“Claritas” “Scripturae” In The Eucharistic Writings Of Martin Luther -- By: Mark D. Thompson

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 60:1 (Spring 1998)
Article: “Claritas” “Scripturae” In The Eucharistic Writings Of Martin Luther
Author: Mark D. Thompson


“Claritas” “Scripturae”
In The Eucharistic Writings Of Martin Luther

Mark D. Thompson*

* Mark D. Thompson is Director of Studies, Moore College, Sydney, Australia.

In the complex of ideas which go to make up Martin Luther’s doctrine of Holy Scripture, perhaps none is more enigmatic than his concept of the clarity of Scripture (claritas Scripturae). Luther insists that the meaning of Scripture is both accessible and intelligible, while at the same time recognizing the continued need for explanation and a sensitivity to what we might call the “textures” of the biblical material.1 Such an insistence appears to be a critical link in the bridge between Luther’s statements about Scripture and his use of Scripture, i.e., between his doctrine of Scripture and his hermeneutic.

Scholarly analysis of Luther’s concept of claritas Scripturae often has been confined to his debate with Erasmus in 1524–25, a debate which was first and foremost about the nature of the human will.2 Here, without a doubt, is found his most sustained treatment of the subject.3 Nevertheless, this debate is far from the only context in which

Luther asserts the clarity of Scripture. Another such context is the series of debates about the Lord’s Supper which increasingly occupied Luther almost from the moment he published his first great treatise on the subject, De Captivitate Babylonica Ecclesiae.4 This article examines Luther’s statements about Scripture’s clarity in these eucharistic writings as a prelude to a more accurate exposition of his doctrine and practice.

I. The Eucharistic Context for Luther’s Statements about Holy Scripture

Luther’s first published work on the Lord’s Supper appeared in December 1519.5 It was one of a trilogy of sermons he had preached earlier in response to requests from friends who were alarmed at the confusion that was already emerging over the sacrament. Some of the characteristic lines of Luther’s treatment of the subject can be observed even at this early stage, including his insistence that this meal is “a sure sign from God himself” (eyn gewiß zeychen von gott selber),6 his focus on the “union” (voreynigung) between Christ and the believer in the Supper,7 and his refusal to speculate beyond the promi...

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