« Prev The Reformation and Rationalism Next »

§ 9. The Reformation and Rationalism.


G. Frank: De Luthero rationalismi praecursore. Lips., 1857.

S. Berger: La Bible an seizième siècle; étude sur les origines de la critique. Paris, 1879.

Charles Beard: The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century in relation, to Modem Thought and Knowledge (Hibbert Lectures). London, 1883. Lect. V.

Comp. also Lecky: History of Rationalism in Europe. London, 4th ed. 1870, 2 vols. George P. Fisher: Faith and Rationalism. New York, 1879, revised 1885 (191 pages).


The Roman Catholic Church makes Scripture and tradition the supreme rule of faith, laying the chief stress on tradition, that is, the teaching of an infallible church headed by an infallible Pope, as the judge of the meaning of both.1515    "I am the tradition" (la tradizione son io), said Pope Pius IX., during the Vatican Council which substituted an infallible papacy for an infallible council, in conflict both with oecumenical councils and popes who officially denounced Pope Honorius III. as a Monotheletic heretic. See vol. IV. 500 sqq.

Evangelical, Protestantism makes the Scripture alone the supreme rule, but uses tradition and reason as means in ascertaining its true sense.

Rationalism raises human reason above Scripture and tradition, and accepts them only as far as they come within the limits of its comprehension. It makes rationality or intelligibility the measure of credibility. We take the word Rationalism here in the technical sense of a theological system and tendency in distinction from rational theology. The legitimate use of reason in religion is allowed by the Catholic and still more by the Protestant church, and both have produced scholastic systems in full harmony with orthodoxy. Christianity is above reason, but not against reason.

The Reformation is represented as the mother of Rationalism both by Rationalistic and by Roman Catholic historians and controversialists, but from an opposite point of view, by the former to the credit, by the latter to the disparagement of both.

The Reformation, it is said, took the first step in the emancipation of reason: it freed us from the tyranny of the church. Rationalism took the second step: it freed us from the tyranny of the Bible. "Luther," says Lessing, the champion of criticism against Lutheran orthodoxy, "thou great, misjudged man! Thou hast redeemed us from the yoke of tradition: who will redeem us from the unbearable yoke of the letter! Who will at last bring us a Christianity such as thou would teach us now, such as Christ himself would teach!"

Roman Catholics go still further and hold Protestantism responsible for all modern revolutions and for infidelity itself, and predict its ultimate dismemberment and dissolution.1616    This charge is sanctioned by several papal Encyclicals; it is implied, negatively, in the Syllabus of Pius IX. (1864), and, positively, though cautiously, in the Encyclical of Leo XIII Immortale Dei (Nov. 1, 1885), which characterizes the Reformation movements (without naming them) as "those pernicious and deplorable revolutionary tendencies which were aroused in the sixteenth century, and which, after introducing confusion into Christendom, soon, by a natural course, entered the domain of philosophy, and from philosophy into all the lines of civil society. Hasak, in his book—Dr. M. Luther (Regensburg, 1881), takes as his motto: " Be reconciled to the Church of God, the old mother church, which, for these eighteen hundred years, has been the preserver of the eternal truth, before the bloody flood of atheism and the socialistic republic breaks upon us as a true judgment of the world." But this charge is sufficiently set aside by the undeniable fact that modern infidelity and revolution in their worst forms have appeared chiefly in Roman Catholic countries, as desperate reactions against hierarchical and political despotism. The violent suppression of the Reformation in France ended at last in a radical overthrow of the social order of the church. In Roman Catholic countries, like Spain and Mexico, revolution has become a chronic disease. Romanism provokes infidelity among cultivated minds by its excessive supernaturalism.

The Reformation checked the skepticism of the renaissance, and the anarchical tendencies of the Peasants’ War in Germany and of the Libertines in Geneva. An intelligent faith is the best protection against infidelity; and a liberal government is a safeguard against revolution.

