More difficult to believe? Luther on divine omnipotence

Christine Helmer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article considers Luther's statement in thesis 21 of the 1545 doctoral disputation of Petras Hegemon (1545) concerning the difficulty of belief in creatio ex nihilo, and suggests that this difficulty shapes the later Luther's theology in significant ways. The difficulty is reconstructed as a gradual movement into the mystery of the creatio ex nihilo. The first site of difficulty correlates the knowledge of creatures as particulars with the knowledge of the Creator as the source of existence. The move towards a second site is propelled by the question of inevitable death, which Luther answers by moving from material and natural generation to the resurrection and then to the creatio ex nihilo. At the third site, Luther addresses such disturbing questions as the suffering of the righteous, the historical cycle of political power, and the harshness of reprobation. He answers these questions by integrating the symmetrical biblical statements of the annihilatio and the creatio with a theological theory of divine omnipotence. God's hiddenness is understood as God's omnipotence working at the specific locations of self-negation, as well as behind the ebb and flow of historical-political contingency. Faith presses into the hidden mystery, grounded in the certainty that all things are effected by the Creator whose nature is self-giving goodness, and established by the hope that the light of glory will determine more fully the God who is to be honored above all.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2-26
Number of pages25
JournalInternational Journal of Systematic Theology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies


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