Martin Luther’s Mirifica Commutatio, ‘The Wonderful Exchange’

This represents nice prose by Martin Luther on the Mirifica Commutatio ‘Wonderful Exchange’:

By this mystery, as the Apostle teaches, Christ and the soul become one flesh. And if they are one flesh and there is between them a true marriage—indeed, the most perfect of all marriages, since human marriages are but poor examples of this one true marriage—it follows that everything they have they hold in common, the good as well as the evil. Accordingly the believing soul can boast of and glory in whatever Christ has as though it were its own, and whatever the soul has Christ claims as his own. Let us compare these and we shall see the inestimable benefits. Christ is full of grace, life, and salvation. The soul is full of sins, death, and damnation. Now let faith come between them and sins, death, and damnation will be Christ’s, while grace, life, and salvation will be the soul’s; for if Christ is a bridegroom, he must take upon himself the things which are his bride’s and bestow upon her the things that are his. If he gives her his body and very self, how shall he not give her all that is his? And if he takes the body of the bride, how shall he not take all that is hers? [Martin Luther, LW 31:351, cited by Carl Trueman in, Justification in Perspective: Chapter 4, Simul peccator et justus: Martin Luther and Justification, 79]

What is significant about this kind of framing is that it magnifies the Pauline, triune, relational frame of salvation. This runs contrary to framing salvation in purely forensic-juridical forms as Melanchthon (Luther’s under-study) is known for. Trueman tries to argue that Luther and Melanchthon were one and the same in their views here, just a difference in language and emphasis. In other words, Trueman would have us believe that Luther affirmed the forensic frame for understanding salvation; even though Luther has statements like the above running through the majority of his corpus. You will have to read this chapter by Trueman to see how he seeks to “Legalize” Luther. Nevertheless, this marriage-framework in Luther runs fluid with Calvin’s unio mystica; both in the mirifica commutatio tradition. Both run counter against the post-Reformed orthodox (Calvinist or even later Lutheran) understanding of salvation as purely juridical or forensic in trajectory.

I find Luther’s statement above to be a beautiful, scriptural, trinitarian, Pauline, Johannine articulation of what salvation entails. Another implication of this, is that salvation is understood to all be grounded in Christ (justification, sanctification, and glorification); and so we no longer have this rupture placed between the objective side of salvation (justification), and the subjective (sanctification), it is all placed and shaped by Christ himself. So Luther offers a participationist understanding of salvation. Which is commendable, and for my money, should be accepted as the best way to understand a framework for thinking of salvation through.

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16 thoughts on “Martin Luther’s Mirifica Commutatio, ‘The Wonderful Exchange’

  1. Bobby,

    Quoting Trueman from Luther is hardly seeing the whole of Luther and his doctrine of Justification. Personally I think you are pressing your position here a bit! But I am not looking to argue. One must simply read Luther in some depth! 🙂 As I noted Bernhard Lohse’s book is a great place to begin!

    Don’t be upset with me now, but please do a bit more Luther research? This is just a friendly challenge! There is even a nice book by a Roman Catholic I have, but it is printed by Concordia: Luther’s Faith, The Cause of the Gospel in the Church, by Daniel Olivier. Reading Luther on Luther’s terms is just a must!

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  2. Fr Robert,

    I think you’re presuming a little too much! As I’ve noted before, prior to you ever coming across my blogging almost all I posted on was Luther. My training in seminary, and thereafter, is steeped in Luther and Augustinian study via my teacher/mentor Dr. Ron Frost. I quoted from Trueman quoting Luther because I am reading this book!

    Your voice sounds a little condescending, and I don’t appreciate it. If you want to challenge what I said about Luther then challenge that. But don’t take tone with me, and I am referring to the presumption you are taking.

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  3. Bobby: I did my D.Phil. on Luther’s Ontology of the Cross! So I have been up the Luther road myself! I am not attacking you or your mentor, but just making a point..so few of us non-Lutheran Evangelicals really know Luther in depth!

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  4. Bobby,

    You might consider this, are you a bit quick on the draw? Note I am your elder in both years and just time in the ministry. I won’t mention the educational element. But that means little if ya can’t work it into both yourself, and others! Something to really think about in your situation! Take it or leave it! 🙂

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  5. Fr Robert,

    Who blasted who, first off?

    Second, you take this tact often; I have seen you do this with Brian LePort quite a few times, and he obviously doesn’t appreciate it, nor do I (and I have 10 yrs on Brian … but no matter, that’s not the point).

    As far as study on Luther, I have spent more hours studying him than anyone else thus far (more than either Calvin or TFT on a relative continuum). I have some depth with Luther is my point; and so for me to caution you on your presumptive tone is not to blast you, but to throw your presumption on my own depth on Luther into some critical relief (e.g. take it out of the presumptive/assertive tone that your “point” to me was pivoting on).

    As far as me putting myself under someone in the blogosphere, pastorally, it’s simply not going to happen, Robert (no dis-respect). I have people who are my elder/senior who I do put myself under that way, but its just not going to happen electronically (except with Myk, and he doesn’t operate this way anyway). But no, I’m not really all that interested in taking pastoral feedback (as far as personal correction) on-line. … I’m just not open to that.

