Luther’s Augustinian Theology of the Cross

14 December 2022 by Wes Bredenhof

Dr. Marco Barone has written a unique book on Martin Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation. In 1518, Luther defended a set of 28 well-worded theses at the German Congregation of the Augustinian Order in Heidelberg. The building where the disputation took place no longer stands, but you can (like I did) find the location — it’s in the middle of a street. Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation is most famous for its contrast between a theology of glory and a theology of the cross. Barone illustrates how Luther was a faithful student of the church father Augustine. He highlights the many points of connection between the two in the 28 theses. But then he goes further and this is really the unique aspect of this work: “Luther predicted that when reason works independently from the data of revelation, or when these data are improperly handled, the outcome is always an auto-soteriological form of religion” (p.138). Some form of Pelagianism always results when people set aside God’s Word. As test cases, Barone looks at Immanuel Kant and Gottfried Leibniz. Kant and Leibniz demonstrate how, “Beyond the philosophy of the cross, there is nothing but Pelagianism” (p.107). It’s not long, but it’s also not a light read. For example, the author says that he takes it for granted that readers will be familiar with Kant’s philosophy (p.120). But if you’re interested in historical theology and philosophy, you’ll find this to be a creative and distinctive approach to the Heidelberg Disputation and its abiding significance.