The Moral Theology of William Ames by J. van Vliet, Ph.D.William Ames (1576-1633) - One of the Greatest Theological Puritans and Writers
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“The first act of religion, therefore, concerns those things which are communicated to us from God. The other concerns those things which we yield to God.”
This morning I want to explore the casuistry or practical theology of William Ames (1576-1633) and trace its evolution from the earliest Puritan casuistry to the system of moral theology of the Reformed tradition. Along the way I provide some reasons for the development of Puritan casuistry, observe Ames’ use of French Huguenot Peter Ramus (1515-72), note Ames’ improvement over his predecessors, point out his focus on the will as the center of the act of faith and obedience, and finally conduct a close comparison of the case divinity of William Perkins (1558-1602) and William Ames. I show how it is that Ames’ casuistry represents the informed piety of the Reformed tradition.
B. Reasons for Puritan Casuistry
Through the course of evolving Reformed system and tradition, as the Reformation matured into what became the post-Reformation period, it became very apparent that there did not exist a moral compass for the conduct of the daily life of the faithful. Living to God was often easier said then done. What was to be the guide for an obedient, Christian faith-walk? How could Calvin’s exhortation to godliness be followed without direction? No doubt the concern at the newly-formed Academy at Franeker was how the recently-acquired Professor Amesius would teach his uniquely-defined theology without a pedagogical plan for the teaching of piety. Thus the venerated Englishman wrote his own treatise, to “excite to this kind of study.”[i]
The need for casuistry in England was most apparent with the abolition of the medieval church’s confessional system at the Reformation.[ii] Although teaching on casuistry existed in the Roman Catholic Church since the Middle Ages,[iii] the Protestant church was at its early stage of development in this area. Much of what did exist had to do more with one’s relationship to God, chiefly insecurity regarding grace and assurance. Recall that for William Perkins, so significant was the question of the greatest case of conscience there ever was – how a man may know whether he be the child of God or no – that he wrote an entire volume on just this case.[iv] Although ministers in post-Reformation England dispensed sound advice verbally, and casuistry was considered an essential task of a minister of the gospel, a written literature had not developed and was in great demand.[v]
To fill this lacuna, William Perkins, the father of Puritanism, penned the first Protestant casuistic exercise and, with this work, Puritan casuistry was born, an effort that, under the more Reformed reconstruction by architect William Ames became the first manual for the practice of informed Reformed pietism.[vi] And although Ames, somewhat more judiciously than his teacher Perkins, made liberal use of thinkers and theologians of the church of Rome, it remained his preference that “the children of Israel should not need to goe downe to the Philistims (that is, our Students to Popish Authors) to sharpen every man his share, his Mattocke, or his Axe, or his weeding Hooke, as it fell out in the Extreame necessity of Gods people.”[vii] After lecturing on casuistry since 1622, Ames crowned his teaching in 1630 with the publication of Cases of Conscience, a seminal work on moral theology that filled an “unwarranted gap in the contemporary study of theology.”[viii]
Some cultural reasons as well encouraged Ames to focus on casuistry: for example – the dead orthodoxy he found prevalent in the Netherlands (in the academy, the church, and the culture generally). He was also greatly concerned with what he perceived to be the moral slide as evidenced by Sabbath-breaking and by tendencies towards gambling. He had, as sympathizers, Dutch Pietists and church leaders Willem Teelinck (1579-1629) and Gisbertus Voet (1589-1676), the two foremost figures in the post-Reformation Netherlands both vastly interested in societal and church reform. They also desired further reformation in the direction of a more pious system of faith and life, a healthy Christian balance in which orthodoxy would intersect with orthopraxy. For ultimately, when all is said and done, “Such as the life is, such is the end.”[ix]
C. The Influence of Peter Ramus: Style and Substance
While at Cambridge before his self-imposed exile to the Netherlands, Ames was exposed to and influenced by a new philosophy developed by Peter Ramus (1515-72), a sixteenth century Reformed French philosopher.[x] Ramus developed a new approach to knowledge to displace what he considered to be the artificial system of Aristotle and the speculation of the schoolmen.[xi] Ramus scorned Aristotle’s rejection of the distinction between theoretical and practical disciplines in theological science. In agreement, Ames held that “science was to turn toward reality, was always to be directed toward experience, and was to keep practical use in view.”[xii]
Ramus’ new system of philosophy was triple-focussed: his concerns were those of pedagogy, accessibility and practicality. First, in developing his system for study of the arts, Ramus developed a new framework for logic, grammar, rhetoric and religion along lines more akin to natural reasoning yet along the deductive method of Aristotle, whereby the movement in logic is from general to specific, a passing from universals to particulars.[xiii] The program he taught was primarily a method of organization discernible by dichotomy and it was used, especially by Ames, not as a substitute for but as a modification of scholastic system.[xiv] Second, Ramus was also a French Protestant, concerned with making the faith accessible to the common man and woman. This concern led to an interest in making theology precise, methodical and teachable, one cleansed from the scholastic influence. Third, it was not only the Aristotelian philosophy and method against which Ramus reacted. Close to Ramus’ heart was a concern for ethics. Biblical ethics knew nothing of the ethics of Aristotle, said Ramus.[xv] Such a practical system, with its emphasis on method to make theology more usable and understandable, found a devoted disciple in William Ames.[xvi] For Ames, faith and works are seamlessly unified, indistinguishable in the life of the believer. In Technometry he demonstrates his disdain for those who treat theology and ethics separately.[xvii]
This three-pronged interrelated emphasis of form and substance in the Ramist system had a tremendous impact on Ames’ thought and work. It provided the philosophical and pedagogical legitimization for Ames’ definition of theology by joining ethics with theology and, through the use of the (scholastic) hypothetical syllogism, it forced the Christian pilgrim to make a decision based on comparing God’s law with his or her faith and morals.
