This series has examined how St. Augustine’s Christology (the study of Jesus Christ) influenced Martin Luther’s understanding of Jesus.
Part 1 gave a brief overview of the lives of Augustine and Luther. Part 2 considered Augustine’s early years which set the stage for his later theology and written works about Jesus Christ. And Part 3 taught about Augustine’s literary contributions to the field of Christology.
In this final lesson, we’re going to bring everything we’ve discussed thus far together, by looking at Martin Luther’s life and Christology and how Augustine influenced both.
Let’s jump in!
Martin Luther’s Early Life and Introduction to Augustine of Hippo
Martin Luther was born in 1483 to Hans and Margaret Luder in Eislen after which the family moved to Mansfield, Germany where Hans worked in the local copper mine.
Martin excelled in school; he studied Latin as a five-year-old boy and then started studying law at the University of Erfurt at the age of thirteen. He graduated with his master’s degree in law at the quickest possible pace.“Luther’s education during his formative years consisted of scholasticism and humanism centered philosophy.”
At twenty-one years old, Luther was leading a successful life in pursuing his education and career.
He had learned the Apostle’s Creed, Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer by memory as well as Aristotle, Plato, and William of Ockham.
Luther’s education during his formative years consisted of scholasticism and humanism centered philosophy.
The scholastics relied heavily upon the teachings of Aristotle to understand the Bible and the world around them. For them, everything came down to reason and logic.
In fact, the scholasticism prevalent in Luther’s early years welcomed skepticism towards metaphysical reality even as it retained a biblical center.
Humanism during Luther’s time was focused on protecting and celebrating the language and culture of ancient people, especially Latin due to its longevity as the language of the Church for a millennium.“Despite his successful foray into high education, Luther was insecure in his mortality and eternal security.”
While Luther received education in both fields, these two ideologies were opposed to one another.
One upheld the importance of experience and observation, while the other considered the preservation and mastery of the written word to be important.
Luther grasped and mastered these concepts and later in his life refuted these philosophies harshly for their inability to fully take hold of the truth alone as they claimed they could.
Despite his successful foray into high education, Luther was insecure in his mortality and eternal security.
During a thunderstorm, Luther became so scared for his life he promised God he would give up his success to become a monk if only God would spare him.
He entered the Order of the Hermits of St. Augustine at Erfurt not long after the experience.“Without his exposure to Augustine, Luther’s reformation might have happened quite differently.”
“Luther was extraordinarily successful as a monk. He plunged into prayer, fasting, and ascetic practices—going without sleep, enduring bone-chilling cold without a blanket, and flagellating himself.”
The monastery Luther joined endeavored to follow the theology of Augustine of Hippo strictly.
Luther was therefore exposed to Augustine’s Christology during this time and the texts had a profound effect upon him. Without his exposure to Augustine, Luther’s reformation might have happened quite differently.
Ridenour stated, “The more Luther studied Augustine, the more he expressed his theological reservations about the state of the Catholic Church.”
Evidence of Augustinian Christology in the Writings of Luther
Much like Augustine, throughout the course of his life Luther was a reactionary theologian; he wrote against the theologies and philosophies with whom he disagreed rather than putting forward his own ideas singularly.
Zachuber wrote, “Luther’s theology is strongly Christocentric, but Christology is rarely the central focus of his writings.” 
This fact about Luther parallels strongly with the writings of Augustine. Neither wrote a work with the explicit intent to define their Christology.“Luther was a reactionary theologian; he wrote against the theologies and philosophies with whom he disagreed rather than putting forward his own ideas singularly.”
Instead, their doctrinal treatises and letters flowed from their central Christological beliefs.
Other scholars, such as Creuss, focused their attention on the connection between the two men concerning justification by faith alone.
However, the Christological foundation shared by the two men are what fueled their theological direction.
While it is well known Luther had deep respect for Augustine and spent many years reading his works, Luther’s writings rarely mention Augustine as inspiration.
Instead, the doctrines espoused by the two men must be compared in the light of their literary connection with one another.
Luther wrote of Jesus as part of the Trinity in his Treatise on the New Testament,
“For this testament God did not die, but the paschal lamb had to die instead of Christ and as a type of Christ…But Christ, the true Paschal Lamb, is an eternal divine Person, Who dies to establish the new testament; therefore the testament and the possessions therein bequeathed are eternal and abiding.”
This work was written primarily to refute the Roman Catholic understanding of the Eucharist and show Luther’s own interpretative stance on the doctrine.“As an Augustinian monk, Luther read, meditated, and memorized Augustine’s own words thereby internalizing them.”
While the doctrinal disagreement Luther was referencing is outside the purview of this research, Luther’s Christological stance was necessary for him to cite and build upon to make his argument.
With further clarity, Luther affirmed Jesus’s role in the Trinity, deity, humanity, and mission in Large Catechism:
“There was no counsel, help, or comfort until this only and eternal Son of God in His unfathomable goodness had compassion upon our misery and wretchedness and came from heaven to help us…that He might win us and bring us under His dominion, namely, that He became man, conceived and born without any stain of sin, of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary, that He might overcome sin.”
The language Luther used was like Augustine’s own words written a thousand years prior.
This was because the Roman Catholic church had preserved the Latin language for use by the clerics and monks to read the Latin Vulgate and the Church Fathers.
As an Augustinian monk, Luther read, meditated, and memorized Augustine’s own words thereby internalizing them.
