A Human God: Some Remarks on Luther's Christology1

Klaas Zwanepol
An Introduction Among many theologians and in many churches an intensive discussion is taking place about the meaning and position of Jesus Christ in Christian faith. The classic dogma which states that Christ is of the same substance as the Father and that the one person of Christ has two natures, namely, divine and human, is on all sides disputed. Some people wish to completely abandon this doctrine, while others argue for its unamended continuance. Many Christians feel uncomfortable and insecure in these matters. What should we say? Before asking what Luther could add to this discussion, we need to examine what has caused this Christological debate. Three factors should be briefly pointed out: (1) Historical consciousness. We are dealing with a process that has been going on since the beginning of Modernity (from ± 1600 on). From here the awareness grew that everything is historically determined and that the metaphysical and speculative ideas in the traditional doctrine about Jesus Christ must be left out. That is the drive for the quest about the so-called "historical Jesus," who should build the ground for the "Christ of faith." (2) Postmodernism. It is often said that postmodernism has destroyed the certainties of modern times. Postmodern relativism has also put an end to the strictness of the historical-critical method as the only way of approaching reality. Yet in postmodernism the conditions for understanding the traditional Christology have not been improved. Instead, postmodernism has underlined the impossibility of speaking about Jesus Christ in an absolute way because His relevance is situated in the stories told about Him, which are, however, unsuitable to fix incontestable truth. (3) Multi-cultural and multi-religious society. In earlier times the customary belief of Jesus Christ being the Son of God,
1 This articles is a summary of Dr. Zwanepol book: Een menselijke God. De betekenis van Christus voor Luther. Zoetermeer/Den Haag 2001, which he presented to Concordia Seminary (St. Louis), Yale Divinity School (New Haven) and Lutheran School of Theology (Chicago) in 2003.

Dr. Klass Zwanepol is Professor of Lutheran Theology at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands. He is editor of the Lutheran Bulletin, and serves as the theological advisor to the Evangelical-Lutheran Churches and the Uniting Protestant Churches in the Netherlands.

was largely linked with an undisputed role of Christianity as the leading religion of the West. the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the center of faith is under fire for many Western people. With more than five hundred years between us. That is by the way. The question of who Jesus Christ is did not originate in Modernity. We carefully have to see which questions confronted Luther and how he dealt with them. an important function of critical reflection on history as such: to liberate ourselves from the one-sidedness of our own approaches. however. the meaning and position of Jesus Christ has been called into question. At least two remarks should be made here in advance. We need Luther and others in order to become conscious of the limitations of our present-day Christological problems and solutions. So. when we ask for Luther's Christology out of more than an historical interest. This is not to say. Luther never wrote a tract on Christology.both divine and human. Aside from some Christological disputations. This makes it very difficult to construct a balance of Luther's opinion on Christ. one may ask if Luther actually had a Christology. we will notfindsuch a thing in Luther's work. and also by the unavoidable encounter with other religions. The second remark is about the development of Luther's thoughts on Jesus Christ. Yet. Furthermore. for questions about Jesus Christ still have universal character. don't we make ourselves guilty of anachronism? Certainly. This depends on what is meant by the word "Christology. that we cannot directly learn from Luther. From the beginning of Christianity. When we consider that his statements are differently CONCORDIA JOURNAL/JANUARY/APRIL 2004 41 . Did he radically change his opinions or did his Christology remain consistent? It is beyond the scope of this contribution to go into detail here. Furthermore. it must be taken into account that each writing is unique and that Luther was constantly confronted with new opponents and new situations in which he had to justify his views. this does not reduce Luther's Christological statements to only a matter of pure historical interest. but it can be generally concluded that the changes which took place in Luther's thought are merely varying perspectives rather than alterations with respect to content. Now through secularization and agnosticism. a whole world is separating us. we must reckon with the situation and by what means Luther spoke about Christ. Our present situation is incomparable with that of Martin Luther.'' If we understand it as a completely elaborated doctrine of Christ. we must always remember that Luther's statements on Jesus Christ are made in very different types of writings. Statements about the significance of Jesus Christ are spread throughout his work. we ought to be warned that we cannot simply let Luther participate in our discussions. Taking a closer look at what Luther said about Jesus Christ. First.

