Passionate Embrace: Luther on Love, Body and Sensual Presence

By Elisabeth Gerle

A re-examination of the body and the erotic in Lutheran theology, offering a challenge to more austere and traditional interpretations.

ISBN: 9780227176894


Protestant ethics has often been associated with work and duty, excluding sensuality, sexuality and other pleasures. In an age of body worship as well as body loathing, Elisabeth Gerle explores new paths, embarking on a conversation with Martin Luther in dialogue with contemporary theologians on attitudes towards desire, ethics and politics. She draws on Eros theology to challenge traditional Lutheran stereotypes, such as the dichotomies between different forms of love, as well as between spirit and body.

Gerle argues that Luther’s spiritual breakthrough, where grace and gifts of creation became central, provides new meaning to sex and desire as well as to work, body and ordinary life. Women are seen in a new light – as companions, autonomous ethical agents, part of the priesthood of all. This had revolutionary consequences in Europe at the time, and it represents a challenge to contemporary theologies with a nostalgic appetite for austerity, asceticism and female submission. Luther’s erotic and genderfluid language is a healthy challenge to oppressive political structures centred on greed, profit and competition. A revised Scandinavian creation theology and a deep sense of the incarnational mystery are resources for contemporary theology and ethics.

Additional information

Dimensions229 × 153 mm


Trade InformationJPOD

About the Author

Elisabeth Gerle is Professor of Ethics at Lund University and at Church of Sweden Research Department. Her works deal with religion and politics, Luther, politics and the erotic.


Acknowledgments and Thanks

A Short Introduction

1. The Contemporary Landscape: Body Worship and Body Loathing
2. Luther: Heroic Liberator or Oppressor?
3. Human Bodies as a Phenomenon: Body Theology and Longing for the Past
4. A Woman Reads Origen, Augustine, Bernard, and Luther
5. The Movement of the Senses: Towards the Everyday
6. Commercial Transaction or Loving Embrace?
7. Eros as Poisoned Chalice, Medicine, or Everyday Body? Eros and Agape in a New Light
8. Eros Theology Challenges Traditional Lutheran Binary Opposites
9. Body, Sexuality, and Institutions: Roads to Salvation, Disciplining, or Presence and Gift?
10. Passion That Transforms: Patriarchy and Paradise, Personal and Private
11. Birth and Blossoming: Passionate Vision for the Future and Contrast to Greed



Endorsements and Reviews

Elisabeth Gerle reveals the long-lost and loveable body in Luther’s theology. Without muffling the internal contradictions and half millennium distance, Gerle solicits in this breakthrough of sensual materiality, of vibrant attention ethical and erotic to our physicality, a crucial ancestor for sexual politics and embodied spirituality today. Her writing beautifully performs the passion it so lucidly describes.
Dr Catherine Keller, Drew University

This work liberates love, body, and sensuality from a discipline that for too many a century entrapped theological dogmas, perverting into sins of the flesh the loving sensuous fervors of the body. With the help of Luther’s theological incarnational turn, eroticism receives its proper place in theological language. This book fills a long-standing lacuna. Passionate Embrace is indeed most embraceable.
Dr Vítor Westhelle, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago

Taking body as the starting point for theology sheds critical light on the dangers of body cult vs. body loathing today, and the historic dualism with its many tentacles. Elisabeth Gerle returns to the fundamentals of Christian faith: God mysteriously, yet really, present in body, and human beings’ sensory experience of God in grief and delight. In this aesthetically and intellectually stimulating treatment, immersed in apt global discourse across disciplines, Martin Luther emerges as an ally for a holistic spirituality with political consequences. A unique book, written with passion.
Kirsi Stjerna, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary

In an age where the ‘body of knowledge’ on Reformation and Transformation is actually characterized by ‘dis-embodiedness’ Elisabeth Gerle provides us with this book about Transformative Passion. In a critical dialogue with Luther and contemporary theologians she expands our thinking on Love, Body, and Sensual Presence that challenges nostalgic theological trends dreaming of the past.
Sarojini Nadar, Desmond Tutu Research Chair, University of the Western Cape

With the instincts of a jazz singer, Gerle weaves feminist, Lutheran and eros theologies together with political theory and ethics. Intentionally breaking the rules of patriarchal texts, her non-linear writing is designed to entice and evoke. Gerle’s deep, broad research propose fresh resources for understanding grace-filled, embodied desire at the heart of theology. Passion draws us to one another and to God, healing and calling us to live more deeply into the world.
Marit Trelstad, Professor of Constructive Theology, Department of Religion, Pacific Lutheran University