The Geographic Expansion of Post-Reformation Orthodoxy

Post-Reformation Europe
Post-Reformation Europe

International dimensions and interrelationships in the rise of Reformed orthodoxy.

It is also during the early orthodox period that Reformed theology assumed truly international dimensions. The systems of Calvin, Vermigli, Musculus, and Bullinger had extensive circulation not only in Switzerland but also in German Reformed territories, the Netherlands, and England.

Writers of the third and fourth generations of the Reformed churches—Ursinus, Olevianus, Szegedinus, Zanchi, Polanus, Perkins, Ames—were well known and widely read throughout Europe. Indeed, by the time of the Synod of Dort, the international character and broad, international consensus in Reformed doctrine was such that delegates were gathered from the Dutch states, the German Reformed cities, Switzerland, and England.

The British writers—Perkins, Ball, Ames, Yates, Stoughton, Cameron, Downame, Ussher, Prideaux, Baxter, Rutherford, Charnock, and Leigh, not to mention commentators and theologians who did not produce dogmatic treatises systems—fall generally within the bounds of mainline Reformed theology and have only been neglected in studies of Protestant orthodoxy because of the insular approach not only of English but also of continental historians.

The interrelationship of the English Reformed with the continental Reformed was such that neither development can be properly understood without the other: specifically, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, British theology was receptive to continental thought, as citations of European thinkers in English works testify.

Ames’ Medulla theologiae was widely used both in England and on the continent as a synopsis of theology—Voetius recommended that students memorize it!

In addition, although they are seldom ranked among the major writers of theological system in the seventeenth century, Yates, Downame, Ussher, Prideaux, Leigh, and Baxter did produce full-scale doctrinal compendia.

If the English were not quite as prolific in producing fully scholastic systematic theologies as their Dutch, German and Swiss brethren, they were sensitive to this fact and made up for their hesitancy by an omnivorous reading of continental works.

On the other hand, major English thinkers like Perkins, Ames, Whitaker, Gataker, Baxter, and Owen were much appreciated on the continent—as is manifest by the European editions and citations of their works.

What is more, there is a clearly identifiable influence of Perkins and Ames on the Dutch Reformed theology that developed during and after Ames’ tenure at Franecker in the work of thinkers like Maccovius and Mastricht, just as there is an enormous influence of British thought on the so-called Nadere Reformatie of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the Netherlands.

A few examples of these interrelationships are in order: Gataker’s philological debate over the character of biblical languages, specifically over the question of whether Greek could be called an “original language” was an international debate in which his chief opponent was a German linguist—and his respondent in debate over the Tetragrammaton was Cappel.

English theologians like Leigh and Charnock consistently used the works of continental thinkers as constructive dialogue partners in the formulation of their theologies—Leigh, given his dependency, could even be called the English Wendelin.

Conversely, Whitaker, Perkins, and Owen were read and respected on the continent: Whitaker was cited as late as Mastricht’s Theoretico-practica theologia (1682–89), Perkins’ works were translated into Dutch, Turretin evidenced a profound respect for Owen.

Further indices to this interrelationship can be found in the library catalogues of theologians like Gomarus, Owen, and Baxter. A full picture of Reformed orthodoxy cannot afford to omit the English contribution to Protestant scholasticism—nor is it acceptable to attempt to interpret British theology in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries without reference to continental developments.

Muller, R. A. (2003). Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise And Development Of Reformed Orthodoxy; Volume 1: Prolegomena To Theology (2nd ed., pp. 66–67). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.