“The Chief Task is to Assess the Protestant Adjustment of Traditional Scholastic Categories in the Light of The Reformation”

A Clearer Understanding of the Meaning of the Reformation Itself

This entry concludes the section of Richard Muller’s work under the heading, “Doctrine and Method in the Era of Early Orthodoxy (ca. 1565-1618-1640)”.

What’s been most notable for me, in publishing selections from Muller, is to notice the continuities of thought through the Reformation period. That is, while the Reformation provided a significant break in “church government” (note that Calvin said “the entire church is polluted by the papacy”), the lines of theological thinking (especially, as is related in this particular section) retained a great deal of continuity.

Moving forward, I’ll certainly be looking at what Muller refers to as “the chief task”: “to assess the Protestant adjustment of traditional scholastic categories in the light of the Reformation”.

(Muller’s four primary topics, again, include “Prolegomena” (Vol 1), “Scripture” (Vol 2), “Doctrine of God” (Vol 3), and “The Trinity” (Vol 4).

I’ve been working primarily, here, with Volume 1 (with excursions into other works, as well as into Volume 3). And I’ve been publishing selections from Volume 2, Scripture, over at Triablogue (scroll down for links to the a complete list of PRRD Vol 2 blog posts over there).

Meanwhile, what follows is Muller’s summary of “Prolegomena” as it developed from about 1565 (and the death of Calvin) through about 1640:

The continuity of Christian Aristotelianism and scholastic method from the medieval into the early modern period together with the relationship of these two phenomena to Protestant orthodoxy pinpoint one further issue to be considered in the study of orthodox or scholastic Protestantism.

It is not only an error to attempt to characterize Protestant orthodoxy by means of a comparison with one or another of the Reformers (as in the case of the “Calvin against the Calvinists” thesis).

It is also an error to discuss Protestant orthodoxy without being continually aware of the broad movement of ideas from the late Middle Ages, through the Reformation, into post-Reformation Protestantism.

Whereas the Reformation is surely the formative event for Protestantism, it is also true that the Reformation, which took place during the first half of the sixteenth century, is the briefer phenomenon, enclosed, as it were by the five-hundred-year history of scholasticism and Christian Aristotelianism.

In accord, moreover, with the older scholastic models as well as with the assumptions of the Reformers concerning the biblical norm of theology, the Reformed scholastics uniformly maintained the priority of revelation over reason and insisted on the ancillary status of philosophy.

In approaching the continuities and discontinuities of Protestant scholasticism with the Middle Ages and the Reformation, the chief task is to assess the Protestant adjustment of traditional scholastic categories in the light of the Reformation and the patterns according to which it mediated that tradition, both positively and negatively, to future generations of Protestants.

This approach is not only more adequate to the understanding of Protestant orthodoxy, but is also the framework for a clearer understanding of the meaning of the Reformation itself.

Muller, R. A. (2003). Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise And Development Of Reformed Orthodoxy; Volume 1: Prolegomena To Theology (2nd ed., p. 73). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

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