Chapter - THE RENAISSANCE INTERLUDE 209 Martin Luther Luther had been deeply influenced philosophically by William of Ockham whom he called\"my beloved

Chapter - THE RENAISSANCE INTERLUDE 209 Martin Luther...

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THE RENAISSANCE INTERLUDE 209 Martin Luther Luther had been deeply influenced philosophically by William of Ockham, whom he called "my beloved Master William." It was Ockham who had earlier rejected St. Thomas Aquinas' impressive system of natural theology based pri- marily upon the notion of causality. Natural reason, said Aquinas, leads us to God by way of an analysis of the causal relations of all things, an analysis that ends by requiring a First Cause, which is God. Ockham had developed a strictly empirical and, in a sense, skeptical view regarding knowledge. He argued that "from the fact that one thing is known to exist, it cannot be inferred that another thing exists." To say that some things are caused by other things gives one no warrant to argue that God is the cause of the natural order. Ockham concluded not that we can know nothing about God but only that the unaided reason cannot discover God. Knowledge of God is a gift of grace and is assured by an act of faith. Luther built on this foundation, finding impressive support for this view in the writings of St. Augustine. >From St. Augustine Luther also drew his heavy emphasis upon the Pauline conception of sin, which located man's predicament not in ignorance or undeveloped reason but rather in the bondage of the will. It is therefore faith, not reason, that overcomes man's predicament. Moreover, said Luther, "it is the quality of faith that it wrings the neck of reason." What seems impossible to reason becomes feasible to faith. The difficulty with reason is that being the faculty of finite man it tends to reduce everything to its own limited perspective. This is especially true when the natural reason contemplates the nature and capacities of God. Here human reason tends to limit God to strictly human estimates of what God is and can do. Luther was particularly struck by the intellectual difficulties faced by Abraham when God promised that from his barren wife Sarah he would give him seed. "There is no doubt," said Luther, that "faith and reason mightily fell out in Abraham's heart about this matter, yet at last did faith get the better, and overcame and strangled reason, that all- cruelest and most fatal enemy of God." The element of faith reveals the limited scope not only of reason but also of so-called good works. Luther's version of the Christian life had the effect therefore of challenging not only the medieval system of scholastic theology but also those optimistic visions of individual and social perfection based upon man's good works. Luther said, "all manner of works, even contemplation, meditation and all that the soul can do, avail nothing." Only one thing is necessary for righteousness, liberty, and the Christian life, and "that one thing is the most holy word of God, the Gospel of Christ." If someone asks "what then is this word of God, and how shall it be used, since there are so many words of God?" Luther answers, "the Apostle explains that in Romans 1:17 'The just shall live by faith.'... It is clear then that a Christian man has in his faith all that he
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