Richard A. Muller, After Calvin: Studies in the Development of a Theological Tradition. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2003. 288 pp. Cloth. ISBN: 0-19-515701-X. $74.00.
Richard Muller has put together for us in one volume some of his significant articles on seventeenth century Reformed Orthodoxyarticles whose contents did not find their way into the four-volume set of Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics. He has organized these articles around his central thesisthat the older scholarship that forged a wedge between Calvin and later Reformed Scholasticism of the late sixteenth to the early eighteenth century is flawed. This scholarship has wrongly viewed Reformed Scholasticism as discontinuous with the early Reformed tradition, philosophical as opposed to biblical and rhetorical, and legalistic rather than gracious. Muller's articles take on all these claims.
In this effort, Muller shows how the Reformed Orthodox used both philosophy and rhetoric in a way that was consistent with their developments through the Renaissance and Reformation periods. Even the use of Ramist logic among the Reformed shows the use of Renaissance logic as opposed to pure Aristotelian logic. At the same time, Muller thinks that a sharp distinction between Ramism and Aristotelianism is unwarranted.
Muller's primary goal is to show that Scholasticism is a method rather than a philosophy.
In this respect, he shows that scholasticism does not represent a particular philosophical position (whether Platonism, Aristotelianism, Nominalism, or Rationalism). For all of these philosophical traditions are represented among Scholastic theologians. Nor does it represent a particular theological belief, such as a strongly Augustinian view of predestination. For Suarez, Molina, and Arminius were all scholastics even though they were Semi-Pelagians. No, instead, scholasticism represents a method of theological investigation and articulation.
To further support this point, Muller indicates that even among Reformed Scholastics, there were varying philosophical perspectives, ranging from Reconstructed Aristotelians (the majority), to Cartesian (rejected by most but used by some of the Cocceians), to Wolffian Rationalism (Johann Friedrich Stapfer and Daniel Wyttenbach).
Muller provides helpful distinctions of interest to those wanting to understand the Christ-centered approach of Reformed Scholasticism. First he distinguishes the redemptive christocentric approach of Reformed Orthodoxy from the principial christocentrism of Neo-Orthodoxy. Reformed Orthodoxy believed that Christ is the center of Scripture, that is, its central focus as redemptive revelation. However, Neo-Orthodoxy taught that Christ was the "principium cognoscendi theologiae" (97). Presumably Muller has in mind the fact that, according to Neo-Orthodoxy, no one can know anything theologically without first knowing Christ. That is, it rejected natural revelation and taught that there is no natural knowledge of God in man prior to one's knowledge of Christ.
In a chapter on Voetius, Muller lays out Voetius's suggestions for the course of theological study by ministerial candidates. These include a variety of things not found in modern theological studies, including the study of numerous languages such as Arabic and a first hand study of the Koran. Muller notes the connection between Voetius and his student Witsius as well as the connection of both to the Nadere Reformatie (110).
Voetius, while a polemical theologian, was concerned with Christian devotion, as seen in his concern for theology as a practical discipline. Muller distinguished this Reformed understanding of practical theology from technique (found in modern notions of practical theology). As Muller states, "in these, as in all of the works noted, `practical' does not indicate a tendency toward technique or the study of technique: instead, it indicates, as it did in the curricular projects of Bullinger, Hyperius, Voetius, and Witsius, knowledge oriented toward a goal, specifically, the goal of salvation" (120). Technique was taught in writing, meditation, and speaking, but it was only taught as a "necessary adjunct, not as the central discipline" (120).
Muller's discussion of Keckermann's view of natural theology is enlightening. First he shows the positive use of philosophy among the Reformed, summarizing Peter Martyr Vermigli's view that "Paul intends no assault on vera philosophia when he attacks worldly wisdom but only a warning against the false inventions of ambitious men and the ineptitude of pagan thinkers" (123). Following this perspective of Vermigli and Melancthon's positive use of philosophy (found in his commentary on Colossians), Muller concludes that Keckermann's positive use of philosophy is not discontinuous with the Reformed tradition, as some have claimed.
