Heidelberg Disputation (Introduction)

Following the turmoil that posting the 95 theses instigated in October 1517, Luther’s own monastic order (the Augustinians) was pressured to investigate and critique Luther’s ‘new’ teaching. This occurred at the city of Heidelberg in Germany and Luther was asked to present his theology. This he did in the form of theses for academic discussion in April 1518. This disputation is what I am doing my dissertation on so it is worthwhile to share it with you because the more I study it the more I think we need to hear it afresh today. The version of the disputation I will post is an early English translation from the Luther’s Works (LW) volumes.

The introduction to the disputation introduced some of the important themes that would arise during the course of the debate. First, medieval theologians (yes I said theologians) relied on their own wisdom instead of Scripture; second, Luther’s ‘new’ theology is actually not new but old – from Paul and substantiated by Augustine. This final note is particularly ironic because as members of the Augustinian Order, many monastics really couldn’t have understood much of what Augustine said when it turns out they were so off kilter with their gospel and theology. Here is the introduction:

Distrusting completely our own wisdom, according to that counsel of the Holy Spirit, “Do not rely on your own insight” [Prov. 3:5], we humbly present to the judgment of all those who wish to be here these theological paradoxes, so that it may become clear whether they have been deduced well or poorly from St. Paul, the especially chosen vessel and instrument of Christ, and also from St. Augustine, his most trustworthy interpreter.

LW 31:39

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