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Lutheran scholasticism was a theological method that gradually developed during the era of Lutheran Orthodoxy. Theologians used the neo-Aristotelian form of presentation, already popular in academia, in their writings and lectures. They defined the Lutheran faith and defended it against the polemics of opposing parties.
- 1 Distinction between scholastic theology and method
- 2 History
- 2.1 Background
- 2.2 Initial rejection
- 2.3 Loci method
- 2.4 Analytic method
- 2.5 Late Orthodoxy (1685–1730)
- 2.6 Content
- 3 See also
- 4 References
- 5 Bibliography
Distinction between scholastic theology and method
The term “scholasticism” is used to indicate both the scholastic theology that arose during the pre-Reformation Church and the methodology associated with it. While Lutherans reject the theology of the scholastics, some accept their method. Henry Eyster Jacobs writes of the scholastic method:
- The method is the application of the most rigorous appliances of logic to the formulation and analysis of theological definitions. The method per se cannot be vicious, as sound logic always must keep within its own boundaries. It became false, when logic, as a science that has only to do with the natural, and with the supernatural only so far as it has been brought, by revelation, within the sphere of natural apprehension, undertakes not only to be the test of the supernatural, but to determine all of its relations.
High Scholasticism in Western Christianity aimed at an exhaustive treatment of theology, supplementing revelation by the deductions of reason. Aristotle furnished the rules according to which it proceeded, and after a while he became the authority for both the source and process of theology.
Lutheranism began as a vigorous protest against scholasticism, starting with Martin Luther. Around the time he became a monk, Luther sought assurances about life, and was drawn to theology and philosophy, expressing particular interest in Aristotle and the scholastics William of Ockham and Gabriel Biel. He was deeply influenced by two tutors, Bartholomaeus Arnoldi von Usingen and Jodocus Trutfetter, who taught him to be suspicious of even the greatest thinkers, and to test everything himself by experience. Philosophy proved to be unsatisfying, offering assurance about the use of reason, but none about the importance, for Luther, of loving God. Reason could not lead men to God, he felt, and he developed a love-hate relationship with Aristotle over the latter's emphasis on reason. For Luther, reason could be used to question men and institutions, but not God. Human beings could learn about God only through divine revelation, he believed, and Scripture therefore became increasingly important to him.
Martin Luther held that it was "not at all in conformity with the New Testament to write books about Christian doctrine." He noted that before the Apostles wrote books, they "previously preached to and converted the people with the physical voice, which was also their real apostolic and New Testament work." To Luther, it was necessary to write books to counter all the false teachers and errors of the present day, but writing books on Christian teaching came at a price. "But since it became necessary to write books, there is already a great loss, and there is uncertainty as to what is meant." Martin Luther taught preaching and lectured upon the books of the Bible in an exegetical manner. To Luther, St. Paul was the greatest of all systematic theologians, and his Epistle to the Romans was the greatest dogmatics textbook of all time.
Analysis of Luther's works, however, reveals a reliance on scholastic distinctions and modes of argument even after he had dismissed scholasticism entirely. Luther seems to be comfortable with the use of such theological methods so long as the content of theology is normed by scripture, though his direct statements regarding scholastic method are unequivocally negative.
Beginning of the loci method
Flourishing of the loci method
Martin Chemnitz, Mathias Haffenreffer, and Leonhard Hutter simply expanded upon Melanchthon's Loci Communes. With Chemnitz, however, a biblical method prevailed. At Melanchthon's suggestion he undertook a course of self-study. He began by carefully working through the Bible in the original languages while also answering questions that had previously puzzled him. When he felt ready to move on, he turned his attention to reading through the early theologians of the church slowly and carefully. Then he turned to current theological concerns and once again read painstakingly while making copious notes. His tendency was to constantly support his arguments with what is now known as biblical theology. He understood biblical revelation to be progressive—building from the earlier books to the later ones—and examined his supporting texts in their literary contexts and historical settings.
Properly speaking, Lutheran scholasticism began in the 17th century, when the theological faculty of Wittenberg took up the scholastic method to fend off attacks by Jesuit theologians of the Second Scholastic Period of Roman Catholicism.
Origin of the analytic method
The philosophical school of Neo-Aristotelianism began among Roman Catholics, for example, the universities Padua and Coimbra. However, it spread to Germany by the late 16th century, resulting in a distinctly Protestant system of metaphysics associated with humanism. This scholastic system of metaphysics held that abstract concepts could explain the world in clear, distinct terms. This influenced the character of the scientific method.
