Nov. 1, 2011
Martin Luther taught that faith alone was enough to garner a sinner’s forgiveness from God, but he did not go far enough, according to Jürgen Moltmann, one of the most celebrated theologians of modern times, who spoke at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology last week.
“The perpetrators of sin have the sacrament of penance – confession, contrition, and sanctification. For victims of sin and injustice, we have nothing comparable,” Moltmann told the standing room-only audience during his keynote address at Candler’s 24th annual Reformation Day at Emory. This year’s event was themed "Luther and the Translation of the Bible" in acknowledgment of the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible.
Moltmann, who served as the Robert W. Woodruff Distinguished Visiting Professor of Systematic Theology at Candler from 1983 to 1993, described the opportunity to lecture at Reformation Day as “a kind of homecoming.” Reformation Day at Emory celebrates the 1987 donation of Reformation-era works by Richard and Martha Kessler to Candler’s Pitts Theology Library. The Kessler Collection now includes more than 1,000 items written by Martin Luther, which no other American library can match.
The event included worship led by Rev. Dr. Marcus J. Miller, president of Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, and a performance by the Candler Singers. Valerie Hotchkiss, professor of medieval studies, religious studies, and library science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, lectured on European influences on the King James Bible.
Candler’s M. Patrick Graham, Margaret A. Pitts Professor of Theological Bibliography and Librarian, explained in the day’s first lecture how Luther approached biblical translation not as a purely academic effort or as a moneymaking scheme, but as service to God.
Luther’s translations of the Bible, which Graham explained while showing slides of documents held in the Kessler collection, provided the basis for Bible reading, study, preaching and theological publications. Luther used a vernacular German that could be understood despite regional differences, an element that would influence the translation of the King James Bible 70 years later.
“The translation of the Bible into the vernacular doesn’t end the struggle with interpretation of the text, but energizes it,” said Graham.
Moltmann picked up that struggle in his lecture. While Luther may have reassured the faithful that good works and indulgences were unnecessary to finding salvation in God, what did that leave those who were victims of these sinners?
“Everyone who suffers injustice has dreams of revenge,” Moltmann said. “We also know that retaliation of evil only increases the amount of evil suffered.” God’s type of justice, he claimed, was “more creative” than simple eye-for-an-eye reprisal. Instead, Moltmann said, victims must take comfort in a God that ached with them and a Christ who suffered for them, and rise above pain and self-pity to begin living their own lives again.
Victims, Moltmann advised, should not consider themselves victims forever, but neither, he counseled, should evildoers be forever associated with their deeds. “We call a person who once told a lie a liar,” he said. “We call a person who once committed murder a murderer. We are tying them forever to what they did, but we must distance them from their evil works.
“We must condemn evil acts but respect the human dignity of every person quite irrespective of whether they’re sitting in prison or in the House of Representatives. When we do that, we give them a chance to change their lives.”