The Reformersby Leibniz
- The Reformers, especially Luther, spoke sometimes as if they rejected philosophy, and deemed it inimical to faith.
But, properly speaking, Luther understood by philosophy only that which is in conformity with the ordinary course of Nature, or perhaps even philosophy as it was taught in the schools.
Thus for example he says that it is impossible in philosophy, that is, in the order of Nature, that the word be made flesh; and he goes so far as to maintain that what is true in natural philosophy might be false in ethics. Aristotle was the object of his anger; and so far back as the year 1516 he contemplated the purging of philosophy, when he perhaps had as yet no thoughts of reforming the Church. But at last he curbed his vehemence and in the Apology for the Augsburg Confession allowed a favourable mention of Aristotle and his Ethics. Melanchthon, a man of sound and moderate ideas, made little systems from the several parts of philosophy, adapted to the truths of revelation and useful in civic life, which deserve to be read even now. After him, Pierre de la Ramée entered the lists. His philosophy was much in favour: the sect of the Ramists was powerful in Germany, gaining many adherents among the Protestants, and even concerning itself with theology, until the revival of Corpuscular philosophy, which caused that of Ramée to fall into oblivion and weakened the authority of the Peripatetics.
- Meanwhile sundry Protestant theologians, deviating as far as they could from Scholastic philosophy, which prevailed in the opposite party, went so far as to despise philosophy itself, which to them was suspect.
The controversy blazed up finally owing to the rancour of Daniel Hoffmann. He was an able theologian, who had previously gained a reputation at the Conference of Quedlinburg, when Tilemann Heshusius and he had supported Duke Julius of Brunswick in his refusal to accept the Formula of Concord. For some reason or other Dr. Hoffmann flew into a passion with philosophy, instead of being content to find fault with the wrong uses made thereof by philosophers.
He was, however, aiming at the famous Caselius, a man esteemed by the princes and scholars of his time; and Henry Julius, Duke of Brunswick (son of Julius, founder of the University), having taken the trouble himself to investigate the matter, condemned the theologian.
There have been some small disputes of the kind since, but it has always been found that they were misunderstandings. Paul Slevogt, a famous Professor at Jena in Thuringia, whose still extant treatises prove how well versed he was in Scholastic philosophy, as also in Hebrew literature, had published in his youth under the title of Pervigilium a little book ‘de dissidio Theologi et Philosophi in utriusque principiis fundato’, bearing on the question whether God is accidentally the cause of sin. But it was easy to see that his aim was to demonstrate that theologians sometimes misuse philosophical terms.
In 1666 Louis Meyer, a physician of Amsterdam, published anonymously the book entitled Philosophia Scripturae Interpres (by many persons wrongly attributed to Spinoza, his friend) the theologians of Holland bestirred themselves, and their written attacks upon this book gave rise to great disputes among them. Divers of them held the opinion that the Cartesians, in confuting the anonymous philosopher, had conceded too much to philosophy. Jean de Labadie (before he had seceded from the Reformed Church, his pretext being some abuses which he said had crept into public observance and which he considered intolerable) attacked the book by Herr von Wollzogen, and called it pernicious. On the other hand Herr Vogelsang, Herr van der Weye and some other anti-Cocceïans also assailed the same book with much acrimony. But the accused won his case in a Synod. Afterwards in Holland people spoke of ‘rational’ and ’non-rational’ theologians, a party distinction often mentioned by M. Bayle, who finally declared himself against the former. But there is no indication that any precise rules have yet been defined which the rival parties accept or reject with regard to the use of reason in the interpretation of Holy Scripture.
A like dispute has threatened of late to disturb the peace in the Churches of the Augsburg Confession. Some Masters of Arts in the University of Leipzig gave private lessons at their homes, to students who sought them out in order to learn what is called ‘Sacra Philologia’, according to the practice of this university and of some others where this kind of study is not restricted to the Faculty of Theology. These masters pressed the study of the Holy Scriptures and the practice of piety further than their fellows had been wont to do. It is alleged that they had carried certain things to excess, and aroused suspicions of certain doctrinal innovations. This caused them to be dubbed ‘Pietists’, as though they were a new sect; and this name is one which has since caused a great stir in Germany. It has been applied somehow or other to those whom one suspected, or pretended to suspect, of fanaticism, or even of hypocrisy, concealed under some semblance of reform. Now some of the students attending these masters had become conspicuous for behaviour which gave general offence, and amongst other things for their scorn of philosophy, even, so it was said, burning their notebooks. In consequence the belief arose that their masters rejected philosophy: but they justified themselves very well; nor could they be convicted either of this error or of the heresies that were being imputed to them.
The question of the use of philosophy in theology was debated much amongst Christians, and difficulty was experienced over settling the limits of its use when it came to detailed consideration. The Mysteries of the Trinity, of the Incarnation and of the Holy Communion gave most occasion for dispute. The new Photinians, disputing the first two Mysteries, made use of certain philosophic maxims which Andreas Kessler, a theologian of the Augsburg Confession, summarized in the various treatises that he published on the parts of the Socinian philosophy. But as to their metaphysics, one might instruct oneself better therein by reading the work of Christopher Stegmann the Socinian. It is not yet in print; but I saw it in my youth and it has been recently again in my hands.
Calovius and Scherzer, authors well versed in Scholastic philosophy, and sundry other able theologians answered the Socinians at great length, and often with success: for they would not content themselves with the general and somewhat cavalier answers that were commonly used against that sect. The drift of such answers was: that their maxims were good in philosophy and not in theology; that it was the fault of heterogeneousness called μεταβασις εις αλλο γενος to apply those maxims to a matter transcending reason; and that philosophy should be treated as a servant and not a mistress in relation to theology, according to the title of the book by a Scot named Robert Baronius, Philosophia Theologiae ancillans. In fine, philosophy was a Hagar beside Sara and must be driven from the house with her Ishmael when she was refractory. There is something good in these answers: but one might abuse them, and set natural truths and truths of revelation at variance. Scholars therefore applied themselves to distinguishing between what is necessary and indispensable in natural or philosophic truths and that which is not so.
The two Protestant parties are tolerably in agreement when it is a question of making war on the Socinians; and as the philosophy of these sectaries is not of the most exact, in most cases the attack succeeded in reducing it. But the Protestants themselves had dissensions on the matter of the Eucharistic Sacrament. A section of those who are called Reformed (namely those who on that point follow rather Zwingli than Calvin) seemed to reduce the participation in the body of Jesus Christ in the Holy Communion to a mere figurative representation, employing the maxim of the philosophers which states that a body can only be in one place at a time. Contrariwise the Evangelicals (who name themselves thus in a particular sense to distinguish themselves from the Reformed), being more attached to the literal sense of Scripture, opined with Luther that this participation was real, and that here there lay a supernatural Mystery. They reject, in truth, the dogma of Transubstantiation, which they believe to be without foundation in the Text; neither do they approve that of Consubstantiation or of Impanation, which one could only impute to them if one were ill-informed on their opinion. For they admit no inclusion of the body of Jesus Christ in the bread, nor do they even require any union of the one with the other: but they demand at least a concomitance, so that these two substances be received both at the same time. They believe that the ordinary sense of the words of Jesus Christ on an occasion so important as that which concerned the expression of his last wishes ought to be preserved. Thus in order to show that this sense is free from all absurdity which could make it repugnant to us, they maintain that the philosophic maxim restricting the existence of, and partaking in, bodies to one place alone is simply a consequence of the ordinary course of Nature. They make that no obstacle to the presence, in the ordinary sense of the word, of the body of our Saviour in such form as may be in keeping with the most glorified body. They do not resort to a vague diffusion of ubiquity, which would disperse the body and leave it nowhere in particular; nor do they admit the multiple-reduplication theory of some Schoolmen, as if to say one and the same body could be at the same time seated here and standing elsewhere. In fine, they so express themselves that many consider the opinion of Calvin, authorized by sundry confessions of faith from the Churches that have accepted his teaching, to be not so far removed from the Augsburg Confession as one might think: for he affirmed a partaking in the substance. The divergence rests perhaps only upon the fact that Calvin demands true faith in addition to the oral reception of the symbols, and consequently excludes the unworthy.
