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date: 24 September 2020

Summary and Keywords

Martin Luther’s doctrine of creation can be identified as the center of his theology. The justification for this judgement is threefold. First, the centrality of creation to Luther’s theology is rooted in Luther’s expansive interpretation of the act of creation. Luther’s theology of creation is neither limited to a description of what happened “in the beginning” nor restricted to some initial and selective point of life. Instead, Luther understands creation as the principal and permanent feature of God’s action and communication, something happening constantly and taking place in a threefold way: by creation, preservation, and re-creation. In addition to this Martin Luther’s doctrine of creation is a strong antidote against any present Deism or present Gnosticism. Second, creation may be seen as central to Luther’s theology because it describes God’s sovereignty and is directly linked to it. For Luther, God’s action is always sola gratia, always a creatio ex nihilo. This does not mean that Luther ignores or denies the vast creational involvement in creatural matters, for instance, in the emergence of new life. Instead, his intention is to emphasize God’s almightiness: God acts purely out of freedom and love and not because of any obligation. When God creates, he needs no available material substance, when God justifies, he needs no preliminary human work. Of course, God may use them but he does not need them. In principle, God’s actions are all initial and initiating beginnings. Therefore, creation, preservation, and re-creation happen “without any of my merit and worthiness.” Every calculating do ut des—I give to you so that you give to me—comes to an end here. All creatural and theological creation, preservation, and re-creation is not earned by one’s own virtue but given sola gratia. Third, the doctrine of creation is central because Luther develops out of it the basis of his ethical thinking. God’s already described creational activity puts all humankind into place and determines their role in creation. Luther understands the human’s response to God’s gift to lie in the gratitude of the creature toward the creator, and not in the critique of the creator or in a tempting or attempting “improvement” of the gift through an effort of self-creation. As creature, one is called to shape the given world, but more so to receive one’s own personal destiny with gratitude. For Luther, this thankfulness also means embracing, or at least accepting, one’s own creation as a destiny that is determined, individual, and in many respects unalterable. In addition to this personal perspective of gratitude, God’s verbal and communicative means of creation in dialogue with his creature is for Luther a basic feature of his ethics as well. Luther generalizes this creational dialogical structure and uses it in the ethical field not only to characterize the relationship between creator and creature but also to characterize the relationships among the creatures themselves.

Keywords: Martin Luther, creation, world, communication, preservation, Deism, creatio ex nihilo, sola gratia, re-creation, Gnosticism

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