Hermeneutica gloriae vs. hermeneutica crucis Sebastian Franck and Martin Luther on the Clarity of Scripture

Priscilla Hayden-Roy
1990 Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte - Archive for Reformation History  
Martin Luther maintains throughout his work, and with special emphasis in O n the Bondage of the WilJ that Scripture is clear. Unlike Erasmus, who warns that we should avoid obscure parts of Scripture that, like the Cave of Corycos, would lure us too close to terrors beyond our comprehension,' Luther argues that Scripture has been placed in the clearest light by the coming of Christ, in whom all of Scripture's mysteries have been revealed.2 If we were to look for a De servo arbitrio; W A 18:
more » ... .24-28 ( L W 33: 25 f.). For the debate between Erasmus and Luther on the clarity of Scripture see: Rudolf Hermann: "Von der Klarheit der Heiligen Schrift. Untersuchungen und Erorterungen iiber Luthers Lehre von der Schrift in "De servo arbitrio," in: Rudolf Hermann: Studien zur Theologie Luthers und des Luthertums. Gesammelte und nachgelassene Werke, 2, ed. Horst Beintker (Gottingen, 198 1): 170-255; Friedrich Beisser: Claritas scripturae bei Martin Luther (Gattingen, 1966), esp. 75-130; Ernst Wolf: "Uber 'Klarheit der Heiligen Schrift' nach Luthers 'De servo arbitrio,'" i'lteologische Literatuneitung 92 (1967): 721-730; Otto Kuss: "Ober die Klarheit der Schrift. Historische und hermeneutische Oberlegungen zu der Kontroverse des Erasmus und des Luther iiber den freien oder versklavten Willen," in: Schriflauslegung: Beitrage zur Henneneutik des Neuen Testamentes und im Neuen Testament, ed. Josef Ernst (Paderborn, 1972), 89-149; Erling T.Teigen: "The Clarity of Scripture and Hermeneutical Principles in the Lutheran Confessions," Concordia Theological Quarterly 46 (1982): 147-166; Peter Neuner, Friedrich Schroger: "Luthers These von der Klarheit der Schrift," Theologie und Glaube 74 (1984): 39-58. For brief but instructive discussion, see Peter Meinhold: Luthers Sprachphilosophie (Berlin, 1958), esp. 34 f. (see ibid., 2 1-27, for Meinhold's differentiation between Luther's and the Spiritualists' understanding of language, contemporary of Luther's to represent the opposite pole, the obscurity or ambiguity of Scripture, it would not be Erasmus for whom Corycian caverns become the hermeneutical starting point of Scriptural exegesis. The spelunker of the darkened word is Sebastian Franck.' For this Spiritualist the truth of Scripture is hidden: its meaning lies in puzzles and paradoxes decipherable only by those few spiritually-minded members of the invisible church. In the course of this discussion we shall examine the anthropological faculties on which Franck and Luther base human knowledge of spiritual matters and how both thinkers define the nature and content of this knowledge. By this means we shall arrive at the concept of the clarity of Scripture in the thought of Franck (I) and Luther (11). The Spiritualists of the 16th century were heirs to a tradition of mystical theology in which the anthropological seat of spiritual enlightenment was located in the synteresis voluntatis et rationalis, or the Seelentnklein.' Sebastian Franck stands in this tradition and carries it perhaps with the greatest rigor of his contemporaries to its logical concl~sion.~ Before we examine the hermeneutical implications of this anthropological faculty we must situate it in Franck's thought, specifically in the framework of Neo-Platonic mystical theology as he received it from the 14th century Dominican preacher, Johannes Tauler (1 300-6 I), and the 15th century anonymous tract, the neologia Deut~ch.~ Franck begins with an ontological concept of God. God is being, the simple unity in which all things exist without differences, an ineffable, inscrutable, using Franck as the representative of the latter); Theologia Deutsch; see Alfred Hegler: Sebastian Francks lateinische Paraphrase der Deutschen Theologie (Tiibingen, 1901). uncreated Word superceding all particular knowledge and all limitations: "God is all in all, the nature, the pleasure, the being of all being, virtue of all virtue, in whom all things are contained. All things live and move in him, by his hand he imparts being to [weset] all things and rules over them."' This uncreated being emanates divine essence into the world by speaking the divine word. By this word the invisible, transcendent spirit enters into and sustains the finite, material world: "Now the tool, instrument and means whereby God created all things is this almighty word alone, which was with God in the beginning and was God himself ... Therefore there is only one word of God in which all things subsist and are supported, sustained and nourished, [even] as they are created. Alone this is necessary-that all things must proceed from this [word]."* The relationship between the word and the world carries over into language: the inner word, or res signifcata, is contained in the outer word (the letter), or res signifcans. Just as the world derives its being from the divine word, so the letter has its true signification in the spiritual, inner word. How do these basic assumptions in Franck's thought determine how he addresses the soteriological question? In order to gain access to God one must turn away from the outer world, from the particulars; one must turn away from outer sacraments, from the written word, from the dead letter, and plunge into the realm of the invisible spirit, the uncreated word. This would be an impossible task if humankind were defined strictly as non-spirit, that is, if the results of original sin were understood to have corrupted humankind utterly. However, by defining God as being, and creation as the emanation of divine being, the mere fact of one's "beingness," of entity, precludes the possibility of utter sinfulness, of nothingness. The spark of divine being, the uncreated word of God, while obscured by the nothingness of matter and ignored by a sinful will that tends away from the source of being, nonetheless dwells eternally, indestructibly in the highest part of the soul. Writes Franck: "God, in the wisdom of his nature and being, laid a form, spark [zundel], trace, light, and image in the human heart, in which God sees himself. And Scripture calls this image of God, 7 . Paradoxa, No.91 (P3v): "Gott is alles in allen / die natur / das gliick aller wesen Wesen / aller tugent Tugent / inn jm ist alle ding beschlossen. Es regt sich / webt / und lebt alles inn jm / in seiner handt weset und wendet er alle ding." 8. Paradoxa, No.50 Ulv): "Nun der werckzeug / instrument / und mittel dar durch gott alle ding geschaffen hat / ist ailein disz almechtig wort / das im anfang was bei Gott / und Gott ia selbs ... Darumb ist auch nur ain wort gottes in dern alle ding bestehen / getragen / erhalten / uii ernart werdE / wie erschaffen. Das ist allain von nbten / ausz dern allain miisz alles gehen."
doi:10.14315/arg-1990-jg04 fatcat:luqwb4nanrfi3owhfxp7uqskyu