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date: 28 April 2017

Martin Luther’s Theological Aesthetics

Summary and Keywords

Theological aesthetics is the theory or view of beauty in relation to God, including how the senses bear on or contribute to matters of faith. It has a long and important tradition in all forms of Christian faith, since this faith affirms that God is beautiful and therefore desirable. In both the Eastern and Western churches, views of beauty have appropriated criteria not only from the Bible but also from pre-Christian antiquity, borrowing from Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, and others. These views tend to see beauty in metaphysical terms, that is, that the core of reality is to be understood on the basis of not only being, truth, goodness, and unity (the “transcendentals,” defining the reality of all things) but also (with some exceptions) beauty.

Interpreting the scriptures, Christian thinkers in late antiquity, such as Augustine, singled out proportion as a criterion for beauty, and the Pseudo-Dionysius singled out light. Thomas Aquinas adopted these two perspectives, rooted in the wider Greek philosophical tradition, and added integrity or perfection as a third criterion. Late medieval nominalists and mystics did not focus on theological aesthetics but the piety and spirituality of “bridal mysticism,” mediated through Bernard of Clairvaux, present in Luther’s training in the friary, facilitated these views for Luther.

Luther appreciated aspects of this metaphysical tradition, such as the role of mathematics as indicating humanity’s eternal destiny or the cosmic role of proportion in musical intonation and rhythm. However, he was more powerfully influenced by other developments in the late Middle Ages, seen for instance in Jean Gerson, which heightened the affects over the intellect, intellectualizing beauty less and acknowledging how beauty moves and transforms people. He rejected that aspect of the tradition which was apt to view beauty as an end goal of an itinerary of spiritual transformation into more godlike traits, a “theology of glory.”

For Luther, God is the primary actor in the story of human salvation, not the human. God’s work of humbling humans “turned in upon themselves” is anything but beautiful: it is painful, indeed deadly, for “old beings.” But God’s proper work of regenerating and renovating humanity, including awakening human senses to “innocent delight,” is most beautiful indeed. The justification of sinners before God is due to their being “adorned” in Christ’s beauty, his righteousness, empowering them to cooperate with God in God’s ongoing “poetic” creativity.

As bearing human sin, Christ subverts the standard medieval criteria of proportion, brightness, and integrity. But because Christ assumes the consequences of sin and sin itself and takes it away, sinners through the “happy exchange” receive the beauty proper to Christ. Through the renewal effectuated by the word, humans receive creation as gift and are genuinely awakened to its beauty, similar to the beauty that God made it originally. As new creatures, believers’ desire is reoriented to desire what God desires.

While it is not a central concept (he devotes no treatises or disputations to it), it colors how we understand his view of justification and his view of human receptivity and gratitude. It has important ramifications for worship, the arts, and life.

Keywords: Martin Luther, beauty, creation, Christ, justification, regeneration, renovation

The Aesthetic Dimension of Faith

Luther is not seen as a “go-to” theologian for aesthetics. In general, it is assumed that Protestant theology offers little for a theory of beauty or theological aesthetics because it gives prominence to the word and not the image. In a similar vein, Luther rediscovered the Pauline insight that human participation in Christ means dying and rising with him. This, clearly, is discontinuous, rather than continuous, with human life, and it removes desire from its place as that which moves pilgrims through their passage to beauty as such. It is unfortunate that some Protestant theologies are, in fact, guilty of implying that Protestant theology on the whole is inimical to the question of beauty. A particularly harsh example is Rudolf Bultmann, who writes, “The idea of the beautiful is of no significance in forming the life of Christian faith, which sees in the beautiful the temptation of a false transfiguration of the world which distracts the gaze from ‘beyond’.” In Bultmann’s view, trying to find a depth dimension to beauty is a thin disguise for avoiding the ugliness, pain, and suffering of life, and it is this darker side of reality, not beauty, that provides the true entry to Christian faith.1 But Bultmann here is no disciple of Luther. He ignores the deeply paradoxical nature of Luther’s thinking. Truer to Luther is Miikka E. Anttila: “In the cross of Christ there is supreme beauty concealed beneath the most abominable ugliness. Yet there is no ugliness in God. The ugliness of the cross belongs to us, whereas the beauty is God’s. God is most beautiful not only when compared to us. He proves to be most beautiful when he makes us beautiful, that is, gives his beauty to us. This is an aesthetic variation of the doctrine of justification.”2

Reservations about Luther’s ability to deliver a vibrant theological aesthetic are, however, understandable. It does seem in some ways unlikely that a theologian who distinguishes a hidden, absconded God from a revealed one could be a resource for a theology of beauty. Likewise, his distinction of a theology of the cross from a theology of glory makes Luther a questionable candidate for theological aesthetics. Things that are beautiful are often tranquil and serene; this stands in apparent contradiction to Luther’s spirituality, marked as it is by anguish and assault (tentatio) from God. Even among the major reformers, Luther seems least likely to be an ally for a theology of beauty. He may even seem to be the enemy of beauty, because his attack on the medieval system (with its beautiful “beatific vision” at the core) was sharpest. That system rewarded with beauty those who cultivated habits of faith, hope, and love, and Luther’s insistence that “merit” and “reward” had no place in a theology of grace might make Luther antagonistic to beauty. This article indicates otherwise. In many respects, the Gospel as Luther understood it opens a horizon that gives sinners access to beauty and gives a message which is itself so beautiful that desperate, repentant sinners crave it. The God who is like the waiting father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32) is exactly the one whom sinners can identify as beauty as such, because nothing is quite as wondrous or joyful as the full and free forgiveness given through Jesus Christ and the renewal of human senses3 that it imparts.

Discerning Luther’s theological aesthetic has been made easier by the refusal of many Luther scholars to be satisfied with a “thin description” of his theology, which completely reduces his teaching to the doctrine of justification, understood in an existentialist framework. Better, “thick” descriptions4 have emerged that show how justification, in fact, has social dimensions, such as the “three estates” (church, household, and civil authority).5 Others emphasize how, for Luther, the word is embodied and administered in the sacraments or by the voice that speaks it. Such a focus on the embodied word is deeply significant for aesthetics, because it recognizes that faith takes shape in the senses.6 Faith opens receptivity and evokes gratitude and even joy. Accordingly, worship attentive to this embodied faith will be sensitive to both ecstatic delight and the pain that leads to lament, such as when life seems unfair and ugly.

During Luther’s lifetime a transition was afoot moving aesthetic sensibilities away from Augustinian “intellectualization” of beauty toward sense experience itself. For Augustine, beauty was a way to get beyond the senses. But the early modern aesthetic wants the senses themselves to be pleased. The mind then gratefully confirms that beauty has been made present. Luther’s views contributed to this shift. German humanists shared Luther’s inclinations, as did Italian Renaissance figures. The Italians found the medieval educational model (the trivium and quadrivium of liberal arts) to be lacking for the preparation of civil servants for the courts and diplomatic needs of their day. Instead, they preferred the ars dictaminis (elegant writing), classical Greek and Latin grammar to develop persuasive leaders.7 Broad humanistic commitments spread in northern Europe and led, for instance, to Erasmus’s program of learning and civic renewal. Erasmus’s publication of a critical edition of the New Testament in 1516 was crucial for Luther’s German translation five years later.

