Studying Luther in Wittenberg 2015

This November saw the 12th Studying Luther in Wittenberg hosted by the LWF Center and the 7th to be taught by Professors Theodor Dieter and Sarah Hinlicky Wilson of the Institute in Strasbourg. Twenty participants gathered from 5 continents and 17 countries: Argentina, Canada, Denmark, Ethiopia, Germany, Guyana, Hong Kong, Latvia, Madagascar, Myanmar, Poland, Senegal, Serbia, South Africa, Tanzania, and the United States.

The special theme for this Seminar was Luther’s teaching on the Holy Trinity. In the first week, after a review of the medieval context, the foundational texts of Luther’s Reformation thought were covered: the 95 Theses and the lesser-known Theses on the Remission of Sins from 1518, The Freedom of a Christian, The Sermon on Two Kinds of Righteousness, A Brief Instruction on What to Look for and Expect in the Gospels, and, as a summary, Luther’s hymn “Out of the Depths” and his coat of arms, commonly known as the Luther Rose. This offered a solid foundation of the doctrine of justification and the righteousness given first as a gift in Christ before being an activity of the justified person herself. We also spent time reviewing the way the doctrine of justification shapes Luther’s practice of baptism, including infant baptism. In the afternoon sessions, we broke up into groups to discuss what Luther’s writings meant for the participants’ varied contexts.

The second week turned more specifically to the topic of the triune God, though already in the first week it was clear how deeply interwoven trinitarian thinking is with all of Luther’s other theology. The texts under consideration were the Large Catechism on the First Commandment and the Creed, a sermon on John 14, The Last Words of David, The Three Symbols or Creeds of the Christian Church, and again several hymns, “We Praise You Jesus Christ,” “We All Believe in One True God” and “Dear Christian Friends Let Us Rejoice.” Luther’s teaching on the Trinity is basically drawn from the early church with no challenge or deviation. His one contribution, perhaps, is to insist that the Trinity is “for us,” and that knowing this fact is intrinsic to knowing the Trinity at all.

Alongside the many hours of study and discussion, the participants had many opportunities for engaging Wittenberg, its community, and its resources, including a visit with the Lord Mayor. The representative of the Bishop for Reformation and Ecumenism, Siegried Kasparick, reported on the preparations for 2017; Ralston Deffenbaugh from Geneva presented the work of the LWF. One evening the participants travelled to local outlying parishes for an evening of prayer and fellowship; on another occasion they joined the English-language Stammtisch. Over the weekend were trips to Eisenach, the Wartburg, Erfurt, and Torgau, as well as worship at both the Castle Church and the City Church. Each evening, participants prepared a dinner of their country’s traditional food—and such a culinary trip around the world was greeted with enthusiasm every time! On the final evening everyone enjoyed a festive meal of dishes from Luther’s time, served by Hans Kasch and Annette Glaubig, who dressed up as figures from the sixteenth century and displayed their acting talents to everyone’s great entertainment.

As always, the Seminar was an enriching experience for all participants, an important contribution toward theological continuing education as well as the deepening of the worldwide Lutheran communion. As one participant put it, quoting Luther, our time together was a “joyful exchange.” Pastors and theology students from all LWF member churches are warmly welcomed to apply for future seminars. Those who cannot attend in person can join the Luther Reading Challenge sponsored by the Institute.