Skip to content

On the Difference Between Philosophy and Theology from Philip Melanchthon’s Commentary on Aristotle’s Ethics

June 20, 2009

Philip MelanchthonWhen Peter Martyr Vermigli gave his lectures on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics to the students at the Strasbourg Academy in the year 1553, he undoubtedly had a commentary upon the same Aristotelian text in mind, one published by Philip Melanchthon in 1535 (which may be found here). Like Vermigli’s lectures-turned-commentary, Melancthon’s commentary does not go beyond the fourth book of the Ethics – Vermigli’s stopped at book three. Yet, within these pages we are given a glimpse into a Reformed, yet thoroughly Medieval, understanding of the relationship between the civic and religious spheres, the law and the gospel. I have listed below a short section on this problem treated by Melanchthon in his commentary. The Latin original is listed with a translation to follow. As usual, any corrections or improvements to the translation are encouraged. Since Melanchthon’s treatment of this problem spans the length of a few pages, I intend to devote a few more posts to the translation of this section.

De discriminae Christianae doctrinae, & Philosophiae

Qui nihil inter Philosophiam, & Christiana doctrinam interesse existimant, & idem doctrinae genus Philosophiam ac doctrinam Evangelii esse putant, ii in magno errore versantur, & tamen huic opinioni applaudant multi magni, ut videntur homines. Sunt alii quidam illiterati, qui vociferantur praecepta Philosophica cum pietate pugnare, eaq; simpliciter damnant: qui quoniam inscitiae ac stultitiae suae religionem praetexunt, plane sunt, ut est in proverbio, ὄνοι ἀΐοντες μυσηρια. Quanquam autem quid sentiendam sit de his studiis philosophicis, saepe alias diximus: tamen quoniam hic locus proprie id poscit, breviter & hic sententiam nostram recitabimus.

Philosophia nihil tradit de voluntate Dei, nihil de remissione peccatorum, nihil de timore, de fiducia erga Deum. Tantum docet praecepta de externa & civili consuctudine vitae, sicut publicae Leges civitatum. At Evangelium exponit nobis voluntatem Dei, remittit peccata, pollicetur Spiritu sanctum, qui corda prirum sanctificat, & vitam aeternam affert. Interea foris sinit nos uti moribus civilibus, sicut cibo, potu, vestitu utimur. Et ut cibus, potus, vestitus, res corporales sunt, quae non pertinent ad fidei iustitiam. Ita mores civiles, non pariunt cordis iustitiam. Proinde toto coelo errant, qui nihil inter Philosophiam & Evangelium interesse iudicat. Nam Philosophiam tota nihil continet, nisi praecepta de externa actione, qua, ut ita dicam, tanq in scena, in hac civili societate hominu utendum est. Evangeliu vero longe alia profitetur. Non enim venit Christus in mundu, ut praecepta de moribus doceret, quae iam ante norat ratio, sed ut remitteret peccata, ut credentibus in ipsum donaret spiritum sanctum. Et tamen, ut Magistratus approbat, ita civilem consuetudinem vitae probat, vult mores esse civiles, & humanos, hoc est, non pugnantes cum ratione naturali, seu cum iudicio rationis. Ut enim iudicium rationis in aliis corporalibus rebus valet, in aedificando, in numerando, ita valet in regendis moribus civilibus.

Translation:

Concerning the difference between Christian doctrine and Philosophy

Those who think that there is no difference between Philosophy and Christian doctrine and who reckon the genus of the doctrine of Philosophy to be the same as the doctrine of the Gospel occupy themselves in great error, and yet they applaud many great men of this opinion, as they appear to be men. There are certain other uneducated ones who exclaim that Philosophical precepts fight against piety, and these they simply condemn who, because of their own ignorance and foolishness, make religion a pretext, as it is (said) in the proverb onois aiontes myshria, “asses breathe out foul things.” But nevertheless that which may be observed from these Philosophical studies we have said many times in other (places): Yet, because this place particularly demands it we will briefly recite our judgment.

Philosophy hands down nothing about the will of God, nothing about the remission of sins, nothing about fear, or about trust in God. It only teaches the precepts concerning external and civil customs of life, as the public Laws of the city. But the Gospel sets forth to us the will of God, it forgives sins, it promises the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies the hearts of the pious, and it imparts eternal life. Nevertheless, in public it is permitted us that, as with civic morals, so we make use of food, drink, and clothing. And as food, drink, and clothing are corporeal things which do not pertain to the righteousness of faith. So civic morals do not pertain to the righteousness of the heart. Accordingly, in all of heaven those err who think there is no difference between Philosophy and the Gospel. For the whole of Philosophy contains nothing except precepts concerning external action, which, if I may say so, as in a theater, man must make use of in this civil society. But the Gospel professes other things at a distance. For Christ did not come into the world to teach precepts about (civic) morals, the rules of which (the world) already knew, but to forgive sins, in order that he may give the Holy Spirit to those who believe in him. But nevertheless, as the Magistrate establishes the civic customs of life, in the same manner he tests them, wanting morals to be civil and human, in other words, that which does not fight against natural reason, or with the judgment of reason. For as the judgment of reason is able in other corporeal things, in construction and in calculation, so it is able to direct civic morals.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: