Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Luther's marriage metaphor: Not as helpful to the Finns as they seem to think.

The Finnish Luther scholars often point to the fact that Luther's primary metaphor for justification is marriage.  Christ marries the Church and takes on himself her punishment, whereas it receives his infinite holiness.  Since the Finns conflate mystical union with justification, the idea of "union" of Christ and the person excites them.  If man and wife do have union and that's what justification is, then should it not follow that mystical union and justification are really the same thing?

What does not occur to them it seems, is the "union" or one might say "consummation" of marriage comes after the forensic declaration of the minister: "I pronounce you man and wife."(At least it does in Christian marriage and most traditional cultures!).  This is true both in our time and Luther's.  So, even with the use of the marriage metaphor, the forensic judgment must come first.


  1. I like this argument, except that the biblical witness seems to be that the "consummation" constitutes the marriage: I'm thinking of Paul's admonition against joining the body of Christ with a prostitute in reference to "what God has joined together...", and Jesus talking with the woman at the well about her five husbands (along with several examples among the patriarchs, but I guess you could interpolate clergy there if you wanted).

    This got me to thinking what mystical union without justification would look like, which only brought to mind myriad horror flicks along those lines.

  2. A couple of issues here. I think that Osiander and the Finns are interested in conflating mystical union with justification because it then pushes grace into the category of being a predicate of our beings. This definitely works better with the RC and EO view, which is why the Finns are excited about it. If that's the case, justification must be subsequent to the union because God looks at you united to Christ's being which dwells in you after the fact and says "hey, he looks good to me." But, why did he unite with you if he hadn't already made a decision about you? Also, the gospel would then not be a promise, but a demand "if you have faith and then receive mystical union, then you will be justified."

    Secondly, I would challenge your claim that consummation is identical with marriage. If that were the case, there would be no such thing as fornication in the Bible (there obvious is- since it is warned against!) because everyone who slept with anyone else would just automatically be married. There are also examples of women having sexual intercourse with a man and maintaining the same status in relation to him. Hagar is not a wife and does not ever become a wife, though Abraham uses her sexually (this is a point of tension with Sarah in the story). So, clergy or no clergy (from what's I've read, it was the later), marriage does actually involve some sort of prior forensic act of solidarity- usually performed by the two families involved.

  3. I had thought of instances where someone fathered a child with his wife's servant and it was considered the wife's child, but hadn't thought of Hagar's case, where it didn't work out that way, and indeed that's where the friction with Sarah comes from. Your point about fornication is well taken, although it is clear that marriage language is used in reference to acts of fornication, not to say that these acts aren't essentially defective (indeed, the point of such references is to show that they are defective).

    As far as the mystical union idea goes, you have to wonder how broadly such terms are considered. Can one be mystically united to Christ and not know it? I ask the question because I'm wondering if such interpreters of Luther who consider themselves justified, and consider Luther an authority, can with unanimity point to a subjective event indicating that they are justified. I realize that they would only claim to be looking at what Luther himself taught, and that there were (and are) church bodies which would make that claim of a necessary subjective experience, but I would be surprised if Luther were one of those Christians, or indeed if they were making a claim that he was.

  4. Mike- The pont about prostitutes in 1 Cor. is well taken. Nevertheless, I don't think that that contradicts my position. No one is disagreeing that there is a unification with Christ as a single subject and that uniting Christ to a prostitute contradicts that, since, it makes one share in the prostitute's body of sin. Obviously there has to be some loss of faith and therefore spiritual apostasy before the "union of apostasy" (so to speak) occurs. It therefore again, I would argue, that verbal, relational, spiritual interaction occurs prior to the sin of union.

    I'm a little bit unclear about the second paragraph. I don't think that it is possible to be union with Christ and not know it. The Finnish position is that the forensic act and mystical union are simultaneous. My point is that it can't be. Rather, for their point to hold the forensic judgment must be subsequent. The orthodox Lutheran position is that mystical union occurs subsequent to justification. Obviously it's not like historically Lutherans have thought you can time it or something (mystical union happens 30 seconds after you come to faith!). The point is that Christ is for us before he is in us. We are forgiven before we pray for it, as Luther says in the Catechism. It's not (as Osiander said) that his divine nature dwells in us and we thereby become pleasing to God. It's like Ritschl said (using Kantian language), a question of is justification a "analytic" decision on God's part or a "synthetic." The Finns definitely want it to be synthetic.

  5. I am glad that you are blogging.

    On an unrelated note, I have often found your comments on Forde interesting. I also saw that you wrote your dissertation on Forde. Could I read it? If you decide in the affirmative, here is my email.

    stgood78 at gmail dot com

  6. you are invited to follw my blog

  7. Steve- Thanks for the invitation. In light of the fact that we do not share much of a common perspective (I've just read your blog-your rejection of the Reformation solas I find very problematic), I must unfortunately decline your invitation. Thanks for the interest in my blog.

  8. You might be having trouble with my second paragraph because it's unclear as written (sorry). I agree that mystical union is subsequent to justification. I was making an attempt to understand the position that mystical union and justification are simultaneous and trying to square that view with what I know of 1)Luther and 2)the Christian life.

    My view is that either they're considering "mystical union" in a way drained of any content that would make it useful, i.e., an experience of what Rudolf Otto discusses as the sublime; or that all this talk of justification and mystical union, etc. is considered by these scholars to be the product of minds who took this kind of thing seriously, and are not personally relevant for moderns reading Luther. That latter is not a purely pejorative characterization: I do recognize the foreignness of the past, and certainly there are several writers I'd put in the irrelevance bin (some very recent indeed), but part of the allure of Luther studies is his continued relevance, right? I wouldn't want to say the project is just iconoclasm, but would also be surprised if all these (Christian) Finnish Luther scholars had had brushes with the sublime.