Before I recant of labeling Thomas Aquinas as semi-Pelagian, I want to work through a journal article penned by a professor of mine, in seminary, who was very influential for me (I served as his TA for two years). Hopefully this series will engender some feedback that will sway me one way or the other relative to how I label Thomas Aquinas (not that my label means much 😉 ). The first quote from the article will clarify what Ron Frost will be unpacking throughout the rest of the article. I’m going to make this a series, hopefully you find it fruitful. Here is the first installment from Frost:
. . . Luther’s greatest concern in his early reforming work was to rid the church of central Aristotelian assumptions that were transmitted through Thomistic theology. To the degree that Luther failed-measured by the modern appreciation for these Thomistic solutions in some Protestant circles-a primary thrust of the Reformation was stillborn. The continued use of Aristotle’s works by Protestant universities during and after the Reformation promoted such a miscarriage. Despite claims to the contrary by modern proponents of an Aristotelian Christianity, Aristotle’s works offered much more than a benign academic methodology; instead, as we will see below, his crucial definitions in ethics and anthropology shaped the thinking of young theological students in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries who read the Bible and theology through the optic of his definitions. Luther recognized that Aristotle’s influence entered Christian thought through the philosopher’s pervasive presence in the curricula of all European universities. In his scathing treatise of 1520, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, Luther-who for his first year at Wittenberg (1508-9) lectured on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics four times a week-chided educators for creating an environment “where little is taught of the Holy Scriptures and Christian faith, and where only the blind, heathen teacher Aristotle rules far more than Christ.” His solution was straightforward:
In this regard my advice would be that Aristotle’s Physics, Metaphysics, Concerning the Soil, and Ethics which hitherto have been thought to be his best books, should be completely discarded along with all the rest of his books that boast about nature, although nothing can be learned from them either about nature or the Spirit. (Quote taken from: “Aristotle’s Ethics: The Real Reason For Luther’s Reformation”)
My professor had a general disdain for Thomas Aquinas, and believed that it was the Thomistic influence that stillborn Luther’s Reformation. In other words, he believes that Protestants, Theodore Beza and onward, re-assimilated Roman Catholic/Scholastic trajectory that Luther and Calvin so vigorously opposed — I am inclined to agree with his general thesis. A minor point of disagreement revolves around the labeling of Thomas Aquinas as semi-Pelagian versus semi-Augustinian; Frost opts for the former, and I probably for the latter.