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date: 25 March 2017

Martin Luther and Ontology

Summary and Keywords

Although many have interpreted Luther as “anti-metaphysical” and therefore unconcerned with the question of being, careful scrutiny of his texts shows otherwise. Trained at Erfurt to read Aristotle in the via moderna tradition, Luther did have ontological and semantic convictions that are displayed throughout his work, but especially in his disputations dealing with Trinitarian, Christological and soteriological issues. While rejecting as idolatrous the human attempt to grasp the summum bonum through natural reason, Luther nonetheless assumed that God’s revelation in Christ has ontological implications.

The Finnish School of Luther interpretation, founded by Tuomo Mannermaa, has done a great service for Luther research by highlighting the motifs in Luther of Christ’s real presence in the justified believer and the presence of God’s love in faith. Although the Aristotelian categories available to Luther were inadequate for conceiving the paradoxical presence of the infinite in the finite, Luther did not thereby adopt a relational ontology more characteristic of the late 19th century than of his own time. Instead, he simply regarded as true what his philosophical categories could not fully conceive: just as God became a human being while remaining God, so too do humans become God while remaining human. While the Finnish scholarship highlights Luther’s use of participatio in speaking of the presence of the divine in the justified believer, Luther did not mean thereby that human beings are essentially transformed into God, but rather that they are, in faith, profoundly interpenetrated by the divine.

Luther’s discussion of the nova lingua of theology connects to the “real-ontic” presence of Christ in the believer. As a good nominalist, Luther understood that sentential truth presupposes ontology. While everyday language, the language of philosophy generally, has truth conditions that can be articulated in terms of the existence of particular substances and their particular qualities, things are not so clear for the language of theology that speaks of the Trinity, incarnation, and the presence of God in the world and particularly in the life of the believer. How is this language constituted so that the real presence of the divine can be spoken with meaning and truth? While Luther assumes the extensionalism of nominalism when speaking philosophically, it is not clear that this is the case when he speaks theologically. Luther understands that language itself must be profoundly changed in order to grasp and state the reality of the infinite in the finite. Whether this change can be understood on the horizon of an extensionalist semantics is an open question.

Keywords: Martin Luther, semantics, nominalism, deification, Finnish School, Aristotle

Rediscovering Luther’s Ontology

Mentioning “Luther” and “ontology” in the same breath has not been popular until quite recently. The Luther renaissance, dominated as it was by neo-Kantian presuppositions, downplayed the question of Luther’s understanding of being.1 Since metaphysical questions were out of favor in late 19th- and early 20th-century German universities, the question of being was simply quite uninteresting to many theologians of that day. While Luther’s theology was widely regarded as innovative and persuasive, his frequent disparagement of Aristotle seemed clearly to manifest the Reformer’s disdain for philosophical questions—especially metaphysical ones. When the question of ontology was thematized within Luther scholarship in the middle of the 20th century, strong voices spoke of Luther’s rejection of Aristotelian “substance ontology” in favor of a “relational ontology,” suggesting that the former characterized Roman Catholic theology and the latter authentic Lutheran theology.2

All of this changed in the late 1970s, when Tuomoo Mannermaa’s school of Finnish Luther research began to explore the connection between Luther’s notion of the presence of Christ in faith and Orthodoxy’s theosis (deification) motif. Particularly intriguing was Mannermaa’s use of the phrase “real-ontish” in describing the relationship between the believer and Christ in justification. Mannermaa and students pointed out that Luther spoke the language of the inhabitatio dei in a very profound and ontological way. Accordingly, Christ’s presence in the believer is best understood as a “real ontic” unity of Christ and Christian. Just as God really became a human being while remaining God, so too does the Christian really become God while remaining a human being. Luther thus presupposes what modernity has denied: finitum capax infinitii (“the finite bears the infinite”).3

While the Finnish School’s thematization of deification introduced the question of Luther’s ontology to many, the ontological status of Christ’s presence in the believer is just one of many places where the question of being arises in Luther. In light of the motif of finitum capax infinitii, one might ask about the ontological status of each of these:

  • Grace

  • Church

  • Love

  • The Body of Christ in the Holy Supper

  • The presence of Christ in the waters of baptism

  • The freedom of the will

  • The hidden God

  • The Fall and its relationship to creation

  • The communicatio idiomatum, the genus maiestaticum and the genus tapeinoticum

  • Christ’s presence after the resurrection

  • The two natures of Christ

While Luther alludes to positions on a number of these, we discuss here only the most salient claims of the Finnish scholarship, seeking thereby to locate Luther’s ontology within the broader historical context of Luther’s relation to Aristotle and the late medieval theological tradition.

Luther is neither “anti-metaphysical” nor an advocate of “relational ontology,” but simply assumed for the most part a set of late medieval presuppositions about semantics and ontology that have sometimes been inadequately understood. The Finns have helpfully highlighted aspects of Luther’s thought that do not easily conform to the dominant paradigm of Luther research, and accordingly have awakened interest and investigation into a long-neglected area. Luther actually advocates a regional ontology: while Aristotelian categories grasp the ontological contour of objects human beings encounter coram mundo, they are incapable of conceptualizing objects encountered coram deo.4

In order to achieve clarity on the issue of Luther and ontology, it is necessary first to discuss what ontology is. Since for Luther and his theological predecessors, ontology and semantics are closely related, it is important also to know something about the nature and contour of late medieval semantics and the ontological possibilities associated with it.

Metaphysics, Ontology, and Semantics

Many assume that “metaphysics” and “ontology” are coextensive. But this is false, for the former examines the general features and principles of reality, while the latter applies properly only to a subregion within metaphysics investigating general questions of being. Traditional and contemporary ontology is concerned with what there is and the most general features of what there is.5

Historically, the term “metaphysics” has been applied far more broadly than “ontology.” The former derives from the collection of fourteen books by Aristotle appearing in the corpus following the Physics.6 Andronicus of Rhodes likely titled these books Ta meta ta phusika, perhaps to warn students that these texts should be studied only after mastering the Physics, books dealing with the principle of change. Accordingly, metaphysics connotes the study of those things that do not change—for example, being as such, the first cause of things, and the unchangeable.7 In Book IV of the Metaphysics Aristotle refers to a discipline concerned with being as being, not with questions about particular attributes of being.8 It thus concerns identity, difference, similarity, dissimilarity, and the categories that grant the possibilities for being to be.9

The arena of metaphysics expanded in the 17th century, with the addition of questions about modality, space and time, persistence and constitution, causation, freedom and determinism, and the mental and the physical.10 Interpreters assuming that Luther is anti-metaphysical have sometimes understood the term in its 17th-century sense, not according to understandings current in Luther’s own time.

The word “ontology” was used much later than “metaphysics,” occurring first in the German language only in the work of Rudolf Goeckel (1547–1628) and Jacob Lorhard (1561–1609). Lorhard probably employed the term first in his 1606 Ogdoas Scholastica, where it appears on the frontispiece with the phrase Metaphysicae su Ontologiae Diagraphe.11 It is defined more fully by Johann Walch (1693–1775): “Ontology means the doctrine of being (Ente), and is understood as a name whereby a new philosophy of metaphysics is established, i.e., that discipline that treats being in general and its properties.”12

Since the term ontologia was unavailable in Luther’s time, questions of being were understood within the horizon of metaphysics. Metaphysical questions of the high and late Middle Age include the following:

  • What precisely is metaphysics, and how does the question of God relate to it?

  • What is the relationship between the essence and existence of a thing?

  • How can the actuality and potentiality be conceived in spiritual matters where the form/matter distinction fails?

  • Do universals exist and, if so, what is their ontological contour?

  • How is individuation possible without matter, and how should identity, distinction, and similarity be conceived?

  • What is the role of the senses in acquiring knowledge, and can this role be squared with the notion of illumination stretching back to Augustine?

