God and Justice: The Word and the Mask

[1] The so-called “Two Kingdoms Doctrine” is the label under which a particular framing of the relationship between God’s grace and everyday life in the midst of its institutional realities has been presented in 20th century Lutheranism. For over half a century it has been the way Lutherans framed the relationship between justification and justice. How did this “doctrine” come to be regarded as a central piece in Lutheran theology when it has such a remarkably short history as a doctrine and has for the last decades even faded into oblivion?1 The reasons for this phenomenon are closely connected to a particular modern (Western) agenda fraught with the crisis of legitimacy of modern institutions. 2

[2] And here we can be even more specific and locate the discussions within the German context from the end of the Weimar Republic through the post-World War II reconstruction. At the core of it lies, obviously, the experience with Nazism. Regardless of the answer, the question remains the same: In the face of the increasing awareness of the erratic and potentially volatile character of modern institutions how is the Christian faith to relate to them? The question has been one of legitimacy (Under which conditions can institutions claim the right to exercise dominion?).3 And many times the Lutheran answer to the legitimacy question was to grant these institutions autonomy vis-à-vis theological demands.4 If the advantage of such a separation of competences is to avoid theocratic tendencies, exclusivism, and other “isms,” it has also often proven disastrous under the particular conditions in which it was historically applied.5 Further, its recent demise (who still discusses this doctrine today?6) is certainly linked with a thesis that dominated the sociology of religion through most of the 20th century, now proven wrong, i.e., that modernization leads inevitably to secularization.7 The clear distinction between the spiritual and the earthly was thought to be the articulation of a theology for a secularized world in which religion and everyday life could and should be kept apart.

[3] My task here is to address the question of justification and justice in the context of the “two kingdoms doctrine,” and draw implications for its relevance in contemporary theology and ethics. I shall address the following questions. How and where did this doctrine emerge and what are its problems? Can these problems be traced back to Luther himself? Is there something that ought to be retained from this “doctrine”? And, finally, can it be relevant for a global multicultural reality?

The Genealogy of a “Doctrine”
[4] The two kingdoms “doctrine” is a 20th century creation. As it is used in contemporary discussions, this concept was coined by Franz Lau in an essay published in 1933.8 The main thrust of the argument is the distinction between the spiritual reality (spiritualia) and the earthly institutions, as the carnalia are defined. The carnalia are for Lau expressions of the lex naturae, but conditioned to change according to the jus positivum, the positive law that adjusts itself to changing circumstances: tempora mutant leges et mores. (“Time changes laws and customs.”)9 Lau called this particular way of framing the issue in theological terms the Two Kingdoms Doctrine (Zweireichelehre).

[5] Lau’s essay is an attempt to address and overcome the dispute within the Luther Renaissance early in the 20th century between Ernst Troeltsch and Karl Holl on the question of Luther’s understanding of the relationship between the divine law and natural law, and how they are institutionally embodied or positively expressed. For Troeltsch, the “early Protestantism” of Luther or Calvin was “simply a modification of Catholicism, in which the catholic formulation of the problems was retained, while a different answer was given.”10 Early Protestantism, argues Troeltsch, “exactly like the Middle Ages, everywhere subsumes under itself the Lex Naturae as being originally identical with the law of God.”11

[6] Accepting Troeltsch’s dating of the beginning of modernity to the end of the 17th century, Holl, however, sees in Luther the opposite of what Troeltsch has found. For Holl, “Luther did not appeal to a natural law.”12 Although using terminology akin to natural law arguments, which admittedly causes some confusion, Luther is seen by Holl as a forerunner of Hume, setting apart the fundamental connection between is and ought that sustained the medieval doctrine of the natural law along the lines of Aristotelian entelechy.13 If Troeltsch’s Luther is a “restored” relic of medieval Catholicism, Holl’s is the beacon of modernity. Here the problem became one of adjustment or non-adjustment to the earthly stations (Stände) of the state, family, economy, and the church, as they were defined in medieval times, and by Luther himself. If Troeltsch saw in Luther a fundamental adjustment, Holl sustained a theonomic principle in Luther’s understanding of Christian morality, for which the norm was lex charitatis and not lex naturae.

