'Taking the form of a servant': kenosis and divine self-giving in Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther

Christoph Schwoebel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Against the background of the ongoing attractiveness of kenoticism, this paper attempts to clarify the questions that give rise to kenotic theories and the question which it raises by distinguishing three stages of the development of kenotic theologising: a) the debate between the Lutheran theologians of Gießen and Tübingen on the life of the incarnate Lord at the turn of the 16th and 17th century, the resurgence of kenotic Christologies in the 19th century in Germany, Scandinavia, Scotland and En- gland, focusing on the act of Incarnation, and, lastly, the development of kenotic Trinitarian theologies in the works of Hans Urs von Balthasar and Jürgen Moltmann. The paper contrast these views with Tomas Aquinas’ and Martin Luther’s interpretation of the kenosis-Passage from Philippians 2. Both avoid the interpretation of the ‘self-emptying’ as a surrender of divine attributes and recast the understanding of kenosis as a form of Trinitarian self-giving. The conclusion raises the question whether modern forms of kenoticism presuppose a metaphysical dualism between the Infinite and the finite, the eternal and the historical, which both Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther, tried to overcome, each in his own way.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-66
Number of pages24
Issue number1/2
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jul 2021


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