Գլխավոր էջ Dialog Embodying Confident Agency: Luther's “Three Estates” as a Resource for Virtue Theory
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428 Dialog: A Journal of Theology • Volume 56, Number 4 • Winter 2017 • December Outside the Theme Embodying Confident Agency: Luther’s “Three Estates” as a Resource for Virtue Theory By Stewart W. Herman Abstract: Martin Luther’s social writings (volumes 44–47 in the American edition) provide a robust account of human agency that might help Lutheran social ethics address contemporary crises of confidence. When Luther addresses concrete moral issues, he enriches his two-kingdoms frame with a focus on particular social roles such as ruler, merchant, soldier, parent, etc. This (often tacit) “three-estates” approach creates room for a distinctly Lutheran contribution to contemporary virtue theory by focusing on the functions served by particular social roles more than on individual self-chosen pathways of moral improvement. It also supports a prophetic affirmation of vocation against the contemporary breakdown of expectations and confidence in social roles. Key Terms: virtue theory, Martin Luther, three estates, human agency, moral agency, Reformation ethics Is it Possible to Grow Virtue Theory in Lutheran Theological Soil? An influential movement in Christian ethics during the past thirty years has been the rediscovery of character and virtue as a way of accounting for moral goodness and wickedness in the human social world. It provides a marvelous framework for expressing confidence in human moral agency, given its core assumption that agents can envision and enact dispositions oriented to a complex interweaving of individual and common good, and can render themselves reliably good agents by cultivating habits of goodness through their own efforts. This movement has been particularly strong in Roman Catholic moral theology, and has aroused interest among Lutheran ethicists as well. But can virtue ethics take root in Lutheran theological-ethical soil? Virtue ethics presupposes a robust account of human agency. Unlike Aristotle, Lutheran theologians are unwilling to concede much potency for good in auton; omous human decision and action. Doing so suggests the kind of immodesty and pride that is antithetical to the passive righteousness that is the cornerstone of the Lutheran vision of redemption from sin and alienation. To be sure, there are calls to joyous service of neighbor, but in Lutheran theology, confidence in moral efficacy first must Stewart W. Herman is a visiting fellow at the Christensen Center on Vocation at Augsburg College, Minneapolis, after retiring from the Department of Religion at Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota. C 2017 Wiley Periodicals and Dialog, Inc. Embodying Confident Agency: Luther’s “Three Estates” as a Resource for Virtue Theory • Stewart W. Herman be anesthetized with law before being revived by gospel.1 In short, it seems difficult for Lutheran theologians to articulate a vision for the robust human moral agency needed to undergird an ethic of character and virtue. The reasons for this skepticism go back to Augustine but receive striking expression by Martin Luther himself. According to Jennifer Herdt in her landmark 2008 study of how virtue has been appraised in Western culture, Luther not only picks up but amplifies Augustine’s rejection of the (pagan) virtues. The human pursuit of virtue is bankrupted from the start by sinful trust in one’s own abilities—the refusal to recognize that our external performances possess no goodness, and that human agency is utterly enslaved to sin. For Luther, the only way forward is the utterly passive reception of grace, relying upon God’s agency to humble in us what we cannot, and enter into the happy exchange with Christ.2 A slow and deliberate transformation of the self indeed is possible, but only through the “gift” that enables good human action, rather than any self-driven habituation in virtue.3 The efficient cause of good action is to be found in divine rather than human agency. In sum, Luther’s position “makes it difficult for him to develop anything but a paradoxical account of growth in human virtue,” thanks to his “exaggerated insistence on passivity arising out of a competitive understanding of human and divine agency.”4 In Herdt’s survey of the Western tradition, Luther stands as one particularly jagged example of Christian skepticism toward the pagan virtues, but in her view, that does not invalidate the revival of virtue ethics now underway. She concludes that contemporary Christians have found a way to ease the deeply rooted historic discomfort by re-envisioning character formation as a central function of the church. Influenced by Stanley Hauerwas, a generation of Christian ethicists have argued that catechesis, sacraments, and rituals are practices (in the rich Aristotelian sense) for shaping distinctively Christian character. Major recent Lutheran proposals have taken just this approach. Martha Ellen Stortz recovers Luther’s extensive advice on prayer, commending it as a personal and congregational practice for shaping vision, disposition, and action.5 Joel D. Bierman constructs 429 a distinctively Lutheran “creedal framework” to ground a virtue ethic for character formation in and by the church.6 Surely these ventures will enrich the church’s vocabulary and heighten the significance of its historic practices, as well as reinforce confidence of church members in their institution. Yet what about outside church walls—in other institutional settings, professions, and social locations? Formation occurs in homes and summer camps, in statehouse legislatures, schools and universities, military and police barracks, battlefields and oilfields, hospitals and prisons, small businesses and big box superstores. Already in Roman Catholic ethics, virtue ethics is being extended into social ethics.7 Might Lutheran ethics provide a helpful way to think about the ways that character is shaped in a variety of social contexts: how confidence develops as dispositions are formed, virtuous habits inculcated, and vicious tendencies addressed? Luther’s Social Writings: Confidence Derived from Social Functions and Roles The obvious place to start is Luther’s own “social” writings: those treatises, tracts, sermons, and other writings in which he offers specific moral counsel to princes, peasants, soldiers, merchants, parents, and others in their particular situations. In the American edition of Luther’s Works, most of these writings are to be found in volumes 44–47.8 Considering these writings chronologically, Luther manifests what seems to be a keen and growing interest in how Christians carry out their social roles; this provides a first and vital point of contact with ethics of character and virtue. Rather than focus on the dramatic contest between passively received grace and damnably active works righteousness charted by Herdt, he offers mundane counsel tied to particular social functions. Rather than crush his readers in the jaws of the law in order to revive them to unspecified if joyous service to neighbor, he addresses them with explicit commands expressing God’s word for their situations. 