[7] However, in spite of the theonomic orientation of Holl’s exposition of Luther, the way in which he insisted on Luther’s break with the natural law tradition and on the separation between is and ought brought the suspicion that for Holl Luther would be defending the autonomy of institutions in the tradition of Kant’s definition of the private use of reason by which one is compelled to accept their internal rules.14 After that the Lutheran interpretation of the theory of law accepted the notion of divine ordinances but rejected an abstract normative concept of natural law.15 So the question became one of relating freedom with legal obligation in the sense of the “first use of the law.”

[8] Lau’s two kingdoms was in fact an attempt at rescuing the uniqueness of the Reformation (over against Medieval Catholicism) without succumbing to modern secular autonomy (Eigengesetzlichkeit). But if the solution seems so simple, how do we get to what a quarter of a century later was defined by Johannes Heckel as a maze. For Heckel, “Luther’s Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms, as it has been articulated in protestant theology [read: German], is like an ingenuous labyrinth whose creator lost its plan in the middle of the work, so that [one] cannot find the way out.”16

The Design of the Labyrinth
[9] Fifty years of intense debate followed this initial argument. But the parameters of the debate would remain basically the same and would become, particularly in the 70s, the litmus test for diagnosing a Lutheran’s stance on any social issue. Flanked by the classical Reformed tradition of a “third use of the law,” on the one side, and the Roman Catholic natural law tradition on the other, the two kingdoms became the Lutheran identifying badge. Yet within its own ranks the divisions were not less relevant. On the one side there were the Barthians in the Lutheran camp calling for the primacy of the lordship of Christ in dealing with questions of justification and justice. On the other side we find an array of liberally inspired theologies proclaiming a hands-off approach to Christian claims over what were regarded as autonomous spheres of public life. The issue was not settled; it was evaded by exhaustion. Now, after two decades of only faint murmurs about it being heard, it might be time to revisit the issue in a different light, within different contexts and with a new agenda. And the time is ripe, for it was when the debate ebbed that the theological scenario worldwide changed. It was at the eclipse of the two kingdoms debate that voices from around the world started to impose their presence in the theological scenario. The traditional dissemination centers of theology have since become aware of their own location as a methodological and theological issue. Christianity itself in its western, northern manifestation has become aware of its particularity in a multi-religious world. It is indeed interesting to probe under these different circumstances how one would revisit the quandary plaguing the two kingdoms.

[10] The problem stems from two different theological models that are unevenly blended in Luther’s own theology over some insightful musings that neither he nor the Confessions framed as a doctrine as such. Luther was working simultaneously with two theological blueprints of very different origins; two informing theories, as the philosophers of science would call them. It was almost like trying to get orange juice by squeezing together apples and bananas. The first is related to Luther’s understanding of the relationship between law and gospel. The gospel is the end of the law in the sense of bringing the power of law to termination. The second was predicated upon the way earthly institutions (carnalia) were connected to natural (and divine) law. The gospel is seen here as restoring the law to its fullness, which is the other sense of “end” or telos. So, out of these two sets of issues, efforts at a systematic reconstruction of Luther’s understanding of the relationship between justification and justice have been attempted. In general, these two models are distinguished by a somehow consistent use of terms (at least in German): “kingdoms” (Reiche) and “governances,” or “regiments” (Regimente).17 The first model, when “kingdom” is the dominant category, goes back to the Augustinian tradition of the two cities (civitates), while the second, when “governance” language is more often used, retrieves the main elements of the medieval theory of two powers (potestates), or swords (gladii).

[11] Depending on how Luther is read, emphasis on one or the other of these informing theories is going to be the criteria for the interpretation of the “two kingdoms doctrine.” Some will lean toward one end of the spectrum and could be characterized as having an “Augustinian” reading of Luther, with emphasis on the negative attitude toward institutions.18 On the other end of the spectrum are the more conventional interpretations that see the “Two Kingdoms” mainly along the lines of the medieval understanding of the two swords which emphasizes Luther’s positive appreciation of the human institutions as founded in an original divine ordinance.19 While the “Augustinian” emphasis sees Luther’s concern in the efficacy of the gospel in instituting the law of Christ, in conforming reality to the lordship of Christ, the medieval reading sets the emphasis on the conforming of Christian life to the orders of creation. While the former has a Christological emphasis, the latter has a social and institutional agenda. But both express the same concern with social ethical criteria that shape institutional commitments in politics, economy, the church, the family, etc. Both are concerned in defining how justification is related to justice.

[12] Luther’s methodological eclecticism would then be too easily dismissed as a theoretical blunder. There is more to it than apparent inconsistencies. By combining the two traditions Luther was attempting to ensure two things simultaneously: first, to affirm the radical crisis that the Word represents in the midst of the world and its régimes;20 second, to uphold also that this world with its ordinances, its institutions and régimes is still part of God’s good creation, however much sin has corrupted them.21 What once was an exception (the Fall) is now disguised as the rule and has spread itself from humans through their institutions to nature itself.22

[13] So here we are in the midst of the maze or labyrinth that Heckel, in 1959, diagnosed: Luther tried to bring together apparently incompatible theological constructions, and ended up in a fossilized idea of the “orders” of creation, incompatible with modern day institutions, or in a system incapable of unfolding a social ethics out of its own premises, surrendering ethics and morality to autonomous spheres in secular existence.

The Mask and the Word
[14] A careful examination of this problem and an insightful Ariadne’s thread out of the labyrinth is offered by an unfortunately little known work by Gustav Törnvall.23 Breaking with the dominant institutional approach to the 2KD, Törnvall appeals to a functional interpretation of Luther’s categories that refer to what is being discussed under “two kingdoms.” Showing Luther’s inconsistent use of terms to refer to these realities,24 he argues that the institutional and substantive language that is used only reveals Luther’s concern in being concrete in his imagery.25 The two governances are fundamentally expressions of the Creator/creature theme in God’s self-revelation, through the visible world as masks of God (larvae dei) and the invisible Word of God (verbum dei). The result, for Törnvall, is that the two kingdoms are two functional aspects of God’s revelation: a kingdom of listening (Hörreich) and a kingdom of seeing (Sehereich). They are, for the most, perspectives of the single act of God’s creation and revelation, and only derivatively institutional realities.26 The question then is how to relate the visible with the audible in the midst of existence and recognize them in their relationship.

[15] Hence, the basic distinction that is operative in Luther, at least since the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518,27 is the one between the visible and the Word, between creature and Creator, the outer and the inner, between what the senses register and reason draws together, and what grace reveals to the spirit. Between these sets of categories there is a paradoxical and asymmetric relationship with which Luther operates to formulate his understanding of God’s revelation.

[16] It is “paradoxical” in the sense that one (the visible) points to the other (the Word), but is in it simultaneously negated. This implies the rejection of analogical reasoning while keeping the appearance of analogical correspondence, i.e., Luther’s mode of argumentation entails elements of irony, the breakdown of analogical correspondence. It is impossible to read Luther without constantly being faced with ironic moves that break up continuities and systems of correspondence. It is “asymmetrical” because what appears to be the case in one set of categories that belong to one of the régimes (spiritual or earthly) is not simply reflected in the other, but is shaped in it in unexpected ways. Luther’s use of two different theoretical models to articulate this issue of relating the Word to the mask and vice-versa is what allows him to keep the ironic tone alive and not succumb to analogy and yet keep the search for correspondences. His theology is neither synthesis nor a diastasis, yet simultaneously both. What the mask reveals is the very Word hidden in its cracks, to keep Luther’s metaphor.

The Epistemological Turn
[17] Between the mask and the Word, between what the eyes see and the spirit knows lies language; a strenuous search to convey a theological view for which there is not a grammar available. How would this help us to frame the question of God and justice?

[18] My own struggle over a text of Luther certainly does not merit comparison to the dramatic dimension of Luther’s own anguish over a text of Paul. My struggle with Luther notwithstanding was to understand these words in his commentary on Isaiah 53: “Behold the new definition of justice (definitionen novam iusticiae): justice is the knowledge of Christ (iusticia est cognicio Christi).”28 The insight to understand this came when I once read the Heidelberg disputation backwards, from the “philosophical” theses at the end to the theological ones at the beginning. Such a reading allows one to understand, as Gustav Aulén and others had already noticed, Luther’s struggle with language in order to bring to light something new, some good news, while being a child of his old world.

