Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
×
Home

Forerunners of the Reformation? A Critical Examination of the Evidence for the Precursors of the Reformation Doctrines of Justification

  • Alister E. McGrath (a1)

Extract

The question of whether there existed “Forerunners of the Reformation” is of considerable interest both to historians and theologians. The significance of the historical aspect of the question will be evident to any student of the history of ideas. It is clearly important to establish whether precursors of the distinctive teachings associated with the Reformation of the sixteenth century exist, and if they can be thus identified, to establish what influence, if any, they had upon the Reformers. However, it was the theological aspect of the question which was considered more relevant at the time of the Reformation itself, and which still has considerable significance today. The central theological question concerning the existence or otherwise of the Forerunners is this: Can the distinctive teachings of the churches of the Reformation be considered to be truly catholic? It can be shown without difficulty that it was the desire to demonstrate the catholicity of the Lutheran Reformation which led to the search for such Forerunners in the first instance.

Copyright

References

Hide All

1 For an excellent discussion of the question, see Aulén, Gustaf, Reformation och Katolicitet (Stockholm: Svenska Kyrkans, 1959). For a full discussion of the development of the doctrine of justification in the Western theological tradition from the earliest times to the present day, including characteristics of Protestant and Roman Catholic doctrines of justification, see my Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification (3 vols.; Cambridge: James Clarke, to be published shortly).

2 Wolf, Ernst, “Die Rechtfertigungslehre als Mitte und Grenze reformatorischer Theologie,” EvTh 9 (1949/1950) 298308.

3 Loofs, F., “Der articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae,” ThStK 90 (1917) 323400. A survey of seventeenth-century dogmatic works suggests that the description articulus stantis aut cadentis ecclesiae is more accurate. E.g., J. H. Alsted, Theologia scholastica didacta (Hanoviae, 1618) 711: “Articulus iustificationis dicitur articulus stantis aut cadentis ecclesiae….”

4 Première Instruction Pastorale xxvii; cited by Chadwick, Owen, From Bossuet to Newman: The Idea of Doctrinal Development (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1957) 17.

5 Oberman, H. A., Forerunners of the Reformation: The Shape of Late Medieval Thought (New York: Holt, Reinhart, and Winston, 1966). See also, idem, Thomas Bradwardine: un précurseur de Luther?, RHPhR 40 (1960) 146–51; idem, Facientibus Quod in se est Deus non Denegat Gratiam: Robert Holcot O.P. and the beginnings of Luther's Theology,” HTR 55 (1962) 317–42; idem, “‘Iustitia Christi’ and ‘Iustitia Dei’: Luther and the Scholastic Doctrines of Justification,” HTR 59 (1966) 126; idem, “Headwaters of the Reformation: Initia Lutheri — Initia Reformationis,” in Luther and the Dawn of the Modern Era: Papers for the Fourth International Congress for Luther Research (ed. Oberman, H. A.; Leiden: Brill, 1974) 4088; idem, Werden und Wertung der Reformation. Vom Wegestreit zum Glaubenskampf (Tübingen: Mohr, 1977) 82140.

6 Oberman, Forerunners, 42.

7 Ibid., 31.

8 See Niesel, W., “Calvin wider Osianders Rechtfertigungslehre,” ZKG 46 (1928) 410–30.

9 For details see A. E. McGrath, Iustitia Dei, vol. II.

10 See Leff, G., Bradwardine and the Pelagians (Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought 5; Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1957); idem, Gregory of Rimini: Tradition and Innovation in Fourteenth-Century Thought (Manchester: Manchester University, 1961) 155216. For further evidence of anti-Pelagianism in the later Middle Ages, see: Zumkeller, A., “Hugolino von Orvieto über Urstand und Erbsünde,” Augustiniana 3 (1953) 3562, 165–93; 4 (1954) 25–46; idem, Hugolino von Orvieto über Prädestination, Rechtfertigung und Verdienst,” Augustiniana 4 (1954) 109–56; 5 (1955) 5–51; Toner, N., “The Doctrine of Justification according to Augustine of Rome (Favaroni),” Augustiniana 8 (1958) 164–89, 299–327, 497–515; Zumkeller, A., “Das Ungenügen der menschlichen Werke bei den deutschen Predigern des Spätmittelalters,” ZKTh 81 (1959) 265305; H. A. Oberman, Werden und Wertung der Reformation, 82–140; McGrath, A. E., “The Anti-Pelagian Structure of ‘Nominalist’ Doctrines of Justification,” EThL 57 (1981) 107–19.