As a young man, Luther compared his work with that of Lorenzo Valla and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola.8 The elegancy of style and formality of rhetoric that characterized Renaissance humanism affected Luther deeply. It shaped his approach to writing treatises and letters, translating the Bible, and composing devotional works. Humanists evoked response in their readers by means of, among other things, erudition and ornamentation. This was not beauty for its own sake, but rather beauty employed in the effort to persuade readers. In keeping with their medieval forebears, Renaissance humanists modeled their views of beauty on ancient or classical perspectives, rather than with the arts per se.9

Situating Luther in this transitional theological aesthetics is made easier by comparing him with Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274). Luther and Aquinas share continuities but also diverge from each other. Aquinas included proportion, clarity, and integrity among the criteria for beauty. But Luther’s understanding of God and the Gospel significantly altered that approach. Theorizing beauty was important for realists like Aquinas, but it was not of great concern for nominalist or mystical theology.10 This is significant because nominalism and mysticism are two of the most important influences on the young Luther. The fact that we find Luther contemplating the nature of beauty is therefore surprising and noteworthy. And he does so in connection with the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone. In Luther’s thought, sinners are clothed with the alien righteousness of Christ, which adorns them with Christ’s own spiritual beauty. This is so even though Christ was “without form or comeliness.” God’s alien work of rejecting the smug self-security of sinners is not beautiful. In fact, it is terrifying. But the liberation of sinners from their many defense structures is a beautiful result of justification. Likewise, the strengthening of God’s new creatures in Christ reveals God’s beauty. The gospel expresses reassurance that humans are indeed “at home in the world,”11 which allows them to delight in God’s ways and wonder at the resplendent goodness all around them.

While Luther’s hymn writing is a grand achievement, his greatest artistic accomplishment must be named as his literary translation of the Bible into German.12 The Lutherbibel has had a deep and long-standing effect on the German language. It consolidated many dialects into one standard language and coined turns of phrase and language patterns that typify modern German. His linguistic artistry shaped half a millennium of spirituality in Protestant as well as Roman Catholic churches. This work, in turn, has influenced countless musicians, artists, poets, and architects in German-speaking lands and beyond and among Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Reformed and even those who identify as secular.

Beauty as Metaphysics

Modern people, in contrast to medieval thinkers, tend to connect beauty with creativity and the “expression” of one’s inner thoughts. Or they think of nature and the beauty of its power and splendor. The discipline of “aesthetics” is a characteristically modern phenomenon, not a medieval one. It came to be established as a discipline in the mid-18th century. For medieval theologians the arts were a form of craftsmanship, and beauty was understood as a feature of one’s mental, not sensual, life. Beauty was something that applied primarily to God and only secondarily to all things as they participated in God. Medieval theologians can therefore be said to have viewed the world pancalistically. That is, all things are beautiful to one degree or another because all things, to some extent at least, are vestiges or images of God. Nonhuman creatures are vestiges of God, and humans are images of God. God is beauty itself. Plato and neo-Platonism are in some sense behind this commitment.13 But because Luther was trained in philosophy by Trutvetter and von Usingen at Erfurt, who drew on the legacies of Scotus and Ockham rather than Platonists, Luther seldom deals with beauty at length as an explicit subject in his many writings.14

An exception to this rule, however, is Luther’s writings on the Psalms. Both early and late in his career Luther turned his exegetical attention to Psalms that speak of beauty and wonder.15 In the Psalms, as elsewhere in the Bible, beauty crucially shapes the question of who God is and thus who we are. The elements of Luther’s views on beauty share some commonalities with earlier views but also depart from them. Proportion, color (brightness), and integrity, for instance, were key indicators of beauty for medieval thinkers. But Luther would see such matters as finally (coram deo) hidden from human sight. The beauty of God, of Christ, and even of humans is not transparent to our sight but only revealed by God and grasped by faith. Many medieval thinkers conceived of beauty as a transcendental category along the lines of being, truth, goodness, and oneness (ens, veritas, bonitas, and unitas). Such categories apply to the entire structure of reality. Such a scheme is problematic for Luther because the goodness and beauty of God cannot be established or even understood on a purely metaphysical basis. Scripture and revelation are needed, because outside of Jesus Christ they are uncertain and unspecified. Luther certainly could approve of a theological appropriation of a metaphysical insight, but he consistently rejected an attempt to base properly theological claims on metaphysics. He thought such speculation would be a “work of man” rather than a work of God.16

The medieval view saw the world primarily not as raw material for human economic activity or consumption. Rather it was in the first place symbolic, witnessing to God’s goodness and reality. Although the analogy of being (analogia entis) is not operative in a definite sense in Luther’s thought, Luther does offer a similar alternative way of thinking about the issue. He proposes that all creatures participate in God as masks or instruments17 that God uses to speak to humans and to order human life in its three estates (ecclesia, oeconomia, politia).

The Early Luther on Beauty

Luther in his earlier writings is more concerned with questions of beauty than most commentators notice. He pays attention to how God, Christ, and human beings are beautiful. A crucial early text of Luther’s is, of course, the Heidelberg Disputation (1518). Yet few notice how many references to beauty that text on the theology of the cross contains. Consider, for instance, Thesis 28: “The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing (diligibile) to it. The love of man comes into being through that which is pleasing to it.”18 One finds something to be pleasing because it is beautiful. This thesis demonstrates that God and humans approach beauty entirely disjunctively. God does not find sinful human beings beautiful but rather makes them beautiful. He does so solely owing to his generous donation of himself. In contrast, human beings do not love unless and until they find the object of their love to be attractive. The second sentence of the thesis shows Luther’s condemnation of Aristotle on this issue. “Thus it is also demonstrated that Aristotle’s philosophy is contrary to theology since in all things it seeks those things which are its own and receives rather than gives something good.”19 Desiring self-fulfillment alone and egocentrically giving rather than altruistically giving express eros. The related and influential tradition stems from Plato, especially Diotima’s instruction to Socrates that eros leads one from physical love to contemplation of the truth. Luther’s argument is epitomized in two sentences of Thesis 28: “The love of God which lives in man loves sinners, evil persons, fools, and weaklings in order to make them righteous, good, wise, and strong. Rather than seeking its own good, the love of God flows forth and bestows good. Therefore sinners are attractive (pulchri) because they are loved (diliguntur); they are not loved because they are attractive.”20 God is sheer, unilaterally overflowing goodness (a favorite name for God in Luther’s thought). It reaches out to those who are diminished and fills them. He embraces and renews them. Unlike human love, God’s love does not “recognize” anything attractive in the object of his love. But those who are reduced to nothing, who would be nothing without God’s love, God regards (forensic justification) as the raw material he can shape into something beautiful (effective justification). God’s love need not receive anything in order to sustain or generate it. God regards what is ugly as something beautiful, loves the unlovely, and sees sinners as righteous. By construing the God-human relationship in this way Luther is rejecting both the eros tradition as well as the caritas tradition stemming from Augustine as alternate models.

