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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Luther and Aristotle

This evening I read a scholarly book review discussing Luther's understanding and criticism of Aristotle. Since it is scholarly and heavy with details I could use a re-read (or 2 or 3) but the review does reveal a Luther who, although clearly critical of Aristotle, does on occasion make use of his thought. As one who was taught Luther in line with Paul and Augustine, I found the review helpful. I appreciate learning that Luther actually made use of some of Aristotle's thought so it is more complex than Luther just ranting about him.

1 comment:

Fr. Timothy D. May said...

I was asked by a student who read this post where I found this article. I do not remember the article anymore but I passed on the following comments about Luther in my response to the student. These comments can serve too as an addendum to the post:

I do not remember the article, though I think it was from a non-Lutheran theological journal, but the gist of my post was to downplay the emotionalism of Luther and highlight the reasoning of Aristotle. In other words, they are a good balance for each other and Luther's rants about Aristotle, Aquinas, etc., while sometimes justifiable, are not always helpful (faith and reason do go together). Although Luther argues that reason is subject to the Word, faith, etc., this does not mean that reason is not also a gift of God to be used.

There is a danger among Lutherans to paint Luther in too good a light, especially vis-a-vis the pope and the errors of Rome. In other words, Luther is quoted as saying that popes and councils can err, which they can. But sometimes the same reasoning is not permitted to be also applied to Luther. This is a type of hero worship. Luther himself then becomes a "pope" of sort for Lutherans to follow. So, I believe it is OK to take Luther with a grain of salt from time to time. He is not the only "Lutheran" theologian. If he can get you to love theology without loving it just because he does then you're doing fine.

Luther is very inspirational and will raise you to the heights of faith. He will encourage you in the doctrine of justification. He is also very knowledgeable, knowing the church fathers and the theologians of his own day. Although, he ought not be the only Lutheran who is allowed to interact with others and think theologically.
Today, things are much different than the time of the Reformation. Be careful not to impose the Reformation on all church history and thought. Even the church fathers, and figures like Aristotle and Aquinas teach us. Keep an eye open too for where Luther opens doors may be mis-understood. In the long run the reformation created a can of worms.

I personally find that while I understand Luther's theology and the issues he confronts I do not understand Luther. In other words, if he were alive today, I would probably only be able to take so much of him. For one thing, I do not believe anfechtung is a requirement for faith. Not all the theologians or church fathers had the same experiences of Luther. Also, he can drive you crazy with his repetition and ranting. This is not negating his gifts. Rather, I do not believe theology always has to be of high emotion or in your face to be true. It could be argued that I am not a "good" Lutheran and that's OK too. I think to know Luther better you would have to know German. I do not know German but took Latin in high school and my thinking and thinking process are more influenced by Latin (also my personality is of a more analytical type than Luther's was). As Lutherans we can fall into the trap of thinking that those who do not have the same zeal of Luther are not saved by God's grace through faith in Christ. I do not accept that thinking. This is a long reply but I want to underline that Luther is one of the great teachers and theologians but he is not everything.

So study Luther and grow with him. He is definitely a teacher of the faith and will be of great inspiration to you in faith and life. Congratulations on entering the seminary. This will be a time of enhanced learning and growth.

If I run across the article I will pass on the reference.