Echoes of Scotus, Ockham, and Eck in the Reformed Orthodox discussion of faith and reason

On this topic, I present what Muller has to say, without comment:

Medieval Antecedents to the Reformed Discussion

The Reformed orthodox debate echoes the debate over the Scotist distinction between the infinite and perfect theologia in se and the various forms of finite theology typical of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

On the one hand, this debate moved toward a clearer statement of the paradigm according to which the various categories of finite theology, classified according to their mode of communication, could be grouped together under the divine archetype, while on the other hand, epistemological concerns somewhat different from those of Scotus brought about modification of the terms and their use.

At the heart of his own theological enterprise, Scotus recognized the vast and unbridgeable gulf between the divine self-knowledge and all human knowledge of God. Certainly the presence of this motif in Scotus’ thought echoes the shift in theological epistemology that had occurred between the time of Albert the Great’s, Thomas Aquinas’, and Bonaventure’s vast theological systems and the end of the thirteenth century.

The attempt to draw faith and philosophy together, whether in the more Aristotelian model of Albert and Thomas or in the more Augustinian approach of Bonaventure, had not resulted in any easy alliance of faith and reason, but in fact had yielded various cautionary approaches that recognized the diastasis between revelation and the truths known to reason.

This diastasis, moreover, reflected the sense that God so radically transcended the grasp of the human faculties that no easy analogy could be made between the divine and the human.

Scotus’ theology, accordingly, made a distinction between “theology” considered as God’s self-knowledge, theologia in se, and “theology” considered as our knowledge of God, theologia nostra. Theology in se, theology considered in itself, apart from any of the limitations of the human intellect, refers to the essential knowledge of God and therefore to the entirety of possible knowledge of God, such as can only be known to God himself and must remain in large part beyond any and all finite knowing.

And, of course, there is the fact that no living human has the full vision of God—so that the knowledge of God accessible to redeemed souls in heaven also far exceeds our present grasp. Theologia nostra is the present theology of human beings, human beings in this life, who know God according to their limited capacity and only insofar as he has revealed himself to them.

For Ockham, the language of Scotus raised more problems than Scotus himself had anticipated. Ockham agreed that God can be known in se only to God himself but then, against Scotus, argued the problematic character of the identification of God sub propria ratione Deitatis as the subject of theology.

Ockham’s nominalism demanded that he view theological system as a gathered body of discrete subjects, each capable of being known by means of an individual habitus. As one small part of the argument leading to this conclusion, Ockham sought to define more clearly the limits of theologia nostra: he argues a distinction between theologia nostra nobis possibilis pro statu isto (“our theology possible for us proportionate to this present condition”) and theologia possibilis per divinam potentiam in intellectu viatoris (“theology possible by divine power in the mind of the pilgrim”).

What Ockham has constructed here is a distinction between the ideal order and the order in fact set into the context of the human intellect itself: theologia in se can now be identified as an ideal category of theologia nostra, normally inaccessible to the human mind but possible under the absolute power of God.

This concept appears to be behind the Reformed orthodox perception of theologia in se as the ideal finite instance of theologia nostra.

The Annotatiunculae of John Eck implies another answer to this problem. Eck argues a threefold meaning for theologia: knowledge of God in the divine mind (in mente divina), in itself (in se), and in us (in nobis).

According to the first of these categories, comments Eck, the maxim of Augustine holds, that “God alone is a theologian, and we are truly his disciples.” Much like Scotus’ basic definition of theologia in se, Eck’s definition identifies this category of the knowledge of God as a knowledge proportionate to its object—but now it is defined specifically as knowledge in intellectu humano.

Theologia in se, the pattern to which our theology is subalternate is, according to Eck, the theology of the blessed who know by sight. The theology that human beings have in their pilgrim condition (secundum statum viae), the theologia nostra, is not proportionate to its object.

Rather, it is limited to the knowledge our intellect is capable of accepting through belief. Further redefinition of the term theologia in se or theology absolutely considered (absolute dicta) occurs among the early Reformed orthodox who use the term in a fashion similar to Eck’s usage as a proximate pattern for theologia nostra, but identify it not as the theology of the blessed but as the perfect truth of supernatural revelation.

Muller, R. A. (2003). Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise And Development Of Reformed Orthodoxy; Volume 1: Prolegomena To Theology (2nd ed., pp. 227–228). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

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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