Ohne Reformation kein Humanismus

Reformed SchoolOhne Humanismus keine Reformation (without Humanism no Reformation)  is the conclusion of one German scholar. On this Reformation Day, a day that bids us stop and reflect, the question, “Would the Reformation have occurred without humanism?,” seems pertinent. Many scholars have focused on the influence of humanism upon Luther, Zwingli, and Clavin, concluding that these three prominent Reformers came to their conclusions through the use of humanistic methods. Without ad fontes there would be no sola scriptura or sola fide. Yet, there is another side to the coin.

Unfortunately, the adage Ohne Humanismus keine Reformation stressed too much, signifies the notion that humanistic ideals and education were in the stages of decline in the mid-16th century, a decline that was precipitated by the Reformation return to Christian piety. This Reformation of piety, some say, valued theology over the arts curriculum and even sought to stunt the spread of a liberal education, fearing pagan authors would distract the youth from the importance of the sacred text. Against this notion are the examples of the Reformers themselves and those with whom they associated.

Lewis Spitz has done a tremendous service to Reformation scholarship with his work on education at the time of the Reformation and, particularly, his publication of the essential pedagogical writings of Johann Sturm. The research of Spitz and many others (including Barbara Tinsley and Karin Maag) has led scholars (such as Erika Rummel) to reverse the question of how humanism influenced the Reformers and ask, “How did the Reformation influence Humanism?” Spitz, in “The Importance of the Reformation for the Universities: Culture and Confession in the Critical Years,” points out that although Erfurt and Leiden Universities were influenced by traveling humanists such as Rudolph Agricola and Mutianus Rufus, genuine humanistic reform did not occur in these schools until 1519.

New humanist translations of Aristotle were to replace the medieval Latin texts. Instruction in classical Latin, poetry, rhetoric, lectures on Cicero and Virgil, and the study of Greek were added to the curriculum. (Spitz, in Rebirth, Reform, and Resilience, p. 50)

LutherThe same type of Reform in the classical arts occurred at Heidelberg in 1522, in Tübingen in 1525, and Cologne shortly after. At the University of Wittenberg humanistic education flourished under Luther and Melanchthon due to the protection of Elector Frederick and the distance of Wittenberg from the older centers of learning – in the older universities humanism had to battle with scholasticism and church tradition. Elector Frederick appointed Philip Melanchthon as professor in Greek, against Luther who suggested Peter Mosellanus. Elaborating on Luther’s and Melachthon’s humanism, Spitz notes:

Although no humanist theologically speaking, Luther was, nevertheless, a protagonist of the humanist curriculum on the arts level. He understood that the reform of theology in the advanced faculty of theology would be impeded and perhaps even impossible if the students’ arts training was exclusively in traditional dialectic and Aristotle in Latin commentaries and if they lacked education in poetry, rhetoric, languages, and history, subjects he deemed necessary for Biblical exegesis and the theological disciplines. He took an active role in promoting these subjects with the Augustinian colleagues and especially with Melanchthon after his arrival in 1518. Melanchthon’s draft of the statutes for the Faculty of Liberal Arts in 1520 eliminated everything that had referred to scholasticism. Melanchthon’s inaugural oration, De corrigendis adolescentia studiis [On the correcting of adolescent studies], was programmatic for Wittenberg, decrying the loss of learning, the ignorance of Greek language and culture, and the schoolmen’s dialectic, and urging the university to turn to the studia humanitatis for new light. The various reform statutes adopted between 1533 and 1536 … completed the symbiosis of humanism and reformation. Melanchthon, praeceptor Germaniae, labored for a reform of education from top to bottom. His role in the educational reform of the secondary schools was of critical importance. He took the initiative in encouraging the establishment of gymnasia in Nuremberg and many other cities, and his influence reached through Johannes Sturm in Strasbourg to Roger Ascham in England and Claude Baduel in Nimes. (ibid., 51.)

