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“A Child of the Renaissance as Well as the Middle Ages”

Toward the beginning of the first volume of his Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, Richard Muller makes an important qualification with respect to the use of “scholasticism” by the Reformed: it was not identical to medieval scholasticism(s), but was instead the offspring of strands of the medieval intellectual tradition and Renaissance humanism (some trads would probably consider this the marriage of heaven and hell, but it’s more like the nuptials of philosophy and philology). That is to say, the meaning of the term undergoes development once it has been leavened by the concerns of Renaissance thinkers and scholars and their epigones.

Muller writes:

In addition, the school method or scholasticism that belonged to the academic culture of Europe from the twelfth to the seventeenth and even eighteenth century underwent significant changes in the course of its own history. Thus, the scholasticism of the late Renaissance, as appropriated by the Protestant orthodox, is not at all identical to the scholasticism of Thomas Aquinas. Seventeenth-century scholasticism is characterized by a thorough use and technical mastery of the tools of linguistic, philosophical, logical, and traditional thought. The master of ancient languages typical of Protestant scholastic writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, like their use of the locus method and inclusion of elements of rhetorical as distinct from demonstrative argumentation, serves to distinguish this later scholasticism from its medieval ancestor: in each of these characteristics, Protestant scholasticism evidences itself a child of the Renaissance as well as a child of the Middle Ages. In short, significant elements of the nominally “scholastic” method of the Protestant orthodox derive not from medieval scholasticism but from Renaissance humanism. This mixed heritage of Protestant orthodoxy is an indication of the kind of continuity that developing Protestantism maintained with the Reformation–which itself drew on both the scholastic and humanist models. (35-6)

“Scholasticism,” as Muller discusses it here, speaks mostly of a method and the employment of a set of scholarly tools that are required for the method’s appropriate practice. Thus it does not conclude at the outset in favor of particular types of content; it does not, for example, declare the necessity of any one kind of philosophy–even Aristotelian philosophy. As Muller writes shortly after the passage above:

[W]hen Protestant scholasticism is approached by way of the documents and materials of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and an assessment of its style, methods, and contents is based directly on the definitions and the methods evidenced in the seventeenth-century systems, the result explicitly opposed the view of several recent scholars according to which “scholasticism” can be identified specifically with a use of Aristotelian philosophy, a pronounced metaphysical interest, and the use of predestination as an organizing principle in theological system. (36)

Given that retrieval of our Protestant forebears is something of a hot topic these days (and rightly so), we would do well to keep these features of their scholarly endeavors in mind: for instance, rigorous discipline in thought, technical aptitude, and breadth.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.

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