“Was a significant aspect of the Reformation a revival of patristic theology?”

Martin Chemnitz, quote-miner extraordinaire?
Martin Chemnitz, quote-miner extraordinaire?

At least one Lutheran is suggesting this is the case…. (re: the title of this blog post – not the caption of the picture).  From this conference which finished yesterday:

Paul Strawn

Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Spring Lake Park, Minn.

The Influence of Patristic Literature upon the Reformation

A common understanding of the usage of patristic sources during the Reformation period is that brief quotations were copied mechanically from the Sentences of Peter Lombard (1096-1164) or late medieval patristic anthologies. Relatively unknown is the fact that by the beginning of the 17th century, over 1600 volumes had been printed that contained the writings of the church fathers of both the west and the east. It is these works that provided the content for Jacques Paul Migne’s (1800-1875) massive 386 volume Patrologiae cursus completes. But even more startling, by delving into the question of the publication of just the collected-works editions of the church fathers that appeared between the years of 1460 and 1570, the distinct impression is made that the works of the church fathers in their entirety must have been much more influential in the Reformation period than has up until now been acknowledged. Simply an awareness of the common availability of the writings of the ancient church in the 16th century thus affords a new vista from which the theological developments of the period can be assessed.

(from here)


Knowing a bit about this man’s work (he is my pastor), he presented some pretty amazing information the other day. It is the fruit of a ton of original research he did as a doctoral student in Germany in the 1990s.

I hope in the future to at least put some clips from the [groundbreaking] paper on this blog.  Good empirical stuff that I think will be of interest to all in Christendom.  The quote in this blog post title appears in his paper.

4 replies on ““Was a significant aspect of the Reformation a revival of patristic theology?””

  1. John,

    Yes, my pastor is a very careful historian scholar. Me? I’d say the answer to his question is clearly “yes” (reading Chemnitz, for example, he really does seem to know his sources). so even before all of this research I would have contended that it really doesn’t take much faith to say “yes” to the question. To be particularly bold, I can also relay what the LC-MS Lutheran pastor Will Weedon says about Eastern Orthodoxy:

    -more concern for venerating the icons of the fathers vs. actually reading what they wrote.

    No one who knows Pastor Weedon, whether personally or by reading his blog, can say the man doesn’t know anything about the church fathers. Jordan Cooper to, by the way, who I think has read most of Schaff. My pastor says that that French set is the definitive set that contains most everything, and that very few people in the world, to his knowledge, are very familiar with its contents.

    (a super interesting “almost-conversion” story: http://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/lutherans-are-not-boring-why-lutheran-pastor-william-weedon-did-not-become-eastern-orthodox/)



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