{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 all became increasingly preoccupied with a precise and intricate definition of their beliefs, perhaps to show their distinctives and to close the ranks of their followers. Their energies were largely expended in controversies within their own confessions. These efforts especially concerned questions of the relation between God’s grace and human free-will.

        17.1.2  Gallicanism

·         Meaning: The name Gallicanism came from the word “Gaul” or ancient France. In the Middle Ages, the papacy granted concessions to France which was at that time their chief protector. Gallicanism was the belief that popular civil authority could exert control over the Catholic Church, in a way comparable to that of the pope’s. It was manifested in power struggles between monarchs and popes through many centuries. After Council of Vatican I [1870], Gallicanism was no longer permitted in the RCC.

·         Conflict: The Council of Trent [1545–1563] gave great power to the papacy over the entire Catholic church. Yet, both kings and nationalists opposed the centralized church, with the development of nationalism and absolute monarchs. Now the French Parliament wanted to keep those ancient freedoms of the Gallican church. Some argued that the church is the community of the faithful, and that the bishops, as their representatives, were to rule the church.

·         The Gallican Articles [1682] asserted that: [1] The king was not subject to the pope in temporal matters. [2] The pope was subject to general councils. [3] The pope’s power was limited by the constitution of the French church and the kingdom. [4] While the French church accepted the pope’s definition of faith, he was not above correction.

·         Variations: In Vienna, emperor Joseph II took over the education of the clergy and founded new churches. Josephism was the term parallel to Gallicanism. In Germany, Febronianism was similar to Gallicanism.

·         Involvement of the Jesuits: In the Thirty Years’ War, the Jesuits supported the Hapsburgs. An assassination attempt on Joseph I of Portugal [1758] was blamed on the Jesuits who were then expelled from Portugal and its colonies. They were suppressed in France [1764] and were expelled from Spain and Naples [1767]. The Bourbons requested the pope to dissolve the Jesuits [1769]. The Jesuits were dissolved [1773], so a powerful instrument of the papacy was lost. However, they were later reorganized [1814].

        17.1.3  Jansenism

·         Origin: In University of Louvain, Michael Baius (1513–1589) taught the Augustinian doctrine. He was condemned by the pope [1567] and Baius recanted. Baius’s theology was adopted by Dutch theologian Cornelius Jansen (1585–1638). His book Augustinus [1640] became the foundation of Jansenism, but was published only posthumously. He was concerned that the RCC was becoming morally lax and was drifting away from Augustine’s teaching on grace. So he emphasized original sin, human depravity, the necessity of divine grace, and predestination. These were close to Calvinism, so Jansen’s book was condemned by the pope [1643]. The leaders of the Jensenists included Jean du Vergier (1581–1643), Abbot of Saint-Cyran, followed by Antoine Arnauld (1612–1694) and Blaise Pascal (1623–1662).

·         Arguments about Augustinianism: The Council of Trent categorically condemned the views of Luther and Calvin on grace and predestination. The Jesuits under Luis de Molina attacked the Jensenists, affirming that predestination was based on God’s foreknowledge. Yet the Dominicans under Domingo Banez feared that this would lead to the denial of Augustine’s teachings. There were attacks from both sides. The pope simply decided that both accusations were false.

·         Blaise Pascal:

o        Attacking the Jesuits: The movement then became less a doctrine regarding grace and predestination, and more a movement of zealous religious reform. The Jesuits had proposed the theory of “probabilism” which meant that a probability, no matter how slight, that an action was correct made it morally acceptable. To state it differently, where there was a difference of opinion among moral theologians, the confessor is obliged to follow that opinion which favours the sinner. Thus, if one reputable authority (e.g. a Jesuit) held something not to be sin, the confessor was forbidden to impose a stricter view on the penitent, even if all other writers were united in condemning it as a sin. French Jansenists took this as moral indifferentism. They proposed a life of discipline and rigour.

o        Defending Jensenism: When Arnauld was attacked, Pascal published his 20 Provincial Letters [1656–1657] to defend. These are among the greatest satirical works ever, aimed at the Jesuits. He argued that the Jensenist doctrine of grace is not that of Calvin, as was charged, but that of Augustine and the Dominican theologians. They were added to the Index of Forbidden Books.

