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Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio: Touchstones for Luthers Pastoral Theology


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Title: Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio: Touchstones for Luthers Pastoral Theology

Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio Touchstones for
Luthers Pastoral Theology
For Further Reading
  • Theology the Lutheran Way by Oswald Bayer

From the Preface to the Wittenberg Edition of
Luthers German Writings (1539)
  • Moreover, I am to point you to a correct way of
    studying theology, for I have had practice in
    that. If you keep at it, you will become so
    learned that you yourself could (if it were
    necessary) write books just as good as those of
    the fathers and councils, even as I (in God) dare
    to presume and boast, without arrogance and
    lying, that in the matter of writing books I do
    not stand much behind some of the fathers. Of my
    life I can by no means make the same boast. This
    is the way taught by the holy King David (and
    doubtlessly used by all the patriarchs and
    prophets) in the one hundred and nineteenth
    Psalm. There you will find three rules, amply
    presented throughout the whole Psalm. They are
    Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio (AE 34285)

Luthers Rules Correspond to the Marks of the
  • Preface to the Wittenberg Edition (1539)
  • Oratio
  • Meditatio
  • Tentatio
  • On the Councils and the Church (1539)
  • Holy Word of God
  • Baptism
  • Sacrament of the Altar
  • Office of the Keys
  • Calling of Ministers
  • Prayer, Public Praise Thanksgiving
  • Sacred Cross

From Contemplation and Speculation to Suffering
  • The popular medieval scheme for theology was
    lectio, oratio, contemplatio. Luther breaks from
    this pattern. Westhelle observes Luthers schema
    begins with oratio, which is more than prayer it
    is all God-talk, talk of and to God when one
    knows that reason will not suffice. Second is
    meditatio in which he includes lectio which is
    not limited to meditation in the internal sense
    but also external, hence engaging others in
    reflection. Luther does not follow the third
    medieval rule, contemplation, but instead he
    brings up a very different and original concept,
    tentatio, which becomes the foremost the
    touchstone he calls it and the last
    characteristic of theological reflection (The
    Scandalous God, 35-36). Thus Luther moves away
    from the speculative theology of scholasticism
    and the contemplative spirituality of mysticism.

How Theologians are Made
  • For Luther, theologians are made not simply by
    "understanding, reading or speculating" but "by
    living, no rather by dying and being damned" (WA
    5/16328-29) as he said in a lecture on Psalm
    511 in 1520.
  • The experience which Luther alludes to is the
    experience of the Scripture.
  • The Scriptures interpret us.
  • The life of the theologian is the passive life,
    the receptive life.

The Wisdom of the Holy Scripture
  • "Holy Scriptures constitute a book which turns
    the wisdom of all other books into foolishness,
    because not one teaches about eternal life except
    this one alone" (AE 34285). Bayer writes "It is
    clear from the place where Luther condenses his
    whole understanding of theology into three terms
    oratio, meditatio, tentatio, that his instruction
    about the correct method of studying theology is
    not a capitulation to some preconceived notion of
    science, but it is solely a matter of the
    authority of Scripture. Just as theology is
    nothing but the interpretation of Scripture, the
    understanding of theology is the same" (Bayer).

Praying Psalm 119
  • Those who pray this psalm fully surrender their
    own destiny to the destiny of God's word. They
    see their relationship to God as nothing else
    than a relationship to his word" (Bayer)

  • This is the prayer modeled by David in Psalm 119
  • "Almost from the outset, Psalm 119 takes on
    fundamental significance for Luther's battle with
    the pope, who wants to prevent him from remaining
    with the word through which 'I became a
    Christian' the word of absolution. From the
    beginning of the Reformation, this psalm is seen
    as a prayer for the victory of God's word against
    its enemies. In fact, it is seen as a double
    prayer that was turned into a hymn verse in 1543
    Lord, keep us steadfast in your word and curb the
    pope's and the Turk's sword" (Bayer)

  • Prayer is the voice of faith
  • "The richness of the Word of God ought to
    determine our prayer, not the poverty of our
    heart" (Bonhoeffer)
  • Note Luthers translation of Psalm 119172, My
    tongue will answer with your words (Bayer)
  • Prayer that invokes God (calls upon the name of
    the Lord) is grounded in the first three
    petitions of the Lord's Prayer. Note Luther's
    explanation in the Small Catechism.

  • Luther uses meditation in a way that departs
    from the tradition
  • For Luther it is outward rather than inward
  • Meditatio is grounded in the externum verbum (See
    Smalcald Articles IIIVIII)
  • Luther "Let him who wants to contemplate in the
    right way reflect on his Baptism let him read
    his Bible, hear sermons, honor father and mother,
    and come to the aid of a brother in distress. But
    let him not shut himself up in a nook.. .and
    their entertain himself with his devotions and
    thus suppose that he is sitting in God's bosom
    and has fellowship with God without Christ,
    without the Word, without the sacraments" (AE
  • Those who seek the Spirit inside themselves in
    realms too deep for words find only ghosts

