A Practical Scholasticism? Edward Leigh’s Theological Method -- By: James E. Dolezal

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 71:2 (Fall 2009)
Article: A Practical Scholasticism? Edward Leigh’s Theological Method
Author: James E. Dolezal


A Practical Scholasticism?
Edward Leigh’s Theological Method

James E. Dolezal

James E. Dolezal is a Ph.D. student in systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary.

I. Introduction

Can scholastic theology be practical? Debate over this issue has persisted for centuries and has not been an insignificant question within recent Reformation and Post-Reformation historiography. Some historians assert that the first two generations of Protestant Reformers were primarily concerned with the religion of the heart whereas the Post-Reformation theologians (beginning roughly in the 1560s) shifted the focus of divinity away from the heart and toward the intellect.1 The Post-Reformation appropriation of scholasticism is said to be in conflict with the humanism seen in the Reformers. Hence, Brian Armstrong, a proponent of this thesis, asserts that by 1660 “the major part of international Calvinism had replaced with a quite different theological expression and spirit the humanistic orientation which characterized most of the early reform movements. The phenomenon many have called Protestant scholasticism had set in.”2 Clearly humanism and scholasticism have been assumed to be fundamentally at odds in this perspective.

Armstrong, while acknowledging the difficulty of precisely defining Protestant scholasticism, suggests that it has four identifiable tendencies. First, it tends to assert religious truth on the basis of deductive ratiocination from assumed principles. Therefore, it relates to medieval scholasticism in that it shares the same commitment to Aristotelian philosophy. Second, it elevates reason in religious matters to at least an equal standing with faith, and so subverts the authority of revelation. Third, it embraces the notion that Scripture contains a unified and rationally understandable system of doctrine that can be formed into a statement so definitive as to be the measure of orthodoxy. Fourth, it manifests a “pronounced interest in metaphysical matters, in abstract, speculative thought, particularly with reference to the doctrine of God.”3 Indeed, this “rationalistic” approach is thought to represent “a profound divergence from the humanistically oriented religion of John Calvin and most of the early reformers.”4

This carving up of the Reformed tradition that reads Calvin as a humanist fundamentally opposed to the seventeenth-century scholastic Calvinists has not gone unchallenged.

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