The connection of the Reformation with Rationalism is a historical fact, but they are related to each other as the rightful use of intellectual freedom to the excess and abuse of it. Rationalism asserts reason against revelation, and freedom against divine as well as human authority. It is a one-sided development of the negative, protesting, antipapal and antitraditional factor of the Reformation to the exclusion of its positive, evangelical faith in the revealed will and word of God. It denies the supernatural and miraculous. It has a superficial sense of sin and guilt, and is essentially Pelagian; while the Reformation took the opposite Augustinian ground and proceeded from the deepest conviction of sin and the necessity of redeeming grace. The two systems are thus theoretically and practically opposed to each other. And yet there is an intellectual and critical affinity between them, and Rationalism is inseparable from the history of Protestantism. It is in the modern era of Christianity what Gnosticism was in the ancient church—a revolt of private judgment against the popular faith and church orthodoxy, an overestimate of theoretic knowledge, but also a wholesome stimulus to inquiry and progress. It is not a church or sect (unless we choose to include Socinianism and Unitarianism), but a school in the church, or rather a number of schools which differ very considerably from each other.

Rationalism appeared first in the seventeenth century in the Church of England, though without much effect upon the people, as Deism, which asserted natural religion versus revealed religion; it was matured in its various phases after the middle of the eighteenth century on the Continent, especially in Protestant Germany since Lessing (d. 1781) and Semler (d. 1791), and gradually obtained the mastery of the chairs and pulpits of Lutheran and Reformed churches, till about 1817, when a revival of the positive faith of the Reformation spread over Germany and a serious conflict began between positive and negative Protestantism, which continues to this day.

1. Let us first consider the relation of the Reformation to the use of reason as a general principle.

The Reformation was a protest against human authority, asserted the right of private conscience and judgment, and roused a spirit of criticism and free inquiry in all departments of knowledge. It allows, therefore, a much wider scope for the exercise of reason in religion than the Roman church, which requires an unconditional submission to her infallible authority. It marks real progress, but this progress is perfectly consistent with a belief in revelation on subjects which lie beyond the boundary of time and sense. What do we know of the creation, and the world of the future, except what God has chosen to reveal to us? Human reason can prove the possibility and probability of the existence of God and the immortality of the soul, but not the certainty and necessity. It is reasonable, therefore, to believe in the supernatural on divine testimony, and it is unreasonable to reject it.

The Reformers used their reason and judgment very freely in their contest with church authority. Luther refused to recant in the crisis at Worms, unless convinced by testimonies of the Scriptures and "cogent arguments."1717    "Scripturae sacrae testimoniis vel evidenti ratione," or "evidentissimis rationibus; in the German form, as repeated by him on the occasion, "durch Zeugnisse der heil. Schrift und durch helle Gründe."See Köstlin II. 452 sq. and 800. The words seem to assign to reason an independent position by, the side of the Scriptures, but in case of conflict Luther always allowed the decision to the Scriptures. For a while he was disposed to avail himself of the humanistic movement which was skeptical and rationalistic in its tendency, but his strong religious nature always retained the mastery. He felt as keenly as any modern Rationalist, the conflict between natural reason and the transcending mysteries of revelation. He was often tormented by doubts and even temptations to blasphemy, especially when suffering from physical infirmity. A comforter of others, he needed comfort himself and asked the prayers of friends to fortify him against the assaults of the evil spirit, with whom he had, as he thought, many a personal encounter. He confessed, in 1524, how glad he would have been five years before in his war with papal superstition, if Carlstadt could have convinced him that the Eucharist was nothing but bread and wine, and how strongly he was then inclined to that rationalistic view which would have given a death blow to transubstantiation and the mass. He felt that every article of his creed—the trinity, in unity, the incarnation, the transmission of Adam’s sin, the atonement by the blood of Christ, baptismal regeneration, the real presence, the renewal of the Holy Spirit, the resurrection of the body—transcended human comprehension. In Aug. 2, 1527, during the raging of the pestilence at Wittenberg, he wrote to Melanchthon, who was absent at Jena: "For more than a week I have been tossed about in death and hell; so that, hurt in all my body, I still tremble in every limb. For having almost wholly lost Christ, I was driven about by storms and tempests of despair and blasphemy against God. But God, moved by the prayers of the saints, begins to have pity upon me, and has drawn my soul out of the lowest hell. Do not cease to pray for me, as I do for you. I believe that this agony of mine pertains to others also."1818    Briefe, ed. de Wette, III. 189: "Ego sane ... plus tota hebdomada in morte et inferno jactatus, ita ut toto corpore laesus adhuc tremam membris," etc. Comp. Luther’s letters to Spalatin, July 10th and Aug. 19th, 1527, l.c. III. 187, 191.

In such trials and temptations he clung all the more mightily to the Scriptures and to faith which believes against reason and hopes against hope. "It is a quality of faith," he says in the explanation of his favorite Epistle to the Galatians, "that it wrings the neck of reason and strangles the beast, which else the whole world, with all creatures, could not strangle. But how? It holds to God’s Word, and lets it be right and true, no matter how foolish and impossible it sounds. So did Abraham take his reason captive and slay it, inasmuch as he believed God’s Word, wherein was promised him that from his unfruitful and as it were dead wife, Sarah, God would give him seed."

This and many similar passages clearly show the bent of Luther’s mind. He knew the enemy, but overcame it; his faith triumphed over doubt. In his later years he became more and more a conservative churchman. He repudiated the mystic doctrine of the inner word and spirit, insisted on submission to the written letter of the Scriptures, even when it flatly contradicted reason. He traced the errors of the Zwickau prophets, the rebellious peasants, the Anabaptists, and the radical views of Carlstadt and Zwingli, without proper discrimination, to presumptuous inroads of the human reason into the domain of faith, and feared from them the overthrow of religion. He so far forgot his obligations to Erasmus as to call him an Epicurus, a Lucian, a doubter, and an atheist. Much as he valued reason as a precious gift of God in matters of this world, he abused it with unreasonable violence, when it dared to sit in judgment over matters of faith.1919    He called reason "the mistress of the devil,"" the ugly devil’s bride,"" a poisonous beast with many dragons’ heads," "God’s bitterest enemy." The coarsest invective against this gift of God is found in the last sermon he preached at Wittenberg, in the year of his death (1546), on Rom. 12:3. He here represents reason as the fountain of gross and subtle idolatry, and says: Wucherei, Säuferei, Ehebruch, Mord, Todtschlag, etc., die kann man merken, und verstehet auch die Welt, dass sie Sünde sein; aber des Tuefels Braut, Ratio, die shöne Metze, fähret herein, und will klug sein, und was sie saget, meinet sie, es sei der heilige Geist; wer will da helfen? Weder Jurist, Medicus, noch König oder Kaiser. Denn es ist die höchste Hure die der Teufel hat!’ And again:" Derohalben wie ein junger Gesell muss der bösen Lust wehren, ein Alter dem Geiz: also ist die Vernunft von Art und Natur eine, schädliche Hure."... " Die Vernunft ist und soll in der Taufe ersäuft sein."" Höre auf, du verfluchte Hure; willst du Meisterin sein über den Glauben, welcher sagt, dass im Abendmahl des Herrn sei der wahre Leib und das wahre Blut; item dass die Taufe nicht schlecht Wasser ist ... Diesem Glauben muss die Vernunft unterthan und gehorsam sein."And much of the same sort, with vehement denunciations of the Schwärmergeister and Sacramentirer (the sectaries and Zwinglians). See Werke, ed. Walch XII. col. 1530 sqq. It is noteworthy that Luther first abused reason in his book on the Slavery of the Human Will against the semi-Pelagianism of Erasmus. But his assaults on Aristotle and the scholastic theology began several years earlier, before 1517.

Certainly, Luther must first be utterly divested of his faith, and the authorship of his sermons, catechisms and hymns must be called in question, before he can be appealed to as the father of Rationalism. He would have sacrificed his reason ten times rather than his faith.

Zwingli was the most clear-headed and rationalizing among the Reformers.2020    Luther felt this when he told him at Marburg: "You have a different spirit." He did not pass through the discipline of monasticism and mysticism, like Luther, but through the liberal culture of Erasmus. He had no mystic vein, but sound, sober, practical common sense. He always preferred the plainest sense of the Bible. He rejected the Catholic views on original sin, infant damnation and the corporeal presence in the eucharist, and held advanced opinions which shocked Luther and even Calvin. But he nevertheless reverently bowed before the divine authority of the inspired Word of God, and had no idea of setting reason over it. His dispute with Luther was simply a question of interpretation, and he had strong arguments for his exegesis, as even the best Lutheran commentators must confess.

Calvin was the best theologian and exegete among the Reformers. He never abused reason, like Luther, but assigned it the office of an indispensable handmaid of revelation. He constructed with his logical genius the severest system of Protestant orthodoxy which shaped French, Dutch, English and American theology, and fortified it against Rationalism as well as against Romanism. His orthodoxy and discipline could not keep his own church in Geneva from becoming Socinian in the eighteenth century, but he is no more responsible for that than Luther for the Rationalism of Germany, or Rome for the infidelity of Voltaire. Upon the whole, the Reformed churches in England, Scotland and North America, have been far less invaded by Rationalism than Germany.

2. Let us now consider the application of the principle of free inquiry to the Bible.2121    Comp. here the Critical Introductions to the Bible, and especially Reuss, Histoire du Canon des Saintes Écritures, Strasbourg, 1863. Ch. XVI. p. 308 sqq.; Hunter’s Engl. transl. (1884) p. 290 sqq.

The Bible, its origin, genuineness, integrity, aim, and all its circumstances and surroundings are proper subjects of investigation; for it is a human as well as a divine book, and has a history, like other literary productions. The extent of the Bible, moreover, or the Canon, is not determined by the Bible itself or by inspiration, but by church authority or tradition, and was not fully agreed upon till the close of the fourth century, and even then only by provincial synods, not by any of the seven oecumenical Councils. It was therefore justly open to reinvestigation.

The Church of Rome, at the Council of Trent, settled the Canon, including the Apocrypha, but without any critical inquiry or definite theological principle; it simply confirmed the traditional usage, and pronounced an anathema on every one who does not receive all the books contained in the Latin Vulgate.2222    Sess. IV. (April 8th, 1546): "Si quis autem libros ipsos integros cum omnibus suis partibus, prout in ecclesia catholica legi consueverunt, et in veteri Vulgata Latina editione habentur, pro sacris et canonicis non susceperit et traditiones praedictas sciens et prudens contempserit, anathema sit." Schaff, Creeds II. 82. There were, however, protesting voices in the council: some desired to recognize the old distinction between Homologumena and Antilegomena; others simply an enumeration of the sacred books used in the Catholic church, without a dogmatic definition. Sarpi censures the council for its decision, and there are Catholic divines (as Sixtus Senensis, Du Pin, Jahn), who, in spite of the decision, make a distinction between protocanonical and deuterocanonical books. She also checked the freedom of investigation by requiring conformity to a defective version and a unanimous consensus of the fathers, although such an exegetical consensus does not exist except in certain fundamental doctrines.

The Reformers re-opened the question of the extent of the Canon, as they had a right to do, but without any idea of sweeping away the traditional belief or undermining the authority of the Word of God. On the contrary, from the fulness of their faith in the inspired Word, as contained in the Scriptures, they questioned the canonicity of a few books which seem to be lacking in sufficient evidence to entitle them to a place in the Bible. They simply revived, in a new shape and on doctrinal rather than historical grounds, the distinction made by the Hebrews and the ancient fathers between the canonical and apocryphal books of the Old Testament, and the Eusebian distinction between the Homologumena and Antilegomena of the New Testament, and claimed in both respects the freedom of the ante-Nicene church.

They added, moreover, to the external evidence, the more important internal evidence on the intrinsic excellency of the Scripture, as the true ground on which its authority and claim to obedience rests; and they established a firm criterion of canonicity, namely, the purity and force of teaching Christ and his gospel of salvation. They did not reject the testimonies of the fathers, but they placed over them what Paul calls the "demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (1 Cor. 2:4).

Luther was the bold pioneer of a higher criticism, which was indeed subjective and arbitrary, but, after all, a criticism of faith. He made his central doctrine of justification by faith the criterion of canonicity.2323    "This," he says in the Preface to the Epistle of James, " is the true touchstone (der rechte Prüfstein) of all books, whether they make Christ their sole topic and aim" [literally " drive Christ,"Christum treiben], " or not; since all Scripture shows Christ (Rom. 3), and St. Paul wishes to know nothing but Christ (1 Cor. 2). That which does not teach Christ is not apostolic, though St. Peter and Paul should teach it; again, that which preaches Christ is apostolic, though Judas, Annas, Pilate and Herod should say it."The devil himself can quote Scripture. He thus placed the material or subjective principle of Protestantism above the formal or objective principle, the truth above the witness of the truth, the doctrine of the gospel above the written Gospel, Christ above the Bible. Romanism, on the contrary, places the church above the Bible. But we must remember that Luther first learnt Christ from the Bible, and especially, from the Epistles of Paul, which furnished him the key for the understanding of the scheme of salvation.

He made a distinction, moreover, between the more important and the less important books of the New Testament, according to the extent of their evangelic purity and force, and put Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation at the end of the German Bible.2424    In this distinction Carlstadt had preceded him in his book, De Canon. Scripturis (Wittenb. 1520, reprinted in Credner’s Zur Gesch. des Kanons, 1847, p. 291-412). Carlstadt divided the books of the canon into three ordines: (1) libri summae dignitatis (the Pentateuch, though not written by Moses, and the Gospels); (2) secundae dignitatis (the Prophets and 15 Epistles); (3) tertiae dignitatis (the Jewish Hagiographa and the seven Antilegomena of the New Testament).

He states his reason in the Preface to the Hebrews as follows: "Hitherto we have had the right and genuine books of the New Testament. The four that follow have been differently esteemed in olden times." He therefore appeals to the ante-Nicene tradition, but his chief objection was to the contents.

He disliked, most of all, the Epistle of James because he could not harmonize it with Paul’s teaching on justification by faith without works,2525    He rejects the epistle first of all, "because it gives righteousness to works in flat contradiction to Paul and all other Scriptures;" secondly, "because, while undertaking to teach Christian people, it does not once mention the passion, the resurrection, the Spirit of Christ; it names Christ twice, but teaches nothing about him; it calls the law a law of liberty, while Paul calls it a law of bondage, of wrath, of death and of sin." He offered his doctor’s cap to any who could harmonize James and Paul on the subject of justification, and jests about the trouble Melanchthon took to do it. He made the contradiction unnecessarily stronger by inserting his allein (sola) before durch den Glauben in Rom. 3:28. He first attacked the Epistle of James in his book De Captivitate Babylonica, in 1520, where he calls it an epistle unworthy of the apostolical spirit. Carlstadt seems to have fallen out with Luther in the same year on this question; for he defended the Epistle against the frivola argumenta of a bonus sacerdos amicitiae nostrae (who can be no other than Luther), in his book De canonicis Scripturis, Wittenbergae, 1520. and he called it an epistle of straw as compared with the genuine apostolic writings.2626    The comparison must not be overlooked. He says: gegen sie, i.e., as compared with the Epistles of Paul, Peter and John, previously mentioned. See the passage in full below. He could not be blind to the merits of James as a fresh, vigorous teacher of practical Christianity.

He objected to the Epistle to the Hebrews because it seems to deny (in Heb. 6, 10 and 12) the possibility of repentance after baptism, contrary to the Gospels and to Paul, and betrays in 2:3, a post-apostolic origin. He ascribed the authorship to Apollos by an ingenious guess, which, though not supported by ancient tradition, has found great favor with modern commentators and critics,2727    Bleek, de Wette, Tholuck, Lünemann, Kendrick (in Lange), Hilgenfeld, de Pressensé, Davidson, Alford, Farrar, and others. chiefly because the authorship of any other possible writer (Paul, Barnabas, Luke, Clement) seems to offer insuperable difficulties, while the description of Apollos in Acts 18:24–28, compared with the allusions in 1 Cor. 1:12; 3:6; 4:6; 16:12, seems to fit exactly the author of this anonymous Epistle.

He called the Epistle of Jude an "unnecessary epistle," a mere extract from Second Peter and post-apostolic, filled with apocryphal matter, and hence rejected by the ancient fathers.

He could at first find no sense in the mysteries of the Apocalypse and declared it to be "neither apostolic nor prophetic," because it deals only with images and visions, and yet, notwithstanding its obscurity, it adds threats and promises, "though nobody knows what it means"; but afterwards he modified his judgment when the Lutheran divines found in it welcome weapons against the church of Rome.

The clearest utterance on this subject is found at the close of his preface to the first edition of his German version of the New Testament (1522), but it was suppressed in later editions.2828    See note at the end of this section. His Table Talk contains bold and original utterances on Esther, Ecclesiastes and other books of the Old Testament; see Reuss on the Canon, 330 sqq. While Luther on the one hand limited the canon, he seemed disposed on the other hand to extend it, when he declared Melanchthon’s Loci Theologici to be worthy of a place in the canon. But this was merely an extravagant compliment.

Luther’s view of inspiration was both strong and free. With the profoundest conviction of the divine contents of the Bible, he distinguished between the revealed truth itself and the human wording and reasoning of the writers. He says of one of the rabbinical arguments of his favorite apostle: "My dear brother Paul, this argument won’t stick."2929    Comp. his comments on the allegory of Sarah and Hagar in his Latin Com. on Gal. 3:25 (Erl. ed. II. 252).

Luther was, however, fully aware of the subjective and conjectural character of these opinions, and had no intention of obtruding them on the church: hence he modified his prefaces in later editions. He judged the Scriptures from an exclusively dogmatic, and one-sidedly Pauline standpoint, and did not consider their gradual historical growth.

A few Lutheran divines followed him in assigning a subordinate position to the seven Antilegomena of the New Testament;3030    Brentius, Flacius, Urbanus Regius, the authors of the Magdeburg Centuries, and Chemnitz. but the Lutheran church, with a sound instinct, accepted for popular use the traditional catholic Canon (not even expressly excluding the Jewish Apocrypha), yet retained his arrangement of the books of the New Testament.3131    None of the symbolical books of the Lutheran church gives a list of the canon, but the Formula of Concord (p. 570) declares that the "prophetica et apostolica scripta V. et N. T. " are the "unica regula et norma secundum quam omnia dogmata omnesque doctores aestimari et judicari opporteat." The Rationalists, of course, revived, intensified, and carried to excess the bold opinions of Luther, but in a spirit against which he would himself raise the strongest protest.

The Reformed divines were more conservative than Luther in accepting the canonical books, but more decided in rejecting the Apocrypha of the Old Testament. The Reformed Confessions usually enumerate the canonical books.

Zwingli objected only to the Apocalypse and made no doctrinal use of it, because he did not deem it an inspired book, written by the same John who wrote the fourth Gospel.3232    "Us Apocalypsi nehmend wir kein Kundschafft an, denn es nit ein biblisch Buch ist." Werke, ed. Schuler and Schulthess, II. 1. p. 169. In another place he says: "Apocal. liber non sapit os et ingenium Joannis." De clar. Verbi Dei, p. 310. In this view he has many followers, but the severest critical school of our days (that of Tübingen) assigns it to the Apostle John. Wolfgang Musculus mentions the seven Antilegomena, but includes them in the general catalogue of the New Testament; and Oecolampadius speaks of six Antilegomena (omitting the Hebrews), as holding an inferior rank, but nevertheless appeals to their testimony.3333    See Reuss, p. 315 sq. Eng. ed.

Calvin had no fault to find with James and Jude, and often quotes Hebrews and Revelation as canonical books, though he wrote no commentary on Revelation, probably because he felt himself incompetent for the task. He is silent about Second and Third John. He denies, decidedly, the Pauline authorship, but not the canonicity, of Hebrews.3434    In the introduction to his Com. on Hebrews: "Ego ut Paulum auctorem agnoscam adduci nequeo." His reasons are, the difference of style and of the docendi ratio, and because the writer counts himself with the disciples of the Apostles (Heb. 2:3); but nevertheless he accepts the book as inspired and canonical, because it more clearly than any other book treats of the priesthood and sacrifice of Christ. He is disposed to assign Second Peter to a pupil of Peter, who wrote under the auspices and by direction of the Apostle; but he guards in this case, also, against unfavorable inferences from the uncertainty of origin.3535    In Argum. Ep. Sec. Petri, he notes "manifestum discrimen" between the first and second Epistle, and adds: "Sunt et aliae probabiles conjecturae ex quibus colligere licet alterius esse potius quam Petri," but he sees in it, "nihil Petro indignum"

Calvin clearly saw the inconsistency of giving the Church the right of determining the canon after denying her right of making an article of faith. He therefore placed the Canon on the authority of God who bears testimony to it through the voice of the Spirit in the hearts of the believer. The eternal and inviolable truth of God, he says, is not founded on the pleasure and judgment of men, and can be as easily distinguished as light from darkness, and white from black. In the same line, Peter Vermilius denies that "the Scriptures take their authority from the Church. Their certitude is derived from God. The Word is older than the Church. The Spirit of God wrought in the hearts of the bearers and readers of the Word so that they recognized it to be truly divine." This view is clearly set forth in several Calvinistic Confessions.3636    The Second Helvetic confession, c. 1 and 2, and the Belgic Confession, art. 5, combine the testimony of tradition and that of the Holy Spirit, but lay chief stress upon the latter. So the Gallican Conf., art. 4: "We know these books to be canonical and the sure rule of our faith, not so much by the common accord and consent of the church (non tant par le, commun a ord et consentement de l’eglise), as by the testimony and inward illumination of the Holy Spirit, which enables us to distinguish them from other ecclesiastical books, upon which, however useful, we cannot found any articles of faith." The Westminster Confession, ch. I. 4, sets aside the testimony of tradition, saying: "The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the Author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God." The Scripture proofs given are, 2 Pet. 1:19, 21; 2 Tim. 3:16; 1 John 5:9; 1 Thess. 2:13; but they have no bearing upon the question of canonicity. In its exclusive form it is diametrically opposed to the maxim of Augustin, otherwise so highly esteemed by the Reformers: "I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Church."3737    "Ego evangelio non crederem, nisi me moveret ecclesiae auctoritas," Contra Ep. Fundam., c. 5. A thoroughly Roman catholic principle in opposition to the Manichaen heresy. But the testimony of the church is indispensable only in the history of the origin of the several books, and the formation of the canon. But the two kinds of evidence supplement each other. The human authority of tradition though not the final ground of belief, is indispensable as an historical witness of the genuineness and canonicity, and is of great weight in conflict with Rationalism. There is no essential antagonism between the Bible and the Church in the proper sense of the term. They are inseparable. The Church was founded by Christ and the apostles through the preaching of the living Word of God, and the founders of the Church are also the authors of the written Word, which continues to be the shining and guiding light of the Church; while the Church in turn is the guardian, preserver, translator, propagator, and expounder of the Bible.

3. The liberal views of the Reformers on inspiration and the canon were abandoned after the middle of the sixteenth century, and were succeeded by compact and consolidated systems of theology. The evangelical scholasticism of the seventeenth century strongly resembles, both in its virtues and defects, the catholic scholasticism of the Middle Ages which systematized and contracted the patristic theology, except that the former was based on the Bible, the latter on church tradition. In the conflict with Romanism the Lutheran and Calvinistic scholastics elaborated a stiff, mechanical theory of inspiration in order to set an infallible book against an infallible pope. The Bible was identified with the Word of God, dictated to the sacred writers as the penmen of the Holy Ghost. Even the classical purity of style and the integrity of the traditional text, including the Massoretic punctuation, were asserted in the face of stubborn facts, which came to light as the study of the origin and history of the text advanced. The divine side of the Scriptures was exclusively dwelled upon, and the human and literary side was ignored or virtually denied. Hence the exegetical poverty of the period of Protestant scholasticism. The Bible was used as a repository of proof texts for previously conceived dogmas, without regard to the context, the difference between the Old and New Testaments, and the gradual development of the divine revelation in accordance with the needs and capacities of men.

4. It was against this Protestant bibliolatry and symbololatry that Rationalism arose as a legitimate protest. It pulled down one dogma after another, and subjected the Bible and the canon to a searching criticism. It denies the divine inspiration of the Scriptures, except in a wider sense which applies to all works of genius, and treats them simply as a gradual evolution of the religious spirit of Israel and the primitive Christian Church. It charges them with errors of fact and errors of doctrine, and resolves the miracles into legends and myths. It questions the Mosaic origin of the Pentateuch, the genuineness of the Davidic Psalms, the Solomonic writings, the prophecies of Deutero-Isaiah and Daniel, and other books of the Old Testament. It assigns not only the Eusebian Antilegomena, but even the Gospels, Acts, the Catholic Epistles, and several Pauline Epistles to the post-apostolic age, from a.d. 70 to 150.

In its later developments, however, Rationalism has been obliged to retreat and make several concessions to orthodoxy. The canonical Gospels and Acts have gained by further investigation and discovery;3838    Thus Mark is regarded by many Rationalists as the primitive Gospel based on Peter’s sermons. Matthew has received valuable testimonies from the discovery of the Greek Barnabas who quotes him twice, and from the discovery of the Didache of the Apostles, which contains about twenty reminiscences from the first Gospel. On the Johannean question the Tübingen critics have been forced to retreat from 170 to 140, 120, 110, almost to the life time of John. The Acts have received new confirmation of their historical credibility from the excavations in Cyprus and Ephesus, and the minute test of the nautical vocabulary of chapter 27 by an experienced seaman. On all these points see the respective sections in the first volume of this History, ch. XII. p. 569 sqq.; 715 sqq.; 731 sqq; and 853 sqq. and the apostolic authorship of the four great Epistles of Paul to the Romans, Corinthians, and Galatians and the Apocalypse of John is fully admitted by the severest school of criticism (that of Tübingen). A most important admission: for these five books teach or imply all the leading facts and truths of the gospel, and overthrow the very foundations of Rationalism. With the Christ of the Gospels, and the Apostle Paul of his acknowledged Epistles, Christianity is safe.

Rationalism was a radical revolution which swept like a flood over the Continent of Europe. But it is not negative and destructive only. It has made and is still making valuable contributions to biblical philology, textual criticism, and grammatico-historical exegesis. It enlarges the knowledge of the conditions and environments of the Bible, and of all that belongs to the human and temporal side of Christ and Christianity. It cultivates with special zeal and learning the sciences of Critical Introduction, Biblical Theology, the Life of Christ, the Apostolic and post-Apostolic Ages.

5. These acquisitions to exegetical and historical theology are a permanent gain, and are incorporated in the new evangelical theology, which arose in conflict with Rationalism and in defense of the positive Christian faith in the divine facts of revelation and the doctrines of salvation. The conflict is still going on with increasing strength, but with the sure prospect of the triumph of truth. Christianity is independent of all critical questions on the Canon, and of human theories of inspiration; else Christ would himself have written the Gospels, or commanded the Apostles to do so, and provided for the miraculous preservation and inspired translation of the text, . His "words are spirit, and are life." "The flesh profiteth nothing." Criticism and speculation may for a while wander away from Christ, but will ultimately return to Him who furnishes the only key for the solution of the problems of history and human life. "No matter," says the world-poet Goethe in one of his last utterances, "how much the human mind may progress in intellectual culture, in the science of nature, in ever-expanding breadth and depth: it will never be able to rise above the elevation and moral culture which shines in the Gospels."


Notes.


The famous close of the Preface of Luther’s edition of the German New Testament was omitted in later editions, but is reprinted in Walch’s ed. XIV. 104 sqq., and in the Erlangen Frankf. ed. LXIII. (or eleventh vol. of the Vermischte Deutsche Schriften), p. 114 sq. It is verbatim as follows:

"Aus diesem allen kannst du nu recht urtheilen unter allen Büchern, und Unterschied nehmen, welchs die besten sind. Denn, naemlich, ist Johannis Evangelion, und St. Pauli Episteln, sonderlich die zu den Römern, und Sanct Peters erste Epistel der rechte Kern und Mark unter allen Büchern; welche auch billig die, ersten sein sollten, und einem jeglichen Christen zu rathen wäre, das er dieselben am ersten und allermeisten läse, und ihm durch täglich Lesen so gemein mächte, als das täglich Brod.

"Denn in diesen findist [findest] du nicht viel Werk und Wunderthaten Christi beschrieben; du findist aber gar meisterlich ausgestrichen, wie der Glaube an Christum Sünd, Tod und Hölle überwindet, und das Leben, Gerechtigkeit und Seligkeit gibt. Welchs die rechte Art ist des Evangelii, wie du gehöret hast.

"Denn wo ich je der eins mangeln sollt, der Werke oder der Predigt Christi, so wollt ich lieber der Werke denn seiner Predigt mangeln. Denn die Werke helfen mir nichts; aber seine Worte, die geben das Leben, wie er selbst sagt (Joh 5.V.51). Weil nu Johannes gar wenig Werke von Christo, aber gar viel seiner Predigt schreibt; wiederumb die andern drei Evangelisten viel seiner Werke, wenig seiner Worte beschreiben: ist Johannis Evangelion das einige zarte, recht(e) Hauptevangelion, und den andren dreien weit fürzuzichen und höher zu heben. Also auch Sanct Paulus und Petrus Episteln weit über die drei Evangelia Matthai, Marci und Lucä vorgehen.

"Summa, Sanct Johannis Evangel. und seine erste Epistel, Sanct Paulus Epistel(n), sonderlich die zu den Römern, Galatern, Ephesern, und Sanct Peters erste Epistel. das sind die Bücher, die dir Christum zeigen, und alles lehren, das dir zu wissen noth und selig ist ob du sohon kein ander Buch noch Lehre nummer [nimmermehr] sehest and horist [hörest]. Darumb ist Sanct Jakobs Epistel ein recht strohern(e) Epistel, gegen sie, denn sie doch kein(e) evangelisch(e) Art an ihr hat. Doch davon weiter in andern Vorreden."


« Prev The Reformation and Rationalism Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version





Advertisements



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |