Dr. John H. Gerstner on Thomas Aquinas as a Protestant -- By: Robert L. Reymond

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 59:1 (Spring 1997)
Article: Dr. John H. Gerstner on Thomas Aquinas as a Protestant
Author: Robert L. Reymond


Dr. John H. Gerstner on Thomas Aquinas as a Protestant

Robert L. Reymond

[Ed. note: This article was submitted and accepted for publication prior to Dr. Gerstner’s death. Our intention in publishing it is not to criticize Dr. Gerstner unfairly, even though the timing of publication is unfortunate. But out of fairness to the author and to Dr. Gerstner, a man who did not back away from vigorous debate, we have decided to print this article.]

In his article, “Aquinas Was a Protestant,” which appeared in the May 1994 issue of Tabletalk, the popular monthly devotional publication of Ligonier Ministries, Inc., edited by R. C. Sproul, Jr., Dr. John H. Gerstner1 declares that Thomas Aquinas (1225–74) “was a medieval Protestant teaching the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone” (13)—indeed, that he “taught the biblical doctrine of justification” (14)2 and that he was “one of Protestantism’s greatest theologians” (14). While he acknowledges that Augustine did not adequately develop the forensic element in justification, he asserts that Aquinas “was not led astray” but “with Augustine taught the biblical doctrine of justification so that if the Roman church had followed Aquinas the Reformation would not have been absolutely necessary” (14).3 He calls the supposition, drawn by both Roman Catholic and Protestant theologians alike, that Aquinas was a “modern tridentine Romanist” a “pernicious error” (14). He draws these conclusions because, he says, “Aquinas taught a doctrine of iustificatio impii, a justification of the

impious” (14).4 What is surprising—indeed, quite startling—about Dr. Gerstner’s assessment of Aquinas is that in this same article he admits that Aquinas (1) “unfortunately attributed…undue power to the sacraments” (13–14), (2) understood iustificatio impii in terms of “remission and infusion of sanctifying grace” (14),5 and (3) “does not state the ‘imputation’ of Christ’s

righteousness” (14). But in spite of these doctrinal deficiencies, Dr. Gerstner states, Aquinas’ teaching on justification is still “essentially the biblical (and Reformation) doctrine” (14).

Perhaps one reason behind Dr. Gerstner’s apologia on Aquinas’ behalf (he does not advance it himself in the article under review, but I must assume that it is an aspect of his fin...

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