The Development of Theological Prolegomena

I’ve been posting selections from Richard Muller’s “Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics” series here for about six months now.

What Muller has reported in earlier chapters is mere overview – in terms of the history and development of Reformed Orthodoxy – have been the continuities and discontinuities between the Medieval period of theology, and the Post-Reformation (especially Reformed) period of theology.

Here again is the main idea:

The development of Protestant doctrine, therefore, in the great confessions of the mid-sixteenth century and in the orthodox or scholastic systems of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was not a development from kerygma to dogma but rather a development consisting in the adjustment of a received body of doctrine and its systematic relations to the needs of Protestantism, in terms dictated by the teachings of the Reformers on Scripture, grace, justification, and the sacraments.

Muller, R. A. (2003). Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise And Development Of Reformed Orthodoxy; Volume 1: Prolegomena To Theology (2nd Ed., pp. 34). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

What this means is that the theologians of the Post-Reformation era did not “throw everything out” – but they sought to keep what was worth keeping, while discarding the bad Roman accretions through the centuries.

In the midst of that effort, Muller describes the development of theology in the pre-Reformation church, and how it sought to understand its underlying principles, and borrowing much of its “Prolegomena and Principia”, from earlier church history.

All theology rests upon presuppositions and principles. The explicit enunciation of those presuppositions and principles, however, is one of the last tasks undertaken in the historical development of theological system. This generalization applies both to the experience of the medieval scholastics and to that of the Protestant orthodox.

Medieval theology received from the church fathers a great body of highly detailed doctrine, but virtually nothing that could be called a system theology and, certainly, no theological prolegomena.

The received body of patristic teaching was clarified and systematized by the controversies of the Carolingian era and of the eleventh and twelfth centuries—to the point that, toward the close of the twelfth century, the theological teachers of the cathedral schools and monasteries were able to draw doctrine together into collections of theological statements and definitions, the sententiae.

A reading of the theology of Anselm after a close study of the fathers, particularly Augustine, well illustrates the way in which diverse issues and threads of argument were taken up by the medieval doctors and developed into cohesive theological arguments—whether one examines the so-called “ontological argument” of the Proslogion and its roots in Augustine’s meditations on Psalm 14 and the De trinitate, or the rootage of much of the Cur Deus homo in the issues broached in Augustine’s Enchiridion.

The rise of books of sententiae in the century after Anselm carried the process further in relation to fundamental curricular issues concerning the relationship between theological topics, the efforts of biblical commentators to survey the entire redemptive history recounted in Scripture, the need to evaluate the various authorities that could be cited in favor of one or another construal of a theological point, and the resultant methodological questions concerning the best models for organizing and displaying the contents of theology for exposition and study.

Only with this latter codification of theology as an academic discipline do prolegomena as such became possible or desirable. A similar situation obtains in the much more rapid development of a Protestant system of theology. Protestant system begins to develop within a few years of the posting of the Ninety-five Theses in 1517; genuine theological prolegomena appear after 1590.

Muller, R. A. (2003). Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise And Development Of Reformed Orthodoxy; Volume 1: Prolegomena To Theology (2nd ed., pp. 85–86). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.