[19] His attack on philosophy (with its “reason”), the economic system (with its “markets”), jurisprudence (with its “justice”), the territorial states (with their “politics”), and the Church (with its “polities”) was not to remodel them. The Reformation was not about “reforming,” as when one restores a building or remodels a house, but it is about a new formation. He was well aware of the inefficacy in interweaving the new with the old (Luke 5:36). He wanted to find or even provoke a crack, a crisis, in the systemic arrangements that controlled, regulated, ordered and regulated those institutions that Luther took as basic: ecclesia, oeconomia, and politia. The new definition is not only redressing the old, mending the fractures; it is something new, a gift. The new definition cracks the surfaces, opens up the wounds behind the mask and reveals the crisis. The new definition sets itself against the old, which Luther explicitly mentions in the same text, the proverbial suum cuique (“to each what to each is due”). The classical definition presumed a correspondence between the order of things (the Stände) and God’s mercy toward us. The cognicio Christi is precisely this new knowledge, this new way of knowing that erupts in the very cracks of the systems of this world. The genitive in cognicio Christi means to know Christ, but it also means to have the cognicio of Christ, to have Christ’s knowledge and Christ’s mind; it is a double genitive. And this is a different knowledge of the order of things in the régime of this world.

[20] It is in the same context of the commentary on Isaiah 53 that Luther talks about how this is accomplished: it is by a “wonderful exchange” (mirabilem mutacionem). The danger in the interpretation of this is to make the “wonder” of this exchange into a readjustment of relations according to a demand of satisfaction that would reinstate the integrity of the old rule. For Luther this would be sophistry: “The sophists say that righteousness is the fixed will to render to each his own.”29

[21] Now the justice of Christ has then two interrelated aspects to it. It entails the grace of God toward us in the midst of our condition. But it does so not by supplementing or even mending the systems in the world but by disclosing the fissures in the systems of knowledge and power. The new justice, the knowledge of Christ is indeed foolishness. The power of Christ is indeed weakness. Paul’s antitheses convey the search for a language that breaks through and breaks forth. Hence, it is not by chance the first “Philosophical” Thesis of the Heidelberg Disputation says: “The one who wishes to philosophize by using Aristotle without danger to his soul must first become thoroughly foolish in Christ.” (“Aristotle” functions here as a metonymy for the standards of valid rationality, for the accepted régime of truth.)

[22] While on our pursuit to be made just, to have our due share and pay our dues, and yet not achieving it, the justice of Christ breaks in and fragments the systems of the world, its philosophy, ecclesial structures, legal rules, in short, its economies and régimes. The possibilities of justice in the midst of this world manifest themselves precisely where these economies and régimes break down. However, this is still a negative if not apocalyptic definition of justice. We need to know more than the power of fragmentation, and indeed also that, which brings about justice in the midst of everyday life in and in spite of the powers and the knowledges (epistemes) that rule the world.

[23] The old quest for the Lutheran relation between justification and justice has been a search for a doctrine, when the very point is that ironically it is a “doctrine” that brings doctrines itself into question. Addressed often from a moral theological standpoint (What ought we to do in regard to our faith?), or then from an ontological standpoint (How is the creature related to the creator?), what is overlooked in the discussion is the epistemological question about the conditions of possibility for stating the problem. Luther’s insight brings to question the relation between revelation and the régimes that control knowledge, establish rationalities, norm the market, and rule the church (the visible church is an earthly regime, just like the State or “economy”). It is my conviction that this reading of the two kingdoms suggests that only when we understand that it is in the fissures and ruptures in the order of things can a new justice be shaped and the knowledge of Christ emerge. And this is a renewed, a newly formed justice, not a particular Christian justice, a Christian alternative to the world, but the alternative of Christ in the midst of the world.30

[24] If there was a failure in the interpretations of Luther’s thought on justification and justice, it was not to recognize that when and where the two meet we are in an eschatological dimension.31 The irruption of justice comes from the ends of this world, exactly where another world comes about. The Kingdom of God, which Paul translated as justification, comes to us exactly at that point where our work, reasons, and régimes end or break down. There, where there is nothing, God creates. And this creation is also the introduction of another knowledge that comes through another way of reasoning, which Paul called the apokalypsis Iesou Christou.32

