{17}     Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed orthodoxies

ERA 5 << Modern Church (1): Reformation & Struggles (AD 1500–1700) >> SESSION 6

Reference: Gonzalez, volume 2, chapters 18-20

        17.1.1  Codification of dogmatic systems

·         Emphasis in doctrines: After the Reformation, the 3 major confessions were preoccupied with a precise definition of their beliefs.

        17.1.2  Gallicanism

·         Conflict: Gallicanism was the belief that popular civil authority could exert control over the Catholic Church. It was manifested in power struggles between monarchs and popes through many centuries. In Vienna, emperor Joseph II took over the education of the clergy and founded new churches. Jesuits tried to help the pope by force, and they were expelled from many countries in Europe.

        17.1.3  Jansenism

·         Augustinianism: It was the Augustinian doctrine adopted by Dutch theologian Cornelius Jansen (1585–1638). They (including Blaise Pascal) emphasized original sin, human depravity, the necessity of divine grace, and predestination. These were too close to Calvinism. The pope condemned Jansenism [1713], and Louis XIV persecuted the Jansenists and they gradually disappeared.

        17.1.4  Quietism

·         Emphasis: Quietism emphasized intellectual stillness and interior passivity as essential conditions of perfection. Spaniard Miguel de Molinos (1628–1697) advocated total passivity of the soul before God. A believer is simply to disappear, be lost, and to die in God. It was condemned by the RCC as heresy.

·         Guyon: Madame Jeanne-Marie Guyon (1648–1717) had visions and other mystical experiences. She emphasized passive contemplation of the Divine as the method, and union with the Divine as the goal of mystical experience. She was later condemned and confined by the church to a convent.

·         Fénelon: Guyon then influenced Bishop François Fénelon (1651–1715), a man of admirable piety. His book Christian Perfection has been an aid to the devotional life of all Christians, including Protestants. The pope declared that his teachings might lead to error.

        17.2.1  Philippists

·         Peripheral elements of faith: After Luther’s death, Philip Melanchthon (1497–1560) became the main interpreter of Lutheran theology. He distinguished between the central and peripheral elements of the gospel. Some secondary elements could be left aside in order to have the freedom to continue teaching the essential. Strict Lutherans objected and regarded any compromise might be construed as surrender.

·         On real presence: Melanchthon moved away from Luther’s doctrine of real presence of Christ in the communion. His position was close to Calvin’s. Many Lutherans distrusted Melanchthon.

·         Formula of Concord [1577]—The document was accepted as Lutheran orthodoxy. It expressed the views of strict Lutherans, but it was not approved by all Lutherans.

        17.2.2  Triumph of orthodoxy

·         Systematic theology: The next generations set out to coordinate Luther’s and Melanchthon’s teachings. Lutheran theologians emphasized on systematic dogma rather than the expression of doctrine in practical life.

·         Protestant scholasticism: Those new theological systems were mostly the product of schools, not directed towards preaching and the care of souls. They led to a spirit of rigid confessionalism.

        17.2.3  Calixtus & “syncretism”

·         Conciliation: Georg Calixtus (1586–1656) sought conciliation with believers of other confessions. He used Melanchthon’s distinction between the essential and the secondary elements of faith. Only that which relates to salvation is fundamental and absolutely necessary. The rest is not essential for being a Christian.

·         Criterion for essential doctrines: The way to distinguish the fundamental from the secondary is “the consensus of the first five centuries.” He was rejected by Lutherans and was accused of “syncretism”—combining different religions, but it was a false accusation.

·         Trend: The trend was toward dogmatic entrenchment, as if only those who agreed with every point of doctrine deserved to be called Christians. Such dogmatism, while bolstering the conviction of some, also gave rise to increasing doubts about the truth of Christianity, or at least about the value of theology and doctrine.

        17.3.1  Arminianism

·         Jakob Arminius (1560–1609)—He was a distinguished Dutch pastor and professor in Amsterdam [1587]. He disagreed with some of Calvin’s doctrine, in particular predestination, but he prudently kept silent.

·         Argument: Arminius’s opinion on predestination clashed with those of Francis Gomarus, a strict Calvinist.

o        God’s grace: We are dependent upon God’s grace, but man is left to decide whether or not he will accept it. God’s grace makes our salvation possible, not inevitable. The ultimate choice is made by man himself.

o        Foreknowledge: Arminius believed that predestination was based on God’s foreknowledge of man’s decision.

o        Decree: Gomarus believed that before the foundation of the world, the sovereign will of God decreed who would have faith and who would not. Arminius responded that the decree was the one by which God determined that Jesus Christ would be the mediator and redeemer of mankind.

        17.3.2  Synod of Dort [1618–1619]

·         Conflict: Some Dutch merchants wished to improve relations with Spain in order to improve trade. They supported Arminius and their opponents supported Gomarus. There was even the danger of civil war. The king took the side of the Gomarists and the Synod of Dort was called to settle the issue.

·         Doctrine of predestination: The synod condemned Arminianism and affirmed the 5 Calvinist doctrines (abbreviated TULIP). [1] Total depravity—human nature has been so corrupted that no one can accept salvation; [2] Unconditional election—election of the predestined is not based on God’s foreknowledge, but only on the sovereign will of God; [3] Limited atonement—Christ only died for the elect; [4] Irresistible grace—the calling of the Holy Spirit cannot be resisted; [5] Perseverance of the saints—the elect will persevere in grace and cannot fall from it.

·         Result: The Arminians were suppressed by imprisonment and exile. Arminian influence continued in Methodism and among General Baptists. Arminians were later granted official tolerance [1631].

        17.3.3  Westminster Confession [1644]

·         Reformed orthodoxy: The confession was the clearest expression of Calvinist orthodoxy.

·         On Scripture: The highest authority is the Scripture, the “Supreme Judge” in all religious controversy. The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture.

·         On predestination & perseverance: God’s eternal decree is that some people and angels have been predestined to eternal life, and others to eternal death. This is not based on the God’s foreknowledge of future actions of individuals. The saved can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace.

·         Deviation from Calvin: This document turned Calvin’s theology into a strict system that Calvin himself might have had difficulty recognizing. For Calvin, the doctrine of predestination was a means of expressing the joy of justification, and the unmerited nature of salvation. But his followers turned it into a test of orthodoxy.


[1] treasure our heritage

The confessions and the famous works help us to build a solid foundation for our faith.

[2] appreciate God’s providence

Despite theological arguments, the church remains one in Christ.

[3] avoid past errors

Judging Arminianism as a heresy was a mistake as predestination remains a disputable issues even among evangelicals.

[4] apply our knowledge

Pascal’s wager is a useful tool in evangelism.

[5] follow past saints

Melanchthon’s and Calixtus’s attitude for conciliation with other Christians on non-essential issues of faith is a good model.