430 Dialog: A Journal of Theology • Volume 56, Number 4 • Winter 2017 • December Where little guidance from the Bible is evident, he provides his own advice. Sometimes his counsel is very specific as he works through moral challenges with close casuistic attention to counterarguments. Sometimes he aims to shape dispositions rather than address the concreteness of particular moral dilemmas. Often he responds to actual or imagined conversation partners. He models a “community of moral deliberation” where moral questions are raised and addressed dialogically. When read through a specifically ethical interpretive lens, Luther’s social writings make it clear he wants his listeners and readers to develop a robust sense of moral agency. His method of argumentation presupposes that his listeners have moral character, at least to the extent that they can hear, absorb, and act on the copious commands and advice he provides. Some are so talented that Luther stands in awe of their gifts for leadership; his own prince Frederick receives high marks, for example.9 In contrast, greedy merchants fail miserably, and to them Luther commends a complete change of heart. He has particular scorn for princes and clerics who seek to usurp each other’s roles. He is gentler with other agents who are unsure, or who remain to be persuaded of the value of their roles, such as monks unsure about marriage in The Estate of Marriage, or the rulers he addresses in On Temporal Authority, or the soldiers he addresses in Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved? Luther encourages all of these to greater confidence in the roles they are commanded to perform. In effect, Luther seems to table his Augustinian reservations about the capacity of agents to discern and pursue the good, at least in the worldly realm of vocation, in contrast to his unsparing condemnation of human moral potential in his soteriology. Is there room in Luther’s thought, then, for cultivating virtue and shaping character, specifically selfcultivation aimed at moral excellence? A guarded yes seems appropriate. Luther’s social writings suggest that he has inklings of moral excellence in the worldly sphere of vocation, but the behaviors he sees as morally excellent generally have more to do with the fulfillment of roles (ruler, soldier, parent, etc.) than with the intentional personal cultivation of virtue. For him, social roles set the circumference for what counts as virtue; virtue is possessed, as it were, mainly if not only in carrying out the function defined by the role. Goodness is generated as agents narrow the distance between what they do and what their roles demand. Luther’s contribution to virtue theory is highly relational rather than individualistic. The Wider Relevance of a Lutheran Virtue Theory Any retrieval of virtue theory from Luther must be selective, given his premodern horizon. He makes little room for individuals to choose their roles, let alone to claim excellence outside those roles. He fails to anticipate how modernity has liberated individuals from inherited roles into a nova-like explosion of choices in the social division of labor. Yet by turning to social roles as the focal point of goodness in human action, he provides a vehicle to develop virtue theory beyond the walls of the church, and so to enrich the church’s capacity to speak about life outside itself. The Lutheran tradition proclaims “vocation” as the proper shape of the Christian life. A sense of calling ought to include confidence about one’s moral agency, particularly in this era of challenged and diminished confidence. If virtue from a Lutheran perspective is so dependent upon social roles, we might ask how much deep harm is done when whole classes of people lack the power to embody meaningful roles in their lives. We might then gain prophetic moral leverage against economic and political forces that have deprived millions of Americans of their homes, jobs, and social status. A Lutheran emphasis upon roles and functions might lead us to assess those roles and functions themselves, particularly as they contribute to destructive economic and political forces. In short, Lutheran virtue ethics offers surprising potential for radical social critique despite its premodern origins, and this might provide a point of contact with listeners today for whom the doctrine of vocation might carry no more interest than Christian notions of salvation.10 Embodying Confident Agency: Luther’s “Three Estates” as a Resource for Virtue Theory • Stewart W. Herman Luther’s Moral Framing: Two Kingdoms as Enriched by the Three Estates Any exploration of Luther’s ethics must take account of his two-kingdoms theory, which long has served as a major grounding of Lutheran social thought. Early in his public career Luther himself declared the two kingdoms to be his framework for understanding God’s rule.11 But his account of confident human moral agency cannot be derived from the two kingdoms theory alone, particularly when it is seen as God’s providential way of rescuing Christians from sin, death, and the devil. Theologian Vitor Westhelle recently distinguished two broad contemporary paths for interpreting Luther’s approach to ethics: one accenting law and gospel in their dialectical relationship; and the other focusing on the orders of creation.12 Both are to be found in Luther, and both are indispensable. But the first offers only a rudimentary account of human agency, for two reasons. First, when the two kingdoms or “realms” are regarded primarily as soteriological expressions of law and gospel, the human agency required for the exercise of vocation is completely overshadowed by divine agency.13 Individuals, whether Christian or not, need to have their own agency chastised by law if they are to be admitted into the kingdom of God. To see how limited this view is for vocation, consider the fourfold typology of “men” Luther proposes in his 1520 Treatise on Good Works: the truly righteous who need no law; the lazy who abuse their freedom from law; the wicked; and the childish, who need to be enticed and coaxed.14 Here the only aspect of human agency of concern here is the human response to God’s influence via law and gospel. Second, the agency exerted by believers in Luther’s kingdom of God has more to do with soteriology than with vocation. For Luther, this kingdom is populated by individual souls rescued by Christ from sin and despair. The kingdom of God is egalitarian and homogenous to an extreme: it is the assemblage of individual Christians 431 who together have been condemned by Christ and forgiven.15 While their bodies are on earth, their hearts and souls are lofted to heaven by the word.16 In this realm, experienced in moments of undivided faith, Christians are undifferentiated by