Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Theological Aesthetics and Luther - Part 3 of the Series

I continue my search for some theology of Luther's that might be used to support my independent study's foundational question of "Why not the image as a source for theology?" In reading Luther’s “Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper,” I may have found just that in his incarnational theology. First let's take a closer look at the confession:

Luther draws out this theology in his argument that Christ can be both present in heaven and in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. As Christ is both God and man in one single person, Christ has three modes of being according to how finite and infinite beings occupy a space: circumscriptively, as a person occupies a position in space, the space and person corresponding exactly; definitively, as a spirit occupies space in a nonpalpable, immeasurable fashion; and repletively, God’s mode of being in that God is both simultaneously present in all places and at all times and is at the same time without measure or circumscription.1 It is the second mode of being that Luther says makes sense of Christ’s saying, “This is my body” in the Last Supper. If Christ’s body can be present in and pass through spaces entirely occupied by stone and wood— the closed doors of the room his disciples had fearfully locked themselves in post-crucifixion (John 20:19) and the stone at his grave (Matthew 28:2)— why would he not also be able to occupy the bread and wine in a similar uncircumscribed manner.

For our purposes, it is the third mode of being that will especially accommodate a justification of images. Since Christ is of one being with God, it follows that Christ shares with God the repletive mode of being, whereby wherever God is present, so Christ is also, and since God is everywhere at all times in this mode of being, so Christ is also. Also the opposite: wherever Christ the man is present, God is also present. This is the radical nature of the incarnation. At the same time, this God is altogether incomprehensible, and beyond our reason. Indeed, God is beyond creation as well; God is not contained by God’s presence. As Luther says, God is “a supernatural, inscrutable being who exists at the same time in every little seed, whole and entire, and yet also in all and above all and outside all created things.”2 And yet, “He is according to his nature a God who comes out to meet us… God is by his nature the God who becomes really present.”3

With this incarnational theology in hand, we come to some understanding that God wants to be involved in our existence. If Christ is present in the body and bread of The Lord’s Supper, might he not also be present in the stuff of art through the irregular nature of the Word?4 Though Luther does not use his incarnational theology to justify images as equally effective as other bearers of the Word, in that his theology points to a radical God and Christ who fill every little seed on earth and are yet beyond our comprehension, there is ample room to do so.

1Timothy Lull, ed. Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, 2nd edition (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005), pp. 265-266.
2Ibid., p.272
3Simo Peura, “What God Gives Man Receives: Luther on Salvation,” Union With Christ: The New Finnish Interpretation of Luther, Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson, eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), p.86.
4See previous post.

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