o        Pensées (Thoughts) [1670]: This was the greatest work by Pascal. They were intended as material for an Apology for the Christian Religion, addressed to skeptics and rationalists as the first modern attempt at Christian apologetics. One of the best-known arguments is that of the wager: Is there a God or not? Is there such a thing as eternal life? Reason cannot conclusively decide, but we must nonetheless choose how to live. What are the stakes? We wager with our single short earthly lives. If we win, the gain is an eternity of happiness. Even if we lose (because there is no God), all that we lose in this life is vice, while we still gain a virtuous character. For the prudent gambler, there is only one sensible choice: there is a God.

o        On reason: Pascal allowed only a limited role for philosophy and reason: “Reason’s last step is the recognition that there are infinite number of things which are beyond it. It is merely feeble if it does not go as far as to realize that.” “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.”

o        Quote: “Knowing God without knowing our own wretchedness makes for pride. Knowing our wretchedness without knowing God makes for despair. Knowing Jesus Christ strikes the balance because he shows us both God and our own wretchedness.”

·         End: The pope condemned Jansenism [1713], and Louis XIV persecuted the Jansenists. Under persecution, Jansenism changed its focus to a political and intellectual movement close to Gallicanism and gradually disappeared.

        17.1.4  Quietism

·         Emphasis: Quietism emphasized intellectual stillness and interior passivity as essential conditions of perfection. It was condemned by the RCC as heresy for leading to privatism, in which the church has no importance or authority, and in which Christians have nothing to do with political and social life. That may lead further to moral laxity.

·         Molinos: Quietism began in the publication of Spiritual Guide [1675] by the Spaniard Miguel de Molinos (1628–1697). He advocated total passivity of the soul before God. A believer is simply to disappear, to die and be lost in God. Any activism, be it of the body or the soul, must be set aside. Contemplation must be purely spiritual. When the spirit is lost in contemplation of the divine, it must consider nothing else—not even the neighbour. This teaching was accused of being similar to Muslim mysticism.

·         Guyon: Quietism spread to France and was taken up by the widowed Madame Jeanne-Marie Guyon (1648–1717) and her confessor Father Lacombe. Both had visions and other mystical experiences. Her book A Short and Easy Method of Prayer [1685] emphasized passive contemplation of the Divine as the method, and union with the Divine as the goal of mystical experience. Guyon carried Molinos’s teaching in a more radical direction. She said that at times when, in order to offer God a true sacrifice, one must commit sins one truly despises. She was later 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 supported Quietism and has been an aid to the devotional life of all Christians, including Protestants. The pope declared that his teachings might lead to error. Fenelon then withdrew to his pastoral duties as Archbishop of Cambray, distributing all his possessions among the poor, and leading an admirable life. He was probably the model for Victor Hugo’s saintly Monseignor Myriel in Les Miserables [1862].


        17.2.1  Philippists

·         Melanchthon: After Luther’s death, Philip Melanchthon (1497–1560) became the main interpreter of Lutheran theology. His work Commonplace [1521] was the first Protestant attempt at a systematic theology. His work Loci theologici [1521] contained some theological variations from Luther. Luther’s radical rejection of “dirty reason” led to his breaking with Erasmus and his humanist program of reformation. But Melanchthon’s love of peace led him to continuous cordial relations with Erasmus.

·         Leipzig Interim: Emperor Charles V tried to force Lutherans to agree to a compromise with Catholicism in the “Augsburg Interim”. But most “strict Lutherans” refused to sign. When the pressure was great, the Wittenberg theologians, under the leadership of Melanchthon, agreed to a modified version called “Leipzig Interim”.

·         Peripheral elements of faith: Strict Lutherans accused the Wittenberg Philippists of abandoning Luther’s teachings. Melanchthon responded by establishing a distinction between the central elements of the gospel and those that are peripheral to it (which he called by Greek “adiaphora”). One could be justified in leaving aside some of the secondary elements in order to have the freedom to continue teaching the essential. Strict Lutherans led by Matthias Flacius responded that there are circumstances that require a clear confession of faith. Elements that may be peripheral become symbols of the faith itself, as yielding may be construed as surrender.

·         On good works: While Melanchthon affirmed the doctrine of justification, he also emphasized the need for good works—not as a means of salvation, but as a result and witness to it. Some Lutherans argued against it because this was too close to the Roman doctrine of salvation by faith and works.

·         On real presence: Under the influence of Oecolampadius, the reformer of Basel, Melanchthon moved away from Luther’s doctrine of real presence of Christ in the communion. His position was close to Calvin’s. In the revised version of the Augsburg Confession, he omitted the teaching of real presence. Melanchthon reported (without other witnesses) that shortly before his death, Luther admitted that he had gone too far on the issue of real presence but he could not now modify his position, otherwise all of his teaching might be brought into disrepute.