The contrast between egocentric human love and wholly self-giving divine love is not limited to the Heidelberg Disputation. His first series of lectures on the Psalms shows the young professor as a highly energetic mind abuzz with new ideas about love. Drawing on and mixing university theology and mystical theology, Luther asks in the Dictata super Psalterium: How do we render God his due? The young Luther is in a struggle with God. Can sinners make a claim on God? Can they merit mercy? Is some goodness, or piety, or intelligence, enough to cause God to be obliged to justify us? Every attempt to answer “yes” to those questions is demolished by Luther. There is no possibility of an exchange of human merit for God’s approval.

For this reason Luther’s theology in the years of 1513–1518 has sometimes been called a “theology of humility.” Humans draw nearer to God the more they humble themselves or when they are humbled by God through some suffering. During his lectures on the Psalms and Romans at this time, Luther moves toward a very passive role for humans and an active role for God as exposer of sin and granter of mercy. Subsequently, in his lectures on Hebrews21 and in several sermons,22 Luther begins to speak of an alien work (opus alienum) of God that reduces the sinner down to nothing and a proper work (opus proprium) that remakes the sinner as a new creation through forgiveness of sins. Despite the differences between these emphases in the Psalms/Romans strand of thought and the Hebrews line (and later the solus Christus and sola fide), here we see the seeds that will blossom in Luther’s later theology, the theology of the cross, the distinction of law and Gospel, and God’s alien and proper works. At its core, the theology of humility asserts that humans justify God in his judgment against human pride. Specifically, it shows that humans truly have nothing to offer God that would oblige him to us. Humans, both as God’s creations and as distorted by sin, are in fact nothing; this obtains not only in relation to God but ontologically as well, because humans are utterly dependent on God at every step.

Luther’s humility theology has far-reaching consequences when applied to theological aesthetics. The “ugliest” among us, namely, those most adept at self-accusation and therefore most humble, are paradoxically the most beautiful. Because God has illumined their darkness, sinners are able to acknowledge their sins and thereby concur with God’s judgment.

Whoever is most beautiful (pulcherrimus) in the sight of God is the most ugly (deformissimus), and, vice versa, whoever is the ugliest is the most beautiful … Therefore the one who is most attractive in the sight of God (speciosissimus coram deo) is not the one who seems most humble to himself, but the one who sees himself as most filthy and depraved. The reason is that he would never see his own filthiness, unless he had been enlightened in his inmost being with a holy light (lumine sancto). But when he has such a light, he is attractive (speciosus), and the brighter the light, the more attractive he is. And the more brightly he has the light, the more he sees himself as ugly (deformem) and unworthy (indignum). Therefore it is true: The one who is most depraved in his own eyes is the most handsome (formosissimus) before God and, on the contrary, the one who sees himself as handsome is thoroughly ugly before God, because he lacks the light with which to see himself.23

The aesthetic categories of light (like brightness and clarity) influence Luther here: the enlightenment of God makes ugliness into beauty. The corollary is also true: the more beauty sinners claim to have, the more beauty before God they thereby lose.

But if you are beautiful (pulcher), righteous, strong, and good to yourself, this will already be a denial and vileness in you in the presence of God. For as long as you have removed confession, beauty refused to remain. For you have bent glory in on yourself, and therefore you have also lost beauty. Therefore give glory and confession to God, and this very glory will be your adornment, and the confession to God will be your beauty. But affirmation of yourself will be abasement of God, as far as you are concerned.24

In a nutshell, Luther argues, “whoever makes himself beautiful (pulchrum), is made ugly (fedatur). On the contrary, he who makes himself ugly, is made beautiful.”25 There are precedents in the theological tradition for these kinds of paradoxical affirmations. We noted Luther’s distaste for the caritas tradition from Augustine, but part of Augustine’s thought sounds similar. “Let that fairest one [Christ] alone, who loved the foul to make them fair (qui et foedos dilexit, ut pulchros faceret), be all our desire.”26 Luther may not be consciously continuing the Augustinian line of thinking here, but he certainly took a Christological approach to aesthetics as well as a twofold approach to the hiddenness of God. God is hidden as the deus absconditus to those who vainly search for his inner nature when he shows only his backside (posteriora dei), but God is also hidden as mercy in the preaching and ministry of Jesus Christ.27

The early Luther, in his own way, affirms pancalism. He does not do so on the basis of a metaphysics where beauty is the same as goodness, however. Creatures are not beautiful to the degree to which they participate in beauty, but rather Christ alone is beauty, and Christ makes sinners beautiful. The former approach is named a “theology of glory” in the Heidelberg Disputation, and Luther distances himself from such presumptuousness. To put it sharply: even metaphysical thinkers must be confronted by their own ugliness in sin. To claim a divine trait for oneself, like goodness, freedom or beauty, is to take from God what belongs to God alone. If Christ alone is beauty, then ugly sinners must be given beauty in faith, where they are sustained by God.28

Most importantly of all for the early Luther, what is at stake is our humanity—our standing as creatures as opposed to our self-aggrandizing pride. “When you call God good, you must deny that you are good and confess that you are altogether evil. He will not suffer Himself and you to be called good together at the same time, for He wants to be regarded as God, but He wants you to be regarded as a creature.”29

Beauty and the New Creation

Luther’s nascent theology of humility shows signs of what would become his innovative approach to theology: God kills us as sinners before he raises us alive as new creatures with clean hearts.30 Though we are nothing on the basis of our own merit, nonetheless God regards us forensically as the raw materials for God’s new creation. The theology of humility is thus governed by a forensic view of the human’s relationship with God. This means that in the relationship of the human to God, what counts most is how God evaluates the human. Those who are able to admit their nothingness are embraced by God. Drawing on mystics like John Tauler (c. 1300–1361), Luther asserted that all Christian identity, indeed all human identity comes from without oneself, such that one is entirely passive.31 New creations are active as they relate to other creatures and to their neighbors and as they serve others in their need. But before God, they quintessentially receive and do not offer. The theology of humility in Luther’s earliest writings develops into his theology of the cross. Through many “trials and sufferings”32 as well as the accusations of the law, God crucifies the old Adam or Eve. In doing so, human confidence in the pretense of self-deification and total control is banished. Sinners then can put their trust not in the old creature but in God’s goodness—and beauty—given in Jesus Christ. This beauty is hidden but can be seen by the eyes of faith alone. Humans as new creatures are purged of their egocentricity and tendencies toward self-justification. They can live extrinsically, outside of themselves and centered in Christ. In ethical service to their neighbor they even become “Christs,” and in aesthetic appreciation of God’s good gifts spread throughout the creation their Christhood is affirmed.33