  • Can knowledge of God be “demonstrated,” and what is the nature of such a demonstration?13

The first question pertains directly to our investigation. Duns Scotus contrasts the approaches of Avicenna and Averroes:

Is the subject of the Metaphysics being insofar as it is being (ens inquantum ens) as Avicenna holds? Or is it God and the intellectual (intelligentiae) as the commentator Averroes suggests?14

According to the former, metaphysics concerns substance primarily.15 While physics establishes the existence of a divine separate substance, metaphysics examines substance itself. Most 13th- and 14th-century thinkers followed Avicenna in holding that metaphysics concerns being in so far as it is being. Ockham holds that metaphysical propositions may have different subjects, and that both being qua being and God are proper metaphysical subjects. Luther was trained in the tradition of Ockham and the via moderna, and while he did not thematize metaphysics like his predecessors, he nonetheless presupposed ontological positions throughout his work. Unfortunately, commentators have sometimes identified metaphysics itself with Luther’s criticism of the theologian of glory’s prideful attempt to seek the summum bonum, thus ignoring what Luther did have to say about ontology.16

Semantics and Ontology

Philosophy has struggled to clarify how logic and semantics relate to ontology.17 Parmenides identified ontology with logic, Abelard argued for the ontological neutrality of logic, and others oscillated between these extremes.18 Philosophers of the 20th century, however, found deep connections between semantics and ontological commitment. Consider the sentence “God is in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.” The sentence asserts that “there is an x that is God,” “there is a y that is Christ,” “xy,” “there is a z that is the world,” “zx&zy.” Allowing “Ixy” to mean “x is in y” and “Rxyz” to mean “x reconciles y to z,” the expression is written: “xyz({[(Gx&Cy)&Wz]&[(xy&xz)&yz]}&(Ixy&Rxzx)) .”19 In assigning the expression a semantics, one must specify the domain over which the quantifiers operate. What are the elements that are either God, Christ, or world? Note the theological issues involved in specifying the domain upon which “x is God” and “y is Christ” are meaningful. Is it persons? But the tradition’s commitment to divine simplicity rules this out. Quine famously said, “To be is to be the value of a bound variable.”20Objectual semantics proceeds by specifying the objects needed in the domain if the requisite sentences of a theory are to be true.21

In specifying the semantic function by virtue of which objects are mapped into the domain of linguistic expressions, an ontological claim is made about the furniture of the world.22 Through such an interpretation, linguistic expressions gain truth conditions.23 While Luther knew neither formal semantics nor model theory, he would have recognized the basic extensionalist strategy they employ: sentences have truth value because they have meaning, and they have meaning because the terms of the sentences refer to particular substances possessing particular qualities. For Luther, as with nominalism generally, semantics is profoundly connected to ontology.

The medieval tradition inherited Aristotle’s notion that words name things by signifying concepts in the mind or “affections of the soul” (passiones animae). Concepts signify worldly substances, forms, qualities, and so on. The relationship is transitive: the written word signifies the spoken word, the spoken word signifies the concept (itself an affection of the soul), and the concept signifies the form. By the 14th century, the distinction between significatio and suppositio was clearly drawn. Significatio is the general property of a term, a word’s natural meaning on any occasion of its use, its forma or essentia;for example, “white” causes the mind to think whiteness, no matter what other words might be involved in the utterance.24 Prior to the rise of nominalism, “white” signified the whiteness of a thing, but for Ockham and many of Luther’s teachers, it signified primarily the thing having the property of whiteness.

Suppositio is a term’s property by which it refers to a particular thing in a particular context. While “white” signifies whiteness, it supposits for a particular white thing. Homo supposits for Socrates even if it does not signify him. If the sentence “the cow is red” is true, “cow” supposits for the same individual for which the term “red” supposits. “All men (homines) are mortal” is true if the term “mortal” supposits for each and every individual for which the term homo supposits. Late medieval supposition theory understands the semantics of statements extensionally; terms signify the things of which they are truly predicated, not a form, property, or nature. For the earlier via antiqua tradition, intensionality plays a far greater role, however, for properties affect truth value.25

Graham White has established that Luther inherited the semantics of late medieval nominalism with its concomitant supposition theory.26 Since “Jesus of Nazareth died” is true, so too is “the Son of God died,” for “Jesus of Nazareth” and “Son of God” supposit for the same individual. An extensionalist construal sheds light on this syllogism:

  1. 1) Every human being (homo) is a creature.

  2. 2) Christ is a human being.

  3. 3) Therefore, Christ is a creature.27

While the syllogism is valid, its conclusion is true in philosophy but false in theology. What accounts for this? One might side with the early 16th century theologians at the Sorbonne and claim that homo equivocates between the major and minor premise in this theological context, but Luther rejects this. But how can “Christ is a creature” be true in philosophy but false in theology, if homo does not equivocate? Before examining this question in more detail, and before turning to the specifics of the Finnish Luther interpretation, it is perhaps both instructive and helpful to look at some texts where Luther is prima facie engaged in concerns semantic and ontological.

Luther’s Own Words

Luther’s passages concerned with ontology generally coalesce around three foci: (1) his early critique of Aristotle’s metaphysics, (2) his lifelong interest in the truth conditions of Trinitarian and Christological discourse, and (3) his use of theosis or deification language in conceiving the real presence of Christ in the life of the Christian. I have collected a small group of passages dealing with each of these.

In the probationes (“demonstrations”) of the Heidelberg Disputation, Luther is engaged in explicitly philosophical argumentation. In the first passage below, he rejects, on grounds of the impossibility of the actual infinite, Aristotle’s claim that the immortality of the soul is compatible with the eternity of the world. In the second, Luther claims that Aristotle’s metaphysics is committed to the unknowability of matter.

… the immortality of the soul is much opposed to the opinion that the world is eternal since it would be necessary to affirm an infinity of souls, which is wholly abhorrent.28

[Aristotle] mocks those separate and intelligible things, and ascribes them to sensible and particular and entirely human and natural things. Truly, he does it most shrewdly. First, because one cannot deny that individuals are in flux, he imagined one part to be form and the other to be matter, and so the thing is not knowable as matter, but only as form. Then he asserts that form is the cause of knowing, and calls it ‘divine, good, desirable’, and attributes intellect to it. And so he eludes the minds of all when he considers the same being dualistically (dupliciter).29

Interestingly, Luther asserts in the same text that Plato, Parmenides, and Anaxagoras are all superior philosophically to Aristotle because they are not committed to materialism and its concomitant epistemic problems.30

Throughout his disputations, Luther is concerned with clarifying the truth conditions of Trinitarian and Christological assertions, displaying thereby a profound interest in inference, semantics, and ontology. The following, from his “The Word was made Flesh” (1539) and his “De divinitate et humanitate Christi” (1540) are representative of this concern. Luther knew that a statement’s truth could be determined only when the reference of its terms was established, and that a term’s signification did not wholly determine its reference.

When I speak of God as man, I cannot deny that he is a thinking animal; here the Scholastic theologians have admitted that Christ was a rational animal and a man. However, they distinguish senses of the word ‘man’ and say that it is equivocal, so that, when it refers to anyone of the human race apart from the incarnation, it designates a person subsisting by himself. This is a philosophical meaning. It has another meaning when it is said about Christ. Here one does not interpolate that fictitious philosophical concept of a person. For here a new word is coined, designating the divine person sustaining our human one, as a white person signifies a man who maintains whiteness.31

When the word ‘man’ is used in philosophy it signifies substance; in theology it also signifies the substance existing in Christ, but thus, that it is the substance which is at the same time God. ‘Mother’ in philosophy designates an impure woman; in theology the mother of Christ points to a pure woman and a virgin. And thus words employed by philosophy are invested with a new meaning.32

In philosophy, they are simply the same synonymous signifiers, but not in theology, because here there is one man to whom nobody is similar. Here ‘man’ in the concrete signifies a human nature, because it is a person, but ‘human nature’ does not signify a person. Therefore, it is different in theology and philosophy.33

When I say ‘human nature’, as above in philosophy, it is the same as ‘man’; but in theology it does not signify a person in a way that ‘man’ signifies a person, that is, that person. The Son of God bears a man. If it were said ‘the divine nature bears a human nature’, that is, a person, then there would be two persons, which we do not concede. For there are not two substances, etc.34

In the following, from his late disputations, Luther is much concerned with the distinction between “abstractly” and “concretely” considering a term, and with puncturing bloated ontologies characterized by formal distinctions and real relations.

The thinking of Scotus and the like, who imagine here a formal or other distinction, is vain and comes to nothing.35

For no matter how subtly they seem to have said those things, nevertheless, reason does not lay hold of the formal distinction as anything other than real or essential. This is because reason does not grasp that one indistinct thing is three distinct things. Therefore, mathematics and every creaturely thought must be excluded when considering what ought to be believed about divinity.36

We concede there is an essence in the creature, not talking relatively (as Augustine uses the term), but absolutely. But it seems that ‘substance’, ‘wisdom’, ‘nature’ and the like in divine matters are taken relatively by Augustine and Hilary. There is no reason why he should deny that ‘essence’ is spoken relatively, and on that account let one word cause such a commotion.37

It is certain that the essence does not generate, absolutely understood; but, taken relatively, it certainly generates. When it is said: The Father generates, then I must say, under the compulsion of the articles of our faith, that it is not a distinction of substances, but of person. Logic did not invent this distinction. The subject matter itself is equivocal. To be God is something absolute, but to generate is something relative, there is nothing similar to this in natural affairs, etc.38

Certainly, nevertheless, a relation pertaining to the divine ought to be understood in a far different way from those which pertain to creatures or in philosophy. A relation in things does not affect the thing; as they say, the relation is a minimal entity and does not subsist through itself; moreover, it is nothing according to the Moderns. In divine matters a relation is a thing, that is, a hypostasis and subsistence, truly, the same as divinity itself; there are three persons, three hypostases and three subsistences. A relation here does not demonstrate a distinction of things, but three distinct things prove to be a relation.39

Finally, there are numerous Luther passages that seem to support the Finnish claim to find deification at the center of Luther’s theology. I have collected some of the most famous below, the first from Luther’s 1514 Christmas sermon, and the second from a 1525 sermon.

Just as the Word became flesh so is it necessary that the flesh become the Word. For the Word becomes flesh precisely so that the flesh can become Word. In other words, God became man so that man may become God. Thus power becomes powerless so that weakness may become powerful. The Logos put on our form and manner, image and likeness, so that he might clothe us with his image, form and likeness. Therefore, wisdom became foolish, so that foolishness might become wisdom. And so with regard to all other things that are in God and us, in everything he assumes ours, so that he might confer onto us his … For neither was the Word so made flesh that it forfeits recognition (deseruerit) and is changed into the flesh, but it assumes and is united with the flesh, for by that union not only is it said to have flesh, but to be flesh.40

And so we are filled with “all the fullness of God.” This phrase, which follows a Hebrew way of speaking, means that we are filled in all the ways in which God fills; we are filled with God, and he pours into us all his gifts and grace and fills us with his Spirit, who make us courageous. He enlightens us with his light, his life lives in us, his beatitude makes us blessed, and his love causes love to arise in us. Put briefly, he fills us in order that everything that he is and everything he can do might be in us in all its fullness, and work powerfully, so that we might be divinized (vergottet) throughout—not having only a small part, or merely some piece of God, but having all his fullness. Much has been written on the divinization of human beings, and ladders have been constructed by means of which one is to ascend to heaven, and many other things of this kind have been done. However, all they are merely idle works. What must be done instead is to show the right and straight way to your being filled with God, so that you do not lack any part but have everything gathered together, and so that all you say, all you think and everywhere you go; in sum, all your life is throughout divine (Gottlich).41

There are any number of other passages that suggest the motif of the infinite in the finite within justification, passages that could be understood as deification. The first, from a sermon preached in the castle of Leipzig in 1519, speaks of the Christian becoming “more than a man”; the second, from Luther’s 1531 lectures on Galatians, declares that Christ is present in faith itself.

For it is true that a man helped by grace is more than a man; indeed, the grace of God gives him the form of God and deifies him, so that even the Scriptures call him ‘God’ and ‘God’s Son’. Thus a man must be extended beyond flesh and blood and become more than man, if he is good.42

Christ is the object of faith, or rather not the object but, so to speak, the One who is present in the faith itself (in ipsa fide Christus adest). Thus faith is a sort of knowledge or darkness that nothing can see. Yet the Christ of whom faith takes hold is sitting in this darkness as God sat in the midst of darkness on Sinai and in the temple.43

While it is possible to interpret these few passages metaphorically as carrying little ontological weight, it proves more difficult to do this with dozens of similar passages.44

Luther’s Place within the Metaphysical Tradition

“Is there any doubt that William of Ockham was the chief and most ingenious of the scholastic teachers?” Luther declares during his dispute with Rome.45 Luther deeply appropriated the resources of his nominalistic education, particularly its semantic presuppositions.46 Like a good nominalist, Luther had no interest in defending the ontological status of universals or common natures, but assumed that what ultimately exists are individual substances and their particular qualities. Although, like Ockham, he was impressed with argument and not authorities, Luther realized that, arguments aside, nominalism cuts off certain theological options.47 While Luther the nominalist is in general committed to “substance ontology” as the via moderna understood it, he is nonetheless uncomfortable with its application within particular theological contexts. Nominalism lacks resources to comprehend the ontology of the real presence of the infinite in the finite, the ontology toward which the Finnish research points. God’s presence through grace is neither an accidental modification nor an essential transformation of a created substance, nor is it found only in a relation between God and that substance, but somehow is still really present in that substance.

Despite his avowed nominalism, “the philosophical tradition in which Luther is most at home, and that he affirms as well as negates, is Aristotelian.”48 Luther encountered Aristotle’s Organon in his study of dialectics. Theodore Dieter has shown that Luther knew Aristotle well, that he was capable of entering into philosophical critique of Aristotle, and that he thought that the theological tradition had failed to engage the real Aristotle deeply enough, misled by the philosopher’s surface language into thinking he rejected either the ontological primacy of matter or the mortality of the soul.49

All of Dieter’s magisterial text demands deep study, but his careful work in analyzing the philosophical probationes of the 1518 Heidelberg Disputation is especially noteworthy. Dieter carefully reconstructs the philosophical context in which Luther’s arguments are motivated, crafted, and asserted, pointing out flaws in Luther’s own Aristotle interpretation along the way. At issue is the ontological status of forms. Luther argues on Aristotelian grounds that a particular must be comprised of a particular form and particular matter being formed. Luther sketches a philosophical argument against the notion of prime matter, the existence of potentiality-in-general. It is not matter-as-such that receives a form constituting substance, but rather matter having a particular potentiality.50 As a good nominalist, Luther focuses on the particular.

The Finnish School

“A ‘relational ontology’ as well as the concept of ‘being as communion’ are not characteristic of Luther as such,” declares Oswald Bayer.51 This is true despite the enormous influence of Albrecht Ritschl, Rudolf Hermann, Karl Holl, Wilfried Joest, and Gerhard Ebeling, all of whom read Luther as rejecting the “substance ontology” of the Aristotelian categories. Bayer discerns that Luther’s is a regional ontology, claiming that while Luther presupposes Aristotelian categories when talking about “being-in-itself,” he moves to relational thinking in “trinitarian-theological, Christological and soteriological” contexts.52 For Bayer, relational thinking is neither existential nor speculative, but based on the promisso whose saying unites disparate entities.53 But is it true that Luther is committed to a relational ontology? Properly answering this question demands that we know what a relational ontology is.

