15 Chapters
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14. Political Theology of the German Revolutions

Marius Timmann Mjaaland Indiana University Press ePub

The rise of the Peasants’ War in Germany 1524–1526 is intimately connected with the events of the Reformation.1 It was not the only uproar of peasants in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Europe but definitely the most important one, and the only upheaval deserving the name of a revolution—in the modern, political sense of the term. It also produced one of the earliest charters in favor of more general freedom rights in Europe, the so-called Twelve Articles of Memmingen (1525). There were other manifestos before and after this one, but none of them had a similar influence on political events. Its principal tenor may be traced directly back to the palpable influence from Luther’s On the Freedom of a Christian (1520), the letter accompanying his written defense against the papal bull. The Twelve Articles open with an assertion of the right of each parish to install and depose a pastor according to their conviction. According to the first article, the pastor is obliged to preach the Gospel clearly and without any human additions, since the Word teaches “that we solely through the true faith can come to God.”2

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11. Kant versus Luther on Self-Consciousness

Marius Timmann Mjaaland Indiana University Press ePub

Whereas Heidegger draws a more or less direct line of modernity from the foundation of modern subjectivity in Descartes up to its fulfillment in Nietzsche’s will to power, Schürmann argues for a more complex analysis of the period, for instance, by including Luther as a key thinker of modernity. Within this period, there are significant changes connected to subjectivity as the site of thought, but he argues that the new site allows for different perspectives and approaches—and that the basic shift comes up already with Luther. Hence, the historical narrative of modernity as continuous progress is rejected in favor of the tragic thought circling around two principles, natality and mortality. Where Heidegger argues in favor of a destruction or Abbau of metaphysics that may continue for decades or even centuries, Schürmann chooses a strategy of passive opposition, analysis, and translation by letting metaphysical thought be opposed and analyzed in terms of tragic thought.1 The most urgent task of thinking, he argues, is “[. . .] to better know the tragic condition. To learn to love it.”2 The analytic of ultimates allows him to display the operations at work in the history of Western philosophy from a tragic point of view, and thereby demonstrate the conditions of evil.

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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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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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6. The Quest for Clarity

Marius Timmann Mjaaland Indiana University Press ePub

One of Luther’s most portentous debates was his controversy with Pope Leo X. After the Ninety-five Theses and subsequent articles had been condemned by the pope in Exurge Domine, Luther wrote an apology in the form of forty-one theses with extended explanations in the pamphlet called Assertio (1520). It was published only a few weeks before Luther was finally excluded from the Roman Catholic Church on January 3, 1521. It is written by a man who is already more outside than inside the community of the holy and the orthodox. Thus almost excommunicated he communicates back in, to those who represent the authority of the tradition and the cornerstone of the church.

This polemical situation forced Luther to elaborate on his theory of scripture, with emphasis on its theological authority. I venture a double reading of Luther, as a non-dogmatic repetition of his text: On the one hand, I discuss Luther’s approach to scripture, and thus introduce some theological theories of hermeneutics (such as by Ebeling, Jüngel, Beisser), which argue that we should continue reading and interpreting the biblical texts by following Luther’s procedure for the interpretation of scripture: sola scriptura. On the other hand, I question three of the basic premises of their hermeneutical theory: the univocal authority of the text (the single reading), their emphasis on the true sense of the text (and consequently the rejection of non-sense), and the dialectical exclusion of hiddenness, including the most problematic topos of the text. All three methodological presuppositions correspond to the philosophical hermeneutics of Gadamer, and may thus be considered ontological presuppositions within the hermeneutical paradigm of dialectical understanding. Rather than presenting an alternative theory here, I will discuss alternative readings of Luther, since I think that there are certain traits of his theology that resist the kind of hermeneutic synthesis that has dominated the (traditional as well as liberal) polemics on Luther, and on Protestant theology, in the twentieth century. Hence, I focus on a few simple strategies of his textual theory and analyze them as examples of scripture with lower-case letters, that is, according to a more generic theory of scripture as writing. This is explicitly an invitation to further controversy on the issue.

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