In Beyond Dordt and De Auxiliis, a number of Reformed and Catholic scholars discuss, as the subtitle notes, The Dynamics of Protestant and Catholic Soteriology in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries.
While it may be tempting to assume that Reformed and Roman Catholic theology completely drifted apart after the Reformation and Council of Trent, Beyond Dordt puts that assumption to rest. Each chapter in the work uncovers the complex relationship between Reformed and Roman Catholic debate during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. And the conclusion is that the Reformed and Roman Catholics knew each other’s works, interacted with each other, and often did so for polemical and non-polemical reasons.
The two primary debates discussed, as noted in the title, revolve around the Synod of Dordt (1618–1619) and the de Auxiliis controversy. The first debate centres on the teachings of the Remonstrants, which eventually resulted in what many call the Five Points of Calvinism. The second focuses on an internal debate in the Roman Catholic Church about Middle Knowledge or Molinism. Middle Knowledge, simply put, affirms that God knows what could happen in every possibility. In both these debates, questions surrounding God’s predestination and human freedom play an important role.
The editors (Ballor, Gaetano, and Sytsma) in fact see these debates as ones over a common “Augustinian inheritance” (1). Indeed, many Protestants and Roman Catholics felt a connection, albeit one that resulted in polemics but not exclusively so. The editors speak of “the self-conscious catholicity of the Reformed response to Arminianism. Protestants read widely in Roman Catholic literature, and they ‘did not read Catholic authors merely in order to refute them’” (2). As an example of such a positive view, Richard Baxter in A Key for Catholicks writes “There are very few points of the Protestant doctrine, which I cannot produce some Papist or other to attest” (2).
The complex relationship between Reformed and Catholic Christians of this era allowed for both strong disavowals as well as amicable conversations. The Jesuit Martin Becanus provides a great example of an amicable conversation (presumably others occurred!). He summarizes a conversation that he had with the reformed theologian, David Pareus. While the narrative seems written to favour Becanus’s position, the basic story, even if told in a biased way, still illustrates well how reformed and Roman Catholic theologians could amicably talk to one another:
“Last autumn, Nicolaus Serarius and I were at the salt water fountains of Schwalbach. There we conveniently met David Pareus, a Calvinist and a professor at Heidelberg. We greeted the man in a humane fashion, and he did so in turn. As we talked, he amicably and modestly objected to me that, in a certain disputation, I … wrote that the “God of the Calvinists is the author of sin.” I responded that it was solidly proved by me from the words and opinions of Calvin. In response, Pareus said, “Let it be that this is the opinion of Calvin but not of the Calvinists.’ Smiling, Serarius proposed the following: ‘Lord Pareus, this quarrel between you [and Becanus] will be settled easily [once] the … ists [in Calvinists] is expunged.” … This [solution] was pleasing to Pareus.” (318; from Martin Becanus, Summa theologiae scholasticae, vol. 1 (1622), 355)
What Becanus describes here does not seem to be a rare exception to the rule. Protestants and Roman Catholics often read each other’s works and apparently could meet and discuss theology. That said, one should not gain the impression that these competing groups did not condemn or call each other heretics as well!
The world of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries also evinced bitter words and rivalries. To attack an opposing group (RCC or Reformed) could make a theologian seem more solid to his camp. And so tribalism—if I may use that word—also played a massive role. Indeed, so did real and substantive disagreements.
These diverse and fascinating arguments gain close readings throughout Beyond Dordt. The editors have done the nearly impossible task of organizing a multi-author work in such a way as to make sense and cohere together. The relative uniformity of the chapters also serve to make the book feel like it coheres.
Scholars, students of this era, and pastors interested in their theological history should read this volume. The editing, organization, and content are superb. The cost will prevent many from purchasing the book, although students and professors can ask their library to purchase it. I highly recommend Beyond Dordt and De Auxiliis.
I was provided with a review copy from the publisher.