The Key word Alone: Post-Reformation Scholasticism

Introduction

   Karl Barth said, “The fear of scholasticism is the mark of a false prophet.”[1] Scholasticism since the Reformation period has endured much criticism. However, much of this criticism ignores the crucial fact that the term scholastic in and of itself is only a method. Application is personal and conscientious. There are many problems that can be pointed out over the history of scholasticism within Christianity; however, there have been many triumphs as well. A prime example of the methodological link between Medieval Scholasticism and Protestant Scholasticism is the man Thomas Aquinas. Just as Aquinas carried on and stood on the shoulders of Augustine, much of the framework that Aquinas built was used by the Reformers and that same methodology was then adopted by post-Reformation Scholastics. This presents the issue of differences between Protestant Scholasticism and the thought of the Magisterial Reformers. The place of the church in government and method of baptism are very clear examples of a difference between the Reformers and the development of Protestant thought in centuries following the Reformation. The issue finally, is the place scripture has in the scholastic method used. Throughout each Christian century, there has been a battle over orthodoxy. The ones that eventually were proven orthodox in each case were always the ones that had a Biblically centered scholastic approach. Post-Reformation Protestant Scholasticism is not only a method consistent with the Reformers as the Reformers were consistent with the purpose of Medieval Scholasticism; moreover, excluding a biblically centered methodological scholastic approach to support and further doctrine is a betrayal of the principles of the Reformation and of the great men of God that proceeded the Reformers into glory.

Protestant Scholasticism and its Relation to Medieval Scholasticism

   When looking at Medieval Scholasticism it covers the period from roughly 900 – 1300.[2] However, the different methods and schools of thought that were built up within that period varied widely. Perhaps the best way to summarize Medieval Scholasticism is to look at probably its most prominent figure. Thomas Aquinas (1224–1274) was meticulous in his theological method.[3] He upheld the goal of Medieval Scholasticism which “… was twofold: to reconcile Christian doctrine and human reason and to arrange the teachings of the church in an orderly system.” [4] Thomas Aquinas differentiated between “[r]eason [which] is based upon the visible creation”[5] and “[r]evelation [which] looks to God as He is in Himself and so is superior to reason both in its certainty and in its subject matter”[6] Aquinas’ has the same goals as the Reformers, to reconcile doctrine and reason in a systematic way. Calvin is a great example of this, the institutes are clearly a systematic explanation of doctrine using reason. This method and purpose carried on into the post-Reformation scholastic method. As Aquinas drew from, built on and refined the ideas of Augustine before him, post-Reformation scholastics were concerned with drawing from refining and growing the Reformation dogmas. Each subsequent catechism and synod were for this very purpose.

Protestant Scholasticism faithful to the Magisterial Reformers?

    Most of the divergence in post-Reformation thought from any of the Reformers can be traced to “diverse trajectories within Reformed theology itself.”[7] There are two big examples of this divergent thought. First, most of the Magisterial Reformers believed that the Church and the government were intertwined in the governance of the people. Calvin, in Geneva, believed that the church was to provide “moral supervision of the city.”[8]  By 1750 almost all the Protestant schools separated the government from the churches to a least some degree. The other very obvious divergence is the growth of Anabaptists. In the 1500s Zwingli was executing confessional Baptists by drowning; yet, by 1689 the London Baptist Confession (LBC), a Reformed Confession, has made its debut. The issue that arises is the question, do these differences represent a lack of fidelity to the principles of the Reformation. On the contrary, they represent the highest fidelity to the principle that the Reformation made foundationally and that principle is that the authority is not Calvin or Luther, but it is sola scriptura.

Faithful Expression of Protestant Theology or Betrayal of Biblical Authority?

    Sola Scripture (Scripture alone) is the core of this question about the ongoing work of the Reformation in Protestant thought. That word alone is the key to being faithful to biblical authority. Woodbridge and Frank give the context when they said ““Orthodoxy” differs from “Scholasticism” in that the former concerns correct theological content, while the latter had to do with an academic method.”[9] Therefore, for Scholasticism to be a faithful expression of Protestant theology it needs be a method that held the same view of Biblical authority as the Reformation. The LBC first article is concerned with scripture: “The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge …”[10] Throughout the confessions, creeds, catechisms, and systematic theology of the post-Reformation scholastic period, the recurring theme over and over is this fidelity to the authority of scripture and therefore it does represent orthodox Protestant belief, despite the many differences that did emerge.

Conclusion

   In order for a scholastic method to betray the principles of Reformation, it must represent a methodology that vastly differs from the Reformation. It is clear that the post-Reformation scholastic period demonstrates a period where scholars applied the same method with the same purpose of the Reformers; the very same method and purpose of Aquinas and Augustine before them.  Post-Reformation Protestant Scholasticism is a method consistent with the Reformers and traces its method and purpose back through Medieval Scholasticism to the early ages of the church. A biblical scholarly methodology that seeks to refine and defend doctrine in a clear systematic way is absolutely required in every age of Christianity. One need only look to history to see it.

Footnotes

[1]. Karl Barth and G. W. Bromiley, The Doctrine of the Word of God: Prolegomena to Church Dogmatics, Being Volume I, 1 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1975). 279.

[2]. Bruce L. Shelley. Church History in Plain Language. Updated 2nd ed. Dallas, TX: Word Pub., 1995. 194. Table 20.1.

[3]. Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, Updated 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: Word Pub., 1995), 200.

[4]. Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, Updated 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: Word Pub., 1995), 195.

[5]. Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, Updated 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: Word Pub., 1995), 201.

[6]. Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, Updated 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: Word Pub., 1995), 201.

[7]. Asselt, Willem J van (Willem Jan van). 2001. “Protestant Scholasticism: Some Methodological Consideration in the Study of Its Development.” Nederlands Archief Voor Kerkgeschiedenis 81 (3): 270

[8]. Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, Updated 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: Word Pub., 1995), 260.

[9]. John Woodbridge and James A. Frank III. 2013. Church History, Volume Two: From Pre-Reformation to the Present Day: The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. 254.

[10]. “1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 1,” Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America, , accessed February 28, 2019, http://www.arbca.com/1689-chapter1.

Bibliography

Asselt, Willem J van (Willem Jan van). 2001. “Protestant Scholasticism: Some Methodological Consideration in the Study of Its Development.” Nederlands Archief Voor Kerkgeschiedenis 81 (3): 265–74. https://lopes.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0001471465&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Barth, Karl, and G. W. Bromiley. The Doctrine of the Word of God: Prolegomena to Church Dogmatics, Being Volume I, 1. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1975.

Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, Updated 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: Word Pub., 1995).

Woodbridge, John, and Frank A. James, III. 2013. Church History, Volume Two: From Pre-Reformation to the Present Day: The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan

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