2) Calvin, Ramus, Perkins and Ames on Theology
Peter Ramus held that “theology is the doctrine of living well.”[xviii] Perkins, coming after Ramus maintained that theology is “the science of living blessedly forever.”[xix] But for Ames, coming a generation later, it had to be even more precise: theology is the “doctrine of living to God.”[xx] What are we to make of this progression?[xxi]
Perkins found the source and fountain of living blessedly forever in the knowledge of God. True knowledge of God was secured by way of cognitive dialectic that involved knowledge of self. Perkins then goes on to elaborate on just who and what God is and his work. Perkins could have been transcribing straight from John Calvin’s Institutes when he penned this first chapter of Chaine. For Calvin, the knowledge of God the Creator was obtained in a similar way: “Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God” and “Without knowledge of God, there is no knowledge of self.”[xxii] And although Calvin does not explicitly offer a definition of theology in the precise format of Ramus, Perkins, and Ames, he does ask: To what purpose does the knowledge of God tend? He answers that “our knowledge should serve first to teach us fear and reverence; secondly, with it as our guide and teacher, we should learn to seek every good from him, and, having received it, to credit it to his account.”[xxiii] Or, as he put it elsewhere, only there is God known where there is religion or piety.[xxiv]
Does Perkins make this Calvinian connecting link between knowledge of God and “willing reverence and worship?” Although it is not explicit, we did note his assertions that “theology is the science of living blessedly forever” and “the body of scripture is a doctrine sufficient to live well.”[xxv] It is thus fair to say that Perkins derives his understanding of theology and its nature from Calvin – knowledge of God and knowledge of self with a view to living blessedly forever.[xxvi] Ian Breward was correct when he said that “[Perkins’] definition of theology was a combination of Peter Ramus and John Calvin, and the arrangement of the whole work, prefaced as it was by a formidable looking diagram, owed a good deal to Ramist categories of arrangement and Aristotelian logic.”[xxvii]
William Ames diverges considerably from this Calvinian/Perkinsian emphasis in his stress on doing. Knowledge, intellectual apprehension, qualified as this might be with statements of “living blessedly” was not sufficient for Ames. He was seeking something much more activistic; after all, “theology is the doctrine of living to God.” It is called doctrine because it is divinely revealed. But more than that, humanity, made in the image of God, must emulate him and “since the highest kind of life for a human being is that which approaches most closely the living and life-giving God, the nature of theological life is living to God.”[xxviii] This is accomplished by living in accord with God’s will and to his glory.[xxix] And then, as if consciously wishing to refine Perkins’ definition, Ames asserts that “although it is within the compass of life to live both happily and well, living well is more excellent than living happily.”[xxx] Here Ames re-emphasizes Ramus’ definition of theology – living well. Lest Perkins’ definition of theology might lead one to believe that living blessedly could be self-serving, Ames makes the following clarification: “What chiefly and finally ought to be striven for is not happiness which has to do with our own pleasure, but goodness which looks to God’s glory. For this reason, theology is better defined as that good life whereby we live to God than as that happy life whereby we live to ourselves.”[xxxi]
In this fashion Ames provides a corrective to Perkins’ more open-ended definition, and a solution to what Peter Ramus considered to be a chief problem in theology: the relation between living blessedly and living rightly.[xxxii] Ramus concluded that the latter was to be preferred over the former, that “the righteous life was to be set over the blessed life; a life rightly lived is a life of response to God, the source of all righteousness.”[xxxiii] John Eusden is to the point as well when he asserts that “for Ames the end of theology was never to produce blessedness, which he felt related chiefly to man’s ultimate aspiration and desire. In a search for his own blessedness, man could miss God, the very object of his living rightly.”[xxxiv]
To complement this unique (activistic) understanding of theology, it is not surprising that William Ames teaches the priority of the volitional faculty, the will. If theology is the doctrine of living to God, what is the subject of theology? Perkins and Calvin before him would have to say the intellect. For knowledge begins there and, as Perkins said, the intellect is to the soul “as the wagginer to the waggin.” But this is precisely where Ames differs radically from his professor:
Furthermore, since this life is the spiritual work of the whole man, in which he is brought to enjoy God and to act according to his will, and since it certainly has to do with man’s will, it follows that the first and proper subject of theology is the will. Prov. 4:23, From the heart come the acts of life; and 23:26, Give me your heart.[xxxv]
The proper subject of faith is the will as well.[xxxvi] As if attempting to refine both Calvin and Perkins (and others who place faith in the understanding and the will, Ames closes this chapter with a lengthy and cogent justification for his placement of faith exclusively in the will on the grounds that faith is a single virtue and therefore indivisible.[xxxvii]
Thus, although their respective theological systems both made use of Ramist methodological and logical categories, Perkins was less a disciple of the French philosopher than was Ames whose commitment to Ramism, as we’ve shown, dominated his entire system. Their theological emphases were clearly distinctive. William Perkins was heavily indebted to John Calvin and to the legacy of Thomas before him; William Ames cleared a new theological path because of his commitment to the view that theology could only be understood first and foremost as a practical doctrine – the doctrine of living to God. Here Peter Ramus can be said to have had a stronger influence on Ames than did Calvin.
There is an identifiable advance here.[xxxviii] We move from Thomas Aquinas, through John Calvin and Peter Ramus, to the Puritans William Perkins and William Ames. Calvin’s approach is very scholastic; even his categories and organization, to a greater or lesser degree, borrow from Thomas, but he decidedly separates himself from the medieval Doctor where it matters most: by firmly anchoring his theology in revelation, not reason. Nowhere do revelation and reason appear on equal terms in Calvin, although he accords reason and the intellect pride of place in the subjective appropriation of objective revelation, and this through general and special revelation. By contrast, for Ames God is the object, not of scholastic knowledge, but of an active faith. It is not until Chapter 34 of Book 1 of Marrow that Ames introduces his views of the doctrine of scripture; Calvin begins this study as early as Chapter 6 of Institutes.
Now we come to Ramus who seeks to toss out both Aristotelian philosophy and method with his own replacements. As Perkins and Ames appear on the horizon, the former recasts Calvin and Beza in Ramist categories while the latter’s commitment to Ramist logic, method and philosophy has resulted in significant modifications to some Calvinian priorities. We have seen that the chief of these had to do with the subject and object of theology – for Ames the faculty of the will, and God, respectively. Calvin was more Thomistic in his presentation in his emphasis on intellect in the knowledge of God, while Perkins began moving in a direction finessed by Ames. Perkins, finally, owed much more to Calvin than did Ames, who blazed his own theological trail through the Thomist, Calvinian, Ramist and Perkinsian paths before him.
D. The Casuistry of William Ames: Taking William Perkins out of the Medieval Tradition
1) The Essence of Early Puritan Casuistry: Ames’ Theory of Conscience
For Perkins, conscience is of divine quality, placed by God between himself and humanity, combining two parties in the knowledge of a secret. Deriving the meaning from the etymology of the word, Perkins reasons that this combination (scire, to know, and conscire, to know together “some one secret thing”) can only be between man and God.[xxxix] Further, it belongs to the duties of this conscience to give testimony and to give judgment. Conscience is the arbitrator, working on behalf of the Creator to pronounce either for or against the creature in passing sentence on all of man’s thoughts, words and deeds. The proper subject of conscience so defined, Perkins repeats, are “reasonable creatures” – men and angels.[xl]
William Ames’ casuistry, although penned to address the same concern as that of Perkins, is a much more integral part of Ames’ works. It flows directly from his definition of theology and his practical concern for godly living.[xli]
In Book 1 of his 5-book collection on casuistry, Ames discusses the nature of conscience. He defines it as follows, somewhat more carefully than did Perkins: “The conscience of man (for I doe not intend to treat of the conscience of angels) is a mans judgement of himself, according to the judgement of God of him.”[xlii] With Perkins he explains that conscience results from exercising the intellect, not the will, because it utilizes judgment which belongs to the faculty of reason. But this intellectual exercise is more than just bare assent to facts or “apprehension of the truth;” rather, this judgment presupposes an already “firm and settled” truth. Consequently, it is not a “contemplative judgement, whereby truth is simply discerned from falsehood: but a practicall judgement, by which, that which a man knoweth is particularly applyed to that which is either good or evill to him, to the end that it may be a rule within him to direct his will.”[xliii]
Both Puritans hold that “conscience gives judgement in or by a kind of reasoning or disputing, called a practicall syllogisme. Rom. 2.15. Their reasoning accusing or excusing each other.”[xliv] This adjudication works in the court of one’s conscience by way of syllogism. This three-statement construct is the field of operation of the mind and the memory. It comprises the proposition, the assumption and the conclusion and by deduction makes a judgment. Ames illustrates: the first statement – the proposition – is the law, the objective biblical teaching with respect to a particular subject, propositional truth, as it were, e.g., “He that lives in sinne, shall dye.” The second statement – the assumption – Ames calls an index or a book, i.e., an observation on the state of things relative to the proposition, e.g., “I live in sinne.” And finally, the third statement – the conclusion – is designated the judge, e.g., “Therefore, I shall dye.”[xlv] Ames concludes:
In that Syllogisme alone is contained the whole nature of Conscience. The Proposition treateth of the Law; the Assumption of the fact or state, and the Conclusion of the relation arising from the fact or state, in regard of that Law; The Conclusion either pronounceth one guilty, or giveth spirituall peace and security.[xlvi]
Ames observes that it is the “synteresis” which provides the proposition; this synteresis is none other than biblical law.[xlvii]
I want to point out one final but central Amesian emphasis before moving on to a comparison of Ames’ case divinity with that of William Perkins. This is his deliberate attribution of conscience as “act.” Perkins held that conscience was “faculty” – an inherent power or capability that can effect change. Scotus and other Schoolmen opted for conscience as “habit” – a characteristic predisposed to and enabling change (presumably from disobedience to obedience). But neither faculty, nor habit are enough. Only with conscience as act can Ames’ consistently argue that Christian experimentalism (Christian activism) is pure active obedience and involves more than an inherent aptitude to change behavior. Act is change. With conscience as act, the judgment of the intellect, stirs the habit (an enabling predisposition), and motivates the faculty (an inherent capability) to change. Hand-in-hand with the hypothetical or practical syllogism, conscience as act must produce an effect in keeping with the judgment arising from a comparison of behavior to its standard (the Ten Commandments). Ames is in pursuit of pure act, not just a propensity to act, because only pure act is a mark of obedience to the grace given in the covenant relationship. Nothing less than act will do for William Ames, and this understanding of conscience is key in the construction of the theoretical foundations for the case divinity that follows. And it is through use of the hypothetical syllogism that one is confronted with the truth of the law, the truth of one’s behavior, and the truth of the subsequent judgment, a judgment rendered when one’s behavior is measured against the plumb line of the authority (or the proposition as it is called in the practical syllogism).
