Caritas Fide Formata
The following offers some thoughts on the relation between faith, love, and culture from a Lutheran perspective.
0. Martin Luther’s reformation of theology had a major impact on how people lived their lives in the world. His rediscovery of the gospel – the good news that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone – turned love of God and the neighbor from a means to an end to an end in itself. His rediscovery of the true way to heaven gave renewed, genuine dignity to man’s way here on earth.
1. The traditional Catholic definition of the relation between faith and love – love gives shape to faith lets faith appear as what is common; first love makes what is common special and specific, even real and valid coram deo (before God, in his sight).
2. Luther turned this around: The traditional formula, fides caritate formata (faith formed by love), becomes caritas fide formata (love formed by faith). This does not deny that love belongs to the essence of Christianity, but it does define the relationship between faith and love, the Christian and love, differently. It gives faith prevalence over love.
3. Caritas fide formata means, first of all, that our love is pleasing to God only by faith in Christ, not in and by itself. Faith here means, not some virtue of surpassing intrinsic worth coram deo, but childlike trust of the heart in Christ’s person and work pro nobis (for us), offered in the promise of the gospel. Love is general, common to all humans. Primarily by faith in Christ does it receive its specific Christian “form.” Caritas fide formata thus chiefly refers to something that is internal, the disposition of the heart toward God in Christ and the resulting freedom from sin, law, death, and the devil. Christian love is free in Christ.
4. Caritas fide formata, however, also refers to something that is external, that is, the objective faith, the teachings or articles of faith. Faith is not only trust of the heart; it is also knowledge and assent. The renewal of the image of God in man by faith (imputation) goes hand in hand with a renewal of sinful man’s knowledge of God’s will, the law, which is summarized in the double command of love of God and love of neighbor. It is exemplified in Christ’s self-sacrificial life of active and passive obedience on earth. And it is lived out in the three divinely instituted realms of human life on earth: church; family-work; and state. Love does not serve the self, but the other, both God and man. Christian love is bound in Christ.
5. Perfect love is perfect culture. In this sense, Adam and Eve were perfect in culture in paradise before the fall. God’s well-ordered creation is perfect culture. Jesus Christ, the second Adam, is perfect in culture.
6. As creation, culture pertains to the realm of the law, not to the gospel and redemption. As there is no redemption by law and love, so there is no redemption by culture. Yet as God’s law is good, holy, and just, so are genuine love and culture. As the former leads to the gospel, so do the latter.
7. As man was damaged by the fall, so culture, the good order of creation, was damaged by man’s fall into sin. This is why not every expression of culture is equally valid, just as not every expression of “love” is equally valid.
8. While this fall is repaired by Christ and while this repair is offered in the gospel unto faith, the damaging effect of sin on man and world is to be undone in an increase of love/culture.
9. While there is the promise of an increase of love/culture in the individual Christian without ever reaching this-worldly perfection (faith remains central), there is no such promise for the world as a whole; in fact, Scripture clearly indicates an increasing loss of culture and, therefore, abuse of creation.
10. Nonetheless, the Christian is called to use creation – and that includes his created strength and reason – in a proper and cultured way, that is, in love – in love that is formed by faith – to serve his neighbor. Since culture is love, it is not optional for the Christian; culture is necessary.
11. Neither the humanistic (“prescriptive”) nor the anthropological (“descriptive”) ways of looking at culture are satisfying, since both leave out the faith that gives form to culture both internally and externally. The humanistic concept of culture at least preserves the insight that genuine culture, due to its relation to love, is not an “anything goes.” Currently the egalitarian, anthropological approach to culture is prevalent; the humanist approach is deemed elitist.
12. Neither the theonomous (“God’s way”) nor the autonomous (“our way”) ways of looking at culture are satisfying; these two also leave out faith, either as internal form or as both internal and external shape of love. Yet a theonomous way of looking at culture at least preserves the insight that culture ought to reflect the Creator of all things, including culture, but it ignores creation’s fall into sin.
13. Many Christians today share the anthropological approach: Any given culture is deemed equally well suited when it comes to “communicating the gospel.” This shows itself most obviously in the selection of pop music for worship; it is made possible by an egalitarian theology that shuns doctrinal detail and experts. In this sense, one can say that here a specific faith has formed / laid hold of a specific, congenial culture. The axiom caritas fide formata is confirmed thereby, as is the axiom lex orandi, lex credendi (as one prays, so one believes). Every faith brings forth its own form of culture, including its own form of worship.
14. Lutherans beginning with Luther have upheld this nexus between faith and culture-love. Faith has a cultural expression. The tree of Christian faith bears specific fruits of love – faith shapes culture in concrete ways.
15. Today, however, often this nexus is denied in practice: either by adopting Evangelical patterns or by adopting Roman or Eastern Orthodox forms or by simply repristinating the historic cultural expressions of 17th century Lutheranism.
16. These various “cultural syntheses” have to be rejected: either because powerful cultural expressions of a different faith are thereby permitted in the Lutheran church (which will not remain without effect on the Lutheran faith that is presumably still held underneath foreign cultural expressions; consistency is a law of human existence, felicitous inconsistencies are the exception), or because a past form of love/culture is given undue preference (every age and place has to find its own “cultural synthesis” to affirm the abiding dignity God’s creation at every place and time).
17. What is needed is translating the rich unchanging faith into contemporary culture so that this culture is thereby transformed at the same time. As the German language was changed by Luther’s German bible translation, so contemporary culture will be changed in the process of translating the faith into it. Genuine acculturation of Christianity is thus no one-way street.
18. Culture as love respects, and follows, those who have gone before us in an exemplary fashion. This is why past genuine cultural expressions of the faith, especially those in the golden age of Lutheran Orthodoxy, will play an exemplary role when it comes to molding today’s love/culture by faith. It is in the age of Orthodoxy that the groundbreaking evangelical rediscoveries of Luther, like leaven, had come to affect thoroughly the common culture of the day. This particular synthesis came to an end in Pietism and Enlightenment. Attempts to resurrect this cultural synthesis under the circumstances of the Romanticism of the 19th century rarely stayed on the middle road between uncritical adoption of the culture of the day and unhistorical adoption of the culture of the 17th century – a genuine, contemporary cultural synthesis often did not come about. The necessary work of “translation” frequently remained a strictly literary endeavor.
19. In order to play this exemplary albeit not exclusive role, past expressions need to be used and studied diligently alongside current expressions of culture that have an affinity to Christian culture. Again, love/culture are general albeit damaged by sin.
20. Caritas – and summarily: cultura – fide formata does not exalt the Christian, or any particular cultural synthesis, but refers the contemporary neighbor to Christ, the object of the faith which shaped love to begin with.
 Possible Applications
 Law and Politics
 Family (marriage, children, the elderly)
 Recreation in Play and Leasure
- ↑ Luther writes on Gal. 5:6 (AE 27:29): “Furthermore, Paul does not make faith unformed here, as though it were a shapeless chaos without the power to be or to do anything; but he attributes the working itself to faith rather than to love. He does not suppose that it is some sort of shapeless and unformed quality; but he declares that it is an effective and active something, a kind of substance or, as they call it, a “substantial form.” He does not say: “Love is effective.” No, he says: “Faith is effective.” He does not say: “Love works.” No, he says: “Faith works.” He makes love the tool through which faith works. Now who does not know that a tool has its power, movement, and action, not from itself but from the artisan who works with it or uses it? For who would say that an axe gives the power and motion of cutting to a carpenter, or that a ship gives the power and motion of sailing to a sailor? Or, to cite an example used by Isaiah (10:15), who would say: “The saw wields the carpenter, and the staff lifts the hand”? It is no different when they say that love is the form of faith or that it grants power and movement to faith, that is, that it justifies. Since Paul does not even give love the credit for works, how would he give it credit for justification? Therefore it is certain that when this passage is distorted to refer to love rather than to faith, this is a great insult not only to Paul but to faith and love themselves.”
- ↑ T. S. Eliot very appropriately describes culture, defined as a comprehensive "way of life," as an "incarnation of religion," cf. his “Notes towards the Definition of Culture” (1948), in Christianity and Culture (San Diego etc.: Harcourt, n.d.), 100-106.