Results tagged “papacy” from Reformation21 Blog

Van Mastricht on the Scholastics


While reading through Petrus Van Mastrichts' Theoretical-Practical Theology, I was intrigued to find his thoughts concerning scholastic theology. In his section on "the Nature of Theology," Van Mastricht wrote:

"It is asked, must theology be taught according to a certain method? As an example of excess, the Scholastics, according to their philosophical theology, loved the philosophical methods of Aristotle--whether it was his analytic or synthetic method--to the point of distraction."1

A little further on, he explained:

"Someone may ask what we should think about scholastic theology, which is a middle way between natural and revealed theology in as much as it teaches revealed things by nature method and arguments. By 'scholastic theology' we do not understand here revealed theology as it is taught in the familiar manner of the schools--which is the sense our Alstead meant when he published his scholastic theology--but rather that philosophical theology that is held in the schools of the papists in order to sustain their doctrine of transubstantiation and other sorts of superstitions. This philosophical theology was born under Lanfranc of Pavia, while he was contending with Berengar over transubstantiation. At that dispute, at every point, Lanfranc lacked the authority of both Augustine and Scripture, in so far as nothing in Augustine or Scripture presents itself in favor of transubstantiation. At least, at that time this philosophical theology was more modest, but afterward, when quite dreadful philosophical terms were contrived, gradually it became more impudent, all the way up to Peter Lombard in his Four Books of Sentences, and from there to Albert the Great and his disciples Thomas Aquinas. By Aquinas, without any shame, not only were those quite dreadful philosophical terms augmented to an enormous extent, but also, disregarding the Scriptures, the heads of the faith began to be demonstrated by philosophical reasons, and even Aristotle, Averroes, and others began to be considered equal to the Scriptures, if not preferred over them. Concerning this kind of scholastic theology, it is now asked, 'what should we think?'"2

Van Mastricht then proceeded to give a series of confirming arguments, by which he asserted the following:

"Since the papists generally find nothing in the Scriptures to reinforce their positions on transubstantiation, the absolute rule of the pope, their own satisfactions and merits, and all other kinds of papal doctrines, they commonly flee to philosophical subtleties and go to the thickets of quite dreadful terms. The Reformed generally think, for the reasons already noted, that the aforementioned type of scholastic theology ought to be rigidly proscribed, and in substance agree with the more discriminating of the papists, such as Desiderius, Erasmus, Melchior Canus, Denis, Petau, and others. Nevertheless, there are among the Reformed those who think we should take the middle way, that scholastic theology ought to be neither entirely preserved nor entirely eliminated, but that it ought to be purged of its blemishes, and only then can it be preserved."3

Finally, he sought to explain in what sense scholastic theology is useful when he noted:

"Scholastic theology is useful 1) in controversies with the papists, since you cannot engage very soundly and fruitfully with them if you are unfamiliar with their style, tricks and thickets; 2) in refuting pagans and atheists; 3) in building up souls concerning revealed truth itself; and, especially 4) in those questions that border on theology on one side and philosophy on the other."4

This, it seems to me, is a thoughtful analysis of the weaknesses and strengths of scholastic theology--an analysis that seems to be largely missing from discussions about it in our day.

1. Petrus Van MasctrichtTheoretical-Practical Theology (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2018) p. 70

2. Ibid., p. 85

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid., p. 86

Sweet simplicity

It has been rather disconcerting to see the British (and, from what I can tell, the world) media fawning over the pomp and pageantry of papal pursuits. The most incisive discussion I heard as the vote was going on was a gentle altercation over whether you wanted to call it 'thrilling theatre' or 'rich ritual.' 'Extravagant superstition' did not seem to be an option.

All rather different to the events reflected in a slim volume dating from 1796, entitled The Duty of Ministers to be nursing Fathers to the Church; and the Duty of Churches to regard  Ministers as the Gift of Christ, a collection of addresses from the ordination of one W. Belsher to the pastorate of the Baptist church meeting in Silver-Street, Worcester. The Rev. G. Osborn gave the opening address, followed by Belsher's confession of faith (it was rather the done thing among Dissenters at the time for the incoming minister to draw up and declare his own personal confession of faith), and then a charge was given to the minister by John Ryland Jr. and a sermon delivered to the church by Samuel Pearce.