Ian D."3 Central Position of Jesus Christ in Luther's Thought Reading just a few pages in any part of Luther's work is enough to observe that Jesus Christ was the middle of Luther's theological thought. i. Peregrinatio. however.5 This unique and unbreakable combination of Jesus Christ and salvation marks Luther's Christology in every way. 289-351. the well known "pro me" of Luther's Christology. Luther's Works are quoted according the Weimarer Ausgabe (WA). 4 WA 401. 1970 and in details: Dorothea Vorländer. What is radically new about Luther's discussion of Jesus Christ is the interplay between Christology and Soteriology. many others have placed Jesus Christ in the middle of their reflections as well. it is—regarding some notorious developments—amazing how consistent his view on Jesus Christ actually was. 5 StA 5. As Luther illustrated in his Smalcald Articles. typical enough to characterize Luther's view on Christ. however. 42 . 33. 6 WA 401. 448. 356. should learn here from Luther that there is no competition between Christology and Soteriology. the Studiensausgabe (StA) or the Bonner Ausgabe (BoA)." regarding what He has done for our good.9. Die Zweinaturenchristologie Luthers bis 1521. Here we find the reason why Luther was not interested in Jesus Christ as a "private person. who are accustomed to put the doctrine of justification in the middle of faith and confession. 3 Ernst Wolf. Studien zur reformatorischen Theologie und zum Kirchenproblem. the con2 In general: Marc Lienhard. the faith in Jesus Christ.2ss. 30. "Die Christusverk ündigung bei Luther. this article so as to demonstrate its soteriological relevance." Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche (63) 1966. from which..2 In the perspective of both remarks it is perhaps more adequate to speak about "Christology with Luther" rather than about "Christology of Luther. i."4 This focus on Jesus Christ is not. He explained. Witten 1974 and Reinhard Schwarz. breadth and depth of this wisdom and having reached no more than a weak and defective beginning. As he wrote in the foreword to his Large Commentary on Galatians: "In my heart that one article reigns.6 Also." but only in Him as a "public person. o. by which and to which all my theological ideas are going out and are returning." in id. the "one article with which the church stands or falls" is not the doctrine of justification. zur Lehre von der Person Christi bei den Occamisten und bei Luther.7.e. Deus incarnatus. passim. though I realize not having understood more than fragments of the height. München 1954.. but the article on Jesus Christ. New Haven. Martin Luther's doctrine of Christ. Kingston Siggins. Lutherans. which Luther emphasized to the point that Jesus Christ and salvation seem completely intertwined.e.contextualized. All that Luther said about Jesus Christ has soteriological relevance. and salvation is only found in Jesus Christ.e. "Gott ist Mensch.

Luther emphasized that our salvation is fully dependent on Jesus Christ being flesh. Luther could not raise the notion of Jesus Christ unless the commitment of man is immediately brought up. Luther refused to go along with the late-medieval tendency to enlarge the pains of Christ (a form of the socalled "passion piety). Because this involvement is closely connected with the existential human basics.8 On the other hand. 441. Unlike the greater part of medieval theology. 271-281. when he saw the Christian truth threatened by the so-called Spiritualists. Insbesondere in ihrem exegetischen und systematischen Zusammenhänge mit Augustin und der Scholastik dargetstellt. zur Mühlen. Zum 500. But he went.10 At a later stage. By the latter Luther should have slowed down the Reformation for centuries.g.centration not so much on what Christ as such has accomplished. 861ss. some comment has to be made on the still-popular opinion of nineteen century liberal theology about Luther and his relation to the early Christian dogma. Hammer/K. Heiko Jürgens. exactly because of justifying faith Luther considered the acceptance of the Christian dogma as absolutely necessary. From this point of view. Die Anfänge von Luthers Christologie nach der ersten Psalmenvorlesung. so to speak. Köln/Wien 1984. conversely. e. 9 Erich Vogelsang. Lutheriania. Therefore. Tübingen/Darmstadt 19905. Luther could not simply describe from the outside who Christ is and the meaning of what He has done. he could assume a development in the life of Jesus Christ as a growth of the awareness of his Messianity. His human needs. Luther stressed the importance of the flesh of Christ even more than in his early argument against his Roman opponents. Jesus Christ Being Simultaneously Man and God Luther strongly valued the human nature of Jesus Christ. inward.H. following a line which leads from Christ into the heart of God's self showing how God is involved in our destiny. 10 WA 9. Berlin/Leizig 1929.. Adolf von Harnack represented this view by praising Luther for having radically focused the whole Christian doctrine on man's salvation but. is rooted here." he said. Luther did not adhere to early Christian dogma in spite of his stress on justifying faith but. "Christus non est spiritus. with utmost seriousness. by disapproving of Luther's maintenance of early Christian dogma. Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte III. 7 1 respectfully disagree with this liberal opinion. "There is no more effective consolation than that Jesus is completely human. Geburtstag Martin Luthers von den Mitarbeitern der Weimarer Ausgabe (=AWA 5). From this intimate connection between Christology and Soteriology in Luther's thought. but on what He has done for me.21ss. Luthers Aussagen über den Menschen Jesus von Nazareth." in G. 8 7 CONCORDIA JOURNAL/JANUARY/APRIL 2004 43 . Luther took the humanity of Christ. 9 Instead Luther concentrated on the depth of the suffering in the soul of Jesus Christ.

