Die klein wins maar groot verlies in die laat sestiende- en sewentiende-eeuse gereformeerde ortodoksie
? Christelik-filosofiese benadering
The period of about 1550-1700 in Reformed thought – especially its philosophical aspects – is important but often underestimated. (This also applies to people of Reformed convictions.) Since 1974 (when the author first gave his own research in a still unpublished dissertation) much more has, however, been done to open up this part of the history of Reformed thinking. This essay is a small contribution to update his own as well other interested readers’ knowledge in the light of more recent investigations into this period of about 150 years. In the limited space of one article it can offer no more than a general review leading to a preliminary evaluation.
As the sub-title indicates, the focus will not be (as in most publications) on the theological thinking of Reformed orthodoxy. It rather intends to reveal the basic philosophical presuppositions underlying the majority of theologies at the time.
The essay develops as follows. Following an introduction (1) it provides (2) a characteristic of the period in which Aristotelian philosophy (especially its logic and methodology) played a very prominent role. Next (3) the reasons for this relapse into an extra-biblical philosophy is given. The next brief section (4) mentions some of the most important representatives of this epoch. This is followed by (5) an attempt to describe (in the light of the preceding discussion) the concepts and contents of “scholasticism”, “ortho doxy” and “Reformed orthodoxy”. The concluding section (6) provides evaluations by various Reformed theologians and Refor mational philosophers of this period in Reformed thinking.
Reformed theologians mostly tend to be somewhat uncritical, while the assessment of philosophers may be overcritical. Such differing evaluations are dependent on how serious the role of philosophy (especially all kinds of neo-Aristotelianism) in Reformed Orthodoxy are regarded. While Reformed theologians mostly view these extrabiblical influences as merely of a formal nature (of method), Reformational philosophers do not accept such innocence: Non-biblical philosophies, according to them, also impacted the contents of theologising. Therefore they regard this period not as a real advancement in Reformed thinking, but as a regression, a synthesis between biblical and unbiblical ideas. The final conclusion of the author is in agreement with this last viewpoint, viz. that Reformed orthodoxy was a far greater loss than a gain towards the development of integral, biblically founded scholarship.
In a postscript (7) a question is posed about the implications of such an evaluation for what was decided at the Synod of Dort (1618-1619) as well as the kind of theology contained in the Synopsis Purioris Theologiae (1625), and even further a field in the case of respected Reformed theologians like A. Kuyper and H. Bavinck. Could they fully adhere to the idea of semper reformanda, and, if not, how could their scholastic thinking be further reformed? These implications are challenging, inviting future contributions.
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