), 19–32.

(12.) LW 10:355–356.

(13.) Cf. Gerhard Ebeling, Luther: An Introduction to His Thought (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970), ch. 5.

(14.) Cf. Theodor Dieter, Der junge Luther und Aristoteles: Eine historisch-systematische Untersuchung zum Verhältnis von Theologie und Philosophie (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2001).

(15.) Martin Luther, Heidelberg Disputation, LW 31:35–70. The complete philosophical theses of Luther in the Heidelberg disputation with their demonstration (probationes) were published only in 1979 by Helmar Junghans: Helmar Junghans, ed., “Die probationes zu den philosophischen Thesen der Heidelberger Disputation Luthers im Jahre 1518,” in Lutherjahrbuch 46 (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1979), 10–59. See as well the extensive analyses of parts of this text by Gerhard Ebeling, who concentrates on Luther’s interpretation of Aristotle’s doctrines of the eternity of the world and the mortality of the soul. Gerhard Ebeling, Lutherstudien, vol. 2/2 (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 1982), 69–145.

(16.) LW 31:42. Translation altered.

(17.) LW 31:40.

(18.) LW 38:239–277.

(19.) LW 38:257.

(20.) LW 38:241 (Thesis 20).

(21.) For the theological concept of “grammar” generally in theology and specifically in Luther cf. Hans-Peter Grosshans, “Art. Grammar: II. Fundamental Theology,” in Religion in Past and Present, eds. Hans Dieter Betz, Don S. Browning, Bernd Janowski, and Eberhard Jüngel, vol. 5 (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2009), 560.

(22.) M. Luther, Disputation on the Divinity and Humanity of Christ, argument 7, trans. C. B. Brown, available online; WA 39/II:104.

(23.) M. Luther, Disputation on the Divinity and Humanity of Christ, theses 20–24, trans. C. B. Brown, available online; WA 39/II:94.

(24.) Mark Mattes, “Luther’s Use of Philosophy,” in Luther als Lehrer und Reformer der Universität/Luther as Teacher and Reformer of the University, ed. Christopher Spehr, Lutherjahrbuch 80 (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013), 110–141, 137.

(25.) Cf. WA 39/II, 1ff.

(26.) Ingolf U. Dalferth, Theology and Philosophy (Oxford: Blackwell, 1988), 77.

(27.) Cf. LW 34:133ff.

(28.) LW 34:137.

(29.) LW 34:138.

(30.) LW 34:137.

(31.) Luther’s understanding of reason and its actuality in current discourses has already been discussed elsewhere, cf. Hans-Peter Grosshans, “Luther on Faith and Reason: The Light of Reason at the Twilight of the World,” in The Global Luther. A Theologian for Modern Times, ed. Chr. Helmer (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2009), 173–185. Furthermore, for Luther’s concept of reason, see especially: G. Ebeling, Disputatio de Homine, 3 vols. (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 1977–1989); W. Joest, Ontologie der Person bei Luther, Göttingen, Germany: (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1967); K.-H. zur Mühlen, Reformatorische Vernunftkritik und neuzeitliches Denken: Dargestellt am Werk M. Luthers und Fr. Gogartens (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 1980); B. Lohse, Ratio und Fides: Eine Untersuchung über die ratio in der Theologie Luthers (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1958); B. A. Gerrish, Grace and Reason: A Study in the Theology of Luther (Oxford: Clarendon, 1962); H. Olsson, Schöpfung, Vernunft und Gesetz in Luthers Theologie, Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, Studia Doctrinae Christianae Upsaliensia 10 (Uppsala: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1971); and S. W. Becker, The Foolishness of God: The Place of Reason in the Theology of Martin Luther (Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House, 1982).

(32.) Martin Luther, “The Small Catechism,” in The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Lutheran Church, available online.

(33.) LW 34:137.

(34.) LW 34:137.

(35.) LW 34:137. Cf. Aristotle, De anima 1.4.408b29: ὁ δὲ νοῦϛ ἴσωϛ θϵιότϵρόν τι καί ἀπαθέϛ ἐστιν‎. For further references see G. Ebeling, Disputatio de Homine, Zweiter Teil: Die philosophische Definition des Menschen; Kommentar zu These 1–19, Lutherstudien 2/2 (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 1982), 189.

(36.) All material about this distinction is collected in Ebeling, Lutherstudien, 2/2:210–277.

(37.) LW 34:137.

(38.) In his last sermon in Wittenberg on January 17, 1546, on Romans 12:3, Luther used this phrase a few times. “But the devil’s bride, reason, the lovely whore comes in and wants to be wise, and what she says, she thinks, is the Holy Spirit. Who can be of any help then? Neither jurist, physician, nor king, nor emperor; for she is the foremost whore the devil has” (LW 51:374). So Luther is advising his audience to resist reason, when it opposes, for example, listening to Holy Scripture and the divine word or when it questions the divine presence in the sacrament. Then the faithful Christian should say to his own reason: “‘Shut up, you cursed whore, do you think you are master over faith, which declares that the true body and the true blood is in the Lord’s Supper, and that Baptism is not merely water, but the water of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?’ Reason must be subject and obedient to this faith” (LW 51:379).

(39.) Cf. Hans-Peter Grosshans, Lutheran Hermeneutics: An Outline, in “You Have the Words of Eternal Life”: Transformative Readings of the Gospel of John from a Lutheran Perspective, ed. K. Mtata (Minneapolis: Lutheran University Press, 2012), 23–46.

(40.) Cf. WA 7:97, 23.

(41.) Cf. WA 10/III:238, 10.

(42.) LW 33:28.

(43.) Luther, “Small Catechism.”

(44.) LW 19:54–55.

(45.) Wilhelm Link, Das Ringen Luthers und die Freiheit der Theologie von der Philosophie, eds. Ernst Wolf and Manfred Metzger (Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1940).

(46.) Bengt Hägglund, Theologie und Philosophie bei Luther und in der Occamistischen Tradition: Luthers Stellung zur Theorie von der doppelten Wahrheit (Lund, Sweden: C. W. K. Gleerup, 1955).

(47.) Klaus Bannach, Die Lehre von der doppelten Macht Gottes bei Wilhelm von Ockham: Problemgeschichtliche Voraussetzungen und Bedeutung (Wiesbaden, Germany: Steiner, 1975).

(48.) Lohse, Ratio und Fides.

(49.) Joest, Ontologie der Person bei Luther.

(50.) Gerhard Ebeling, Luther: Einführung in sein Denken (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 1964).

(51.) Ebeling, Disputatio de Homine.

(52.) Gerhard Ebeling, Lutherstudien, vol. 3, Begriffuntersuchungen—Textinterpretationen—Wirkungsgeschichtliches (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 1985).

(53.) Sammeli Juntunen, Der Begriff des Nichts bei Luther in den Jahren von 1510 bis 1523 (Helsinki: Luther-Agricola-Gesellschaft, 1996).

(54.) Mannermaa, Ghiselli, and Peura, Thesaurus Lutheri.

(55.) Dieter, Der junge Luther und Aristoteles.