Post Reformation Developments

After the initial period of Reformation activity in the first half of the sixteenth century, the Lutheran and Reformed set about consolidating the political and theological gains made by the earlier Reformers. What is interesting about this period is not simply the continued conflict between the three major confessional traditions in the West, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed, but also the fact that within each of these groups themselves similar controversial issues arose. This is perhaps not surprising, given the fact that all three confessions were, to an extent, in dialogue with the basic Augustin-ian trajectory of theology which had shaped Western theological discussion for a thousand years. Thus, the same issues about the nature and relationship of God's grace to human freedom and salvation arose for all three groups: the Catholics witnessed controversy between the Jansenists and the Molinists, with the former holding to an anti-Pelagian, the latter a semi-Pelagian understanding of grace; the Lutherans divided quickly after Luther's death into the Philippists, followers of Melanchthon and his moderate approach to predestination, and the Gnesio-Lutherans, who regarded themselves as preserving the authentic voice of their master on this issue;18 and the Reformed founded a group later called the Arminians, after a controversial Leiden professor, Jacob Arminius, breaking with strict predestinarianism and drawing on the arguments of the Molinists to achieve the conceptual changes necessary.19 The picture, then, very soon became far more complex even than the breach at Marburg had suggested.

The development of Reformed and Lutheran theology in the 150 years after the initial blasts of Luther and Zwingli against the papacy has been a source of much scholarly controversy, much of it focusing on whether that which developed in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries represents a legitimate development or a fundamental deviation from the theology of the early Reformers. There is not space here to analyze or assess the argument for and against the so-called "discontinuity thesis,"

which regards later Protestant Orthodoxy, that consolidated, confessional voice which developed in the later sixteenth century within both traditions, as a basic betrayal of the early Reformation.20 Instead, it will be useful simply to outline a number of issues which must be taken into account in any scholarly assessment of the question.

First, it is important to note that Reformation theology itself is not a total break with the theological past. When, for example, one looks at the relationship of Luther to his mentors in the via moderna, one can see points both of continuity and of discontinuity. On the one hand, his notion of justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ marks him off from Gabriel Biel, with his emphasis upon the intrinsic righteousness of the believer as the basis for justification. On the other hand, when one realizes that Biel's understanding of their righteousness is set within the pactum framework which allows inferior works to be accounted as meritorious, one finds an emphasis upon the priority of God's will and decision in salvation which arguably carries over into Luther. Furthermore, in arguing for an anti-Pelagian understanding of salvation, Luther places himself within a tradition which goes back through the Middle Ages to the early Church Fathers. Again, if Luther does innovate in The Bondage of the Will, such innovation takes place within an established anti-Pelagian trajectory of theology. None of the mainstream Reformers regarded themselves as innovators and all were concerned to maintain a dialogue with the past.

Given, then, the complexity of the relationship between Reformation and pre-Reformation theology, it is clear that any approach to the field which ignores this, opting for simple black-and-white models of analysis, is doomed to produce a distorted picture of the theological developments which took place at the hands of Luther, Zwingli, and company. Following on from this, if it is illegitimate to analyze Reformation theology in abstraction from the wider Western tradition, how much more so is it to remove that theology which built upon it from that same tradition? One must beware, then, any approach to the question of the development of post-Reformation Lutheranism and Reformed theology which attempts to explain it solely in terms of what was done between 1517 and 1559. The larger diachronic context is of crucial importance.

A second important point to remember when approaching post-Reformation Protestantism is the need to set the phenomenon within the wider cultural, social, and political contexts. Much has been made by some scholars of the reappearance in Protestant theology of the elaborate structure and language (often Aristotelian in origin) of medieval scholasticism, and this has been interpreted as a sign of the increasing "rationalism" of Protestant theology on the eve of the Enlightenment. Certainly, when one compares Calvin's Institutes with Francis Turretin's Institutes of Elenctic Theology, the linguistic and methodological differences are striking. Nevertheless, before blaming the change on a sinister internal principle driving Protestant theology towards rationalism, it is worthwhile asking whether there are any other reasons that may account for the change. First, it must be noted that over one hundred years separates the two works -and there can be little historical basis for assuming that two works separated by such a period of time should automatically resemble each other in terms of language and approach.21

Thirdly, the issue of genre must be addressed: Calvin wrote, as he tells us, to provide a handbook to accompany his commentaries, a theological source-book which allowed him to avoid long topical excursus during his commentaries; Turretin, however, was producing a textbook of theology which addressed topics in a way that made them easy to teach and to interrelate in the classroom, and which addressed positions of opponents in a clear and helpful manner. In other words, to compare the respective Institutes of Calvin and Turretin in terms of form is about as useful as comparing apples and oranges. What we have is two different types of theological production, intended to achieve two different pedagogic purposes.

Fourthly, the fact that Turretin and others returned to using the language and structures of medieval scholastic theology does not mean either that they abandoned the Reformation theology of their ancestors or that they regressed to some kind of arid, rationalistic approach to theology. In fact, what happened historically in the years after the start of the Reformation was the movement of Protestant theology from the church into the academy, with the result that theologians found it both necessary and useful to take on board the established structures and language of contemporary educational culture. This culture was not restricted to one confessional tradition but embodied a European phenomenon - all theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, whether Roman Catholic, Lutheran, or Reformed, partook of a curriculum which in terms of its basic structure and scholastic/Aristotelian language exhibited a reasonable level of consistency across the board. Thus, we find remarkable similarities in approach between, say, Turretin's Institutes and the Methodus Theologiae of Richard Baxter, not because there was a similarly remarkable coincidence of content - Turretin was "High Orthodox," presenting a thoroughgoing Reformed confessionalism, while Baxter was more eclectic and had significant leanings towards Arminianism - but because both adopted and adapted the current structural and linguistic culture to their own purposes. In each case, argument proceeds by working under the broad headings of scholastic theology: prolegomena, doctrine of God, etc., using the tried and tested method of asking questions, presenting the case for and against, and a resolution of the issue. This reflected the pedagogic procedures of the classroom, not some sinister inner rationalism working itself out - and, one has to say, to anyone who has read works using this method, whether medieval, Renaissance, or post-Reformation, it does seem to have been a remarkably good way of exploring any given issue.22

In light of this, the key question concerning post-Reformation theology is not whether it used modes of discourse that were typical of the intellectual culture of its day, nor whether it used the same language as the early Reformers - of course it did -but how it used such modes and language, and what it expressed through them. This leads to the fifth factor which must be taken into account: the increasing complexity of the polemical context. In the above discussion concerning the Christological differences between the Lutherans and the Reformed, it was clear that what began ostensibly as a debate over exegesis of passages relevant to the eucharist gradually brought to the surface distinct differences over the very person of Christ himself, particularly in terms of how the two natures of Christ related to each other in the incarnation. The result was that a theological vocabulary of an increasingly technical and complex nature was needed in order to achieve the level of precision demanded by the nature of the debates in which the two sides were engaged. For example, to return to the central point at issue between Lutheran and Reformed, that of the communication of properties in the incarnation, the Lutherans came to distinguish the communication into three genera (Mueller 1934:272-86). The first, the genus idiomaticum, refers to the predication of the attributes of both natures to the one person of the mediator: e.g. Jesus Christ, the one human being, suffers and dies. The purpose of this is to emphasize the unity of the person over the alleged Nestorianism of the Reformed. The second, the genus maiesta-ticum, refers to the hypostatic relationship of the human nature of Christ within the union. The human nature is only constituted as a person in the context of the union (it is, in itself, anhypostatic, to use the patristic phrase of Leontius of Byzantium). This genus also refers to the transfer of properties within the person between the divine nature and the human nature and accounts for the ubiquity of Christ's flesh. Thirdly, the genus apotelesmaticum emphasizes the fact that nothing is done by either nature of the Mediator without the full communion and cooperation of the other. Of these three, the Reformed obviously rejected the second genus, the maiestaticum, as this crystalized the point of disagreement between the two confessions, and tended only to adhere to the first, the idiomaticum, which they tended to understand only as referring to a verbal peculiarity and not, as the Lutherans, as referring to the real attribution of both sets of properties to the person who really bears them.

What is important to grasp about this apparent hair-splitting is that this increased technicality in no way disrupted the original intention of the earlier debates - that of establishing the relationship between the two natures in order to guarantee the ubiquity of Christ's flesh - nor did it place later Lutheran thought in a position of fundamental discontinuity with the past: it is, rather, an indicator of the requirements of contemporary polemical theology and of the need to provide a clear definition of what prevents the Lutherans from being Reformed. What it actually did was to bring into much sharper focus the very points which had been at issue all along. It is thus not enough to point to change in language or increases in technical precision and complexity in themselves as indicating fundamental changes in theological direction: the purpose to which that language is being put is the real point at issue. It is these factors - diachronic and synchronic contexts, genre, and the use, not the type, made of particular structures of argument and language - which must provide the basic framework for interpreting the development of Reformation theology in the post-Reformation period. When this is done, as it has been, the result is that the Lutheran and Reformed orthodoxy of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries can be seen as part of the ongoing Western tradition and not as a fundamental break with that tradition.

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