Bucer to Bullinger (7): On the Scholastics

In the last two posts, we looked at Bucer’s statements on the Wittenberg theologians in his 1535 letter to Bullinger and Leo Jud. Today we move on to a new topic, one that has of late garnered much attention and generated much debate: the role of Scholastic theologians and philosophers in Protestant dogmatics.

It appears that Bullinger had expressed partiality for Melanchthon’s hostile attitude to Scholasticism. (In my view, Melanchthon’s relationship to Scholasticism is actually quite complex and far from simply negative, but that is a topic for a different time.) Bucer tells Bullinger that what Melanchthon thinks isn’t really the point in itself; the only thing that matters is what is true.

And what is true, according to Bucer, is that the condemnations of Scholasticism from some Protestants have been far too sweeping. One can insert a statement about very small humans and their tubwise ablutions here if one wishes. They have been led by their zeal to attack dogmatic truths instead of just their perverted form, and this has in turn both given them a bad reputation for being unjust and unserious and has hindered the understanding of true and good Christians. For myself, as I have indicated, I do not think that the rejection of “Scholasticism” or “philosophy” was ever total, but, in terms of rhetorical heat, history proved Bucer right: Protestants returned to Scholasticism in droves. Where the common historical narrative is wrong is that this happened much more quickly than is commonly believed.

In any case, here is Bucer:

Bucer on the Scholastics

Concerning the Scholastics: One ought not to consider what Melanchthon condemned, but what ought to be condemned. Innumerable is the crowd of true Christians who are waylaid by the dogmas of the Scholastics–but only in a perverted form. Indeed, we would have taken far better care for the advantage of these people if we had attacked the perversion of dogmas rather than dogmas that are correct in themselves, and in this way had moderated everything we were doing, so that no suspicion of slander might stick to us. As it is, we have so treated all the Scholastics that we have placed a not insignificant stumbling-block in the way of many judicious and good men, when they see that we either have not read them or want to slander the wise. But about these things, too, it is not possible to satisfy you through a letter. 

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