social status or role. “I want to establish a kingdom in which all are regarded alike,” says Luther’s Christ.17 These subjects of Christ are equally subject to the most stringent justice.18 There are no distinctions of merit.19 Indeed, sins against the first table of the Decalogue with its unitary focus on God are more serious than sins against the second, with its attention to multiple ways the neighbor might be harmed.20 Their moral agency is expressed in readiness to engage in forbearance and self-sacrifice, motivated by pure dispositions of meek, nonresistant love inspired by Christ—a kind of agency for which Christians can take little credit, and that offers us frankly little of value for ethics, with its broader scope of how to negotiate the push and pull of daily life. Oswald Bayer rightly warns that interpreting social issues through the two kingdoms without reference to the three estates encourages simplistic, abstract, or artificially dichotomized discussions.21 A more robust view of human agency emerges in his social writings, where Luther takes up life in the kingdom of the world. When viewed with an eye to orders of creation, the worldly kingdom is populated with Christians and non-Christians in all their social relationships and roles.22 As will be seen shortly, Luther advises rulers how to navigate the treacherous waters of their courts. He works through various scenarios to advise soldiers on when their soldiering is appropriate. He advises citizens to become engaged in administering the resources of their communities. He advises merchants to resist avarice through prudence and generosity. Luther stands for the freedom of men and women to choose their own marital partners, and explores the many permutations of how public and private engagements might go awry. Here he endorses not only social hierarchy but inequality as necessary to the viability of the social order.23 While the kingdom of God offers only monotonic flat terrain for moral analysis, the kingdom 432 Dialog: A Journal of Theology • Volume 56, Number 4 • Winter 2017 • December of the world is lumpy with variety and interactive complexity. The basic argument of this article is that Luther’s social writings yield a robust view of human agency needed for virtue theory, because there he fleshes out his soteriologically oriented two-kingdoms theory with the vocationally oriented orders of creation. From the early 1520s on, Luther complexifies and enriches his basic two-kingdoms model by invoking the “three estates” of household/economy, church, and government.24 These encapsulate the core institutions of the social order he inherited— as obvious to him as the vastly more differentiated array of institutions are to us today. Unlike two kingdoms, which Luther proudly claims to have rescued from obscurity, the “three estates” is a medieval trope he inherited without much creative addition or amendment.25 The place of the three estates in his theology was wellestablished by 1528, when in his Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper he declares them the three venues through which God hallows human life.26 His 1535 lectures on Genesis 1 and 2 make it clear that the three estates are the basic institutions of creation. Nonetheless, the three estates have received little attention from North American Lutheran theologians and ethicists, perhaps because Luther never offered as compact and coherent account of them as he did for the two kingdoms in his 1522 On Temporal Authority—and of course because the idea of fundamentally distinct, separated, and fixed “orders of creation” was discredited for contributing to the rise of Nazism. Luther’s Prescriptions for Confident Human Agency in his Social Writings from 1519 to 1539 Virtue theory rests upon robust assumptions about confident human agency. Because Luther’s account of human action and character is so easily overshadowed by soteriological two-kingdoms thinking, this section shows how the three estates provide Luther a vehicle for explaining how human agency plays out in particular social functions and roles. Indeed, the more he delves into particular roles and functions, the richer becomes his account of confident worldly vocation over the first decade of his public career. As will be seen, however, what he emphasizes is not self-directed capacities and skills for achieving virtue, but the functions and roles that present vocationally minded Christians with a moral frame and motivation for their agency. The Freedom of a Christian (1520) and Treatise on Good Works (1520): The Emergence of Confidence and of Mutual Responsibility in Social Roles An early baseline is provided by Luther’s 1519 The Holy and Blessed Sacrament of Baptism—apparently his first significant mention of the three estates.27 He grimly refers to the institutions of matrimony, clerical office, and temporal rule as cells of self-denying discipline, where “men learn to exercise themselves and to suffer,” to orient themselves away from “love of this life” to eternal life.28 So far, his account of agency is minimal and void of earthy confidence. In contrast, his 1520 The Freedom of a Christian takes a remarkable turn toward a winsome, even idealistic vision of the potential for human action. The three “powers” of faith propel the Christian to escape the condemnation of the law, to trust God, and to rely upon Christ’s atonement to neutralize the power of sin and damnation.29 God’s agency is responsible for all three, of course; it is the word that energizes human faith, much like the blacksmith’s fire that heats an anvil to a bright red glow. Such faith enables the Christian to live in the kingdom of God by honoring the First Commandment; effortless obedience to the remaining nine commandments then follows like good fruit grows from a good tree.30 This inspired inner faith liberates energy in the outward self, encouraging the pursuit of virtuous self-discipline and overflowing in enthusiastic service to neighbor—as close to an endorsement of (monastic) character development as Luther gets.31 Embodying Confident Agency: Luther’s “Three Estates” as a Resource for Virtue Theory • Stewart W. Herman The Freedom of a Christian firmly links Luther’s soteriology and vocation in a radiant vision of confident agency. To be sure, the “neighbor” so far is simply a relational abstraction, void of concrete social reference. That evolves, also in 1520, when Luther invokes the three estates as a conceptual device for social prescription in his Treatise on Good Works, his early commentary on the Decalogue. In an exposition otherwise dominated by attention to the first table, he dramatically expands the Fourth Commandment from the honoring of parents to the honoring of household, church, and government. Each of these estates involves social roles that require obedience keyed to distinctive orbits of responsibility and mutuality; already Luther is showing awareness of the moral interactivity of the social world. Parents break the self-will of