Prima facie, a “relational ontology” differs from a “substantive ontology” in claiming that connections among entities have ontological priority over the being of the entities themselves. One might contrast substantive and relational ontology by distinguishing property constitution and exemplification. If a thing has properties as constituents, then it itself possesses that which makes it what it is, and one’s ontology is substantive. But if it exemplifies properties having independent abstract existence, then one has a relational ontology, for the being of the thing depends upon entities that it itself is not.54 This clear example of a relational ontology is not, however, what captured the imagination of Luther scholars. To understand that we must look to the work of Rudolf Hermann Lotze (1817–1881).

Lotze claims that, while we have no access to the noumenal, we do encounter phenomenal things as “ideas indispensable for the intelligibility of the changeable phenomenal world.”55 Since the totality of the world is constituted by the relations among constituent elements, there cannot be a plurality of mutually distinct, independently existing things.56 Accordingly, substances have a minimal composite unity, a unique ordering and reciprocality.57 Knowledge does not consist in things-in-themselves impressing themselves upon us, but in the “effect” (Wirkung) of our ordering of the world against the background of the unknowable thing-in-itself.58

Both Ritschl and Hermann assumed Lotze’s distinction between nature (being) and spirit (person and value). Accordingly, any putative divine/human “unity” must be conceived ethically and not ontologically.59 The unity cannot be physical or metaphysical, because being is not at issue in the realm of value. Ritschl’s appropriation of Lotze is also important in conceiving God as knowable only through His effects (Wirkungen) on human beings. Accordingly, union must be understood as the effects of God evoked in the believer by faith. Since the believer possesses no ontic qualities by virtue of which she is “in Christ,” divine presence can be understood only on the basis of a relationship with God.

Building on the thought of Ritschl and Hermann, theologians of the Luther renaissance employed relational ontology in conceiving the believer’s personhood in the presence of God and neighbor. A paradigm of Luther research thus formed that rejected Aristotelian categories because they were incapable of thinking the presence of God’s grace. Theologians deeply suspicious of metaphysics could only see Christ’s real presence in the believer as recalling the “substance metaphysics” of Roman Catholicism.

Could Luther have conceived the unio with Christ in such a way? Since he rejects the believer’s being either essentially or accidentally united with God, does he thereby construe union with Christ relationally and countenance an option not in the metaphysical toolkit he inherited? There is no compelling reason to think he does. Olli-Pekka Vainio writes:

Because of his denial, the proponents of relational ontology have tried to read Luther so that he disassociates himself completely from the concept of substance and replaces it with the category of external influence. While it is true that Luther disassociates himself from Aristotle, he does not, however, replace it with something even worse.60

Luther was familiar with the category of relatio because he was trained in Aristotle. It would be natural for him to conceive a relation as a monadic relational property, not a dyadic property relating discrete substances, for the latter ontologically depends upon the monadic properties or accidents inhering in the relata.61 The idea of an internal relation, where the being of the relation determines the being of the relata, is wholly unknown to him. Luther’s Ockhamist training would likely have taught him an anti-realism with respect to relations, for as a term of second intention, a relation always signifies a being of reason and not a thing.62

For Luther and thinkers before him, the person Paul is a particular substance having particular accidents. Secondary substances like “man” can be said of Paul, and any number of accidents are present in him. Luther likely did not invent a new ontology to understand personhood. What he did do, however, is grasp that human beings also have a theological dimension, a way of being in God that cannot facilely be expressed in Aristotelian categories. It is the “theological person” that the Finnish scholarship addresses.

Theosis and its Relation to Ontology (Mannermaa’s “Real-Ontisch”)

Mannermaa and his school make two central claims about Luther: (1) justification, deification, and the real presence of Christ are more or less coextensive with one another; and (2) the love of God is actually present in the believer in faith, making possible the believer’s love of God and neighbor.63 In these claims the Finns take issue with overly eschatological interpretations of Luther. In Mehr als ein Mensch, Simo Peura examines the in spe–in re dialectic, arguing that the presence of Christ is already available to the Christian in this life, and that in the future the effective justification now present will be complete.64 While Peura argues for the unity of the favor of God (imputed righteousness on the basis of Christ) and the gift of God (God’s just-making already in us), Saarinen has recently advocated the conceptual primacy of the first over the second.65

Antti Raunio has investigated both love and the imago dei in Luther. His Summe der christlichen Lebens examines the Golden Rule from the perspective of an ontology of love.66 God is the giver of everything good, and since God is really present in the heart of the believer, God gives through the Christian good works to the neighbor. Raunio points to Luther’s view that in the beginning the imago dei was simply the divine immortal life in which human beings primordially participated.67 Unfortunately, under the conditions of sin this image has been almost entirely lost. “‘Real’ human being after the fall consists in Adam’s inherited image and the weak remnants of the created imago dei. But the imago dei in the proper sense, the participation in the divine immortal life, is gone.”68 Justification restores this participation.

Dennis Bielfeldt published an article years ago summarizing Mannermaa’s claim of deification in Luther and offered ontological models for understanding what Mannermaa called the real-ontisch participation of the Christian in Christ69:

  1. 1. Deification is a participation of the believer in Christ which, because Christ is God, is also a participation in God Himself.

  2. 2. Since this deification is the result of God’s love,70 the Christian’s participation in Christ is the divine presence in the believer as love.71

  3. 3. Through faith the entire Godhead is present in human beings.72

  4. 4. This participation in God is not merely a participation in the divine energia as Palamas and the Cappadocian Fathers suggest, but following Athansius, a participation in the being (ousia) of God.73

  5. 5. There is an identity between Christ’s work and His person, such that the presence in the believer of Christ’s work of justifying faith is at the same time the presence of Christ Himself.74

  6. 6. There is a “real ontic” unity between Christ and the believer, though the substance of the believer does not change.75 Just as God became a human being while remaining God, so too do humans become God while remaining human.76

  7. 7. The union of Christ and the believer is neither that of static substance ontology nor the result of habitual grace inhering in the believer, nor a relational unity formed by some “effect” of God upon the believer, nor a communion of wills.77

  8. 8. The imputation of righteousness to the Christian and the inhabitation of Christ in the Christian mutually presuppose each other.78

  9. 9. The unity between Christ and the believer effected by faith is the forma of Christ in the Christian.79

  10. 10. Acts of love toward the neighbor flow from this unity such that the Christian has “two natures,” a divine nature by which Christ is present to the Christian in faith and a human nature by which the pain and sorrow of the neighbor is assumed.80

  11. 11. The unity between Christ and the Christian remains mostly hidden in this life, only manifesting itself fully on the Last Day.81

Since the believer’s “divine nature” is hidden in this life, growth in the Christian life is the empirical manifestation of an ontological transformation that has already occurred through faith. Simply put, Christians come to display that which they already are.82

If there is an element of participation in Luther’s thought, what ontology does it presuppose? While we could try to construct “models” explaining this participation, it is less anachronistic to proceed by examining available resources for understanding “real-ontic” upon the horizon of the ontological options available in Luther’s time. So what are the options to think about the participation to which Luther alludes?83

As I have suggested, the semantic and ontological resources of Aristotle’s Categories are incapable of grasping and stating what is the case theologically. Luther the Augustinian had little patience with the category of created grace (gratia increata). But even the notion of participation which Mannermaa’s School thematizes is not easily understood through Aristotelian categories. Participation has deep Platonic roots; individuals participate in the Forms, with varying degrees of participation possible. A thing participates to a greater or lesser degree in that form of what it essentially is. Is the Christian’s participation in Christ of such a kind?

Although the issues are complex, the believer’s participation in God does not mean that one essentially is God, at least not from a Platonic or Aristotelian standpoint. The requirement is that God became a human being by virtue of assuming a human nature, so that human beings become God by assuming a divine nature. This clearly does entail that there is intrinsicality to the grace of Christ’s presence.84 Can a meaning of “participation” be specified that is adequate to this intrinsicality of divine presence, without connoting essential predication?

