Martin Luther's incarnational theology: The intentions and consequences of Martin Luther's christology in his late disputations

Melvin G Vance, Marquette University


Luther has been described as caring about soteriology but not concerned to study christology. But two of Luther's disputations discuss Christ's person and natures. Contradictory findings of recent dissertations deepen the problem of understanding these christological disputations. One portrays the disputations as almost monophysite: Luther disregarded Jesus' humanity except as hiding the divinity during the passion when invincible divinity alone won salvation. According to another, Luther regarded classical christology as incomprehensible and unsuccessful: in the disputations Luther advocated "approximating," "addressing" language to transcend the old christological discourse. For the third dissertation Luther was a Nominalist seeking, first of all, to protect the Creator/creature distinction: Luther saw his christology as Nominalist. These understandings of christology in Luther's late disputations can be corrected by rereading the disputations in three contexts. They must be read in the context of Luther's other works from the 1530's and 1540's, and in the context of Nominalist christology as Luther received it. Luther rejected his teachers for not affirming the communication of human attributes to the Son. In these works Luther's phrase "one person is God and a human" was directed against Nominalism. In the christological disputations Luther condemned Nominalism for picturing the Divine Person as remaining "beneath" His human nature rather than becoming, a human being as the phrase Deus est homo asserts. The recent dissertations missed Luther's anti-docetic argument based on the unio personae . But, when read in the context of discussions of twentieth century Luther Research, this anti-docetic argument suggests itself as the presupposition of Luther's theology. For Luther the Son's oneness produces the doctrine of the "suffering" God. God's liberating effectiveness is worked through the Son's lovingly taken, vulnerable, enduring humanity. In the christological disputations Luther defended the Son's humanity as key to salvation: With Christ's resurrection, God shares the Son's humanity with us bringing about our justification. Luther's doctrine of Christ's natures and person was at the heart of the christology driving his Reformation.

Recommended Citation

Melvin G Vance, "Martin Luther's incarnational theology: The intentions and consequences of Martin Luther's christology in his late disputations" (January 1, 2001). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. Paper AAI3028651.