After Calvin: Studies in the Development of a Theological Tradition

By Richard A. Muller | Go to book overview

1
Approaches to Post-Reformation Protestantism
Reframing the Historiographical Question

Scholarly perspectives on the phenomenon of post-Reformation Protestantism have altered dramatically in the last three decades. Studies of the Reformed or Calvinistic theology of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries written before 1970 or even 1975 tended to pose the Reformation against Protestant orthodoxy or, in the phraseology then common to the discussion, “Calvin against the Calvinists. ” This rather radical dichotomy between the thought of the great Reformer and even his most immediate successors— notably, Theodore Beza—was constructed around a particular set of highly theologized assumptions, concerning the Reformation and Protestant orthodoxy, humanism and scholasticism, piety and dogma. At the heart of the dichotomizing argument was a contrast between the “biblical humanism” and christological piety of John Calvin and the Aristotelian scholasticism and predestinarian dogmatizing of nearly all of the later Reformed theologians, the sole exceptions being those who followed out the humanistic patterns of Calvin's thought into fundamentally antischolastic modes of thought. 1

Since that time, this view has been increasingly challenged and the attempt to offer a balanced, historically couched as distinct from theologically or even dogmaticallycontrolled account of the later Protestant development has proceeded on several fronts. 2 The essays in this volume provide a point of entry into the scholarship of reappraisal, whether from the perspective of the basic definitions of the terms and issues (such as “scholasticism” and “orthodoxy” in the Protestant context), from the perspective of the historiographical problems encountered by the study of post-Reformation Protestantism, or from the perspective of selected examples of Protestant thought as it developed into the era of orthodoxy.

There is, moreover, a similarity in method and approach between the scholarship that has begun to reappraise the transition from Reformation to post-Reformation era thought and the scholarship that, shortly before, had launched a reappraisal of the transition from the later Middle Ages to the Reformation. Specifically, the reappraisal of Protestant scholasticism has been attentive to studies of late medieval scholasticism, both in view of the definitions of the scholastic enterprise developed by scholars of the Middle Ages and Renaissance and in view of the more nuanced conception of “forerunners” of the Reformation arising out of studies of the thought of the fourteenth and fifteenth

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