·         On human free-will: Strict Lutherans also accused the Philippists of giving too much credit to human participation in salvation. Melanchthon indeed spoke about a collaboration among the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, and human will. As a result, many Lutherans distrusted Melanchthon and saw him as the betrayer of Luther.

·         Formula of Concord [1577]—The document was accepted as Lutheran orthodoxy. It expressed the views of strict Lutherans. It declared that while it is true that some elements in faith are not essential to the gospel, in time of persecution, one should not abandon even these peripheral matters. In terms of the communion, both Calvin’s and Zwingli’s positions were rejected as being similar. The Formula called them subtle sacramentarians (including Melanchthon) and crass sacramentarians. However, the Formula did not meet with the approval of all Lutherans. It has never been adopted by the Danish church and some German Lutheran states even joined the Reformed camp.

        17.2.2  Triumph of orthodoxy

·         Systematic theology: The next generations set out to coordinate Luther’s and Melanchthon’s teachings. Protestant scholasticism led by Martin Chemnitz (1522–1586) then dominated Lutheran thought. The emphasis was on systematic dogma rather than the expression of doctrine in practical life. Johann Gerhard (1582–1637)—archtheologian of Lutheranism—published the 23-volume Loci theologici [1610–1622]. Abraham Calovius (1612–1686) published the 12-volume Systematic Theology [1655–1677].

·         Aristotelianism: Luther had declared that in order to be a theologian, one must be rid of Aristotle. But many Lutheran theologians built their systems on the basis of Aristotelian logic and metaphysics, similar to the system used by the Jesuits.

·         Protestant scholasticism: Those new theological systems were mostly the product of schools, not born out of the life of the church, and not directed towards preaching and the care of souls. They were similar to the medieval scholasticism. Protestant scholasticism disappeared near the end of 18th-c. But it left an important legacy: a spirit of rigid confessionalism.

·         Inspiration of the Scripture: Lutheran theology also emphasized on the literal inspiration of the Bible. The Holy Spirit both told the authors what to write and ordered them to write it. Only what the Spirit told the Apostles and the prophets to write is authoritative for the church, not other teachings outside the Bible.

        17.2.3  Calixtus & “syncretism”

·         Conciliation: Georg Calixtus (1586–1656) did not think it correct to declare all non-Lutherans as heretics or false Christians. He believed that attacking other Christians was incorrect so he sought conciliation with believers of other confessions.

·         Solution: He used Melanchthon’s distinction between the essential and the secondary elements of faith. Everything revealed by God in Scripture ought to be believed; but not all is of equal importance. Only that which relates to salvation is fundamental and absolutely necessary. The rest is not essential for being a Christian. There is a difference between heresy and error. Heresy is the denial of beliefs essential for salvation; error is the denial of non-essential elements of revelation. Only heresy is of such gravity as to keep Christians from communion with each other.

·         Criterion for essential doctrines: The way to distinguish the fundamental from the secondary is “the consensus of the first five centuries.” Calixtus believed that during those 5 centuries, there was a consensus among Christians. He argued that it is a folly to affirm that something that cannot be found in the first 5 centuries of Christian theology is essential for salvation. Otherwise, there would be no one saved during the early church.

·         Application of the criterion: The doctrine of justification is no doubt found in the Bible. But it was not part of the common faith of the first 5 centuries. Therefore, although it is important, it is not to be required for all, as if any who reject it were heretics. Luther and Lutherans are right in affirming this doctrine as truth. But it does not mean that Catholics are heretics. Similarly, the difference regarding the communion does not mean that Reformed Christians are heretics.

·         Opposition: In opposition, Calovius declared that everything that God has revealed in the Bible is absolutely necessary. Others pointed out that Calixtus’s theory of consensus would restore authority to tradition against the teaching of Luther.

·         Accusation: Calixtus was then described as promoting “syncretism”, falsely implying that he intended to mix elements from various confessions, or that he believed all confessions to be equally valid. Though hw was rejected by the Lutherans, he has been rightly called one of the forerunners of the ecumenical movement.

·         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 (Jacobus) Arminius (1560–1609)—He was a distinguished Dutch pastor and professor. He studied in Geneva under Theodore Beza. He gained wide recognition through his preaching in Amsterdam [1587].

·         Change in opinion: He was asked to refute Dirck Koornhert’s opinion which rejected some of Calvin’s doctrine, in particular predestination [1589]. Arminius studied Koornhert’s writings and compared them with the Bible, and with writings in early Christian theology and major reformers. After a struggle of conscience, he reached the conclusion that Koornhert was right but he prudently kept silent.