    If you want to comment on the material stuff that my post is addressing, then I’m all ears. But simply to appeal to age and credentials is of formal import, and yet that’s not what I am looking for when I post things like this; I’m looking for material and constructive feedback relative to the stuff of the post itself. I somewhat challenge Trueman’s reading, implicitly, of Luther in the post; and so I am open to hearing why you find that disagreeable. I am not appealing to something that is not un-contested in the literature on Luther (e.g. Finnish-interpretation etc.). In fact I am functioning with a reconstructive reading and thesis on Luther (contra folks like Trueman), one that has teeth given Luther’s genealogy of thought relative to his teachers like von Staupitz, Gerson, and back into the mystical tradition typified by someone like Bernard. I am running against trad and conventional readings of Luther because I think they miss substantial pieces of Luther’s corpus (of which I have read large swaths at a primary and secondary level). Interestingly, Trueman even in this paper of his gives the relational reading of Luther on one hand, and then takes it away with his other hand as he tries in the end to morph Luther back into the juridical frame. Furthermore, the thesis and reading I am reading Luther from certainly comes from one that I was introduced to by my mentor/prof Ron Frost (and is based upon his own research and then research that I have engaged in personally because of his; in fact my Master’s Thesis on I Cor 1.17-25 was inspired by Martin Luther’s theologia crucis).

    Again, Fr Robert, if you want to engage, materially (vs. the formal point I just made on credentials etc), then have at it. I would like to hear how your own work on Luther’s theologia crucis might add to or counter the one that I am suggesting in this post.

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  6. Bobby,

    I am not asking you to accept my personal eldership at all, but I was somewhat falling back on what I thought was a friendship and some aspect of theological agreement. (Your not the liberal mindset of Leport, btw!) But, yes I can see that this is also a theological disagreement between us. I am closer to Trueman’s theology, simply. In the end, as we both know I fall in with more of the Classic Calvinist’s, like Muller. And this obviously includes Luther’s Augustianism. Also we both know that you are seeking to promote you theological position, which is fine…your blog, etc. But again, this is why I am not much of a blogger myself. It is a very imperfect tool in the cause and purpose of Christ. Again, one of those para church things. And just not that much of an instrument for this old Anglican.

    The Peace of Christ, 🙂

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  7. Fr Robert,

    Yes, I consider us “e-friends,” but I don’t appreciate the insinuation of your earlier point (i.e. about me needing to do more Luther research before apparently, you think, I should be saying such things … that is a jab, all there is to it). We all have “our” theological positions: me, you, Trueman, Muller, Luther, Calvin, Barth, TFT, Lohse, et al., and indeed, every time we open our mouths or make a key-stroke, to communicate theologically, we communicate our theological positions. Indeed, I have one of those.

    As far as eldership; when you appeal to age and credentials to create space for your point, contra a material one that think I am making, then it is this that I don’t find fruitful, and it isn’t something I look for when I am blogging. Anyway, we’re clear on that probably.

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  8. Bobby,

    Yeah I cannot escape being 61, and just an old biblical & theological and too social conservative, but also always an Anglican who is a classic Calvinist for the most part! I am just not at home on the blog often. I use it, but I confess that I don’t like it all that much. It is a poor tool to my mind pastorally! I am foremost a pastor-teacher! I know I cross that pastoral line often, but in the end, like John MacArthur it is all that I know, and all that I believe really matters! 🙂

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  9. Bobby,

    I know you know and feel the probematic nature of the blog! And again, I only quoted MacArthur, but certainly out of respect for his unflinching belief in the nature of the pastorate! Which has certainly fallen on hard times!

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  10. Bobby,

    I actually don’t know fully? I too have some history with MacArthur, we wrote snail mail way back in the 80’s, over his rejection of the Eternal Sonship at the time, of course I stood for the truth of such. And about three years ago we met, briefly. He is old school certainly (as I), but to my mind basically a solid pastor-teacher. Remember, there is no infallibility in any of us, we all have feet of clay!

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  11. Fr Robert,

    I just cannot endorse MacArthur or the training that he gives his young pastors, in general. I too have personal experience with many of his students (from the Masters Seminary), and, at least in one instance (at our past church in CA) one of these caused a split. This does not necessarily reflect on Mac., but this story is repeated and repeated, and so there must be a common thread. Anyway, MacArthur is highly problematic in my mind!

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  12. Bobby,

    I don’t “endorse” MacArthur, or Masters, though I too have met several Masters people. The Church right across the way (Anaheim Hills) is a Masters product. It is called “Kindred”. The pastor is a Scot, born and bred. They are certainly ‘fundamentalist’ and right down the dispensational, pre-trib line, with a Reformed Baptist type flavor also. But that is just the nature of this kind of conservative Bible Church. So I just see this as the nature of the beast if you will. Look at the nature of the divisions that happened in the PB’s (Plymouth Brethren 19th century). It is sad somewhat, but we do live in an even more secular culture now. In my communion (Anglican) they would not divide over anything hardly now. So people that want to live serious and so-called “fundamentalist” Christian lives, are not bad really, but sometimes intolerant to their perception of laxity and moral evil, and this includes doctrinal issues many times. Today sadly we live in more “emergent” church attitudes.

    I have seen this kind of problem even with the Federal Calvinists verses the Federal Vision. Its the same kind of doctrinal divide. And I agree there should be more openness per se, but a Church should stand upon its beliefs. I can remember in Ireland when we Catholics were the only one’s go’in to heaven! 😉

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  13. Fr Robert,

    I suppose that we all have our various experiences and even ethnic backgrounds, which shape the way we interpret things like this. I don’t have a problem, really, with what would be considered fundy by many (I would be considered that by some); but instead its the doctrine that MacArthur fundyism teaches that I have a problem with.

    I fully believe, though, that people should communicate what they believe with strong conviction; I have no problem with that! I have problems with approaches that don’t do this. Of course there always needs to be room and humility to engage each other and not take sectarian attitudes (unless of course someone is a Federal Calvinist, then I must become sectarian 😉 kidding).

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