Thence we see that the dogma of real and substantial participation can be supported (without resorting to the strange opinions of some Schoolmen) by a properly understood analogy between immediate operation and presence. Many philosophers have deemed that, even in the order of Nature, a body may operate from a distance immediately on many remote bodies at the same time. So do they believe, all the more, that nothing can prevent divine Omnipotence from causing one body to be present in many bodies together, since the transition from immediate operation to presence is but slight, the one perhaps depending upon the other. It is true that modern philosophers for some time now have denied the immediate natural operation of one body upon another remote from it, and I confess that I am of their opinion. Meanwhile remote operation has just been revived in England by the admirable Mr. Newton, who maintains that it is the nature of bodies to be attracted and gravitate one towards another, in proportion to the mass of each one, and the rays of attraction it receives. Accordingly the famous Mr. Locke, in his answer to Bishop Stillingfleet, declares that having seen Mr. Newton’s book he retracts what he himself said, following the opinion of the moderns, in his Essay concerning Human Understanding, to wit, that a body cannot operate immediately upon another except by touching it upon its surface and driving it by its motion. He acknowledges that God can put properties into matter which cause it to operate from a distance. Thus the theologians of the Augsburg Confession claim that God may ordain not only that a body operate immediately on divers bodies remote from one another, but that it even exist in their neighbourhood and be received by them in a way with which distances of place and dimensions of space have nothing to do. Although this effect transcends the forces of Nature, they do not think it possible to show that it surpasses the power of the Author of Nature. For him it is easy to annul the laws that he has given or to dispense with them as seems good to him, in the same way as he was able to make iron float upon water and to stay the operation of fire upon the human body.
I found in comparing the Rationale Theologicum of Nicolaus Vedelius with the refutation by Johann Musaeus that these two authors, of whom one died while a Professor at Franecker after having taught at Geneva and the other finally became the foremost theologian at Jena, are more or less in agreement on the principal rules for the use of reason, but that it is in the application of these rules they disagree. For they both agree that revelation cannot be contrary to the truths whose necessity is called by philosophers ’logical’ or ‘metaphysical’, that is to say, whose opposite implies contradiction. They both admit also that revelation will be able to combat maxims whose necessity is called ‘physical’ and is founded only upon the laws that the will of God has prescribed for Nature. Thus the question whether the presence of one and the same body in divers places is possible in the supernatural order only touches the application of the rule; and in order to decide this question conclusively by reason, one must needs explain exactly wherein the essence of body consists. Even the Reformed disagree thereon amongst themselves; the Cartesians confine it to extension, but their adversaries oppose that; and I think I have even observed that Gisbertus Voëtius, a famous theologian of Utrecht, doubted the alleged impossibility of plurality of locations.
Furthermore, although the two Protestant parties agree that one must distinguish these two necessities which I have just indicated, namely metaphysical necessity and physical necessity, and that the first excludes exceptions even in the case of Mysteries, they are not yet sufficiently agreed upon the rules of interpretation, which serve to determine in what cases it is permitted to desert the letter of Scripture when one is not certain that it is contrary to strictly universal truths. It is agreed that there are cases where one must reject a literal interpretation that is not absolutely impossible, when it is otherwise unsuitable. For instance, all commentators agree that when our Lord said that Herod was a fox he meant it metaphorically; and one must accept that, unless one imagine with some fanatics that for the time the words of our Lord lasted Herod was actually changed into a fox. But it is not the same with the texts on which Mysteries are founded, where the theologians of the Augsburg Confession deem that one must keep to the literal sense. Since, moreover, this discussion belongs to the art of interpretation and not to that which is the proper sphere of logic, we will not here enter thereon, especially as it has nothing in common with the disputes that have arisen recently upon the conformity of faith with reason.