Scholasticism and Protestant Dogmatism
The thirteenth century saw the height of papal power and the rise of medieval scholasticism.
Two developments occurred in Christendom due to scholasticism: the expansion of universities and the reestablishment of the Aristotle’s teachings in the West. With the expansion of the university and the theological technicalities that came with aristotelianism, “knowing God” and “God talk” became the privilege of the rich and well placed in society.
Before the rise of scholasticism and its employment of aristotelianism, most of the western Christian theologians integrated platonic philosophy into their view of God, which created a stark distinction between this world and the next, causing theologians to focus more so on the otherworldly Word of God than on the historical Jesus Christ. Yet, Platonism and Neo-Platonism tended to be cynical towards human reason and human senses as a source of knowledge because of their worldly nature. St. Thomas Aquinas – who’s Summa represented the apex of scholastic theology — came on the scene and synthesized the Aristotelian emphasis on reason and the Christian emphasis on faith.
As a result of this new Aristotelian spin on Christianity during scholasticism, Christian scholastic theology had a constant search for deeper and deeper technical questions, which resulted in a highly technical language that only the highly initiated could engage in.
It is out of this background of scholastic theology that the dogmatism and intolerance of Protestants occurred soon after the Reformation began, a dogmatism that was called “Reformed Orthodoxy.” Justo Gonzalez writes, concerning the Reformed Orthodoxy of early Protestantism, that is was characterized by it’s “attention to theological detail, seeking to clarify and discuss every possible subject, by their reinstatement of Aristotle as a tool of theology – which Luther had categorically rejected – and by a theological method in which words from Scripture were used as building blocks with which one could built vast theological systems” (224).
Abraham Calovius, a defender of Lutheran orthodoxy, stated that everything that God has revealed in scripture is absolutely necessary and that anyone who rejects any iota of biblical dogma rejects God himself.
Gonzolaz concludes that:
“it was clear that the orthodox theologians of each confession where becoming increasingly entrenched in their positions, as if only those who agreed with them on every point of doctrine properly deserved to be called Christians. Such dogmatism, while bolstering the conviction of some, also gave rise to increasing doubts about the truth of Christianity, or at least about the value of theology and doctrine” 228
The next two days I’ll look at historical Christian reactions to the dogmatism of reformed orthodoxy.