Saturday, October 30, 2010

Hinlicky on Luther's Concept of Bondage and Freedom.

More on the Hinlicky book.

I've now move into his discussion of law/gospel and then onto bondage and freedom.  Law/gospel discussion did not please me.  It was very confused and did not discuss things within what I would consider to be the correct matrix of "two kinds of righteousness"(btw, this is probably Robert Kolb and Charles Arand's greatest contribution to Luther scholarship- namely we must use "two kinds of righteousness" as a basis for understanding law/gospel.  A lot of problem and confusion in 19th and 20th century Lutheran thought could have been fixed if we had done this.  But I digress).  Nevertheless, I will discuss that aspect of Hinlicky's work later.  Right now I want to focus on the question of bondage and freedom.

In particular, Hinlicky focuses on an objection to Luther's concept of bondage and freedom brought up by Harry McSoreley (interestingly enough Jim Nestingen's doktor-vater).  As a Roman Catholic, McSoreley isn't keen on Luther's understanding.  His first objection is that it takes away the freedom of faith.  This isn't really much of a problem for Lutherans.  It only works if you assume that freedom of choice regarding faith is important.  I remember having a discussion in my justification class at Marquette with Fr. David Coffey where he challenged me about this and I said I didn't believe in free will and didn't care about its importance to faith, and he had nothing for me.  So, this objection only works if you think faith has to be free.

The second criticism is a little bit more interesting and takes us in the direction of Zwingli implicit criticism of Luther over this issue.  As we probably all recall, Luther rejects the idea of freedom in relationship to God, but then allows it regarding things in creation.  After all Luther notes, God says "have dominion on the earth."  So, in earthly things we are free.  McSoreley objects: If God is all determining, then how can there be freedom in even earthly things?  Zwingli objected to and in fact took things a step farther.  He claimed in his short work "On Divine Providence" that more or less, we're all God's robots and that God makes us do evil when we do evil.  That doesn't make God evil, because just as a woodcutter can cut down whatever trees he wants to in the forest, so God can do with his own creation whatever he wants.

I think Hinlicky helpfully notes that Luther's position isn't as radical as its often made out to be.  First, I think its worth noting (Hinlicky doesn't mention this), but Erasmus' position wasn't really very mainstream in the Middle Ages.  Erasmus as we shall recall was a Humanist and wasn't really all that familiar with the Scholastic debates he was trying to enter into (this is one of the reasons why it was such a silly move on his part to challenge Luther in this way and think he could bet someone who had working through these debates for 20 years).  As Hinlicky notes, Luther's position isn't really all that different from that of Augustine and Aquinas.  What all of them agree on is this, namely, that although God is the causal agent of every cause, he is not the maker of every decision.  Creatures have freedom when looked at from the perspective of other creatures, and are ruled by God's determination when looked at from the perspective of their relationship to God.  

Nevertheless, I don't think Hinlicky answers McSoreley's charge in a proper way- rather he sort of lets it hang and seems to imply it is a paradox that can't be resolved.  I will agree part of the way.  I think this is true in regards to the question of evil.  If God is the determiner of our wills and he made our wills good in the beginning, how is it that our wills could turn evil?  It really doesn't make any sense.  I think in this regard we can take a page from Karl Barth.  Barth points out in CD 3.4, that if we could rationalize evil, it really wouldn't be evil.  In other words, an evil that made sense would be part of the structure of God's good creation and logically wouldn't be evil.  For evil to really be evil it can't make any sense- it must be an intruder on God's good and rational order.  Luther I think would agree with this and he is very insistent that although within his position it does not make sense how God is not responsible for evil, we must nevertheless accept this fact since the Bible tells us that God is not the cause of evil.

That being said, based on Luther's own text I think we can do a little bit better.  First of all, I think we need to take into account the rationale behind Luther's understanding of bondage and freedom.  For Luther, the creature cannot have any freedom in relation to God because God is the creator of its will.  In other words, when the creature interacts with God, he or she brings nothing to bear God did not make and therefore is the casual agent behind.  This does not make human being into robots because human beings do what they want to do because of who they are.  Luther's point is that God makes them who they are though and therefore our willing is always contingent.  In light of this, what Erasmus was saying was that human beings could will in a non-contingent way, particularly in relation to God.  Nevertheless, if God is the creator, then that logically can't really be the case.  Augustine and Aquinas would completely agree.  

