The Theologian of Glory

The Heidelberg Disputation

[Jesus] gave up his divine privileges he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Phil 2:7-8 NLT

The years of 1517 and 1519 are of the utmost importance in the life of Martin Luther. The latter date is the famous debate with Johannes Eck in Leipzig and the former date is the posting of the 95 Theses on indulgences in Wittenberg. The middle year is often thought of as the silent year, that of 1518. However, a significant event occurred in the history of theology of that year, it is called the Heidelberg Disputation. In April of that year, Johannes von Staupitz, the vicar-general of the Augustinian order of which Luther was a monk, invited him to discourse on his new ideas. Every year the Augustinian order would meet for a public disputation in Heidelberg. Staupitz instructed Luther not to discuss his more controversial views about the Pope and Church Authority, but to share his new understanding of the righteousness of God. This was Luther’s first great opportunity to share his insights, which he called the theology of the cross. Crux sola est nostra theologia is in opposition to what Luther called the theology of glory.

The “theologian of glory” calls the bad good and the good bad. The “theologian of the cross” says what a thing is. . . . Without a theology of the cross, man misuses the best things in the worst way.

Martin Luther, Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings, ed. John Dillenburger (New York: Anchor Press, 1961), 503.

The theologian of glory prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and in general, good to evil. . . . God can only be found in suffering and the cross. . . . Therefore the friends of the cross say that the cross is good and works are evil, for through the cross works are dethroned and the old Adam, who is especially edified by works, is crucified. It is impossible for a person not to be puffed up by his good works unless he has first been deflated and destroyed by suffering and evil until he knows that he is worthless and that his works are not his but God’s.

Martin Luther cited in Gerhard O. Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, 1518 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), 81.


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