The unity seems to be more like that of perichoresis, a bringing together of natures that neither destroys their integrity nor results in mere accidental unity. This notion, originating in Gregory Nazianzen, further deployed by Maximus the Confessor, and standardized in John of Damascus, offers a historical conceptual resource for conceiving an interpenetration of natures without a transference of properties.85 Perhaps a believer’s participation in Christ is best conceived as an asymmetric interpenetration by the divine nature upon the human which leaves intact the individuating properties of both.86

Revisiting Semantics

The “new language” of theology is deeply related to the ontology to which the Finns point. In his Verbum caro factum est (1539), Luther declares against Sorbonne that “what is true in one field of learning is not always true in other fields of learning.”87 While “the Word was made flesh” is true in theology, “it is simply impossible and absurd” in philosophy.88 By claiming that the same thing is true in philosophy and theology, the articles of faith (articuli fidei) come under the judgment of human reason.89 Consider this:

  1. 1) The Father generates within the divine.

  2. 2) The Father is the divine essence.

  3. 3) Therefore, the divine essence generates.90

While this syllogism is philosophically sound (bonus), theologically it fails, for from true premises a false conclusion follows.91 The reason for this is that the “power and majesty of the subject matter (materiae) … cannot be comprehended by narrow reason or syllogism.”92 The subject matter “is extra, intra, supra, infra, citra, ultra omnem veritatem dialecticam.”93 Since the same thing is not true in both philosophy and theology, Luther counsels that philosophy be left in its “own sphere” (sua sphaera), and that we learn to speak “the new tongue (novis linguis) in the realm of faith outside every sphere (extra omnem sphaeram).”94 Theology and philosophy have their own autonomy, but what are the different “rules” at work in them?

An extensionalist account holds that the difference is found in the inferences each sanctions. While terms retain their meanings across both, their rules of inference change.95 While philosophy concludes “God is created” from the sentence “God is man” and “man is created,” theology does not. Because revelation gives the deepest information about what is, theological entailments differ from philosophical ones. In the nova lingua of theology, “God is infinite” does not entail “God is not man,” for the theologian has epistemic access to regions that natural reason does not. Graham White advances this view, claiming that while the “primary signification” of a term remains the same across the two languages, its “assertive signification” (i.e., its entailing relations) nonetheless changes.96

An intensionalist account claims that the meanings of key terms differ in philosophical and theological contexts.97Incommensurability prohibits a point-by-point translation of sentences.98 The language of theology is radically new; no formula of translation reduces theological language to a non-theological counterpart.99 The irreducibility of theology to philosophy parallels the irreducibility of the gospel to the law. Just as the gospel is a new ingredient in the old mix of the law, so too the language that talks about the gospel possesses a new ingredient in the old mix of philosophy. Just as the law cannot contain the gospel, so too can philosophical language not contain the good news about which theology speaks. The law, reason, and philosophy belong to God’s left hand, while the gospel, faith. and theology concern the right. Just as God uses earthly elements of the sacraments, so too does God use the earthly language of philosophy. All of this is clearly consonant with the finitum capax infiniti. This account also holds that, since homo does not equivocate between the two discourses, it retains a common signification. However, since the nova lingua signifies differently, there is a metaphorical extension of homo moving from philosophy to theology; that is, in “Christ is homo,” homo now signifies a property individualized by the subject Christ and the time of its exemplification. This view allows for meaning stretching while paradoxically assuming basic meaning constancy. Is there textual evidence for this?

In the controversy with Zwingli on the Lord’s Supper and his tract Against Latomus, Luther quotes Horace in saying very positive things about metaphor.100 We also find Luther reflecting upon the “is” in “this is my body” and declaring it to be a statement of essence. The bread really is the body; it does not merely represent or signify it. The bread which cannot be Christ’s body is nonetheless identified with it. Such an identification involves a collision of meaning and real semantic newness.101 Based upon these texts, could a “theological interaction metaphor” model the semantic situation in which the meaning of homo in (1) and (2) changes, but does not equivocate?102 Attribution of such a metaphor to Luther, however, is open to the charge of anachronism, for such a sophisticated metaphorical account is not found in the immediate scholastic sources with which Luther was familiar.103

This is an area of controversy having ontological implications. The intensionalist account privileging significatio demands a metaphorical extension of philosophical terms in theological contexts and is committed to a sophisticated account of metaphor not immediately discernible in Luther or his predecessors. However, it does allow as significata new theological properties such as the individualized human nature Christ possesses. The extensionalist account is consistent with late medieval nominalism but seems less equipped to deal with the finitum capax infinitii, particularly as it relates to the notion of the two natures of Christ in one person.

White claims that phrases such as “according to the human nature” and “according to the divine nature” must be understood adverbially, that is, “they do not stand for second or third entities [but for] the way in which this one entity makes itself manifest.”104 In an adverbial theory, talk of a nature-entity reduces to talk of an entity in a natured manner or way. But can such a view of things be squared with the genera of communicatio articulated in Article VIII of the Solid Declaration in the Formula of Concord, genera grounded in Luther himself?105

The need to preserve Luther’s commitment to the real existence of natures in Christology seems to support the selection of a broadly intensionalist account over a purely extensionalist one. Luther is not so committed to nominalism as to deny the ontology of Christ’s divine and human natures. Theological content must take precedence over philosophical method. When it comes to the semantics of incarnation and sacramental presence, Luther seems not to be a philosophical nominalist in the tradition of Ockham, Biel, and d’Ailley, but seems to employ other semantic resources.106 Clearly, Luther is not so committed to nominalism as to disallow ontologically the real presence of Christ in the believer.107

Luther’s semantics runs parallel to his theological accents: he holds a theological semantics that allows the infinite to appear in and through the finite. The semantics of nominalism does not do this because it does not allow meanings to be stretched so that concepts signify the paradoxical reality of the infinite in the finite. My claim is that Luther’s semantics buttresses his ontology of the infinite in the finite.

Review of the Literature

There has been a great deal of recent work on Luther and ontology. Those wishing to orient themselves to Finnish Luther research can do no better than consult Risto Saarinen’s blog, which he updates regularly. Readers will learn the central claims of the Finnish research: (1) the real presence of Christ is at the core of Luther’s theology, a central feature in justification and ontological in nature; (2) Luther holds both to a theology of love and the theology of the Cross; (3) historical and textual arguments properly employed can overcome the post-Enlightenment paradigm of Luther research that has overall been quite hostile to the consideration of ontology.

There are texts that must be read by anyone wanting to understand the Finnish research. Thesaurus Lutheri, published in 1987, contains a number of extremely interesting articles that pushed the boundaries of Luther research at the time, especially those exploring the connection between Luther and the late medieval context. The 1990 publication of Luther und Theosis, followed by Luther und Ontology in 1993, made the Finnish research famous. The latter contains a particularly helpful summary article by Saarinen detailing some early criticisms of the Finnish project. By the 1997 publication of the Mannermaa festschrift Caritas Dei, broader audiences were reading the Finnish work, a trajectory accelerated by the first book specifically intended for an English audience, Union with Christ (1998). By the end of the century, the Finnish School had gained an international reputation far transcending historical Luther studies.

In retrospect, it is remarkable what effect upon a group of scholars that Tuomo Mannermaa has had, for he very early on identified the points in the research program that the Finns have carried out. Following Mannermaa’s own programmatic Der im Glauben gegenwärtiger Christus. Rechtfertigung und Vergottung, Risto Saarinen’s Gottes Wirken auf uns (1989) identified the neo-Kantian lens presupposed by generations of German Luther scholars. Simo Peura’s Mehr als ein Mensch (1994) and Antti Raunio’s Summe des christlichen Lebens (2001) have also been profoundly important for advancing the research agenda.

