Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Paul Hinlicky's Interpretation of Luther on Christology and Atonement

I'm about 100 pages in and it's actually turning out relatively well.

1. The Christology section is very good and captures Luther's understanding of the communication of attributes well. He repeats the line about how Luther got his Cyrillian Christology through the "medieval theology manuals" that we might recall from David Yeago. Again, this can't be the case, since Lombard (whom I think he's referring to here) has a Leonine Christology and no one who has read Book 3 of the Sentences would ever get the impression that the Damascene taught a different Christology than Leo and Augustine. Nominalism is the more likely source. But this is a common mistake and one I myself have been guilty of (particularly in my M.A. thesis!).

2. The discussion of atonement was OK. Couple of interesting points. For one thing, he seems to make what are to me some fairly obvious observations about different figures, but then treatment as if they're a great breakthrough. For example, he states that Anselm didn't teach that Jesus' death was punishment for sin, but rather surplus merit covering sin. Yeah, I mean, isn't that obvious? I mean, the whole argument is about superegation and possibility of a human being becoming capable of it in order to overcome sin- basically Anselm's argument is that its impossible without the hypostatic union. Is this news?

He then correctly observes that Luther really, truly does believe that Christ's death was substitutionary and that you can't get around that like Forde, Aulen and von Hofmann tried to do. Fantastic! He also says (and I also agree with this thoroughly) that all three aspect of atonement must be integrated (defeat of the Devil, substitution, revelation/moral influence).

The problem comes when he goes to his daughter's thesis (apparently taken from one of her seminary papers- he quotes multiple term papers from his daughter- who BTW, is married to someone who I was friends with in seminary), that for Luther Christ's atoning work is only punishment. The distinction between "active" and "passive" righteousness is Melanchthonian in origin and represents a problematic attempt to combine Luther and Anslem.

With this I must respectfully disagree!

First, it wasn't Melanchthon who came up with the distinction between "active" and "passive" righteousness, but Flacius. Now, the occasion for this was the controversy with Osiander which as I noted a few months ago wasn't really about whether sanctification was different than justification, but about the communication of attributes. Osiander taught that you could divide Christ's work between his substitutionary death (human nature) and his righteousness before God (his divine nature). Flacius' point (and later Chemnitz's) was that you couldn't do that. Since Christ is one person, his infinite and almighty divine person works redemption through his human nature. Christ's almighty righteousness is our righteousness because it is God's righteousness active through his human obedience. His death can overcome the infinite divine judgment against sin, because it is the death of the infinite God.

This follows Luther's reasoning exactly as we find it in the Galatians commentary. Luther says explicitly about Christ's righteousness for us that he is "the only sin, and the only righteousness." In other words, "active" and "passive" righteousness are not a perversion of Luther's position, but rather a correct explanation of it.

Of course, Hinlicky may ask "how do you know that Luther is talking about Christ's theandric obedience as his righteousness?" My answer would be that there are many references in Luther's work regarding the redemptive value of Christ's obedience in his temporal existence. I would also note that because of his understanding of the hypostatic union, he would necessarily insist that the acts of obedience by the human nature were those of the divine person active through it.

In the end, the alternative explanation would be that Luther would agree with Osiander- namely, only the divine nature is our righteousness. This would not agree with Luther's understanding of justification of the communication of attributes.

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