Luther and the potentia ordinata of God: Nominalistic or Christological?
It is commonly argued that the young Luther was a mystic, but then later, after dealing with the radical elements of the Reformation, he changed his position. Heiko Oberman, however, disagrees, pointing to numerous works of Luther over a large span of years and showing a continuity in his thought regarding mysticism, though of course with changes here and there. For example, Luther did not rule out “high mysticism” as impossible but rather cautioned against its dangers. For Luther, drawing from his spiritual (not “literal”) exegesis of Leah and Rachel, accessus has priority over raptus—i.e., justification by faith through the incarnate and crucified word has priority over raptus by the uncreated word (the latter being that which was characterized by dangerous speculations not tethered to the Word). Commenting on 2 Cor 12:2 which reads, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows” (ESV), Luther writes, “who would consider himself so clean, that he would dare to pursue this, unless he is called, and like the Apostle Paul, lifted up by God.” As Oberman observes, “there is here transition here from ‘rare’ to ‘dare,’ […]; yet this transition is not so unexpected and is understandable in the light of the fact that in the prologue of the most important nominalistic Sentences commentaries, the Apostle Paul is introduced on the basis of II Cor. 12 as an exception to the rule de potentia ordinata according to which the status of the viator is contrasted with that of the beatus in that he is not yet a comprehensor, not yet face to face with God, and hence without immediate knowledge of God. Though Luther employs the concept of the potentia ordinata of God, so characteristic for nominalistic theology; in his commentary on Genesis, he gives it a Christological point instead of its primary epistemological meaning: the potentia ordinata is here not primarily the order established by the inscrutable free God who could as well have established another order, but it is clearly the order of redemption in Jesus Christ, established out of God’s mercy to provide sinful man with a refuge from danger” (The Dawn of the Reformation, p. 139)
 As Oberman notes, to insist on the literal sense (sensus litere) is for Luther to read Scripture as an unbeliever (consider Spinoza as a case in point)! Reading Scripture with the understanding of faith (sensus fidei) excels the sensus litere (p. 147).