Through the influence of Wittenberg, humanistic reform came to other universities throughout Europe and even reaching England. Spitz slightly exaggerates the influence of Melancthon in this article. For instance, Johann Sturm was mainly influenced by the Brethren of the Common Life, through his education at the College of St. Jerome in Liege. Yet, no matter who influenced whom, it is a proven fact that were it not for these pivotal figures humanism would not have advanced in European centers of education. Even such a staunch biblical theologian as John Calvin worked to implement a humanist curriculum at the Genevan Academy, mainly under the influence of Johann Sturm’s Strausburg Academy. Therefore, on this Reformation Day we should all remember the humanism of these great church Reformers and instead of saying Ohne Humanismus keine Reformation (without humanism no Reformation) we should say, Ohne Reformation kein Humanismus (without the Reformation no humanism).


John Calvin’s Aristotelean Cosmology

Aristotelean CosmologyMany of John Calvin’s references to Aristotelean cosmology occur during his later years, representing his mature theology. Christopher Kaiser has shown that Calvin viewed the universe through the lens of Aristotelean natural philosophy. (Kaiser, “Calvin and Natural Philosophy,” in Calviniana, vol. X) He accepted such ideas as the concept of natural place (the earth is the center of the spheres due to its weight), the system of homocentric spheres (the ten spheres interconnected and moved by the primum mobile), and the subordination of terrestrial cycles to the revolutions of the heavenly spheres.

Kaiser notes that Calvin, as Aquinas and Bonaventure before him, sought to remedy the problem of the distant primum mobile with the providential guidance of the Christian God. Calvin did this by extending the sovereign guidance of the divine hand beyond the sphere of the Moon, where Aristotle placed a limit. Rather than solving the problem of how the earth remains stable while the enormous celestial spheres drag and press upon it by using a solution from Aristotle himself, Calvin substituted the providence of God who holds the earth upon the outer waters and keeps it stable as the celestial spheres move. According to Kaiser, “For Calvin, of course, there was a clear correlation between the concept of stability and order in the natural sphere and the sense of God’s protection in the personal and social spheres.” (ibid., p. 89) Therefore, the idea of God holding the earth in place brings much hope to believers that while the social sphere may be torn apart by tyrants God remains holding everything in place.

Kaiser asks where Calvin got his ideas and how he was influenced to read and write in such Aristotelean terms. The answer is that he was partly following the concepts of the times, since Aristotle’s cosmology had been accepted as an authentic representation of the universe for hundreds of years. However, Calvin was also influenced by those near him, sparking his interest in natural phenomena and causing him to delve more deeply into the texts of Aristotle. Kaiser lists all of Calvin’s influences in this matter. Particularly interesting is the fact that many of Calvin’s writings on Arisotelian natural philosophy came during and after the arrival of the Italians, Peter Martyr Vermigli and Jerome Zanchi, both scholastically trained Aristoteleans. Kaiser’s list follows:

Based on the evidence cited here, a plausible account of the origins of Calvin’s understanding of Aristotelian natural philosophy would be as follows. Calvin probably became interested in and informed about the subject during his college days in Paris; his approach to Aristotle’s natural philosoph appears to be that of a humanist like Jacques Lefere d’Eteples or Francois Vatable, who may have been his Hebrew instructor at the College royal in 1531-32. Calvin’s interest and understanding were heightened by his study of Seneca (early 1530s), his reading of Basil’s Hexaemeron (early 1540s), and by the publication of Luther’s Lectures on Genesis (1544). This led to his first treatment of the distribution of the terrestrial elements and the mechanics of the celestial spheres … Finally, in the mid-1550s, Calvin thought more deeply about the problem of the stability of the earth in the midst of a whirling cosmos. This further development may reflect the influence of Vermigli and Zanchius. (ibid., pp. 91, 92)

It is interesting to think that Calvin’s theology may have become more Aristotelean during the final years of his life due to the influence of his Italian acquaintances, who were known both for their humanism and scholasticism.

Jupiter Is God: Calvin on Aratus’s Notitia Dei

In ipso enim vivimus, movemur, & sumus: sicut & quidam vestratum poetarum dixerunt, Nam huius progenies etiam sumus. (John Calvin’s translation of Acts 17:28)

For in him we live, move, and have our being; as certain of your poets have said, “For we also are his progeny.”