11 For an introduction, see Boisset, Jean, Erasme et Luther: libre ou serfarbitre? (Paris: Cerf, 1962); McSorley, Harry J., Luthers Lehre vom unfreien Willen nach seiner Hauptschrift De servo arbitrio (München: Hueber, 1967).

12 See Evard, A., Étude sur les variations du dogme de la prédestination et du libre arbitre dans la théologie du Melanchthon (Paris: Laval, 1901); Joest, W., “Synergismus,” RGG 6 (1962) 561–62.

13 We have documented this in Iustitia Dei, vol. II.

14 On this, see McSorley, Luthers Lehre.

15 See Loofs, “Der articulus stantis”; Wolf, “Rechtfertigungslehre.”

16 Articulus iustificationis est magister et princeps, dominus, rector et iudex super omnia genera doctrinarum, qui conservat et gubernat omnem doctrinam ecclesiasticam et erigit conscientiam nostram coram Deo (WA XXXIX/1.205.2).

17 WA XVIII.786.26–31.

18 Oberman, Werden und Wertung, 110–12.

19 For introductions to Luther's doctrine of justification, see: Rupp, Gordon, The Righteousness of God: Luther Studies (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1953); Modalsi, Ole, Das Gericht nach den Werken. Ein Beitrag zu Luthers Lehre vom Gesetz (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1963). For the opinion that Luther's doctrines of justification and the servum arbitrium are related as the two sides of one coin, see Plitt, G. L., “Luthers Streit mit Erasmus über den freien Willen in den Jahren 1524–1525,” Studien der evangelisch-protestantischen Geistlichen des Grossherzogthums Baden 2 (1876) 205–14.

20 WA LVI.269.25–30; 347.2–11; 442.20.

21 Apology, art. 4 § 252 (Die Bekenntnisschriften der evangelische-lutherischen Kirche [Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1952] 209.32–34): Et iustificari significat hie non ex impio iustum effici, sed usu forensi iustum pronuntiari.

22 Apology, art. 4 § 305 (Bekenntnisschriften, 219.43–45): Iustificare vero hoc loco forensi consuetudine significat reum absolvere et pronuntiare iustum, sed propter alienam iustitiam, videlicet Christi, quae aliena iustitia communicatur nobis per fidem.

23 Hooker, Richard, Works (ed. Keble, John; 3 vols.; Oxford: Oxford University, 1845) 3. 486.

24 Niesel, “Calvin wider Osianders Rechtfertigungslehre”; Koehler, W., Dogmengeschichte als Geschichte des christlichen Selbstbewusstseins (Zürich: Niehans, 1951) 354.

25 Stupperich, R., “Der Ursprung des ‘Regensburger Buches’ von 1541 und seine Rechtfertigungslehre,” ARG 36 (1939) 88116; Eells, Hastings, “The Failure of Church Unification Efforts during the German Reformation,” ARG 42 (1951) 160–74.

26 Buchanan, James, The Doctrine of Justification (Edinburgh, 1861; reprint ed., Edinburgh: Reformed Library, 1961) 94.

27 Ibid., 104.

28 Fraenkel, Peter, Testimonia Patrum: The Function of the Patristic Argument in the Theology of Philip Melanchthon (Geneva: Droz, 1961) 32.

