The Cresset
A Review of Literature, Fine Arts, and Current Affairs
Current Issue   books   poetry   archive   main site
Simul: A Lutheran Reclamation Project in the Humanities
Martin E. Marty

Each morning the ship's captain sneaked into his cabin after breakfast for a mysterious ritual. He would emerge competent and confident for the daily task of running the ship. Curious crew members once were able to peak past a curtain in the porthole, saw him remove a slip of paper, read it, fold it, and lock it again. What message did it convey?

Eventually the captain died. The crew's first act was to break into the cabin safe to read the bit of paper that had guided their leader so surely for so many years. It said, simply, "The right-hand side is the starboard side."

The piece of paper in my little cabin safe, one that is supposed to help me guide you through part of an in­quiry into the humanities, bears a simple word "Simul." That is not much of a message, since it is nothing but the Latin word for "at the same time." But for those of us who like to go back to basics, who cannot always remem­ber "port" from "starboard," it can serve as a code or a clue for a more complicated task.

I

I shall argue that a Lutheran-based cultural view will see the human being or the human record simul, always "at the same time" as being both the human of human­ities humanism and the human that is the subject of divine reclamation. The former is not bad and the latter good; there is room for the "good" humanist or human­istic venture and more than enough room for the "bad" human in the situation of being saved. But the distinc­tion between the two ways of being and looking at the human can be of value in humanistic inquiry today.

The original formula using simul has to do with the second human situation, the one having to do with "being saved." In the Lutheran formula, the human is at one and the same time a righteous person and a sin­ner, simul justus et peccator. The believer as a human is both, entirely. What separates them is the vantage God uses when looking at the human. "In myself outside of Christ, I am a sinner; in Christ outside of myself, I am not a sinner." (WA 38, 205). So much for "being saved." Our interest is in understanding the concept of simul in contrast to some beguiling alternatives and then in working out some analogies from the "being saved" to the "being human" realm.

Not a Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Simul, at the same time, is not the same as aut/aut, "either/or." The distinction is not between humans but within each one, each believer. Nor is it modo/modo, now and then, as in the case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In most respects this view of the human is not even partim/ partim, "partly/partly." What matters is the aspect under which God views the human and the situation in which the human is found.

People trained to look at humans in the light of simul in the dimension of "being saved" should be able to acquire it as a mentality, a habitus, a reflex, or a skill. This does not mean that a view of humanism born of this vantage is the only plausible one. There is an intrin­sic case to be made for humanism, entirely apart from its relation to religion, Christianity, or Lutheranism. One hopes that teachers in the humanities at state uni­versities are able to make or respond to such a case, and that these teachers include informed Christians. Instru­mental cases have their value: one studies humanities in order to increase imagination or, possibly, skills. As a result, one may be better equipped to engage in business or government. One might, third, reclaim humanities on broadly religious grounds, arguing that the sacral dimension has an intrinsic and instrumental validity. And of course, there are many Christian rationales. Among these are Jacques Maritain's Catholic and Natur­al Law or Reason project of "Integral Humanism," the Christian Humanisms of the Erasmian tradition, or many kinds of Calvinistic humanisms that see "Christ transforming culture," to use H. Richard Niebuhr's formula.

The purpose here is not to say which of these four genera or their many species is better or worse than the other, or than Lutheranism. At the moment we are inter­ested in distinctives, not in grading systems. Not all non-Lutheran humanists or, for that matter, all Lutheran ones, will bring natural curiosity to this search for dis­tinctives. Different strokes for different folks, different messages in cabin safes for different captains. Yet there are some good reasons to discuss here and now a Luther­an base and case for reclaiming humanism.

The Idea of Lutheran Anti-Humanism

An Association of Lutheran College Faculties, at least once a year in solemn assembly, naturally explores its roots and focus, so my remarks at least are credible as a bow to the concept of "and now, a word from our sponsor." Second, the simul concept is on this Lutheran humanist's figurative scrap of paper, and it is this one whom you invited to begin this reflection. Third, if there is a Lutheran contribution, it has certainly been undervalued in American culture, with its pluralism that is more familiar with secular, Calvinist-Puritan, Jewish, or Catholic humanisms than with any Lutheran models. One more reason for taking up the subject: if one gets the Lutheran case a little bit wrong, it will be anti-humanistic, as anti-humanistic as many practicing Lutherans regard their faith to be, or as many anti-Lutherans—like Jacques Maritain—interpreted it to be. Turning that around, if one can make the humanistic case on Lutheran grounds, many other kinds of Chris­tian humanisms are "home free." And, if my interpre­tation is correct, a Lutheran understanding based on the concept of simul-vision, will be a legitimation that will yield to no other in its high claims for humanism and humanities.

