Saturday, August 13, 2005

McGrath's Intellectual Origins, Part II

From here

Part II: Sources and Methods

4. Scripture: Translation, Text, and Tradition

4.a. The Medieval Consensus on the Theological Priority of Scripture. Virtually all medieval theologians, including St. Thomas, agree that Scripture is the "ground of faith" and its authority derives from God’s authorship alone, and transmits the truths that people need to be saved. Christian theology is ultimately just exposition of Scripture.

4.b. The Vulgate Translation of the Bible. The Vulgate was the only Bible used on a widespread basis. From the twelfth century, the glossa ordinaria, a running commentary composed c. 1175, became the usual basis of interpretation. Pre-Reformation vernacular Bibles were all translated from the Vulgate and had little influence, even as a challenge.

4.c. The Humanist Return ad fontes [to the sources]. This meant going back to Greek and Hebrew, and reading the early Fathers, not the scholastic theologians. Knowledge of Hebrew and Greek advanced rapidly after 1505.

4.d. Critique of the Vulgate. Humanist criticism attacked the Vulgate as inaccurate, indirectly weakening the accepted basis for a number of doctrines. Erasmus’s Greek edition of the New Testament was pretty bad by modern philological standards, but still was influential in dethroning the Vulgate.

4.e. The Concept of Tradition. Contrary to post-Tridentine apologetic, late medieval theologians generally held that Scripture is the sole material basis of Christian theology. They believed the Pope’s power was limited to questions of discipline. Doctrines that did not depend on Scripture were distinctly subsidiary.

4.f. The Principle Sola Scriptura. It was not a Reformation innovation. But different streams in late medieval theology are visible: the via moderna tended to emphasize ecclesiastical positivism (church determinations on discipline), the Thomists the coinherence of Scripture and theology with the Papal role restricted to deciding disputed points, and the schola Augustiniana moderna emphasized Scripture over church determinations or metaphysics.

5. The Interpretation of Scripture

5.a. Scholasticism: The Fourfold Sense of Scripture. This was the literal, the allegorical (types of Christ), the anagogical (eschatology), and tropological (morals). Luther used this fourfold division up to 1519.

5.b. Humanism: The Letter and the Spirit. Eventually, humanists rejected the fourfold sense. Erasmus sought moral interpretations. Others, wary of Judaizing in the Old Testament, began around 1500-1510 to distinguish a "literal-historical" sense - - the killing letter - - and a "literal-prophetic" sense - - the saving Spirit - - with the latter reading the Old Testament Christologically.

5.c. Hermeneutics and the Origin of the Reformed Church. Zwingli followed Erasmus closely, but also used typological and allegorical methods (despite criticizing the later). Bucer preferred moral readings.

5.d. Hermeneutics and the Origin of the Lutheran Church. Luther at first used the fourfold sense, but added the distinction of the historical letter and the Christological Spirit. This prophetic reading IS the literal sense. Law and gospel is another common distinction for Luther. His tropological (moral) readings tend to emphasize not what we do, but what God has done. McGrath seems annoyed by the fact that while Luther used the fourfold sense, he felt increasingly free to depart from it without adopting some explicit new hermeneutic. Karlstadt by contrast emphasized the literal sense.

6. The Patristic Testimony

6.a. The Scholastic Reception of Augustine. Augustine was the big authority, but was studied atomistically in "sentences" and there were many works falsely ascribed to him. Hence Augustine was used to support a variety of opinions, some diametrically opposed to what he actually wrote. The fourteenth-fifteenth century schola Augustiniana moderna took the lead in demonstrating the spurious nature of these works, and emphasizing Augustine’s anti-Pelagian writings.

6.b. The Humanist Reception of Augustine. The humanists liked all the fathers better than the scholastics, because they were older and their style was better. Erasmus especially admired first Origen and then Jerome.

6.c. The Patristic Testimony and the Origins of the Reformed Church. Zwingli wasn’t much interested in Augustine, and used his sacramental ideas more than his soteriological ones. By Calvin’s time, Augustine was back on his throne as chief patristic source.

6.d. The Patristic Testimony and the Origins of the Lutheran Church. Luther was influenced through and through by Augustine. But as McGrath points out with apparent annoyance, his idea of imputed, extrinsic righteousness as opposed to infused, intrinsic righteousness, is not from Augustine at all. Karlstadt was a more loyal Augustinian: distinguishing not law and gospel, but law and grace, and not justification by faith alone, but by grace alone. Staupitz advocated double predestination. Melanchthon thought of Augustine as the father who restored the church in declension. Similarities between the Wittenberg school and the schola Augustiniana moderna and humanist return ad fontes appear to be entirely independent. Zwingli and the early Reformers, however, were much closer to the Rennaissance humanist program.

Conclusion: The Intellectual Heterogeneity of the Early Reformation.

The Wittenberg Reformation engaged scholastic theology deeply and critically, and was "desk-bound," academic, dull, and stolid, not populist and reforming. The Swiss Reformation simply ignored scholasticism and was vital, engaging life in its fullness, not just in theological formulations; it was the program of a whole social and ecclesiastical movement. New philological, textual, and exegetical methods were more important for the Reformed than the Wittenberg Reformation. Again, the diversity of late medieval thought, the absence of consensus or an effective magisterium must be noted. Most every one believed in sola scriptura, but the scriptura that was sola was being challenged through philology and Greco-Hebrew studies. Finally, justification by faith was not central to all the Reformation, just the Wittenberg one. It was not important to Zwingli, and only became important to the Reformed with the rise of Calvin. Even at the level of theology (let alone social and political history) the Reformation was not one movement but a constellation of movement.

Originally posted at Here We Stand