In focusing on God’s forensic view of sinners, Luther redirected late medieval “bridal mysticism.” That tradition had strongly affirmed beauty and thought that the soul desired a beautiful Christ and that Christ desired the beautiful soul. The forensic character of Luther’s theology shaded his appropriation of aesthetics. The expectant lover desires not the beautiful soul but instead receives debts and liabilities, indeed even “sins, death and damnation.”34 Christ the bridegroom “must take upon himself the things which are his bride’s and bestow upon her the things that are his. If he gives her his body and very self, how shall he not give her all that is his?”35 Luther says, accordingly, “Here we have a most pleasing vision (dulcissimum spectaculum) not only of communion but of a blessed struggle and victory and salvation and redemption.”36 Jesus Christ assumes these debts from his “wicked harlot.”37 Likewise the bride has a right to claim, and in fact can claim, his treasures and status, just as he takes on her debts. Forensic beauty goes both directions. The “divine bridegroom Christ marries the poor, wicked harlot, redeems her from all her evil, and adorns (ornans) her [beautifies her] with all his goodness (omnibus suis bonis).”38

The One and Only Beauty

Luther’s mature theology affirms and intensifies this early approach to beauty. For instance, Luther’s commentary on Psalm 45, based on lectures he gave on the subject in 1532, insists that Christ’s beauty is attributable to his spiritual traits, not his physical ones. If, then, beauty is rightly a spiritual characteristic, then it is a feature of God’s faithfulness even to sinners and not in some kind of Aristotelian golden mean of proper proportion. It is found in God’s self-donation and in human trust in God’s promise. Sounding again the note from his younger theology of humility, Luther reminds us that the sinner who claims beauty on his own overlooks his deep ugliness coram deo. Beauty threatens health when it boastfully claims recognition from God. This threat is omnipresent to the sinful person. The threat is made worse when it blinds the sinner not only to his own ugliness but also to Christ’s great beauty. The sinner needs God not only to become beautiful, but even to see her own nothingness coram deo, for such an understanding is truly a work of the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment. Christ alone is truly beautiful. In Psalm 45, Luther writes,

It could perhaps be that some were fairer in form than Christ, for we do not read that the Jews especially admired His form. We are not concerned here with His natural and essential form, but with His spiritual form. That is such that He is simply the fairest in form among the sons of men, so that finally He alone is finely formed (solus formosus) and beautiful. All the rest are disfigured, defiled, and corrupted by an evil will, by weakness in their resistance to sin, and by other vices that cling to us by nature. This ugliness of man (turpitudines) is not apparent to the eyes; it makes no impression on the eyes, just as spiritual beauty makes no visual impression. Since we are flesh and blood, we are moved only by the substantial form and beauty that the eyes see. If we had spiritual eyes, we could see what a great disgrace it is that man’s will should be turned from God.39

What is it that makes Christ beautiful? Could it be that he is spiritually righteous by the standard of the law? Luther does not indicate this. Instead, on the contrary, he thinks that Christ’s beauty consists in his identification with and participation in sinful humanity. In helping and saving them, Christ becomes beauty. Christ “did not keep company with the holy, powerful, and wise, but with despicable and miserable sinners, with those ruined by misfortune, with men weighed down by painful and incurable diseases; these He healed, comforted, raised up, helped. And at last he even died for sinners.”40 What makes Christ beautiful, then, perfectly flouts the standard medieval criteria of proportion, clarity, and perfection. In identifying with sinners, Christ mingles with the disproportionate, the smudged and the imperfect. In fact, he becomes this ugliness. Christ’s beauty, then is “hidden under the opposite appearance” (sub contraria specie).41

Luther’s criterion for beauty is not the standard threefold schema of proportion, clarity, and wholeness, but rather is Christ’s compassionate, self-originating love. That love reaches out to the outcast and forlorn. These beloved of Christ do not score high marks on the scale of law or power. In fact, the powerful (those beauties with clarity, perfection, and proportion) are threatened by Christ’s compassion. They reject Christ and find him ugly. Thus the medieval criteria for beauty are arranged under the rubric of law, not Gospel. Luther’s aim is to re-thematize beauty as a Gospel concept, not a law one. Because the beauty that counts is beauty coram deo, enforcers of beauty coram hominibus (such as, in Luther’s view, Pharisees and priests) are threats to the Gospel.

[The Pharisees and priests] were so inflamed with hatred for Christ that they could not even bear to look at Him. While He was present and speaking among them, there still proceeded from His mouth rays—in fact, suns—of wisdom, and from His hands beams of divine power, and from his entire body suns of love and every virtue. But whatever of His beauty (pulchritudinum) He showed them was nauseating and an abomination to them, not through Christ’s fault but through their own.42

God gives his beauty as compassion in Jesus Christ. His compassion goes to those oppressed by law. But this kind of gift threatens the underlying structures propping up human self-justification. “That is the manner and nature of the world; it judges this King to be shameful beyond all the sons of men, and it holds His most beautiful gifts and virtues to be diabolical villainy and malice. We encounter the same thing today.”43

Jesus Christ is ugly to sinners and is crucified by them despite his true status as the very beauty of God. He threatens their desire to maintain power and to keep a death grip on their defense structures. Precisely for this reason, sinners stand condemned and in need of grace. Luther summarizes,

This King is hidden under the opposite appearance: in spirit He is more beautiful (pulcher) than the sons of men; but in the flesh all the sons of men are more beautiful than He, and only this King is ugly, as He is described in Isaiah 53:2,3 … Therefore we see that delightful and pleasant things are stated of this King in the Psalm, but they are enveloped and overshadowed by the external form of the cross. The world does not possess or admire these gifts; rather it persecutes them because it does not believe. These things are spoken to us, however, to let us know that we have such a king. All men are damned. Their beauty (pulchritudinem) is nothing in God’s eyes. Their righteousness is sin. Their strength is nothing either. All we do, think, and say by ourselves is damnable and deserving of eternal death. We must be conformed to the image of this king.”44

Humans must receive beauty forensically and externally—as a gift from God—if they are to possess it coram deo. In light of human sin, only as something apart from nature can grace allow nature to be nature. “Then you are beautiful (decora) not by your own beauty, but by the beauty of the King, who has adorned (ornavit) you with His Word, who has granted you His righteousness, His holiness, truth, strength, and all gifts of the Holy Spirit.”45 Beauty before God is thus rather like righteousness before God and vice versa. That justification happens by faith alone means that God gives beauty to sinners, enrobing them in his beauty. “To be justified by faith” and “to be made beautiful” are synonymous. Humans are made “acceptable to God” as well as “lovely” by dint of their faith in Christ.

Our beauty (pulchritudinem) does not consist in our own virtues nor even in the gifts we have received from God, by which we exercise our virtues and do everything that pertains to the life of the Law. It consists in this, that if we apprehend Christ (Christum apprehendamus) and believe in Him, we are truly lovely (vere formosi), and Christ looks at that beauty (decorum) alone and at nothing besides. Therefore it is nothing to teach that we should try to be beautiful by our own chosen religiousness and our own righteousness. To be sure, among men and at the courts of the wise these things are brilliant, but in God’s courts we must have another beauty (aliam pulchritudinem). There this is the one and only beauty (sola pulchritudo)—to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.46

Sinners are deemed beautiful when they are defined by Christ, not by the law. Just as they are simul iustus et peccator, they are also simul pulchra et turpia, at once beautiful and ugly.

