The Reformation altered comparatively few of the major loci of [Scholastic] theology: the doctrines of justification, the sacraments, and the church received the greatest emphasis, while the doctrines of God, the trinity, creation, providence, predestination, and the last things were taken over by the magisterial Reformation virtually without alteration.
- Richard Muller, “Scholasticism in Calvin
The “Sounder Scholastic” in the title refers to Thomas Aquinas. This is how some of the later Reformers would refer to him, “sounder” as opposed to Ockham and Biel, who were discussed in an earlier installment.
There is the stereotype of Luther’s relationship to Scholasticism, and, therefore, to Thomas as the pre-eminent Scholastic – one of complete rejection. It is this story that will be examined here, although not precisely:
The story of Thomas Aquinas and Protestantism has yet to be written, and it is not identical with the story of Thomas and Luther.
- David Steinmetz, Luther in Context
The story of Christendom did not require Luther in 1517 to throw mud on the legacy of Thomas Aquinas:
In 1277, the dirt over his tomb was still fresh when concepts derivative from Thomas were denounced in Oxford. Thomas had devoted much of his career to Paris only for ecclesiastical authorities to damn his teaching that same year.
Barrett begins this chapter with a somewhat detailed examination of Thomas’s life and work: the connection to Aristotle, his work on the two Summas, etc. I will skip over these, as these have been covered often by others and elsewhere. Instead, I will focus on various doctrinal issues – similarities and differences between Thomas and the Reformers.
“All who are born of Adam can be considered as one man by reason of sharing the one nature inherited from the first parent….”
Who wrote that, Thomas or one of the prominent Reformers? It is found in the Summa. Thomas followed Augustine, concluding that original sin involves a habit (habitus) – meaning a disposition in one’s nature.
Due to original sin, human nature is now infected: “Original sin is called a sickness of nature.” Describing this habit of original sin, he would write:
“For it is a disordered disposition growing from the dissolution of that harmony in which original justice consisted.”
With the lack of original justice, we have nothing that subjects us to the will of God. Is man’s nature totally obliterated? Here, Thomas would offer a nuanced reply, with three points to consider: there are the powers of the soul and the like; these powers offer an inclination to the good, toward virtue; original justice was a gift bestowed to the first man.
To the first, it is neither destroyed or lessened. After the fall, corrupted though we might be, we still retain human nature – the rational soul, the will, intellect, etc. Barrett does not elaborate on how the Reformers would react to this point, however I will offer: it seems clear merely by observation that man retains something that makes him different from the animals, something that is retained from God having breathed into man – and only man.
To the third, original justice: this has been totally removed. Certainly, Reformers used fiercer language, but on this point, they would have agreed with Thomas.
However, to the second point, man’s inclination to virtue remains. Later Barrett comes to Thomas’s understanding of grace – a necessary discussion regarding this topic. But to summarize, grace remains the requirement, the move of the first mover. Thomas does write that virtue is “lessened through sin.” A Reformer like Luther would not have considered this damning enough. But Thomas does elaborate: “The will becomes hardened against the true good,” an elaboration that would have found at least appreciation within the thought of many Reformers.