Scholasticism, Reformation, Orthodoxy, and the Persistence of Christian Aristotelianism -- By: Richard A. Muller

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 19:1 (Spring 1998)
Article: Scholasticism, Reformation, Orthodoxy, and the Persistence of Christian Aristotelianism
Author: Richard A. Muller


Scholasticism, Reformation, Orthodoxy,
and the Persistence of
Christian Aristotelianism

Richard A. Muller*

* Richard A. Muller is the P. J. Zondervan Professor of Historical Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

I. Introduction: Reformation and the Persistence of Christian Aristotelianism

In a recent essay on the origins of Luther’s Reformation, Ronald Frost objects to the claim that the theological movement from the later Middle Ages, to the Reformation, to the era of Protestant orthodoxy ought to be measured, in part, against the background of what can be identified as a continuance and development of “Christian Aristotelianism.” He argues, in particular, that Luther posed his theology of reform so strongly against Aristotle that the central focus of the Reformation itself must be understood as fundamentally anti-Aristotelian. Over against the “Aristotelian-scholastic” theology of the Middle Ages, specifically against the “semi-Pelagian” Aristotelian position of Thomas Aquinas, Luther affirmed a fundamentally Augustinian view.1 Given the fundamental anti-Aristotelian nature of Luther’s theology, any approach to the development of Protestant thought that raises the issue of Christian Aristotelianism as an index of theological development amounts to a dismissal of “Luther’s most explicit concerns.”2 Frost concludes that, “to the degree that Luther failed” in ridding the church of “central Aristotelian assumptions,” the Reformation itself was “stillborn.” Indeed, “the continued use of Aristotle’s works by Protestant universities during and after the Reformation promoted [the] miscarriage.”3

It can easily be countered that Frost offers the disproof of his own argument. He acknowledges that Luther’s anti-Aristotelianism did not remove the philosopher’s writings and ideas from the Protestant universities and did not succeed in permanently rooting out Aristotelian forms and concepts from Protestant theology. Inasmuch as Luther was unsuccessful in this project, the persistence

of Christian Aristotelianism becomes all the more important for understanding the relationship between the Reformation and later Protestant theology. Frost’s acknowledgment of the failure of Luther’s radically stated anti-Aristotelian project also points toward the reason, contrary to his assertions, that historians must look not only to the most famous of the Reformers (or, indeed, to their most polemical or even hyperbolic statements) but also to their contemporaries, and must seek multiple antecedents for later Protestant thought rather ...

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