Solomon's Political Body: Luther's Lectures on Song of Songs and Contemporary Political Theology

This paper seeks to propose ways in which Luther’s lectures on Song of Songs and his perspective on wisdom more broadly speaking might prove generative for contemporary political theology. In particular, after briefly positing the significance of the political context surrounding the Song of Songs lectures, it explores three interconnected topics: (1) Luther’s teaching on Song of Songs in relation to his doctrine of the three estates (drei Stände); (2) the role of wisdom (and Wisdom literature) within the framework of the three estates, as well as the function of sapiential offices and speech-action; and (3) how the political wisdom that Luther derives from Song of Songs in particular and Wisdom literature in general intersects with the work of contemporary Lutheran political theologians on bodily life. While previous readings of Luther’s lectures on Song of Songs have well noted both Luther’s political interpretation of the Song and the relation of such a move to the interpretations of previous interpreters from Origen of Alexandria to Bernard of Clairvaux, this paper suggests that placing Luther’s lectures within the context of his teaching on the three estates (drei Stände) will strengthen readers’ understanding not only of Luther’s political thought per se, but also of the relation he perceives between the politia and the other two estates, namely the oeconomia and the ecclesia. Probing this relation between the politia and the other two estates in Song of Songs opens up broader questions regarding the role of wisdom and Wisdom literature within Luther’s ethics of the estates. According to Luther, earlier readers of Song of Songs misinterpret the book not because they read it figuratively (as Luther himself does), but rather because they read it as a book for the ecclesia rather than the politia. To do so is to confuse the role Solomon plays as the economic-political administrator par excellence. Solomon’s sapiential office does not primarily serve the ecclesia but rather serves those entrusted with the care of the home and the polis. Solomon’s various modes of delivery befit such an office, be they the “precepts” of Proverbs (LW 15:195), the “public sermon” in Ecclesiastes (LW 15:12), or the “amatory ballad” in Song of Songs (LW 15:193). By delimiting the speech-action of the traditionally Solomonic corpus to the oeconomia and the politia, Luther presses readers more fully into political (and domestic) life, urging them to consider what sort of claims God is making upon both their political bodies and the body politic in which they find themselves. In the final, constructive section, this paper proposes that the political eroticism of Luther’s exegesis of Song of Songs may both enhance and challenge contemporary Lutheran accounts of political theology by engaging the global Lutheran perspectives offered in two recent publications: Lutheran Identity and Political Theology (eds. Carl-Henric Grenholm and Goran Gunner) and Churrasco: A Theological Feast in Honor of Vitor Westhelle (eds. Mary Philip, John Arthur Nunes, and Charles M. Collier).