Friday, October 17, 2014

Untangling “Tradition” from Scripture in the 13th Century

“Alexander’s comment indicates, thus, his sense both of the priority of Scripture as a source of Christian doctrine and of the sufficiency of the biblical record for the salvation of human beings.”

This is an example of moving back from the brink. At another point, Richard Muller pointed out how “Scripture and ‘the tradition’ had become conflated”, a process that peaked during the 12th century. Later (in the 13th century), this conflation began to come undone, and the “distinction” between the two enabled an emerging doctrine of Scripture to take form during the high Medieval years.

It was discussions of precisely how this came about that led to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

Just as the medieval view of text, canon, and exegesis is the proper background against which the Reformation and the subsequent development of Protestant approaches to Scripture must be understood, so also is the medieval doctrine of Scripture the necessary background to an understanding of the development of an orthodox Protestant doctrine of Scripture.

With striking uniformity the medieval doctors declare the authority of Scripture as the divinely given source of all doctrines of the faith.

They deal, for the most part, quite carefully and precisely with the concept of inspiration, recognizing the need to balance the divine and the human authorship of the text and, with surprising frequency, noting the relationship between the diversity of genre and literary style within the canon and the form taken by the doctrine of inspiration.

This connection between the doctrine of Scripture, specifically of the inspiration of Scripture, the concept of theology as a science, and the development of theological prolegomena, was hardly fortuitous.

The majority of the great scholastic doctors—Alexander of Hales, Bonaventure, Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, Giles of Rome, Henry of Ghent, Duns Scotus—chose to formulate their doctrine of Scripture in the context of theological prolegomena.

At least, the key elements of their doctrine of Scripture were formulated at this point.

Just as the presuppositional issues and definitions of theology that belong to prolegomena are, arguably, among the last elements of theological system to receive formal discussion, so also are the enumeration of principia and sources, and the methodological development of interpretive paradigm aspects of this final effort in codification.

Only when sacra pagina, sacra doctrina, and theologia or, more precisely, the scientia theologiae, had been distinguished could a doctrine of Scripture—in effect, a doctrina doctrinae—emerge.

The greater part of the first question of Alexander of Hales’ Summa, the question “De doctrina theologiae,” is devoted to the discussion of Scripture.

Alexander, observing a basic distinction between the “sacred page” itself and the formulation of theology, identifies theology as a “manner or mode of technique” (modus … artis) for dealing with the “arrangement of divine wisdom” given in the text of Scripture “for the sake of informing the soul of those things that pertain to salvation.”

Alexander’s comment indicates, thus, his sense both of the priority of Scripture as a source of Christian doctrine and of the sufficiency of the biblical record for the salvation of human beings.

This biblical record and the truths it contains partake of a higher certainty than do human reason and human experience.

Significantly, Alexander identifies this biblical disposition of divine wisdom as taking the form of historia and, as one would expect from his comment concerning the higher certainty of theology, a historia not only more correct but also having a higher purpose than other histories.

This identification of the biblical record as historia set at the beginning of Alexander’s Summa testifies to the character of the relationship between medieval exegesis and medieval theology, between sacra pagina and sacra theologia.

The text of Scripture in its fundamental meaning is a historia salvationis from which teaching can be drawn to address Christian faith, love, and hope.

The history of the text itself, its literal meaning, together with its doctrinal implications, correspond with the four elements of the quadriga—while the quadriga or fourfold exegesis, in turn, corresponds with the fundamental needs and interests of theological formulation.

Muller, R. A. (2003). Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise And Development Of Reformed Orthodoxy; Volume 2: The Cognitive Foundation Of Theology (2nd ed., pp. 37–38). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.


  1. I am interested to see if Muller will discuss the emergence of the two-source theory that emerged in the 14th century. Does his book touch upon that John?

    1. I haven't read that far ahead, but I'm sure he will. He's very thorough.