their children to secure their obedience, but these parents demonstrate their own obedience to God by protecting their children against the lures of the world.32 Servants obey masters; their obedience is to be reciprocated with “considerateness,” where masters must overlook their failings.33 In the governmental estate, subjects are to obey their rulers, who reciprocate by protecting their subjects against social evils, injustice, and onerous obligations.34 As for the churchly estate, parishioners are to obey the “spiritual authorities,” who in turn are obligated to stick to their roles of teaching, preaching, and disciplining the souls entrusted to their care.35 Already the three estates provide Luther an embryonic conceptual means to differentiate and interrelate the moral agency of parents, servants, rulers, church members, and prelates. The point may seem obvious, but Luther here is expanding and enriching his own cherished but rigid notion of social order. His enduring baseline is a unitary hierarchical order of authority and obedience.36 In this simple form of social organization, hierarchy is preserved through obedience that serves to validate and reinforce authority, while disobedience is neutralized by coercion. But when interpreting the Fourth Commandment through the three estates, Luther prescribes various kinds of obedience, which are neither simple nor absolute. He differentiates the various kinds 433 of obligation and obedience appropriate to each estate. Each estate involves a mutuality of responsibility and obligation rather than a one-way top-down flow of power. And such mutuality is the wellspring of moral confidence. On Temporal Authority (1521): Enriching the Worldly Function and Role of Rulers The next year (1521) Luther in On Temporal Authority widens his field of analysis from the personal psychology of the individual Christian (as seen in On Christian Freedom) to the social function of rulers. While generally regarded as the locus classicus of two-kingdoms thinking in Luther’s ethics, this treatise illustrates how the three estates enrich his dualistic thinking, even when not explicitly acknowledged. He tailors the imperatives of obedience and obligation to the very particular contours of princely ruling; this opens up a way for him to speak of goodness and even excellence in performing particular roles. The treatise is intended to ease the consciences of rulers who wonder whether and how a Christian can govern coercively, given Jesus’ commands to forebear from the exercise of violence. In effect, the rulers are concerned about their salvation. Luther responds by using the two kingdoms to separate their lives as Christians, who have little stake in the fate of the world given their orientation to salvation, from their earthly roles as rulers, who must care a great deal about the welfare of their principalities. But he then moves quickly from the two kingdoms as a soteriological device to the three estates as a vocational device. In the first of three sections, Luther makes a functional argument for the inescapable need for coercive governance by the “sword.”37 In the second section, he chastises secular and churchly authorities for failing to attend to the specific functional sphere of action to which God’s word has assigned them.38 The stability of the world depends upon bishops and rulers carrying out their defined roles by serving their assigned functions. 434 Dialog: A Journal of Theology • Volume 56, Number 4 • Winter 2017 • December By insisting that they stick to their roles, Luther effectively argues that Christians in the estate of governance cannot afford the luxury of indifference to the world. In the third section, Luther moves even further in a three-estates direction by attending to the moral demands of rulership. He imparts practical counsel to rulers who want to carry out their roles conscientiously. He counsels rulers to rely upon their own judgment, attend to the benefit of their subjects rather than their own, exercise restraint when punishing the wicked, and pursue peace with neighbors.39 Rulers are enmeshed in relationships that require finesse. They cannot simply slap down offenders with coercive law; they must think interactively, anticipating the reaction of their subjects, and so tailor their application of influence or coercion for each situation. By the end of On Temporal Authority, Luther shows the strong gravitational pull of the three estates as he derives responsible moral agency from the requirements and constraints of the ruler’s function and office itself. His moral argumentation is mixed; he draws upon the wisdom derived from the practice of ruling as well as God’s commanding word. Two “Mirrors” (1530, 1534): Tempered Confidence for Princes Luther’s interest in the functions and roles characteristic of the three estates continues to deepen. In 1530, and again in 1534, he uses two Davidic psalms (82 and 101) to present a “mirror” for princes desiring to rule well. He begins his exposition of Psalm 82:1 with the breathtaking assertion that rulers are “gods.” God stands both with and against them, endorsing their office while chastising them for marring its function with their own self-will.40 Preachers therefore have the prophetic office of rebuking errant rulers.41 Both rulers and preachers should feel confident in their roles, because their roles are clearly defined and God’s will is unmistakable. Princes are to exercise three “virtues”: securing justice for the faithful, supporting the vulnerable, and making peace by guarding against violence.42 These “virtues” are less habituated dispositions than the duties and actions called forth by the roles they occupy. The corresponding triptych of vices similarly focuses upon the perversion of roles, implying a perversion of character as well. Princes abuse their offices when they exercise selfwill rather than advance God’s word, or when they leave the poor without protection, or when they live only for themselves.43 In short, Luther defines virtue and vice more in terms of what their roles demand and what behavior they exhibit than what disposition and capacities should mark their characters. Four years later, it appears the princes are no longer “gods.” Luther’s 1534 commentary on Psalm 101 cautions against overestimating what rulers can achieve, even with the best of intentions. Human notions of justice are far less efficacious than the powers of nature. Luther advises rulers to exercise humility, to quell the natural temptation to overconfidence in the power of reason and good intentions.44 A prince “has to rule through people whom he does not know and manage with people whose attitude he cannot perceive.”45 Rulers should prioritize the dispensation of mercy over that of rigid justice. “To achieve [moderation] is an art; indeed it is a matter of God’s grace.”46 To be sure, there are rulers remarkably gifted by God to be outstanding leaders. His own Duke Frederick is a prime example of a ruler who wisely and boldly