Paul R. Hinlicky
A meta-argument is needed today to go forward in theology with Luther. For speaking of God, even in sophisticated ways, is a dangerous business that can lead astray. Theology is not in the Reformer’s mind an unambiguous good. But neither is silence an option, if God has spoken. If God has spoken, one is summoned, indeed, empowered to speak in response. In some distinction from the dialectical theology of the 20th century, which oscillates between the Word of God and the word of man, Luther employed a dialectic of the Word and the Spirit to organize theology. And if in the power of the Spirit one speaks in response to God’s Word about God, one must also speak with others about speech about God that accords with God’s speech. This discourse straddles the community of faith and the academy. Thus three orders of theological discourse—speech in God’s name, the church’s confession, and academic theology—can be sorted in order to facilitate Luther’s challenge to theology as a dangerous business fraught with peril. It must do so in a way that both retrieves his insight into the dialectic of Word and Spirit and also guards against Luther’s own failures, especially in academic theology, when invective supplanted dialogue.
Within the Trinitarian sequence of Word and Spirit, the performance of God’s gospel word, so that it is experienced by the alienated sinner as the event of God surpassing the wrath of his love to establish the mercy of his love, constitutes the primary theology for Luther. This is discovered in the biblical matrix of Christian faith where the Spirit births every believer. Thus the primary theology of the Bible, taken as gospel speech in God’s name, gives “true” knowledge of God “in Christ crucified”; this is known and acknowledged in secondary theological speech, including Luther’s own doctrinal production. But the articulate recognition of these two orders is the critical work of an academic theologian.
Luther is in principle critically dogmatic, and where he falls short of this standard, he can and may be corrected by his own academic standards. The case depends on (1) the Trinitarian interpretation of the dialectic of Word and Spirit as primary and secondary orders of theological knowledge, respectively, that are conscience-binding, church-uniting and context-independent, and (2) the differentiation of the former from the academic task in hermeneutics and critical thinking that is context-dependent and subject to nothing other than reason and persuasion.
Luther’s theology of the Trinity is firmly rooted in the catholic tradition of the church. In scholarly debate, it has therefore not received the same attention as the doctrines usually associated with the distinctive profile of the teaching of the Reformation, like the doctrine of justification by faith alone. The intrinsic connection between Luther’s catholic theology of the Trinity and the distinctive emphases of Reformation theology has consequently often been overlooked. Luther was reasonably well acquainted with the medieval debate and could occasionally, as in the late disputations, directly comment upon them, if the distinctions served to clarify his view of the place of Trinitarian teaching in the church.
The most interesting question with regard to Luther’s doctrine of the Trinity is not which influences can be traced in his Trinitarian thought but how he developed the status of Trinitarian discourse in Christian faith and how he applied it in his treatment of other theological issues.
If we survey Luther’s engagement with the doctrine of the Trinity, ranging from the early glosses on Lombard’s Sentences and Augustine’s De Trinitate to the very last disputation, we can see that in all the different genres in which he develops his theology, Trinitarian reflection plays an integral role. Luther’s own attempts at giving expression to the Trinitarian faith are developed within the boundaries of creedal orthodoxy. He does not modify the doctrinal tradition of the conciliar Creeds but employs it in such a way that its basis in the witness of Scripture becomes apparent and that the task of Trinitarian language in relating the different articles of Christian faith to their foundation and so can be understood by others.
Though it is well-known that Martin Luther stood in some connection to the late medieval theologians of his Order and that he intensively studied Augustine’s works in the mid-1510s, the exact nature of the influence either or both exercised upon the development of his theology is disputed. Arguably his adoption of advanced anti-Pelagian convictions aligns him with Gregory of Rimini contra pelagianos modernos in the realm of scholastic theology, while the pastoral theology he imbibed from Staupitz places him in a living tradition of “Augustinian Frömmigkeitstheologie” within the O.E.S.A. (the Hermit Order of St. Augustine). However, the most important impetus Luther received from late medieval Augustinianism was its determination to do theology in conversation with Augustine’s own works. Probably in 1514, Luther read the anti-Pelagian writings contained in the 1506 Amerbach edition of the Opera Omnia, and made his own both the iustitia passiva from sp. litt. 9.15 and the nexus of doctrines associated with residual “sin” in the baptized, which was increasingly emphasized in Augustine’s later works against Julian. Though young Friar Martin’s “Augustinianism” shifted in several respects, it possessed an enduring significance in Luther’s evangelical theology.
Michael P. DeJonge
Contemporary political theology often defines itself against Lutheran social ethics, which is portrayed as politically disengaged and overly deferential to state power. At the same time, contemporary political theology often embraces the Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer as an exemplary political theologian. This incongruity is generally resolved by distancing Bonhoeffer from his tradition, at least on matters of political theology. But Bonhoeffer’s political theology was thoroughly Lutheran. Throughout the years of his political-theological engagement, from the Nazi rise to power in 1932–1933 to the drafting of Ethics and related writing in 1940–1943, he participated in ongoing conversations within Lutheran social ethics on the issues of, among others, the two kingdoms and the orders. In the process, he critically appropriated these elements of Lutheran thinking into an especially dynamic and christocentric framework that in turn informed his positions on various issues such as the church’s proclamation against the Nazi state and the ecumenical church’s witness for peace. Bonhoeffer is an example of Lutheran political theology, one that suggests the need to revise at least the more sweeping judgments about Lutheran theology as inherently incompatible with political engagement.
Across the theology of the 19th century, Martin Luther came to represent not only the Reformation but also what it meant to be Protestant—and, more than occasionally, what it meant to be modern, German, and Lutheran, in particular. Much of the modern theological interaction with and “return” to Luther occurred in the context of the various Luther or Lutheran Reformation jubilees; these religious, commemorative occasions were themselves more often than not heavily politicized affairs: for instance, 1817, 1830, 1867, and 1883. In addition, neo-confessional movements and attempts at both retrieving and “repristinating” the theology of the Reformation confessions and the highly developed systems of Protestant orthodoxy, as well as debates over what constituted the key “principle of Protestantism,” had a significant impact in the reception and formation of Luther’s image (Lutherbild) in theology across the modern era. Certain aspects of Luther’s theology, such as his doctrine of the hiddenness of God (Deus absconditus) from his landmark treatise De servo arbitrio (The Bondage of the Will, 1525), played particularly important roles. A few basic approaches to Luther emerged in the second half of the 19th century, spearheaded by such figures as Albrecht Ritschl, Theodosius Harnack, C. F. W. Walther, and Charles Porterfield Krauth. Some, like Ludwig Feuerbach or Søren Kierkegaard, constructed idiosyncratic images of the reformer. Many of the interpretations arose from polemical concerns, whether political, ecclesiastical, or theological. Conflicts over the proper appropriation of Luther’s thought increasingly resembled the battles between Protestants and Catholics in the late Reformation over who could claim the authority of the church fathers and other patristic voices. In many respects, the story of Luther’s theological reception is also a struggle for authority.
Mark D. Chapman
Luther’s impact on Anglicanism, especially on the Church in England but also in Scotland, is difficult to gauge. The English and Scottish Reformations moved in ways that were more influenced by Reformed theology than by Luther himself. Nevertheless, there were many relationships between Luther and Britain that began during the time of Henry VIII. There was a correspondence between Luther and Henry, and the Reformer was even consulted on the King’s Great Matter (his attempt to have his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled). The king also wrote a treatise on the seven sacraments attacking Luther’s theology, to which Luther responded with his usual vitriol. During the 1520s there were efforts to ban Lutheran ideas under Cardinal Wolsey and John Fisher, although a number of early English evangelicals, including William Tyndale, Robert Barnes and John Frith, adopted many of Luther’s key doctrines even though they blended them with other sources. During the 1530s there were several efforts at forging diplomatic alliances between Henry and the German princes of the Schmalkaldic League, which in turn meant that Lutheran theology received a more sympathetic hearing in England. There was a significant although contested influence of Lutheran formularies on Anglican statements of faith and to a lesser extent on the liturgy of the Books of Common Prayer. What has been described as the “death of Lutheran England” began toward the end of the 1530s and early 1540s with the conservative backlash that led to the execution of Barnes. Later, after the death of Henry, there was a gradual acceptance of ideas, especially on Eucharistic presence, that stemmed from elsewhere in the Continent and that departed significantly from Luther’s views. As such ideas rose to prominence in Anglican theology, especially during the reign of Edward VI, Lutheran theology came to be regarded as increasingly conservative. Although there were further efforts to revive Lutheranism in the Elizabethan period, in general he was understood more as a pastor than a theologian. Although several later British figures promoted Luther, in general it has been more Calvinist or pietist positions far removed from Luther and his teachings that have dominated: for Anglican theology, and with rare exceptions for Britain in general, Luther remains a distant figure who for the most part is unread and seldom taught.
Alister E. McGrath
Following the deep and unsettling questions raised about the legacy of German Protestant theology as a result of the Great War (1914‒1918), a new interest emerged in returning to the fons et origo of Protestant theology in the writings of Martin Luther and other reformers. This was given additional impetus through the work of Karl Holl, who is widely credited with shaping the “Luther Renaissance” of 1919‒1921. Dialectical theology was a movement focused on Karl Barth that arose within German-speaking Protestantism in the aftermath of the Great War. The reception of Luther within the dialectical theology movement is complex and not easily reduced to simple categorizations. The diverse theological and confessional commitments within the movement led to various readings of Luther, generally mediated through secondary sources or channels. The movement portrayed itself in terms of a theocentric new reformation, breaking free from the cultural compromises and entanglements of German liberal theology in the first two decades of the twentieth century, particularly in relation to anthropology, Christology, and the understanding of sin. The movement presented itself as both the heir and reinterpreter of the theological legacy of the Reformation, particularly the theology of Martin Luther, most notably its emphasis on divine revelation. Yet its leading representatives—Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Rudolf Bultmann, and Friedrich Gogarten—understood Luther in somewhat different manners. It is therefore important to consider the use made of Luther by each of these figures individually, rather than try to collapse them into a single generic approach which is held to be representative of dialectical theology. The high profile these four writers accorded to Luther unquestionably stimulated Luther studies in the postwar period and contributed significantly to the current appreciation of Luther in contemporary theological debate.
Simon D. Podmore
Principally, Luther defers from philosophy’s authority to the authority of theology owing to an intense recognition of theology’s ultimate foundation in revelation. Allied to this is a suspicion about philosophy’s intellectual hubris and speculative neglect of the individual coram Deo (“before God”)—the “God” who is only known as revealed pro me (“for me”). As it transpires in modern philosophy’s emergence from its “service” to theology, variations of such concerns come to shape a new philosophical horizon which, for better or ill, come closer to Luther’s own in important and underexamined ways. Under implicit or explicit influence from Luther, key figures in modern European philosophy reconfigure critical new modes of philosophy which can be read to reflect Lutheran concerns about the nature of philosophy and reason itself. This story is related through key figures in modern philosophy (Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, Feuerbach, Kierkegaard, Heidegger), leading from the birth and apotheosis of the modern, through to the critical emergence of the postmodern. Through the critical reception of Luther in these philosophers, it is shown that modern European philosophy regularly deals with Lutheran tensions but often produces visions of the role of reason and selfhood which would have deeply troubled Luther himself. Nonetheless, there are also signs of a recovery of Luther’s suspicions about the possibilities of knowing which also bring into question the parameters of postmodern philosophy itself.
Pietism, the major Protestant renewal movement in the 17th and 18th centuries, sought to bring the head into the heart, to recover an experiential-expressive faith, to continue Luther’s reform of doctrine with reform of Christian living, to complete justification by sanctification. Hence Pietism understood itself as “the Second Reformation,” as the “church always reforming.”
