The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther

By Donald K. McKim | Go to book overview
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you must first give a meaning for this chaotic world from out of itself; you must establish order. If the world is not believed as something promised, then it becomes, as Nietzsche appropriately said, ”a thousands wastes, silent, cold.“ 34 In such silence and such coldness Luther experiences the wrath of God. All creatures around me—even if it were only a rustlingleaf that frightens me 35 —make me know and speak of this wrath, but mostly it is spoken in my own heart in its spite and in its despondency. Luther does not recognize anything neutral beyond wrath and grace. Wrath and grace—therein lies the fundamental dual focus of his feeling of the world, his language, and his understanding of history. In this is founded the struggle which is to be carried out and which Luther did carry out his whole life long.

Luther has not been trapped by the temptation to seek another clarity than the one of the reliable word of promise. Therefore the world is not transparent for him, not wholly calculable and intelligible. His theology is devoid of any historical-philosophical speculation of unity. To the degree to which it contradicts such speculations—for instance, the illusion of invariable progress within the history of the world—it is reasonable, realistic, and fully cognizant of the experience of the concrete world.

The much referred to, although frequently misunderstood, ”secularity“ of Luther is to be understood as theological through and through. For with it, the world is perceived as created by God's reliable word and as sustained despite persistent threats. Its perception is that of justice and grace. 36

Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (1886), ÷ in Basic Writings, trans. Helen Zimmern (New York: Modern Library, 1947), 560–61 (Werke Kritische Gesamtausgabe, ed. G. Colli and M. Montinari [Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1968], vi-2, 199) :”The preacher was the only one in Germany who knew the weight of a syllable or a word, in what manner a sentence strikes, springs, rushes, flows, and comes to a close; he alone had a conscience in his ears…The masterpiece of German prose is therefore with good reason the masterpiece of its greatest preacher: the Bible has hitherto been the best German book. Compared with Luther's Bible, almost everythingelse is merely 'literature'—somethingwhich has not grown in Germany, and therefore has not taken and does not take root in German hearts, as the Bible has done.“
”Letter to Zelter, “November 14, 1816 (Artemis-Gedenkausgabe der Werke, Briefe und Gespr¨ache [Munich: Artemis, 1949], vol. xxi, Letters for the years 1814–32; 195–98, 196).
Fr. G. Klopstock, Die deutsche Gelehrtenrepublik, Part 1 (1774), 170.
J. Cochlaeus, Commentaria de Actis et Scriptis Martini Lutheri Saxonis (1549), 55 (translated from Latin).
Compare”Pro veritate inquirenda et timoratis conscientiis consolandis“(1518), WA 1, 629–33.


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