Jacopo Zabarella, a natural philosopher from Padua, taught that one could begin with a goal in mind and then explain ways to reach the goal. Although this was a scientific concept that Lutherans did not feel theology had to follow, by the beginning of the 17th century, Lutheran theologian Balthasar Mentzer attempted to explain theology in the same way. Beginning with God as the goal, he explained the doctrine of man, the nature of theology, and the way man can attain eternal happiness with God. This form of presentation, called the analytic method, replaced the loci method used by Melancthon in his Loci Communes. This method made the presentation of theology more uniform, as each theologian could present Christian teaching as the message of salvation and the way to attain this salvation.
Flourishing of the analytic and synthetic methods
After the time of Johann Gerhard, Lutherans lost their attitude that philosophy was antagonistic to theology. Instead, Lutheran dogmaticians used syllogistic arguments and the philosophical terms common in the neo-Aristotelianism of the time to make fine distinctions and enhance the precision of their theological method. Scholastic Lutheran theologians engaged in a twofold task. First, they collected texts, arranged them, supported them with arguments, and gave rebuttals based on the theologians before them. Second, they completed their process by going back to the pre-Reformation scholastics in order to gather additional material which they assumed the Reformation also accepted. Even though the Lutheran scholastic theologians added their own criticism to the pre-Reformation scholastics, they still had an important influence. Mainly, this practice served to separate their theology from direct interaction with Scripture. However, their theology was still built on Scripture as an authority that needed no external validation. Their scholastic method was intended to serve the purpose of their theology. Some dogmaticians preferred to use the synthetic method, while others used the analytic method, but all of them allowed Scripture to determine the form and content of their statements.
Abuse of the methods
Some Lutheran scholastic theologians, for example, Johann Gerhard, used exegetical theology along with Lutheran scholasticism. However, in Calov, even his exegesis is dominated by his use of the analytic method With Johann Friedrich König and his student Johannes Andreas Quenstedt, scholastic Lutheran theology reached its zenith. However the 20th century Lutheran scholar Robert Preus was of the opinion that König went overboard with the scholastic method by overloading his small book, Theologia Positiva Acroamatica with Aristotelian distinctions. He noted that the scholastic method was inherently loaded with pitfalls. In particular, dogmaticians sometimes established cause and effect relationships without suitable links. When dogmaticians forced mysteries of the faith to fit into strict cause and effect relationships, they created "serious inconsistencies". In addition, sometimes they drew unneeded or baseless conclusions from the writings of their opponents, which not only was unproductive, but also harmed their own cause more than that of their rivals. Later orthodox dogmaticians tended to have an enormous number of artificial distinctions.
Merits of the methods
On the other hand, the Lutheran scholastic method, although often tedious and complicated, managed to largely avoid vagueness and the fallacy of equivocation. As a result, their writings are understandable and prone to misrepresentation only by those entirely opposed to their theology. The use of scholastic philosophy also made Lutheran orthodoxy more intellectually rigorous. Theological questions could be resolved in a clean cut, even scientific, manner. The use of philosophy gave orthodox Lutheran theologians better tools to pass on their tradition than were otherwise available. It is also worth noting that it was only after Neo-Aristotelian philosophical methods were ended that orthodox Lutheranism came to be criticized as austere, non-Christian formalism.
Late Orthodoxy (1685–1730)
Scholastic dogmaticians followed the historical order of God's saving acts. First Creation was taught, then the Fall, followed by Redemption, and finished by the Last Things. This order, as an independent part of the Lutheran tradition, was not derived from any philosophical method. It was followed not only by those using the loci method, but also those using the analytical. The usual order of the loci:
- Holy Scriptures
- Trinity (including Christology and the doctrine of the Holy Spirit)
- Image of God
- Fall of Man
- Free Will
- Faith and Justification
- Good Works
- Three Estates
- Last Things
- Jacobs, Henry Eyster. “Scholasticism in the Luth. Church.” Lutheran Cyclopedia. New York: Scribner, 1899. pp. 434–5.
- Marty, Martin. Martin Luther. Viking Penguin, 2004, p. 5.
- Marty, Martin. Martin Luther. Viking Penguin, 2004, p. 6.
