24 November 2006

gestures towards suarez's pervasiveness

In a previous post I suggested that a kind of Reformed eclectic Thomism had some currency in the 16th and into 17th century Protestant scholastic thought and that, moreover, such a Thomism provided an opening for the positive appropriation of the thought of a figure such as Francisco Saurez.

Before delving into some of the details of that appropriation, I can sketch out some wider contextual evidence that Suarez was, in fact, an important conversation partner for emerging Reformed scholastics in the early 17th century. While a survey of citations by Reformed authors shows that a variety of Suarez’s writings received attention (and would be tedious to reproduce here), it was the 1597 publication of his Metaphysical Disputations (Disputationes metaphysicae) that received the widest and most sustained attention.

Whereas many books of this era either sunk without a trace or went through only a few editions or reprints, Suarez’s Metaphysics garnered a wide popularity as is evident from its repeated reprintings: Mainz in 1600, 1605, 1616, and 1630, Cologne in 1608 and 1614, Lyon in 1614, Paris in 1619, and so on. Indeed, its popularity was so great that it made significant inroads within a variety of academies and universities, in many places becoming the standard text in metaphysics, even among Reformed Protestants. In the early 1600’s Suarez’s text played an important role in the Netherlands within the growing dispute between Reformed orthodox and the Remonstrants, leading up to the Synod of Dort. And, even after Dort, so great was the popularity of Suarez’s metaphysics that by 1644 it provoked the Dutch Reformed theologian Jacobus Revius to publish his book-length response: Suarez repurgatus, which provided a detailed and critical commentary upon Suarez’s text presented in summary form.

And this influence was not limited merely to the Continent. Given Calvinism’s international character, as well as the role of Thomism within English Protestant divinity, Suarez also exerted a significant impact among British Reformed theologians. This is evident not only in early 17th century figures, such as the Puritan William Ames (who will receive more attention shortly), but also at a later date and among those more peripheral to mainstream Calvinism in Britain. One could cite here the use of Suarez by the English non-conformist Stephen Charnock (1628-1680) in his well-regarded and popular Discourses on the Existence and Attributes of God, which quotes or directly alludes to Suarez on at least twenty occasions, in a manner that is almost entirely positive and from a variety of Suarez’s assorted writings (though mostly the Metaphysics). Indeed, Charnock refers to Suarez many more times than any other post-Reformation Roman Catholic theologian, and that is not even including places where Charnock bears witness to Suarez’s impact apart from specific citation.

Though these few comments are only the briefest gesture towards Suarez’s influence, they will suffice to show that the question of Saurez's influence is one worth exploring. We can turn, then, to some specific matters which make that influence apparent, beginning with the interrelated issues of theological prolegomena, metaphysics, and natural theology.