navigates a court littered with brash advisors, fools, and other obstacles.47 Such paradigms of confident agency are rare. Those who would imitate them are indeed fools, for natural wisdom is distributed unevenly. Only modest imitation of great leaders is called for, and even these leaders need to attribute their successes to God.48 Such humility falls far short of the exuberant confidence the younger Luther commends in On Christian Freedom; humility is the remnant of idealistic confidence that survives in the Christian prince who embraces the gritty function of ruling. What Luther sketches is not promising terrain for individuals to establish their own characters through the disciplined pursuit of heroic virtue, but he does affirm that confidence is warranted where God has provided a ruler the needed capacity. Embodying Confident Agency: Luther’s “Three Estates” as a Resource for Virtue Theory • Stewart W. Herman Selective Encouragement of Citizens, Peasants, and Soldiers (1523, 1525, 1526) Princes are not the only actors in the governmental estate. In late 1523 Luther endorses the plan of a congregation in the small city of Leisnig to take over local monastic properties with their streams of income. He encourages these citizens to craft their own moral agency in self-governance by setting up and administering a “common chest” to disburse the funds.49 However, the civic space for self-governance is not permitted to those who challenge existing political authority. In 1525, Luther turns viciously on a rising movement of peasants when they take up arms against abuses by their overlords. His argument shows how rigidly unhelpful the two-kingdoms approach is when applied without the nuance afforded by the three estates. Both peasants and rulers are wrong, he acknowledges, but there is a brute difference: armed rebellion threatens both the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world; it answers to no higher authority, while the violence of overlords protects the social order and is authorized by God.50 A fundamental asymmetry results. The rebels are authorized only to act as citizens of Christ’s kingdom, rather than press their claims according to the worldly logic of natural law.51 They must suffer injustice—or emigrate.52 Interestingly enough, it is just this dualistic framing that Luther abandons when turning to the three estates as a rhetorical means to endorse the resistance by princes against the emperor and pope in 1539, as will be seen shortly. Confidence in the Vocation of Authorized Killing (1526) The three estates are evident in Luther’s social writings particularly when he enriches his moral reasoning beyond the dualistic framing of the two kingdoms. Luther’s stated aim in Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved (1526) is to inspire knights and soldiers who are distressed by their bloody work to the 435 point that they have lost their faith. He launches his discussion in a two-kingdoms frame, with its unambiguous endorsement of violence in the service of social order. Then he softens the blunt coercion of the worldly kingdom with considerations of justice and wisdom.53 Soldiers, or at least knights like Assa von Kram, to whom Luther is writing, must exercise reason as well as listen to God’s command when deciding when and how to fight. Luther devotes most of the tract to reviewing three possible confrontations: equals against equals, overlords against subjects, and subjects against overlords. Each requires its own kind of reasoning. Rebellion by subjects cannot be just because it usurps God’s sovereignty over rulers, even against patently unjust rulers.54 War between equals requires a casuistry that turns on the distinction between wars of necessity and wars of desire.55 As for the third category, overlords may attack their subjects only in response to rebellion, but Luther qualifies this permission by setting it within a tightly linked chain of authority and accountability that runs down from God and requires overlords to “exist for the sake of the community.”56 Luther allocates authority strictly according to location and function, as when he endorses the complementarity of soldiers and farmers who defend and feed each other, respectively.57 Once again, he enriches the stark dualism of the two kingdoms with a tacit appeal to the three-estates frame, with its emphasis on roles and functions in their interrelationships. On Trade and On Usury (1524): From Avarice and Arrogance to Prudence and Discipleship in the Economic Estate So far, these examples from Luther’s social writings concern only the estate of government. Luther commends confident human agency in the other two estates as well. In 1524, he turns his attention to the practice of commerce in two tracts: On Trade and On Usury. Commerce presents a chaotic scene of unbridled greed, which issues both in harm to neighbor and presumption against God’s control of the future. But Luther cannot simply point to 436 Dialog: A Journal of Theology • Volume 56, Number 4 • Winter 2017 • December existing functions and roles as expressions of God’s will, for this tainted field of human action lacks the chain of divinely mandated authority enjoyed by government and its soldiers to maintain the social order. Luther does not and perhaps cannot claim divine approval, let alone agency, for the role of the merchant as he can for that of rulers; he must find another moral benchmark for appropriately channeled and confident human agency. Not surprisingly then, the flavor of his argument changes. Without government in its clearly defined regulatory role, Luther applies the strenuous demands of the kingdom of God more insistently to commerce than to any other social function, and carves out an emphatic role for virtuous character in the business of buying and selling. Indeed, the seedy world of commerce brings Luther closer to a virtue ethic than any other of his social writings. According to On Trade, avarice is the besetting vice of commerce. Rather than preach virtue in the abstract, Luther reviews a series of morally perverse practices. This empirical method of moral reasoning emphasizes human agency, without reference to divine agency. He advises merchants not to mark up prices to whatever the market will bear but to instead set prices according to a standard of justice that will not harm the neighbor.58 Consideration of the neighbor finds expression through prudence and self-restraint as well. A Christian merchant provides for his family before lending from surplus, minimizes risk by selling only for cash, and avoids responsibility for the debts of others.59 Further, a Christian merchant fights avarice through self-restraint: not using credit to gain more profit than through cash sales, not cornering the market, not driving hard bargains through deceit, and not coalescing in oligarchies or trading companies to take advantage of the neighbor.60 Perhaps because there is no divinely instituted role in the world of commerce as in government, Luther