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The Stupid Monk at The Diet at Worms: Part 2

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Christ powerless on the Cross is where the false definitions of glory theologies are exposed and everything is turned upside down.

The Diet at Worms was more than a German event, it was also a theological confession such as that found in the short tract on the Magnificat of Mary written by Luther the same year as the Diet. The work on the Magnificat was done amidst the interruptions of the imperial Diet, the translation of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek, into colloquial German, and the exposition of selected Psalms. As Gordon Rupp noted, what was most striking of all about the Magnificat of Mary, was that:

“...the tract contains material for a philosophy of history, a profound diagnosis of the might and vulnerability of human pride, that ‘bubble’-like quality by which arrogance resting on violence has been able, again and again, to stretch and swell into vast and terrifying systems of empire, battening upon great historical forces, until it seems to be invincible, until, with breathtaking suddenness, its hour comes (what Luther called a stundlein, and the Bible kairos) when God stretches forth His finger and the vast balloon collapses, and the once paralyzing and terrifying painted face upon it sags into sudden ruin, like Egypt, Babylon, the Third Reich.” (Gordon Rupp, “The Righteousness of Faith, Luther’s Progress,” 100.)

Luther’s confessions and writings during that time demonstrated the diagnosis of the problem he faced had always been the same. It was the conflict between sin and salvation regarding true theology and true knowledge of God.

At Worms, Luther addressed the conflict directly regarding the danger of going against conscience because he knew that to speak of conscience meant he was simultaneously referring the wrath of God upon himself. The wrath of God also contributed to Luther’s understanding of history as he wrote his comments about the Magnificat of Mary. By appealing to the experience of conscience in his concluding statements at Worms, which also play heavily into his reading of the Magnificat, Luther was not attempting to attain the moral high ground or surrender to his psychological impulses. Rather, he was asserting the absolute claim made by the Cross upon sinners. Luther, “had learned that the Christian warfare is the fight of faith, faith which may run counter to all human thoughts, feelings, and experiences, since it is by faith that our lives are hid with Christ in God.” (Rupp, “Luther’s Progress,” 47.)

In this way of doing theology Luther understood that the "theology of the cross" (as he referred to this way of doing theology during his 1517 psalms lectures) worked to tear down all theologies of glory, which are really no theologies at all. For, “‘Crucified and hidden alone’ makes thoroughly clear that the hidden God cannot be a hypostasis in or behind God, but is the one living God who is manifest as he is concealed in the cross of Christ.” (Walther von Loewenich. Luther’s Theology of the Cross, 30.)

So when Luther began expositing the Magnificat of Mary during the same year as Worms, he directed his readers’ attention to the reversal of direction brought about by the Cross: the relation of salvation and sin and how counterfeit salvation results in a counterfeit understanding of sin and vice versa. First, Luther wrote, Mary “teaches us, with her words and by the example of her experience, how to know, love, and praise God.” (Martin Luther, LW 21, 301.)

“…it is different when God Himself works, with His own arm. Then a thing is destroyed or raised up before one knows it, and no one sees it done. Such works as these He does only among the two divisions of mankind, the godly and the wicked. He lets the godly become powerless and to be brought low, until everyone supposes their end is near, whereas in the very things He is present to them with all His power, yet so hidden and in secret that even those who suffer the oppression do not feel it but only believe. There is the fullness of God’s power and His outstretched arm. For where man’s strength ends, God’s strength begins, provided faith is present and waits on Him. And when the oppression comes to an end, it becomes manifest what great strength was hidden underneath the weakness. Even so, Christ was powerless on the cross; and yet there He performed His mightiest work and conquered sin, death, world, hell, devil, and all evil.” (Luther, LW 21: 340.)

Christ powerless on the Cross is where the false definitions of glory theologies are exposed and everything is turned upside down; destruction is vivifying, the godly become powerless, weakness is strength, and the Cross is God’s mightiest work.