Creational Beauty

Beauty is not only understood by Luther in terms of redemption. His doctrine of creation, notably the creation of humans and their “original righteousness” (iustitiae originalis), refers extensively to the language of beauty. Clarity, proportion, and completeness can be criteria of beauty coram mundo in Luther’s view. Human fitness to care for creation, as it originally comes from God’s hand, evinces these marks of beauty. Thus we can distinguish a beauty of the law, or a creation beauty, from the beauty of the Gospel, or a redemption beauty. The latter is not apparent to the senses or to human reason. Rather, it can be claimed only by virtue of God’s imputation of Christ’s righteousness to sinners. Creation beauty has a place for the three criteria of beauty in the Middle Ages, in Luther’s view, but even then they risk saying too little coram mundo. In this sense, Luther’s view is rather like that of Albertus Magnus (c. 1193–1280), who saw beauty as “resplendence of form.” For Albert,

Just as corporeal beauty requires a due proportion of its members and splendid colours … so it is the nature of universal beauty to demand that there be mutual proportions among all things and their elements and principles, and that they should be resplendent with the clarity of form.47

Luther’s view of humanity and its beauty before the fall sounds like hyperbole. Adam’s prelapsarian mental and physical traits, understood in the Augustinian trio of will, intellect, and memory, are described like this by Luther:

Both his inner and his outer sensations were all of the purest kind. His intellect was the clearest, his memory was the best, and his will was the most straightforward—all in the most beautiful tranquility of mind (pulcherrima securitate), without any fear of death and without any anxiety. To these inner qualities came also those most beautiful and superb (pulcherrima et excellentissima) qualities of body and of all the limbs, qualities in which he surpassed all the remaining living creatures.48

Luther touted Adam’s physical and mental prowess as a way of justifying Adam’s lordship over all other creatures in Eden. Similarly, Luther sharpened the distinction between humanity in its integrity and humanity after the Fall. Central to this contrast is the security of mind the pre-Fall Adam possessed and the fear of death Adam has post-Fall. The prelapsarian Adam lives wholly in fear, love, and trust. He therefore is related rightly to God and fears nothing, including death. “Before sin Adam had the clearest eyes, the most delicate and delightful odor, and a body very well suited and obedient for procreation. But how our limbs today lack that vigor!”49 Even worse, Luther notes how fallen humanity has lost

a most beautifully enlightened reason (pulcherrime illuminatam rationem) and a will in agreement with the Word and will of God. We have also lost the glory of our bodies, so that now it is a matter of the utmost disgrace to be seen naked, whereas at that time it was something most beautiful and the unique prerogative (pulcherrimum et singularis praerogativa) of the human race over all the other animals. The most serious loss consists in this, that not only were those benefits lost, but man’s will turned away from God.50

The pervasiveness of the perversion of sin, for Luther, means that we cannot comprehend the imago dei. Its meaning had been claimed to be clear, however, by Augustine and many medieval scholastic theologians. For them, the image of God comprised (a) memory, which ought to blossom in hope in God; (b) the intellect, which ought to lead to faith in God; and (c) the will, which ought to lead to love of God. The proper exercise of faith, hope, and love by humans, then, would perfect God’s image. 51 In contrast, Luther holds that because of sin, memory, intellect, and will are, at present, “utterly leprous and unclean.”52 Luther’s language here is designed not only to criticize human disobedience but also to highlight how lofty indeed was the power and beauty of the original righteousness of human beings. Luther thought that Adam’s body was perfectly commensurate for his needs and for caring for Eden, “a garden of delight and joy” (deliciarum et voluptatis).53 His sight, Luther held, was better than that of eagles and lynxes, and he was stronger than lions and bears. Had there been no sin, all species of animals would have eaten from a “common table” subsisting on rye, wheat, and other plants. Predation and subsequent carnivory was a result of the Fall.54

Proportion is likewise affirmed, coram mundo, at least, in Luther’s Lectures on Genesis. Luther concurs with Peter Lombard that humankind was “created for a better life in the future than this physical life would have been, even if our nature had remained unimpaired.” Time and again Luther insists that “at a predetermined time, after the number of saints had become full, these physical activities would have come to an end; and Adam, together with his descendant, would have been translated to the eternal and spiritual life.”55 The reformer is drawing here on the Pythagorean tradition (including St. Augustine, who stood in their line) which placed a high premium on mathematics as the key to unlock meaning in the whole cosmos. Luther writes,

With the support of the mathematical disciplines—which no one can deny were divinely revealed—the human being, in his mind, soars high above the earth; and leaving behind those things that are on the earth, he concerns himself with heavenly things and explores them … Therefore man is a creature created to inhabit the celestial regions (terra coelestia) and to live an eternal life when, after a while, he has left the earth.56

Luther finds the capacity of humans for mathematics (including music, because it contains harmony and rhythm) signifies a human destiny that is more than physical and is, in fact, a spiritual destiny.

Lastly, Adams’s and Eve’s original righteousness is beautiful because, in them, nature and grace were not separate and external to each other but rather interpenetrated each other. Luther writes,

Let us rather maintain that righteousness was not a gift which came from without, separate from man’s nature, but that it was truly part of his nature, so that it was Adam’s nature to love God, to believe God, to know God, etc. These things were just as natural for Adam as it is natural for the eyes to receive light. But because you may correctly say that nature has been damaged if you render an eye defective by inflicting a wound, so, after man has fallen from righteousness into sin, it is correct and truthful to say that our natural endowments are not perfect but are corrupted by sin (non integra sed corrupta). For just as it is the nature of the eye to see, so it was the nature of reason and will in Adam to know God, to trust God, and to fear God. Since it is a fact that this has now been lost, who is so foolish as to say that our natural endowments are still perfect?57

This characterization of nature and grace and their relation to each other shows the depth of beauty and how resplendent was the form with which Adam and Eve were made. Adam’s created nature was graced in such a way that he lived in perfect harmony with God, with his wife, and with all other creatures. He loved God innately and, speaking precisely, naturally. In a metaphor reminiscent of Augustine,58 Luther’s Adam was “intoxicated with rejoicing toward God.”59 God’s renewal of the sinful world is directed to just this sort of state. Luther repeatedly avers in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 15 that the resurrection body will be beautiful.60 Reminiscent of his portrayal of the joyful exchange, Luther uses the same metaphor of intoxication to describe the properties of Christ that the Christian, in faith, shares.61

Comparing this conviction with that of the immediately preceding Genesis passage, it is clear that grace restores human nature to its original righteousness. God’s promise is able to intoxicate the human soul, causing it to love God, in a way resembling original righteousness. Nature does not need perfection, then, but rather liberation. The intellect and will must have their wounds caused by sin healed. Elevating them to a higher level by means of a superadded gift is not enough, because their wounds are so grave. Instead, God remakes the faithful into new creations. Luther summarizes his view like this: “In this life we lay hold of this goal [the likeness of God] in ever so weak a manner; but in the future life we shall attain it fully.”62 In other words, as our salvation, God is leading his people towards beauty.

