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Realism, Nominalism and Martin Luther

Posted on 12/22/2011 at 05:48:49  |  Reply  |  Report Abuse |  0
A while back while reading God's Philosophers, by James Hannam; I came across a few terms that sparked my interest. Realism and Nominalism. It seems like there were some interesting arguments about these concepts in the middle ages and so I was trying to understand exactly what they meant. While doing some further reading, I found that Luther, was probably influenced by the nominalist position, while the church held to a more realist view of things. This of course got me thinking that Luthers concept of faith, being based on the nominalist postition, may explain a lot about the controversy known as the reformation.

Now, my take is that the difference between the reformation and the church wasn't so much about faith and works, but about a different understanding of what is meant by faith between them. In other words, Luther didn't present a new term but a new idea. Faith, was just as essential to the church as it was to the heretic, but faith was defined differently between the two, and this is where it gets interesting, because nominalism, focused on the name of a thing where realism focused more on the reality of a thing. (yes these are very basic definitions, the arguments are much more complex) But as i understand it, the point is that to the realist, faith was faith because it identified with a reality that we call faith. so the idea that faith without works is dead fits, we could understand abraham as having faith because what we see about his life was faith like. faith could only be faith if it participated in a certain reality that it defined. just like the color blue should only be applied to colors that are understood as having "blueness". Faith in the other camp, tended toward the concept being a legal term that identified on the surface without being based on a substantial reality. In other words faith was a legal position that defined on the surface without being based on faith likeness. To use the analogy, blue wasn't determined because a thing was really blue but is more a matter of being blue because we define it as such and abraham would then only be understood as a man of faith because we define him as such. nominal means "name" after all.

So, that is my understanding, and i'm just a layman so if i got this wrong please feel free to correct me. but if i have this right, what it tells me is that Luther didnt only fail at reforming the church but may have led the way into the secularization of society as a whole. once the idea of faith wasn't based on a certain thing it could be applied to anything and as such ended up making mincemeat out of the concept. no need to believe a certain thing, one could believe what they want and label it as faith.
The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.
Flannery O'Connor

www.minmaxsunt.wordpress.com
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Posted on 12/22/2011 at 12:28:08  |  Reply  |  Report Abuse |  0
The fruits of the Reformation would seen to bear out that assumption.

I don't know that I would put the whole blame on Luther. One thing that was happening during that era is that, despite what some may think, the Church had allowed a great deal of latitude for religious study in the universities. Free thinking was encouraged up to a point. There were lines that should not be crossed, but a lot of ideas were flowing and Martin Luther was not the only one picking up on them.

He may well have been the spark, but any spark could have accomplished the same thing. Others were already starting to push the boundaries. Some even before Luther.

But the Reformation certainly did open the doors to a lot of problems. And while the Catholic Church did reform, and this was a good thing, those that left the Church to form their own little groups reduced and/or distorted the unified presence of the Body of Christ.

Not only has Faith been subject to very broad interpretation, but so has everything else.

Paul said that if we had a disagreement on anything, we could take it to the Church and have it resolved. With the Reformation, those that were tossed back and forth through the religious upheaval, often being forced to convert with their various government, no longer had a stable body that they could be certain of for the Truth.

The Church was still there, but with so many lies and assumptions and assertions, it was not easy to know this. For many, the pillar and ground of Truth had been pulled out from beneath their feet.
Pax et Bonum,

Faith_at_Large


"If anyone says that man can be justified before God by his own works, whether done by his own natural powers or through the teaching of the law, without divine grace through Jesus Christ, let him be anathema."
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Posted on 12/22/2011 at 13:03:58  |  Reply  |  Report Abuse |  0
i guess what i'm trying to look at is what may have motivated luther. while it's true that luther was just a man, the idea of justification by faith alone, is to this day lauded by those who following in his shoes. if the controversies of the time inspired some of what he was thinking then it may be that we can make better sense of what happened from a theological point of view.

for instance if the problem isn't faith, as is often put forth then we need to look deeper than the old arguments. i assert that the real issue isn't faith vs works, as is often claimed, but faith vs faith. often we hear that same old jingle of catholics trying to earn their salvation by works, while the protestants claim they have faith alone. when the reality is something very different. i would say that even in many protestant sects the "catholic" view has been adopted, but because the catholic has been categorize as a "works" religion by protestant apologists, the point is missed. to use an example, in protestant circles you may hear terms like saving faith, or easy believism.. which imply that there needs to be substance for faith to be real and not just a name claimed.
The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.
Flannery O'Connor

www.minmaxsunt.wordpress.com
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Posted on 12/22/2011 at 15:38:39  |  Reply  |  Report Abuse |  0
Part of the solution may also lie in understanding Luther himself. One of the reasons why he jumped to Faith Alone was because his earlier interpretations of the Bible scared the "Hell" out of him. He sufferred from scrupulosity to a degree that he would inflict upon himself extreme penances that were not imposed on him by the Church.

He was so troubled by sin that he feared that it would be impossible to be saved. His mistake was in assuming that he had to or even could do this himself. When he had his "epiphany" it solved his problems. Rather than trying to do anything at all, he just took a couple of verses and came up with the idea that Jesus would save him in spite of himself.

There are many today that have similar views. But this is a lack of faith, not faith.
Pax et Bonum,

Faith_at_Large


"If anyone says that man can be justified before God by his own works, whether done by his own natural powers or through the teaching of the law, without divine grace through Jesus Christ, let him be anathema."
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