- quotes found in WA 10 I, I, p. 625, 15ff. taken from Morphologie des Luthertums [The Shaping of Lutheranism], (Munich: C.H. Beck'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1931–32): Volume 1: Theologie und Weltanschauung des Luthertums hauptsächlich im 16. und 17. Jahrhundert [The Theology and World View of Lutheranism Mainly in the 16th and 17th Centuries]: translated by Walter A. Hansen: Werner Elert, The Structure of Lutheranism: The Theology and Philosophy of Life of Lutheranism Especially in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, Walter R. Hansen, (St. Louis: CPH, 1962). p. 188
- WA 10 I, I, p. 627, taken from Morphologie des Luthertums [The Shaping of Lutheranism], (Munich: C.H. Beck'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1931–32): Volume 1: Theologie und Weltanschauung des Luthertums hauptsächlich im 16. und 17. Jahrhundert [The Theology and World View of Lutheranism Mainly in the 16th and 17th Centuries]: translated by Walter A. Hansen: Werner Elert, The Structure of Lutheranism: The Theology and Philosophy of Life of Lutheranism Especially in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, Walter R. Hansen, (St. Louis: CPH, 1962). p. 188
- Bagchi, D.V.N. (2006). "Sic Et Non: Luther and Scholasticism". In Trueman, Carl R.; Clark, R. Scott (eds.). Protestant Scholasticism: Essays in Reassessment. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock. pp. 3–15. ISBN 978-0853648536.
- For further investigation, see Outlines of Loci Communes (Google Books) and a selection from the work, "For What Reasons Should Good Works Be Done?" (Google Books)
- For an example of this from Chemnitz, see this chapter on almsgiving Archived 2009-02-26 at the Wayback Machine from his Loci Theologici.
- Martin Chemnitii einhändige Lebens-Beschreibung. Nebst denen ihm zu Braunschweig gesetzen Epitaphiis [Martin Chemnitz's Submitted Life-Description . Together with the Epitaphs Erected to Him in Braunschweig]. 1719. Translated into English as An Autobiography of Martin Chemnitz. A.L. Graebner, trans. Theological Quarterly, vol. 3, no. 4 (1899).
- Thorluck, A. Der Geist der lutherischen Theologen Wittenbergs im Verlaufe des 17. Jahrhunderts, Hamburg und Gotha, 1852, p. 55. as cited in Preus, Robert. The Inspiration of Scripture: A Study of the Theology of the 17th Century Lutheran Dogmaticians. London: Oliver and Boyd, 1957.
- Hägglund, Bengt, History of Theology. trans. Lund, Gene, L. St. Louis: Concordia, 1968. p. 299.
- Hägglund, Bengt, History of Theology. trans. Lund, Gene, L. St. Louis: Concordia, 1968. p. 300.
- Hägglund, Bengt, History of Theology. trans. Lund, Gene, L. St. Louis: Concordia, 1968. p. 301.
- Gass, W., Geschichte der protestantischen Dogmatik, I, 206ff. as cited in Preus, Robert. The Inspiration of Scripture: A Study of the Theology of the 17th Century Lutheran Dogmaticians. London: Oliver and Boyd, 1957.
- Preus, Robert. The Inspiration of Scripture: A Study of the Theology of the 17th Century Lutheran Dogmaticians. London: Oliver and Boyd, 1957.
- Kahnis, Karl Friedrich August, Die lutherische Dogmatik, Leipzig, 1874, I, 21. as cited in Preus, Robert. The Inspiration of Scripture: A Study of the Theology of the 17th Century Lutheran Dogmaticians. London: Oliver and Boyd, 1957.
- Wundt, Maximilian., Die deutsche Schulmetaphysik des 17. Jahrhunderts, Tübingen, 1939, p. 110. as cited in Preus, Robert. The Inspiration of Scripture: A Study of the Theology of the 17th Century Lutheran Dogmaticians. London: Oliver and Boyd, 1957.
- Kirn, Otto. Grundriss der evangelischen Dogmatik, Leipzip, 1905, p. 3ff. as cited in Preus, Robert. The Inspiration of Scripture: A Study of the Theology of the 17th Century Lutheran Dogmaticians. London: Oliver and Boyd, 1957.
- For several selections of Gerhard's theology, Loci Theologici Book. 1. Prooemium 31 and Loci Theologici Book 1, Locus 2: De Natura Dei, ch. 4, 59. (Google Books)
- Hägglund, Bengt, History of Theology. trans. Lund, Gene, L. St. Louis: Concordia, 1968. p. 301. For examples of Calov's dogmatic method, see these selections from Schmid's Dogmatics.
- For several selections of Quenstedt's theology, see Didactico-Polemica Part 1, chapter 1, section 2, question 3 and Theologia Didactico-Polemica chapter 4: De Deo, section 2, question 1 (Google Books)
- For a selection of Hollatz's theology, see Examen, chapter 1, Prolegomena, question 18. (Google Books)
- Hägglund, Bengt, History of Theology. trans. Lund, Gene, L. St. Louis: Concordia, 1968. p. 302.
- Willem J. van Asselt, Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism, Grand Rapids,Reformation Heritage Books, 2011.