a) 2) The Medieval Character of Perkins’ Case Divinity
In this section we examine the development and structure of the case divinity of William Perkins and William Ames. This will help us determine the degree to which they both utilize existing philosophical thinking and advance case divinity in a biblical direction. We have mentioned that both Perkins and Ames develop their case-divinity after they have established their theoretical principles of conscience. Perkins, whose case-divinity appears in a volume separate altogether from his theoretical treatment in The Whole Treatise of the Cases of Conscience, constructs his practical theology under three main headings (three books), each subdivided into any number of Ramist dichotomies.
Book 1 has as theme “man simply considered in himselfe without relation to another” and is essentially a treatise on human nature, spiritually conceived. It covers such topics as confession, sin, salvation (a large part devoted to preparationism), assurance and five “distresses of mind” and the comfort afforded these.[xlviii] All remedies begin with repentance and faith. “In case of affliction,” he says, “we must not live by feeling but by faith.”[xlix] If there is an undercurrent throughout, it would focus on the theme of the assurance of faith and salvation. Now remember that, for Perkins, this represented the greatest of all cases of conscience.[l] Yet there are surprises for the reader as, for example, Perkins’ apparent approval of the scholastic distinction between mortal and venial sins.[li]
In Book 2, Perkins examines case-divinity “concerning Man as he stands in relation to God.” The focus is fourfold: theology proper, scriptures, worship, and the Sabbath. Of interest in this book is Perkins’ exhaustive coverage of the arguments for the existence of God.[lii] These proofs, he claims, are useful in apologetics and are preparatory to faith.[liii] The remainder of Book 2 is devoted to material having to do with christology, the scriptures, religion and worship.[liv]
In Book 3 Perkins discusses case-divinity “concerning Man as he stands in relation to Man.” This book, both its organizing principles and its content will surprise the reader. The book begins with an excursus of virtue, which he defines as “a gift of the Spirit of God, and a part of regeneration, whereby a man is made apt to live well.”[lv] His case-divinity focuses on the virtues of prudence, clemency, temperance, liberality and justice, under which heads Perkins addresses moral dilemmas arising in the course of human relations against the backdrop of the social issues of the day. Such issues as forgiveness, self-defense, use of money, proper dress, recreation and reputation are discussed and resolved. This ends Perkins’ case divinity.
3) The Biblical Character of Ames’ Case Divinity
When compared against the case-divinity of William Perkins, our study of William Ames’ massive one volume, five-book work on conscience already mentioned uncovers some significant differences.
We have discussed already the topic of Book 1 – the theory of conscience and Ames’ reliance and use of scholastic categories. The remainder of this first book follows Perkins’ format and represents further elaboration of the conscience and its workings.[lvi] The book closes with a brief summary including four corollaries that were publicly debated “to encourage and stirre up to the study of Practicall Divinity.”[lvii] It is not surprising that Ames’ pedagogical technique is almost entirely Ramist.
The second book flows naturally from the first. Having elucidated the nature of conscience, Ames logically moves on to the definition of “cases” of conscience. “A Case of Conscience is a practical question, concerning which, the Conscience may make a doubt.”[lviii] This section is devoted to sin, entry into the state of grace, salvation, the ongoing flesh/spirit battle and conduct in the Christian life.[lix] This book could easily pass for a compendium of reformed theology and compares most uniformly with Perkins’ Book 1. The Reformed ordo salutis is one of its organizing principles.[lx] The book is an exploration and inquiry into “those things that belong to the state of man.”[lxi]
On the other hand, Book 3 – “Of Man’s Duty in Generall” – is an inquiry into “the actions, and conversation of [man’s] life.”[lxii] This is meant to address the whole question of obedience to God, a distinctively Amesian priority. Ames asserts that the signs of true obedience are submissively placing God’s will ahead of the will of the creature, even when that will does not appear to work towards one’s advantage. How is this to be accomplished? By exercising those characteristics that conduce to an obedient life, viz., the cardinal virtues of prudence, courage, temperance and justice,[lxiii] and by avoiding those tendencies that thwart an obedient walk (such as drunkenness, sins of the heart, sins of the mouth, etc.).[lxiv] Thus, whereas Perkins saw these virtues as organizing principles for instruction in man’s social intercourse, Ames emphasized more their nature as characteristic of the obedience that demonstrated theology, the doctrine of living unto God.
At this point it is instructive to notice the priority Ames gives the concept of virtue and the honored place assigned the cardinal virtues as hallmarks of the life of obedience. Perkins did this as well but to a greater extent since he used them as his organizing structure. On the other hand and equally obvious is the absence, from Ames, of any arguments for God’s existence. That “Ames is wary of natural theology”[lxv] is clearly borne out here.
These three books comprise just over a third of Conscience. Having taken care of these “preliminary matters,”[lxvi] Ames can now concentrate on his real concern: How are cases of conscience to be adjudicated? The simple answer is: By a proper understanding and application of the moral law.
This is Ames’ organizing framework – the decalogue. It is precisely because the law does not explicitly cover all possible eventualities that teaching on cases of conscience is needed. This demonstrates just how wide a net the decalogue does cast. Thus, Books 4 and 5 concentrate on the elucidation of the moral law, respectively, man’s duty toward God and man’s duty toward neighbor.[lxvii] The biblical Ten Commandments, not the medieval cardinal virtues, constitute Ames’ synteresis. It is here, in its very organizing structure, that we see in Ames’ casuistry, the very fountainhead of Reformed moral theology and informed piety. Although William Perkins can be properly designated as the first Puritan moral theologian, his casuistry was dominated by medieval constructs and very much driven by Thomistic categories, as we have seen.
