15 Chapters
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12. Spacing the Hidden God: The Temporal/Spatial Divide

Marius Timmann Mjaaland Indiana University Press ePub

If this topos of a difference between the hidden and revealed god, as discussed by Luther in De servo arbitrio, is situated prior to temporal distinctions, it remains anachronistic in its relation to the chronology of history. It is, insofar as it “is,” older than beings and prior to their coming into existence. This anachronism or, rather, anachrony of the place would then be the premise for understanding its history and its genealogy. It remains non-contemporary with us and with itself.1 It will continuously escape our efforts at a temporal identification of it as belonging to a particular era or period. It cannot remain identical with itself in periods of shifting worldviews and changing conceptualities. When the concepts are changing, however, these concepts of change are measured by the difference rather than measuring this difference. Since this basic difference tends to be overlooked, and in particular by an era which identifies itself as “modern” or even “post-modern” as opposed to the ancient and medieval worlds, the effort to think this difference will take the form of a recollection, a rediscovery, in order to reverse the forgetfulness of modern human beings with their limited memory of ancient structures of thought.2

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1. History, Hermeneutics, and Political Theology

Marius Timmann Mjaaland Indiana University Press ePub

Authors from the early sixteenth century have often been interpreted along confessional lines of division. In this book such differences play only a minor role, when any at all, and I have no ambitions of continuing or enhancing the old confessional discussions on Luther and Erasmus. Since Oberman, it has become more common to see both the Reformation (Lutheran, Calvinist, Radical) and Counter-Reformation as parts of a major historical and intellectual shift in the history of Europe, and thus to transcend the more narrow-minded apologetics in favor of one side or the other.1 I even find it necessary to transcend the more or less strictly theological approach outlined by Oberman, in order to study the close relationship between theological ideas, philosophy, and political changes that occurred in this period, like James Tracy and Carter Lindberg do with their more general approach to the history of ideas.2

Five centuries after the texts were published, Martin Luther’s writings still cause polarization and controversies. One reason is the confessional polemics that have been going on for centuries and the quasi-normative status of these texts among the Protestants. Another is their extremely sharp and polemical tone. They bear traces of an author who was witty, pointed, and sarcastic, although not exactly fair to his adversaries. His Bible translations contributed to the formation of a common German language, and he was the first author who was able to apply the printing medium to mobilize a wider public readership. His series of pamphlets was extremely popular and has been characterized as the first successful mass media propaganda in world history.3 Even today his texts are astonishingly readable, mainly due to a large number of lucid examples, humor, polemics, and sarcasms, and a vivid and precise prose.

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15. The Hidden God of Revolution and Apocalypse

Marius Timmann Mjaaland Indiana University Press ePub

The decisive role Thomas Müntzer played during the German Peasants’ War of 1525 and his prophetic statement about the people being free later did encourage Friedrich Engels to see him as a precursor of all later revolutionaries. Engels’s interpretation is deeply influenced by the Left Hegelian historian Wilhelm Zimmermann, himself a politically radical scholar who first identified Thomas Müntzer as a revolutionary figure.1 Engels sees the incidents during the revolution of 1525 and the following counterrevolution as paradigmatic for the historical dynamic of revolutions in general. Indeed, this also allows him to relocate the historical origin of the communist revolution to the heart of Germany and discuss the relationship between revolution and religion, history and ideology in a context that he finds similar to the events of 1848–1850. Müntzer becomes a revolutionary hero and the first martyr of Marxism. According to Engels, he resisted the temptation to let the Reformation end up with a bourgeois reactionary settlement under the old rulers and instead risked his life for the ideas he believed in: justice for the oppressed, improvement of their material conditions, a total revolution of the established power structures, and eventually the liberation of the entire people. Engels sees in Müntzer, for the first time in modern Europe, a political expression of the secular realization of the utopian vision of a “kingdom of God,” including freedom, equality, and peace on earth.2 Hence, before we conclude this analysis of early modern political theology by comparing the thought of Luther, Catharinus, and Müntzer, let us take a short view behind the curtains to the stage prepared for a second volume on the hidden God in modern philosophy, where political theology is analyzed from various perspectives, including the question of Marxism and the utopias of the Apocalypse.

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13. The Power of Interpretation: Controversies on the Book of Daniel

Marius Timmann Mjaaland Indiana University Press ePub

A new debate on political theology has emerged since the turn of the millennium, due to a general shift in the understanding of the relationship between religion and secularity in modern societies. After José Casanova’s Public Religions in the Modern World (1994) and Habermas’s speech on faith and knowledge (2001), where he coined the term “post-secular society,” there have been a number of controversies on the issue, including debates on this specific term.1 Hans Joas has pointed out that the term is misguiding, since there has never been such a thing as a secular society, not even in the modern West. Religion has been there all the time, he argues, in various forms, but its constitutive significance even for modern societies has often been neglected by sociologists, political scientists, philosophers, and scholars of religious studies.2

A more differentiated understanding of the secularization process has slowly emerged through major contributions from philosophers Charles Taylor and Giorgio Agamben, sociologist Hans Joas, anthropologist Talal Asad, and a number of others.3 None of these scholars would question that secularization has taken place and still continues as a process of differentiation, but the critical role of religion in understanding global politics and modern societies has been rediscovered and has raised a number of significant controversies across the disciplines. With new genealogies of the secular—indeed, of various secularities—the genealogies of religion are also reconsidered, and we have observed a surprising revival of political theology as a field of interdisciplinary discourse on politics, sociology, philosophy, history, and theology.4 Hence, even traditional controversies like the one between Luther, his Catholic opponents in Rome, and charismatic preachers such as the revolutionary leader Thomas Müntzer receive new interest, although they were writing in a period when the relationship between religion and politics was very different from today. Mark Lilla claims that we now have reached “the other shore” and thus are incapable of understanding, or even imagining, the tremendous problems that used to occupy political theology. He argues that political philosophy has established a totally different theoretical and practical basis for both politics and religion, and that the problems still occupying less modernized and secularized societies (on the “other bank”) puzzle us because we have only a distant memory of what it was like to think as they do.5

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5. The Quest for Destruction

Marius Timmann Mjaaland Indiana University Press ePub

Luther and philosophy is a topic that requires careful consideration, since there is a certain discrepancy between Luther’s rhetoric and his actual involvement in philosophical issues. His many more or less uncouth comments on philosophers as sophists, mad, or impious, of reason as a whore, and so forth, should be treated with a grain of salt and ascribed to his image as a barbarian and simple spokesman of the truth from the northern provinces of the Roman Empire. This is an image ascribed to him by his opponents and enemies and exploited in lampoons and caricatures, but it is also an image he cultivates in his raw and subversive style, sometimes with burlesque self-irony.1 The arguments against philosophy and the mockery of the philosophers should therefore be considered rhetorically before we proceed to a discussion of their impact and consequences. If not, there are sometimes conclusions drawn concerning Luther’s alleged rejection of philosophy in general and Aristotelian metaphysics in particular, which have limited foothold in the texts. The barbarian image is deceptive insofar as Luther is an extremely subtle critic of philosophy and thus he cannot avoid getting involved in philosophical arguments. Some of the key arguments will here be discussed, with emphasis on Luther’s destruction of metaphysics in the Heidelberg Disputation (1518) and De servo arbitrio (1525).

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