Still, there are differences between Keckermann and Vermigli. Vermigli believed that theology was both theoretical and practical, providing a large overlap between theology and philosophy, which deals with theoretical sciences. But Keckermann believed that theology was a practical science, perhaps following the Scotist tradition. Still Keckermann saw overlap between philosophy and theology because he accepted Aristotle's view of philosophy set forth in the Metaphysics. In Aristotle, philosophy is not only theoretical but also practical and concerns the will as much as the intellect, dealing with grammar, rhetoric, logic, mathematics, ethics, economics, and politics. Thus philosophy and theology deal with many similar areas, presumably in the practical sciences.
Keckermann's view stands in contrast to the view of double truththe view that something can be false in philosophy but true in theology. Instead, for Keckermann, following the Catholic tradition, it is impossible to have something true in philosophy that is false in theology in the same respect. Muller summarizes Keckermann's arguments for this conviction: "Since philosophy simply does not include within its purview such ideas as the redemption of mankind by the merit of Christ or the resurrection and its causes or the glorification of the body, it can no more refute these concepts than theology, which does not treat of the methods of healing the body, can refute or dismiss medicine" (129). Keckermann's concerns for these issues was connected with his teaching of theology and philosophy in an institution which taught a wide variety of disciplines.
In another chapter, Muller discusses Francis Turretin and his understanding of theology. Muller notes the general question of whether theology is theoretical or practical, reminding us that most in the history of the church believed it was both. However some, like the Thomists, placed more emphasis on the theoretical (or contemplative) side of theology while others (the Franciscans and many of the Reformed, including Turretin) placed the emphasis on the practical aspect of theology. At the same time, Turretin regarded his view, not as one extreme on the pendulum, but as the mean between two extremes, the other extreme being found among the Socinians, who believed that theology was purely practical, in which they were followed by Spinoza.
Muller also suggests that, following this perspective, Turretin took a middle ground on the relation of philosophy to theology. He believed that Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and many of the Medieval Schoolmen had taken over too much philosophy into theology so as to bring Gentile thinking into Christian theology. At the same time, Turretin would not accept the wholesale rejection of philosophy in the study of theology that was found among fanatics. He believed that general philosophy (not the particular philosophical doctrines of the philosophical schools) could be used instrumentally to understand the meaning of Scripture. That is, as Muller points out in another context, theologians can use the tools of logic, rhetoric, etc. in the interpretation of Scripture and in the formulation of sound doctrine, as well as the refutation of errors.
Moving in a more textual direction, Muller helps his readers see that the Reformed concern to defend the inspiration of the Hebrew vowel points must be seen in its historical context. In the late sixteenth century, Roman Catholic theologians (preeminently Bellarmine) argued that Hebrew scribes had often miscopied the Hebrew letters (which look alike) and had inserted the vowel points with the intention of refuting Christian interpretations of the text. Roman theologians had done this to exalt the Vulgate (which they believed to be inspired) over the Hebrew text, and to conclude that men cannot rely on the Old Testament text alone but must rely upon the Church for its proper interpretation.
In defending the authority of the Hebrew text, most of the Reformed defended the inspiration of the Hebrew vowels points. The elder Buxtorf wrote one of the most extensive defenses of this position in his Tiberias sive commentarius Masorethicus (1620). But four years later, his arguments were soundly refuted by Louis Cappel's Arcanum punctationis revelatum (149). However, Cappel still attempted to defend the authority of the Hebrew text. The vowel points represented the reading of the Hebrew text as received in the Jewish text. The vowel points ultimately depend upon the Hebrew sentence structure of the original text as displayed in its original Hebrew letters. In this way, Muller believes that Cappel is closer to Calvin, Bullinger, and Vermigli.
At the same time, Muller suggests that the Reformers were not concerned with the inspiration of every letter of the text (not simply of every vowel point) when he states: "Ironically, they maintained this hermeneutic by means of a more rigid view of inspiration of the text than that held by their predecessors, a view that depended (or so it seemed to the early orthodox) on the extension of divine authority beyond the sense of the scripture to the individual words, indeed to their letters and even to the tiny `jots and tittles' of the system of vocalization" (151). Here Muller suggests that "Calvin, Bullinger, Vermigli, and the other exegetes of the mid-sixteenth century" (the immediately preceding antecedents of the previous sentence) did not believe in the inspiration of every Hebrew letter of the original text. With this the reviewer must strongly disagree. We might have thought that, following his principle of continuity between the Reformers and their orthodox children, Muller would have argued differently, that because the Reformers held to the inspiration of every word and letter of the original Hebrew text, their orthodox followers were tempted to argue for the very inspiration of the vowel points themselves, when these were attacked.
Muller's chapter on Henry Ainsworth (the Brownist exegete) and his exegetical approach, endeavors to show that Ainsworth focused his Old Testament interpretation on the immediate historical context of the text. Only from there did he further develop its Christological interpretation and that not as extensively as some of his contemporaries. In this respect Muller compares Ainsworth to Calvin, Beza, Perkins, Willet, Rivetus, Diodati, and Poole, and contrasts him to Piscator, the Federal School, Dickson, and Matthew Henry (164). The later gave much more attention to the typological elements of the text in a way that Muller once labels allegorical.
Ainsworth was conversant with Hebrew exegesis including the Talmud and the Mishnah. Muller suggests that he most frequently used Jewish exegesis positively in a way that Muller contrasts to the more frequent polemic against Jewish exegesis in the history of the Christian Church. At the same time, Muller notes an apocryphal story that developed around Ainsworth's death in which he would accept no ransom price for an expensive ring he found (belonging to a Jew) except a meeting with the Rabbis to convince them of the Christian faith. Such a story presumably does not arise from one supportive of Judaism itself.
Muller believes that Ainsworth's exegetical interest in Judaica fits with that of Johannes Buxtorf and notes that it is a generation before the flowing study of Judaica among Reformed exegetes. At the same time he sees no direct influence of Ainsworth upon this later development. Toward the end of this chapter, Muller compares Ainsworth with Andrew Willet on the interpretation of Melchizedek.
Muller concludes his book with an examination of Hermann Witsius and Wilhelmus a Brakel's understanding of the covenant of works and the stability of divine law. His goal in this chapter is to contradict the view that the covenant of works and an unbiblical definition of covenant in Reformed Orthodoxy lead to legalism (the views of Rolston, Torrance, and Poole).
Witsius taught that covenant is a mutual agreement between God and man, thus including promise and law together in his understanding of covenant. Torrance considers this definition to be legalistic, implicitly denying the promissory character of the covenant.
Muller takes on Torrance's criticisms, noting that Witsius believes that promise was fundamental to covenant.
Modern writers like Torrance distinguish between the unilateral and bilateral definitions of covenant, assuming that the unilateral definition fits with a doctrine of Predestination while the bilateral definition does not, the latter rather fitting a synergistic view of salvation. However, following the Reformed tradition, Witsius and Brakel unite the unilateral and bilateral aspects of the covenant. The bilateral nature of the covenant does not undermine the doctrine of the decrees.
Muller notes the background in Calvin for the covenant of works such as the relationship between the natural order and God's good pleasure. In this he points to Bierma and Lillback's interpretations of Calvin. Bierma points to Calvin's use of the right of creation. And Lillback focuses on Calvin's use of the legal relationship between God and Adam, the sacramental aspect of the tree of life, etc. (182). In these points Muller finds consistency between Calvin and the later Reformed tradition on the covenant of works. Torrance does not see this because he overemphasizes Calvin's views on God's grace before the fall and minimizes Calvin's view of Adam's responsibility to God's law.
Muller concludes by showing that the covenant of works actually supports the doctrines of grace and justification. First he notes Witsius's polemic against an opponent who claimed that Adam did not need law before the fall. Next we are lead to see that the law continues its binding force even after the fall. By implication its binding force continues for sinners both before and after grace. On this assumption, it is necessary for Christ to obey the law perfectly on behalf of sinners and to bear their wrath for breaking the law. Therefore, the covenant of works and the continuing validity of the law, rather than producing legalism, actually support the gracious nature of the covenant of grace.
Muller's book is well worth reading for anyone interested in the history of Reformed theology and for clarity on numerous issues in its theological heritage. He also helps us to see the vital aspects of Reformed Scholasticism at various points. Finally, with the glaring exception of his understanding of the Reformers's views on inspiration, this book is a clear refutation in certain areas of the older scholarship, which sought to drive a wedge between Calvin and Reformed Scholasticism. To the extent that that wedge is forged in similar ways by those professing to be Reformed and Orthodox, it is a useful remedy to their misapprehensions. We can only wish that, like Muller's The Unaccomodated Calvin, this volume might soon be available in paperback and thereby find a wider audience.
Scott F. Sanborn