Thursday, 30 June 2016

Theologians I Have Met: Theodore Dieter

The first in a projected series of posts on theologians I have had the privilege of meeting over the years. I begin with some theologians presently at the Luther 500 conference in Melbourne, Australia.
Profile courtesy the Luther 500 Conference, Melbourne, Australia, 2016:
"Professor Theodor Dieter is a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Württemberg and a distinguished international ecumenical theologian and teacher. Following his service as a lecturer in theology and social ethics in the Protestant Theology faculty at the University of Tübingen, he was appointed a research professor at the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Stassbourg, where he has also served as director since 1997. He also serves as a consultant to the International Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity and to the Lutheran-Mennonite-Roman Catholic trialogue on baptism.
Professor Dieter’s publications include Der junge Luther und Aristoteles (2001) and a long list of articles on Luther’s theology, social ethics and Lutheran ecumenical relations with the Roman Catholic Church.  He played a leading role in the work done by the Institute for Ecumenical Research on the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, adopted by the Roman Catholic Church and Lutheran churches all around the world in 1999. He is at present working on a joint project of the Institute for Ecumenical Research and the Johann-Adam-Möhler-Institut in Paderborn, Germany: a multi-volume commentary on Luther’s ninety five theses, to be published in 2017, marking their 500th anniversary.  He also contributed to the Lutheran-Roman Catholic document From Conflict to Communion, a resource for the ecumenical celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
A notable international ecumenical speaker and lecturer, Professor Dieter was the guest of Pope Benedict XVI at the annual theological gathering at Castelgandolfo in 2012, where he presented on Luther’s theology and on Lutheran-Catholic relations over the last fifty years. He is also a regular lecturer for the international ‘Studying Luther in Wittenberg’ seminars hosted each year of the Luther-decade by LWF."
The distinguished German theologian Dr Theodor Dieter presented at the Luther 500 conference in Melbourne on the topic of Luther's 95 Theses: Reconstructing a debate which did not take place. His paper introduced and summarised research being undertaken in the joint project mentioned above of the Protestant Institute for Ecumenical Research, Strassbourg and the Roman Catholic Adam Moehler Institut in Paderborn which is attempting to reconstruct the debate  between Luther and his contemporary theological opponents concerning issues raised the the 95 theses. It was a fascinating paper which I will digest fully over time! 
After the presentation I had the opportunity to chat with Dr Dieter for about 10 minutes over coffee. He appeared to me as the typical (or imagined?) image of the German academic theologian: meticulous in attention to theological detail and considered in his responses. My first question to him was sparked by an interest in Mohler: I asked Dr Dieter whether, in his experiences with his Roman Catholic interlocutors, Mohler was still a lively influence as his 19th C. contemporary John Henry Newman is in the English speaking world (Mohler and Newman each developed theories of doctrinal development around the same time). This question was perhapss a little outside of Dr Dieter's present professional interests, but he answered politely. Mohler was only of historical interest to Roman theologians, he said, the ecumenical discussion having moved on since his time. Dr Dieter didn't mention or show any particular interest in Newman, and the discussion then turned to another topic. This makes me wonder whether Newman only has a lively influence upon English speaking theological circles?
My next question related to a topic Dr Dieter brought up in his paper: the fear of God, which was, of course, a major theme in late medieval piety. I mentioned that I rarely encountered the fear of God in pastoral work, particular when death is approaching. I wondered whether this reflected a wholehearted confidence in the Gospel, in which case of course it was a good thing, or whether it reflected a lack of awareness of the seriousness of sin. Dr Dieter suggested that contemporary Christian piety was indeed weak in regard to sin and that, furthermore, the medicalisation of death in the modern world intrudes and often prevents the subject of the dying process from fully coming to grips with the spiritual reality of what is happening. He mentioned the need for a revival of the 'art of dying' concerning which Christians once used to consult written spiritual manuals. I wondered whether this interest in piety, not always so readily met with in academic theologians, stemmed from Dr Dieter's background in the church of Wuerttemberg, which I believe still retains the influence of Pietism, but I did not have time to pursue that question.  
I thank Dr Dieter for his kindness in answering my questions.