Aquinas, Luther, and LoveA Review of Tuomo Mannermaa’s Two Kinds of Love (Fortress Press, 2010)

A Review of Tuomo Mannermaa’s Two Kinds of Love (Fortress Press, 2010)

by Eric DeMeuse

In Two Kinds of Love, Tuomo Mannermaa once again treads a new path in Luther studies which will likely bear many after him. Kirsi I. Stjerna’s lucid translation has finally brought this older work to English audiences, giving new life to the question so aptly posed decades ago by the Finnish Luther scholars: in what ways have we truncated Luther’s ‘world of faith’ on account of modern philosophical presuppositions? Even confessionally, has the reformer’s theology been narrowed to five ‘solas’ all-too-neatly extracted from his larger corpus?

For those unfamiliar, the ‘Finnish School’ arose some decades ago from ecumenical dialogue between the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and the Russian Orthodox Church. Spearheaded by Tuomo Mannerma, these scholars have become (in)famous for arguing, contra so-called ‘forensic justification’, that divinization is a central theme of Luther’s thought; that faith effects a ‘real-ontic’ union between Christ and the believer. The reason for the modern misinterpretation of Luther, the Finns posit, is the neo-Kantian epistemology with which previous scholars approached Luther’s corpus, thus failing to understand Luther within the medieval, realist epistemology he inherited. In Two Kinds of Love, Mannermaa has continued this work in an exciting way—with his systematic treatment of ‘two kinds of love’ in Luther, positing that this perspective of love ‘offers a most fruitful approach to the reformer’s entire theology’ (7).

In the first two chapters, Mannermaa suggests that the distinction Luther makes in the 1518 Heidelberg Disputation, namely, that God loves ‘what is not’ and humans love ‘what is’, is the clearest lens by which to understand Luther’s conception of union. For Luther, contra Thomas Aquinas, God’s love is a creative love which calls the beloved out of nothingness, whereas human love must always find a good and beautiful object to love. Consequently, sinners are beautiful because they are loved, they are not loved because they are beautiful. Even though Mannermaa clarifies that he is not necessarily presenting Thomas’ theology in itself, but rather how Luther supposedly understood Thomas, he goes on to cite not Luther’s treatment of Thomas, but Thomas himself in the Summa theologiae, further using phrases like ‘according to Thomas,’ which either confuses his subtle distinction or eliminates it altogether. In light of this, one wonders, then, how accurate or helpful his dichotomy between the two can be given Thomas’ very clear distinction in the first part of the Summa:

God loves everything that exists. Yet not as we love. Because since our will is not the cause of the goodness of things, but is moved by it as by its object, our love, whereby we will good to anything, is not the cause of its goodness; but conversely its goodness, whether real or imaginary, calls forth our love, by which we will that it should preserve the good it has, and receive besides the good it has not, and to this end we direct our actions; whereas the love of God infuses and creates goodness (I, q. 20, a. 2, respondeo).

Mannermaa shockingly does not reference this passage from the first part of the Summa, which, of course, necessarily grounds and informs all the passages Mannermaa does cite from the second part. This passage further raises the question, then, who Luther is actually critiquing when he argues so emphatically that God’s love creates, human love finds. Is Thomas merely a straw man for Mannermaa and, perhaps, Luther? Mannermaa gives no attention to Luther’s historical reception of Thomas—what and how much Thomas he may have read—presumably because this is less relevant to his systematic argument. Nevertheless, it is important in order to understand properly whether Luther’s ‘world of faith’ is something old or new; and if old, then who is the real antagonist for Luther at Heidelberg?

In chapter three, Mannermaa develops Luther’s distinction between a ‘theology of glory’ and a ‘theology of the cross.’ Mannermaa helpfully points out the rich philosophical concepts embedded in Luther’s theologia crucis, specifically the Aristotelian ‘causes,’ and even more specifically formal and material causes. This framework, which stretches from Luther’s earliest Dictata on the Psalms to his final Enarrationes in Genesin, is an area rightfully highlighted by Mannermaa, and one much in need of further development. According to Luther, divine love both removes and gives form to human materia, a movement the metaphysician fails to recognize. Instead, ‘the form of the God of the metaphysicians is a direct extension of the form already existing in human beings, in accordance of which God does not need to remove the previous, old form of the subject matter when giving them a new form’ (41). Here, then, may be the real difference between Thomas and Luther—whereas for Thomas grace perfects nature, Mannermaa suggests that for Luther, grace must first reduce nature to nothing, then create anew (justification as a creatio ex nihilo).

Even this distinction, however, proves tenuous given Mannermaa’s analysis in the fourth chapter, where he engages the tension he sees in Augustine’s classic distinction between uti and frui, or use and enjoyment (see De doctrina christiana). Mannermaa notes the application of this distinction in the late medieval work of Thomas ä Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, wherein the love of God and the abandonment of the world belong inseparably together (48). Here, Mannermaa convincingly emphasizes Luther’s lifting up of creation—and especially of sexuality and what has come to be called the ‘lay vocation’—as something good which God creates and loves ex nihilo. This raises an interesting question, however, about Luther’s apparent divergence from the medieval tradition—which Mannermaa suggests here—since Thomas and others also affirm the goodness of creation ex nihilo, and it is because of this goodness ex nihilo that grace can perfect nature.

