Luther and Augustine

Reformation 2011, Volume XX, Number 4

Table of Contents

(A feature article from the journal: The Lutheran Codicil: From Augustine’s Grace to Luther’s Gospel by Phillip Cary)

 Luther and Augustine

Luther and Augustine

Because Luther’s doctrine of justification belongs to the broad stream of the Augustinian doctrine of grace in the West, we can see what is distinctive about it by noticing how it differs from Augustine’s teaching. The best way to do that, I propose, is to observe that where Luther distinguishes law and gospel, Augustine distinguishes law and grace. The difference is encapsulated in what I call “the Lutheran codicil to the Augustinian heritage,” in which Augustine’s insistence on fleeing for grace becomes Luther’s insistence on fleeing to the gospel.

This difference depends on Luther’s thinking like a medieval catholic in the sense that what Luther adds to Augustine is a conception of the gospel as efficacious in the manner of a medieval sacrament. That is, it is an external sign that gives the inner grace it signifies to those who believe. Luther heartily endorses Augustine’s thinking about law and grace, but goes on to identify a specific external means of grace, the word of the gospel, where one may go to take hold of the grace of Christ and indeed of Christ himself. In this way a medieval notion of sacramental efficacy, which is foreign to Augustine, lies at the heart of Luther’s theology.

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