In Books 4 and 5 Ames teaches the extended meaning of the Ten Commandments and how these are to apply to the daily walk of the pilgrim. The duty of man toward God (Book 4) covers the entire spectrum of the obedient Christian walk. Commandments one through four are addressed under the heading of “Religion” and cover the theological virtues of faith, hope and love. Commandment two is covered by chapters on “pride against God,” “Consulting with the Devill,” and, alternatively, give positive instruction on prayer, confession and singing. Under commandment three Ames teaches on the biblical use of the oath, the lot, and the sacraments in the context of worship to God. The book closes with a chapter on commandment four, the Lord’s Day.[lxviii]
Throughout this book – Book 4 – Ames discusses general topics such as the church and very specific topics such as the gesture of prayer and singing. In this fashion he prepares the reader for Book 5 – interpersonal relations – by first settling any uncertainty the believer may have about his relationship to God. About one-quarter of the book is devoted to addressing cases of conscience arising out of the theological virtues, faith, hope and love.[lxix] This book, as would be expected, covers much the same ground as Perkins’ Book 2 and borrows from this volume. But it is explicitly cast within the framework of the Ten Commandments.
In Book 5, his elaboration of the second tablet of the decalogue, it would appear that the concern Ames has regarding “the duty of man towards his neighbour” is the primary practical concern of the day which has given rise to cases of conscience. This book stretches 57 chapters and is twice as long as his elaboration on the first table of the law. Under commandment five are covered such topics as justice, revenge, restitution, favoritism, love for neighbor, intercessory prayer, schism, humility, pride, and the mutual obligation between opposite classes of people for which the commandment on honoring of parents is the springboard. Here the hallmarks are respect for others and others’ reputation and obedience of one class of citizen over against another. Then follows commandment six, or, as he labels it, “Precept 6,” and the associated teaching on meekness, patience, long-suffering, slowness to wrath, goodwill, equanimity, manslaughter, duels, and war. The seventh commandment, proscribing adultery, addresses the “solemnities of matrimony,” the “mutual duties of man and wife” and divorce and polygamy. Basic issues of fairness in economic enterprise are addressed by chapters on “contracts,” profits, lending of money (“usury”), poverty, wealth, saving and spending, and theft, all with respect to commandment eight and the proscription against theft. Under commandment nine one finds teaching not only on a “lye” but also on “public judgments, the judge, accusers, witnesses, advocates and defenders.” Apparently “revealing a secret” gave rise to a case of conscience. Finally, Book 5 closes with Ames’ exposition on “contentment” which guards against covetousness.[lxx]
This book compares with Book 3 of Perkins, but only marginally so, since the taxonomy framing and conceptually organizing Perkins’ casuistry on interpersonal relationships – the cardinal virtues – is entirely different from that of Ames – the second table of the Law. As mentioned, herein lies the major difference between the casuistry of the two Puritans: Perkins has followed the system of Thomas very closely, Ames less so. Most significantly, Ames has taken Perkins’ teachings out of the medieval tradition, placed them into the organizational framework of the moral law, and greatly embellished them with biblical content. Scripture, not the medieval Thomas-inspired tradition of the Church of Rome, was to be the Christian rule for practice, asserted Ames. The Ten Commandments, not the cardinal virtues, were to be the organizing principles for the parishioner needing direction for day to day life. Thus Ames demonstrably improved over Perkins, whose casuistry was still very much that of Thomas, and constitutes the origins of the informed pietism of the Reformed tradition.[lxxi]
It is clear that Ames judiciously and unapologetically used the Schoolmen as handmaidens, certainly with more frequency and depth than did Perkins.[lxxii] At the same time, the Aristotelian bifurcation of ethics and theology Ames assailed ad infinitum; he meets this dualism head on with Titus 2:12, that theology is all about righteous and honorable living.[lxxiii] Indeed, the theme dominating Technometry was that “knowledge is judged by its performance, not its theory.”[lxxiv] Thus, although the philosophical categories and theories of the medieval theologians and casuists were reviled, some of their practical teaching found reception in Ames who acknowledged that “the Papists have laboured much this way, to instruct their Confessors: and in a great deale of earth and dirt of Superstitions, they have some veines of Silver: out of which, I suppose, I have drawne some things that are not to be despised.”[lxxv] E: Summary
I repeat, the most significant discovery to remember is the advance that William Ames’ casuistry made over the earlier moral theology of William Perkins. The rationale for, and the use of, the cardinal virtues as the organizational framework of Perkins’ third book of case-divinity clearly mark him as a man just emerging out of the medieval tradition as he cut a new path for the theory and practice of moral theology.[lxxvi] Ames sweeps this new path with a Reformed brush, even changing direction from time to time when it appeared Perkins was dawdling too long along the medieval trail. Ames covers the cardinal virtues in his explication of humanity’s obedience to God and thus subsumes them within the framework of the decalogue.[lxxvii] For Ames, only the form and substance of the biblical moral law are to be used in the adjudication of cases of conscience. In this way did Ames place a biblical gloss on early Puritan piety and moral theology, a gloss that converted this piety from one structured around medieval principles and categories to one whose framework represented a paradigm shift from the medieval understanding to the Reformed view of the organizing principles of the moral law. This was the provenance of the informed piety of the Reformed tradition. This “torch of piety” was passed on from William Ames to Richard Baxter while it reached its most mature creedal expression in the exposition of the decalogue found in the Westminster Larger and Shorter catechisms.[lxxviii] Endnotes[i] Ames, Conscience with the Power and Cases Thereof: Devided into V. Bookes (N. p., 1639), “To the Illustrious and Mightie Lords, the Staes of Zeland,” Dedicatory Epistle. [ii] Keith Thomas, “Cases of Conscience in Seventeenth-Century England,” Public Duty and Private Conscience in Seventeenth-Century England, eds. John Morrill, Paul Slack and Daniel Woolf (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 32. Excellent introductions to Puritan casuistry appear in Keith L. Sprunger, The Learned Doctor William Ames: Dutch Backgrounds of English and American Puritanism [Chicago: University of Illinois, Press, 1972], 153-66; Thomas F. Merrill, ed. and intro., William Perkins. 1558-1602. English Puritanist. His Pioneer Works on Casuistry: “A Discourse of Conscience” and “The Whole Treatise of Cases of Conscience.” (Nieuwkoop: B. De Graaf, 1966), x-xx; and H. R. McAdoo, The Structure of Caroline Moral Theology (London: Longman’s, Green and Co., 1949). [iii] Hugo Visscher, Guilielmus Amesius: Zijn Leven en Werken (Haarlem: J. M. Stap, 1894), trans. Tjaard Georg Hommes and Douglas Horton as William Ames: His Life and Works; hereafter Horton, Ames by Visscher, 120. For a summary of the method and practice of medieval casuistry, particularly that of the Jesuits, and a broader application of the casuistry of early English Puritanism, see Jan van Vliet, “Gambling on Faith: A Holistic Examination of Blaise Pascal’s Wager,” Westminster Theological Journal 62 (2000): 33-63. [iv] William Perkins, The Workes of that Famous and Worthy Minister of Christ in the Universitie of Cambridge, Mr. William Perkins, 3 vols. (London: John Legatt, 1612-1613), 1.421-1.438. [v] Thomas, “Conscience,” 36-37. [vi] In his study of the development of casuistry in England, Elliot Rose opines that “Ames has some light to cast on the spirit of the school . . . [but] since he spent most of his active career in Holland he cannot be expected to apply himself directly to English problems” (Rose, Cases of Conscience [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975], 185). This is just another of the many random examples that could be trotted out to demonstrate the mischaracterization of William Ames in historiography. It would appear from a study of the level of morality in the England of the day that Ames directed much of his casuistry, especially in Book 5 of Conscience, not only to the problems associated with the arid orthodoxy of contemporary continental Reformed thought and the somewhat unregulated styles of living that characterized the egalitarian society of his adopted country, but also, if not especially, to those more serious problems of immorality present in his homeland. On the state of morality in seventeenth-century England, see Douglas Campbell, The Puritan in Holland, England, and America: An Introduction to American History, 2 vols. (New York: Harper and Brothers. 