Remarks on Tuomo Mannermaa’s Interpretation of Martin Luther’s Lectures on Galatians

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Abstract: Professor Tuomo Mannermaa accomplished an ingenious ecumenical achievement in opening up a new perspective on Luther’s theology of grace: Analyzing Luther’s Lectures on Galatians (1531/1535), Mannermaa concludes that justification does not only mean a forensic-juridical declaration of the guilty non-guilty, but it also is an intimate union of the sinner with Christ, unio cum Christo. In this union the believer participates in the divine person and in the divinity of Christ. This kind of a union can be called the “deification” of the human being, Mannermaa claims.
The present article agrees with the fundamental notion of participation and union discovered by Mannermaa, but at the same time, it raises some problems concerning Mannermaa’s interpretation of Luther. There are three problematic limitations in Mannermaa’s model: First, he overlooks the Holy Spirit as the sole agent and power which can create the faith that justifies. Second, Mannermaa concentrates on the idea of the union between Christ and the sinner basing justification solely on the person of Christ, his divinity and divine love, in which the sinner may participate. Luther’s powerful teaching in his Lectures on the historical facts of atonement, reconciliation, and redemption by the cross of Christ, as well as the resurrection of Christ, is clearly underemphasized. Third, Mannermaa lays no emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit in the union between Christ and the sinner; the personal union between God and the justified sinner is deeply a Trinitarian reality for Luther, Christology and Pneumatology are substantially inseparable.
I propose three amendments to Mannermaa’s interpretation of Luther’s doctrine of justification. First, the Pneumatological understanding of sola fide should be emphasized; it is God’s Holy Spirit who alone monergistically converts the sinner and creates “the faith in which Christ is present.” Second, paying serious attention to the simultaneity of Christological and Pneumatological realities in Luther’s understanding of unio cum Christo in Spiritu sancto, strongly related with Patristic soteriology, would abolish the ambiguity involved with Mannermaa’s use of the philosophical ontological concepts leading to misunderstandings that contradict his true intention. Third, recognizing the link between the theologians of the Patristic period and Luther in their similar teaching on the inseparability of the person of Christ (incarnation) from the work of Christ (cross and resurrection) in soteriology would also make an important amendment to Mannermaa’s interpretation of Luther.
Union with Christ in the Holy Spirit means participation in the person, life and divine properties of Christ, as well as in his cross, and resurrection – this participation can be called “deification” (theosis). The three amendments would strengthen the ecumenical relevance and reception of Mannermaa’s interpretation of Luther’s Trinitarian doctrine of grace/justification.

Key words: Holy Trinity, grace, atonement, sola gratia, sola fide, faith, justification, sanctification, participation, deification/theosis, union with Christ, union in the Holy Spirit

Author: Miikka Ruokanen, Professor Emeritus of Dogmatics, University of Helsinki; Professor of Dogmatics (Systematic Theology), Nanjing Union Theological Seminary. Email:
Original languageEnglish
Article number18
JournalInternational journal of sino-Western studies
Issue numberNo. 18
Pages (from-to)39-63
Number of pages25
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • 614 Theology
  • 611 Philosophy

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