The Medieval Scholastic Doctrine of Scripture, Part 2

The all-important question of the relationship of the doctrine of Scripture to that of theological encyclopedia is well-noticed by many theologians. Perhaps Kuyper has the best statements on this. The doctrine of Scripture underlies and binds together all of the theological disciplines. Scripture is the only reason why exegesis, systematics, church history, and pastoral theology are unified at all. In the Medieval times, the question primarily revolved around the issue of whether theology was a science or not. This was an emerging question in the Medieval times. Muller states:

The doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture stood, in the systems of the great thirteenth-century scholastics, Alexander of Hales, Bonaventure, Albert the Great, and Thomas Aquinas, in a profound and crucial relationship to the emerging concept of theology as a science. Inasmuch as a science consists in a knowledge of first principles and of the conclusions that can be drawn from them, the issue of certainty in theology is crucial to the conduct of the discipline. Logically derived conclusions, no matter how expert and precise the logic, cannot be endowed with certainty unless certainty is known to reside in the principles from which they have been drawn. But theology, as Aquinas in particular recognized, is a subalternate science, the first principles of which are not self-evident but are derived from a higher science-the scientia Dei-that is not immediately known to us (fn referencing Aquinas, ST Ia, q. 1, art. 2). If theology is to have the certainty that must belong to any legitimate or genuine scientia, that certainty must be inherent in its first principles and in the source of those principles. If theology is to be a divine scientia, it must rest on revelation (pp. 42-43).

Muller goes on to add that “This intimate relationship between the doctrine of inspiration, the problem of authority, the definition of theology as scientia, and the insufficienty of reason to deal with divine mysteries brought about, as Callan as noted of Thomas Aquinas, an enormous emphasis on Scripture in medieval theology system” (p. 44).

A great deal of medieval doctrine on Scripture can be expressed as an expansion of Aquinas’ maxim that God is the principal author of Scripture, and man is His instrument (Deus est auctor principalis Scripturae, homo autem instrumentum).

The direction that Henry of Ghent took this is instructive in regard to Protestant-Catholic debates, in that Henry of Ghent “adumbrates what Oberman calls ‘Tradition I’ by indicating the priority of Scripture over church, if there were to be a disagreement” (p. 46). Muller argues that Henry of Ghent “can argue that the truth of Scripture-like the ultimate authority of Scripture-does not rest entirely upon the efforts of the human authors who wrote under the inspiration of the Spirit” (ibid.). This is evidenced by Henry’s use of the metaphor of the artist and the apprentice (see Henry of Ghent’s Summa Questionum Ordinariarum Theologi, Lib. I, art. 9, q. 11).

3 Comments

  1. June 1, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    This work of Muller is very, very helpful. I generally assign readings from the second volume to my exegesis classes.

  2. colinclout12 said,

    June 1, 2010 at 10:04 pm

    The doctrine of Scripture underlies and binds together all of the theological disciplines. Scripture is the only reason why exegesis, systematics, church history, and pastoral theology are unified at all.

    I think it’s worth noting that this isn’t quite true. Christ underlies and binds together all of the theological disciplines. Christ is the only reason why exegesis, systematics, church history, and pastoral theology are unified at all.

    That’s not exactly the point of your post, but it is, I think, a significant (though I am sure unintentional) error.

  3. greenbaggins said,

    June 2, 2010 at 10:45 am

    Colin, the only place where we can learn about Christ at all is in the Scriptures. Scripture, the revelation present in it, is the only reason we can do theology at all. Theology is impossible without revelation. So, actually, it is Scripture that underlies all the theological disciplines. Scripture, of course, tells us about Christ, so there is no need to pit the two against each other, as you seem to be doing.


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