Philosophy and Protestant Scholasticism

Now there’s an ambitious blog entry title! What Muller is dealing with on pp. 67-73 of Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, is the place of philosophy among the Reformed scholastics.

He says, “The understanding of the relationship of philosophy to theology propounded in the Reformed prolegomena and in various apologetic works of the era of orthodoxy assumes a view of philosophy as ancilla and subordinate both in a purely hierarchical sense among the forms o knowing and in a historical sense, regarding it as a derivative form of knowing” (pg. 70). This is a fairly comprehensive way of looking at the relationship. On the one hand, the Reformed scholastics recognized (in general) the dangers of rationalism, and usually tried to avoid it. On the other hand, philosophy could be useful in theology, though in a derivative manner.

Actually, “the rise of modern science and modern rationalism did not profoundly affect Protestant orthodox theology until the latter half of the seventeenth century” (71). In fact, “Christianized Aristotelianism remain(ed) the dominant philosophical perspective thoughout the era of orthodoxy” (71). This must not be misunderstood, however. Christian Aristotelianism did not substantively affect doctrine until the later half of the 17th century. One suspects that it was the logic of Aristotle, more than any other strand of philosophy, that had the largest impact on Protestant Scholasticism.



  1. Seth McBee said,

    January 3, 2007 at 12:54 pm

    thus you have Luther’s 97 thesis the September before the now great 95 theses. Fully devoted to a return to Augustinian theology within the church. It is said that Luther was very unhappy that his 97 theses didn’t get as much notoriety

  2. greenbaggins said,

    January 3, 2007 at 12:56 pm

    That’s interesting, Seth. Do you know of any resource on the net that has the 97 theses?

  3. Seth McBee said,

    January 3, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    I have only found excerpts of the 97 theses…

    here is one link to it.

  4. greenbaggins said,

    January 3, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    Thanks, Seth. I really liked 29 especially. But all of them were good. Luther plainly did not like philosophy (though he was still indebted to it).

  5. Seth McBee said,

    January 3, 2007 at 1:29 pm

    I put up the entire 97 theses on my website…take a look…

  6. Lee said,

    January 5, 2007 at 12:08 am

    Does Muller give any space to those who thought Aristotle’s philosophy was the bane of the Christian faith? Is he just recounting history or is he getting into the debates that took place at the time?

  7. greenbaggins said,

    January 5, 2007 at 11:10 am

    He does give such space. First, he says that the approach to philosophy was “eclectic,” meaning, I think, that various theologians reacted quite differently to the various philosophical models that were for sale at the time.

    He does also say that there were significant thinkers that accorded “a highly negative interaction between developing Reformed theology and the philosophical models available in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries” (68). But usually, it was not a wholesale reaction, but a reaction against certain aspects of Aristotle. Does this help?

  8. Chris said,

    September 9, 2007 at 10:19 pm

    Sorry for coming to this late. Two suggestions by Paul Helm:

    John Calvin’s Ideas probes the ways Calvin uses philosophy in the service of theology.

    Calvin & the Calvinists looks at how the English Calvinists were true inheritors of Calvin’s thought (esp. on Limited Atonement). This little volume is a rebuttal to another work, but has some gems in it even apart from consulting his interlocutor.

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