Far from a theology devoid of aesthetics, Luther’s is one that seeks delight in the senses and not as a stepping stone to a higher spiritual reality. Instead, for the Reformer beauty is given in the Gospel, which clothes and adorns sinners with the righteousness of Christ. But this forensic justification carries a powerful effective dimension: sinners are renewed in heart, mind, and even body; their senses are opened so that they can honor creation as gift, as we see when Luther preached on Jesus’ command “Ephphatha, Be opened!,”63 and so give God glory for his goodness. God’s alien work is not beautiful, but it exists for his proper work of giving favor to repentant sinners, which indeed is beautiful and shows us that God is beauty itself. The Gospel restores desire such that it is no longer unnaturally self-serving but instead allows us to desire “what God desires.”64 As his work in the theology of music indicated, believers can find an “innocent delight”65 in the appreciation of music, which itself is written into the fabric of creation. Luther’s reformation was not iconoclastic because the Gospel comes tangibly, in, with, and under visible signs, such as we see in the Lord’s Supper: there is no “kernel” (promise) without the physical “shell.”66 Indeed, God only ever presents himself to humans as “covered,” and so all physical things present God—albeit not always clearly or mercifully. Hence, the accusation that Luther’s theology leads to a “disenchantment,” as Charles Taylor claims,67 with the world, found at the core of secularity, is to be contested.68 The office of Jesus Christ is to make God known with certainty.69 Gospel beauty, paradoxically granted in the ugliness of Jesus Christ who bears human sin, so reorders humans as creatures to God through faith. As reordered to God through faith, believers not only live as Christs in the world for the sake of their neighbors but also enjoy the beauty that God has built into creation. In all artistic endeavors humans “cooperate” with God, as part of the fabric of God’s ever-creative activity.

Review of the Literature

Scholarship devoted to Luther’s aesthetics, particularly understood as his theory of beauty, is sparse. There is room for more studies on this topic, since so little research to date has been done. This is surprising, given that Lutheranism sparked a robust blossoming in music and the visual arts among various Protestant groups. It is likely that so few studies have been done because the topic has not been at the forefront for Luther researchers, who historically have singled out Luther’s “reformational turn,” his theological distinctiveness, or his ethics for primary attention.

Studies of Luther’s views of disciplines related to aesthetics, such as music or the visual arts, e.g., the role of icons, can yield important clues to the Reformer’s attitudes about beauty. Luther’s appreciation of music is well known. Many studies associated with his view of music are concerned with his reform of the medieval liturgy and the importance he accorded hymns as a means of teaching the faith. With respect to music, whether studies devoted to Luther per se or Renaissance music in general, a careful survey of the work of Miikka Anttila and other scholars listed in the Further Reading, such as Howard Brown, Walter Buszin, Theodore Hoelty-Nickel, Robin Leaver, Andreas Loewe, and Carl Schalk, will be helpful. However, of these authors, the work of Anttila stands out as work that directly associates Luther’s appreciation of music with his theory of beauty and not merely music’s role in worship or as a hobby for relaxation (which it surely was for Luther).

Likewise, with respect to the visual arts, whether giving Luther’s perspective or that of the role of the visual arts in the late medieval period, scholars will find helpful the works listed in Further Reading by Caroline Bynum, Carl Christensen, Umberto Eco, Carlos Eire, Kurt Hendel, Werner Hofmann, Angus Menuge, Hans Preuss, Birgit Stolt, Richard Streier, John Tonkin, and Christoph Weimar. Luther’s association of visual images with beauty is far more indirect than his association with music. The fact that God offers his grace through physical means, a promise connected with water in baptism or with bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper, due in part to his “Cyrillian approach” emphasizing the communication of the attributes between the divine and the human natures in Christ, is akin to God’s care for all creatures by means of other creatures: God’s mercy is deeply embedded in physicality. That God is “covered”70 in all things indicates that all things are vestiges of God’s providential care, albeit indirectly or in a hidden way. Only in the promise is God’s mercy or favor made crystal clear.

Hence, Luther sees more than a teaching role for icons, which would remind believers of God’s fidelity to people. In a sense, all things are “iconic” in that with them God addresses his creatures either through wrath or mercy, threateningly or providentially. In his study of Johann Georg Hamann, who rephrased Luther’s view of creation as God’s “speaking to creatures to creatures,” Oswald Bayer advocates this view.71 That reality is beautiful, then, for Luther, is not always apparent when it is encountered as God’s alien work. However, the alien work exists for the proper work, and through that lens with the eyes of faith we can affirm a kind of “pancalism” operative in Luther’s theology of creation.

Given the fact that the late Middle Ages had inherited a metaphysical approach to beauty, through which many medieval theologians (though not all) saw beauty as a transcendental, like being, goodness, oneness, and truth—a property belonging to one degree or another to all realities that exist precisely because they participate in being—the student of Luther’s aesthetics should study the development of that tradition. In Jan Aertsen’s work one can find an advanced study of the transcendentals in medieval thinking and the role of beauty with respect to the various transcendentals. However, it behooves scholars to examine the development of the theme of beauty and the correlative theme of desire (since the assumption is that it is the beautiful that all rational creatures qua rational desire and to which they are drawn). Hence, one should read Plato’s Symposium and Republic, Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Plotinus’ Enneads, Augustine’s City of God and Confessions, Pseudo-Dionysius’ works, Bernhard of Clairvaux’s treatises, as well as Johannes Tauler and the anonymous Theologica Germanica in order to have a feel for how Luther processed this spiritual heritage. Again, while Luther was influenced by these metaphysical perspectives, he belonged to a trajectory in late medieval thinking that heightened the affects over the intellect as the best way to understand aesthetics, albeit not in the contemporary subjective approach that finds taste to be irrational and individual.

Further Reading

Aertsen, Jan. Medieval Philosophy as Transcendental Thought: From Philip the Chancellor (CA. 1225) to Francisco Suárez. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2012.Find this resource:

Alfsvåg, Knut. What No Mind Has Conceived: On the Significance of Christological Apophaticism. Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 2010.Find this resource:

Anttila, Miikka E. “Music.” In Engaging Luther: A (New) Theological Assessment. Edited by Olli-Pekka Vainio, 210–222. Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2010.Find this resource:

Anttila, Mikka. “Die Ästhetik Luthers.” Kerygma und Dogma 58.4 (2012): 244–255.Find this resource:

Anttila, Miikka E. Luther’s Theology of Music: Spiritual Beauty and Pleasure. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2013.Find this resource:

Bayer, Oswald. Theology the Lutheran Way. Translated by Jeffrey Silcock and Mark Mattes. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007.Find this resource:

Bayer, Oswald. Martin Luther: A Contemporary Interpretation. Translated by Thomas Trapp. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.Find this resource:

Brown, Howard Mayer, and Louise K. Stein. Music in the Renaissance. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999.Find this resource:

Buszin, Walter. “Luther on Music.” Musical Quarterly 32 (1947): 80–97.Find this resource:

Bynum, Caroline Walker. Christian Materiality: An Essay on Religion in Late Medieval Europe. New York: Zone Books, 2011.Find this resource:

Christensen, Carl. “Luther’s Theology and the Use of Religious Art.” Lutheran Quarterly 22 (1970): 147–165.Find this resource:

Eco, Umberto. Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages. Translated by Hugh Bredin. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1986.Find this resource:

Eco, Umberto. The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas. Translated by Hugh Bredin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988.Find this resource:

Eire, Carlos M. N. War against the Idols: The Reformation of Worship from Erasmus to Calvin. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1986.Find this resource:

Forde, Gerhard. Where God Meets Man: Luther’s Down-to-Earth Approach to the Gospel. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1972.Find this resource:

Hägglund, Bengt. “Was Luther a Nominalist?” Theology 59 (1956): 226–237.Find this resource:

Hamm, Berndt. The Early Luther: Stages in a Reformation Reorientation. Translated by Martin J. Lohrmann. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014.Find this resource:

Hamm, Berndt. “Martin Luther’s Revolutionary Theology of Pure Gift without Reciprocation.” Lutheran Quarterly 29 (2015): 125–161.Find this resource:

Hart, David Bentley. The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003.Find this resource:

Hendel, Kurt K. “Finitum capax infiniti: Luther’s Radical Incarnational Perspective.” Currents in Theology and Mission 35 (2008): 420–433.Find this resource:

Hoelty-Nickel, Theodore. “Luther and Music.” In Luther and Culture. Decorah, IA: Luther College Press, 1960.Find this resource:

Hofmann, Werner, ed. Luther und die Folgen für die Kunst. Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1983.Find this resource:

Kristeller, Paul Oskar. Renaissance Thought II: Papers on Humanism and the Arts. New York: Harper & Row, 1965.Find this resource:

Leaver, Robin. “Luther on Music.” In The Pastoral Luther: Essays on Martin Luther’s Practical Theology. Edited by Timothy J. Wengert. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009.Find this resource:

Loewe, J. Andreas. “Why Do Lutherans Sing? Lutherans, Music, and the Gospel in the First Century of the Reformation.” Church History 82 (2013): 69–89.Find this resource:

Mannermaa, Tuomo. Christ Present in Faith: Luther’s View of Justification. Translated by Kirsi Stjerna. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005.Find this resource:

Mattes, Mark. Martin Luther’s Theology of Beauty: A Reappraisal. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017.Find this resource:

Menuge, Angus J. L. “The Cultural and Aesthetic Impact of Lutheranism.” In Where Christ Is Present: A Theology for All Seasons on the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. Edited by John Warwick Montgomery and Gene Edward Veith, 209–231. Irvine, CA: NRP Books, 2015.Find this resource:

Ozment, Steven. The Serpent and the Lamb: Cranach, Luther and the Making of the Reformation. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Preuss, Hans. Martin Luther der Küstler. Gütersloh, Germany: Bertelsmann, 1931.Find this resource:

Rummel, Erika. Biblical Humanism and Scholasticism in the Age of Erasmus. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2008.Find this resource:

Schalk, Carol. Luther on Music: Paradigms of Praise. St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1988.Find this resource:

Stevenson, Robert M. Patterns of Protestant Church Music. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1953.Find this resource:

Stolt, Birgit. “Joy, Love and Trust—Basic Ingredients in Luther’s Theology of the Faith of the Heart.” Seminary Ridge Review 4 (2002): 28–44.Find this resource:

Stolt, Birgit. “Luther’s Translation of the Bible.” Lutheran Quarterly 27 (2014): 373–400.Find this resource:

Streier, Richard. “Martin Luther and the Real Presence in Nature.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 37 (2007): 271–303.Find this resource:

Thiemann, Ronald F. “Sacramental Realism: Martin Luther at the Dawn of Modernity.” In Lutherrenaissance Past and Present, edited by Christine Helmer and Bo Kristian Holm, 156–173. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015.Find this resource:

Tonkin, John. “Word and Image: Luther and the Arts.” Colloquium 17 (1985): 45–54.Find this resource:

Weimar, Christoph. “Luther and Cranach on Justification in Word and Image.” Lutheran Quarterly 18 (2004): 387–405.Find this resource:


(1.) Rudolf Bultmann, Glauben und Verstehen: Gesammelte Aufsätze, 4 vols. (Tübingen, Germany: J. C. B. Mohr, 1975), 2:137, cited in David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 23.

(2.) Miikka E. Anttila, “Music,” in Engaging Luther: A (New) Theological Assessment, ed. Olli-Pekka Vainio (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2010), 218.

(3.) Lectures on Galatians (1535) in Luther’s Works [American edition], 55 vols. (Philadelphia: Fortress and St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1955–86), vol. 27: 140 (hereafter LW); Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe [Schriften], 65 vols. (Weimar: H. Böhlau, 1883–1993), 40/2, 178 (hereafter WA).

(4.) Admittedly I am playing loose with Clifford Geertz’s categories of thick and thin description, since for Geertz thick description acknowledges that all description comes with interpretation; there is no neutral objectivity per se. But the parallel between my use here and Geertz’s is that adequate interpretation is not reductionistic. See The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 5–6, 9–10.

(5.) See Oswald Bayer, Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation, trans. Thomas Trapp (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008), 120–153.

(6.) Miikka E. Anttila, “Music” in Engaging Luther: A (New) Theological Assessment, 219. Italics mine.

(7.) Paul Oskar Kristeller, Renaissance Thought II: Papers on Humanism and the Arts (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), 4–5.

(8.) Erika Rummel, Biblical Humanism and Scholasticism in the Age of Erasmus (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2008), 4.

(9.) Kristeller, 186.

(10.) Beauty was important for monastic spirituality, seen in the bridal mysticism of Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153), where the soul is attracted to Christ because he is beautiful and Christ as bridegroom nurtures the soul. Such spirituality would, of course, have directly influenced Luther though, in contrast to his forebears, he tends to draw out the forensic consequences for the soul in its marriage to Christ.

(11.) With reservations about both the Platonism and Kantianism in Roger Scruton’s work, I find his metaphor of “at home” as a way to describe the benefit that beauty gives us. See his Beauty (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 174–175.

(12.) See Birgit Stolt, “Luther’s Translation of the Bible” in Lutheran Quarterly 27 (2014): 373–400.

(13.) These medieval thinkers included Robert Grosseteste (c. 1175–1253), Bonaventure (1221–1274), and Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274); they reworked the legacy of Plato (427–347 bce), Aristotle (384–322 bce), Plotinus (205–270), Augustine (354–430), and the Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (5th–6th centuries).

(14.) See Umberto Eco, Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages, trans. Hugh Bredin (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1986), 90.

(15.) For the 1513–1515 Dictata super Psalterium, see LW 10 and 11 (WA 3 and 4); for his later work, see “Commentary on Psalm 45” (1532), in LW 12: 197–300 (WA 40, 472–610).