Lutheran anti-humanism is often diagnosed by other Christian humanists. I have already alluded to Jacques Maritain, a great thinker who got Luther ludicrously wrong. In Three Reformers Maritain took one side of Luther's simul in respect to the human as a rational being and saw Luther as a simple irrationalist, anti-intellectualist, and individualist romantic. "Unable to conquer himself, he transforms his necessities into theo­logical truths, and his own actual case into a universal law."

Far more intelligent and deserving is the understand­able uneasiness expressed by Robert Cushman, who made one of the more impressive recent statements on the problems of Christian Humanism at St. Olaf College in 1978 (published in Faith Seeking Understanding: Essays Theological and Cultural). For him, true humanism must be grounded in a common fund of reason. Luther's postulate of "salvation by grace through faith" rests, he says, on the Pauline gospel. "But its republication was attended by a doctrine of God and a consequent doctrine of man, inherited, I believe, not from the New Testa­ment but from the widely influential Occamistic phil­osophy." That philosophy "carried with it a breach of any intelligible relations" such as those between Creator and creation or between God and man, except in the case of "special Providences" when God wanted to make connections. Creation became ambiguous. Man was "ophaned" and saw "the dissolution of the inherent struc­tures of the created order of due natural process…" And without inherency of this sort, there cannot natur­ally or easily be a humanism. Cushman's urbane and kindly critique, which sets up a problem for him as a Christian humanist, a problem he passes on to others, deserves careful analysis. I consider it to be part of the "challenge" for reclaimers of humanism on Protestant soil, to which the simul concept is an address.

II

So Lutheranism may make a contribution to reclaim­ing humanism; we have not yet detailed what kind of humanism needs and merits reclaiming. It is as difficult to propose a definition of humanism that will gain con­sent as it is to define religion to any two people's satis­faction. I feel no responsibility for all the nuances of the term. Thus the case for humanism as "humaneness" might be made on other grounds. It would be nice to believe that the humanism of the humanities would al­ways be humane or promote humaneness, but even its most ardent advocates do not make such a claim. Thus the Commission on the Humanities in 1980 argued that "the humanities do not necessarily mean humaneness, nor do they always inspire the individual with what Cicero called 'incentives to noble action.'"

At the other end of the spectrum, this is no defense of a reclaimed religious humanism. Such a humanism would take the metron anthropos of Protagoras, arguing that "man is the measure of all things," and turn it into a dogma that excludes transcendental measures. Even so far it would remain a philosophy; religious human­ism, I take it, surrounds this mundane proposition with ceremonial reinforcements, myths and symbols, meta­physical claims, and a call for behavioral response. Let the votaries of St. Protagoras Church take care of their own case.

The humanism before us must be "humanities hu­manism." Some clues for that chaste designation come from the fact that an association of college faculties picked the topic. But by moving beyond "humanities" to "humanism" and including "arts and sciences," there is no impulse to turn the inquiry into a discussion of humanities departments or corners of curricula. In­stead, we move into a "zone," as I like to think of it, a zone in which the formal humanities disciplines have a custodial stake. Let the Commission on the Humanities, if it cannot define, at least point to and describe that zone:

The humanities mirror our own image and our image of the world. Through the humanities we reflect on the fundamental question: what does it mean to be human? The humanities offer clues but never a complete answer. They reveal how people have tried to make moral, spiritual, and intellectual sense of a world in which irration­ality, despair, loneliness, and death are as conspicuous as birth, friendship, hope, and reason. We learn how individuals or societies define the moral life and try to attain it, attempt to reconcile freedom and the responsibilities of citizenship, and express themselves artis­tically… By awakening a sense of what it might be like to be some­one else or to live in another time or culture, they tell us about our­selves, stretch our imagination, and enrich our experience. They in­crease our distinctively human potential.

