Post-Reformation Systematization and Continuities

Protestant Continuities

Protestant Continuities

It was one thing for the Reformers to rebel against the abuses of Rome; it was quite another thing to put together a cohesive program of what the church ought rightly to be in the world. To this end, the generations of thinkers following the Reformation looked to other disciplines.

So, not only was “systematization” important to them, but “systematization” in conjunction with philosophy, languages, psychology, and other “collateral disciplines”.

The Protestant interest in … philosophy [of the 17th century] … arose out of the desire to find a suitable metaphysic for the Protestant academy.

The theological impact of this new philosophical alliance can be described, on the one hand, as a reinforcing of the modified Thomism already present in Reformed thought through the work of Vermigli and Zanchi and, on the other, as the creation of new systematic and linguistic possibilities for Protestant thought.

Now Protestant theology could draw, with philosophical rigor, on the language of potency and act, of essence and existence, and of intellectual habits or dispositions: the language, and therefore the systematic conceptuality of being, both finite and infinite, and of human psychology was once again available in a cohesive and coherent form.

The effect on theological system was twofold: first, the systematic broadening, that we have already noted as a positive development of the implications of the Reformation for theological system as a whole, was facilitated, and, second, theology was placed in dialogue with collateral disciplines far more than it had been during the era of the Reformation.

The grounds for this dialogue now had to be described in theological prolegomena even as its effect became evident in other loci, specifically, the doctrines of God and providence.

We can affirm four forces contributing to the rise and development of Protestant orthodoxy, (polemics, pedagogical needs, the working out of systematic issues, and the striving for philosophical breadth and coherence) and rule out a fifth (concentration on a metaphysical principle or central dogma).

We concur with Scharlemann’s comment concerning Lutheran orthodoxy, that the development was not a “relapse” into “earlier concept-splitting ‘school philosophy’” but rather a development manifesting a “theological continuity” between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

However, it seems that response to polemic was more important for the development of individual loci than Scharlemann would allow and that continuity must be defined in terms of the broadening of the Protestant theological perspective to include more of the tradition of the church than had been utilized by the Reformers.

In addition, it is also crucial to recognize, underlying all of these individual forces or pressures toward scholastic orthodoxy, the pressure of institutionalization.

Inasmuch as the Reformation itself intended to correct doctrinal errors and abuses, its success as a movement virtually demanded that Protestant theologians create an orthodoxy, an institutionally viable, genuinely catholic body of right teaching resting upon, elaborating and defending the church’s confessions.

Muller, R. A. (2003). Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise And Development Of Reformed Orthodoxy; Volume 1: Prolegomena To Theology (2nd ed., pp. 65–66). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

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