Justice as Difference
[25] In its attempt to apologize for the rightfulness of its order, the system hides its cracks. In the sermon on the “Two Kinds of Righteousness” (1518 or 1519),33 Luther claims the priority of the alien justice of Christ over our justice that is also God’s doing and can only be accomplished in divine/human cooperation. Later in the Bondage of the Will, the Reformer had worked with this distinction between the realm in which God works through grace alone, and the other where we cooperate with God (cooperatio homine cum Deo).34 However, there is a necessary logical priority between the first realm and the second. Luther’s attack on works, as much as on reason, power and knowledge (as we would put it today), when framed in this context should be able to dispel the recurring suspicion of a Lutheran inherent quietism. And this is so because the earthly régimes (with their second form of justice according to Luther’s sermon on the “Two Kinds of Righteousness”) in which we are called to cooperate with God are a logical result of God’s work in Christ. This is what conforms us to the law of love (lex charitatis) and in no way offers us an alternative realm.35 In the regimes of power and knowledge, of work and reason that are in place in this world, Luther’s spiritual reality is a difference, a counter-point in the order of things; it is another régime, a different régime. In his late (probably 1541?) sermon on Psalm 1 he phrased it like this: “When I say, ‘Heaven’ of the heaven of the Lord, I do not mean heaven as a site and a place in distinction to the Earth, I mean by it a régime.”36 Such a régime functions as an antithetical factor in the midst of the régimes that our reason and work erect. Luther’s understanding of revelation is indeed what in Greek apocalypse means. Luther’s thinking on the two kingdoms motif is an invitation to recognize otherness, the difference that emerges in the midst of our platitudes, as the locus for the insurgence of justice.

[26] What such a reading of the two kingdoms allows for is a theological practice in which the voices and knowledge of those who are subjugated will come to the fore. If justification is the Word embodying forgiveness, this forgiveness will produce words; it will authenticate the self-expression of those who have been defiled under the weight of sin and oppression. Justification is the word of the Author who authorizes. It authorizes the emergence of other voices dissonant from the prevailing régimes of truth. Justice begins here; it begins not by fulfilling the requirements of the prevailing régime, but by setting other conditions, other parameters, which indeed sound very foolish or mad.

[27] Instead of rejecting the two kingdoms in its classical 20th century formulation as a useless relic of a superseded social and theological problem in the West, we can read it as a frail articulation on the part of Luther himself out of the conviction that if justice is to be done it will have to come from the other, and every other is ultimately irreducibly the other.

[28] By this new definition, justice not only addresses the marginalized, heals the wounds of our world, and cares for the poor, but above all listens to their plea (the Pentecost is after all also a miracle of listening), and sees the faces of the excluded ones. This is even more relevant because it reveals the fissures in the mask of God in the midst of the crude realities of this world that the régimes constantly try to hide, norm, and regulate.

[29] In sermon XLV of the “Homilies on the Acts”37 Chrysostom illustrates what I am trying to explain here. The church, recognizes Chrysostom, has plenty of “money, and revenues.” This was after all the early Constantinian church. Institutions for the care of the poor and strangers were created called Xenodoxeion. With his thundering golden mouth Chrysostom launches an attack on them for they were being used by the faithful to avoid the face of the poor themselves. The incisiveness of Chrysostom’s argument reveals someone who was ashamed of his fellow Christians and knew where justice starts; it begins by allowing the other, the poor, the stranger to emerge, to have a voice, a face. The two kingdoms is not a doctrine. It is an epistemic principle that teaches the faithful that to know Christ is to know justice. And where justice cries out, there we find Christ.

End Notes

1 “For the last two or three decades, the &=javascript:goNote(39doctrine of the two kingdoms’ has been one of the most debated aspects of Luther’s theology.” Heinrich Bornkamm, Luther’s Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms in the Context of his Theology, trans. Karl H, Herz (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1966), p. 1. Gerhard Ebeling sees in “the doctrine of the two kingdoms … the fundamental problem of theology” being expressed (Word and Faith [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1963], p. 389).

2 See Jürgen Habermas, Communication and the Evolution of Society (Boston: Beacon, 1979), pp. 178-205.

3 It is important to notice that the question behind it was not one of authenticity (What are the practices by which subjects truly constitute themselves–authenteo?).

4 To focus its criticism on this point of the Lutheran heritage is the great merit of the Barmen Declaration.

5 This was the case not only in Germany but also in South Africa under Apartheid and in Chile under Pinochet, and some East European countries under Soviet régime or influence. See Ulrich Duchrow, ed., Zwei Reiche und Regimente: Ideologie oder evangelische Orientierung? (Gütersloh: Gerd Mohr, 1977).

6 To my knowledge the exception for over two decades is Silfredo Dalferth, Die Zweireichelehere Martin Luthers im Dialog mit der Befreiungstheologie (Frankfurt/New York: Peter Lang, 1996. But see also Adolfo Gonzalez Montes, Religión y nacionalismo: la doctrina luterana de los dos reinos como teologia civil (Salamanca: Universidad Pontificia, 1982). I thank John Stumme for calling my attention to this work.

