301 Articles
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Tilted in the Direction of Duns Scotus: Sonderegger’s “Formal Distinction” and the Theologia Crucis

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Tilted in the Direction of Duns Scotus: Sonderegger’s “Formal Distinction” and the Theologia Crucis

Paul R. Hinlicky

In the summer semester of 1921, the young and still unknown philosopher Martin Heidegger undertook the “deconstruction” of Augustine’s synthesis of Paul and Neo-Platonism. He wrote about the mishandling of Romans 1:20, where Paul seemingly asserted knowledge of the invisible God through His created works. This claim was “fundamental,” according to Heidegger, for the “orientation of Christian doctrine in Greek philosophy.” Romans 1:20 was grasped as a “confirmation of Platonism, taken from Paul.” The “Platonic ascent from the sensible world to the supersensible world” was consequently “structured into the basic patterns of Christian thought.” But, Heidegger continues, “this is a misunderstanding of the passage from Paul. Only Luther really understood this passage for the first time”—even though Luther too later “fell victim to the burden of tradition.”

Heidegger cites as evidence for his claim about the early Luther’s exposition of Romans 1:20 the latter’s (at the time recently rediscovered) Heidelberg Disputation, where, he says, Luther asserts that the one who “sees what is invisible of God in what has been created is no theologian.” Luther’s denial means that “the object of theology is not attained by way of metaphysical consideration of the world.”1 Whatever is so captured, as Heidegger would later put it, is “ontotheology,” deity idolatrously constructed as highest good of the appropriating creature who asserts self in the epistemic titanism of claiming knowledge of God.

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Scripture and Metaphysics: A Response to the Reviewers

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Scripture and Metaphysics: A Response to the Reviewers

Katherine Sonderegger

Esse Deum dare; God’s Being is to give: so Paul Hinlicky writes in his splendid review (and his own systematic volume), and this truth, we may thankfully say, is one of the “deep things of God.” The ever-rich Generosity of God is echoed, in a creaturely voice, by these reviews in front of me. They are gifts, lavish ones. I am deeply grateful to these reviewers for such incisive and generative comments on my first volume of Systematics; deeply grateful for their generous words of encouragement, of support, and of challenge. They read me so very well, in the strengths of the book and in the weak parts, too, the insights I have been given, but the unfinished analysis and exegeses as well. Always there is more to learn, more to understand in the Tradition, in the Doctors of the Church, and above all, in Holy Scripture; these reviewers help me see further. They represent the Church catholic—Lutheran, Anglican, Reformed, Roman Catholic—and in just this way live out with particular grace the hope of ecumenism in the world made by Faith and Order and the aggiornamento of Vatican II. I wrote this book for that Church, the One Universal Church, Holy and Apostolic, and I am deeply moved to have this first volume so generously received by living members of that catholic communion. Gratitude is the mark of a life, given and forgiven, Barth said; and I have received this gift, many times over, by these reviewers and their work. So I am eager to honor their work by responding to their comments and queries. I cannot hope to address all their points; these remarks are really just the beginning of a conversation on these central matters.

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Martin Luther after 500 Years

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Martin Luther after 500 Years

Bruce D. Marshall

Five hundred years ago this past October, on the eve of All Saints—what we call Halloween—a young theology professor at a provincial German university posted a set of theses for academic debate.1 The university was in the northeast German town of Wittenberg, and the professor was Martin Luther, a monk and priest two weeks shy of his thirty-fourth birthday. His aim was a standard academic exercise, a public disputation on a series of contested points, so his theses were written in Latin, the universal academic language of Europe at the time. The subject of his theses was the theology and practice of indulgences. Indulgences had been a standard part of Western medieval religious life for several centuries, one part of a much larger picture about sin, forgiveness, and reconciliation with God and one’s community. Luther was moved to post his “Disputation to Clarify the Power of Indulgences,” to recall its formal title, by his lively irritation over the way a particular indulgence tied to the building of the new St. Peter’s basilica in Rome was, with papal approval, being preached and sold in north Germany at the time. But the proper understanding of indulgences, of what they could and could not do, was already a topic of running controversy, and a good deal of what Luther had to say in his ninety-five theses had already been said by others.

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The Demise of Visible Unity: Challenges in the Implementation of the Anglican-Lutheran Porvoo Statement

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The Demise of Visible Unity: Challenges in the Implementation of the Anglican-Lutheran Porvoo Statement

Ola Tjørhom

The main title of this piece may sound a bit exaggerated. But I still dare to claim that it is largely justifiable. Visible unity—or, more precisely, visible structured unity—is grounded in the original vision of the modern ecumenical movement. It had its peak in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. During the last few decades, however, it has become gradually marginalized at the ecumenical scene—even among some who used to defend it. One reason for this shift is that the concern for visible communion has been overshadowed by our attraction to diversity.

Openness to and active embracing of diversity is indispensable—in the church as well as the world. All proclivities to reject this precious gift must be counteracted. Yet, the crucial dialectics between unity and diversity should never be forgotten. In the life of the church, this gift is always linked to and aimed at a visible, structured, and committed fellowship.

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Grace and Gratitude: A Reply to Bruce Marshall

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Grace and Gratitude: A Reply to Bruce Marshall

Michael Allen

“The spirits divide in manifold ways, and the division reaches even to the description of Protestantism’s iconic founding incident.” These words of Professor Bruce Marshall not only help us realize the challenge as we assess the events of October 1517, but, more broadly, as we consider the persona and witness of Martin Luther. Some take Luther’s significance to be political, and Marshall alludes to the significance of his support by “the Elector of Saxony Frederick the Wise” for turning him from a mere reformer to a founder of German Protestantism. Others highlight the ways in which Luther confronted the economic exploitation of German peasants for the aristocrats and the foreign powers of Rome, to which Marshall also nods in his comments on the popular awareness of the ways in which indulgences could fleece the least of these. While treating the political and the economic aspects of reform as bearing significance, however, Marshall reminds us of the abiding theological character of his witness and the specifically pastoral shape of his reforms.

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