Luther's Theology of the Cross

You are to some extent right about predestination, I think.

  • sacraments and sola fide;

Here you are wrong on two points:

  1. There is no major difference here between Luther and confessional Lutheranism (as there is on predestination); and

  2. There is no “having their cake and eating it too.” You are simply defining sola fide in a very different way, which excludes sacramental grace. Luther didn’t define it that way, and there is no intrinsic reason why it should be defined that way.

Luther’s teachings were further developed and refined by later Reformers and I think reach their maturity by the time of the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards.

This is a triumphalistic, biased way of telling the story. It would be just as accurate to say that Luther’s teachings were misunderstood and botched by the “Reformed” from the beginning, because they read him through the lens of their own preoccupations. (Ironically, I argued against that position in my doctoral dissertation, at least in the sense that I argued that the early Reformed, such as Martin Bucer, picked up on different emphases in Luther and thus shouldn’t simply be accused of “misunderstanding.” But at worst, it’s just as valid as the “refined and developed” way of putting it.)

Luther is an undoubted saint, nevertheless.

I disagree with that too, but won’t try to argue the point. There are enough Luther-bashers on this forum already:shrug:

Edwin

Why is this confusing? The very fact that Christ died for all men, then calls all men to repentance, giving everyone the opportunity to receive it,** is grace **! The very availability of salvation is by grace alone. I can also choose to reject grace.

Jon

Just wording it that way doesn’t seem contradictory, but don’t the Lutheran confessions affirm the “bondage of the will” pretty strongly? Doesn’t this imply that we have no free will to accept grace, and thus that only the elect will accept grace? And doesn’t that logically imply that the reprobate won’t?

I am very sympathetic to the Lutheran position here, since I also have concluded that paradox is the only proper response to the question of predestination. But I think Lutherans write themselves into an unnecessary corner with their view of human depravity and the inability of human beings to cooperate with grace.

Edwin

=Contarini;12175147]Just wording it that way doesn’t seem contradictory, but don’t the Lutheran confessions affirm the “bondage of the will” pretty strongly? Doesn’t this imply that we have no free will to accept grace, and thus that only the elect will accept grace? And doesn’t that logically imply that the reprobate won’t?

Hi Edwin,
I was careful not to use the word “accept”, but instead “receive”. Through the hearing of the word, through Baptism, we *receive *grace. It is not in the ability of man, without the working of the Spirit, to accept grace. But once we have received grace, it is within our free will to reject it.

I am very sympathetic to the Lutheran position here, since I also have concluded that paradox is the only proper response to the question of predestination. But I think Lutherans write themselves into an unnecessary corner with their view of human depravity and the inability of human beings to cooperate with grace.

No, we cannot cooperate with grace without the help of the Spirit, but we can and do respond to grace with the help of the Spirit.

Jon

On the contrary :stuck_out_tongue:

Any ‘illogical’ conclusions we humans make are entirely because of our limited understanding.

Frankly, my personally opinion is that we should rejoice in God’s ‘foolishness’ - Many forms of human logic would lead a human-minded God to wipe out all memory of the Earth and start over.

Read:

amazon.com/The-Foolishness-God-Reason-Theology/dp/0810001551

Thank you for that recommendation! I look forward to reading it!

“EDWIN”:

I am not excluding sacramental grace. The Reformed confessions teach that sacraments are means of grace, even means of salvation. But the sacraments are means of grace in that they communicate Christ, they are the “visible words” of Christ’s gospel. They are, much like the preached Word, also means of damnation for unbelievers.

Catholics would agree entirely with this claim.

Edwin

Interesting comment. I have a more favorable opinion on Reformed sacramental theology as a result.

The primary example I’m thinking of is infant baptism. Reformed theology can’t allow baptism to be a means of regeneration, because some infants may not be elect. That’s just the touchstone case that shows up the subjectivity of Reformed sacramental theology and the way in which the sacraments are subordinated to predestination/sola fide.

There is a wide spectrum of sacramental theology in the Reformed tradition, and I rejoice that so many Reformed folks do believe in sacramental grace, albeit with more qualifications than a fully orthodox, traditional Christian would.

Edwin

Question, Edwin.
Would Luther have understood that, considering the strong influence of Biel, and/or the Occamists ?

David C. Steinmetz writes,

Most of Luther’s important teachers were disciples of the Franciscan theologian William Ockham. The Occamists taught a theology of grace that tilted in a decidedly Pelagian direction. Pelagianism is theological shorthand for a theology that deemphasizes the role played by grace in human salvation and overemphasizes the role played by human free will. Gabriel Biel, the Occamist theologian Luther knew best, even argued in a burst of anthropological optimism that human beings were able to love God perfectly without the assistance of grace. While Biel admitted that the human intellect and will were fallen, he thought they were nevertheless largely undamaged by sin. He concluded therefore that acts of extraordinary moral heroism, unassisted by grace, merited divine favor. Not surprisingly, Luther found no authorization inSt. Paul or St. Augustine for such a rosy view of human nature, and he rejected all Occamist accounts of salvation.

Sometimes I wonder if Luther’s was a reaction (over-reaction?) to the Occamists.

Jon

What Reformed sacramental theology generally teaches is that the sacraments are signs and seals of what they signify, but that this is two-edged. The Old Testament types are clear, say - the same Flood which brought judgement on the human race saved and delivered Noah and his family. The same Red Sea which immersed and drowned God’s enemies (Egypt) delivered and saved God’s people (Israel). And so on.

We say it’s the same as the Word. Some hear the Word and God’s Spirit moves them to faith and repentance. Others hear the same Word and harden their hearts. The Word and sacraments are objective and present, and their efficacy is sure, but the presence or absence of faith determines whether they are received to salvation or damnation.

Which means it’s entirely subjective. Therefore, the evidence is not in the sacraments themselves, but rather, in the faith of the recipient.

Not everybody responds to the Word of God (whether audible or visible) with faith and repentance. Such as do not are damned.

That’s actually a very common theory, ever since the work of Joseph Lortz in the 1930s. One of Steinmetz’ first students, John Farthing, wrote a book based on his dissertation) examining one very specific test case: how much would Luther have known of Aquinas from only Biel? What he found was that Biel’s citations of Aquinas would not have given Luther a good understanding of the more Augustinian aspects of Aquinas’ theology.

Steinmetz (my doctoral advisor, as it happens) talked about Lortz a lot but always seemed rather skeptical of his theory that if Luther had known Aquinas’ work the Reformation as we know it wouldn’t have happened. For one thing, Steinmetz pointed out, there were other Reformers (Carlstadt, Vermigli, Zanchi, Bucer) who did study Aquinas. The via moderna wasn’t the only theology out there. The further wrinkle is that the leading Thomist of the era was Cajetan, who has been accused, again, of playing down the more Augustinian aspects of Aquinas and misinterpreting Aquinas on analogy, etc.

So what I got from Steinmetz was: yes Luther was reacting to a theology that wasn’t necessarily typical of medieval Catholicism as a whole, but on the other hand this was a very common theology in the later Middle Ages and even people who weren’t Occamists tended toward a “semi-Pelagian” understanding of human capabilities. On the other hand, there were also theologians like Bradwardine or Luther’s own mentor Staupitz who went in the other direction and favored a rather extreme version of Augustinian theology. But I think it is fair to say that Luther would have experienced the theological scene of his day as a battlefield between a majority position he found semi-Pelagian and a minority position that insisted on human depravity and the sovereignty of grace. He championed this minority position and put a much more radical twist on it.

Heiko Oberman, Steinmetz’ doctoral advisor, wrote a very influential book called The Harvest of Medieval Theology on the theology of Gabriel Biel. If you are seriously interested in the subject, you should read this book (if you haven’t already). In another essay, Oberman suggested that there was (in contrast to Biel’s kind of theology) an “Augustinian school” of theology in the later Middle Ages, of which Luther was the heir. Steinmetz criticized this view, saying that essentially Oberman was constructing a “school” out of a few unrelated theologians. Steinmetz tended, in reaction to Oberman, to be very suspicious of any Big Theory. He preferred to write tightly focused essays on specific issues of Biblical interpretation and let people draw their own conclusions. One problem with this, in my opinion, is that Steinmetz’ name has been used as a result to support a theory of the basic conservatism of the Reformation with which I know Steinmetz actually disagrees. . . . . Personally, I found Steinmetz’ approach difficult because my own instincts are very much for the construction of Big Theories. Steinmetz’ careful training was very good for me, but now I find it hard to figure out how to publish the things I want to say because I know Steinmetz would think I was being too brash and not careful enough. That’s one reason why I hang out so much on this forum:o.

In short, yes Luther was definitely reacting to the Occamists, but how far we should draw the implications of this is a matter of debate.

I should also mention that Otto Herman Pesch wrote a book comparing Luther’s doctrine of justification with that of Aquinas and concluded that they differed in methodology rather than in substance. Steinmetz referred to Pesch’s work with respect, as I recall.

Edwin

No, they don’t. But that isn’t at issue. What is at issue is that in Reformed theology, grace of the sacrament is dependent on faith, rather than being the means by which the Spirit works faith in believers. Which then makes one wonder how the Christian is to determine whether they truly have faith. Again…entirely subjective.

No, no - the sacrament is the means by which the Spirit works faith in believers. Same with God’s Word. Faith alone, by the means of grace alone.

Thanks, Edwin, for taking the time to post this. Much appreciated.

Jon

Edwin - how Protestant were you (if ever)?

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