An Age of Revolutions – an Excerpt from Atonement, Law, and Justice

The following is an excerpt from Atonement, Law, and Justice, by Adonis Vidu.

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Cover ArtRevolution was in the air. Within the church, a growing dissatisfaction with the corruption of the hierarchy found its outlet in the Wittenberg theses. Outside the church, the German Revolution drove the first nail through the coffin of the ecclesial institution of the church.

Besides the growth of the nation-state, whose development likely constituted the salvation of a Protestantism that might otherwise have been crushed by the unified Catholic states, there were other factors that influenced to some degree the theological shape of the Reformation. The late medieval critique of the doctrine of inherent merit coincided with the development of a money economy. The invention of money led to the relativization of the worth of goods. The fruit of one’s work was only as valuable as what buyers were willing to pay for it.

Simultaneously, in the world of art, a transition had been taking place for quite some time, away from the honor-based feudalism, with its glorification of social bonds, to an emphasis on individuality and inwardness. The Renaissance portrait and Shakespeare’s and Cervantes’s parodies of the old honor society, among many other cultural shifts, indicated the onset of a new paradigm.

But while it is true that in many ways the Reformation only consolidated a trend away from feudalism toward a Rechtsstaat, and that perhaps every single legal innovation it introduced had some sort of precedent either in Roman law or in the medieval legal revolution itself, the new legal culture was nevertheless new. This is true with regard to the legal philosophy of the Reformation, and Witte goes as far as to call it “the third watershed period in the Western legal tradition.”

The true originality of the Reformational legal philosophy consists in the particular arrangement of the temporal authority in relation to the spiritual authority of the church. I will argue that this distribution of legal power between the two spheres, or as Luther called them, the two kingdoms, can illuminate our understanding of the Reformation doctrines of the atonement.

©2014 by Adonis Vidu. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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