In Fourteen of Consolation, a letter written to Emperor Charles V, Luther explained more of his Christological understanding, “He descended out of the bosom of the Father into our misery and prison-cell, that is, our flesh and life so full of ills, and took upon Him the penalty of our sins, in order that we might be saved.”“Luther, having read deeply into the Apostle Paul and having spent years studying Augustine, could not let Scripture be misinterpreted.”
Luther affirms the Augustinian view of Jesus within these statements; specifically, Jesus is the God the Son, an eternal divine person who took on humanity who died to establish the new covenant, that is, our atonement and eternal salvation.
While this Christological understanding supported by Augustine and Luther is widely held today among Jesus followers, it was distorted by the Roman Catholic church during the medieval era.
Their doctrine of atonement required ongoing rituals and penance to satisfy God’s wrath.
Luther, having read deeply into the Apostle Paul and having spent years studying Augustine, could not let Scripture be misinterpreted.
His Christological views, and specifically his view on Christ’s atonement, brought on the Protestant Reformation.
“The crucial distinction between Roman Catholics and Protestants was that the latter saw the exclusive ground of justification as the imputed righteousness of Christ.”“Luther’s Christological views brought on the Protestant Reformation.”
Wellum correctly said the defining characteristics of Christology are Christ’s role in the Trinity, His full deity, His full humanity, and the work of the atonement.
Regarding these four essential categories within Christology, when Augustine and Luther are put side by side on this doctrine they match note for note even while separated by a thousand years of human history.
Augustine of Hippo was born to a family that could barely afford an education and only had one parent who followed Jesus.
His start in life was given to him by a family who scraped all they had to educate at least one of their children.“An orthodox Christology must hold to the identity of Christ as a member of the Trinity.”
Despite his humble beginning and his rough years as a young adult searching for truth, Augustine became one of the leading Christian theologians and apologists of his day.
Due to his time spent among heretics, Augustine held a high view of Scripture and an orthodox Christology with which he used to argue against Manichean philosophers.
An orthodox Christology must hold to the identity of Christ as a member of the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit; three persons coequal in all ways and of the same essence.
It also should affirm his fully human nature in addition to his fully divine nature.
Finally, it should have a full view of atonement; Jesus, fully human and fully God, died to ransom the sins of humanity of which mankind is then justified by faith.“Luther based much of his way of thinking upon the works of Augustine.”
Augustine affirmed these categories within his works even as the Christian church of his time was still working out how to put official language to the doctrine in a way to avoid affirming heretical interpretations of Scripture.
Augustine and Luther were remarkably similar in many ways. They both were high intellectuals, studied law and theology at the highest levels, and used their skills to confront teachings which they understood to be contradictory to the Bible.
Further, Luther based much of his way of thinking upon the works of Augustine.“Luther learned orthodox Christology from his intense biblical and Augustinian study.”
Augustine’s writings against the Manicheans, due to the nature of the heresy, and his commentary on the Gospel of John, due to its intrinsic focus on the divine nature of Christ, were important to uncovering his Christological position because he did not write any document with the sole intent to elaborate on orthodox interpretation of the person and work of Jesus.
Instead, his works began with an orthodox Christology as the foundation for the arguments and doctrines he put forward.
Luther, like Augustine, did not write a document detailing his position on Christology.
Instead, Luther learned orthodox Christology from his intense biblical and Augustinian study.
Everything Luther wrote and spoke about had orthodox Christology at the center.
Due to his interpretation and the way he made his arguments, Augustine’s influence can be detected in Luther’s work.
Without Jesus Christ as fully human, fully God, coequal and of same essence in the Trinity, and full atonement paid on the cross for the rebellion of humanity the Christian faith is not worth considering at all.“Everything Luther wrote and spoke about had orthodox Christology at the center.”
Augustine understood his opponents would have neutered Christianity if their heresy had taken hold within the Roman Catholic church; meanwhile, Luther understood heresy had already taken hold in his day and it was necessary to put forward a reclamation of orthodoxy in the church.
The actions of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation would not have occurred in the same way if he had not been exposed to the life, biblical exegesis, and refutations of heresy written by Augustine of Hippo.
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Portret van Martin Luther, Cornelis Koning (?-1671), c. 1608 – c. 1671. RP-P-1908-1644. Heilige Augustinus met brandend hart doorboord met pijl, Schelte Adamsz. Bolswert, after Peter Paul Rubens, 1596 – 1678. RP-P-1886-A-11212. The Rijksmuseum.
Sources Mark Galli and Ted Olsen. “Martin Luther.” 131 Christians Everyone Should Know. (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 33-34.  Gil Ridenour, “Kindred Spirits: Augustinian Thought in The Life and Works of Martin Luther” (dissertation, ProQuest, LLC, 2013), 32.  “Later Years of Martin Luther,” Encyclopedia Britannica (Encyclopedia Britannica, inc.), accessed November 25, 2022, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Martin-Luther/Later-years.  Galli and Olsen, “Martin Luther,” 131 Christians Everyone Should Know (2000), 34.  Ridenour, “Kindred Spirits: Augustinian Thought in The Life and Works of Martin Luther” (2013), ii.  Johannes Zachhuber, “Jesus Christ in Martin Luther’s Theology,” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion, 2017, https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780199340378.013.327.  Martin Luther, A Treatise on the New Testament, 9.  Martin Luther, Large Catechism: Of the Creed, 2.  Martin Luther, The Fourteen of Consolation, 5.  John D. Woodbridge and Frank A. James, Church History: From Pre-Reformation to the Present Day, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2013), 109-111.  Woodbridge and James, Church History: From Pre-Reformation to the Present Day, vol. 2 (2013), 111.  Wellum, God the Son (2016), 26.