What God Ordains: The Impact of Late Medieval Nominalism on the Theology of Martin Luther
There are a host of different avenues one can travel when studying the Reformation period. The following paper focuses on one of the avenues that the author feels receives comparatively little in-depth study in WELS circles: the connection between the theology of Martin Luther and the Scholastic period that preceded him. Many connections have been made between Luther and William of Occam, as well as Gabriel Biel. Since both Occam and Biel were nominalists—and Luther was trained as a nominalist at Erfurt—some contend that Luther’s theology was simply heretical nominalism. Implicit in this argument is the assertion that Luther never truly knew or understood the orthodox Catholic teaching of the pre-nominalist Scholastics. If this is true, can the theology of Luther (and consequently Lutheranism) honestly be characterized as sola Scriptura? This paper will attempt to examine this question by surveying the nominalist positions on epistemology and justification and then comparing them with Luther’s later teachings. This will be done by focusing especially on the works of Heiko Oberman, Steven Ozment, and Heinrich Denifle. The relationship between nominalism and the earlier realism of Scholasticism—especially of Aquinas—will also be touched upon.