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The Study of Theology in 17th and 18th Centuries

The Study of Theology in 17th and 18th Centuries

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Published by: GLENN DALE PEASE on Jun 15, 2013
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THE STUDY OF THEOLOGY I 17TH AD 18TH CETURIESBY CHARLES AUGUSTUS BRIGGSIn the Roman Catholic Church the Reformation was,to a great extent, a reform of education and a revivalof theology. But in the Protestant world there was aserious decline in theological education, although therewere revivals here and there, especially among theCalixtines of Germany and the Puritans of England.The successors of the Reformers reverted to the scholasticphilosophy of Aristotle ; and Protestant Scholasticismbecame as barren, hopeless, and irreformable as theMediaeval. There was the same incessant strife of schoolsand parties over merely theoretic questions of theology.This is the period of the Formula of Concord (1576), theSynod of Dort (1619), and the Zurich Consensus (1549),and of the ecclesiasticism of Laud (t 1645), but also of the retreat of Protestantism all along the line.The universities of Germany sank so low that their situationseemed hopeless.^ Even Leibnitz (f 1716), the greatest scholarof his time, did not think of the revival of learning in con-nection with universities, but through the association of scholarsapart from universities. He thought travel and intercoursewith learned men and men of affairs of much more importancethan a university education ; and so they were in his day.English historians do not give adequate consideration to the peril1 Vide Paulsen, Geschichte des gelehrten UnUrrichts auf den deutschenSchulen und Universitdten, '^^'^^^ i. pp. 495 seq., 511 seq. ; GermunUniversities, p. 55; Ddllingsr, Universities Past and Present, pp. 11seq., 14.144 HISTORY OF THE STUDY OF THEOLOGY [pt. n.of Protestantism in the sixteenth, and especially in the secondhalf of the seventeenth century, from a theological point of view.The people of England realised it, as shown by the Guy Fawkesscare ; and ' no popery ' was branded into the very blood of theEnglish people, and is there to-day. The clergy, Anglican and
onconformist alike, realised it at the time ; and, notwithstand-ing the bitter conflicts in which they were engaged, they combinedto save themselves from the greater evil of Rome by the BritishRevolution. I know of no more desperate literary battle, nonemore severe, comprehensive, and thorough, than that wagedfrom 1687 to 1689 between Catholic and Protestant writers inEngland. If James n. had been an abler man and a wiser poli-tician, it is quite possible that he might have become the LouisXIV. of England, and English Protestantism might have sharedthe fate of the French. ow it was the priests trained in theEnglish Catholic seminary at Douai, France {transferred for atime to Rheims), at the English Seminary in Rome, and those inSpain and Portugal, that carried on this theological battle againstthe best scholars of the Church of England and the oncon-formists ; and from the scholar's point of view it cannot be saidthat the Protestant scholars had always the best of the argument.It was the sturdy Protestantism of Sweden that saved Protestant-ism in orthern Germany, and the sturdy Protestantism of Holland and Scotland that saved England, and that by successin war rather than by superiority in theological scholarship.In the third quarter of the seventeenth century theCounter-Reformation was triumphant. In the lastquarter of the century Protestantism organised a moresturdy and effectual resistance. In the eighteenth centuryProtestantism began to gain ground, and continued todo so all through the century. This was due to severalinfluences, but, from the point of view of theologicalstudy, largely to the decline in efficiency of RomanCatholic education. The Jesuit Order had becomewealthy and haughty, self-seeking and possessed of theevil spirits of domination and falsehood. This madethem hated by the secular clergy and the regulars of theother orders. Their strife for wealth and political powermade them a peril in civil politics, and gradually pro-duced the universal feeling that they were a politicalCH. m.] SEVETEEXTH-EIGHTEETH CETURIES 145menace. This brought about the banishment of theorder from many countries, and at last its temporaryabolition by the pope (1773). The worldly spirit of theorder suppressed the religious and the intellectual spirit ;and the ability of its members in theological scholarshipbecame weakened. Furthermore, the Jesuits refused to
adapt themselves to the spirit of the age, and persistedin their ultra-conservative adherence to the oldermethods. Their Scholastic Theology had become per-verted into a newer Scholasticism that was worse insome respects, especially on the ethical side, than thecorrupt Scholasticism that preceded the Reformation.The society thought more of making successful men of the world than of making pious priests and scholarlyteachers. The Ratio Studiarum (1599) was still followedin the Jesuit schools, but in a pedantic, mechanical,traditional way. Ignatius had introduced the newlearning of his age, and harmonised it with the old ;but the Jesuits of the eighteenth century were hostileto the new learning of their times. The order refusedthe science and philosophy and history which char-acterised the new learning of the eighteenth century.They insisted upon the absolute authority of theAristotehan Philosophy and of the Scholastic Theology,and would allow no deviation from it.In 1730-1731 the General Congregation of the Order decidedagainst the allowance of liberty of opinion in philosophy, wliirlihad been requested by several pro\'inces of the order, and resolved:(1) othing is in contradiction -with the Aristotelian philo-sophy, and all the phenomena of nature must be explained inaccordance therewith.(2) The philosophy of Aristotle must remain, according to theconstitution and rules of the order, not only for logic and meta-physics, but also for physics, where the peripatetic doctrine of thenature and constitution of natural bodies must be maintained.^1 Pachtler, Ratio Studiorum, i. 104; vide Paulsen, Geschichte desgelehrten Unterrichts, ii. pp. 103 se^.146 HISTORY OF THE STUDY OF THEOLOGY [pt. n.The Jesuit schools were thus made antagonistic to the newlearning of the eighteenth century — that is, to natural scienceand the inductive methods of study, to the modern philosophyof Descartes, Locke and Leibnitz, as the Obscurants of Colognehad been opposed to the new learning of the sixteenth century.

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