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Lecture: Exploring Jürgen Moltmann and Martin Luther Through Heidelberg Disputation

Lecture: Exploring Jürgen Moltmann and Martin Luther Through Heidelberg Disputation

A file photo of Professor Hong Liang, a part-time researcher of the Center for Religious and Legal Studies of China University of Political Science and Law A file photo of Professor Hong Liang, a part-time researcher of the Center for Religious and Legal Studies of China University of Political Science and Law
ByLi Shiguang January 19, 2022
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On the evening of January 3, the first lecture of "Martin Luther and the Third Enlightenment Forum" (Season 3) was held under the theme of “Luther and Thinkers".

Titled “Moltmann and Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation”, the lecture was delivered by Professor Hong Liang, the very last student of Professor Jürgen Moltmann, and a part-time researcher of the Center for Religious and Legal Studies of China University of Political Science and Law.

At the beginning of the lecture, Professor Paul Huang from Shanghai University raised some essential issues that China is facing in modern society to which answers may need to refer back to Martin Luther’s time.

Professor Hong Liang divided the lecture into four parts.

I. The Heidelberg Disputation in the scrutiny of the Reformation in the 16th Century

In September 1517, Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses which was against selling indulgences at the gate of Schlosskirche Church in Wittenburg. The action set the opening scene of the Reformation movement. Yet, the symbolical theoretical peak of the Reformation in theological history was not the 95 Theses published by Luther in 1517. It was the Heidelberg Disputation which was published by Luther in 1518 because in 1517 he was still within the theological framework of Catholicism. 

II. The connotation and significance of the Heidelberg Disputation in the history of thoughts

The current version of the Heidelberg Disputation is actually incomplete, which consists of 40 topics and some annotations. Among the 40 topics, the first 28 are theological topics, while the last 12 are philosophical topics. The main goal of the philosophical topics was to criticize Aristotle’s philosophy, and the 28 theological topics could be classified as follows:

Law (Article 1), human behavior and God’s behavior (Articles 2-12), freedom of will (13-15), grace (16-18), “theologians of Glory ” and “theologians of the Cross” (19-22), Law (23-24), man’s behavior/faith/law/grace/Christ’s behavior (25-27), and God’s love and man’s love (28).

III. Moltmann’s interpretation of the Heidelberg Disputation

Jürgen Moltmann's attention to the Heidelberg's Disputation began when he was studying in Göttingen after World War II. He was especially inspired by a course called ‘The Young Luther’ offered by Evander from 1948 to 1949. Moltmann reinterpreted “the God hidden in suffering” in article 21 of the Disputation, deduced the suffering of God from the cross of Christ, and went from Christology to the doctrine of God.

Moltmann’s book The Crucified God holds that while the Son went through the process of death (sterben) in abandonment and the Father then came through the state of death (tod) of the Son abandoned by him, the latter suffered from the death of his own “the Vatersein” in the death of the Son; the Father was involved in the abandonment of the Son, not the death of the first persona (Patripassionismus); the Son and the Father experienced the complete loss of relationship and connection during the Son’s death, which was reflected in the personal interaction between them on the issue of death. The social meaning of death was the complete loss of relationship and connection (referring to breathing, heartbeat, brain, etc.). There came a perspective transformation from the theology of the Cross in the perspective of the theology of the Trinity to the theology of the Trinity in the perspective of the theology of the Cross.

IV. A comparison to the interpretation of the Heidelberg Disputation by Kazoh Kitamori

The basic idea of the book The Theology of the Pain of God written by Kazoh Kitamori was listed as follows: “God has tolerated things that should not be tolerated, so He Himself has experienced crushing, injury and pain”; “Deep in God’s heart” was full of pain because “in God’s heart, wills struggle against each other”; God’s will to love people was against his will to be angry with people, and the former overcame the latter, which led to his pain, that was, “God's innermost essence”; conflicts of will: God was determined to love the object of his anger - abandoning the Son’s loyalty was “the inevitability laid by God”; the Father giving birth to the Son was not the ultimate connotation of the relationship between them; The Father who gave birth to the Son was the Father who let the Son die and suffer (on Heidelberg); in the absence of the holy spirit.

Kazoh Kitamori’s criticism of the classical “Trinity Theory” has raised the question of how to match the “Trinity Theory” with the “modern disaster experience”. Kitamori believed that it was more important for the Father to let the Son die than for the Father to give birth to the Son. The Father gave birth to the Son to provide conditions for the former to let the latter die; the Father letting the Son die was the decisive connotation of the father-son relationship; trinity inward activity: God gave birth to the Son and made the Son die and suffer.

Both Moltmann and Kitamori stated that “theology of the cross” plus the “Trinity Theory” held that “the cross is a key event related to the Father and the Son”. However, to Kitamori, the Father-Son interaction was “the grand deed of the Father abandoning the Son” in which the Son has a comparatively instrumental role. Moltmann, on the other hand, further discovered “the equality of the Father and the Son persona in the same abandonment (the same suffering)” on the basis of Kitamori’s view.

- Translated by Charlie Li

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