Criticisms of the Finns are both theological and historical. Theologians committed to reading Luther and the Lutheran tradition as teaching a unified view on forensic justification find the Finnish project fundamentally misguided. The Finnish attempt to regard as coextensive the imputed gratia (favor) of God and the transformative donum (gift) of God seems to some to compromise the conceptual priority of the former and perhaps the Reformation itself. Is the Word not enough? Another line of theological attack has questioned the nature of the value added to effective justification by the claim of divine ontological presence. Others challenge the Finns for advancing a Neo-Platonic notion of participation that threatens either to swallow the individual wholly or to psychologically transform him, seemingly forgetting the Finns’ careful pronouncements about the real presence of Christ remaining largely hidden until the Last Day. A persistent historical criticism has been that the Finnish case relies unduly upon a reading of a select number of texts from Luther’s early period. Another criticism claims that the Finns do not adequately understand—or perhaps they consistently undervalue—the historical development of Luther’s theology. Still another attack questions the proper contextualization of themes within the Luther texts. For example, the imagery of deification surfaces in Luther’s 1514 Dictata super psalterium, but given Luther’s membership in the Augustinian order, and the use of deification imagery by Augustine himself, is Luther’s use of this imagery in this early work theologically significant?

Criticisms of the Finnish research owing to a disproportionate reliance on the early Luther have been repeatedly addressed by Finnish scholars. Particularly intriguing, however, is the work of Olli-Pekka Vainio, whose Justification and Participation in Christ (2008) traces key Finnish motifs through Melanchthon into later Lutheran theology. English readers may also find helpful a recent book he edited, Engaging Luther: A (New) Theological Assessment (2010), as well as his “Luther and Theosis: A Response to the Critics of Finnish Luther Research,” in the fall 2015 issue of Pro Ecclesia.

But the issue of ontology in Luther cannot simply be identified with Finnish scholarship. Graham White’s Luther as Nominalist (1994) explores both semantic and ontological dimensions of Luther’s thought over and against late medieval nominalism. The content of the work is first-rate and explains much of what is happening semantically in Luther’s Trinitarian and Christological disputations. However, the 2001 publication of Theodor Dieter’s Der junge Luther und Aristoteles: Eine historisch-systematische Untersuchung zum Verhältnis von Theologie und Philosophie has opened up an entire new perspective on Luther. In this magisterial text, Dieter painstakingly investigates early Luther texts against the philosophical background in which they were motivated, conceived, and written. While the text is extremely difficult, those with a command of technical German and Latin can now follow precisely what it is that Luther is doing semantically and logically in key texts, particularly the philosophical portions of the Heidelberg Disputation. Dieter is at home in the technical Luther texts as well as the logical tracts of Biel, Buridan, Peter von Ailly, Trutvetter and Usingen. He knows Aristotle well, and is able to explain what motivates Luther’s judgments about Aristotle, and even why Luther claims to prefer Plato to the great philosopher. There are other English texts that should command the attention of those wishing to explore the theme of ontology and Luther further. One can mention here only Joar Haga’s Was There a Lutheran Metaphysics? (2012) and the collection of essays in the anthology The Devil’s Whore: Reason and Philosophy in the Lutheran Tradition (2011). Noteworthy in the latter volume are essays by Oswald Bayer and Paul Hinlicky.

Much of what has been written in this entry remains suggestive and needs development. Directions for further research might address these questions: Is there an intensionalist element to Luther’s semantics that connects to the semantics of the via antiqua? If so, what are its ontological possibilities? This task is difficult because of the complexity of the medieval semantic traditions; one can scarcely regard the via antiqua as holding to a monolithic semantic theory. Moreover, can a nominalistic account of metaphor as improper supposition be squared with via antiqua signification to support a theory of metaphorical extension in Luther generally? Further, what does Luther mean by sensus, and how does this relate to the intensional?

Moreover, in order to grasp Luther’s ontology more accurately, and discern whether a “relational ontology” holds in theological contexts, it is important that researchers study more deeply Luther’s understanding of relatio and substantia over and against the preceding tradition. What precisely are the ontological options for thinking the presence of Christ for Luther? Does Luther’s use of participatio depart in significant ways from the authors he read and appropriated? What precisely does he understand by perichoresis, and does he distinguish it clearly from participatio?108 While the Finns have done extremely important work—most of which could not be touched upon here—there is more to be done.

Finally, since the Finnish research deeply challenges Kantian assumptions, future work should detail precisely how Kantian epistemological and ontological assumptions colored the particular reception and interpretation by select theologians of Luther and Lutheran ontology generally. Our current intellectual milieu is profoundly non-idealist, and yet much Luther research has presupposed idealistic assumptions. Future scholarship should further expose these assumptions and interpret the Reformer on the semantic and ontological horizon of his own time.

Further Reading

Bayer, Oswald, Robert Jenson, and Simo Knuuttila, eds. Caritas Dei: Beiträge zum Verständnis Luthers und der gegenwärtigen Ökumene; Festschrift für Tuomo Mannermaa zum 60. Geburtstag. Helsinki: Luther-Agricola-Gesellschaft, 1997.Find this resource:

Braaten, Carl, and Robert Jenson, eds. Union with Christ: The New Finnish Interpretation. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998.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. “Luther as Late Medieval Theologian: His Positive and Negative Use of Nominalism and Realism.” In The Oxford Handbook of Martin Luthers Theology, edited by Robert Kolb et al., 31–48. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Dragseth, Jennifer Hockenbery, ed. The Devil’s Whore: Reason and Philosophy in the Lutheran Tradition. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2011.Find this resource:

Ghiselli, Anja, Kari Kopperi, and Rainer Vinke, eds. Luther und Ontologie: Das Sein Christi im Glauben als strikturierendes Prinzip der Theologie Luthers. Helsinki: Luther-Agricola-Gesellschaft, 1993.Find this resource:

Haga, Joar. Was There a Lutheran Metaphysics? The Interpretation of Communicatio Idiomatum in Early Modern Lutheranism. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012.Find this resource:

Juntunen, Sammeli. Der Begriff des Nichts bei Luther in den Jahren von 1510 bis 1523. Helsinki: Luther-Agricola-Gesellschaft, 1996.Find this resource:

Kretzmann, Norman, Anthony Kenny, and Jan Pinborg, eds. The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy: From the Rediscovery of Aristotle to the Disintegration of Scholasticism, 1100–1600. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1982.Find this resource:

Mannermaa, Tuomo. Der im Glauben gegenwärtigen Christus: Rechtfertigung und Vergottung. Hannover: Lutherische Verlagshaus, 1989.Find this resource:

Peura, Simo. Mehr als ein Mensch: Die Vergöttlichung als Thema der Theologie Martin Luthers von 1513 bis 1519. Mainz: von Zabern, 1994.Find this resource:

Peura, Simo, and Antti Raunio, eds. Luther und Theosis: Vergöttlichung als Thema der abendländischen Theologie. Helsinki and Erlangen: Luther-Agricola-Gesellschaft, 1990.Find this resource:

Raunio, Antti. Summe des christlichen Lebens: Die “Goldene Regel” als Gesetz der Liebe in der Theologie Martin Luthers von 1510 bis 1527. Mainz: Philipp von Zabern, 2001.Find this resource:

Saarinen, Risto. Gottes Wirken auf uns: Die transzendentale Deutung des Gegenwart-Christi-Motivs in der Lutherforschung. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 1989.Find this resource:

Saarinen, Risto. “Justification by Faith: The View of the Mannermaa School.” In The Oxford Handbook of Martin Luther’s Theology, edited by Robert Kolb et al., 255–259. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Vainio, Olli-Pekka, ed. Engaging Luther: A (New) Theological Assessment. Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2010.Find this resource:

Vainio, Olli-Pekka. “Luther and Theosis: A Response to the Critics of Finnish Luther Research.” Pro Ecclesia 24.4 (2015): 459–474.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.) Neo-Kantianism dominated German philosophy departments from 1860 to 1914. It rejected metaphysics in favor of epistemology, and materialism in favor of a dualism of consciousness and matter. See Frederick Beiser, The Genesis of Neo-Kantianism, 1796–1880 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 1–9.