That zone is chopped up into smaller zones. That they exist is evident from college catalogues, departmental structures, American Associations for the Advancement of the Humanities, and a National Endowment of the Humanities, which in Public Law 89-209 was sub-zoned into "language, linguistics, literature, history, juris­prudence, philosophy, archaeology, comparative re­ligion, ethics, the history, criticism, theory, and practice of the arts" and "those aspects of the social sciences which have humanistic content and employ humanistic method along with the study and application of the humanities to the human environment with particular attention to the relevance of the humanities to the current condition of national life." That encroaching definition of a zone hardly stops short of many kinds of science, and there is no reason for people in "sciences" to feel second-class to those in "arts" when humanities humanism comes up as a topic. Just as not all humanists are in the field of academic humanities, so, as we shall find out, not all in those fields are humanists either.

Humanities humanism was born, as Cushman re­minds us, on the soil of Renaissance Christian Europe, roughly in the time of Petrarch (1304-74), when it was called umanista. Born of an interest in revisiting classical culture, it soon expanded throughout the universities until it did become a subject for the fifteenth-century equivalents of curriculum committees. Ernest Gellner shows what confusion followed:

What is 'humanist culture? Essentially, culture based on literacy. All human society and civilization presupposes language as such: but humanist or literate culture is not co-extensive with all human civilization. It is distinguishable from illiterate 'tribal' culture on the one hand, and from the more-than-literate scientific culture on the other. The term 'humanist' is of course unfortunate, and survives from the days when a concern with mundane, 'human' literature was primarily distinguished, not from either illiteracy or science, but from theological, divine concerns. But for contemporary purposes, it is the literacy, and not its mundane or extra-mundane orientation which matters. 'Humanist' concerns now embrace the divine. (Both speak the same language.)

This Petrarchian umanista and curricular division did not remain mundane; indeed, as Cushman shows, even Petrarch's version was built to fly. He quotes John A. Symond's The Revival of Learning to make the point.

The essence of humanism consisted in a new and vital perception of the dignity of man as a rational being apart from theological deter­minations, and the further perception that classic literature alone displayed human nature in the plenitude of intellectual and moral freedom.

That "essence" or virus is what got humanism of most sorts in trouble with Luther and other Reformers, all of whom profited from the revival of "classic literature" as such. That strain is what creates the tension within the Lutheran simul view of arts, sciences, humanities, and learning.

The Essence of the Humanities

We could play it safe and take more modest visions of the essence of the humanities. A very recent one by University of Washington English Professor Charles Altieri (Act and Quality: A Theory of Literary Meaning and Humanistic Understanding) would create fewer problems, and one could easily build a charter for the humanities in a Lutheran college on its terms:

The humanist is devoted to ideas of education because s/he believes that (1) certain forms of knowledge transform one's powers to act and to understand others through their actions; (2) education plays the role of creating 'noble' models and leading someone to want to be able to represent his value as a person in terms of those models; (3) both the models and the terms for discovering actions are richest when one can recover, from pieties and historical positivities, the energy that works of genius can give to the present; and (4) one can recover and use these works of genius because they do not simply make statements or reflect historical conditions—being neither phil­osophy nor history, they present concrete, nondiscursive qualities of actions in representative situations, so that the human images they embody remain significant as images for those in other cultures.

Let us take the harder case, the Petrarchan one that tempts to the Protagoran, the "dignity of man" thesis that made the humanistic order seem intrinsically val­uable, that endowed the creaturely order with too much creativity, and that tempted Christians to forget the Fall and move toward Utopia. Not all humanism is so allur­ing, but to make the challenge to the simul concept ex­citing, we should raise the stakes as high as possible. Cushman is appropriately on the point again:

Luther might share with Petrarch the judgment that the conscience of man does indeed alert him to his calling under God. But the con­science was always, for Luther, a guilty one, notifying men not of the sufficiency but of the bondage of their wills when devoid of justify­ing Grace. Moreover, justification by faith was not entire liberation. Men remained at once [simul] justified, and yet sinners. Utopianism, therefore, was completely alien to Luther's viewpoint, and on at least two grounds: first, the condition of man in present bondage to Satan, and, second, the end of man as, not the kingdom of man founded either upon the arts or the sciences, but the Kingdom of God founded by faith alone in Jesus Christ… These two grounds, with their corollaries, remove Luther, as also Calvin, from the province of even the moderate humanism of Petrarch or Mirandola and make them irreconcilable adversaries of modern secular humanisms of whatever species.

