'God is Hidden in the Earthly Kingdom': The Lutheran Two-Kingdoms Theory as Foundation of Scandinavian Secularity

Rosemarie van den Breemer, José Casanova, and Trygve Wyller eds., "Secular and Sacred? The Scandinavian Case of Religion in Human Rights, Law and Public Space" (Göttingen/Bristol, CT: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013), 56-84

Emory Legal Studies Research Paper No. 14-309

25 Pages Posted: 2 Nov 2014 Last revised: 11 Aug 2019

See all articles by John Witte

John Witte

Emory University School of Law

Date Written: 2013

Abstract

Martin Luther’s signature “two kingdoms” teaching was an early and innovative theory of secularization that lies at the heart of historical Scandinavian culture. Defying the organic medieval models of Western Christendom, Luther separated the heavenly and earthly kingdoms, the saint and the sinner, faith and reason, church and the state, Gospel and the Law, as well as the spiritual and secular uses of law, government and authority. Though God is separated from day-to-day life, Luther wrote, “God is still hidden in the earthly kingdom” and can be seen through various “masks,” “mists,” and “mimes.” Though the visible church is separated from the state and other institutions, religion remains pervasive in the common callings of every person to be God’s prophet, priest and king in every vocation and location of life. Luther’s two kingdoms theory is a complicated and controversial part of this thinking, but it is worth re-exploring today as pluralistic Scandinavia faces strong new pressures of both sacralization and secularization and seeks to discern anew “the hidden sacrality of the secular.”

Keywords: Martin Luther; two kingdoms theory; church and state; canon law; civil law; Protestant Reformation; Germany; Scandinavia; human nature; natural law; natural reason; clergy and laity; social hierarchy; uses of the law

Suggested Citation

Witte, John, 'God is Hidden in the Earthly Kingdom': The Lutheran Two-Kingdoms Theory as Foundation of Scandinavian Secularity (2013). Rosemarie van den Breemer, José Casanova, and Trygve Wyller eds., "Secular and Sacred? The Scandinavian Case of Religion in Human Rights, Law and Public Space" (Göttingen/Bristol, CT: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013), 56-84, Emory Legal Studies Research Paper No. 14-309, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2517719

John Witte (Contact Author)

Emory University School of Law ( email )

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