(2.) Wilfried Joest, Ontologie der Person be Luther (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1967); Gerhard Ebeling, An Introduction to his Thought, translated by R. A. Wilson (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970).

(3.) Kurt Hendel, “Finitum capax infiniti: Luther’s Radical Incarnational Perspective,” Currents in Theology and Mission 35 (2008): 420–433. That the finite bears the infinite is exactly what cultural “disenchantment” precludes. See Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), 25ff.

(4.) Coram mundo (“before [i.e., facing] the world”) reason comprehends worldly substances using available philosophical categories; coram deo (“in the presence of God”) reason is stretched to comprehend how God’s infinite presence is available in and through the finite.

(5.) Contemporary philosophical literature adds two more conceptions: the study of ontological commitment and the nature of ontology itself (meta-ontology). See Thomas Hofweber, “Logic and Ontology,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2014 Edition), edited by Edward N. Zalta.

(6.) Aristotle named the discipline in these books “first philosophy” or “theology,” and called the knowledge to which it aims “wisdom.” See Michael Loux, Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction (3d ed.; New York: Routledge, 2006), 2ff.

(7.) Peter Van Inwagen and Meghan Sullivan, “Metaphysics,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2015 Edition), edited by Edward N. Zalta.

(8.) Richard McKeon, ed., The Basic Works of Aristotle (New York: Random House, 1941), 731. See John Wippel, “Essence and Existence” in The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy, edited by Norman Kretzmann, Anthony Kenny, and Jan Pinborg (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 385–410.

(9.) This contrasts with Aristotle’s mention in Book VI of a “divine science” concerned with immovable and separate entities. Reconciling these two conceptions of metaphysics spurred lively discussion in the Middle Ages. See Wippel, Essence and Existence, 385ff.

(10.) Bruce Aune, Metaphysics: The Elements (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986).

(11.) Ontologia appears four times in the text and is used synonymously with metaphysica. Paul Corazzon.

(12.) Johann Georg Walch, Philosophisches Lexicon (Leipzig: Friedrich Glebitschens, 1733), 1937.

(13.) For a discussion of these, see Kretzmann et al., Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy, 383–518.

(14.) Quaestiones super libros Metaphysicorum I, I (1891–1895, vol. 7, p. 11) in Wippel, Essence and Existence, 386.

(15.) Wippel, Essence and Existence, 387.

(16.) Sammeli Juntunen, “Luther and Metaphysics,” in Union with Christ: The New Finnish Interpretation of Luther, edited by Carl Braaten and Robert Jenson (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 129–160, esp. 131–135.

(17.) Syntax concerns the form and structure of expressions; semantics deals with their truth and meaning.

(18.) Mario Bunge, “The Relations of Logic and Semantics to Ontology,” Journal of Philosophical Logic 3.3 (1972): 195–209.

(19.) Read “xyz” as “there is an x, and a y, and a z.”

(20.) Willard van Orman Quine, “On What there Is,” Review of Metaphysics 2.1 (1948): 21–38.

(21.) Substitutional semantics understands quantifiers as substitutions of sentences. “xGx&yWy” claims “there is something that is God” and “there is something that is the world” are true.

(22.) Allow f(AB) to map members of the world into a class of linguistic expressions. Note that one must first specify the members of {x: x is either an object, property, event, or state of affairs}, such that y(y{x:xis a term, predicate or proposition}&f(x)=y).

(23.) A sentence is true if and only if the furniture of the world stands in the appropriate relations asserted by the sentence.

(24.) Boethius declares, “[Those words] spoken in isolation signify something. They establish in one who speaks an understanding in which the one who listens rests.” See Stephen Read, “Medieval Theories: Properties of Terms,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2015 Edition), edited by Edward N. Zalta.

(25.) A predicate’s intension specifies all and only those properties a thing must have in order for the predicate properly to apply. An extension is the class of things to which the predicate properly applies.

(26.) Graham White, 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).

(27.) “Disputation Concerning the Passage: ‘The Word was Made Flesh’1539,” LW 38:246; WA 39 II, 10:4–5 (my translation). Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan et al. (St. Louis: Concordia, 1955–2015), is hereafter cited conventionally as LW. Martin Luther, D. Martin Luthers Werke: kritische Gesamtausgabe (Weimar: Böhlau, 1883–2009); the Weimar edition of Luther’s works is conventionally known as the Weimar Ausgabe (“Weimar edition”) and cited as WA in the literature and hereafter in these notes.

(28.) “Disputation Heidelbergae Habita,” WA 59, 411:17–19 (my translation).

(29.) WA 59, 424:12–16.

(30.) Cf. WA 59, 426:12–16; 425:7–8: “ … philosophia Aristotelis reptat in faecibus rerum corporalium et sensilium, ubi Plato versatur in rebus separatis et spiritualibus.”

(31.) WA 39 II, 10:24–32; LW 38:271. Clearly, the translator of this disputation in the American edition should not have rendered “significatio” as “meaning.”

(32.) WA 39 II, 19:31–35; LW 38:274.

(33.) WA 39 II, 115:31–116:7 (my translation).

(34.) WA 39 II, 117:16–27 (my translation).

(35.) “Promotions Disputation of Erasmus Alberus” (1543), WA 39 II, 253:17–18 (my translation).

(36.) WA 39 II, 254:3–8 (my translation).

(37.) “The Promotions Disputation of Georg Major and Johannes Faber” (1544), WA 39 II, 288:15–20 (my translation).

(38.) WA 39 II, 316:20–25 (my translation).

(39.) “Promotions Disputation of Petrus Hegemon” (1545), WA 39 II, 339:26–340:7 (my translation).

(40.) WA 1, 28:25–32, 36–39 (my translation).

(41.) WA 17 I, 438:14–28 (my translation).

(42.) WA 2, 247:39–248:4; LW 51:58.

(43.) WA 40 I, 228:34–229:15–18; LW 26:129–130.

(44.) See WA 1, 593:3–16; WA 2, 247:37–248:4; WA 2, 305:18–20; WA 1, 594:25–30; WA 17 II, 74:20 ff.; WA 21, 458:11–24.

(45.) “Responsio Lutheriana ad Condemnationem Doctrinalem per Magistros Nostros Louvanienses Colonienses factam,” WA 6, 183:3–4.

(46.) See Hieko Oberman, Man between God and the Devil (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006), 122: “Martin Luther was a nominalist. There is no doubt about that.” Ockhamists Bartholomaeus Arnoldi de Usingen and Jodocus Trutvetter were important members of the Erfurt faculty. See White, Luther as Nominalist, 27.

(47.) WA 6, 195, 4f: “I demand arguments and not authorities. Otherwise why would I contradict my own school, namely the Ockhamists and the Moderna which I have absorbed completely” (my translation).

(48.) Oswald Bayer, “Philosophical Modes of Thought of Luther’s Theology as an Object of Inquiry” in The Devil’s Whore: Reason and Philosophy in the Lutheran Tradition, edited by Jennifer Hockenbery Dragseth (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2011), 13–21, esp. 16.

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

(50.) Dieter, Der junge Luther, 420.

(51.) Oswald Bayer, Martin Luther’s Theology, translated by Thomas Trapp (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008), 18.

(52.) Bayer, Martin Luther’s Theology, 18.

(53.) Bayer, Martin Luther’s Theology, 51–55, 101–105. Bayer compares God’s address in creation and redemption to John Austin’s notion of a performative utterance.

(55.) Hermann Lotze, Microcosmus: An Essay Concerning Man and His Relation to the World (1856–1858, 1858–1864), translated by E. Hamilton and E. E. C. Jones (4th ed.; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1899), 584. See David Sullivan, “Hermann Lotze,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2014 Edition), edited by Edward N. Zalta.

