A more topical or thematic approach also unveils varying degrees of continuity between the sixteenth century and Scholasticism.
Barrett will examine this continuity through two case studies: first, natural theology, and second, the fourfold meaning of Scripture.
From John Calvin’s Institutes:
“Again, you cannot behold him clearly unless you acknowledge him to be the fountainhead and source of every good.”
Natural theology enjoyed a continual presence from the church fathers to the Scholastics, at least through the earlier Scholastics to include Thomas. There has been thought in some Reformed circles in the twentieth century that the early Reformers also abandoned this notion. In fact, it is often Calvin that is used to make this argument, even by luminaries such as Karl Barth and Cornelius Van Til. Barrett will present an alternative case.
He starts with a bang, referring to the contemporary translation of Calvin’s Institutes:
Calvin kept at bay Scripture citations in his opening chapters so that he could give proof of God’s existence, but McNeill and Battles have written into the text over forty biblical passages, which only serve to mask Calvin’s argument from natural theology.
Calvin would reference the apostle Paul in Romans 1: God has shown Himself to even the pagans. Further, man prefers to worship even wood and stone, as opposed to not acknowledging that there is a god. Calvin would note that Plato would teach that the highest good of the soul is likeness to God.
Calvin recognized that natural theology couldn’t get him all the way – for example, not to the Trinity. He would write of the need for spectacles of faith. But by this, he did not deny a place for natural theology; he only would keep it within its proper limits.
God is the author of two books – yes, the Scripture, but also nature; Calvin would appeal to the latter to develop a natural theology, even though he did not use the language. If Calvin differed in some way from other key Reformers (from Luther and Melanchthon and Zwingli, even extending into the eighteenth century), it was not on the matter of natural theology: instead, where many other Reformers would see that natural knowledge could aid in knowing who God is, Calvin believed that it could only lead to understanding that God is.
Barrett notes that many key documents of the Reformation point to this embrace of natural theology, from The Belgic Confession to The Westminster Confession.
In summary, the Reformation and its heirs did practice natural theology and in a way that put them, by their own admission, in “broad continuity” with the church catholic.
The Fourfold Meaning of Scripture
As the Quadriga demonstrates, the literal sense was considered indispensable. Allegory teaches “what you should believe, morality teaches what you should do, anagogy what mark you should be aiming for” but the “letter teaches events.”
As early as the sixth century, Gregory the Great would note that the literal is the foundation on which the other meanings were built. Yes, the Reformers criticized allegory, but only where they felt this method was abused. They could condemn it on the one hand, and use it to understand and interpret the Old Testament on the other. For example, Luther and Calvin would interpret the entire canon through the lens of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
How would Luther come to condemn heretical uses of allegory? His appeal was always to the Creed when interpreting the text. He did believe that the fourfold method needed to be complimented by the distinction of law and gospel.
Luther would write:
“When we condemn allegories we are speaking of those that are fabricated by one’s own intellect and ingenuity without the authority of Scripture. Other [allegories] which are made to agree with the analogy of faith not only enrich doctrine but also console consciences.”
Luther would apply a lens that incorporated the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Sacraments.
Current Protestant misconceptions are prejudiced by modernity and the Enlightenment. Richard Muller would warn other historians to not consider that the exegetical methods have more in common with the twentieth century than the medieval period. The Reformers were late medieval men, having far more in common with medieval interpretation than any modern approach.
When moderns witness a Reformer emphasizing the literal sense, they must be careful that do not project the restrictions of a strict historical-grammatical mindset that came much later back into Reformation hermeneutics.
Nothing Barrett writes should be taken to mean that the Reformers did not have concerns. However, what we see in today in their writings when looking back at the history might be greatly influenced by looking through the wrong end of the telescope.
Using these two case studies, Barrett offers that the soil for the Reformers was Scholasticism, but it was a soil in which weeds sprouted. Protestant Scholasticism would blossom from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries.
So, what then provoked the Reformation? Some answers are clear – there were, after all, weeds in the soil. There were two broad loci of disagreement: soteriology and ecclesiology. Yet, the Reformers embraced a majority of the doctrines from the Catholic Church, ranging from the Trinity to Christology to eschatology.
It wasn’t Scholasticism in total that was rejected. It was the development of the via moderna of the late Middle Ages, as exemplified by William of Ockham and Gabriel Biel.
Whether Luther always knew it or not, the source of his soteriological crisis was not so much the pure Scholasticism of the High Middle Ages but the decadent Scholasticism of the late Middle Ages.
The soteriology of the late Middle Ages was a conscious rejection of earlier Scholastics like Thomas. And it is on this point where Barrett considers that the entire story turns.
But this comes next.