does not hesitate to bring in the kingdom of God, as both a soteriological and vocational compass. Salvation is at issue not only because it is threatened by avarice,61 but more insidiously by the presumptuously constructed confidence of merchants. They resist God’s control of the future by arranging insurance for their ventures.62 Luther commands them to entrust their commerce to God by obeying the self-sacrificial requirements of the kingdom ruled by Christ: letting themselves be robbed, by giving to any needy person, and by lending without expectation of return, as per Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount.63 In On Usury, Luther develops these stiff requirements even more insistently. He reviews and rejects clever devices through which human agents fulfill the letter but negate the spirit of Christ’s command.64 Not only do self-sacrificial commercial practices lead to a peaceful earthly life in the kingdom of God, but they also prepare one for heaven through detachment from worldly goods.65 In short, achieving the confident human agency God desires in commerce is particularly challenging, because the marketplace not only is a hothouse for avarice, but engenders a false confidence in human control over the future. Moral discourse in commerce therefore exhibits two distinct forms not easily harmonized: the language of human virtues, such as prudence and generosity, and the more exigent language of discipleship and divine command. The Estate of Marriage (1522) and On Marriage Matters (1530): Rekindling Confidence in the Estate of Marriage The institution of marriage offers a strikingly different role-based definition of good human agency. Luther addresses the “estate of marriage” directly in his eponymous treatise of 1522 and in his 1530 On Marriage Matters. In this estate, divine agency recedes entirely into the background; in the foreground are myriad questions for human decision: who may marry, under what conditions of privacy and publicness, and when divorce is permissible. In On Marriage Matters, Luther locates marriage within the two kingdoms as a public estate, subject to regulation by secular authority in the temporal realm.66 Yet it does not fit within the hierarchical command-obedience model, for as Luther avers, marriage is and must be the result of free choice between man and woman—rather than, say, the dictate of parents, let alone the state. Nor does Luther have biblical commands tailored for the many Embodying Confident Agency: Luther’s “Three Estates” as a Resource for Virtue Theory • Stewart W. Herman questions that come up. So he falls back on his own advice to address worried consciences.67 In The Estate of Marriage, Luther works through—and rejects—more than a dozen constraints on who might marry whom.68 Eight years later, in On Marriage Matters, he takes up one particular violation of the public nature of marriage: secret engagements. He works laboriously through all permutations of entanglement: secret promises, public betrothals, absent and returning spouses, consummations in and outside of public marriage, and so on. This earthy moral reasoning appeals variously to common sense,69 conscience,70 law,71 justice,72 the wisdom of elders,73 and supreme above all of course, God’s word,74 and not surprisingly yields tempered moral judgments. Delicate questions cannot be answered by the hierarchical application of command and obedience. Rather, responsibility must be apportioned thoughtfully. For example, Luther says that God’s word takes away parental authority to force children into marriage, yet daughters must take responsibility for the vows that parents or others have pressured them to accept.75 Luther’s discussions of marriage show the influence of the three estates far beyond the highly dualized structure of the two kingdoms. While marriage is a secular institution subject to regulation by temporal authority, it is based on free decision. As such, it must be informed by, and triangulated within, the full range of society’s moral resources and interests, as illustrated by Luther’s variegated discourse. Marriage is a very human enterprise. The word commands, but there is a complex array of very human relationships and issues that must be taken into account. There is also scope for virtue in marriage—the kind of virtue tied to performance of roles that express God’s will. This theme emerges at the end of The Estate of Marriage, where Luther reveals that his purpose is to rekindle human confidence in marriage as an institution—to make it attractive to the generations of men and women who have found the celibate life more to their taste.76 Luther affirms that God smiles when men and women take on the roles of husband and wife. They make marriage the occasion for human delight as well when performing 437 their roles in the conviction that this is precisely what God wants them to do.77 Of course, this role-based virtue is far superior to the “habitus” monks take on in regulating their own single lives, for it is developed in a role commanded by God. “Three Hierarchies” Disputation (1539): Resistance Grounded in the Three Estates The most dramatic signal of Luther’s reliance on the three estates comes late in his career, in a 1539 disputation aimed at clarifying whether Lutheran princes have the authority to resist the emperor and pope by force of arms.78 Luther arrives at an affirmative answer by moving emphatically beyond a two-kingdoms to a three-estates frame. His assigned point of departure is Jesus’ command to the rich young man: to sell all and thereby gain treasure in heaven, surely a prescription for life in the kingdom of God (Mt 19:21). Luther begins by asserting that monastic vows of poverty and celibacy violate the second table of the Decalogue, for Christians inevitably are embedded in a material world of consumption and relationships.79 Living according to the first table involves following Jesus’ command to abandon worldly entanglements; it corresponds to living strictly in the kingdom of God. But he insists the second table must be honored as well. A Christian as “citizen of this world” must obey the government in its police function of resisting evil, as per the Fifth Commandment.80 This two-kingdoms argument based in the Decalogue proves to be of limited use, however. If a government turns on its own Christian citizens in persecution, all that a good Christian citizen can do is emigrate.81 In effect, the sharp distinction between the first table and the second table, between the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of the world, closes the door to resistance against unjust authority. Then Luther suddenly and dramatically turns to the three estates for moral leverage. He denounces the pope for destroying the order provided by the three estates: the church, through blasphemy and failing to carry out his office; the state, by usurping 438 Dialog: A Journal of Theology • Volume 56, Number 4 • Winter 2017 • December the role of civil rulers; and