(56.) “[We must abandon] our preconceived idea that they [i.e., things] are originally many and self-existent, and … [instead adopt] the view that there is a truly existent being m … [and that] this m is the ground and basis of all individual beings a, b, c, … ”; Hermann Lotze, Outlines of a Philosophy of Religion, edited by F. C. Conybeare (London: Swan Sonnenschein, 1892), 39.

(57.) Lotze claims that “it belongs to the notion and nature of an existing object to be related.” See Microcosmus II, 587. See Nikolay Milkov, “Rudolf Hermann Lotze,” in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

(58.) See Risto Saarinen, Gottes Wirken auf uns (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 1989), 9–25.

(60.) Olli-Pekka Vainio, Justification and Participation in Christ: The Development of the Lutheran Doctrine of Justification from Luther to the Formula of Concord (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2008), 13, fn. 36.

(61.) See Jeffrey Brower, “Medieval Theories of Relations,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2015 Edition), edited by Edward N. Zalta.

(62.) Brower, “Medieval Theories.”

(63.) Tuomo Mannermaa, Der in Glauben gegenwärtige Christus (Hannover: Lutherische Verlagshaus, 1989), 174–175.

(64.) Simo Peura, Mehr als ein Mensch? Die Vergöttlichung als Thema der Theologie Martin Luthers von 1513 bis 1519 (Mainz: von Zabern, 1994).

(65.) Risto Saarinen, “Forgiveness, the Gift and Ecclesiology,” Dialog 45 (2006): 55–62.

(66.) Antti Raunio, Summe des christlichen Lebens: Die “Goldene Regel” als Gesetz der Liebe in der Theologie Martin Luthers von 1510 bis 1527 (Mainz: von Zabern, 2001).

(67.) Antti Raunio, “The Human Being” in Engaging Luther: A (New) Theological Assessment, edited by Olli-Pekka Vainio (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2010), 27–58: “… for Luther the image is not based upon the created natural capacities, but on the divine immortal life which at the beginning belonged to the human substance or nature” (37).

(68.) Raunio, “Human Being,” 38.

(69.) Dennis Bielfeldt, “The Ontology of Deification,” in Caritas Dei: Beiträge zum Verständnis Luthers und der gegenwärtigen Ökumene, edited by Tuomo Mannermaa et al. (Helsinki: Luther-Agricola Gesellschaft, 1997), 90–113.

(70.) Mannermaa, Der in Glauben, 108–110, 185.

(71.) Ibid., 200.

(72.) WA 1, 225:25–27: “Quia vero Scriptura tribuit Christo ista omnia, ideo ipse est Vita, Iutitia et Benedictio quae naturaliter et substantialiter Deus est.”

(73.) Mannermaa, Der in Glauben, 99–100: “Die Eigenschaften von Gottes Wesen sind selbst das Wesen Gottes … ”

(74.) Ibid., 188: “Der in Glauben anwesende Christus—sowohl seine Person als auch sein Werk—ist mit dem Glaubensgerechtigkeit identish, derenthalben der Mensch vor Gott gerecht ist.”

(75.) Ibid., 92–93.

(76.) Ibid., 192–193.

(77.) Ibid., 188.

(78.) Ibid., 66–69. He argues that the “favor of God” cannot be separated from the “gift of God.”

(79.) Mannermaa, “Theosis als Thema der finnischen Lutherforschung” in Luther und Theosis, edited by Simon Peura and Antti Ranio (Helsinki and Erlangen: Luther-Agricola-Gesellschaft, 1990), 11–26, 22.

(80.) Mannermaa, Der in Glauben, 101–105.

(81.) Ibid., 91.

(82.) Peura, Mehr als ein Mensch, 259.

(83.) Luther’s thinking on Christ’s presence was enriched beyond scholastic resources by monastic theology as it developed through Bernard of Clairvaux. See Theodor Dieter, “Luther as Late Medieval Theologian: His Positive and Negative Use of Nominalism and Realism,” in The Oxford Handbook of Martin Luther’s Theology, edited by Robert Kolb et al. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 31–48, esp. 32–33.

(84.) See Juntunen, “Luther and Metaphysics,” 148ff.

(85.) See Oliver Crisp, “Problems with Perichoresis,” Tyndale Bulletin 56.1 (2005): 119–140.

(86.) Ibid., 132ff.

(87.) LW 38:239; WA 39 II, 3:2.

(88.) LW 38:239; WA 39 II, 3:3–4.

(89.) LW 38:239; WA 39 II, 4:2–3.

(90.) WA 39 II, 4:24–25; LW 38:240.

(91.) LW 38:240; WA 39 II, 4:26–27.

(92.) WA 39 II, 4:32–33; LW 38:240–241.

(93.) WA 39 II, 4:34–35; LW 38:241. In the same way, the following syllogism is sound in philosophy but not in theology: whatever was made flesh was made a creature; the Son of God was made flesh; therefore, the Son of God was made a creature (WA 39 II, 4:36–37; LW 38:241).

(94.) WA 39 II, 5:35–36; LW 38:242.

(95.) White, 308ff.

(96.) White, Luther as Nominalist, 326.

(97.) Via Antiqua theories of significatio clearly connect to the intensional, for the significata of common terms can be understood as “the forms or properties individualized by the subject they inform and by time.” “Socrates is wise” is true because the predicate “wise” signifies Socrates’ actual, individualized quality of wisdom. See Gyula Klima, “The Nominalist Semantics of Ockham and Buridan,” in Handbook of the History of Logic II:Medieval and Renaissance Logic, edited by Dov Gabby and John Woods (Amsterdam: North-Holland, 2008), 399.

(98.) Basically, two languages are incommensurable if and only if there is no language into which they can be translated without loss. Contingent proposition p in language L is point-by-point incommensurate with contingent propositions p1, p2, p3 …pn in T, if and only if the truth or falsity of p cannot be derived from the truth or falsity of p1, p2, p3 … pn in T.

(99.) Cf. Thomas Wabel, Sprache als Grenze in Luthers theologischer Hermeneutik und Wittgensteins Sprachphilosophie, Stephen Streiff, “Novis Linguis loqui.” Martin Luthers Disputation über Joh 1,14 “verbum caro factum est” aus dem Jahr 1539 (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1993); Risto Saarinen, “Metaphor und biblische Redefiguren als Elemente der Sprachphilosophie Luthers,” Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionphilosophie 30 (1988): 18–39; and Dennis Bielfeldt, “Luther, Metaphor, and Theological Language,” Modern Theology 6 (1990): 121–135.

(100.) “Confession Concerning Christ's Supper,” LW 37:173ff; WA 26, 272:23ff.

(101.) “Against Latomus, 1521,” LW 32:200–201; WA 8, 87:6–40.

(102.) See Bielfeldt, “Luther, Metaphor, and Theological Language,” 126–130.

(103.) In the late medieval discussion, metaphor is understood primarily as improper supposition. Both Ockham and Burley list three kinds: autonomasitic when a term signifying several things is appropriated to supposit for one of them, synechdochical when a term signifying part of something is use to supposit for the whole, and mytonymical when a term signifying the container supposits for what is contained. See Paul Spade, Thoughts, Words and Things: An Introduction to Late Medieval Logic and Semantic Theory (Bloomington: Indiana University Press and PV Spade, 2002), 248ff.

(104.) White, Luther as Nominalist, 249.

(105.) Marc Lienhard, Luther: Witness to Jesus Christ, translated by Edwin Robertson (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1982), 326ff.

(106.) For a recent treatment emphasizing the wider context of the sensus in Christological predication, see Joar Haga, Was There a Lutheran Metaphysics? The Interpretation of Communicatio Idiomatum in Early Modern Lutheranism (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012), 64–89.

(107.) Juntunen, “Luther and Metaphysics,” 149–150.

(108.) See James Gifford, Perichoretic Salvation: The Believer’s Union with Christ as a Third Type of Perichoresis (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2011), 96ff.