1892), 2.350-2.375, 2.453-2.457. He portrays Elizabethan England as a society adrift without a moral compass, where the religious elite enjoyed lives of self-aggrandizement. He notes that the English were “not so laborious as the French and Hollanders, preferring to live an indolent life, like the Spaniards” (ibid.). In more measured tones, Lawrence Stone observes the difference between the freer morality of English society and the circumspection found on the continent and notes that as early as 1499, Erasmus, on a visit to England, reported the propensity of the English to kiss strangers on the lips, not only in greeting but for every other occasion (Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England [New York: Harper & Row, 1979], 325). See also his Road to Divorce: England, 1530-1987 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), Uncertain Unions: Marriage in England, 1660-1753 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), and Broken Lives: Separation and Divorce in England, 1660-1857 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993). [vii] Ames, Conscience, “To the Reader.” [viii] Karl Reuter, Wilhelm Amesius: der führende Theologe des erwchenden refomierten Pietismus (Neukirchen, Kreis Moers: Buchhandlung des Erziehungsvereins, 1940), trans. Douglas Horton as William Ames: The Leading Theologian in the Awakening of Reformed Pietism; hereafter Horton, Ames by Reuter, 166. [ix] The Puritans, especially, had a great aversion to Aristotle. In his chapter on “virtue” William Ames approvingly quotes Peter Ramus who opined the following:
“I had rather that philosophy were taught to children out of the gospel by a learned theologian of proved character than out of Aristotle by a philosopher. A child will learn many impieties from Aristotle which, it is to be feared, he will unlearn too late. He will learn, for example, that the beginning of blessedness arises out of man; that the end of blessedness lies in man; that all virtues are within man’s power and obtainable by man’s nature, art, and industry; that God is never present in such works, either as helper or author, however great and divine they are; that divine providence is removed from the theater of human life; that not a word can be spoken about divine justice; that man’s blessedness is based on this frail life” (William Ames, The Marrow of Theology, trans. John D. Eusden from the third Latin edition, 1629 (United Church Press, 1968; repr., Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997), 2.2.18; according to Eusden in a note he makes on p. 227 of Marrow, Ames is quoting Peter Ramus in Petri Rami Veromandui pro philosophica Parisiensis academiae disciplina oratio, ad Carolum Lotharinguum Cardinalem (Parisiis, 1551), or An Oration by the French Belgian Peter Ramus on Behalf of the Philosophical Training at the University of Paris, Delivered to Charles Cardinal Lorraine, 40.
Although William Perkins held to this assessment also, and very consistently, it will become apparent that Aristotle was invoked by William Ames where it furthered his theological or casuistic cause, especially as mediated through Thomas Aquinas. Indeed, scholasticism, as method, still prevailed, and was perpetuated in the post-Reformation development of Protestantism, if in somewhat more Christian form (Richard A. Muller, Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: Volume 1, Prolegomena to Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), 14-52. The direction of, in particular, Ames’ work, can be said to have been driven, in large part, by his reaction against a scholasticism of the sort he perceived was making shipwreck of the pious and practical faith of the Reformed in the Netherlands.[x] Sprunger, Ames, 107; Eusden, “Introduction” in Marrow, 37. Ramus died in the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in Paris on August 23/24, 1572. [xi] Horton, Ames by Reuter, 232-34; Eusden, “Introduction” in Marrow, 39; Sprunger, Ames, 106-7. [xii] Horton, Ames by Visscher, 71; Horton, Ames by Reuter, 232. [xiii] Sprunger, Ames, 107-9. We have already mentioned that in many respects, the scholastic emphasis on logic and reason is utilized in Ramist logic. See Sprunger, Ames, 110, and Eusden, “Introduction” in Marrow, 15. As Ames put it: “By this methode we proceade from the antecedent more absolutely knowen to prove the consequent, which is not so manifestly knowen: & this is the only methode which Aristotle did observe” (Peter Ramus, The Logike of the Moste Excellent Philosopher P. Ramus Martyr, ed. Catherine M. Dunn, trans. Roland MacIlmaine, Renaissance Editions, no. 3 [Northridge, CA: San Fernando Valley State College, 1969], 54-55). [xiv] Eusden, “Introduction” in Marrow, 37. Eusden notes that at Christ’s College, Cambridge, a succession of Ramist teachers beginning with Laurence Chaderton (1536?-1640) included: Gabriel Harvey (1545?-1630), Perkins (1558-1602), George Downham (d. 1634), Ames, William Chappell (1582-1649) and John Milton (1608-1674). Walter J. Ong points out the inroads the Huguenot’s system made in the intellectual circles of the Palatinate and the Netherlands and compares this favorably to Ames’ devotion to Ramism: “English Ramists are outdistanced by the Germans and the Dutch. The one Englishman under Ramist influence who stands out as a possible competitor is William Ames . . . who lived for a long time in the Netherlands” (Walter J. Ong, S.J., Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1958], 304), cited by Eusden, “Introduction” in Marrow, 37. For an early study on the theology of Ramus, see Paul Lobstein, Petrus Ramus als Theologe (Strassburg: G. F. Schmidts Universitäts-Buchhandlung, 1878). [xv] Frank P. Graves, Peter Ramus and the Educational Reformation of the Sixteenth Century (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1912, text-fiche), 173; citing Ramus’ Oratio de Professione liberalium artium (Paris, 1563), 104; Before his short life was so violently brought to an end, he had written a treatise on ethics which was one revision away from publication. Yet enough of Ramus’ thoughts on ethics survive in extant publications to provide a reasonably complete reproduction of his system. At the basis of his ethical system lies an entirely different conception of God which accounts for the vehemence with which Ramus attacks Aristotle. But as Frank P. Graves points out, Ramus was not above exclusive appeal to reason for he “treats ethics from the standpoint of the four cardinal virtues and almost in the terms of Plato and Cicero” (ibid., 176-77). [xvi] He defends this system in his introduction to the Marrow by asserting: “There will be some who condemn the precision of method and logical form as curious and troublesome. But we wish them sounder reason, for they separate the art of learning, judging, and memorizing from those things which most deserved to be learned, known, and memorized” (Ames, Marrow “A Brief Forewarning of the Author concerning His Purpose”). Aristotelian metaphysics and ethics were common fare in the Dutch academies and especially at Franeker. Despite synodical admonition at Dort with especial regard to Ames’ colleague Johannes Maccovius at Franeker, the Dutch Aristotelians’ attack on the Ramism introduced by Ames continued unabated (Sprunger, Ames, 111) Yet in the face of this considerable opposition, Franeker officially adopted Ramist philosophy and logic and became the center for Ramism in the Netherlands (ibid., 88, 111; Horton, Ames by Visscher, 59-60). Graves observes that Ramus’ destruction of Aristotle is based, in part, on his failure to understand the great Greek philosopher; “as an ardent Christian he evidently holds it incumbent upon him to combat the paganism of that philosopher.” Yet Graves also remarks about Ramus: “at times he shows that the ancient philosopher had anticipated the true Christian doctrine and accepts his positions, even at the expense of certain usages of the Church” (ibid., 174, 176). [xvii] William Ames, Technometry, trans. and ed. Lee W. Gibbs, Haney Foundation Series of the University of Pennsylvania, vol. 24 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1979), theses 63, 88-94, 118; citations from Ames’ Technometry are by thesis number. (First published as Technometria, Omnium & singularum Artium fines adæquatè circumscribens [London: Milo Flesher, 1633] and itself part of a six-piece work published posthumously (1643) as one volume, Philosophemata). He maintains: if it is true that “the commonly accepted division of art into theoretical and practical is defective in many ways and therefore must be rejected,” (ibid., thesis 62), how much the more must be anathematized those who would teach a discipline or “art of ethics” separate and distinct from the doctrines of theology? Repudiation