Blogging Bavinck 4 – Catholic and Lutheran Dogmatics

After hitting the early history, chapters four and five (pgs. 143-174) run briefly through Catholic and Lutheran dogmatics, respectively.

My pretend theologian credentials do not extend to knowledge of Catholic Dogmas, so it was a very informative chapter for me. The starting point for Catholic dogma is the era of scholasticism. He sees three main issues with this. First, original sources were not studied, this is partly because Hebrew and Greek were unknown for the most part, but also the theologians at the time accepted Scripture and tradition uncritically; ‘Faith was the starting point.’

Second, the methodology was dependent on Aristotle’s logic, though only two of his books were translated into Latin; only part of Plato’s Timaus and a few quotes from Augustine were known. With Aristotle taking the place of John the Baptist as precursor to Christ, dogmatics became more a system of philosophy than doctrine of faith.

Finally, the whole presentation of the system became, basically, too tedious. I remember hearing that scholastic theologians argued over the number of angles that could dance on the head of a pin. Bavinck notes that complication took the place of serious study, the ‘form became more rigid…and dogmatics degenerated into endless argumentation.’

Later in the Jesuits, with their methodology and scholastic theology, ushered in the Count-Reformation. They brought study and seriousness back to dogma with their polemics against the Protestants, generally following the work of Thomas (I just realized I didn’t write anything about Thomas, that would be St. Thomas Aquinas, the greatest of the medieval and scholastic theologians, with his monumental work Summa), though the differed on sin, free will, and grace. He finishes this chapter with issues of Modernity, which I won’t go much into. He points to the philosophy of Europe becoming that of Bacon and Descartes, and leaving Aristotle. This, and the impact of Romanticism, are the greatest issues in 19th century Catholicism.

The Lutheran section was less interesting, short and mostly resorted back to philosophical arguments. I guess this makes sense, as Kant and Schleiermacher come from Germany. The history of Lutheran Dogmatics actually doesn’t begin with Luther. This was because Luther was not much of a systematics guy, instead focusing on the rediscovery of Grace and the letters of Paul. The dogmatics for the era was Melanchthon’s Loci (1521). I had never heard of this, maybe you haven’t either. This is likely because he started revising the work in 1526 and again by 1535 and 1546, we dissent from the Lutherans.

Before any great dogmatics or systematics were written, theology was settled and finalized in the Formulae of Concord (1577) and then the Book of Concord (1580). However, by the 18th century, the dogmas are corrupted with the influences of philosophy and the Enlightenment, especially with Kant, Hegel, and Schleiermacher. In Kant, we have the focus on morality and the use of religion as a way of becoming virtuous. Dogmatics is heavily influenced by the idea that the ‘more destiny’ of man cannot be reached by reason alone, but instead requires revelation.

In Schleiermacher (I sincerely hope this is the last time I have to type his name), we have a different reaction to the Enlightenment, that of feelings. He takes his starting point not in intellect or will but feeling. From religion comes the desire for community, but religions cause different feelings that affect communities in different ways. Therefore, dogma becomes subjective. He at least views Christ as our Redeemer, but describes Christianity as an ethical religion.

He has, according to Bavinck, ‘exerted incalculable influence’ on theology, whether liberal, mediating, or confessional and irrespective of the church – Catholic, Lutheran or Reformed. Stating that all theology after him is completely dependent on him is a huge statement about a man that almost no American’s have ever heard of. He wraps up this section with Hegel’s ideas of philosophy being higher than theology and eventually ‘led to the repudiation of Christianity’ and the issues of 19th Century Lutheran Doctrine being mingled with philosophy and a few of the theologians that lead the resistance against this influence.

Good quote: no other outcome can be expected from this method than that it will either terminate its existence or reduce it to a number of vague generalities, which do not benefit anyone.

  • This was written before the Liberal/Fundamental split in American Protestantism.

Follow along with me, go buy the whole set here – Reformed Dogmatics (4 Volume Set)

Blogging Bavinck 12, 3

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