Nevertheless, let us now look at things from the perspective of other creatures- i.e. "that which is below us."  What sort of casual effect do they have on us?  Well, as much as we allow them to- i.e. they are not the creators of our wills and therefore they do not determine the content of our wills!  In other words, the point Luther I believe is making when he distinguishes "that which is above us" and "that which is below us" is the distinction between the casual effect of a creator vs. creatures.  Luther's point isn't that our wills aren't some how non-contingent even in "that which is below us."  Rather, the point is is that since God is the creator of our will, when our will capability is evaluated in relation to him, then he will always be the determiner of it insofar as he is the creator of it.  Creatures are not the creators of our will and therefore are not the determiners of our will.  Hence we have freedom in relationship to them.

This goes well with how I interpret Luther's concept of the faculty psychology.  In Luther's faculty psychology, the will and the affections are superior to the intellect.  In this he follow Augustine and Ockham against Aquinas.  What is the significance of this?  Well, the point is that we really can't determine how we feel about other people or whether we trust them.  This is also true of God as well (Melanchthon makes this point in a lesser-to-greater argument in Loci Communes 1521), and so the will is bound.  When we reason though, we have freedom because the essence of reason is the evaluation of various goods and choosing the one is the most good.  So, Luther tell us (following Ockham) our reason is good for sphere of creation where freedom is operative and not for the realm of God where our affections (trust, love, etc.) are operative.  Now, in the realm of creation, does this mean that we can will in a non-contingent way?  No, because we are driven by our reason to will in such a manner as to accord with what our intellect evaluates as good.  The point is though that again, the question of causal agency exerted by other creatures over against our creaturely intellect's evaluation of those goods.  Since we have "dominion on the earth" creaturely agents do not stand in a relationship with us as to have the creative power to determine our intellect's evaluation of what is the good that we are to pursue. 

(BTW, we can see why Aquinas, though he believes in predestination as much as Augustine and Luther, posits freedom regarding things above us.  If our intellect is the prime faculty, then God is a good that can be rationally evaluated and chosen like any other good.  Aquinas would hold to the primacy of God's grace, because God's grace is determinative of how much knowledge of the good we have and therefore how capable of willing the good we are.  In the end though, this turns sin into ignorance (similar to Plato!).  Augustine specifically politicizes against this concept in City of God book 7). 

Therefore, from this perspective, McSoreley's anthropological argument can be met.  When Luther allows a realm of freedom, he still doesn't mean freedom in the sense of willing that is totally non-contingent.  Creatures are creatures and therefore they simply aren't capable of non-contingent willing.  Rather, he is talking about a relationship of our will's casual relationship to other creatures- i.e. other creatures do not determine my intellect's capacity to evaluate them as a good or an evil.

Lastly, I want to address the providential question.  If God is all determining of the history of the world, asking McSoreley, how is it the case that there is a realm of freedom?  This partially misses Luther's point which is about willing and not about outcomes.  Actually Luther bring this up against Erasmus.  The will's intention is different than outcomes.  So, what Luther is talking about is the human's will ability to choose and evaluate what things in creation are good and therefore worthy of being chosen.  This does not mean that it will succeed in its intention towards a given object!  Just because Pharaoh decided to go after the Israelites when they went to the Red Sea, did not mean that he would be successful getting them back.  Rather, because God foreknows everything Luther states, he is able to determine its outcome as he sees fit.  In fact, because he is God he must.  Even if he just let world history drift and take whatever course it wanted to, this would be a form of determination, since he made all the creaturely agents and decided to allow it to drift.  Hence, God either allows plans to succeed or not.  This doesn't do away with freedom of willing at all, since the question of free will and determination of the outcomes of our plans are entirely different questions.  Put succinctly, free choice does not mean free self-determination or determination of future events.  That is God's business. 

2 comments:

  1. Your point about humans making the decisions they do because of who they are bears on the question of the freedom of faith. Faith is free in the sense that it is voluntary. No one is coereced to have faith. Those who have faith want to have faith. However this psychological freedom is not what the R.C.'s are intrested in promoting. It is God who makes us will and want to have faith. This is what conversion and regeneration is all about.

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  2. Yes, I would agree and that's Luther's point. The point with the R.C.'s position is how they view human agency. Since they put human reason first, they think of grace-informed reason as free, whereas we put will first and therefore can't think of it as free. Both do in fact really agree that there's no such thing as "non-contingent willing." I think it's important to recognize this, because what JDDJ doesn't get that the issue of the Reformation was not justification by grace (which Thomas and the rest of them believe in), but rather justification by faith alone.

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