the family, by enforcing celibacy.82 Deploying the lurid imagery of a village threatened by a werewolf, he calls for resistance by armed “villagers”—evidently “princes, king and emperor.”83 Note that the pope here is a werewolf, enemy to the worldly kingdom, rather than the antichrist, enemy to God’s kingdom.84 Here the worldly kingdom, as interpreted through the three estates, fills Luther’s moral horizon. By the end of his public career, the preservation of the social world, as embodied in these three institutions, has moved to center stage, perhaps rivalling or displacing the priority on individual salvation exhibited in his early two-kingdoms thinking.85 In sum, Luther enriches his two-kingdoms framework when interpreting the worldly kingdom with reference to the three estates. His use of the three estates is signaled when he articulates what particular social roles require, and how they are best enacted by willing, morally serious agents. His discourse broadens to make positive use of human reason, and to tap the conventions of moral discourse. His aim is to instill confidence in those who are unsure of how to carry out their roles—as well as humility and caution in those who are too confident. The Prophetic Affirmation of Vocation Lutheran social ethics typically starts with and perhaps must start with a law-and-gospel approach to the two kingdoms in reconstructing human confidence. Claims about what God is doing are indispensable to a Lutheran theology aimed at explaining the full height and depth of human experience. Paradoxical claims about human sinfulness and divine grace, judgment, and justification are key to faith in the God who both destroys and reconstructs human confidence. Indeed, they continue to be of value to emergent varieties of theological ethics today.86 However, two-kingdoms theory alone is a thin resource for ethics, precisely because of its emphasis on divine agency and its rudimentary account of human agency in each of the two kingdoms. These emphases have a sharp and appropriately prophetic bite when the presenting problem is human pride and moral pretension to virtue, as Jennifer Herdt explains in her history of Western reflection on virtue. But ever since Valerie Saiving challenged Reinhold Niebuhr’s elevation of pride to central place in sin—and with it, the entire Western tradition that placed pride at the root of all vice—it has become increasingly evident that lack of confidence can be just as serious a symptom of character failure.87 Confidence involves more than individual effort—more than individual faith and conviction, more than the triumph of will over circumstance. It is nourished by expectations grounded by a stable social order. Yet for more than three decades, the functional building blocks of the North American middle and working classes have been cracking and crumbling. Hard work no longer guarantees employment. A college education no longer yields access to the middle class. Earnest parenting cannot protect kids against drugs and violence. Civilized behavior no longer is answered with civilized response. Prisons harm rather than rehabilitate. Wounded soldiers cannot re-enter the society they risked their lives and sacrificed their limbs to protect. Working-class and middle-class expectations have been manipulated, degraded, and shattered, and the allure of the American dream as a foundation of futureoriented confidence now is yielding to nativist paranoia. Contemporary crises of confidence call for the prophetic affirmation of vocation. An ethic influenced by Luther’s social thought is wellpositioned to speak concretely and forcefully—even prophetically—to the breakdown of expectations that undergird confidence. He was keenly aware that the three estates as basic social institutions were vulnerable to damage and destruction due to human greed, shortsightedness, incompetence, and malevolence. In this spirit, a Lutheran ethic of virtue might evaluate various functions and roles themselves according to their contribution to social good. Embodying Confident Agency: Luther’s “Three Estates” as a Resource for Virtue Theory • Stewart W. Herman For example, Luther in 1524 asserts that commerce might be practiced in a “Christian” manner if “commodities serve a necessary and honorable purpose.”88 A Lutheran ethic might delineate criteria for the “necessary and honorable” functioning of particular roles, distinguishing of course between incumbent persons and the offices themselves. Some occupations might be found to be more predatory or parasitical than productive. In addition to such social criticism, the principal task is to reconstruct a genuine, robust confidence. Here Luther’s own use of the three estates is worth recovering because it focuses attention on human agency, categorized and analyzed according to social roles and relationships. This venerable trope provides a template for speaking about and to the whole social world, not just the church.89 It seems a particularly valuable resource for speaking about vocation in concrete detail, for explaining how goodness happens in the human social world. The key Lutheran insight is that in explaining the development of virtue, what happens outside the agent is at least as important as what happens inside. The key question is how moral agents develop resilient confidence. Character develops as much with reference to the externally defined functions and roles as from self-chosen pathways of moral improvement. Here is an opening for a specifically Lutheran twist on virtue theory, one that reaches beyond the walls of the church by speaking to human beings in their inter-relations as well as in their individual capacities, dispositions, and skills. And that seems critical for extending the reach of virtue theory and understanding the erosion and reconstruction of confident human agency today. 439 5. Martha Ellen Stortz, “Practicing Christians: Prayer as Formation,” in The Promise of Lutheran Ethics, ed. Karen L. Bloomquist and John R. Stumme (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1998), 55-73. 6. Joel D. Biermann, A Case for Character: Towards a Lutheran Virtue Ethics (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2014), esp. chap. 5 and 6. 7. For example, see Brian Stiltner, Toward Thriving Communities (Winona, Minn.: Anselm Academic, 2016). 8. This paper also draws upon his two “mirrors” for princes in vol. 13, and a 1539 “Disputation.” 9. Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, 55 vols., ed. Jaroslav Pelikan (St. Louis: Concordia, 1955-1986), 13:158-160, and 46:119-120. Hereafter cited as LW. 10. The primary inspiration for the argument that follows is Oswald Bayer’s bold retrieval of the three estates in Luther’s thinking. See Bayer, Freedom in Response, trans. Jeffrey F. Cayzer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), chap. 7 and 8; and Bayer, Martin Luther’s Theology, trans. Thomas Trapp (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2008), chap. 6 and 14. This article spells out one line of implications for Luther’s ethics. H. Richard Niebuhr’s account of “responsibility” provides a further lens; see Niebuhr, The Responsible Self (New York: Harper & Row, 1963), esp. chap. 1. 