Understanding Martin Luther’s Demonological Rhetoric in His Treatise against the Heavenly Prophets (1525): How What Luther Speaks is Essential to What Luther Says

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Martin Luther’s rhetoric of the demonic in his treatise Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments (1525) expresses a soteriological argument regarding the necessary relation between the two realms of faith and works, which he reformulates as the proper relationship between justification and sanctification. This book builds upon the revisionist approaches of interdisciplinary studies by applying the concerns of rhetoric and linguistics as new tools of research in the field of Reformation Studies.


"Whereas Luther’s violent rhetoric has long been dismissed by a multitude of scholars as a merely accidental quality expressive of the late-medieval political environment in which Luther engaged, this exciting argument persuades the reader step by careful step that Luther’s rhetoric is inextricably bound up with the inner, substantial core of his argument on virtually all questions of theological significance. By virtue of his extensive and discerning re-thinking of the relevance of Luther’s rhetoric to the interpretation of the subtle contours of his theology, Harold Ristau has made a highly constructive contribution to Luther scholarship, one well deserving of correspondingly careful study and attention." - Dr. Torrance Kirby, McGill University

“Harold Ristau achieves a stunning feat. With a post-modern concern for the performative, constituative function of the spoken word, he manages to explain and to some extent, even commend this polemical text . . .” – Dr. John W. Kleinig, Australian Lutheran College

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations
Foreword by Dr. Torrance Kirby
PART I: Luther’s use of a demonic-infused rhetoric
Luther’s hermeneutic as spiritual war
Critical neglect of Luther’s rhetoric
Simultaneous presence of antithetical realities
Luther’s rhetorical challenge and its relationship to his dialectic
Rhetoric as an apocalyptic event
Luther’s dialogical rhetoric and the union of the two realms
Controlling the battle through rhetorical techniques
Invoking the devil to glorify Christ
Faith and works: the foundation of Luther’s rhetoric
Correspondence of ‘faith and works’ with ‘sinner and saint’
Judging faith by works: an effective polemic
The nature of evil and the demonic
Evil as privation
Confusing ‘use’ and ‘enjoyment’
Ethical judgments according to external appearances
The greatest manifestation of evil
Two-fold definition of demons and radical soteriology
First demonic error: a false self-understanding
The roots of sin in misplacement and misuse
Evil seeking divinity
Second demonic error: creatures aspiring to create
Confusing the two kingdoms and rejecting God-given vocations
The Radicals’ temptation
Karlstadt’s demonic hermeneutic
All things equal
Confusing formal and material hermeneutic principles
Transformation of grammar into an idol
Reason superseding Scripture 208 Reason and the question of images
Ethical ramifications of images
Distinguishing between a ‘two-track’ and a ‘one-track’ hermeneutic
The “Karlstadtian manner”
Right motivation in the removal of images
Ironic reasoning and acts of iconoclasm
When freedom becomes compulsion
Converting Christians into Jews

Ethical decisions and a passive soteriology
PART II: Luther’s critique of the Heavenly Prophets’ worldview
The sanctified life and eschatological vision
Shaping ecclesiastical and social reform
A soteriology of ‘being’ versus ‘becoming’
Confusion of ‘internal’ and ‘external’ realms
Consequences of separating justification and sanctification
Anthropology’s relationship with soteriology and Christology
A new religion of Gelassenheit
Confusing the two species of righteousness
An epistemological problem
Social and personal consequences of epistemological error
The microcosm of ‘Gottesdienst’ versus ‘menschendienst’
Questions of mediation through images and sacraments
Anthropology and the unity of body, mind, and space
Confusions of body and spirit in eucharistic doctrines
Direct mediation in radical epistemology
Christological and anthropological supports for Luther’s sacramental theology
Karlstadt’s ‘demonic’ eucharistic teaching
Demonic presuppositions
Two meanings of sacramental “participation”
Metaphysical dilemma of corporeal presence within time and space
Radical account of the Lord’s Supper
The Radicals’ Lord’s Supper as works righteousness
Radicals’ debasement of the material elements
Body/soul dualism as the ground of iconoclasm
Transcending the material realm
The confusion of “Fleisch” and “Geist”
Man made spiritual through the physicality of the Sacrament
Chalcedonian Christology and Luther’s doctrine of the Eucharist
Radical eucharistic doctrine and divine presence on earth
Transubstantiation’s account of divine presence
Luther’s dialectic of the two realms and sacramental presence
Metaphysical implications of Consubstantiation
Luther between the Heavenly Prophets

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