29 Ibid., 87.

30 Corpus Reformatorum (Melanchthon), 2. 884: So man nun fragt, warum sondert ihr euch denn von der vorigen Kirchen? Antwort: wir sondern uns nicht von der vorigen rechten Kirchen. Ich halte es eben das, welches Ambrosius und Augustinus gelehret haben.

31 Ibid., 2. 501–2.

32 Ibid., 23. 624: (Augustinus) testatur se fidem intelligere non tantum historiae notitiam, sed fiduciam, qua confidimus nobis reraitti peccata propter Christum.

33 Fraenkel, Testimonia Patrum, 95

34 Corpus Reformatorum, 7. 395.

35 E.g., Ibid., 23. 621–22: Nam irrepserant iam in Ecclesiam philosophicae opiniones, quas Pelagius confirmavit, Evangelium transformans in Philosophiam, contendebat enim nihil esse peccatum originis, homines legl Dei satisfacere posse et ilia externa obedientia mereri remissionem peccatorum…. Sicut propemodum scholasticorum Doctorum sententia idem vult…. Et rursus multi delabuntur in opiniones Pelagianas.

36 Jacob Latomus, Duae Epistolae (Antwerp, 1544) 38.

37 See Bavaud, G., “La doctrine de la justification d'après Saint Augustin et la Réforme,” Revue des Études Augustiniennes 5 (1959) 2132.

38 Rupp, Righteousness, 138–57.

39 W. von Loewenich, cited by Rupp, Gordon, “Patterns of Salvation in the First Age of the Reformation,” ARG 57 (1966) 5266; quotation, p. 56.

40 Holl, Karl, Gesammelte Aufsätze I: Luther (Tübingen: Mohr, 1948) 111–54.

41 See Rupp, Righteousness, 183, 246.

42 WA LVI. 186. 19–20: Et quamquam imperfecte hoc adhuc sit dictum, ac de imputatione non clare omnia explicet, placuit tamen iustitiam Dei doceri, qua nos iustificemur.

43 WA LVI. 3.6; 157. 2.

44 Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.11.11.

45 Examinis Concilii Tridentini per Martinum Chemnicum scripti (Frankfurt, 1586) 129a.7–16: Pontificii enim verbum iustificare intelligunt iuxta morem Latinae compositionis, pro iustum facere, donato vel in iniusto habiti inhaerendo unde prodeant opera iustitiae. Lutherani vero Hebraica phrasi verbum iustificare accipiunt: ideo iustificatione definiunt absolutionem a peccato seu remissionem peccatorum, imputatione iustitiae Christi, adoptione et haereditate vitae aeternae.

46 Loci Theologici (Wittenberg, 1626) 2.3.7: Augustinus animadvertit hanc significationem non convenire doctrinae Pauli de iustificatione … involvit et obscurat mentem Pauli.

47 Wolfgang Musculus, Loci communes sacrae theologiae (Basileae, 1561) 262–63: Latinis auribus iustificare idem est quod iustum facere…. Augustinus quoque locis aliquot constanter verbum iustificandi exponit hoc sensu, cum dicit, credentes in eum qui iustificat impium, id est, ex impio pium facit. Verum Apostolus Paulus, ex cuius potissimum scriptis doctrina haec iustificationis desumpta est, usus est verbo iustificandi non eo sensu qui Latinus auribus probetur, sed quo utitur illo sacra scriptura secundum morem linguae sanctae, in qua fuit et natus et educatus et a pueris institutus. Huic verbum, id est iustificare, idem est a culpa absolvere, et iustum pronuntiare….

48 On Erasmus' published editions of the Fathers, see Oberman, Werden und Wertung, 93–95.

49 The publication of Opera omnia Augustini by the Basel press of Johannes Amerbach (d. 1513) is of considerable significance here, as it appears to have been this edition upon which Luther based his knowledge of Augustine.

