The Significance of Reformation Theology

Despite the many differences between Reformation theology and the medieval background with which it so consciously disagreed, it seems increasingly evident to scholars that it is not to be understood as the fundamental break with the past that an earlier generation of polemicists considered it to be. There may be great disagreements over issues of authority, exegesis, grace, justification, sacraments, and ecclesiology between the Reformers and their Catholic predecessors and contemporaries, but there was also much they had in common: a desire to stand in continuity with the Church Fathers, particularly Augustine; in many cases, a basic anti-Pelagianism; and a fundamental adherence to Western trinitarianism and the basic structures of Catholic Christology. In terms, therefore, of its basic concerns and the kinds of theological questions being asked, Reformation theology is not a wholesale break with the earlier tradition but a debate within that ongoing tradition. This is not to underestimate the differences - it is still, pace much ecumenical writing, difficult to square Luther's teaching on justification with the Council of Trent's declarations on this issue23 - but to point out that the kind of theology being pursued by both medievals and Reformers in terms of its basic ontological and theological structures, emphases, and concerns, exhibits strong points of continuity. It was only with the rise of the Enlightenment, with its emphasis upon the priority of subjective epistemology and upon human autonomy, that this kind of theology gave way to something radically different. Seen in this light, it is arguable that the Reformation is not the intellectual watershed of Western religious thought that it is sometimes made out to be: it had profound ecclesiastical implications; but it did not change the nature of the theological game in the way that the work of Aristotle did in the twelfth century or Descartes and, even more so, Kant was to do in the Enlightenment. It thus stands between the two great philosophical shifts in the Western world -the Aristotelian Renaissance and the Enlightenment - not as a fundamental change in theology as a whole but as a significant change of direction within the established Western Augustinian tradition.


1 For a good historical discussion of the Reformation, see Cameron (1991).

2 A good introduction to the theological issues is McGrath (1993).

3 For a discussion of Biel's thought, see Oberman (1983).

4 Quoted in the Introduction to Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans (1961:xxxvi-xxxvii). The original text is in D. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesantausgabe, 63 vols. (Weimar, 1883-1987) (hereafter WA), 54:179-87.

5 For an English translation of the theses at the Heidelberg Disputation, see Dillenberger (1961:500-3).

6 The true theologian is one who, according to Thesis 20, "perceives what is visible of God, God's 'backside', by beholding the sufferings and the cross" (Dillenberger 1961:502).

7 For a history of justification from the early Church to the present day, see McGrath (1986).

8 Luther's basic position on the relationship of justification to good works is expounded in the 1520 treatise The Freedom of a Christian, which can be found translated in Dillenberger (1961:42-85).

9 The best English translation of this work is that by Packer and Johnston, The Bondage of the Will (1957).

10 See, for example, Packer and Johnston (1957:169-71).

11 On the thought of Zwingli, see Stephens (1986).

12 For Luther's principal writings on the eucharist, see Luther's Works, 55 vols. (St. Louis/Philadelphia, 1958-86), vols. 35-8. Of particular interest in his controversy with the papacy is "The Babylonian Captivity of the Church" in vol. 36; his principal writings against Zwingli can be found in vols. 3 7-8, the latter of which contains various accounts of the

Marburg Colloquy written from both Lutheran and Zwinglian perspectives. For Zwingli on the eucharist, see Pipkin (1985, vol. 2).

13 The literature on Reformed theology is vast. For a good guide to its developments, see Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics (1986- ). See also the essays in Trueman and Clark (1999) and Assett and Dekker (2001).

14 The best introduction to Calvin's life and thought remains Wendel (1963).

15 See Calvin (1960, vol. 2:13.4). For good discussions of Reformed Christology, particularly in terms of continuity/discontinuity with patristic and medieval precedents, see Willis (1966); also Oberman (1992b:234-58).

16 For good Lutheran discussions of humiliation and exaltation, see Elert (1962:236ff.); Mueller (1934:287ff.); Schmid (1961:3 76-81).

17 A classic statement of the Reformed tradition can be found in the Synopsis Purioris Theolo-giae (often known as the Leiden Synopsis), disputations 27 and 28. See the edition by Bavinck (1881:262-81). Perhaps a more accessible, though somewhat eclectic survey, can be found in Heppe (1950:488-509).

18 On post-Reformation Lutheranism, see Preus (19 70-2).

19 On Arminius's life, see Bangs (1971); on his theology, see Muller (1991); on his use of Molinism, see Dekker (1996:33 7-52).

20 The most succinct statement of this position is that of Basil Hall, "Calvin against the Calvinists" in (1966:19-37). Other scholars associated with variations on this theme are T. F. Torrance, J. B. Torrance, Brian Armstrong, and Ernst Bizer.

21 On the issue of Aristotelian language, see Trueman (1998:34-44).

22 On scholasticism as method, not content, see Weisheipl (2003), "Scholastic Method," in The New Catholic Encyclopedia 12:1145-6.

23 For a brave but ultimately unconvincing attempt to do this, see Küng (1964).


Asselt, W. J. van, and Dekker, E. eds. 2001. Reformation and Scholasticism: An Ecumenical Enterprise. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.

Bangs, C. 19 71. Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation, Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

Bavinck, H. ed. 1881. Synopsis Purioris Theologiae, Leiden: Donner.

Calvin, J. 1960. Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. J. T. McNeill, 2 vols. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press.

Cameron, E. 1991. The European Reformation, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dekker, E. 1996. "Was Arminius a Molinist?" Sixteenth Century Journal 2 7:33 7-52.

Dillenberger, J. ed. 1961. Martin Luther, Garden City, NY: Anchor.

Duffield, G. E. 1966. John Calvin, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Elert, W. 1962. The Structure of Lutheranism, trans. W. A. Hansen. St. Louis, MO: Concordia.

Hall, B. 1966. "Calvin against the Calvinists," in John Calvin, ed. G. E. Duffield. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Heppe, H. 1950. Reformed Dogmatics, trans. G. T. Thomson. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.

Küng, H. 1964. Justification, Philadelphia, PA: Westminster.

Luther, M. 1958-86. Luther's Works, Philadelphia, PA: Westminster.

Luther, M. 1961. Lectures on Romans, trans. W. Pauck. London: SCM Press.

McGrath, A. E. 1986. Iustitia Dei, 2 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

McGrath, A. E. 1993. Reformation Thought: An Introduction, 2nd edn. Oxford: Blackwell.

Mueller, J. T. 1934. Christian Dogmatics, St. Louis: MO: Concordia.

Muller, R. A. 1986-2004. Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 4 vols. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker. Muller, R. A. 1991. God, Creation, and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.

Oberman, H. A. 1983. The Harvest of Medieval Theology: Gabriel Biel and Late Medieval Nominalism. Durham: Labyrinth. Oberman, H. A. 1992a. The Dawn of the Reformation. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark. Oberman, H. A. 1992b. "The 'Extra' Dimension in the Theology of Calvin," in H. A. Oberman,

The Dawn of the Reformation. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark. Packer, J. I. and Johnston, O. R. 1957. The Bondage of the Will. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pipkin, H. W. ed. 1985. Selected Writings of Huldrych Zwingli, 2 vols. Allison Park, PA: Pickwick. Preus, R. D. 19 70-2. The Theology of Post-Reformation Lutheranism, 2 vols. St. Louis MO: Concordia.

Schmid, H. 1961. The Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, trans. C. A. Hay and

H. E. Jacobs. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg. Stephens, W. P. 1986. The Theology of Huldrych Zwingli. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Trueman, C. R. 1998. The Claims of Truth: John Owen's Trinitarian Theology. Carlisle: Paternoster. Trueman, C. R. and Clark, R. S. eds. 1999. Protestant Scholasticism: Essays in Reassessment. Carlisle: Paternoster.

Weisheipl, J. A. 2003. "Scholastic Method," in The New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 12, pp. 1145-6. Wendel, F. 1963. Calvin: The Origins and Development of his Religious Thought, trans. P. Mairet.

London: Fontana. Willis, E. D. 1966. Calvin's Catholic Christology. Leiden: Brill.

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