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Over the last twenty years research on later sixteenth- and seventeenth-century theology has led to a reappraisal or Protestant scholasticism and its relation to the Reformation. Earlier historians of doctrine viewed Protestant scholasticism as overly rationalistic at the expense of Reformation biblicism, heavily dependent on Aristotelian philosophy, and organized around a central doctrine such as predestination. The current consensus is that Protestant scholasticism reflected the Orthodox theologians’ deep familiarity with and commitment to the scriptural text; that if it did appropriate Aristotle, such appropriation was eclectic rather than slavish; and that the idea of a central dogma organizing all of theology is the creation of the nineteenth, not the sixteenth century. Rather than concentrating on specific content, contemporary discussions emphasize that Protestant scholasticism was at base a method of teaching that was intimately linked to the university lecture hall and given its characteristic “shape” by the use of theological topics or loci arranged in a coherent order.
Just as recent research has transformed the characterization of Protestant scholasticism, so it has also raised new questions about its origins. In his recent overview of “the Problem of Protestant Scholasticism,” Richard Muller has called it “the result of the educational as well as the ideological-confessional institutionalization of the Reformation.” Here he points specifically to the impact of both Agricolan dialectic and the Renaissance Aristotelianism of Zabarella and Suarez. This paper elaborates on Muller’s insight, making more clear the nature of the relationship between the revolution in dialectic and the evolution of Reformed scholasticism in the sixteenth century. Although it owed much to the contributions of Reformers educated in the traditions of late medieval logic (Bucer and Beza) or Italian Renaissance Aristotelianism (Vermigli and Zanchi), Reformed scholasticism was also the unintentional by-product of the German humanists’ enthusiastic embrace of Agricolan topical dialectic and its application to scriptural exegesis.
By the last quarter of the sixteenth century dialectic had re-emerged as an essential tool for theologians. Dialectic’s reappearance in theology was due to a transformation of the discipline itself, a process that occurred in four stages. The first stage, from the end of the fifteenth century into the first two decades of the sixteenth, witnessed the transformation of late medieval logic from a technical discipline concerned with linguistic analysis into a methodology to be applied more generally to the analysis of texts. The second stage, extending from the 1520s through the 1540s, was a time of transition as new textbooks were written and German universities re-organized to teach this new humanist dialectic. These efforts bore fruit during the third stage, extending through the 1550s and 1560s, when a new generation of future pastors and theologians received ever more intense training in the application of dialectic to the explication of texts. At the same time, future theologians were given more advanced training in dialectic, which increased their proficiency in Aristotelian dialectic far beyond that of the previous generation. These developments paved the way for the fourth and final stage, apparent by the 1570s, when there was a shift away from the more philological and rhetorical exegesis typical of the first generation of the Reformation to a method of exegesis shaped by a dialectic increasingly influenced by direct study of Aristotle’s logical works. A survey of the changes made to instruction in dialectic over the course of the sixteenth century makes the differences between each of these phases clear.
Topics or figures discussed include: Lorenzo Valla, Rudolf Agricola, Philipp Melanchthon, Johann Caesarius, Johann Gut, Bonifacius Amerbach, Heinrich Pantaleon, Johann Jakob Amman, Johann Sturm, Justus Velsius, Jodocus Willichius, Jodocus Perionius, Johann Hospinian, Martin Borrhaus, Johann Jakob Grynaeus, Simon Sulzer, Lambert Daneau, Antoine de la Roche Chandieu, and Aristotle’s Organon.