"Luther und die altkirchlichen Dogmen.zwischen den Zeiten. It is remarkable that Luther.13 As much as the humanity of Christ was connected with Soteriology. so too was His divinity. Alius was rightly called a "Narrius" (fool) because he failed to understand that redemption depends on the acting of God's Self in Jesus Christ. 403. For Luther. however.11 Luther fully agreed with the Patristics. That was—according to Luther—the motive of the stress on homoousios by the ancient church.23. always insisted on the inseparable union of God and man in Jesus Christ. "Christusgemeinschaft und Rechtfertigung. 141. WA 46. 102. So." Furthermore.6v.14 If only God is able to save humans. 15 WA 33. who was tempted as every other man.g. Christ has to be God. however. 13 E. more remarkable that Luther.Trowitz eds. as is apparent from his critique on the term homoousios.llss. It was in his own Anfechtungen a great comfort to Luther to know that a deus humanus.. not so much interested in terminology. salvation was at stake with the true humanity of Christ. WA 52. 14 Friedrich Wilhelm Kantzenbach. WA 401.'' Luther (35) 1964. 16 StA 2.16 decisive for him was the matter which it contained. WA 45. WA 401. the human nature of Jesus Christ. cannot be saved.9-13. also had for Luther a personally soteriological relevancy. 43s. 106." in C." he said. 78. 18 WA 23.29. Luthers Gedanke vom fröhlichen Wechsel als Frage an unsere Rechtfertigungsbotschaft. 12 n 44 .19 WA 25. 19 E. "God without flesh is useless.Luther's heated defense of the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Lord's Supper was mainly caused by Luther's suspicion that the Spiritualists used Bible-words like: "the flesh is useless" (John 6:63) to get rid of the shocking presence of the Son of God in trivial human flesh.18 and even to a crucifixion from eternity.12 who has shared our weakness. Tübingen 1999. 145w. Luther . 128. however.24. in spite of the tensions this combination brought about. was close to him. Luther emphasized this union to the utmost even when it seems hardly bearable for "decent" theology.17 This explains why Luther sometimes criticized the Trinitarian dogma but spoke highly of it in other texts as an adequate expression of God's involvement in the redemption of man. 17 Martin Ohst.23 and 735.26.15 Luther was. Here one could refer to Luther's allusions to a préexistent union of God with humanity as He was already present in the womb of Mary. It is.35. Marschies/M. 127.. 567. by emphatically stressing the humanity as well as the divinity of Christ. actually reunited the old Antiochene and Alexandrian traditions. as redemption of mankind can only take place by the complete acceptance of human nature. who stated: 'What is not assumed. 506.g.33.

Hans Joachim Iwand." Kerugma und Dogma (13) 1967. who cannot give up His claim on humanity created by Him and who refuses to let down His life-bringing commandments.This pivotal union of man and God in Jesus Christ was also linked with Luther's conviction that the Godhead does not conflict with humanity as such.20 Luther made it blatantly clear that Jesus Christ emptying Himself is not about His incarnation but about participating in man's sinful existence. calling Jesus Christ the greatest sinner on whom all the sins of the world are put. Lutherstudien III. its climax in the reconciliation of God with man. Tübingen 1985. but where God is actually fighting against God. Nachgelassene Werke Band 5. law. "Luthers Christuszeugnis als Zusammenfassung des Christusbotschaft der Kirche.26 From God." but as "laying aside Christ's divine attributes. 1-26 and 73-98. whose own self jumped into the abyss of man.. Göttingen 1999. Therefore Luther interpreted kenosis not as "becoming man. 24 See Gerhard Ebeling. Anselm and Luther on the Atonement. under the condition of sin. to God.22 Luther also corrected the typical victory-motif. In his exegesis of Philippians 2:5. conquering His own wrath and man's hostility by His gracious mercy. Luther changed the satisfaction-motif.27. 21 20 CONCORDIA JOURNAL/JANUARY/APRIL 2004 45 . Uwe Rieske Braun. 22 Burnell. In his interpretation of reconciliation."21 This reunion of God and man in Jesus Christ reaches.36ss. Luthers Theologie. The One who is offering Himself is the same as the One to whom the offering is made!24 In this context Luther made very keen utterances.g. Duelleum mirabile. StA 1. Luther states that this atonement did cost God!27 E. 27 WA 17II. 25 WA 401. according to Luther.. 157-180." in id. an opposition between God and man has risen.25 This is for Luther the mystery of the cross of Jesus Christ. F. by depriving it of its logical character as seen in the atonement-theory of Anselm of Canterbury.. Was It "Necessary"?. München 1974.23 Finally. but only with humanity fallen into sin. Studien zum Kampfmotiv in Martin Luthers Theologie. we observe that he went far beyond classic motifs in the theories of atonement. Only at this point.. He called the atonement a miraculous duel where not just Christ fought against devil and evil. in front of which man could only flee from "God to God" as Luther worded it. 26 WA 5. which has evolved in Eastern thought and was combined with the idea of the devil as "deceived deceiver. 129. 438. 204. 221-229. 443ss. and death against the invincible divine might of Jesus Christ. lost in sin and guilt. San Francisco 1992. which is specific to Western thought." Luther turned the playfulness of this view into a bitter fight between the powers of sin. Luther exceeded the classic sacrifice-motif by turning the offering upside down. Eckhardt Jr. 23 Albrecht Peters. "Die königlich-priesterliche Freiheit.

31 Dennis Ngien. Since the communication of Christ's attributes was for Luther not oneway where only the human attributes are participating in the divine ones. namely. but also meant that the divinity is involved in the humanity.70. When Luther referred to "a cross from eternity. 28 The second direction is leading us to the thought of the suffering God.The Impact of the Unity of God and Man in Christ We have already observed that Luther. Luther radicalized this idea using the concept of the communicatio idiomatum. It shows God's gracious mercy. Luther's theology of the Lord's Supper did not so much bring him to the communication of the attributes of both natures.12. The omnipresence of the body of Christ expresses for Luther that nothing prevents God from being corporally present wherever He wants. in.32." New York 1995. In the Lord's Supper. which is implied in the opinion that the attributes of the human nature of Christ. Moreover. The latter is often held to be Luther's theory that is used to defend his doctrine on the Lord's Supper. 30 Note 19. the idea of perichoresis has existed. The consequences of this communication of attributes of the divine and human nature took Luther in two directions. that his opinion on the communicatio idiomatum led to his strong emphasis on the real presence of the body and the blood of Christ in Holy Communion. like corporality. This opinion reinforced Luther's view on the reality of the presence of the body and blood of Christ "with. This uniqueness becomes more clear in the way Luther elaborated on the interrelation between the divine and human natures of Christ. this idea contains a great comfort and support for the tempted faithful who can cling to this fact that a truly human God is at our side. in comparison with tradition. but that there has always been a cross in the heart of God. Though Luther's "theopaschitism" did not go so far as the ideas of the "suffering God.29 Luther held this opinion over and against the current of a very long and strong tradition which rejected God's capacity to suffer. The first direction is the omnipresence of the body of Christ."30 it is obvious that suffering did not happen to God by accident. and under" the elements of bread and wine. but more the opposite. are participating in the divine attribute of ubiquity. this thought was already in principle present in Luther's work. i.67 . ^WATr 6.31 WATr 1.. the idea of God undergoing the human destiny and sufferings is actually unavoidable. The Suffering of God according to Martin Luther's "Theologia Crucis. a mutual permeating of both natures of Christ. is quite unique in his radical interpretation of Christ uniting God and man. God is distributing Himself in human nature with which the Godhead is connected forever. this "real presence" has a deep soteriological impact. 467.e. 46 28 . but this is not quite correct. For Luther. wherein God is giving Himself away." which developed in nineteen and twentieth century theology. Since early Christian theology.

which are both in action at the same time. "Luther en Theosis. 34 Jörg Baur. whereas man conceals himself by hiding himself. In this section it will first be clarified that. of humiliation and exaltation. the structure of God's rev­ elation can be taken from the life of Jesus Christ. God has revealed His might under the powerlessness Otto Weber. a simultaneous pres­ ence οι ascension and descensión. but not elaborated upon. It is therefore hardly surprising that Jesus Christ was for Luther the peak of God's rev­ elation. demonstrating who God really wants to be for us. it will be ex­ amined in what sense Jesus Christ is considered to be the center of the Holy Scripture which has documented God's revelation.. 34 In this perspective. In this context it should be mentioned. Luther considered this notion a very limited anthropology. in whom God has revealed Himself by hiding Himself sub contrario. In the same sense Luther assessed the position of man. StA 1. 138. Human salvation depends on this.13-14 (Homo abscondit sua ut neget. Luther und seine klassischen Erben." Luther-Bulletin (2) 1993. Secondly. under the opposite of what is usually expected of God. 36 WA 1. Grundlagen der Dogmatik Band II. because we do not know what man is until in Jesus Christ it is shown who we may be. who is hiding under the opposite of what people think and expect of him. 48-73. 33 32 CONCORDIA JOURNAL/JANUARY/APRIL 2004 47 .. 33 We don't know who God is until He has made Himself known to us. 1993.36 The absolute culminating point of this dialectical revelation occurred in Jesus Christ. but that He really is God. we think that humanity is as we are experiencing it. namely. i. 35 Klaas Zwanepol. Deus abscondit sua ut revelet). 186-219. Luther established that the whole life of Jesus Christ can be seen as a simul. according to Luther. Theologische Aufsätze und Forschungen. in which Luther had been leaning toward almost from the beginning of his theological career.Critics of Luther's doctrine of the communicatio idiomatum.32 often failed to see that Luther was guided by notions emanating from the center of his theological view on revela­ tion. This is a central motif in Luther's "theologia crucis" as unfolded in his Heidelberg Disputation. 145-164. like most of his Reformed fellow-believers. Tübingen.e. man appears to be talented for a union with God which is bringing mankind into a position beyond all our possibilities and expectations. God reveals Himself by hiding Himself. In his theology of the cross Luther stressed the revelation of God. which is intensively researched by Finnish Luther-scholars.35 Jesus Christ As the Inner Core of God's Revelation We have already seen that Luther did not consider Christ as God." in id. 145w. Here we strike upon the dialectic of revelation. Neukirchen 1962. "Lutherische Christologie im Streit um die neue Bestimmung von Gott und Mensch. Revelation itself was for Luther a dialectical process taking place between the two poles of revelation and hiddenness. Regarding the structure of revelation. Luther's view on theosis.

42 StA 1. however. Luther saw these dialectics of descensión and ascension.41 Here we have to keep in mind the etymology of "scope. "What inculcates Christ" was primarily for Luther a general explanatory rule. Luther's notorious phrase "was Christum treibet" (what is inculcating Christ) should also be considered in this context.5. StA 5."38 On the other hand. 219. his Descensión into Hell and his Ascension into Heaven.1. Good Friday was already an ascension. Christ's resurrection did not simply make up for the humiliation of Good Friday. that every time I found in Scriptures less than Christ."40 But what did this Christocentric interpretation of the Bible mean for Luther? It did not mean that the result of the exegesis of every text should be a reference to Jesus Christ or that the application of a text would not be correct unless it was Christologically labeled. 199. His life-giving power is hidden under the death of the Crucified. Luther's view can be summarized by calling Christ the "scope" of Scripture. 38 WA 47.16. who has given His life for us. 404. which are not opposite or successive phases. With regard to the second point "Christ and Scripture. Luther expressed himself very strongly on this point: "God has suffered.42 It was not Luther's intention to make a selection of texts between those that could be Christologically interpreted and those that could not. I have never been satisfied and every time I found more than Christ. the external point to which the whole Scripture is referring. 459. of humiliation and exaltation outlined in different stages in the life of Jesus Christ. 548. I have become poorer. 48 . That's why. the Holy Spirit doesn't know and doesn't want to know more than Jesus Christ.with which Jesus was handed over to be crucified. as Christ had conquered here the powers of sin and death. This reference. 39 WA 401. 40 WA 1. 73vv. which applies 37 In my book (see note 1) I'm showing this simul of humiliation and exaltation in Luther's view on Christ's Incarnation.37 These dialectics culminate in the junction of Good Friday and Easter. His glory is hidden under the humility of the suffering Christ. I believe. Easter is Christ's elevation.36. 41 WA 24. according to Luther. Christ is. I know this for sure. has been laid down in Scripture by Christ Himself.12ss. which has the double-denotation of both archer and target. but it also articulates that God wants to be among us as the Crucified. 24ss." the Latin scopus and the Greek skopos. God has died. but it was at the same time a deep humiliation when God handed Himself over to be crucified.16." it must be stated that Luther expressed the central position of Jesus Christ in God's revelation by calling Christ the "King of Scripture."39 Luther always maintained the opinion he wrote in his commentary on the Seven PenitentialPsalms: "As far as I'm concerned.

however.. those of the Old Testament as well as those of the New Testament. "Gerhard Ebeling. That is—Luther continued—why faith. but that in different situations and under varying conditions the revelation of Christ in Scripture has to be found. as Jesus Christ is both the aim at and the driving force of this hermeneutic.43 A mathematical point does not take up space. Tuomo Mannermaa. What will be found about Christ in Scripture is essentially open. which we see through we know not how. So it goes far beyond the duality of subject and object. Zum ökumenischen Dialog. Christ Himself is present in faith. i. 1989. Christ as a mathematical point indicates the fundamental position of Jesus Christ in the great variety of what the Scripture wants to say and can be applied to all the different contexts where Scripture is preached and heard. 768. as it is seen from our side. unlike its opposite a physical point of which the size can be determined and which possesses certain contents." i. 27ss.36ss.25.44 Living with Christ First. 228. Rechtfertigung und Vergottung.32. 39v.45 This means that Christ was not for him merely an object of faith.to all Scriptures.27-229. would imply that Christ is always at our disposal. As Luther stated in his impressive commentary on Galatians 2:16. to bring forward and to pull forward.46 to underline that this unique faith is not our achievement. What Luther meant by the cardinal function of Christ in the Scriptures. Luther deliberately used the twofold meaning of the genitive in fides Christi. WATr 2. we have to notice that according to Luther faith played a very important role in the relation between Christ and man. 45 WA 401. In the style of Luther it is preferable not to talk about Christ as an object.e. 439. because the content of His message would be fixed. Der im Glauben gegenwärtige Christus. 527 and Lutherstudien III. but the work of Christ in us. he made perfectly clear by calling Christ the mathematical point of Scripture. as none of our doctrines will be able to seize what Christ is revealing to us. "mathematical" does not imply that the same dogmatically correct statements about Jesus Christ should be made constantly. The German word treiben (inculcate) contains exactly the same double-denotation as the word "scope. "what inculcates Christ" is not—as has often been opined—a "canon within the canon. Hannover 1989. Tübingen. but rather as the content of faith.e. but actually it is not.. Lutherstudien II/3. because faith is the place where Christ is dwelling." but a point of reference which constitutes the Scripture as a whole. is no more than darkness where only Christ can bring in light. 46 WA 18. an idea which Luther fiercely rejected. CONCORDIA JOURNAL/JANUARY/APRIL 2004 49 43 . Considering Christ as a physical point. This may sound very vague. Applied to the Christological interpretation of the Bible. For Luther. Tübingen 1985. faith in Christ and faith of Christ.

38. Erlangen 1966 and Theobald Beer." Zeitwende (60) 1970. God. In his doctrine of atonement. 51 StA 2. Der fröhliche Wechsel und Streit. 339.49 This could be an effect of the mystic tradition which influenced Luther deeply. 274. must justify humans if all justice of Christ is put on them. Christians must take the shape of Christ as He has taken their form. 39ss.37-276. München 1986. a very vivid picture of what can easily be imagined as a novel or film. e. however. Luther used the dated metaphor of a wealthy and high-ranking bridegroom who is taking a poor and adulterous girl as his bride. In BoA. and alienation. Der wunderbare Tausch. about the bridegroom being advised to cancel the marriage but who nevertheless will continue with his intentions. This idea ruled Luther's view on Christian ethics. believing Christ is not so much an act of the intellect. this is not primarily about our conformity with Christ. 50 47 . or an emotion. Der Tröhliche Wechsel* bei Martin Luther. 49 Reinhard Schwarz. This difference is the base of what Luther called "a joyous exchange" {fröhliche Wechsel und Tausch'. Vom Einsein des Christen mit Christus bei Martin Luther. 50 Walter Allgaier.50 What is happening there? Let us first realize that this exchange is of completely unequal partners. Luther often described the union of Christ and the believer in a very intimate manner. "Mit Christus zusammengeschweißt. as it is a way of living governed by the relation with Christ. Einseideln 1980 and Raymund Schwager.48 This does not. whereas the share of Christ is entirely positive: forgiveness. no more than a receiver. or of the will.For Luther. but all this occurs under the condition that God is the only one who acts and that man is principally.47 We know of Christ because He has known us first.g. So the bride will participate in the fortune and esteem of the groom. This order regulated the entire theology of Luther. The close union between Christ and man for Luther did not wipe out the essential difference between them. and peace. even in his actions. but a mysticism permeated by the theology of justification. In his well-known tract on Christian Freedom. beatum commercium) between Christ and Christian. reconciliation. not a classic mysticism to which Luther adhered. Tübingen 1972. but about Christ gaining form in us. ^Karl-Heinz zur Mühlen. 101. guilt. as it expressed the absolute initiative of God in a process in which believers are just participators.27ss. 5. Grundzüge der Theologie Martin Luthers. Zur Geschichte und Deutung der Erlösungslehre. It was.. mean that from our side nothing is happening. The share of the believer is solely a negative one: sin. however. Luther frequently used this exchange-motif God cannot condemn humans if all their sins have been put upon Christ. Therefore Luther considered faith as the result of the re-creative work of Christ in human. Nos extra nos. therefore.51 We could even write its dialogs. whereas the groom will be burdened with the contempt conferred upon his bride. Faith is a conformity of our whole existence with Christ. Correctly understood. Eine Untersuchung zur Christologie und Soteriologie unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Schriften bis 1521.

the works of man are only valuable insofar as they are meant to benefit fellow-creatures.. who have by faith alone received Christ as their sacrament are able to imitate His example in a proper way.28ss. 348.16ss. fides numquam est sola is in force. M WA 2. 53 54 CONCORDIA JOURNAL/JANUARY/APRIL 2004 51 . who held that efforts made in the imitation of Christ are paying off as merits. as Luther told his Roman Catholic opponents. We can put it this way: Luther's stress on the passivity of humans in their salvation intended to get human's activity really in the picture. 99.16. because man's acts are always a consequence of what she/he has received. That is the reason Christ came downfromheaven. who is completely justified in Christ. There is no road from example to sacrament. then these actions should religiously be condemned. is only understandable from the perspective of this exchange between Christ and Christian. that the believer." The latter is leading us to Christian ethics. Luther said. the absolute priority of God acting with us is again articulated.54 Only those. i. If it is to contribute in any form to man's salvation. BoA 5. E.. i." but also a "life out of Christ. In that respect it should not be forgotten that along with sola fide. attending to the needs of their neighbor. Christians are and must be active. Luther emphasized again and again that the only correct order is: first sacrament and then example. We have already seen that in the relation between Christ and man. Christ is actor and man is receiver. not only a "life in Christ.e. mean that the works of man are irrelevant. which will give access to Christ as sacrament. however. unselfish proceeding. This is a misunderstanding that the Reformation was confronted with from the beginning.e. The keynote of Luther's theological anthropology: simul Justus et peccator. By sin man lost his pure and spontaneous acting and now salvation is bringing about the recapture of his genuine. and the latter.g. For Luther. Living with Christ was. either to lift or lower our heads so that we can truly see our neighbors face to face and understand their needs..52 The cardinal point is from which point of view these actions are taking place.this inequality. our action imitating the example of Christ. The former indicates our dependence on Christ for salvation. WA 17. Theologically speaking.53 Luther expressed these key rules of Christian ethics in the distinction between Christ as sacrament and as example."55 52 WA42. This does not. regardless of the high moral quality they perhaps may have. the point was not whether or not the Christian should be active. 518. the initiative is fully at the side of Christ. but sonship is making imitators. is simultaneously remaining completely a sinner. 566. according to Luther. 35. This basic rule Luther wonderfully summarized in the statement: "Not the imitation is making sons of God.