God Straight Up!
  • So the cry goes up, Give me a God I can be
    proud of, like a pure idea or a transcendent
    goal. Once that happens humans are on a mission
    for more than self-knowledge they want
    recognition that they are right and have risen
    above particular places, times, and cultures.
    They do not want to smell of particularity and
    parochialism. They are bound and determined to be
    like God knowing the difference between good and
    evil, believing in their own power to believe,
    becoming proud of their own existence without the
    need to depend on God for every little thing, and
    so not eternally bound to God by trust in
    specific promises. They come to thing that they
    want God straight up, with no words or fruit
    trees or bodies of water and testaments given in
    words, wine, bread and no Jews. But for Luther
    this is all false spirituality that stands
    outside Gods house trying to peer through the
    windows and catch God with his clothes off. Yet
    there is nothing more dangerous than a religious
    peeping Tom
  • - Steven Paulson, Luther for Armchair
    Theologians, 109-110

  • Luther likened meditation to a cow chewing its
    cud. In his commentary on Deuteronomy 14lof
    1525, he writes "To chew the cud, however, is to
    take up the Word with delight and meditate with
    supreme diligence, so that (according to the
    proverb) one does not permit it to go into one
    ear and out the other, but holds it firmly in the
    heart, swallows it, and absorbs it into the
    intestines" (AE 9136)
  • See Luther's advice in his "A Simple Way to Pray"
    (1535) where he suggest taking each of the
    commandments, each part of the Creed "in their
    fourfold aspect, namely, as a school text, song
    book, penitential book, and prayer book" (AE

  • God uses tentatio (spiritual affliction, trial,
    and temptation) to drive a way from self and to
    His promises alone.
  • "Anyone who meditates can expect to suffer.
    Luther once again also allows Psalm 119 to
    prescribe this experience. Therefore in light of
    this third rule, he expects students of theology
    also to see themselves in the role of the
    psalmist who 'complains so often about all kinds
    of enemies.. .that he has to put up with because
    he meditates, that is, because he is occupied
    with God's word (as has been said) in all manner
    of ways'" (Bayer).

  • Tentatio happens within the context of a person's
  • Tentatio is testing, temptation, and trial which
    occurs when God and his word intersect with us
    and our world" (Pfeiffer). Suffering happens
    precisely because a person is faithful to his
  • Note Luther's comments on "cross bearing" (see AE
    51195-208). "Peace with God brings conflict and
    adversity with the world, the flesh, and the
    devil" (Hein).
  • "When we meditate on the first commandment we
    are involved in a battle between the one Lord and
    the many lords (cf. 1 Cor. 85f)" (Bayer).

  • Pastors are not exempt from tentatio. In fact God
    uses it to draw us away from our own abilities to
    the gifts He gives in the Gospel and the
    Sacraments. See II Corinthians 41-12.
  • Note Luther on Genesis 3232, our Lord Jesus
    Christ, tested Jacob not to destroy him but to
    confirm and strengthen him and that in his fight
    he might more correctly learn the might of the
    promise (AE 6144).

  • Tentatio raises the issue of the hidden God.
  • In meeting the Deus nudus, the human being
    cannot decide if it confronted by God or the
    devil the Anfechtungen are only conquered by
    turning to God in his revelation (Alfvag).

  • "I did not learn my theology all at once, but had
    to search constantly deeper and deeper for it. My
    temptations did that for me, for no one can
    understand Holy Scripture without practice and
    temptations. That is what the enthusiasts and
    sects lack. They don't have the right critic, the
    devil, who is the best teacher of theology. If we
    don't have that kind of devil, then we become
    nothing but speculative theologians, who do
    nothing but walk around in our own thoughts and
    speculate with our reason alone as to whether
    things should be like this, or like that" says
    Luther in a "table talk" of 1532 (AE 5450).

  • Luther is thankful for his enemies. God uses them
    to make him a real theologian
  • Luther even speaks of the devil as the doctor of
  • Temptation turns the student of Gods Word into a
    real theologian.

  • Spiritual attack (Anfechtung) itself is not the
    touchstone of the genuineness of faith, if by
    faith we mean the truthfulness and credibility of
    the believer. Rather it is the touchstone of
    God's word, which demonstrates its credibility
    and power in times of spiritual attack and fight
    against it" (Bayer)

  • Luther (Galatians 1535) "Therefore I admonish
    you, especially those of you who are to become
    instructors of consciences, as well as each of
    you individually, that you exercise yourselves
    continually by study, by reading, by meditation
    and by prayer, so that in temptation you will be
    able to instruct consciences, both your own and
    others, and take them from the law to grace, from
    active righteous to passive righteousness, in
    short from Moses to Christ. In affliction and in
    the conflict of conscience it is the devil's
    habit to frighten us with the law and to set
    against us the consciousness of sin, our wicked
    past, the wrath and judgment of God, hell, and
    eternal death, so that he may drive us into
    despair, subject us to himself, and pluck us from
    Christ" (AE 2610).

  • "He (Luther) is comforted in times of trial and
    spiritual attack (Anfechtung) by the promises of
    Christ's word. But he cannot hold onto that
    comfort, the 'forgiveness of sins' as 'life and
    salvation,' by his own strength. He remains
    forever dependent on the power of God himself,
    the Holy Spirit, to be able to overcome once
    again every new spiritual attack (Bayer).
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