“Scholasticism, Reformation, Orthodoxy, and the Persistence of Christian Aristotelianism”: A Brief Rejoinder -- By: Ronald N. Frost

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 19:1 (Spring 1998)
Article: “Scholasticism, Reformation, Orthodoxy, and the Persistence of Christian Aristotelianism”: A Brief Rejoinder
Author: Ronald N. Frost


“Scholasticism, Reformation, Orthodoxy, and the Persistence of Christian Aristotelianism”:
A Brief Rejoinder

Ronald N. Frost*

*Ronald N. Frost is the Assistant Professor of Historical Theology as Multnomah Biblical Seminary in Portland, Oregon.

I welcome Richard A. Muller’s robust response to my “Aristotle’s Ethics: The Real Reason for Luther’s Reformation?”1 in that it highlights some of the issues which first led me to write the essay. Before responding to his discussion, though, I wish to express real appreciation for Muller’s meticulous and insightful analyses of post-Reformation Protestant Orthodoxy as offered in his many publications. All students of this period are obliged to draw on his work. That expertise is very obvious in the present essay. Given that, I am surprised and disappointed to find that he misses my central argument. My work had everything to do with the function of affectionate theology in Luther’s reforming activism and very little to do with most of the issues he raises. Indeed, I am confident that if readers were to begin with Muller’s essay before reading my piece, they would be startled to discover my actual concerns.

Lest the misunderstanding remain I will restate and sharpen the principal issue I addressed, namely Luther’s rejection of crucial assumptions about anthropology and ethics in the theology of his day. He adopted, instead, the affective theology that Augustine affirmed in the midst of his debate with Pelagius.

I. The Self-Moved Will Versus The Affections

Luther rejected a theology based on an assumption that the human will is the faculty of the soul that chooses either good or evil, thus making the will the moral center of the soul. In this theology grace, construed as both created (a quality or habitus sent forth by God) and uncreated (a capacity of God’s character), is the means by which God works his salvation. Those who are saved are enabled by God’s infusion of habitus to choose rightly. Luther viewed these assumptions as unbiblical distortions, attributable to Aristotle’s illicit influence in scholastic theology — with Thomas Aquinas seen as a

chief purveyor of the error. Luther looked to Augustine to adjudicate his own reading of the Bible on the question. In the essay I explained that it is important to understand “Luther’s claim that the will is in bondage because of its faulty affections, as Augustine held, rather than ‘free’ in the manner that Aristotle’s ethics assumed.”2 Aristotle held that the will is “self-moved,” while “in Augustine’s model of the human will the affective component is...

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