·         Argument: Arminius became a professor at the University of Leiden [1603]. His opinion on predestination clashed with those of Francis Gomarus, a strict Calvinist. Both agreed on the fact of predestination which is supported by Biblical references. The difference was on the basis of predestination.

o        God’s grace: Arminius was careful to stress our dependence on God’s grace. But he differed from the Augustinian position at one vital point. We are dependent upon God’s grace, but this grace is given in such a way that 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 those who would later have faith in Christ. Gomarus believed that faith is the result of predestination.

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.

·         Declaration of Sentiments [1608] by Arminius on the 4 decrees of God.

o        [1] God decreed to appoint Jesus Christ as the mediator to win salvation for man.

o        [2] God decreed to accept and save all who would repent and believe in Jesus Christ and to reject impenitent unbelievers.

o        [3] God decreed to provide the means necessary for man to repent and believe.

o        [4] God decreed the salvation of certain specific individuals—because He foresaw that they would believe and persevere to the end. (This is the rejection of unconditional election.)

        17.3.2  Synod of Dort [1618–1619]

·         Conflict: Although Holland’s struggle for independence with Spain had been long and bitter, some Dutch merchants wished to improve relations with Spain in order to improve trade. The clergy and the lower classes were against it. Eventually, the mercantile party supported Arminius and their opponents supported Gomarus. There was even the danger of civil war.

·         Five articles of Remonstrance [1610]—This document was issued by the followers of Arminius after the death of Arminius [1609]. It led to the name “Remonstrants” for the Arminian party.

o        [1] God chose before the foundation of the world to save through Jesus Christ all those who through the grace of the Holy Spirit would believe on Him and persevere to the end. (It was not sure whether this means: [1] as Arminius taught, that God knew who would believe, and predestined those particular people; or [2] that God determined that whoever would later come to believe would be saved—later called “the open decree of predestination”. The document concluded in the last paragraph that “it is neither necessary nor useful to rise higher nor to search any deeper,” meaning that needless speculation regarding the cause of the divine decree of predestination is to be rejected.)

o        [2] Jesus died for all human beings, although only believers actually receive the benefits of His salvation.

o        [3] Fallen man can do nothing good on their own account. He needs to be born again by God, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit in order to do good. (This article tries to deal with the accusation of Pelagianism, who held that man is capable of doing good on his own.)

o        [4] We can do not good without God’s grace preceding, awakening, following, and cooperating with us. But this grace is not irresistible.

o        [5] True believer are enabled by grace to persevere to the end. But it is not certain whether those who have believed in Christ can fall from grace or not. The Bible on this point is not clear. (However, the natural extension of Arminianism, based on human free-will, is that it is possible to fall from grace and lose one’s salvation.)

·         Political factor: Prince Maurice of Nassau—son and heir of William of Orange—took the side of the Gomarists who wished no contact with Spain. He imprisoned the leaders of the mercantile party. The Synod of Dort was called to settle the issue. Invitations were extended to Reformed churches outside Holland. About one quarter of the close to 100 members were from outside.

·         Doctrine of predestination: The synod condemned Arminianism and affirmed the 5 doctrines (abbreviated TULIP) that the Remonstrants would not accept. They became the hallmark of orthodox Calvinism. [1] Total depravity—although there is still in fallen humans a vestige of natural light, human nature has been so corrupted that that light cannot be properly used; [2] Unconditional election—election of the predestined is not based on God’s foreknowledge of each one’s response to the offer of salvation, but only on the inscrutable will of God; [3] Limited atonement—Christ only died for the elect; the doctrine is foreign to Calvin; [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 negotiator with Spain Johan van Oldenbarnevelt (1547–1619) was condemned to death; Hugo Grotius (1583–1645), one of the founders of international law, was condemned to life imprisonment, although he escaped. Arminian ministers were exiled. The laity who attended Arminian services had to pay heavy fines. Teachers were required to subscribe to the decisions of Dort. But Arminian influence continued in Methodism and among General Baptists. Arminians were later granted official tolerance [1631].

·         John Owen (1616–1683)—English Reformed theologian—He argued for limited atonement using the logic that those who hold to universal atonement are teaching an ineffectual atonement. The are 2 major weaknesses of this argument: [1] The doctrine of predestination is being used as a controlling principle, to determine other doctrines (in this instance, the doctrine of the cross). Calvin himself never exalted the doctrine of predestination to such a central and dominating position. [2] The cross is being considered in isolation. Calvin’s position would be that the salvation of the elect is made certain and not merely possible, not by the cross seen in isolation but by the combined work of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

        17.3.3  Westminster Confession [1644]

·         Reformed orthodoxy: The confession was the clearest expression of Calvinist orthodoxy. It follows strictly Calvinist predestination.