So if Mannermaa, rightly I think, locates a great emphasis in Luther on the goodness of ‘matter’, and if this emphasis is due to Luther’s conception of creation as good ex nihilo, then perhaps this is a place ripe for sympathetic engagement, rather than dichotomy, with the medieval scholastics; perhaps such conceptions of creation open the door for an understanding of ‘grace perfecting nature’ even in the theology of Luther. Perhaps. Regardless, when Mannermaa writes that ‘Luther may have been the first theologian to link God and the material world, God and “matter,” so closely to each other’ (52), one is forced to both acknowledge and qualify parts of this statement. On the one hand, Luther does certainly emphasize the goodness of, say, sexuality, in a new and robust way; but he simultaneously denies that, for example, the grace of baptism passes in and through the water, which many of his medieval forbears acknowledge (see WA 42:170; LW 1:227). Thus there seems to be an ebb and flow in Luther’s theology of creation when compared to that of ‘the scholastics’ (who likewise exhibit an ebb and flow of their own), and one that cannot be reduced to the neat framework of ‘two kinds of love.’

In chapter five, Mannermaa highlights Luther’s theology of the Word and its relationship to human reason. Here he lucidly outlines many classic themes of Luther’s theology within the framework of the two loves. Metaphysics and reason cannot reach God because they are led by human love, and thus turn toward only ‘what is’ and what is beautiful and good, passing by the incarnate and crucified Word (59). To embrace the incarnate Word requires faith—a knowledge that sees nothing—since only in this nothingness we receive the form of grace: ‘Only that which has no form can receive form’ (61).

Similarly in chapter six, Mannermaa’s suggested framework illuminates Luther’s theology of neighborly love. In this chapter especially, Mannermaa extracts a number of stunning passages from Luther’s massive corpus ripe for further study. Perhaps most stirring is his demonstration of Luther’s understanding of the body of Christ, wherein the reformer emphasizes that the ‘Christian life in its entirety is about bearing the load of other people’s sins’ and, in a Eucharistic turn of phrase, ‘You eat my sin with your godliness, just as Christ has done to us; and if you eat me, then I, in turn, eat you’ (73). Highlighting passages such as these, Mannermaa provides a rich foray into Luther’s ecclesiology.

In a final chapter, Mannermaa offers a clear synopsis of Luther’s theology of faith and love, suggesting that ‘Pure love for God is not separate from faith… faith is part of the actual definition of pure love for God’ (81). How do Christians love God in this way? ‘When Christ lives in Christians through faith, love begins to “live” in them as well’ (79) such that ‘Christians also love God with a pure love that does not seek its own’ (80). For Luther, as Mannermaa and the Finns have so frequently reminded, Christ himself is present in faith. Here, however, Mannermaa notes an important implication of this teaching: that divine love is also present in faith. Luther’s theology of the cross, the Word, and the Church is thus bound up in his theology of love; his theology of union.

In Two Kinds of Love, Mannermaa’s emphasis on the unity of Christ and the Christian, and therein the unity of faith and love, serves to broaden that picture of Luther so often truncated by ulterior concerns, and for this we are much indebted. Yet I think Mannermaa could have faithfully broadened this picture even further by resisting the temptation to paint Luther in such stark contrast to his medieval predecessors. I do not suggest that there aren’t differences between, say, Luther and Thomas. Rather, I am suggesting that the facile dichotomies Mannermaa suggests tend to obscure notions fertile for further, sympathetic comparison: ideas of creatio ex nihilo, of nature and grace, and of the love of God and neighbor to name just three. Not only that, but they also therefore obscure deeper, more substantial differences between such thinkers, providing a stumbling block for the sort of ecumenical dialogue which Mannermaa so ardently desired in his lifetime. These critiques notwithstanding, Mannermaa’s book has certainly offered a new perspective on old and ingrained conceptions of Luther, once again showing, as has been done in Mannermaa’s other works, ‘why Luther is so fascinating.’


[Postscript: At the end of chapter 2, Mannermaa suggests that ‘In the theology criticized by Luther, it was taken for granted that human beings can comprehend the essence of God on the basis of created reality.’ The term ‘comprehend’ here is a curious one, as Thomas (with, I think it is safe to say, nearly the entire Christian tradition) explicitly asserts that ‘It is impossible for any created intellect to comprehend God’ (ST I, q. 12, a. 7, respondeo). It also seems very unlikely that Luther, despite his strong critiques of scholastic theology, would think that any of them purported that they could actually comprehend God. I am unsure, however, if this is a translation error by Stjerna, or if the meaning conveyed by ‘comprehend’ is intended by Mannermaa, and my own ineptitude in Finnish renders me unable to answer this question].


Eric J. DeMeuse is a PhD student in theology at Marquette University.

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