"The Cross is Our Only Theology"- Martin Luther, Heidelberg Disputation
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Flacius was Right After All: Another Death Blow to the Finns.
One thing that came up during the (now blessedly ended!!!) debate over universal justification, was that Luther consistently describes Christ as having "born all sins." In other words, he was imputed with humanity's sin and therefore suffered for it. He is, as Luther put it in the Great Galatians commentary, is the "Greatest Sinner" and the "Only Sinner."
This provides another problem for the Finns.
If you read Mannermaa's work, he does like to cite the aforementioned passages. Nevertheless, he construes them as having to do with the event of unio mystica. In other words, we are justified because via faith we enter into union with Christ. Christ then takes our sins and we his righteousness and voila, we're justified by becoming a single subject with him.
Now it's true that Luther does conceptualize the imputation of sin to Christ as taking place because God regards us as a single subject with him (this is how Jenson puts it, not Luther, though I think he correct to state it this way). He more heavily leans on the marriage and union metaphor than does Melanchthon, who is certainly more keen on the forensic one (although it should be noted that Luther also endorsed Melanchthon's way of stating things, contrary to what the Finns and Karl Holl would like us to believe). Nevertheless, let us examine what Luther really means when he says that we become a "single subject" with Christ.
Going back to the description of Christ bearing all sins, it becomes obvious that Luther holds to a universal and objective justification. He states again and again that Christ in his death forgave all sins and so forth. Consequently, when he speaks of us becoming a single subject with Christ, he's not talking about the event of unio mystica which occurs through faith. If that were the case, then why are we told he is the "Only Sinner"? In other words, if Mannermaa was correct, then he logically wouldn't be the only sinner. All those other people who hadn't entered intounio mystica with him by faith would still be sinners and only after faith would their sins be transfered to him.
For this reason, it appears very likely that Flacius in his debate with Osiander actually got the Luther was aiming at when he suggested that the transfer of sins and unity with Christ's person occurred in God's mind prior to our temporal justification. God had in his eternal will to redeem, transferred our status to Christ and Christ's to us. Normally, he admitted, this would be strange and absurd. But in the case of God, this was possible. If this is true, and Flacius was true to Luther's intention on this point.
It should also be noted that when Quenstedt in his systematic theology deals with this question that he conceptualizes it in exactly the same manner. This means, I think, that there is greater continuity between Luther and Lutheran scholasticism than most Luther scholars would like to admit.
I am a Lutheran layperson and an adjunct professor of theology at the Institute for Lutheran Theology and Aquinas College. I grew up in Oregon and attended Luther College in Iowa (B.A. History and Religion) and Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN (M.A. Doctrine and Theology). I graduated in 2009 from Marquette University with a Ph.D in Systematic Theology. I am the author of the following articles: "Martin Luther and Bernard of Clairvaux on the Bridal Mystical Motif," (Journal of Ecclesiastical History) "Creation's Praise: A Short Liturgical Reading of Genesis and Revelation," (Pro Ecclesia) "Kenosis and Vocation: Christ as the Exemplar and Agent of Christian Freedom," (LOGIA) "Gerhard O. Forde on the Law" (Concordia Theological Quarterly). My systematic Lutheran Christology ("The Self-Donation of God: A Contemporary Lutheran Approach to Christ and His Benefits" preface, David P. Scaer) will be published in 2013 by Wipf and Stock Press. I am married to the historian Dr. Bethany M. Tanis (now Kilcrease).