Faith, Love, Marriage

For Luther, faith isn’t mere assent to truth, nor even confidence and trust in a distant savior. As David Fink puts it, “Faith . . . becomes the unitive force,” or, in Luther’s words, it “takes hold of Christ and has Him present, enclosing Him as the ring encloses a gem” (Reformation Readings of Paul, 46).

Still, Luther insisted, faith isn’t the same as love, but rather precedes it: “Because you have taken hold of Christ by faith, through whom you are righteous, you should now go and love God and your neighbor” (46).

Critics of Luther have seen this as a weak point in Luther’s doctrine of justification, partly because they don’t accept the distinction of faith and love and partly because Luther seems ultimately to collapse faith back into love. Is Luther advocating, as one critic puts it, “a spousal union without spousal love” (46).

Fink helpfully reminds us of the differences between early modern marriage and the romantic marriages of our own time: “The evangelical reformers viewed marriage as a social arrangement ordered for the promotion of mutual support, the procreation of children and the avoidance of sexual sin. There was no assumption that sexual congress was an expression of genuine love, and Luther warned against confusing the two. It was easy to take a wife in the heat of infatuation, but abiding love could only arise from the union of habits and character, not merely of bodies” (47).

Far from a flaw, then, Luther viewed the marital analogy with justification as quite exact: “both in the marriage union and the believer’s union with Christ, genuine love arises only in the context of a relationship constituted by mutual trust and fidelity” (47).

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