(16.) See “Heidelberg Disputation” (1518), Theses 2, 3, 5, 8, 19, and especially 22, in LW 31: 39–40 (WA 1, 353–355).

(17.) “Creatures are only the hands, channels, and means through which god bestows all blessings. For example, he gives to the mother breasts and milk for her infant or gives grain and all sorts of fruits from the earth for sustenance—things that no creature could produce by itself.” See “The Large Catechism” in BC 389: 26 (BSELK 566: 26).

(18.) LW 31: 57 (WA 1, 354, 35).

(19.) LW 31: 57 (WA 1, 365, 5–7).

(20.) LW 31: 57 (WA 1, 365, 8–12). Italics mine.

(21.) LW 29: 135 (WA 57, 128, 14).

(22.) See “Sermon on St. Thomas’ Day” on Ps. 19:1 (December 21, 1516), LW 51: 18–19 (WA 1, 111–112).

(23.) LW 10: 239 (WA 3, 290, 23–291, 3).

(24.) LW 11: 262 (WA 4, 110, 21–26).

(25.) LW 11: 263 (WA 4, 111, 7, 15).

(26.) On the Gospel of St. John, Tractate 10: 13.

(27.) See Brian Gerrish, “‘To the Unknown God’: Luther and Calvin on the Hiddenness of God,” in The Old Protestantism and the New: Essays on the Reformation Heritage (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1982), 131–149.

(28.) LW 11: 387 (WA 4, 252, 10–14).

(29.) LW 11: 411 (WA 4, 278, 37–279, 2). Italics mine.

(30.) For more on this theme, see Robert Kolb, “God Kills to Make Alive: Romans 6 and Luther’s Understanding of Justification (1535),” Lutheran Quarterly 12 (1998): 33–56.

(31.) Bayer, Martin Luther’s Theology, 43.

(32.) Lectures on Hebrews, LW 29: 130.

(33.) Lectures on Hebrews, LW 29: 130.

(34.) LW 31: 351 (WA 7, 55, 1).

(35.) LW 31: 351 (WA 7, 55, 5–6).

(36.) LW 31: 351 (WA 7, 55, 7–8).

(37.) LW 31: 352 (WA 7, 55, 26).

(38.) LW 31: 352 (WA 7, 55, 26–27).

(39.) “Commentary on Psalm 45,” in LW 12: 207 (WA 40/II, 485, 5–11).

(40.) “Commentary on Psalm 45,” in LW 12: 208 (WA 40/II, 486, 11–12).

(41.) “Commentary on Psalm 45,” in LW 12: 208 (WA 40/II, 487, 26).

(42.) “Commentary on Psalm 45,” in LW 12: 208 (WA 40/II, 487, 15–20).

(43.) “Commentary on Psalm 45,” in LW 12: 208 (WA 40/II, 487, 22–25).

(44.) “Commentary on Psalm 45,” in LW 12: 209 (WA 40/II, 487, 26–39).

(45.) “Commentary on Psalm 45,” in LW 12: 278 (WA 40/II, 580, 28–30).

(46.) “Commentary on Psalm 45,” in LW 12: 280 (WA 40/II, 583, 19–27).

(47.) Umberto Eco, Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages, 25.

(48.) “Lectures on Genesis,” in LW 1: 62 (WA 42, 46, 18–27).

(49.) “Lectures on Genesis,” in LW 1: 100 (WA 42, 76, 15–18).

(50.) “Lectures on Genesis,” in LW 1: 141 (WA 42, 106, 12–17).

(51.) “Lectures on Genesis,” in LW 1: 60 (WA 42, 45, 11–17).

(52.) “Lectures on Genesis,” in LW 1: 61 (WA 42, 46, 7).

(53.) “… the world was most beautiful (pulcherrimus) from the beginning; Eden was truly a garden of delight and joy.” See “Lectures on Genesis,” in LW 1: 90 (WA 42, 68, 35–36).

(54.) “Lectures on Genesis,” in LW 1: 38 (WA 42, 29, 4).

(55.) “Lectures on Genesis,” in LW 1: 56 (WA 42, 42, 24–27).

(56.) “Lectures on Genesis,” in LW 1: 46 (WA 42, 34, 37–35, 7).

(57.) “Lectures on Genesis,” in LW 1: 165 (WA 42, 124, 4–13).

(58.) “Who will send Thee into my heart to inebriate it … ” Confessions, I, v. Augustine, Confessions, trans. Philip Schaff in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1956), book 1, chapter V, p. 46.

(59.) “Lectures on Genesis,” in LW 1: 94 (WA 42, 71, 31).

(60.) Luther writes of the resurrection life, “You will always be strong and vigorous, healthy and happy, also brighter and more beautiful than sun and moon, so that all the garments and the gold bedecking a king or emperor will be sheer dirt in comparison with us when we are illumined by but a divine glance” (LW 38: 142; WA 36, 593, 34–38), and he notes, “This will make the whole body so beautiful, vigorous, and healthy, indeed, so light and agile, that we will soar along like a little spark, yes, just like the sun which runs its course in the heavens.” See “Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14,” in LW 28: 143 (WA 36, 494, 40–495, 1).

(61.) “Freedom of a Christian” (1520), in LW 31: 349 (WA 7, 53, 15–20).

(62.) “Lectures on Genesis,” in LW 1: 131 (WA 42, 98, 22–24).

(63.) Oswald Bayer, Martin Luther’s Theology, 108.

(64.) LW 1: 337 (WA 42, 248, 12–13). In de servo arbritrio (1525), Luther notes how the Holy Spirit in the gospel works to re-situate the human will: “When God works in us, the will is changed under the sweet influence of the Spirit of God. Once more it desires and acts, not of compulsion, but of its own desire and spontaneous inclination. Its bent still cannot be altered by any opposition; it cannot be mastered or prevailed upon even by the gates of hell; but it goes on willing, desiring and loving good, just as once it willed, desired and loved evil.” See The Bondage of the Will, trans. J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston (New York: Revell, 1957), 103 (WA 18, 634, 37–635, 2).

(65.) WA 30/II, 696. For English translation see Robin Leaver, Luther’s Liturgical Music (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 86.

(66.) “Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper” (1528) in LW 37: 219 (WA 26, 333, 17).

(67.) See Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), 25–27, 29–43, and other places.

(68.) Ronald Thiemann, “Sacramental Realism: Martin Luther at the Dawn of Modernity” in Lutherrenaissance Past and Present, eds. Christine Helmer and Bo Kristian Holm (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015), 165–173.

(69.) Oswald Bayer, Theology the Lutheran Way, trans. Jeffrey Silcock and Mark Mattes (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 103.

(70.) “Lectures on Genesis” in LW 1: 11 (WA 42, 9, 34–10, 2).

(71.) See Oswald Bayer, A Contemporary in Dissent: Johann Georg Hamann as a Radical Enlightener, trans. Roy A. Harrisville and Mark Mattes (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012).