Catholic Dictionary




The dogmatic teaching of the original Protestant reformers. They were constrained by the logic of separating from Rome to defend their new doctrinal positions. Thus we find Luther writing numerous treatises on faith, grace, and justification, and John Calvin (1509-64) producing in 1536 his Institutes of the Christian Religion, as the first systematic compendium of Protestant doctrine. "My design in this work," wrote Calvin in the introduction, "has been to prepare and qualify students of theology for the reading of the divine word." The beginnings of the Reformation were thoroughly dogmatic in character. The earliest Reformation dogma was biblical in the direct sense. It did not take philosophy as a basis or ally. Its first business was to know and expound the Bible. It did not claim Aristotle and Plato as friends or forerunners. It used reason, but reason derived only from the Bible and put to a biblical use. Actually there was a philosophy behind this dogmatizing, notably the nominalism of William of Ockham (1280-1349), whom Luther called "my teacher" and rated in learning far above Thomas Aquinas.

Two strains in Ockham, sometimes called "the first Protestant," became imbedded in the Reformation: a distrust of reason in dealing with religion, and a theory of voluntarism which made right and wrong depend on the will of God. The first strain appeared prominently in Lutheran or evangelical thought, with the emphasis on revelation and grace as the exclusive media of religious knowledge and salvation. The second affected Calvinism and postulated, in Calvin's words, that "God chooses some for the hope of life, and condemns others to eternal death . . . . For all men are not created on an equal footing, but for some eternal life is preordained, for others eternal damnation." The divine will, therefore, and not as in Catholic doctrine the divine wisdom, is the ultimate norm of man's existence and destiny.