Luther and Snow on Dunghills

Somewhere or other Martin Luther was supposed to have illustrated his understanding of God’s grace by saying it was like snow that covers a dunghill. In other words, when confronted with our sinful condition God covers it, but underneath we’re still a pile of steaming shit.

Now don’t get all huffy because I’ve used a dirty word. St Paul wasn’t averse to using strong language when he needed to. (Phil. 3:8)

The fact is, Luther’s theology was marketed as a bright day dawning for the human race because we were no longer bound by all the legalism of the medieval Catholic Church, but we were set free by faith and justified. But that theology still regarded us as a pile of poop, only fit for covering.

I’m reminded of Luther’s metaphor as we are in the middle of some winter weather in South Carolina.

There is snow, but it’s messy snow. It was mixed with rain. Now it is all melting and turning to brown mud and puddles of water and lots of squish and slush.

Meditating on the weather, it seems to me that the snow metaphor and human nature and grace is much more like a South Carolina snow fall than a German one.

Here the snow is mixed up with the mud and it is all pretty messy. So it is with God’s grace. Catholic believe God’s grace is infused not imputed. In other words, it is infused into us as tea is infused into water. It is not just put on top of us to cover us and make us pretty.

If it is infused, then at this present time God’s grace and my human failures are mixed up together. He is working his way into our lives in and through the very things we are ashamed of as well as all the gifts and goodness we manifest. As usual Catholic theology is common sense. It makes sense that God is working his purpose out through and in the midst of all things. The world is charged with the glory of God, and that glory shines through the mud and the blood and the sweat and the tears as well as in the happy smiles.

Give me that over the snow on a dunghill any day.

Here’s another aspect of the snow on a dunghill image on which I’ve been cogitating. If the theology says “God’s grace is just covering up your sinful condition, then how do you live that out?” I know there are hypocritical, image conscious Christians in all denominations, but in my experience Evangelicals are far more likely to invest huge amounts of time, money and energy on “putting on a happy face.” They like to create a Christian image that is practically perfect in every way, and they are far more prone to attempt the creation of a squeaky clean, Puritanical sort of utopia community than Catholics.

I’ve never felt comfortable in such communities–whether they’re Protestant or Catholic. I’m more on the side of G.K.Chesterton who said when he was considering different churches, when he went into the Catholic Church and left his umbrella at the door, when he came out it was gone. Somebody had stolen it. At the Methodist church, he claimed it was still there. That’s why he joined the Catholic Church–because he felt more at home.

If God’s grace is mingled with my life, then the snow and the mud are mingled too, but with a bit of time and a bit more grace that snow will  melt into the mud and then with some penitential ploughing and some warmer weather, Spring will come and all shall be well.

2018-12-10T10:49:32+00:00December 10th, 2018|Categories: Blog|1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Christopher Range December 10, 2018 at 1:20 pm

    The understanding of sin in Ancient Christianity both East and West in the age of the great Fathers of the Church was not of a total depravity which must be covered (as in Luther’s case) or merely expiated in a juridical sense. Both the western and eastern traditions had an understanding of sin as an ontological disease, and the Church was the hospital. Christ the Great Physician is a healer of the sickness of sin. The medicine was and is a regime of ontological healing brought about by the sacraments, and through prayer. In particular we must be aware of the healing effects on the soul of Noetic prayer and Hesychasm which was known both in East and West. In the west this was exemplified in the teaching of Saint John Cassian, one of the Latin writers who actually appears in the Philokalia, and who was a spiritual ancestor of the tradition carried on now by the Benedictines. in the Christian east, this Way which leads to healing of the soul is the entire point. Because the healing of the soul occurs with a real connection with God. We are not a dung heap covered by snow. What dung there is within us can be transformed. We can be changed even in this life, through metamorphosis of the soul, in the process of what our Latin-speaking friends call divinization, or what we in the east call Theosis. Yet this healing cannot occur within a strictly juridical reading of the faith. Healing occurs with considerable repentance, humility, and through an ortho-praxy which leads us into the light that we may at first be warmed and then transformed.

Leave A Comment