As the seventeenth-century documents themselves reveal, the Reformed orthodox were well aware of differences between their “scholasticism” and the several phases of medieval scholasticism: indeed, they typically identified an earlier twelfth and thirteenth-century scholastic model as distinct from and less problematic than the scholasticism of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries – and they identified differences in method and in the balance of authorities between their scholastic method and the methods of the Middle Ages in general. Thus, when Protestant scholasticism is approached by way of the documents and materials of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and an assessment of its style, methods, and contents is based directly on the definitions and the methods evidenced in the seventeenth-century systems, the result explicitly opposes the view of several recent scholars according to which “scholasticism” can be identified specifically with a use of Aristotelian philosophy, a pronounced metaphysical interest, and the use of predestination as an organizing principle in theological system.The Protestant orthodox were intent upon establishing systematically the normative, catholic character of institutionalized Protestantism. Click To Tweet
In this theologically and philosophically broad but methodologically closely defined sense, the term “scholasticism” can be applied to a theology that is not a duplication of medieval scholastic teaching and method, that is distinctly Protestant, and that is not nearly as concerned to draw philosophy into dialogue with theology as the great synthetic works of the thirteenth century. Scholasticism, then, indicates the technical and logical approach to theology as a discipline characteristic of theological system from the late twelfth through the seventeenth century. Since scholasticism is primarily a method or approach to academic disciplines, it is not necessarily allied to any particular philosophical perspective, nor does it represent a systematic attachment to or concentration upon any particular doctrine or concept as a key to theological system. This latter point has always been clear with respect to medieval scholasticism, but it needs to be made just as decisively with regard to Protestant scholasticism.
The theology of Protestant orthodoxy, developed in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as a final, dogmatic codification of the Reformation, occupies a position of considerable significance in the history of Protestant thought. Not only is this scholastic or orthodox theology the historical link that binds us to the Reformation, it is also the form of theological system in and through which modern Protestantism has received most of its doctrinal principles and definitions. Without detracting at all from the achievement of the great Reformers and the earliest codifiers of the doctrines of the Reformation – writers like Melanchthon, Calvin, and Bullinger – we need to recognize that not they, but rather, subsequent generations of “orthodox” or “scholastic” Protestants are responsible for the final form of such doctrinal issues as the definition of theology and the enunciation of its fundamental principles, the fully developed Protestant forms of the doctrine of the Trinity, the crucial christological concept of the two states of Christ, penal substitutionary atonement, and the theme of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace.Where the Reformers painted with a broad brush, their orthodox and scholastic successors strove to fill in the details of the picture. Click To Tweet
If the theology of the Reformation was not the source of the final formulation of these major doctrinal issues, neither was it the source of most of the precise definitions and careful distinctions necessary to the creation of a complete theological system. Where the Reformers painted with a broad brush, their orthodox and scholastic successors strove to fill in the details of the picture. Whereas the Reformers were intent upon distancing themselves and their theology from problematic elements in medieval thought and, at the same time, remaining catholic in the broadest sense of that term, the Protestant orthodox were intent upon establishing systematically the normative, catholic character of institutionalized Protestantism, at times through the explicit use of those elements in patristic and medieval theology not at odds with the teachings of the Reformation.
The above excerpt is taken from Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 2nd Edition (Volume 1) by Richard A. Muller, ©2003. Used by permission of Baker Academic.