Between Greifswald and Erlangen: Adolf Schlatter and Konrad Grass on Jesus Christ’s Divinity

Jürgen Moltmann claimed some decades ago that “A. Schlatter, Jesu Gottheit und das Kreuz, 1913, deserves to be recalled from oblivion in the context of today’s Christological questions.” This presentation offers an introduction to Schlatter’s Jesus’ Divinity and the Cross (1901, 1913), in which he critically engages with Konrad Grass’ study, “On the Doctrine of Jesus Christ’s Divinity” (1900). In his piece, Grass explores the revelation of Jesus Christ’s divinity on the cross and its soteriological implications. He rejects key Patristic (Origen) and Scholastic (Anselm) interpretations and sides with the Reformation idea that Jesus Christ overcame God-forsakenness on the cross on account of his divinity. Schlatter questions Grass’ proposal on methodological, New Testament and dogmatic grounds, offering a revision of traditional approaches to the atonement while adding his own perspective. In Schlatter’s view, Jesus’ divinity is positively displayed in his active volitional embrace of the cross as he hands himself as a sacrifice to the Father. Fully aware of his divine potency, Jesus allows himself to become powerless on the cross and, in this way, obtains salvation for humanity. Based on the Schlatter-Grass interaction, this contribution discusses aspects of Schlatter’s theological method and evaluates his unique approach to central questions of atonement theology and Christology. It will be demonstrated, too, that their debate stands, pars pro toto, for the critical engagement between two theological schools with which Schlatter and Grass were affiliated: Greifswald and Erlangen. While these two schools share distinct methodological and Christological convictions in common, finer details of disagreement are exposed upon closer analysis. This exercise will not only provide valuable insights into past accounts of central Christological ideas but also raise significant questions that stimulate conversation at the intersection of Christology and atonement theology today.