Fudging Aristotle: A Digression (Part 1)

My earlier blog post on the formation of Reformed orthodoxy closed with the discussion of “variety and development” among the Reformed Orthodox, including “the scholastic method, the nominally Aristotelian philosophy (emphasis added), and the doctrinal content—all, of course, within certain confessional bounds”.

The scholastic method itself varied in the course of the two centuries of Reformation and orthodoxy, and at all periods in the development of Reformed orthodoxy different approaches to scholastic method can be identified.

Nor did the Reformed orthodox follow a single teacher, whether Calvin or Beza—there were a fairly large number of significant early orthodox thinkers who together provided models for the theology of high and later orthodoxy. Similarly, the so-called Christian Aristotelianism of the age was a highly eclectic philosophical model that was transformed by ongoing philosophical debate and that was also variously appropriated by different Reformed thinkers.

Muller, R. A. (2003). Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise And Development Of Reformed Orthodoxy; Volume 1: Prolegomena To Theology (2nd ed., pg. 41). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

So Reformed Orthodoxy wasn’t a monolith; but there were commonalities, and one of the commonalities was something that was recognized something Muller called “the so-called Christian Aristotelianism of the age”.

Before we discuss the “fudging” of Aristotle, I’d like to say a word about how he fit into the Reformed Orthodox schema.

From the book of Genesis, we know that Adam named all the animals. “Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals” (Gen 2:19-20).

That’s been how things have worked ever since. The first explorers to a place are able to give names to the things they discover. And that’s how it worked in the topic of philosophy:

Ancient Greece is thus rightly considered to be the cradle of philosophy. If we ask ourselves how it is that we have subjects today such as epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, political philosophy, social philosophy, aesthetics, and so on—standard fare in a philosophy curriculum—the answer is that they are a gift from the Greeks (Craig G. Bartholomew, Michael W. Goheen, “Christian Philosophy: A Systematic and Narrative Introduction, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, ©2013, pgs 31-32).

Bartholomew and Goheen in the briefest possible way discuss “particular Indian and Chinese philosophies”, some of which “originated around the same time as Greek philosophy”, but which “on the whole”, “failed to develop anything like the depth of rigor of Western [“Greek”] philosophy”, and which “are often categorized as religions rather than philosophies”.

Generally speaking, the first names given to a thing stick with it. And so it was with the various fields of study within philosophy. The Greeks developed those various fields, and since that time, just as names stay with us for a lifetime, so those fields have the names that the Greek philosophers gave to them.

The Reformed Orthodox writers were working within the names and categories that the ancient Greeks first used. But they weren’t using the same content.

Published by John Bugay

"We are His workmanship," His poiema, His "poetry." If you've ever studied poetry, or struggled to write a poem, you understand the care God takes to "work all things together for good" in our lives. For this reason, and many others, I believe in the Sovereignty of God. I have seen His hand working in my life, and I submit myself to His merciful will, with all my being.

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