of this essentially Aristotelian distinction between practical and theoretical philosophy appears at length in this work and Ames’ attack against the ethicists or moral philosophers, those practitioners of natural ethics, is unrelenting. God’s revealed will in scripture teaches thorough integration of theology and ethics; attempts to drive a wedge between the two are nothing less than metaphysical speculation and sophistry. Ames concludes: “Hence, being thoughtless or ungrateful and yet not impious by law, do they listen who – educated in the bosom of the Church, have thoroughly learned both about the obscurity of these principles . . . and about the new revelation in the Scriptures – yet flee from these Scriptures to search after the principles of what they call “practical philosophy” and of law and seduce others with themselves” (ibid., thesis 63). [xviii] Ramus, Commentariorum de Religione, cited in Sprunger, Ames, 132. [xix] Perkins, Workes, 1.11. [xx] Ames, Marrow, 1.1.1. [xxi] In quoting Peter Ramus, William Ames and Henry More in sequence in their respective definitions of theology, Samuel T. Logan, Jr., cogently demonstrates that the philosophical commitment to Ramism was a contributing factor to the vast theological change at Christ’s College, Cambridge, in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries (“Theological Decline in Christian Institutions and the Value of Van Til’s Epistemology,” Westminster Theological Journal 57 (1995) 145-63). Logan’s observations regarding the reasons for the intellectual shift in direction at the University of Cambridge are acute. For Cambridge Platonists, especially John Smith (1616-1652) and Benjamin Whichcote (1609-1683), theology was “more a Divine life than a Divine science” (Alan Gabbey, “Cambridge Platonists,” in The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy ed., Robert Audi [New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995], 99-101). This echoes strongly the emphasis on the practical, originated by Peter Ramus a century earlier and perpetuated by William Perkins and especially William Ames at Christ’s College, Cambridge. The influential neo-platonist in this College was More (1614-1687) who taught that “ethicks are defined to be the art of living well and happily” (Logan, “Decline,” 157). The transition from Ramus through Ames to More is unmistakable, as Logan asserts. [xxii] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. MacNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, 2 vols. Library of Christian Classics, no. 20-21 (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 1.1.1-1.1.3. [xxiii] Ibid., 1.2.2. [xxiv] Ibid., 1.2.1; “Here indeed is pure and real religion: faith so joined with an earnest fear of God that this fear also embraces willing reverence, and carries with it such legitimate worship as is prescribed in the law” (ibid., 1.2.2). [xxv] Perkins, Workes, 1.11. [xxvi] The editors of Calvin’s Institutes very astutely observe that “the word “knowledge” in the title, chosen rather than “being” or “existence” of God, emphasizes the centrality of revelation in both the structure and the content of Calvin’s theology. Similarly, the term “Creator,” subsuming the doctrines of Trinity, Creation, and Providence, stresses God’s revealing work or acts rather than God in himself. The latter is more prominent in Scholastic doctrines of God, both medieval and later “Calvinist”” (Calvin, Institutes, 1.1.1, n. 1). A glance at Thomas’ (rational) arguments for existence prove the point. [xxvii] Ian Breward, ed., The Work of William Perkins. The Courtenay Library of Reformation Classics, no. 3 (Appleford, Abingdon, Berkshire, England: Sutton Courtenay Press, 1970), 85-86.
Did Thomas Aquinas, the medieval Doctor, have any thoughts on the nature of theology? He opens his discussion by asserting the necessity of theology (“sacred science”) for “man’s salvation,” as well as the philosophical sciences. This is necessary, he maintains, because the philosophical sciences are based on reason; for the salvation of humanity, however, revelation is needed as well:
“The whole salvation of man, which lies in God, depends on the knowledge of this truth [God]. . . . There is no reason, then, why the same things, which the philosophical sciences teach as they can be known by the light of natural reason, should not also be taught by another science as they are known through divine revelation” (Thomas Aquinas, Nature and Grace, ed. and trans. A. M. Fairweather. Library of Christian Classics, vol. 11 (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1954) 1.1.1. My convention in citing from this work of Aquinas is to cite book, chapter and section. And this sacred science is “nobler” than the other sciences “in every way,” transcending them because, as a speculative science, it deals with things more certain and above reason. For it is “concerned with divine things more fundamentally than with the actions of men” although it has an interest in these actions insofar as they bring men to the perfect knowledge of God (ibid., 1.1.4). From this practical perspective, sacred doctrine is wisdom, says Thomas (ibid., 1.1.6), and wisdom’s end is eternal happiness (ibid., 1.1.5).[xxviii] Ames, Marrow, 1.1.5. [xxix] Ibid., 1.1.6. [xxx] Ibid. [xxxi] Ames, Marrow, 1.1.8. [xxxii] Horton, Ames by Reuter, 175-76. [xxxiii] Ramus, Commentariorum, 6; cited in Horton, Ames by Reuter, 175. [xxxiv] Eusden, “Introduction” in Marrow, 47. [xxxv] Ames, Marrow, 1.1.9-1.1.11. Ames continues: “Now since this life so willed is truly and properly our most important practice, it is self-evident that theology is not a speculative discipline but a practical one – not only in the common respect that all disciplines have eupraxia, good practice, as their end, but in a special and peculiar manner compared with all others. Nor is there anything in theology which does not refer to the final end or to the means related to that end – all of which refer directly to practice.” To Ames, living blessedly would never have been a science as it was for Perkins. It was a doctrine. It was a covenantal responsibility. It was something centered in the will; it engaged the volitional faculty of men and women more than the intellectual. Having established this theological principle, how does Ames further develop his dogmatics – a treatise which, as we judged earlier, can be considered the first full-fledged systematic theology of post-reformation Elizabethan England of which Perkins’ work was the harbinger? So non-negotiable was this particular view of theology that Ames’ entire theological enterprise, Ramist of course, was undergirded by the responsibility of the creature in living to God: faith and observance. These comprise the division or parts of theology – not emphasizing knowledge of God and of self but rather observance (the doctrine of living to God), and faith (rooted in the sound theological principles of the Reformation). Ames’ entire theology unfolds along this dichotomy. [xxxvi] Ibid., 1.3.13-1.3.19. [xxxvii] Ibid., 1.3.22. [xxxviii] This is not entirely surprising given the philosophical/theological commitments and presuppositions of the early “philosophical-theologians” compared to those of the later “theological philosophers.” [xxxix] “God knows perfectly all things of man though they never be so hid and concealed: and man by a gift given him of God; knowes togither with God, the same things of himselfe: and this gift is called Conscience” (Perkins, Workes, 1.518). [xl] Ibid. [xli] His casuistry is part of a unified system of doctrine and life, explained in Marrow. In his introduction to Marrow, Ames promises that “if there are some who desire to have practical matters better explained, especially those of the latter part of this Marrow, we shall attempt, God willing, to satisfy them in a special treatise, which I mean to write, dealing with questions usually called ‘cases of conscience’” (Ames, Marrow, “Brief Forewarning”). Recall that by “latter part of this Marrow” Ames was referring to Book 2 of this work which addresses the “observance” category of theology, the doctrine of living to God. The first half of this Ramist presentation of theology was faith. [xlii] Ames, Conscience, 1.1.Preamble. [xliii] Ibid., 1.1.2-1.1.3. [xliv] Perkins, Workes, 1.535. [xlv] Ames, Conscience, 1.1.8-1.1.10. [xlvi] Ibid., 1.1.11; Ibid. It is important to note that this method of syllogism applied to the practical reason is purely Aristotelian. In his discussion on the Nature of Law in Question 90 of Summa Theologiae, Thomas asks whether law is a function of mind (reason) or will? He answers:
“Law is a kind of direction or measure for human activity through which a person is led to do something or held back. . . . Now direction and measure come to human acts from reason, from which, . . . they start. It is the function of reason to plan for an end, and this purpose, as Aristotle notes [Physics II, 9. 200a22. Ethics VII, 8. 1151a16. St. Thomas, lect. 8], is the original source of what we do. . . . We are left with the conclusion, then, that law is something that belongs to reason.
Hence: . . . As with outward acts a distinction can be drawn between the doing and the deed, . . . , so also with the activities of reason the actual thinking, namely understanding and reasoning, and what is thought out, namely first a definition, next a proposition, and finally a syllogism or argument, can be considered apart. And because the practical reason makes use of a sort of syllogism in settling on a course of action . . . in accordance with the teaching of Aristotle [Ethics VII, 3. 1147a24], a proposition can be discerned which is to practice what a premise is to the conclusions the theoretic reason draws” (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, vol. 28, Law and Political Theory, ed. Thomas Gilby O.P. Blackfriars Latin text and English translation with Introduction, Notes, Appendices and Glossaries. 60 vols. [New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963-76], 5-7).
Aquinas upholds that such a proposition in the practical reason has the character of law and “sometimes they are actually adverted to, sometimes they are convictions held merely as habits of mind” (ibid., 9).[xlvii] Ames draws a direct connection between the law of nature in primitive humanity and the moral law. By adding the notion of conscience into this mix, he has painted a full portrait of the responsibilities of the creature to maintain covenant faithfulness through obedience to all the principles that extend from the moral law. This is where case divinity comes in. (Calvin had an inchoate sense of this in Institutes, 2.8.1.)
Synteresis has reference to the conscience as being the internal repository of the laws of right and wrong. Ames refers to synteresis as the “storehouse of principles” (Ames, Conscience, 1.2.1). Thus it is this storehouse of principles out of which the law of God – the biblical law – is drawn. It is a “habit of the understanding” because it houses those principles governing moral actions that God has implanted in the domicile of humanity’s mind and which continue to reside there, even in the fallen state. Broadly understood, synteresis encompasses not only “generall conclusions touching right or Law, which are deduced by good consequence out of naturall principles, but likewise all practicall truths, whereunto wee give a firme assent, through the revelation we have by faith” (ibid., 1.2.6). Thus it is, that synteresis can be ramistically dichotomized into “natural” and “enlightened” conscience (ibid., 1.2.7). The former embraces the principles of nature as law; the latter recognizes the legally binding character of scriptural principles, and it is the revealed will of God “whereby a mans duty is both showne and commanded” which contains both of these categories. To re-emphasize, the revealed will of God, or the law of God, incorporates both the moral principles within humanity and the additional laws that God “hath injoyned.” Thus Ames can uphold that the conscience can be bound only by the revealed will of God, the law of God, all those things commanded in the Gospel. And it is the Law of God that binds men and women to submit to the laws of the creature, not the latter in and of themselves. To be bound in conscience by the laws of men (or children by parents or a promise by an oath) is idolatry, since only God knows the inward workings of the conscience (ibid., 1.2.9-1.2.15). This Amesian view of the conscience follows very closely Thomas’ understanding of synteresis as habit. Thomas designates synteresis the “law of our understanding inasmuch as it is the habit of keeping the precepts of natural law, which are the first principles of human activity” (Aquinas, Law and Political Theory, 77).[xlviii] See a discussion of Perkins’ concept of conversion in Mark R. Shaw, “The Marrow of Practical Divinity: A Study in the Theology of William Perkins,” (Th.D. diss., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1981), 111-53. In this section of Book 1 Perkins also summarizes briefly some of his earlier teaching on the nature of conscience. Perkins’ tone can be described as gentle, highly sympathetic, practical and extremely pastoral, especially in his excursus on comforting the distressed. [xlix] William Perkins, The Whole Treatise of the Cases of Conscience, Distinguished into Three Bookes (London: John Legat, Printer to the University of Cambridge, 1606; repr. The English Experience: Its Record in Early Printed Books Published in Facsimile, no. 482. Amsterdam: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum Ltd., and New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1972), 1.8.5. [l] Perkins first addresses assurance of faith in terms of case-divinity in an entirely separate and small work on casuistry (already referred to in Chapter III above) entitled A Case of Conscience, the Greatest thatever was: how a man may know whether he be the child of God, or no in Workes, 1.421-1.428. The resolution to this case of conscience is anchored in Psalm 15 and the first Epistle of John and proceeds in discourse form between the Church and the Apostle (for 1 John) and Jehovah and David (for Psalm 15). (See Shaw, “Perkins,” 154-213, for a look at Perkins’ doctrine of assurance in connection with worship.)
