Luthers political theology revisited The eucharistic restitution of the political animal

Among other things, the Reformation offered an occasion for the rediscovery of the political thrust of the practices and teaching of the primitive and patristic church. It is often overlooked that the emphasis on the universal priesthood of believers also entailed the rediscovery of their universal citizenship. This can be demonstrated in Luther's contribution, though this requires us to approach his political theology at an angle not usually taken. Instead of focusing directly on his doctrine of the Two Kingdoms or his account of the political use of the law, we may more fruitfully come at his political thought via the notion of vocation as associated with his doctrine of the three estates and his early eucharistic teaching (Wannenwetsch 2002).

The idea of political vocation had traditionally been reserved for rulers, not only in the legitimating sense of divine investiture, but also in the sense, typified by Charlemagne and Charles the Bold, that rulers understood their authority as a calling to mirror the merciful way of divine rule and to prepare the way for God's kingdom. But in Reformation thought, and especially in Luther's theology, political vocation was to embrace a greater circle than emperor and princes. His doctrine of three estates implied, strictly speaking, that every Christian has a vocation not only for religion, but also for economics and politics. For Luther, man is not only animal sociale as in Aquinas, but in fact a zoon politikon, a political animal, and this for theological reasons.

"Firstly, the Bible speaks of and teaches about the works of God without any doubt; these are divided into three hierarchies: economics, politics and church" (oeconomia, politia, ecclesia: WA TR 5, 218, 14ff.). In conceiving these estates as "fellow-creatures" of humankind ("concreatae sint", WA 40 III, 222, 35f.), Luther made clear that they were elementary and paradigmatic forms of social life appropriate to creaturely existence from the beginning.

Neither did Luther conceive of politia, oeconomia and ecclesia as "pure forms" existing prior to humankind, into which men and women must be squeezed to fit, nor as mere functions of cultural history subsequent to the creation of man, as arbitrary developments at man's disposal. Although not media salutis or means of salvation, for the Reformer, politia, oeconomia and ecclesia are "holy" in that they are instituted by God and sanctified through his word. They are like the elements as they are understood in sacramental theology: "natural material" created by God and entrusted to humankind, yet after the fall constantly in danger of being misread (Bayer 1998). Therefore the word has to fill them ("accedit verbum ad elementum . . .") and explicitly qualify them as "holy" (" . . . etfit sacramentum"). Thus, as Luther held out against various forms of religiously motivated "desertion" of those orders: Political and economic life is a divine vocation, a matter of faith that is exercised in love within these divinely assigned spheres of social life (Augsburg Confession 16: "in talibus ordinationibus exercere caritatem").

As his notion of vocation is rooted in the account of elementary forms of life as sanctifying powers in accordance with the logic of sacramental "elements," we should not be surprised to find Luther outlining a eucharistic political theology. In his treatise on the Eucharist from 1519, "Concerning the Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ and the Brotherhoods" (WA 2, 742-58), Luther makes clear that celebrating the Eucharist is nothing less than a political act in which the communicants actualize and suffer the citizenship that has been bestowed on them by baptism.

The significance or purpose of this sacrament is the fellowship of all saints . . . because Christ and all the saints are one holy body, just as the inhabitants of a city are one community and body, each citizen being a member of the other and a member of the entire city. All the saints, therefore, are members of Christ and of the Church, which is a spiritual and eternal city of God.

Luther proceeds to explain the inner logic of this citizenship by the means of a communication of goods:

This fellowship is of such a nature that all the spiritual possessions of Christ and his saints are imparted and communicated to him who receives this sacrament. Again, all his sufferings and sins are communicated to them . . . like in a city where every citizen shares with all the others the name, honour, freedom, trade, customs, usages, help, support, protection and the like, of that city, and on the other hand shares all the danger of fire and flood, enemies and death, losses, imposts and the like. (Luther 1943: 10f.)

In order to capture the political character of relationships among Christians as a sacramental body, Luther employs the Christological logic of the communi-catio idiomatum, which originally expresses the intimate relation of the two natures of Christ. In a similarly intimate way, political worship simultaneously relates the believers to God and to their fellow citizens.

Though interpreters have often missed this complexity of Luther's political theology, it is noteworthy that the one contemporary theologian who has given perhaps the most powerful stimulus for a rediscovery of the political nature of the church based in its practice of worship implicitly draws on Luther's sacramental theology.

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