·         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; but shall certainly persevere to the end.

·         On man: Man is utterly indisposed, disabled, and opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil.

·         On salvation: Christ saves all those whose redemption He also acquired. Salvation can only result from “effectual calling”.

·         Deviation from Calvin: While claiming to be a faithful interpreter of Calvin, this document tended to turn the theology of Calvin 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 and even a sign of divine favour.



[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.



        What were the different movement within the Catholic church that opposed the official positions? Were they Biblical?

o        Gallicanism (led by Febronius)—opposing the centralized papacy; no clear teaching in the Bible one way or the other.

o        Jansenism (led by Pascal)—began with emphasis on grace and predestination of Augustine, changed to the emphasis of the life of discipline and rigour; teachings were based on the Bible.

o        Quietism (led by Molinos, Guyon, Fenelon)—total passivity before God in spiritual contemplation; Biblically based but incomplete, could lead to excesses.

        Melanchthon’s position on human free-will and presence of Christ in communion were different from the Strict Lutherans. Which position was more Biblical?

o        The Bible was not totally clear on the questions; both sides appear to have supporting verses from the Bible. As they are not fundamental to our salvation, they are of secondary importance.

        Calixtus tried to lay the foundation of compromise between different Protestant traditions (confessions) by differentiating essential and secondary doctrines. In contrast, Calovius declared that everything in the Bible was absolutely necessary to be a Christian. Which one is the better position? Why?

o        Calovius’s position is too strict. While everything in the Bible is important, they are not of equal importance. Furthermore, they may not be as clear as statements in a creed or confession. Even Strict Lutheran admitted later that some doctrines are not essential to salvation.

o        Calixtus’s position is the better one as Christians should not be divided by non-essential doctrines. Christ commanded us to love one another and be united.

        What was Calixtus’s basis for differentiating essential and secondary doctrines? Was he correct? Was he a syncretist?

o        Calixtus’s basis was “the consensus of the first five centuries.” The criticism is that it leads to the affirmation of tradition as equally authoritative like the Bible. This is a valid point. But there are also good reasons for his position.

o        He was accused as a syncretist—someone trying to combine elements from different confessions. This was a wrong accusation. He still believed that Lutheranism was the best interpretation. He simply wanted some compromise to attain greater unity in the universal church.

        Is a compromise on peripheral elements of faith a surrender? Will the case be different during time of persecution? How about a different interpretation of the mode of baptism? Is it essential?

o        A compromise on peripheral elements is not a surrender. However, in periods of persecution, it may be construed as a surrender. Therefore, there may be good reasons for not compromising, depending on the times.

o        The mode of baptism is not essential in salvation. Using the mode of baptism to separate Christians and implying that Christians baptized in a different mode are not saved is wrong.

        Is Arminianism heretical? What about Methodists’ adoption of Arminianism?

o        Arminianism was regarded as heretical in a time when the survival of the church might depend on its unity. It was also influenced by the political decision to suppress the mercantile Arminian party who wanted closer relations with Spain.

o        Arminianism was no longer condemned widely after it was accepted in Methodist theology (later by General Baptists, some Congregationalists and Pentecostals). The adoption was a result of the emphasis of evangelism by the Wesleys and early Methodists.

o        Today, many orthodox theologians accept part or all of Armianism. It is no longer regarded as heretical even though Reformed churches still believe it to be erroneous.

        Are the 5 points of predestination in Calvinism fully supported by the Bible?

o        Of course there are Biblical support in each of the 5 points but there are also reservations as the points are not entirely clear in the Bible.

          Total depravity: but there are also natural grace which allows us to recognize what is good.

          Unconditional election: the election can be based on God’s foreknowledge or can be applied to the whole group of elect.

          Limited atonement: The Bible teaches that Christ died for everyone (1Jn 2:2).

          Irresistible grace: The Bible teaches that man can resist the Holy Spirit (Ac 7:51).

          Perseverance of the saints: The Bible describes some cases of apparent falling away (1Jn 5:16; Heb 6:4-6).

        Were the 5 points of predestination (as defined by the Synod of Dort and the Westminster Confession) originally intended by Calvin?

o        No, they were formulated after Calvin. Although they were based on the writings of Calvin, Calvin did not express them in those uncompromising terms.