Exchange and Ecstasy: Luther’s Eucharistic Theology in Light of Radical Orthodoxy’s Critique of Gift and Sacrifice

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Abstract:

It is frequently alleged that Martin Luther's doctrine of justification by grace through faith posits absolute human passivity vis-à-vis God and, on account of the past completion of Christ's sacrifice, disconnects Christians from the cross. This article takes issue with this view. Specifically, it disputes the claim that, through his doctrine of justification, Luther became an unwitting advocate of the conceptual juxtaposition of gift and exchange and thus also an ideologue of the shift from an organic to a contractual view of society. Instead, I argue, Luther's eucharistic theology anticipates the concerns of Radical Orthodoxy's critique of gift and sacrifice. It does so, however, in a more forceful manner, in that for Luther gift and exchange are so bound together in his doctrine of justification that the eucharist, instead of being a mere paradigm for social relationships (as Radical Orthodoxy would have it), radically restructures those relationships in the all-embracing unfolding of its participatory gratuity. An additional merit of Luther's vision lies in its systematic description of the eucharist's gift-character in terms of socially and vocationally construed delay and non-identical repetition, actively involving both God and humans – a description not afforded by Radical Orthodoxy's critique.

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Last updated on 12/04/2012