Although I would not say that the issue of assurance of faith was not important for William Ames, we can certainly say that Ames did not afford it the priority that Perkins did. It would be interesting to pursue the assertion, I believe legitimate, that to center faith in the volition (Ames) as opposed to the intellect (Perkins) preempts overdue concern with assurance of faith/salvation. If it can be said that there is an undercurrent in Ames’ casuistry, it is clearly the theme of obedience, the responsibility of living a life to God.[li] Perkins, Conscience, 1.2.3-1.2.11; especially 1.2.10-1.2.11. [lii] Perkins both apologizes for and explains the usefulness of these proofs in this manner: “I doe not meane to dispute the question, whether there be a God or no; and thereby minister occasion of doubting and deliberation in that which is the onely maine Ground and pillar of Christian religion: But rather my purpose is, in shewing that there is a God, to remoove, or at least to help an inward corruption of the soule that is great and dangerous, whereby the heart and conscience by nature denieth God and his providence. The wound in the bodie that plucks out the heart, is the most dangerous wound that can be: and that opinion that takes away the Godhead, doth in effect rend and plucke out the very heart of the soule (Ibid., 2.2, Introductory question). [liii] Ibid. Closely following Thomas, the existence of God can be seen from nature, grace and glory, Perkins maintains (cf., Aquinas, Nature and Grace, 1.2.3). From the realm of nature and creation, Perkins advances “five distinct arguments . . . the consideration whereof will not be unprofitable, even to him that is best setled in this point” (Perkins, Conscience, 2.2.1). And with this justification, he repeats Thomas’ arguments for the existence of God. Perkins employs a mixture, as it were, of revelation and sense experience, to which he applies his powers of intellect. Recall that Thomas’ cosmological arguments relied on pure sense experience and mentioned nothing of divine revelation (ibid.). Perkins’ “proofs” from nature can be characterized as grounded in scriptural revelation and viewed from a cosmological and teleological perspective; he cannot let go of Thomas completely. On the other hand, however, Anselm’s argument from pure abstract thought, is, as expected, absent altogether from Perkins. [liv] Perkins’ coverage of the Sabbath is the longest chapter in all of Book 2, which length is approached only by the chapters on baptism, the scriptures and the godhead (the latter of which is, primarily, his teaching on the existence of God summarized above). The nature of the work is highly practical and pastoral, with corrections to current (typically papist) views made clear. Thus, although the writing is robustly anti-papist, it is generally not vehement, except where practices of the Roman Catholic Church are particularly detestable and heretical. At times Perkins employs an Aristotelian style of discourse, and rapidly disposes of any opposition to his casuistic teaching with biblical texts. It could be said that this second book follows the pattern of commands found in Table 1 of the moral law. [lv] Ibid., 3.1. [lvi] Such as a conscience which is good, bad, or weak; one which errs, doubts, surmises; its interaction with the Law; and so on (Ames, Conscience, 1.3-1.15). [lvii] Ibid., Book 1, pp. 49-55. No doubt the 38 theses and four corollaries defended by Ames for his doctoral degree at Franeker under Sibrandus Lubbertus on May 27, 1622. See Sprunger, Ames, 74. [lviii] Ames, Conscience, 2.1.1. [lix] Ibid., Book 2. [lx] And preparationism is taught as well [lxi] Ibid., 3.1, Preamble. [lxii] Ibid. [lxiii] Or, in expanded form, wisdom, humility, sincerity, zeal, peace, prudence, fortitude, patience, temperance, etc. [lxiv] Ames, Conscience, 3. [lxv] Observed by Eusden, “Introduction” in Marrow, 49. [lxvi] Which were primarily detailed definitional statements and conceptual elaboration on conscience, instruction on entry into and maintenance of the Christian life and exhortation to obedience through the exercise of the cardinal virtues. [lxvii] Ames, Conscience, 4-5. [lxviii] Ibid., 4. [lxix] This is in addition to the extensive coverage already afforded these concepts in ibid., 2.2-2.7. [lxx] Ibid., 5. [lxxi] Over a quarter of a century ago, Breward observed that “Hooker’s thomism has long been common knowledge, but there has been little investigation into the thomism of the puritans and second generation protestant theologians” (Breward, Perkins, 53). Although more is known now of the Puritan’s intellectual indebtedness, for our purposes we have established that this debt is huge indeed, especially to Thomas, and especially in the work of William Ames.
It appears that William Ames was much more apt to seek the advice and input of medieval Roman Catholic scholars than was William Perkins. We have only scratched the surface, as it were. Roman Catholic Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) and medieval theologian William of Paris also make appearances in Ames’ work, both in polemic (in the case of the former) and in approval (in the case of the latter). Ames saw fit to append Book 2 of Conscience with a number of pages of teaching on temptation penned by the thirteenth-century Bishop of Paris. Noteworthy, too, is Ames’ ambivalence toward Spanish Jesuit philosopher Francisco Suárez (1548-1617), a colleague of Bellarmine at a Jesuit college in Rome. Suárez’s dualism Ames abhorred, but his thomistic theory of law is almost straight from this Jesuit, “the last of the Schoolmen.” According to Eusden, the sabbatarianism of the Reformed tradition owes much to the findings of the late scholastics, particularly Suárez (Eusden, “Introduction” in Marrow, 19, n. 40).
An excellent sampling of the thought of Suárez is found in Selections from Three Works. De Legibus, AC Deo Legislatore, 1612 Defensio Fidei Catholicae et Apostolicare Adversus Anglicanae Sectae Errores, 1613 de Triplici Virtute Theologica, Fide, Spe, et Charitate, 1621, Vol. Two, The Translation, prepared by Gwladys L. Williams, Ammi Brown and John Waldron with certain revisions by Henry Davis, S. J., and an Introduction by James Brown Scott (Oxford: Clarendon Press and London: Humphrey Milford, 1944; repr., Buffalo: William S. Hein & Co., Inc., 1995).[lxxii] It is worth noting that despite Perkins’ stated opposition to the Church of Rome, he was generally gentle. It is curious that Thomas Pickering’s highly anti-papist introduction to Perkins’ Conscience contrasts markedly with Perkins’ own Preface, a model of tender pastoral exposition of Christ’s burden recorded in Isa 50:4 and the need of the church of the day for just such a healer of souls. The Catholic Church isn’t even mentioned. Although Ames shared this opposition, his significantly more scholarly bent resulted in a library well-stocked with medieval thinkers. For a study of Ames’ library, see Julius H. Tuttle, “Library of Dr. William Ames,” Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts 19 (1911): 63-66. [lxxiii] German Protestant theologian Bartholomäus Keckermann (1571-1609), a contemporary exponent of this dualism and favorite of Maccovius, is quoted scornfully at length in Marrow. [lxxiv] Observed by Sprunger, Ames, 168. [lxxv] Ames, Conscience, “To the Reader.” However, the sentence immediately following reads: “But they are without the life of this Doctrine: and death is in their pot.” [lxxvi] “Vertue” said Perkins, “is a gift of the Spirit of God, and a part of regeneration, whereby a man is made apt to live well.” How was this different from the schoolmen? “And this I put in the first place, to confute the received error of the wisest Heathen Philosophers, which call Vertue an habite of the minde, obtained and confirmed by custom, use, and practice” (Perkins, Conscience, 3.1). Yet Ames was willing to borrow yet again from these “Heathen Philosophers” when he defines virtue as “a condition or habit by which the will is inclined to do well.” But he placed it in the will because, as we have already observed, the will “is the true subject of theology” (Ames, Marrow, 2.2.4-2.2.7). An important distinction between Ames and the Schoolmen on this point is that, for Ames, virtue was a result of faith; for the scholastics, it made one acceptable to God (ibid., 2.2.8-2.2.9). [lxxvii] In fact, one searches in vain for coverage of these scholastic categories in standard, Reformed systematic theologies; nor do they surface in theological dictionaries. In a popular dictionary of philosophy under the entry “theological virtues,” the reader is directed to the entry “Aquinas” (Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 31-34, 103, 842). Emphasis on the four cardinal virtues as principles of the virtuous life, an emphasis picked up by both Ames and Perkins, reaches back to Cicero and to Plato before him. [lxxviii] Richard Baxter’s work represents Puritan casuistry in its most developed (some might say “over-developed”) form. See particularly his A Christian Directory: or, A Summ of Practical Theologie, and Cases of Conscience (London: By Robert White for Nevil Simmons, 1673); see also the following: The Life of Faith, as it is the Evidence of Things Unseen (London: Printed by R. W. and A. M. for Francis Tyton and Jane Underhill, 1660) and The Practical Works of Richard Baxter, Introduction and life by William Orme, 23 vols. (London: James Duncan, 1830; reprint ed. in 4 vols., London: George Virtue, 1857 and Ligonier, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1990-91). See also James M. Phillips, “Between Conscience and the Law: The Ethics of Richard Baxter (1615-1691),” (Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1959).
Copyright © 2002, by J. van Vliet, Ph.D. Glenside, Pennsylvania