The Anthropology Of The Lutheran Confessions

Excerpt from:
William W. Schumacher, Who Do I Say That You Are? Anthropology and the Theology of Theosis in the Finnish School of Tuomo Mannermaa (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2010), 180-181.

It is impossible to overestimate the importance of Luther's decisive emphasis on the words of the promise...  "These words," the Christian learns to speak in the catechism, "are the essential thing [Hauptstuck] in the sacrament" (SC Sacr 8).  And, in fact, not only in the sacrament: here we have to do with "the most important topic of Christian teaching which, rightly understood, illumines and magnifies the honor of Christ and brings the abundant consolation that devout consciences need" (Ap IV 2).  That is why Luther repeats the "for you" no fewer than six times, and "forgiveness of sin(s)" seven times, in the brief explanation of the sacrament in the Small Catechism.  God's promise of forgiveness of sins is the source and center of the Christian's entire life, "because where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation."  The Small Catechism focuses on the promise of forgiveness (forensic justification) as the Hauptstuck [(i.e., the essential thing)] of the of the sacrament, rather than any "ontological" reference, either in the elements themselves or in the human recipient.  

The Small Catechism's radical focus on the words in the sacrament, and especially the words as promise rather than as mere information, bring us to the bedrock of the anthropology of the Lutheran Confessions.  The words of the promise of the forgiveness of sin not only define but also create the new reality of human creatures, rescued from their self-inflicted alienation from their Creator and the resultant corruption and corrosion of their lives.  The promise of forgiveness of sin is thus the heart of the Lutheran understanding of what it means to be human; no other definition of "reality" is to be sought than this word addressed by the Creator to his fallen creatures.  The reality of the promise trumps all other evidence and every other claim by which human beings seek to understand themselves.  The Lutheran Confessions do not offer a precise definition of human nature, nor do they specify some kind of change to that nature in Christians after conversion.  They do not answer all the philosophical or scientific questions that arise about human existence.  They provide a theological framework for knowing ourselves that revolves around around these two related, paradoxical assertions: that we are creatures and yet sinners, and that we are sinners yet justified, all at the same time.

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