table talks. the capability of a contextual reading of Luther is absolutely necessary. in that Luther never wrote a systematic treatise about Christology. has not only to do with the variety in kind of writings (sermons.56 Jesus Christ is God's mercy to mankind in person and everything which assists bringing this clearly to the forefront. A circular movement between God and man becomes ap52 . First.Evaluation We end with a short evaluation. The most important lesson which Luther could teach us is his strict orientation on salvation. we should liberate Luther from his aftermath and search for new aspects and dimensions in his theology. but close knit way in which Luther keeps in his Christology the divine and the human together. etc. That Luther in one writing expressed himself in one way and in another writing in a slightly different way. what could we learn from Luther about Christology. Luther wanted to say no more (but also no less) about Christ than what is necessary to refer to the secret of God's revelation. When we finally ask. three points could be mentioned: 1. I have already referred to this difficulty. Here a reference could be made to the idea of the suffering God and to man's destination for an anthropology which in union with God is beyond all our ideas and expectations.). but as a reflection on what we could learn from Luther's Christology. One should keep all this seriously in mind while assessing Luther's view on Jesus Christ. which is not so much meant as a summary. We are often inclined to interpret Luther in accordance with the keynotes of the later Lutheran tradition. God wants to be found in the man Jesus Christ. as we cannot theologically speak about man without bringing up God. Biblical commentaries. but also with the change of the discussion-forums. Furthermore. it should be observed that an assessment of Luther's speaking about Christ places great demands on the interpreter. I should comment on how Luther is received within the tradition. which have been overlooked by later generations. Here also. We should follow Luther's example to find new language and to develop new thinking to give expression to our beliefs in Jesus Christ. but we fail to see who this man is (and who we are) if His relation with God is not immediately reflected upon. theses for disputation. This focus gave his Christology a consistent theological character. we can only speak about God if man is fully involved. 2. This also explains why Luther gave evidence of a certain "economy" in Christology. letters. is welcome and all other things may actually disappear. If we really want to take advantage of Luther's sometimes very experimental way of approaching Christology. This "economy" might help us to undo our theology and beliefs of traditional thoughts and experiences and open our mind for a new encounter with the Son of God and man. We also could learn much from the sometimes paradoxical. Following this.

CONCORDIA JOURNAL/JANUARY/APRIL 2004 53 . ubiquity. which originates from and is leading to the union between God and man. 3. as well as Luther's striking points. which is giving up the self. we must simply admit that Luther was wrong in some points. Ironically. in which everything is nicely balanced and offends no one. which liberates it from the last remnants of orthodox metaphysics as well as from a (post) modern. by pointing at a salvation. namely. From Luther we could learn that the trick of theology is not to step out of this movement. On one hand. Here we find immediately the soteriological impact of Luther's Christology. Regarding all our Christologies "from below. Luther was not interested in a "correct" Christology. because it is found by and in the Other and brings one to solidarity with others. which refuses to accept what does not appear within the scope of our experience.parent. It is not difficult to catch Luther in exaggerated statements and contradictory and sometimes indefensible opinions (especially about incarnation. narrow-minded Christological approach. even these failures. just like many of his opponents were regrettably unable to sound out Luther's motives. to explain that God will in Jesus Christ always come to us as a truly human God. but to stay in it. but he was rather searching for Christ-talk. We should perhaps blame him for not having understood the legitimate motives of some of his opponents." Luther reminds us that if we do not also start here "from above" we will fail in grasping the true meaning of Jesus Christ. which is able to meet Luther's valuable Christological drive. challenge us to develop a way of speaking about Christ for our times. Luther is probably closest to post-modernism by rejecting the idea of the ability to cope for oneself. and the magic power of the eucharistie elements). But on the other hand. Herein isfreedomfor everybody guaranteed.

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