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Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther on Salvation: The Heart of the Difference


I’m currently waist deep in writing my thesis to complete my MA. This is one of the main reasons I haven’t blogged for months! My thesis compares Thomas Aquinas (the preeminent theologian of the Roman Catholic Church) and Martin Luther (the great reformer) on their understanding of salvation. I’ll share the finished product in a few months, but here’s a spoiler: All of the old polemical comparisons (e.g. protestants teach salvation by faith, while Catholics teach salvation by works) are just wrong. Nonetheless, there are real differences. Here are four statements I’ve crafted to get to the heart of the difference between Thomas’ and Luther’s understanding of salvation. What do you think?

  • Thomas’ problem is that we cannot get the good we desire (though that desire is itself a gift from God). Luther’s problem is that we cannot desire what is good.
  • For Thomas, salvation is like falling in love. For Luther, salvation is like being loved.
  • For Thomas, salvation is like the blind receiving sight. For Luther, salvation is like the lost getting found.
  • Luther worries about whether God will really save me. Thomas worries whether it is really me that God is saving.
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