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.
Paul R. Hinlicky
Duane H. Larson
Were Luther to have lived another two decades, he might have been surprised even so early on to be informed that he positively influenced the rise of natural science. One can readily cite many Luther quotes that would cast him as anti-science; decontextualized quoting readily constructs such caricatures. But the truth of the matter is quite otherwise. Consideration of Luther and Luther’s protégés and their philosophical-historical contexts reveals their positive regard for science. This is explicit in Luther’s immediate heirs like Melanchthon and Andreas Osiander. Though they differed in their opinions about the work of Copernicus, both respected him and the discipline he practiced. Luther’s influence carried beyond his immediate disciples through Johannes Kepler into the 17th century. The Irish-Anglican chemist and theologian Robert Boyle, for example, was significantly influenced by the Reformation principle of God’s sovereignty. In turn, Boyle strongly influenced Isaac Newton. But Lutheran support for the natural sciences had one major qualification. When “freed science” appeared to speculate more on God’s action than describe the visible character of natural phenomena, Luther saw overreaching ambition. Such are the outlines of a historical approach of Luther’s influence on the beginning of the scientific revolution. Other Lutheran theological themes contributed to natural science’s robustness. In addition to a focus on God’s sovereignty—and so the doctrine of justification by grace through faith—these themes include (1) the nature of biblical authority, (2) the “realistic” epistemology of the theology of the cross, and (3) sacramentology.
Martin Luther’s thought has had strong influence on the religious and churchly life in the Baltic countries Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, as well as in Finland. Its impact has not been restricted just to the Church but also has had deep social and political aspects. However, the role of Luther’s theology has been quite different in the Baltics and in Finland, mostly because the Reformation occurred in a totally different ways in each area. In the Baltics, the biggest towns had already turned to the Reformation by the 1520s, but in Finland the change was part of King Gustav Vasa’s work for strengthening the state. In the Baltics, the Reformation took place in direct contact with Luther and his colleagues, whereas in Finland the first influences came through some of his writings and the theologians who had studied in Wittenberg. During the 17th century, almost the whole area, except Lithuania, belonged to the Swedish kingdom. Theologically, this was the time of the Lutheran Orthodoxy, which was based on the Confessional Books of the Lutheran Church. From Luther’s works, the catechisms were known and used. In the Baltics, the time of Confessional Lutheran theology lasted until the 1910s. In the 19th century, certain Baltic German theologians, especially Theodosius Harnack, practiced remarkable Luther research. Harnack opposed the Neo-Protestant Luther interpretation and strongly influenced the understanding of Luther’s theology of the cross. Only in the 1910s did the Neo-Protestant Luther interpretation of Albrecht Ritschl and Adolf von Harnack get some support. In the 20th century, the Baltic theology was not very much concentrated on Luther, though some presentations of his person and thought were published and a clear consciousness of his thought was present. The Soviet time from 1940 to the beginning of 1990s was difficult for all types of theology. Nevertheless, for example, Elmar Salumae managed to translate international Luther research into Estonian and maintain the knowledge of Lutheran theology. In Finland, the 19th century did not produce academic Luther research, but Luther’s theology was important for the pietistic revival movement, and it played a central role in the disagreement of the revival leaders, which led to a division of the movement. Academic research on the Reformation began in Finland at the end of the 19th century, first as a historical study of the Finnish reformer Mikael Agricola and the Reformation in Finland. Research on Luther’s theology followed the German Luther Renaissance and began in the 1920s. The fruits of this research were published in the 1930s by Eino Sormunen and Yrjö J. E. Alanen and some years later by Lennart Pinomaa. After Pinomaa, Finnish Luther research played some role at the international level. It was first attached especially to the Swedish Lundensian approach and later, from the beginning of the 1980s, became more distant from it. Today Finnish Luther research refers above all to the work of Tuomo Mannermaa and his pupils. This theology, which stresses the real presence of Christ in faith and the participation in the Divine love, is not only academic research but also it has been applied to many churchly and ecumenical questions.
Luther’s understanding of God saturates his oeuvre, and in turn, this understanding is saturated by his doctrine of the justification of the sinner. God is the sovereign source and origin of all that is, and Luther develops his understanding of God in a manner that tries to safeguard this position in such a way that the personal relationship to God becomes the focus point for all he says. The doctrine of God as creator and as savior is modeled in a parallel way in Luther, as he sees God as the source of everything positively in both contexts. God is the sole giver of the gifts that human life requires. As creator, God is omnipresent, omniscient, and sovereign. Nothing can determine God. God is accordingly also the only instance in reality that has free will. Everything else is dependent on God, God’s foreknowledge, and God’s predestination. It is possible to see Luther’s position as an attempt to offer the human being a reliable and trustworthy notion of God, someone he or she can cling to in times of despair and desolation. The only God who deserves to be God, who is trustworthy with regard to being able to provide a safe and reliable basis for human life, is the God who justifies the sinner because of God’s own righteousness. In contrast, a human who puts her trust in herself and her own works or merits makes herself a god and will not be able to stand justified coram deo in the last judgment. Luther develops the idea about God’s hiddenness in different ways, most notably in his ideas about the hidden God in De servo arbitrio. But also in his notion of the theology of the Cross in the Heidelberg Disputation, and in other places where he writes about the masks of God, behind which God hides in order to do God’s work, we can see related or similar ideas. Thus, Luther develops an ambiguous element in his understanding of God.
Luther’s theology is strongly Christocentric, but Christology is rarely the central focus of his writings. In some of his most considered summaries of his own faith, he presents Chalcedonian Christology alongside the church’s teaching on the Trinity as the uncontroversial foundation of the Catholic faith, which he shared with his opponents. At the same time, it is evident that Luther’s most celebrated theological innovations, including his teaching on justification by faith, his theology of the cross, his soteriology, and in particular his doctrine of the Eucharist, had considerable Christological implications that sometimes seem at variance with received orthodoxy. Luther’s Christology must therefore be largely reconstructed from these various strands in his thought. The result is a distinctive albeit not systematic Christology that is focused on the paradoxical unity of divine and human in Christ. In this, Luther often appears close to the teaching of the Alexandrian fathers, but with a much fuller emphasis on the concrete humanity of the savior. His historical debt to late scholasticism is most evident in his few, albeit consequential, attempts to enter into the field of technical Christological doctrine, especially his affirmation in his controversy with Zwingli of the ubiquity of Christ’s human nature after the ascension.
The impact of Johannes von Staupitz (c. 1468–1524) on Martin Luther can hardly be overestimated. Staupitz was elected vicar general of the reformed Augustinian Order in 1503. Between 1504 and 1506 he had the order’s constitutions printed for the first time, which was about the time when Luther became an Augustinian. It is uncertain whether Luther frequently went to Staupitz for confession. However, Luther clearly was a “Staupitzian,” and as such Staupitz sent him from Wittenberg to Rome as the travel companion of the chief negotiator. Upon Luther’s return, he became Staupitz’s successor as professor of biblical theology in Wittenberg. In his preaching Staupitz was celebrated as the “tongue of the Apostle Paul” and the “herald of the gospel,” one who stood up for the evangelical truth. Criticism of indulgences had begun long before Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses or Propositions of 1517. Staupitz and his disciple Luther, in cooperation with their confrère Wenceslaus Linck, spoke up publicly against the indulgences. They composed a text called Treatise on Indulgences, which Luther “edited.” Luther sent his mother a copy of the first edition of Staupitz’s On the Love of God in 1518. As a true Staupitzian Luther gave his endorsement to subsequent editions of that book, which is essentially a book about “grace alone” and “Christ alone” for salvation. In this book Christ’s suffering is “for us,” and God is made sweet and pleasant to us by grace. Staupitz was a Christocentric theologian in following 1 Corinthians 1:23, “We preach nothing else than Christ crucified.” Luther with his “theology of the cross” remained a faithful discipulus of Staupitz. Luther was grateful to Staupitz that the issue of penance had been solved for him, because now penance appeared “sweet” to him and Christ was his “most sweet Savior.” Staupitz and Linck stood by Luther at Augsburg during the encounter with Cardinal Cajetan in 1518. A later letter in which Luther tells about a bad dream in which he felt deserted by his superior does not necessarily demonstrate any change in Staupitz’s attitude toward him. Their friendship and correspondence continued. Staupitz was fully aware of Luther’s admiration for him, which Staupitz cited in his last letter (of April 1, 1524) to Luther, a letter showing that they remained on good terms despite a difference of opinion on monastic vows. Toward the end of his life Luther, in a letter to Elector John Frederick of March 27, 1545, summed up his indebtedness: “Doctor Staupitz is first of all my father in this doctrine and gave birth to me in Christ.”