Cushman begins to rewrite a charter for Christian humanism by "resorting in good Lutheran fashion to Scripture—to Genesis 1:26" and, in a way, bypassing the Reformers. Such a Christian humanism "would not view human culture, however splendid, as the end of man… It would indeed extol man's fulfillment of his endow­ment or given potential," but this fulfillment would be a response to sovereign grace (Romans 1:5). Christian humanism "is responsible existence under God dedi­cated to seeking first 'the Kingdom of God and his right­eousness.'" I agree in the main with Cushman's approach, but do not want to abandon the Reformers so easily.

Of Humanism and Religious Belief

Christian humanism versus mundane humanisms pose themselves off against each other in popular and high literature alike. A sample of each is in order. Michael J. Farrell, a columnist in the National Catholic Reporter, recently took up the defense of humanism. He, too, began with Petrarch and the innovative spirit that "spread to include the arts and other secular pur­suits." Then: "The more life here below fascinates, the less God usually does. Nevertheless, virtually all Ren­aissance humanists were Christians and ardent in their way…" The drift from God may be a psychosocial reality, documentable in the lives of Charles Darwin, H. G. Wells, William Graham Sumner, and others who saw their faith shrivel or saw the starry skies come to look like faded wallpaper in a suburban train station as they became preoccupied with nature and history. But the example of Renaissance humanists, through Martin Luther, down to contemporary Christian humanists shows that just the opposite may be the case.

In a "high culture" passage, Frederick Olafson (The Dialectic of Action: A Philosophical Interpretation of History and the Humanities) is historically accurate but not substantively inclusive about the either/or situation:

The relationship between humanism and religious belief is one that has given difficulties for centuries and has caused a good deal of per­sonal anguish to those humanists like St. Jerome and Petrarch who have aspired to be sincere Christians. That there is some deep source of conflict here seems undeniable; but it would just as certainly be mistaken to define humanism as atheistic or even antireligious. There have been forms of religious belief that are radically incompatible with humanism because they proclaim the nothingness of man and transfer to their gods every possible form of agency or achievement with which man might otherwise be tempted to credit himself… But there are also religions that teach that there is something, how­ever limited, that human beings as individuals and as societies can do and that thus concede a measure of significance and value to the achievements of human culture and even allow a modicum of hu­man pride, as well as of shame, stemming from the contemplation of what has been done… Nevertheless, it seems proper to speak of a humanistic disposition on the part of a society only when it has become possible to assert openly that these human powers are real and that what can be achieved by means of them is significant and valuable.

Olafson's preference for words like "however limited" or "a measure of significance" shows that he belongs to the partim/partim school. A religious approach to humanism is a modest "part" of the whole religious outlook. The simul view is quite different; it demands exposure.

III

Let me begin to show why "either/or," "now and then," or "partly/partly" views never seemed to me to do justice to a Lutheran Christian view of the humanis­tic dimension with a homely example. As a relatively young child I had to make sense of Christmas hymns in the Lutheran tradition. What of this great Christian Keimann example from 1646?

Tell abroad God's goodness proudly
Who our race hath honored thus
That He deigns to dwell with us.

Admittedly, translator Catherine Winkworth had heightened the delicious scandal of the incarnation by her rather free translation of Freuet euch, ihr Christen alle.

Freuet euch mil groszen Schalle,
dasz her uns so hoch geacht't,
sich mil uns befreund't gemacht.

Had I been born thirty years earlier and sung this in the German, the nuance might have been strong about friendship but the thunder of divine identification with the race to which I belonged would have been lost. Still, it was the translation that appeared in the The Lutheran Hymnal, a book that survived censors far more censo­rious than the pecksniffs of Keimann's seventeenth-cen­tury world could have produced.

What about the question from another Lutheran hymn, this one snatched from the lair of the pietists themselves? Paul Gerhardt asked, in our Winkworth translation:

If our blessed Lord and Maker
Hated men, Would He then
Be of flesh partaker?

[Hätte vor der Menschen Orden
Unser Heil Einen Greu'l,
Wär er nicht Mensch worden.]

I should grow up to turn my back against study of the race God chose to join, the one the Lord and Maker chose not to hate? If those hymns belonged in the wor­ship canon, even allowing for poetic license, then Lu­theran anti-humanities impulses of the sort that often showed up were out of place. But hymns are for on deck occasions. The Lutheran case has to be made down near the simul slip in the cabin, where we have to get port and starboard correct for purposes of navigation. Back to the source, Luther himself.

Simul in the Analogue of Nature

Not being a Luther scholar—or, rather, being a "mas­ter," not a "doctor," in his thought—and he not falling into my "period" as an historian (we humanists have to guard our specialties) I should issue many disclaimers. My reading of Luther is not that of a primary-source seeker but rather that of someone who takes his dis­covered texts as documents of humanistic culture, much the way I read Petrarch or Erasmus. I depend upon, defer to, and am ready to have my clutching knuckles rapped, by the experts. But one must be bold when deal­ing with the Kunta Kintes of one's own Roots, and I shall be, while paying respects to some scholars from whom I borrowed or stole. Disclaimers past, we shall look at five sub-zones at the edges of and then safely within the humanities.

Science. Heinrich Bornkamm (Luther's World of Thought) knows and shows the understanding of simul employed by Luther when the Reformer dealt with the person in the situation of being saved. And he also car­ries it over, without developing it, into corollaries and analogues in other dimensions of human life. He well knows what everyone learns in dealing with Luther that the created order, nature, is fallen. The demonic per­vades the structures of existence. Luther was almost an animist when dealing, for instance, with the terrors of thunder. But simul, at the same time, this terrifying, fallen, beguiling, demonic, misusable and misused world of nature is there to quicken awesome enthusiasm on the part of one who seeks scientia.

The same person who could talk about the pus-filled, putrid, dung-heaped world could write in the last year of his life in a book of Pliny: "All creation is the most beautiful book or Bible; in it God has described and portrayed Himself." Nature is a sign of God's hidden wisdom and of the purposes that nature serves. A six­teenth-century Rachel Carson, he stimulates a sense of wonder among the non-scientific clods:

[Most people] are so accustomed to [the works of God in nature]; they are as permeated with them as an old house is with smoke; they use them and wallow around in them like a sow in an oats sack. Oh, they say, is it so marvelous that the sun shines? That fire heats? That water contains fish? That hens lay eggs? That the earth yields grain? That a cow bears calves? That a woman gives birth to chil­dren? Why, this happens every day! You dear dolt Hans, must it be insignificant because it happens daily? ... If God created all other women and children of bone, as He did Eve, and but one woman were able to bear children, I maintain that the whole world, kings and lords, would worship her as a divinity. But now that every wo­man is fruitful, it passes for nothing. ... Is it not vexing to see the accursed ingratitude and blindness of mankind?

Luther credited "the upright" with a passion for won­der and inquiry.

For whenever they behold a work of God, they imagine how condi­tions would be without it. Death ennobles life, darkness praises the sun, hunger kisses the precious bread, sickness teaches the meaning of health, etc. The word 'not' prompts them to praise the 'being' (Weseri), and this implies that they search, explore, and ponder the works of the Lord, esteem them, and imagine what the world would be like if these works had not been created.

That may not be the passion of the modern scientist who pursues inquiry for its own sake, but it would charter a good career in science. And on this score it is Luther who scolds Erasmus for being the "dear dolt Hans."

We [in the Reformation] are now living in the dawn of the future life; for we are beginning to regain a knowledge of the creation, a knowledge we had forfeited by the fall of Adam. . . . Erasmus does not concern himself with this; it interests him little how the fetus is made, formed, and developed in the womb. Thus he also fails to prize the excellency of the state of marriage. [God's power] is evident even in a peach stone. No matter how hard its shell, in due season it is forced open by a very soft kernel inside it. All this is ignored by Erasmus. He looks at the creatures as a cow stares at a new gate.

Rather than argue that Luther develops a full human­istic charter for scientific disciplines, I only want to point to the extremism in his defense of liberty to won­der about nature and the creation simul, at the same time that he ponders the death and decay that pervade them.

History. History is one of the central humanities disci­plines, and is disclosive in different ways of the human situation. Luther's Ur-text on endowing the world of human events with meaning and inspiring inquiry is one that simul, at the same time, robs creation of final revelatory power in the matter of "being saved." I refer to the 18th and 19th theses of the Heidelberg Disputa­tion of 1518. There he poses the theologia gloria over against the theologia cruets. The former promotes speculation, based on creation, concerning the Creator, and issues in claims that one is right with the Creator as the result of such attempts to peer into the divine majesty. The latter is content with the weak, the meek, the offense, the empirically-verifiable side of God in the traces left in history, in the revelation of suffering.

That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as if it were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened. He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.

One side of this is anti-humanistic: it seems to cut off all understandings of human potential through phil­osophical speculation or study of creation. Simul, at the same time, it provides a legitimation of human history in which God is, to use Father Divine's colorful image, "tangibilificated." The Heidelberg reference goes back to Exodus 33 where Moses wants to see God's glory. God says no one can see the glory and live, so he places Moses in a cleft in the rock and holds his hand over it until the glory has passed by. Moses then gets to see the posteriora det, God's buttocks or rear end, and that is enough. Now I admit that a humanism that allows for the beatific vi­sion of the glory would sound nobler than one that forces contentment with "the hind parts of God" in the tracks at Golgotha or in the suffering of a Christian in war, because of disease, or whatever. Yet who is to say that the second kind is removed from the humanism of the humanities?

Luther's views are not a complete charter for the au­tonomy of secular history, but his view of two Regimente, two orders, politia and religio, is certainly an amplifica­tion of the Heidelbergian view of history. In politia, which is under reason and law and not salvation of souls, simul, at the same time one is seeking salvation, there is a life to be lived which can be informed not so much by the saving sacred scriptures as by the wisdom of the his­torians, jurists, and poets of the Greek and Roman world. In the worldly sphere Luther speaks of the hu­man as cooperator Dei, not the integral humanist's agent of creation, but the Christian view of the human as in­strument of Creator. In that sphere the cooperator Dei is not always talking about "being saved," but is serving a vocation as a magistrate, consul, doctor, teacher, stu­dent, family member, servant, or king, any of which roles is a persona or larva, a mask, not of the devil but of God. At the same time, each person has a Christian per­sona and a secular one, and yet he or she is not therefore schizoid but a liver-out of vocation. The secular dimen­sion is also life lived coram Deo, under God.

Luther can sound anti-humanistic as he downgrades world history proper in contrast to the history of the people of God. "Therefore the histories of all the world have been taken at once as incomparably more worthless than the most worthless story of this people." But then he turns around and asks for humanistic care in the writing of world history, in which God is also active. In a preface to Galeazzo Capella's History in 1538, he praises the office of historian and gives words that be­long on the wall of humanities-historians in church-related settings today: "For because histories describe nothing other than God's work—that is grace and wrath —which one must so worthily believe as if they stood in the Bible, they should certainly be written with the greatest diligence, faithfulness, and truth." Such his­tories are disclosive of the human situation and deserve care in reading and writing even though they are not Gospel narratives which help "save."

Philosophy. Another central humanistic discipline is philosophy, which classically always and contempo­raneously sometimes addresses precisely the humanistic issues that concern us here. The simul approach is ur­gent when dealing with philosophy, which centers in wisdom and reason, given Luther's oft-quoted critique of reason. I need not elaborate on this since my col­league Brian Gerrish has written at book length on this precise theme (Grace and Reason: A Study in the Theology of Luther). He reproduces the Luther texts that show him to be anti-humanist in respect to philosophy. Reason is "the Devil's Whore," a "beast," an "enemy of God," a "source of mischief," "carnal," and "stupid." The great­est philosopher, Aristotle, was the "destroyer of pious doctrine," a mere "Sophist and quibbler," an inventor of fables, and an "ungodly public enemy of the truth." There is more: Aristotle is lazy-ass, billy-goat, trickster, rascal, liar and knave, blind pagan.

Luther on Aristotle and Cicero

Yet Luther does not dismiss philosophy in the human­ities out of hand. He praises Cicero, who is not a lazy-ass, and half expects and more than hopes to see him in heaven. He discriminates within the Aristotelian cor­pus, and admires Aristotle on ethics. In fact, barbarum est, it is philistine not to know Aristotle's natural phil­osophy, which belongs to culture and has many sound arguments. In loco justificationis, in the matter of being saved, it is worthless, inimical to faith, and belongs to contemplation and "work-righteousness." Simul, at the same time, apart from that realm of misuse, it has a positive potential. After Gerrish's work there seem to be few reasons to have to begin from scratch to rescue Luther-on-philosophy in proper contexts. But so entrenched in the humanistic culture is the side that knoweth not simul that for a generation the task will have to go on. Lutherans who do not know the case and who therefore oppose philosophy in culture only prolong the agony and confusion.

Political science, government, law, jurisprudence. Lu­ther has a charter for both the exercise and the hu­manistic study of all that relates to laws and govern­ment. Few Christian geniuses more than he have at­tacked the demonic power of the governed and the governors, but simul, at the same time, he also goes al­most to the other extreme in legitimating their relation. It is hard to rule out curiosity about das irdische Reich, the earthly kingdom, from his corpus of writings. His concern for societatis humanae, even though that "civil­ization" is under the mark of the prince of the world and the powers of death, is engrossing and lively. For it has another side: society is also a realm of divine ac­tivity. The communia or institutions of life are ordained by God, proper spheres for human activity and "civil works," which call forth "natural reason" but which issue in "spiritual" engagements.

Reason as Part of the Divine Scheme

In this context, reason is consistently a part of the divine scheme. Luther personifies it as the "inventress and mistress of all the arts, of medicine and law, of what­ever wisdom, power, virtue, and glory men possess in this life." And the Fall did not change this; in its sphere, reason is God's greatest, inestimable, gift. Such reason is to pervade the realms of government and laws.

Here again, Luther is not a "now and then," "either/ or" or "partly/partly" type. His simul approach is ex­tremely humanistic and anti-humanistic at once. Tech­nically, in loco justificationis, in the matter of justification, law is Law of God, which always and only accuses and terrifies. Extra locum justificationis, outside that situation or teaching, law, like reason, is an immeasurable gift. Luther can pass out compliments to it as he did to music. Next to the office of ministry, there is "on earth no more precious gem, no greater treasure, no richer alms, no more beautiful endowment, no more cherished posses­sion than government, which creates and preserves order."

Language and Literature. Back to the simul in the cabin safe for one more illustration. It is in the sphere of hu­manistic languages and literature that Luther is most at home. He saw himself as a grammarian, linguist, and translator, and was proud of being "doctor of the Holy Scripture." Luther, says Gerrish, "was not one to senti­mentalize about the 'simple preacher of the faith': 'ex­positors' are what is needed, therefore languages also." Heinrich Boehmer and other scholars have suggested that "as far as critical acumen is concerned [Luther] was at least the equal of the renowned Erasmus." But this is not the place to discuss competences or to play "We're Number One" but to pursue the substance of the matter.

In languages and literature, as so often, Luther took a simul view that sometimes appears on a time scale: ante fidem and post fidem. Before faith such tools, adminis­tered by reason, are bad; after faith, they are good. Just as often he uses the context of "without faith" and "in faith." Yet the final consistency is situational. In the vantage of God looking at the user of linguistic tools to gain favor, they are worse than nothing; when accepted as gifts by a favored one, they are benefits. Reason, lan­guage, naturalia, "regenerated," involve the believer hu­manistically more than were he or she not drawn to faith.

If languages and literature are the strongest case for the humanities in this context, I make less of them be­cause Luther has it too easy. He would rescue them instrumentally if the case were not there intrinsically. They are of such aid in spreading the message of the Bible. One quotation, cited by Roland Mushat Frye in his Perspectives on Man, ought to make that clear enough to keep literature departments in the humanities happy:

I am persuaded that without knowledge of literature pure theology cannot at all endure, just as heretofore, when letters have declined and lain prostrate, theology, too, has wretchedly fallen and lain prostrate; nay, I see that there has never been a great revelation of the Word of God unless He has first prepared the way by the rise and prosperity of languages and letters, as though they were John the Baptists. . . . Certainly it is my desire that there shall be as many poets and rhetoricians as possible, because I see that by these studies, as by no other means, people are wonderfully fitted for the grasping of sacred truth and for handling it skillfully and happily.

IV

This argument that in the heart of the Reformation, where Luther has often been portrayed as an heir of Christian Humanist who was anti-humanist, there was also a true humanities impulse seems directed at times at the Lutheran who denies humanism or the humanist who simply excludes religion. But in recent years a challenge to the "human" aspect of the humanities has risen within the academy itself. In its face, contributions like those from the Lutherans may be urgent.

On one level anti-humanism has arisen in the acad­emy in a time when the Enlightenment, Reason, Science, and the like are being eclipsed, attacked, or displaced. These are not the days to speak up for reason or inquiry, progress or Utopia, tolerance or civility, or other as­pects of the eighteenth-century humanism that shaped much of the modern academy. While the tribes gather around the world, they do not lack academic legitimators.

The newest challenge to concern humanists for whom the "human" pun or ambiguity in "humanities" matters, comes from various biologists, formalists, and struc­turalists. At the borderline of "arts and sciences" are forms of ethology, sociobiology, psychological behavior­ism, and various projection theories, all of which are reductionist about what texts and traces disclose con­cerning the human drama. Each explains away im­pulses that were once seen as being distinctively human. Man is no longer the measure of all things; Protagoras is dethroned. And the "race" dignified by a God who "deigns to dwell with it" is not the subject of humanistic concern.

Anti-Humanism in the Humanities

This is not the place to detail the array of anti-hu­manisms in the humanities, but only to point to areas of concern. Thus defenders of semiotics as the newest of the humanistic disciplines see it having a "vast do­main: it moves in, imperialistically, on the territory of most disciplines of the humanities and social sciences" and replaces human intentionality with semiotic in­vestigation (Jonathan Culler, The Pursuit of Signs: Sem­iotics, Literature, Deconstruction). Historians like Michel Foucault, on the soil of the humanities, banners struc­turalist and semiotic thinking: "man is only a recent invention, a figure not yet two centuries old, a simple fold in our knowledge" which will soon disappear. Hu­manistic anthropology moves in a similar direction where structuralism prevails. Claude Levi-Strauss: "The goal of the human sciences is not to constitute man but to dissolve him." Foucault again, "The researches of psychoanalysis, of linguistics, of anthropology have 'decentered' the subject in relation to the laws of its desire, the forms of its language, the rules of its actions, or the play of its mythical and imaginative discourse."

These attacks on the human subject have gone far enough that literary critic Frank Lentricchia of the University of California at Irvine reports (in After the New Criticism):

Judging by their published responses, talks (and talk) at Modern Language Association conventions, and remarks that I have over­heard in the vicinity of the departmental coffee pot at various uni­versities, it appears that the traditionalist opposition [to these tend­encies in criticism, for example] has not been able to resist express­ing (not entirely without cause) condescension, smugness, disbelief, ironic cool, and downright anger. Predictably, its members have tended to characterize the enemy as barbarians bent on destroying all human values (with 'humane' a synonym in the traditionalist lexicon for all things civilized, all things good and to be cherished).

Frederick Olafson wrote his book as a counterattack to structuralism in literature and formalism in history as being "antihumanistic" and given over to scientism. He set out to find a "model" of the human that would resist such reduction:

…structuralism… has devaluated the role of the person and the person-based Ideological organization of the Lebenswelt in favor of an analysis of the semantic and syntactical properties of systems of discourse for which the person serves as hardly more than a con­tingent vehicle. ... It has also taken the form of a repudiation of the conceptions of agency and temporal continuity on which the older historical humanism had laid such emphasis; and a rhetoric of anti-humanism has developed which proclaims "man"—the homo humanus who is at once the denizen and the demiurge of the Lebens­welt—to be a conceptual artifact of the nineteenth century and scheduled for an early demise.

An interesting irony may be developing here. While Christian humanists have been fending off anti-human­ist "spiritualizers," "transcendentalists," and "activists" who allow no time or space for the humanities under the Christian sun, on another flank the traditional subject of humanistic inquiry, the human, is jeopardized in the central humanities. What to do?

One could call in an Inquisition and say that church-related colleges should make no room for behaviorists, sociobiologists, structuralists, semioticians, and the like. No, one could not. Better to use such colleges as forums for inquiry concerning these current antihumanistic paradigms. In an era of planned obsolescence in "post-structuralisms" and literary fads, it may be that people with a Christian view of history can buy time, can pro­vide a "this, too, will pass" perspective, or help find ways to distinguish wheat from chaff in the new move­ments of inquiry. Certainly one goes nowhere by evad­ing or shunning main currents of research in one's own time. Better to pass through them, as a Paul Ricoeur has done in the field of post-structural hermeneutics.

It is interesting that a recent book on structuralism and its age (Edith Kurzweil, The Age of Structuralism: Levi-Strauss to Foucault) devotes most of its pages on "hu­manism" to the chapter on Ricoeur—a French Protes­tant and thus from a tradition long seen as antihuman­istic. Ricoeur is finding ways to show again how texts, particularly narrative texts, are disclosive of human situations.

Standing between antihumanists in church and acad­emy, humanities humanists and their colleagues in sundry disciplines may be called to a new role. In the Lutheran setting, when they learn how extravagantly they can praise and pursue the creaturely subject from one vantage of the simul approach, theirs may be a new vocation. Instead of giving grudging assent or making weak apologies for the validity of das irdische Reich, the earthly kingdom, and of the human in the mundane order, it is this kind of Christian humanist who may find it necessary and possible to say the "highest" kinds of things about the reach of the humanities and the gran­deur of creation and the human subject.

 

Copyright © 2014
Valparaiso University
Privacy Policy
rose