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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 1 of 2)

Brought theology back to religion from sophistry


He

then claimed that he stood where the old Catholic Church had taken stand, that his theology like its was rooted in the faith of God as Trinity and in the belief in the Person of Christ, the Revealer of God. The old theology had nothing to do with Mariolatry or saint worship; it revered the triune God, and Jesus Christ His Son and man's Saviour. Luther could join hands with Athanasius across twelve centuries. He had done a work not unlike that of the great Alexandrian. His rejection of the Scholastic Aristotelianism may be compared with Athanasius' refusal to allow the Logos theology any longer to confuse the Christian doctrines of God and the Person of Christ. Both believed that in all thinking about God they ought to keep their eyes fixed upon His redemptive work manifested in the historical Christ. Athanasius, like Luther, brought theology back to religion from "sophistry," and had for his starting-point an inward religious experience that his Redeemer was the God who made heaven and earth. The great leaders in the ancient Church, Luther believed, held as he did that to have conceptions about God, to construct a real Christian theology, it was necessary first of all to know God Himself, and that He was only to be known through the Lord Jesus Christ. He had gone through the same experience as they had done; he could fully sympathise with them, and could appropriate the expressions in which they had described and crystallised what they had felt and known, and that without paying
much attention to the niceties of technical language. These doctrines had not been dead formulas to them, but the expression of a living faith. He could therefore take the old dogmas and make them live again in an age in which it seemed as if they had lost all their vitality.

"From the time of Athanasius," says Harnack, "there had been no theologian who had given so much living power for faith to the doctrine of the Godhead of Christ as Luther did; since the time of Cyril, no teacher had arisen in the Church for whom the mystery of the union of the two natures in Christ was so full of comfort as for Luther--'I have a better provider than all angels are: he lies in the cradle and hangs on the breast of a virgin, but sits, nevertheless, at the right hand of the almighty father'; no mystic philosopher of antiquity spoke with greater conviction and delight of the sacred nourishment in the Eucharist. The German reformer restored life to the formulas of Greek Christianity: he gave them back to faith."(423)

But if Luther accepted the old formulas describing the Nature of God and the Person of Christ, he did so in a thoroughly characteristic way. He had no liking for theological technical terms, though he confessed that it was necessary to use them. He disliked the old term _homoousios_ to describe the relation between the Persons in the Trinity, and preferred the word "oneness";(424) he even disliked the term Trinity, or at least its German equivalents, Dreifaltigkeit or Dreiheit--they were not good German words, he said;(425) he called the technical terms used in the old creeds _vocabula mathematica_;(426) he was careful to avoid using them in his Short and even in his Long Catechism. But Jesus Christ was for him the mirror of the Fatherly heart of God, and therefore was God; God Himself was the only Comforter to bring rest to the human soul, and the Holy Spirit was God; and the old creeds confessed One God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and the confession contented him whatever words were used. Besides, he rejoiced to place himself side by side with the Christians of ancient days, who trusted God in Christ and were free from the "sophistries" of the Schoolmen.


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