11. LW 46:95, 99; LW 45:258. 12. Vitor Westhelle, “Pugnacious Words: Justification and Justice in Luther,” Lutheran Theological Journal 48, no. 2 (2014): 81. 13. For a priority on divine agency in two-kingdoms theory, see Paul Althaus, The Ethics of Martin Luther (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1972), 45-62; and Robert Benne, “Law and Gospel,” 260. Risto Saarinen draws on the medieval distinction between God’s absolute power and ordered (self-limited) power to locate humans as secondary, instrumental causes even in the framework of the three estates. See Risto Saarinen, “Ethics in Luther’s Theology: The Three Orders,” in Moral Philosophy on the Threshold of Modernity, ed. J. Kraye and R. Saarinen (Norwell, Mass.: Springer, 2005), 201-203. In the estates of governance and household God carves out a space for human agency via voluntary self-limitation through the divine covenant (see Saarinen, “Ethics in Luther’s Theology,” 199, 205-206). The third estate of the church involves a “spiritual” agency beyond human capacity (Ibid., 206). In his social writings, Luther does not explain the boundary between divine and human agency explicitly, but explains the functions and roles in a way that suggests human beings are indeed causally responsible. 14. LW 44:35-36. 15. LW 23:312, 316 (1530-2). Since it is hazardous to paste together an argument from references scattered across years of Luther’s voluminous writing, references in this paragraph are identified by year of publication. 16. LW 12:104-105 (1532). 17. LW 24:155 (1537). 18. LW 12:288 (1532). 19. LW 21:287 (1532). 20. LW 23:317 (1530-2). Endnotes 1. For a recent example, see Robert Benne, “Law and Gospel, Personal and Political,” Lutheran Quarterly 28 (2014): 249-265. 2. Jennifer Herdt, Putting on Virtue (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 174-178. 3. Ibid., 185. 4. Ibid., 188. 21. Bayer, Freedom in Response, 94-96. 22. For a similarly strong contrast between individual and social existence, see James Cargill Thompson, The Political Thought of Martin Luther, ed. Philip Broadhead (New Jersey: Barnes & Noble, 1984), 4243, 59. The two kingdoms (including regiments) as outlined thoroughly by Thompson (Ibid., 42-50) constitute the baseline theory that Luther seems to enrich in his social writings, as argued here. 23. Outside of his social writings, Luther endorses the division of social labor and inequality in his 1537 Sermons on the Gospel of St. John (LW 24:155). See also his 1535 Lectures on Galatians (LW 26:97-98), and not surprisingly, his comment on Galatians 3:28 (LW 26:356). Dialog: A Journal of Theology • Volume 56, Number 4 • Winter 2017 • December 440 24. For a compact even if late statement of what Luther means by the “three estates,” see LW 3:217 (1535). 25. LW 46:95. 26. LW 37:364-365. 27. F. Edward Cranz, An Essay on the Development of Luther’s Thought on Justice, Law and Society. Harvard Theological Studies IX. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1959), 154. 28. LW 35:39. 29. Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian, trans. Mark D. Tranvik (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008), 59-64. 59. Ibid., 45:259-260. 60. Ibid., 45:264-273. 61. Ibid., 45:245. 62. Ibid., 45:252-255. 63. Ibid., 45:255-256. 64. Ibid., 45:280-289. 65. Ibid., 45:277-279. 66. Ibid., 46:265-268, 316-317. 67. Ibid., 46:267. 30. Ibid., 64-75. 68. Ibid., 45:22-30. 31. Ibid., 79-84. 69. Ibid., 46:269-270. 32. LW 44:83-86. 70. Ibid., 46:273. 33. LW 44:97-99. 71. Ibid., 46:279. 34. LW 44:92, 94-95. 72. Ibid., 46:288. 35. LW 44:87-89. 73. Ibid., 46:287, 304. 36. In 1533, Luther celebrates Paul’s three terms—rule, authority, and power—as the integrated order of those who command, those who carry out commands, and those who are commanded (LW 28:127-128). In 1534, he offers a similar hierarchical vision of consistent, egalitarian obedience up and down the line (LW 13:195-196). See Thomas A. Brady, Jr., “Luther’s Social Teaching and the Social Order of His Age,” in The Martin Luther Quincentennial, ed. Gerhard Dunnhaupt (Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1985), 279-80. See also Brady, “Two Kingdoms or Three Estates? Tradition and Experience in Luther’s Social Teaching,” Lutherjahrbuch 52 (1985): 204-205 for a compact account of Luther’s understanding of hierarchy organized around patriarchal authority. 37. LW 45:83-104. 38. Ibid., 45:109, 115-6. 39. Ibid., 45:118-129. 40. Ibid., 13:44-48. 41. Ibid., 13:49-51. 42. Ibid., 13:52-55. 43. Ibid., 13:59-61, 68-69. 44. Ibid., 13:147-149. 45. Ibid., 13:152. 46. Ibid., 13:153. 47. Ibid., 13:157-159. 48. Ibid., 13:160-165. 49. Ibid., 45:169-176. 50. Ibid., 46:26. 51. Ibid., 46:29-30, 34, 39-40. 52. Ibid., 46:36. 53. Ibid., 46:101-103. 54. Ibid., 46:108-116. 55. Ibid., 46:118-125. 56. Ibid., 46:125-126. 57. Ibid., 46:128-129. 58. Ibid., 45:247-252 74. Ibid., 46:277, 305. 75. Ibid., 46:304-310. 76. Ibid., 45:36-48. 77. Ibid., 45:38-43. 78. The 1539 Disputation appears in the Weimar edition under the title “Seventy Final Statements,” but not in the American edition of Luther’s works (see Martin Luther, Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesammtausgabe [Weimar: H. Böhlau, 1883-2009], 39/II, 44-51. Hereafter cited as WA). For a translation, and an introduction that amplifies the argument made here, see Stewart W. Herman, “Disputation on the Three Hierarchies,” Lutheran Forum 51, no. 2 (Summer 2017): 37-41. 79. WA, 39/II, 1-6, 11-20. 80. Ibid., 30-34. 81. Ibid., 35-42, 45. 82. Ibid., 53-55. 83. Ibid., 61-65, 68. 84. See Bayer, Martin Luther’s Theology, 325, for a similar interpretation. 85. In his interpretation of the 1539 Disputation, Bayer argues that Luther holds “radical discipleship” and the ethic of responsible “householding” in a productive paradoxical tension (See Bayer, Freedom in Response, 129-137; see also Bayer, Martin Luther’s Theology, 105). The Disputation might mark the collapse of this tension. 86. For example, see the essays by Caryn D. Riswold and Mary E. Lowe in Transformative Lutheran Theologies: Feminist, Womanist and Mujerista Perspectives, ed. Mary J. Streufert (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010). 87. Valerie Saiving, “The Human Situation: A Feminine View,” The Journal of Religion 40 (April 2, 1960): 100-112. For lack of confidence (pusillanimity) as a contemporary vice, see Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2009), introduction. 88. LW 45:246. 89. Cranz argues that for Luther, the three estates were a template of the Christian world, not intended to extend beyond the calling of Christians (see Cranz, An Essay on the Development of Luther’s Thought, 177-178). My effort to project three-kingdoms thinking more broadly involves relaxing this constraint in Luther’s thinking.