7 Peter Berger, “Protestantism and the Quest for Certainty,” Christian Century (August 26-September 2, 1998): 782

8 Franz Lau, “Äusserliche Ordnung” und “weltlich Ding” in Luthers Theologie (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1933). Others would date it to the publications of Harald Diem seminal work on Luther&=javascript:goNote(39s hermeneutics “Luthers Lehre von den zwei Reichen untersucht von seinen Verständnis der Bergpredigt aus: ein Beitrag zum problem ‘Gesetz und Evangelium’,” in G. Sauter, ed., Zur Zwei-Reiche-Lehre Luthers (München: Chr. Kaiser, 1973). See Martin Honecker, Soziallehre zwischen Tradition und Vernunft (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr: 1977), p. 176.

9 Lau, “Äusserliche Ordnung,”p. 38.

10 Ernst Troeltsch, Protestantism and Progress (Boston: Beacon, 1958), p. 59.

11 Ibid., p. 45.

12 Karl Holl, The Reconstruction of Morality (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1979), p. 103.

13 Ibid., pp. 145-147.

14 See Immanuel Kant, On History, ed. by Lewis W. Beck (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1963) pp. 5-7 (on the essay “What is Enlightenment?”).

15 See Wolfhart Pannenberg, Ethics (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1981), pp. 26f.

16 Heckel, “Im Irrgarten der Zwei-Reiche-Lehre: Zwei Abhandlungen zum Reichs- und Kirchenbegriff Martin Luthers,” Theologische Existenz heute 55 (1959): 317

17 Even these terms are not consistently used by Luther. While in German Reiche and Regimente suggest a clear distinction between conceptual schemes, in Latin the term used for both is only regnum. For the best description of the formation of these two traditions, see Ulrich Duchrow, Christenheit und Weltverantwortung: Traditionsgeschichte und systematische Struktur der Zweireichelehre (Stuttgart: Ernst Klett, 1970), particularly his main thesis on pp. 440.

18 See, e.g,, Ernst Wolf, “Die &=javascript:goNote(39lutherische Lehre’ von den zwei Reichen in der gegenwärtigen Forschung,” Zeitschrift für evangelisches Kirchenrecht 6(1958/59): 255-273; Hermann Diem, “Luthers Predigt in den zwei Reichen,” in: Gerhard Sauter, ed. Zur Zwei-Reiche-Lehre Luthers (München: Chr. Kaiser, 1973), pp. 178-214; Heinrich Bornkamm, Luther’s Doctrine.

19 See, e.g., Werner Elert, Morphologie des Luthertums, 2nd volume (München: Beck, 1931); Paul Althaus, “Luthers Lehre von den beiden Reichen in Feuer der Kritik,” Luther-Jahrbuch 24(1957): 40-68; and Lau, “Äusserliche Ordnung.”

20 For reasons that later will become clear I find the notion of “régime” the best way to translate either Regiment or Reich, avoiding some of the connotations that “regiment,” “governance,” or “kingdom” carry. “Régime” is a regulated social system or pattern that includes institutions and also hegemonic patterns of thought. It combines power and knowledge.

21 In the case of the State (politia), unlike the other orders (ecclesia and oeconomia) some would defend the prelapsarian origin of the State. See Lau, “Äusserliche Ordnung,” pp. 13-14; Werner Elert, Morphologie des Luthertums, 2 vols (München: Beck, 1931) 2: 49-65; and, in a unique interpretation that will be discussed later, Gustav Törnvall, Geistliches und weltliches Regiment bei Luther (München: Chr. Kaiser, 1947), p. 38. Others almost in a Hobbesean manner would argue that it was an outer medicine (externum remedium) instituted as a result of the fall. See Diem, Luthers Lehre, pp. 56-59, 70-72; Heckel, “Im Irrgarten der Zwei-Reiche-Lehre: Zwei Abhandlungen zum Reichs- und Kirchenbegriff Martin Luthers,” Theologische Existenz heute 55 (1959): 343-45; Bornkamm, Luther&=javascript:goNote(39s Doctrine, pp. 34-35.