Ἄρατος ὁ Σολεύς
Ἄρατος ὁ Σολεύς

I have mentioned St. Paul’s Areopagus Address and Calvin’s commentary upon it before. In the previous post on this passage I noted Calvin’s opinion on Paul’s use of demonstration. In essence, he said that Paul did not seek to demonstrate God’s existence to the Athenians since all men, even pagans, already have a natural knowledge of God imprinted in their souls. Rather, Paul’s method was to show the Athenians (a) “what” God is (i.e., he is not physical) and (b) how God must be worshipped (i.e., not as if he requires anything from man). Later in his commentary Calvin reveals a bit more of his thoughts on natural theology. He comments on the passage quoted above in which Paul quotes from the pagan poet Aratus (from Phaenomena 1-5):

Now, that I may return unto this sentence which I have in hand, it is not to be doubted but that Aratus spake of Jupiter; neither doth Paul, in applying that unto the true God, which he [Aratus] spake unskilfully of his Jupiter, wrest it unto a contrary sense [in alium sensum detorquet – i.e., Paul does not “twist” the meaning of “Jupiter”]. For because men have naturally some perseverance [sense] of God [Aliquo Dei sensu imbuti sunt], they draw true principles from that fountain. And though so soon as they begin to think upon God, they vanish away in wicked inventions, and so the pure seed doth degenerate into corruptions; yet the first general knowledge of God [generalis Dei notitia] doth nevertheless remain still in them. After this sort, no man of a sound mind can doubt to apply that unto the true God which we read in Virgil touching the feigned and false joy, that “All things are full of joy.” Yea, when Virgil meant to express the power of God, through error he put in a wrong name. (Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles, XVII.28.)

That last sentence is so butchered by the translator that I am obligated by prudence to quote it correctly. The Latin reads, In hunc modum quod de Iove fictitio habetur apud Virgilium, Iovis omnia plena, ad verum Deum transferre nemo sanae mentis dubitet. This sentence should read, “In this way that which is said of the fictitious Jupiter by Virgil, ‘All things are full of Jupiter,’ no one doubts to apply to the true God.”

Therefore, it is the name “Jupiter” which is fictitious and incorrect, but the substance of that knowledge is the true God. Many are amazed by these passages from Calvin, the rigid Reformer who saw men as “totally depraved” and natural knowledge as utterly worthless. True as those statements are in some sense – Calvin does say these types of things in certain passages – they prove inadequate when we “read the footnotes” – i.e., when they are viewed in the light of his whole corpus. This knowledge of God does render the unbeliever without excuse coram Deo but it is knowledge nonetheless.

Plato’s Theism and Martyr’s Humanism

BoethiusThe Medieval world knew Aristotle from the translations of Boethius and the Muslim commentators, all of which interpreted the Stagarite through the lens of his Neoplatonic commentators. Aquinas realized that the Liber de Causis was written by Proclus, not Aristotle as tradition claimed. Yet, he continued commenting on that book and was influenced by it, and he was influenced by the Neoplatonism of the Pseudo-Dionysius. As Kristeller notes, during the time of the Renaissance philosophers began to examine the context and grammar of Aristotle’s writings, seeking to study him on his own terms rather than secondarily through the interpretation of the Neoplatonists.

However, this “rebirth” of the tools of investigation, particularly with regard to Aristotelian philosophy, did not lead theologians to dispose of all things Platonic in the search of a “perennial” philosophy. There were humanists, Thomists, Scotists, Occamists, Augustinians and many others during this era, still endeavoring to find the Archimedean point between the Queen of the sciences and her handmaiden. But, all of these groups were fundamentally Augustinian, and thus could not forsake a certain Neoplatonism. Peter Martyr exemplifies this humanist renewal in Aristotelean studies coupled with a reiterated Platonism. I demonstrated this a while back in a post on the Divine Ideas. Martyr carried on this doctrine, saying that these ideas are God’s contemplation of himself as he may be expressed in infinite ways and are thus the exemplar causes of all things. He also was not afraid to affirm that Plato had an accurate conception of God:

Plato had a very clear notion of God. First, that God is one and is ineffable: he is one, so we do not have to go on to infinity [immensum] in search of causes, for it is true that he is the first cause; he is ineffable, since in human speech there are no words that can express the divine properties. If a man acquired equine nature, he would not be able to transmit to other horses what ha had devised in his human mind. Similarly, philosophers and great thinkers, even if they have a sublime knowledge of God, have no words to express it. Besides, Plato knew that God comprises everything and at the same time exceeds everything, so that there is no kind of miniscule good that God would not possess, nor is there such enormous good that he would not surpass and to which he would not be superior. God pervades all things and never goes outside himself. Even if he is infinite, wherever he is, he is in himself. He produces everything and is prompted by no other reason than his own goodness. For there can exist nothing superior to his goodness that god would seek in creation of the universe; Good is good and produced everything that he made out of his goodness. His goodness is not acquired through application or effort as in the case o human goodness, but is inherent to him and is naturally implanted in his mind. Therefore he did not acquire it by his will or choice. Similarly, the sun enlightens everything with its brightness that it di not acquire, but possesses as something inborn and innate. And all things not only owe their creation to God but also tend toward him as their ultimate goal. Therefore it is no wonder that everything is related to him, since the perfection of all things depends on him. Plato understood and explained in his writings very clearly those aspects of God’s nature that I have just reviewed as well as many other concepts. The same concepts are contained both in holy scripture and in ancient ecclesiastical writers. (Commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, pp. 136, 137.)

Plato and SocratesThis attribution of divine knowledge to the pagan philosopher may be shocking to some Christians but it was a common opinion. Luther and Calvin believed that the pagan had a natural knowledge of the first table of the Decalogue but lacked a knowledge of the second. As I noted here, Calvin believed that the unbeliever needs to know how to worship God rather than just gain an understanding of God, an understanding that Calvin says they already have.

Peter Martyr’s perspective on Plato and Aristotle is still very much Medieval. He quotes Boethius and Averroes (whom he calls “the greatest of the Peripatetics”) as well as Augustine as authorities on the doctrine of the Ideas. Yet, he also translates Aristotle from the Greek text and examines phrases and words, demonstrating the philological methods of a new day and time. Plato’s doctrines are useful inasmuch as they reflect the true foundation of all things in the divine mind. Yet, Martyr, once again demonstrating his humanist mentality, does not care for Plato’s ideas beyond the necessity of exemplar causes. He notes, “For even if such Ideas – of one kind or another – really existed, we would not find them useful in our actions.” (ibid., p. 170.) In other words, even if men could have some sort of participation in the divine ideas through contemplation, this sort of knowledge would leave us no closer to the good than the mentally ill. We may only approach the good through acts of virtue and wisdom, and we must abandon Plato for Aristotle when he directs us elsewhere. Thus, Plato’s philosophy is necessary for certain principles of our doctrine of God, but we must lean on Aristotle for our method and pursuit of the common good.

Vermigli on the Contemplative Life

MonksThe Reformers did not believe that true perfection, as it may be had in this life, comes by living the purely contemplative life. Rather they saw a necessity of living both a contemplative and an active life, a supposition that falls in the same vein as that of the Renaissance humanists who sought a more practical way of life in opposition to the life of the detached ascetic. James Hankins explains that the the humanists of the 14 – 16th centuries did not consider philosophy something to be contemplated in a cell but a science that should be implemented in everyday life in order to bring about improvements in the behavior of ordinary citizens.

The idea of a philosophical school, of disciples pursing an alternative life and vision under the guidance of a master, separate from the world around them, was foreign to humanism; even Ficino’s supposed “academy” now appears to be nothing more than a kind of secondary school. Indeed, beginning with the so-called “civic humanists” of the early fifteenth century, humanists insisted that philosophy should serve the city by inculcating prudence and other virtues into its citizens. Philosophy now had to address, not a professional caste of specially trained experts with its own technical language, but the ruling class of the city-state; men and women who had studied humanistic Latin but had no special qualifications for philosophical study. (Hankins, “Humanism, scholasticism, and Renaissance philosophy,” in The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Philosphy, pp. 45, 46.)

Thomas More's Utopia
Thomas More's Utopia

Calvin disapproves of the monastic culture of his day and even that of the early church, of which Augustine approved. His reasons for this disapproval may be traced to a humanistic Zeitgeist. Calvin refers to monks of various religious orders in his day as a “conventicle of schismatics,” since they followed a particular theologian, took the sacraments separately from the common folk, and considered themselves more perfect than the average citizen. Yet, his main objection to the ascetic way is that God calls all men to take charge of a household and to serve him  in a “definite calling” (obviously referring only to men). This does not mean that he considered contemplation trivial. On the contrary, he states, “It is a beautiful thing to philosophize in retirement, far from intercourse with men. But it is not part of Christian meekness, as if in hatred of the human race, to flee to the desert and the wilderness and at the same time forsake those duties which the Lord has especially commanded.” (Institutes, IV.13.xvi.) The Italian Reformer, Peter Martyr Vermigli, produces a more philosophical demonstration on the importance of living both a contemplative and active life. Commenting on Aristotle’s Ethics, Vermigli notes:

It is quite true that Aristotle deals separately with political life and activity, and also with the contemplative life; this is not with the intention, however, that someone should devote the whole of his life to one of these alone, but so that he may know that it is not possible for anyone who aspires to happiness to obtain it unless he participates fully in both aspects of life. There are two properties of our nature: for nature herself has made us both intelligent and social. For this reason we ought to accordingly take account of both conditions in our actions, and when either one occurs in our lives we should respond to them on the basis of the appropriate virtue. And when we have free time or are impeded from the action for some reason, we should occupy ourselves with great delight in the contemplation of human and divine things, with the result that these actions that seem to be different in kind are mutually beneficial. For anyone who has practiced the moral and civic virtues in the governance of a family or a state has a mind more composed and more prepared for assisting and supporting his associates, and the result is that he is better suited for contemplation. In turn, when someone has had the leisure granted to him to contemplate divine and human things in more depth, he is restored to the active life all the more ready to act. We know that Cicero, Cato, Pompey, Lucullus, and other outstanding men among the pagans did this. And we read in the holy scriptures that Christ our Savior sometimes retired into the mountains and woods in order to pray and meditate on divine matters, but soon he returned to the crowds and gave every kind of assistance to the human race. John the Baptist, Elijah, and the other prophets had the same practice. Indeed, Jesus our Lord first taught the apostles in solitude and then sent them forth throughout Judaea to preach and heal the sick. Certainly, there are two types of life, but one should not be exclusively devoted to either. (Vermigli, Commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, p. 179.)

For Vermigli, the contemplative and active life are the outcomes of two properties of human nature. Man is by nature both intelligent and social, and must bring both of these aspects of his nature to actualization in order to achieve happiness in this life. Therefore  these two ways of life should not be separated but are mutually beneficial. The contemplative life stirs one up for work within the civic sphere and working in the world with other people makes one better suited for the contemplation of things divine and human. Vermigli comes to this conclusion by the use of reason and the “ad fontes” spirit of humanism. Not only did pagans such as Cicero and Cato seek the good within the contemplative and active life but so did Jesus and his disciples. As I have already pointed out in a previous post, Vermigli chose a more humanist definition of Aristotle’s tagathon than had the Scholastics, because he believed that the common good of the civic sphere is the natural desire of the passions and thus the ultimate goal of man in this life. He delivered his lectures on Aristotle’s Ethics before a group of young students in the Strasbourg Academy, students aspiring to professions within the city and the church. Thus, he sought to educate the youth in a philosophy that spurred men and women on to work for the common good of neighbor and kingdom.

Calvin on Original Justice as Donum Pulcherrimum

I ran across John Calvin’s tract against the German Interim and discovered a more Medieval explanation of original sin than what he sets forth in his Institutes. I call Calvin’s demonstration in this tract “Medieval” because it mirrors the teaching of Thomas Aquinas, who taught that original sin was a privation of original justice formally and an added habit of concupiscence materially. I have provided the Latin with translations to follow each paragraph.

Deus creavit initio hominem ad imaginem & similitudinem suam, eum que gratia ornavit, & fecit per originalem iustitiam, ut esset omnibut cum corporis, tum animi viribus rectus, nec agitaretur ullis turpidis & pravis motibus: sed in eo caro spiritui, atque inferiores animi vires superioribus, quae tantum ad bonum hortabantur, parerent. (John Calvin, Interim Adultero-Germanum: cui adiecta est vera Christianae pacificationis, et ecclesiae reformandae ratio, p. 3)

God created man in the beginning in his image and likeness and adorned him with grace and by means of original justice made him to be upright in all the powers of the body and the soul, and unable to be shaken by anything foul or by perverse movements: but in him the flesh was obedient to the spirit, and also the inferior powers of the soul were obedient to the superior, which were so strongly encouraging him to good.

Verum, postquam premus parens noster contra, quam mandaverat Deus, fecit: incidit in poenam a Deo propositam, & iustitiae originalis donum pulcherrimum amisit: hinc carentia iustitiae huius, una cum vitioso concupiscentiae habitu, quae spiritui & superioribus animi viribus perpetuo repugnat. Quod peccatu, hoc est, privationem illius iustitiae, qua parte rationem subditam reddebat Deo, una cum concupiscentia in omnem posteritatem suam propagavit… (ibid., p. 4)

But after our first parent acted against God’s commandment he fell into the penalty proposed by God and lost the most beautiful gift (donum pulcherrimum) of original justice; hence there was a loss of justice, together with the vicious habit of concupiscence which continually battles with the spirit and the superior powers of the soul. Which sin, that is the privation of justice, by which it rendered reason subject to God, together with concupiscence, he passed down to all his posterity.

Reason and the Authority of Scripture in Richard Hooker and John Calvin

Richard HookerThe typical Reformed understanding of Richard Hooker’s “three-fold chord” of authority states that Hooker created a hierarchy that began with reason, then tradition, and the authority of Scripture is placed at the bottom. I was taught, as many others have been, that this theology was a precursor to Enlightenment philosophy. Once reason is established as the ground of faith, then the articles of the faith become tainted with all manners of erroneous doctrines. Paul Avis explains that Hooker did not believe that reason validates faith, rather the opposite is true:

Except in its fundamental gospel, scripture is not self-explanatory; it requires the application of reason. In defending himself against the charge of Walter Travers at the Temple Church that he had introduced scholastic distinctions and rational subtleties into the exposition of scripture, Hooker explained what he meant by reason. He meant not his own individual reasoning capacity, but ‘true, sound, divine reason . . . reason proper to that science whereby the things of God are known; theological reason, which out of principles in scripture that are plain, soundly deduceth more doubtful inferences’ and brings to light the true meaning of the ‘darker places’ of scripture (III, p. 594f). (Paul Avis, Exploring Issues of Authority in the Spirit of Richard Hooker; available here.)

Thus, it is only out of scriptural principles “that are plain” that reason functions to shed light upon certain doubtful texts. This fact places Hooker within the tradition of “faith seeking understanding,” so conspicuous in Augustine and Anselm. This concept of reason is also perfectly agreeable with the thought of John Calvin, particularly chapter VIII of book I of the Institutes entitled “SO FAR AS HUMAN REASON GOES, SUFFICIENTLY FIRM PROOFS ARE AT HAND TO ESTABLISH THE CREDIBILITY OF SCRIPTURE.” In this chapter Calvin affirms that Scripture is “not sustained by external props” such as reason; yet, we may use reason to prove the authority of Scripture. 

[O]nce we have embraced it [the authority of Scripture] devoutly as its dignity deserves, and have recognized it to be above the common sort of things, those arguments [from reason]  – not strong enough before to engraft and fix the certainty of Scripture in our minds – become very useful aids. (Institutes, I.8.1.)

Thus, for Calvin and Hooker, reason is not the foundation of revelation. Rather, reason reveals that which is hidden or unclear within revelation. These hidden truths may not be discerned by those who lack faith because the Scriptures “breathe something divine.” (ibid.) In order to have this sort of understanding through reason, one must first believe. Those who place reason over revelation as a higher authority treat the instrument as the foundation. Reason does not establish the truths found within the Scriptures. It reveals those truths that have already been established by divine authority.