16 May 2007

suarez and reformed scholasticism

I posted a number of notes on Francisco Suarez over the past months. I have not been able to provide anything approaching a systematic or comprehensive assessment of Suarez’s role in the emergence of Protestant (and particularly Reformed) scholastic thought in the 17th century.

I do hope, however, that these remarks have provided an outline of what that influential role involved, pertaining especially to matters of the Christian use of Aristotle, the organization of topics, issues of metaphysics, theological prolegomena, natural theology, virtue ethics, cases of conscience, and the Christian Sabbath. Much more work remains if that account is to filled out and deepened.

Part of the upshot of this overview is that we must take a great deal of care in describing developments within Protestant scholastic theology, particularly in relation to Roman Catholic theology of post-Reformation period. Sometimes the relationship has been over-simplified, as I hope you can begin to see, to the point of caricature: for instance, painting Reformed thought as emphatically Scotistic (in the worst sense of the term) and making this a point of contrast over against a Roman Catholic theology that has remained more genuinely true to the genius of high medieval thought such as we find in Aquinas and Bonaventure.

While there are, of course, profound and systemic differences between post-Reformation Roman Catholic and Protestant scholastic thought on any number of issues, the story is one of interdependence and convergence, as well as one of contrast. Perhaps several centuries of Catholic and Protestant polemics - especially in the wake of ascendant late 19th century neo-thomistic philosophy - have obscured the multi-faceted developments of our respective post-medieval traditions. Moreover, perhaps they have obscured the degree to which any number of Roman Catholic theologians were enmeshed together with emerging Protestant scholasticism within the same complex patterns of Renaissance humanism, philosophical and pedagogical advances, and institutional situations.

There’s much more to be said on these last topics, but I do not think I have yet gained the kind of proficiency with the relevant materials in order to draw many solid conclusions. In light of that, I very much look forward to gaining a more extensive understanding of Suarez and his thought, along with wider trends in the 16th and 17th centuries, as I continue to study.