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Advanced Historical Theology - Great Britain, The Catholics and Lutheran Orthodoxy - by C. Matthew McMahon

Historical Theology Articles

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Part 23 – Advanced Historical Theology – Great Britain, The Catholics and Lutheran Orthodoxy

The fourth major division of the Reformation is set in the Anglican context of Great Britain. The movement of John Wickliffe did not die out, nor did it end with the death of John Huss. Also seeking reformation were men like John Colet (c. 1467-1519) and Thomas More (c. 1478-1535), though both falling inadequately short, as well as the immense contributions of William Tyndale (c. 1494-1536) who translated the first English bible from the original languages of Greek and Hebrew. All of the work done by these men, though, would have come to nothing if Henry VIII did not make his break with Rome.

With Henry VIII’s break with Rome over the divorce of his wife Anne Bolyn, came the Ten Articles of 1536. It certainly housed erroneous doctrines, such a purgatory, and faith plus works for salvation, but it demonstrated a theological difference between Henry VIII’s will and the will of the Roman Church. After Henry VIII died his heir, Edward VI composed the Book of Common Prayer that was prepared by several theologians of the day under the leadership of Thomas Cranmer. Cranmer himself had rejected the Roman doctrines and had followed Calvin. Among others who shared the Reformed views were John Hooper (c. 1495-1555), Nicholas Ridley (c. 1503-1555) and Hugh Latimer (c. 1485-1555). The death of King Edward, though, changed matters quickly and Queen Mary the Catholic succeeded him. Her marriage with Philip of Spain strengthened her Roman Catholic grip on the nation. Mary persecuted the Protestants vigorously until her death in 1558 when Elizabeth took the throne. Attempting to be sympathetic to the contentions of the day, she formed the Anglican church (a mix between the Protestants and the Catholics) in order to have one Mother Church of England. John Jewel (c. 1522-1571) wrote an Apology of the Church of England in which he attempted to support the Anglican structure of the church and its right of establishment. The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion was drawn up and composed the official dogma of the church. It held Calvinistic overtones, but became vague on matters of extreme importance such as justification by faith.

After this Elizabethan Settlement, dissenters began to arise feeling bound by the book instituted by the Anglican Church and the rule and regulations that were being set upon them. Not only had the Anglican Church “appeared” on the whim of the Queen, but now it was dictating to Protestant Presbyterians and Reformed Ministers how to act and what to preach.

Theology in the Catholic Reformation

As the Reformation took hold all over Europe, the Roman Church decided they must issue a Counter Reformation to hold their ground. Certain theological ideas and figures lead up to this Counter Reformation, of whom is the famous John Eck (c. 1486-1543). He was a professor at Ingolstadt and responded to Luther’s writings with zeal. He debated him at Leipzig and wrote against Melancthon’s, Zwingli’s and Martin Bucer’s works as well. James Hochstraten (c. 1460-1527) wrote vigorously against the Jews and the Jewish works of the day desiring they all be banned and burned. He also led an anti-Lutheran party which opposed justification by faith. Peter Canisius (c. 1521-1597) was the first German Jesuit and is often referred to as the apostle of Germany. He desired to overthrow the false reformation of the protestants by giving a great deal of attention to reform in the universities. James Lotomus (c. 1475-1544) was Hochstraten’s counterpart at the university of Louvain. He despised the need to know Greek and Hebrew (which discounted him as a humanist) and drew attention to taking up written controversies with Luther, Oecolampadius, William Tyndale, and Philip Melancthon. Albert Pigge (c. 1490-1542) also known as Pighius wrote against Calvin’s idea of predestination where Calvin answered in his excellent treatise on the eternal predestination of God and the secret foreknowledge of God. Of the most able Catholic scholars was Robert Bellarmine (c. 1542-1621) who was declared to be a saint of the Catholic church in 1930. He was known as the professor of controversy and wrote a number of disputations against the Protestant Reformation. Dominican theology under Thomas de Vio Cajetan (c. 1468-1534), Domingo de Soto (c. 1494-1560) and Domingo Banez (c. 1528-1604) flourished, as well as Jesuit theology under Ignatius of Loyola (c. 1491-1556) and Francisco Suazrez (c. 1548-1617).

After these theological schools sharpened their theological ideas (which centered around theological controversies from justification to predestination and middle knowledge), the Counter Reformation took place officially under the Council of Trent.

The history of the Council of Trent (c. 1545-1563) is long and complex in many ways. There were both political and theological ramifications to consider throughout its history. They acted in two basic directions: 1) the reformation of the customs and laws of the church, and 2) gaining clear definitions of dogma against the protestant Reformation. The doctrinal considerations were those raised by the Protestant Reformation: 1) the authority of Scripture, 2) the nature and consequences of original sin, 3) justification, 4) the sacraments, 5) purgatory, 6) and the veneration of the saints and relics.

To summarize Trent’s decisions the following may be considered: they added into the canon the Apocryphal book in order to use certain ideas contained in them against Protestantism which were not contained in Scripture – such as purgatory. They officiated an ex opere operato notion of the sacraments stating that the sacraments are 7, not 2, and communicate grace. For example, those baptized are made “innocent, pure and guiltless” before God. Justification by faith alone was anathematized (thus anathematizing the Gospel) and justification by faith plus works was instituted as official. Justification is not imputed righteousness, but infused righteousness in the individual which can be lost. Penance regains that righteousness which was lost. Thus works help to save the individual. The doctrine of transubstantiation was confirmed, and the Traditional doctrine of the church was confirmed as well. A simple cursory reading of the Cannons found in any bookstore confirms their distention of the Protestant doctrines and replaces them with anathemas upholding Catholic dogma.

The Theology of Lutheran Orthodoxy

The great forerunner of Lutheran orthodoxy was Martin Chemnitz (c. 1522-1586). He wrote his works in four volumes and demonstrated that the Council of Trent not only abounded orthodoxy, but anathematized the Gospel. Other notable theologians were Aegidius Hunnis (c. 1550-1603) and Leonard Hutter (c. 1563-1616) but none were as great as Johann Gerhard (c. 1582-1637).

Gerhard studied at Wittenberg and spent a number of years in ecclesiastical work. His main work of scholarship was on the Harmony of the Evangelists which Chemnitz had begun. His main work in general was his Loci theologici which was a vast nine volumes and a systematic theology of Lutheran Orthodoxy.

Following Gerhard was Nikolaus Hunnius (c. 1585-1643) the son of Aegidius, who followed as a professor at Wittenberg. He wrote the Summary of Those Things Which are to be Believed which became the greatest read Lutheran work of its time. Abraham Calov (c. 1612-1686) was the most important theologian of the latter period of Lutheran orthodoxy. His Biblia Illustrata was a commentary on the entire text of Scripture. Johann Andreas Quenstedt (c. 1617-1688) presents a contrast with Calov where his work was primarily irenic in nature. Quenstedt’s work finds its place alongside of Melancthon, Chemnitz, and Gerhard among the best of Lutheran’s theologians.

George Calixtus (c. 1585-1656) found himself in the middle of the Syncretistic Controversy which emerged. He felt it was his task to call all the other Protestant churches to recognize that each one was a genuine Christian church. He wanted to sort through what were fundamental articles in contrast to secondary articles. This would allow Christians to recognize others as fellow Christians while all holding to primary doctrines. This did not mean that secondary issues should not be pursued or were not important, but that they did not determine the fundamental nature of the church. How does one know what is fundamental and what isnot? Calixtus answered this in his consensus quinquasaecularis – the consensus of the first five centuries. What did those Christians believe which were fundamental to the faith? He mainly relied on the Apostle’s creed as a base. His proposals met with almost unanimous agreement with Lutheran theologians. His only success was, though, in Poland, where King Ladislaus IV agreed with him.

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