The leading figures of Lutheran Pietism understood themselves as true followers of Luther. Johann Arndt’s True Christianity (1605–1610), one of the most influential writings of early modern Protestantism, appealed to the young Luther’s esteem for late medieval mysticism, and emphasized Christian religious experience. Philipp Jakob Spener, “the Father of Pietism,” wrote the programmatic tract for Lutheran Pietism, Pious Desires (1675), as a “foreword” to a collection of Arndt’s sermons. Spener, who had extensive knowledge of Luther’s writings, called for improved pastoral formation and increased lay participation in the church (priesthood of all believers) through gatherings for prayer and Bible study (collegia pietatis). He supported his program by appeal to Luther’s emphasis upon living, active faith in Luther’s “Preface to Romans” and “Preface to the German Mass.” Unlike “radical Pietists,” who despairing of renewal separated from the established church, Spener was convinced that God would provide “better times” for the church as it was renewed from within (the ecclesiola in ecclesia).
Spener’s call for spiritual and ethical renewal, praxis pietatis, was sharpened by his follower, August Hermann Francke. Francke’s struggles with doubts of God led to his conversion experience in 1687, his so-called Busskampf, experienced as a rebirth. From this Francke introduced into Pietism the concern for a once-for-all datable conversion or rebirth that would initiate a life of progressive sanctification. Francke’s new emphasis upon progressive sanctification toward perfection departed significantly from Luther’s dialectical theology, which understood the Christian as sinner and righteous as the same time (simul iustus et peccator). On the other hand, Francke continued Luther’s emphasis upon the Bible and strove to make the Bible as accessible as possible to the laity. A professor of biblical languages at the new University of Halle, Francke corrected the Luther translation through his own highly skilled historical-philological exegesis and in the process influenced succeeding generations of biblical scholars.
A third-generation Pietist leader, Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, one of Francke’s students at the University of Halle, created a vibrant Pietist community on his estate when he welcomed Protestant refugees from Moravia in 1722. Although not a trained theologian like his predecessors Spener and Francke, Zinzendorf followed the Lutheran emphasis upon atonement as the basis for justification before God. He supplemented Luther’s theology of the cross with his experiential “heart-religion” (Herzensreligion); Christians must have Christ in their hearts, not just their heads.
Lutheran Pietists used Luther selectively to advance their understanding of the practice of piety.
From the outset, Catholic interest in the life and work of Martin Luther stemmed from ecumenical inquiry as the 19th century ended. The Catholic research concerned with Luther that followed in the 20th century is one of the driving forces of the international ecumenical movement and arose as Catholic theologians made their first hesitant approaches to international ecumenical efforts surrounding the founding of the World Council of Churches in 1948 in Amsterdam. At first restricted essentially to Germany and German-speaking regions, a specific methodology for approaching the Reformation developed which gradually began to determine ecumenical methodology in international Lutheran–Catholic dialogue. The methodology of differentiating consensus, ultimately developed and applied in today’s Lutheran–Catholic dialogue, frees the approach of dialogical theology when applied to each particular confessional theology to overcome the effect of inherent confessional distinctions and to prepare the way for mutual understanding of the message of justification in the gospel of Jesus Christ, without eliminating particular confessional aspects and emphases.
As a result, neither the theology of Martin Luther nor that of the Council of Trent proves to be an insurmountable impediment to dialogue. Surprisingly, the results of this research have not been restricted to theology and ecumenical dialogue; rather, they continue to be at least implicitly received by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church and the popes since the Second Vatican Council.
Today, Catholic doctrine can speak of Martin Luther as a witness to Jesus Christ, a teacher of theology, and a Catholic reformer, without the 16th-century condemnations having yet been revised. The reconsideration of Martin Luther by Catholic theologians demonstrates a capacity for reform and points the way to overcoming the contentious theological gestalt of Catholic theology altogether. In this respect, the shape of Catholic theology today shows the influence of Martin Luther’s Reformation.