22 The metaphor of the mask (larva) Luther takes from the medieval carnival in which the mask was both a disguise but also an allegory to unveil the real situation that in fact was more masked than the mask itself. Unlike Luther and his contemporaries we suppose a ditch between nature and institution. For Luther the distinction could be compared to the one between the buffoon and the costumes he wears, while the modern ditch corresponds to the crisis in natural law thinking since Hume. But for Luther such a distinction can no longer be taken for granted, even if Holl is right that he did not rely on the medieval concept of natural law. Nature and culture are both “institutions”, and only as such are they also creation. For Luther the being of the world as creation is nature and institution, institution and nature, at the same time. (See Oswald Bayer, “Nature and Institution: Luther’s Doctrine of the Three Orders,” Lutheran Quarterly 12/2 [Summer 1998]: 125-159) To put it still in other terms, nature was, for Luther, artificial, while the reverse then is also true: institutions are natural. The modern understanding of institutions, in the definition of Anthony Giddens, “create settings of action ordered in terms of modernity&=javascript:goNote(39s own dynamics and severed from ‘external criteria’… day-to-day social life tends to become separated from ‘original’ nature” (Modernity and Self-Identity [Standford: Standford University Press, 1991], p. 8). Under these conditions the main question plaguing Lutheran social ethics has been the one of relating God’s justifying word, cast in a forensic sense, to a reality of quotidian existence in which the juridical sense for even grasping the passive character that this justification implies is missing.

23 Törnvall, Geistliches und weltliches Regiment.

24 Ibid., pp. 94-95. He quotes 38 different couples of terms to frame the distinction.

25 Ibid., p. 38.

26 Cf. p. 17 where he quotes Luther: “Quando dico: Celum celi domini, non intelligo celum situ et loco distictum a terra, sed ich meine das regiment mit.” WA 49: 224, 30. In his interpretation of the law in Luther, Gerhard Forde follows a similar insight: “&=javascript:goNote(39law’ is to be taken in a functional rather than a material sense.” see his locus on “Christian Life” in Carl Braaten and Robert Jenson, eds. Christian Dogmatics, 2 vols (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984) 2: 400.

27 WA 1:353-74; LW 31:39-70.

28 This is my translation from WA 31/2:439,19-20. The standard English translation (LW 17:230) reads: “You must therefore note this new definition of righteousness. Righteousness is the knowledge of Christ.”

29 LW 17:229; Iusticia est constans voluntas reddenti cuique, quod suum est. WA 31/2 :439, 5-6.

30 The “third use of the law” is excluded. Although Luther can say that we can create new decalogues (WA 39/1:47; LW 34:112-113) it is always within the context of the inherited tradition. Thus he writes from Coburg in 1530 a letter to Justus Jonas saying …et coepi judicare, decalogum esse dialeticam evangelii, et evangelium rhetoricam decalogi, habereque Christum omnia Mosi, sed Mosem non momnia Christi. (“…to begin with a distinction, the Decalogue is the logic of the Gospel, the Gospel the rhetoric of the Decalogue, so that we have in Christ all of Moses, but in Moses not all of Christ.”)

31 To stress Luther’s eschatological thinking in connection with the 2KD is the merit of Ulrich Duchrow’s comprehensive study, Christenheit und Weltverantwortung.

32 See Alexandra Brown, The Cross and Human Transformation (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995) and the insightful epistemological study on the theology of the Cross by Mary Solberg, Compelling Knowledge (New York: SUNY,1 1997)

33 WA 2:145-152; LW 31:297-306.

34 WA 18:754, 1-16; LW 33:242-243.

35 Here lies a further problem with the forensic understanding of justification. The first was to conform the logic of grace to juridical models. The additional problem is that it does not link causally and positively the work of redemption with human emancipation. At most it does it negatively by the fact the forgiven person is set free to act.

36 Quando dico: Celum celi domini, non intelligo celum situ et loco distincto terra, sed ich meine das regiment mit. WA 49:224,30. A functional interpretation of the so-called “Two Kingdoms Doctrine” has been offered by Gustav Törnvall, Geistliches und weltliches Regiment bei Luther (München: Chr. Kaiser, 1947).

37 The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Vol. 11, Philip Schaff, ed. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995), pp. 272-277.

Vítor Westhelle

Vítor Westhelle is Professor of Systematic Theology at the Lutheran School of Thgeology at Chicago and holder of the Chair for Luther Research at Faculdades EST, Brazil.