Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Historical Roots Of The Reformation And Evangelicalism

(An updated version of this post, with links to more articles, can be found here.)

“In fact, recent research on the Reformation entitles us to sharpen it and to say that the Reformation began because the reformers were too catholic in the midst of a church that had forgotten its catholicity. That generalization applies particularly to Luther and to some of the Anglican reformers, somewhat less to Calvin, still less to Zwingli, least of all to the Anabaptists. But even Zwingli, who occupies the left wing among the classical reformers, retained a surprising amount of catholic substance in his thought, while the breadth and depth of Calvin’s debt to the heritage of the catholic centuries is only now beginning to emerge….There was more to quote [from the church fathers] than their [the reformers’] Roman opponents found comfortable. Every major tenet of the Reformation had considerable support in the catholic tradition. That was eminently true of the central Reformation teaching of justification by faith alone….That the ground of our salvation is the unearned favor of God in Christ, and that all we need do to obtain it is to trust that favor – this was the confession of great catholic saints and teachers….Rome’s reactions [to the Protestant reformers] were the doctrinal decrees of the Council of Trent and the Roman Catechism based upon those decrees. In these decrees, the Council of Trent selected and elevated to official status the notion of justification by faith plus works, which was only one of the doctrines of justification in the medieval theologians and ancient fathers. When the reformers attacked this notion in the name of the doctrine of justification by faith alone – a doctrine also attested to by some medieval theologians and ancient fathers – Rome reacted by canonizing one trend in preference to all the others. What had previously been permitted also (justification by faith alone), now became forbidden. In condemning the Protestant Reformation, the Council of Trent condemned part of its own catholic tradition….Interpreters of the New Testament have suggested a host of meanings for the passage [Matthew 16]. As Roman Catholic scholars now concede, the ancient Christian father Cyprian used it to prove the authority of the bishop – not merely of the Roman bishop, but of every bishop….So traumatic was the effect of the dogma of papal infallibility that the pope did not avail himself of this privilege for eighty years. But when he finally did, by proclaiming the assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on November 1, 1950, he confirmed the suspicions and misgivings of the dogma’s critics. Not only is Scriptural proof obviously lacking for this notion, but the tradition of the early Christian centuries is also silent about it….In asserting their catholicity, the reformers drew upon the church fathers as proof that it was possible to be catholic without being Roman. Study of the fathers thus became an important part of the Protestant panoply as well. In fact, the very word ‘patrology’ as a title for a manual on the church fathers and their works is a Protestant invention, first used by Johann Gerhard (d. 1637). When Protestant liberalism developed during the nineteenth century, one of its principal contributions to theological literature was its work on the fathers. The Patrology of the Roman Catholic scholar Johannes Quasten and an essay by the Jesuit scholar J. de Ghellinck both reveal the dependence even of Roman theologians upon the scholarly achievements of Protestant historians, the outstanding of whom was Adolf Harnack (d. 1930). Although the generation of theologians after Harnack has not been as interested in the field of patristic study, Protestants have not completely forgotten the heritage of the fathers. Meanwhile, Roman Catholics have begun to put an assessment upon the fathers that differs significantly from the traditional one. Instead of measuring the fathers against the standards of a later orthodoxy, Roman Catholic historians now interpret them in the context of their own time. This means, for example, that a church father like Origen is no longer interpreted on the basis of his later (and politically motivated) condemnation for heresy, but on the basis of his own writings and career….The study of the church fathers is now a predominantly Roman Catholic building, even though many of the foundations for it were laid by Protestant hands….the heritage of the fathers does not belong exclusively to either side. Roman Catholics must acknowledge the presence of evangelical or ‘Protestant’ ideas in Irenaeus, and Protestants must come to terms with the catholic elements in the same father.” (Jaroslav Pelikan, The Riddle Of Roman Catholicism [Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1959], pp. 46-49, 51-52, 78, 83, 195-196)

The Papacy (Part 1)
The Papacy (Part 2)
The Episcopate
Apostolic Succession
Infant Baptism (Part 1)
Infant Baptism (Part 2)
The Eucharist
The Sinlessness Of Mary (Part 1)
The Sinlessness Of Mary (Part 2)
The Assumption Of Mary (Part 1)
The Assumption Of Mary (Part 2)
The Perpetual Virginity Of Mary
The Woman Of Revelation 12
Other Marian Beliefs
The Veneration Of Images
Prayers To The Dead
The Apocrypha
Sources Of The Patristic Era Other Than The Church Fathers
Sola Scriptura
Church Infallibility
Where's Protestantism In Early Church History?

1 comment:

  1. Jason, thank you for this thoughtful and thorough summary.