I shall give you a snippet of Ryland toward the end, and perhaps a little from Pearce on another date, but what struck me first and forcibly was the sweet simplicity of the process, as outlined by the little-known G. Osborn, outlining what was and was not happening. Osborn had been asked "to introduce this solemn service, and to assign our reasons, as Protestant Dissenters, for such an observance" (5). Disavowing and rejecting "the imposing dominion of any Lord-bishop, or of any Lord-brother, in the prescription of our faith and worship" (5), he explained that the church was seeking to follow Scriptural example and apostolic practice.

Working from Acts 13.3, he dealt first with the essential character and necessary qualifications of Christian ministers, highlighting their moral goodness (knowing and feeling in themselves the evidences and truths of the gospel), spiritual gifts (neither miraculous nor equal in all, but necessary for the work), and disinterested zeal (for the glory of God, the edification of the church, and the good of all mankind). Then he turned to those who separate such to the work of the gospel, a work carried out by the direction and leading of providence, by the free choice of the people themselves, and by solemn acts of devotion, suggesting that simple fasting and prayer would be appropriate on such an occasion, with the laying on of hands as the mark of concurrence in designating the appointed brother a minister and a mode of entreating divine blessing on a particular person. Such, said Osborn, are our views of evangelical ordination: "we only desire to follow Scripture direction and examples" (9).

No smoke, bands, drums, processions, robes, incense, nothing but God's people identifying God's man, equipped and sent by the Spirit of God to preach the Word of God. Here is a sweet simplicity and purposeful purity that puts first things front and centre.

I understand the contention that the Roman Catholic communion does what it does well: call it theatre, call it ritual, in recent days we have seen it raised to the apogee of extravagant emptiness. But in the battle for souls we should not be sucked into trying to compete with such performances, as if - could we only do it as well or better ourselves - we might obtain the same sort of attention and applause. Rather, in Scripture, the men who turned the world upside down (Acts 17.6) did not come with all the childish trappings of worldly glory, but with the gospel of Jesus Christ as Saviour and as Lord. Perhaps we would do better not to try and forge carnal weapons with which to compete with ungodly systems, but rather to strip away a little more of the accretions of performance and showiness, and allow the gospel blade to do its cutting unencumbered by the gaudy and ineffectual trappings of human wisdom and power. I doubt Ryland had il Papa in mind as a counterpoint to the paternal model he was urging upon the new minister in Silver-Street, but his charge points us in a rather different direction for true spiritual fatherliness:
The great essentials of religion, the doctrine of salvation by the blood of the Lamb, and by the renewing of the Holy Spirit, are like daily bread, which must never be forgotten; but the whole system of faith and duty must be brought more and more to light if we would edify the souls of men. I persuade myself, brother, that you will neither affect unscriptural novelties, nor yet confine your whole ministry to four or five favourite points, to the neglect of all the truths in the Bible besides. But all you say, will, I trust, have an ultimate reference to our glorious Redeemer; to shew the need, the suitableness, the glory, the tendency of his great salvation. Him you must preach, as dwelling in his people's hearts, and being the hope of glory: like Paul, warning every man, and teaching every man, in all wisdom; that you may present every one of your hearers perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end you must labor, as long as you can find an unbelieving sinner, or an imperfect saint, striving, according to his working, who worketh in you mightily. Every one of your auditors possesses a soul of inestimable worth, which nothing but the blood of Jesus could have ransomed from eternal burnings. Every one of them demands your pity, your prayer, and your earnest endeavours to subserve his salvation. The rich, who cannot enter into the kingdom of God, but with extreme difficulty; the poor, who must be so wretched in both worlds, if not made heirs of the kingdom; the aged, who stand on the brink of hell, and must fall in, if not very soon converted; the young, who may be so very useful, if called by times, and who are the chief objects of our hope for the continuance of the church, after we are silent in the dust: All the classes into which we can divide our congregations, demands our exertions; and how should it rouse us to think, every time we preach, that some of our hearers are, probably, hearing the last message we can deliver to them from God. (20-21)