The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther

By Donald K. McKim | Go to book overview

7
Luther's moral theology
BERND WANNENWETSCH

APPROACHING LUTHER's ETHICAL THOUGHT

A proper understandingof Luther's ethical thought is hampered in two ways. First, contemporary ideas of ethics as a discipline in its own right, when projected back on to Luther, are likely to fail, as his ethical thought cannot be separated from doctrinal considerations within the whole scope of his theology. Instead of singling out his“ethics, ” then, we must rather explore his“moral theology, ” the web of theological thought of which the texture of his moral ideas is composed.

The second complicating factor is that Luther's ethic has elicited a degree of passionate apologetic and repudiation rare among theological ethics, and thereby has been exceptionally exposed to one-sided and distorted interpretations. Consequently, no account of his moral theology can be given without some engagement with those interpretations and their problematic claims.

A look at the history of the reception of Luther's theology arouses our suspicion of monistic accounts such as Hegel's Luther of“freedom, ” Karl Holl's Luther of“conscience” or many a theologian's Luther of“justification.” These fall short not because they overemphasize one aspect of Luther's thought to the disadvantage of others, but because they fail, in most cases, to do justice to the very concept focused on. Hegel, for example, was not wrong to present Luther's theology as a theology of freedom; rather, his account of freedom was flawed because his portrayal of Luther as the foundingfather of modern individualism by virtue of his supersedingtraditional authority could not be reconciled with Luther's strongtheological concept of authority.

Over against monistic explanatory schemes, we are assuming that Luther's theology must be understood as having its unity, or (to hazard a musical metaphor) its harmony, at the grammatical level. Its coherence lies less in the formal domain, in terms of a systemic relation of parts, and more in the harmonious way in which the different language games it engages resonate with one another. Hence, if we allow for a variety of appropriate

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The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents ix
  • Notes on Contributors xi
  • Preface xv
  • Chronology of Martin Luther xvii
  • Abbreviations xviii
  • Part I - Luther's Life and Context 1
  • 1 - Luther's Life 3
  • 2 - Luther's Wittenberg 20
  • Part II - Luther's Work 37
  • 3 - Luther's Writings 39
  • Notes 59
  • 4 - Luther as Bible Translator 62
  • 5 - Luther as an Interpreter of Holy Scripture 73
  • Notes 82
  • 6 - Luther's Theology 86
  • Notes 114
  • 7 - Luther's Moral Theology 120
  • 8 - Luther as Preacher of the Word of God 136
  • 9 - Luther's Spiritual Journey 149
  • 10 - Luther's Struggle with Social-Ethical Issues 165
  • Notes 175
  • 11 - Luther's Political Encounters 179
  • Notes 190
  • 12 - Luther's Polemical Controversies 192
  • Part III - After Luther 208
  • 13 - Luther's Function in an Age of Confessionalization 209
  • 14 - The Legacy of Martin Luther 227
  • Notes 238
  • 15 - Approaching Luther 240
  • Notes 252
  • Part IV - Luther Today 257
  • 16 - Luther and Modern Church History 259
  • 17 - Luther's Contemporary Theological Significance 272
  • Notes 286
  • 18 - Luther in the Worldwide Church Today 289
  • Select Bibliography 304
  • Index 313
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