50 Patrologia sive de primitivae ecclesiae Christianae doctorum vita ac lucubrationis opusculum posthumum (Jena, 1653).

51 Gerhard, Patrologia, 103.

52 Corpus Reformatorum, 5. 692.

53 Ibid., 23. 602. Melanchthon lists doctors such as Bernard of Clairvaux as examples of the “faithful few.”

54 Ibid., 1. 312–20.

55 Sec Fraenkel, Testimonia patrum, 100–107. It is not clear how many centuries of corruption Melanchthon envisaged. Fraenkel (Ibid., 106 n. 275) shows that the limits may be fixed at about 400 years.

56 Oberman, Werden und Wertung, 82–140.

57 Oberman, Headwaters of the Reformation, 82.

58 See n. 10.

59 WA II.294. 31–395.6: Certum est enim Modernos (quos vocant) cum Scotistis et Thomistis in hac re (id est libero arbitrio et gratia) consentire, excepto uno Gregorio Armiense, quem omnes damnant, qui et ipse eos Pelagianis deteriores esse et recte et-efficaciter convincit. Is enim solus inter scholasticos contra omnes scholasticos recentiores cum Carolostadio, id est Augustino et apostolo Paulo, consenti. Nam Pelagiani, etsi sine gratia opus bonum fieri posse asseruerint, dum sine gratia opus bonum, sed non meritorium fieri docent. Deinde super Pelagianos addunt, hominem habere dietamen naturale recte rationis, cui se possit naturaliter conformare voluntas, ubi Pelagiani hominem adiuvari per legem Dei dixerunt.

On the questions raised by Luther's understanding of Pelagianism, see Jörgensen, A. T., “Was verstand man in der Reformationszeit unter Pelagianismus?ThStK 83 (1910) 6382.

60 Steinmetz, D. C., Misericordia Dei: The Theology of Johannes von Staupitz in its Late Medieval Setting (Leiden: Brill, 1968) 33.

61 McGrath, Alister E., “‘Augustinianism’? A Critical Examination of the So-called ‘Medieval Augustinian Tradition’ on Justification,” Angustiniana 31 (1981) 247–67. In this study, we also pointed out that there was considerable divergence within any putative Augustinian school on the question of the formal cause of justification, at least two “medieval Augustinian traditions” being discernible.

62 Ritschl, A. B., The Christian Doctrine of Justification and Reconciliation (Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1872) 9091.

63 Oberman, Forerunners, 123–41. The four authors selected are Holcot, Bradwardine, Biel, and Staupitz. The selection of Holcot appears to be based on Oberman's 1962 paper “Facientibus Quo in se est,” in which Oberman merely demonstrated that there exists continuity between Luther and the “nominalistic theological tradition in which he was reared” (p. 342). This does not account for the emergence of Luther's concept of iustitia Christi aliena, central to his theology of justification.

64 Oberman, Iustitia Christi and Iustitia Dei, 4. See also idem, The Harvest of Medieval Theology: Gabriel Biel and Late Medieval Nominalism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1963) 185–87, esp. 185: “It is a reliable rule of interpretation for the historian of Christian thought that the position taken with respect to the doctrine of predestination is a most revealing indicator of the understanding of the doctrine of justification.”

65 Vignaux, Paul, Justification et prédestination au XIVe siècle (Paris: Leroux, 1934).

66 Oberman, Werden und Wertung, 98.

67 Ibid., 110–12.

68 Ibid., 129.

69 McGrath, A. E., “Humanist Elements in the Early Reformed Doctrine of Justification,” ARG 73 (1982) 520; esp. 17–19.

70 Moeller, B., “Die deutschen Humanisten und die Anfänge der Reformation,” ZKG 70 (1959) 4661; quotation p. 59.

71 The classic statement of the thesis remains that of Newman, John Henry, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845). For a more recent Roman Catholic statement on the matter, see Marín-Sola, F., La Evolución homogénea del dogma Catolico (Madrid: Biblioteca de autores Cristianos, 1952).

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Harvard Theological Review
  • ISSN: 0017-8160
  • EISSN: 1475-4517
  • URL: /core/journals/harvard-theological-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed