Theology of Glory Versus Theology of the Cross

Part of Luther’s critique of the Catholic church was his condemnation of the theology of glory versus the theology of the cross. I am not expert enough to relate what these are - they can be easily googled - and I have two questions.

  1. Do the Lutherans here accept Luther’s critique?

  2. What is the Catholic response to the critique?


While I’m neither Lutheran or Catholic (at least in the way the term is understood and used here), I think a strong case can be made (even by some Catholic historians) that the church of Luther’s day was plagued with corruption, and that the church was exhibiting a theology of glory in many ways. I could expound on this at length (but as you say, the topic can be easily googled). I’ll simply point out that Luther rejected the glory of the church and said the church is a suffering church, rather than a church of beauty and splendor. The church is not supposed to be a “glory” of political power and luxury, which it was during Luther’s lifetime.

One of the most popular books expounding Luther’s view is On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, 1518 by Gerhard O. Forde. While the title is far from interesting, the contents of the book are profound.

There’s also one important thing to keep in mind which is rarely mentioned. Some Lutheran scholars argue that the glory / cross paradigm can only be extracted from Luther’s early writings, and once he embraced his understanding of the Gospel this paradigm ceases in his writings. In my opinion, this thesis depends on how one dates Luther’s evangelical breakthrough.


Thanks! I suppose two Reformed people can discuss what may be an argument between the Catholics and Lutherans! :slight_smile:

Let me see if I understand:

You are asking about to theological proposals without giving their definitions and expecting the posters to google them and from all the results that come about, figure out which ones are the ones that you are interested in and then come back and respond to your post?

Enjoy that popcorn! :wave:

I’m not a Luther scholar, but catholic theologians have long recognized the tension often present in peoples thinking about Jesus between “high Christology” and “low Christology.”

We puny humans have always had a hard time dealing with the Jesus as both fully God and fully man. For some reason, people have a tendency to pick one and over-emphasize that aspect to the detriment of the other (there are fancy names even for ancient heresies that go as far as actually denying the divinity or humanity of Christ).

Those who have a high Christological focus emphasize the view of God as transcendent, omnipotent, majestic, fearsome, etc. Those with the low view emphasize the humility of Jesus, his suffering, his empathy for the poor, curing of the sick…

As usual, the narrow road is to be vigilant not in veering into either ditch, but to remain aware of the reality that Christ is BOTH. It is a legitimate expression of high Christology to create beautiful religious art, soaring cathedrals, precious vessels and monstrances to honor Christ in the Eucharist, etc. These things acknowledge in material form our spiritual recognition that God is first, before all else and that we are terribly small in comparison. It can also legitimate to emulate the humility of Christ in simple church buildings, humble vessels, and prioritized mission to the poor and weak. Probably it’s best to look at the predominating error of the day and push back against it.

I suspect that our time suffers from an excess of low Christology in which Jesus is reduced to a mere hippy preaching groovy love for all without any pesky demands for worship, repentance and obedience. I think we’d do better to return to liturgical worship that glorifies God as sacred and transcendent. Nevertheless, it’s a good reminder not to neglect Jesus’ instruction to find him in the poor, the sick, the prisoners, the hungry…

I suspect the same controversies went on in Luther’s time. The Church took a lot of flack (and still does some times) for spending so much material wealth on the construction of cathedrals and sacred art. In those days, the cathedral was usually by far the most expensive and elaborate building in a given city. Maybe that’s even the root of the OP’s query. People never really change, after all. In any case, I’m not convinced that the outcome of Luther’s revolt has improved things much. Today the most expensive buildings in any given city are temples to corporatism, the state and pro sports. Big improvement, eh?

P.S. Is there some kind of red light that goes off and shines on the ceiling of the Swan Cave whenever Luther is mentioned in a CAF post? I swear that’s the only time TQ shows up here! :wink:

Not at all. I am hoping that Lutherans and Catholics (or in the other order) who are familiar with these terms would engage in the discussion. I certainly do not expect people to Google them, decide they are expert on their relative side, and then engage in debate. I am not expert in the discussion. My understanding of the controversy is very limited and I am wondering how the controversy appears to those engaged in it (Lutherans and Catholics) and not just through a Reformed lens. I am hoping an informed and intelligent debate conducted in charity would be illuminating to all.


It would help significantly if you included a link to Luther’s critique.

Being that I am not an expert either, when I googled, I was confronted with several Theology of the Cross links and at least I did not want to hunt down a reliable link.

I am a Lutheran and I believe Luther’s critique is valid.

Luther’s criticism was based on abuses he saw in the Church. They are by no means bound by denomination or time. The abuses go on just as much today as then, only they go on in all churches, including Lutheran.

There are many members of my congregation who are quite happy with candles, vestments, and receiving Eucharist, but are nowhere to be seen when we feed the poor and hungry. We had a long discussion in a recent school class with one member who is honest about her fear of the poor. She wants to change, and I hope she can. It will be an ongoing struggle for her, and I pray she can succeed. For her, also for us all, it is not a once and for all deal.

Well, you about wrapped this up as far as I need it to be. What a convicting truth.

Thank You and God Bless.

In fairness, that tends to cut both ways, no? I’ve seen what you describe as well, but I’ve ALSO seen a tendency for the “Peace & Justice” committee of the local parish to have little use for novenas, rosaries or sticking up for the rather less popular moral teachings of Christianity. As I said above, there are perils in excessive emphasis on both ends of the spectrum. Excessively low Christology tends to produce believers who take Christ for granted and presume to be able to pick and choose morality (presuming one makes up for it by feeding the hungry). Excessively high Christology tends to produce self-righteous hypocrites who thank God in their prayers that they aren’t like “those” people…

The nuns were careful to teach us the importance of BOTH the Spiritual Works of Mercy AND the Corporeal Works of Mercy. A bit of refresher once in a while does me great good on that matter. Thanks for the reminder!

Manualman, you make great points. Christianity is an all-in commitment. We have differing gifts to share, but we do not have a menu to pick from. We are given both mission and comfort. We need both the challenge to reach out and the shelter of the sanctuary.

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