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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 1 of 2)

Why do you extol to me such a man as Aquinas


he had wider views. He desired the diffusion of a sound Christian education, and did the best that could be done by one man to promote it, by spending his private fortune in founding St. Paul's school, which he characteristically left in charge of a body of laymen. He longed to see a widespread preaching in the vernacular, and believed that the bishops should show an example in this clerical duty. It is probable that he wished the whole service to be in the vernacular, for it was made a charge against him that he taught his congregation to repeat the Lord's Prayer in English. Besides, he had clearly grasped the thought, too often forgotten by theologians of all schools, that the spiritual facts and forces which lie at the roots of the Christian life are one thing, and the intellectual conceptions which men make to explain these facts and forces are another, and a much less important thing; that men are able to be Christians and to live the Christian life because of the former and not because of the latter. He saw that, while dogma has its place, it is at best the alliance of an immortal with a mortal, the union between that which is unchangeably divine and the fashions of human thought which change from one age to another. For this reason he thought little of the Scholastic Theology of his days, with its forty-three propositions about the nature of God and its forty-five about the nature of man before and after the Fall, each of which had to be assented to at the risk of a charge
of heresy. "Why do you extol to me such a man as Aquinas? If he had not been so very arrogant, indeed, he would not surely so rashly and proudly have taken upon himself to define all things. And unless his spirit had been somewhat worldly, he would not surely have corrupted the whole teaching of Christ by mixing it with his profane philosophy." The Scholastic Theology might have been scientific in the thirteenth century, but the "scientific" is the human and changing element in dogma, and the old theology had become clearly unscientific in the sixteenth. Therefore he was accustomed to advise young theological students to keep to the Bible and the Apostles' Creed, and let divines, if they liked, dispute about the rest; and he taught Erasmus to look askance at Luther's reconstruction of the Augustinian theology.

But no thinking man, however he may flout at philosophy and dogma, can do without either; and Colet was no exception to the general rule. He has placed on record his detestation of Aquinas and his dislike of Augustine, and we may perhaps see in this a lack of sympathy with a prominent characteristic of the theology of Latin Christianity from Tertullian to Aquinas and Occam, to say nothing of developments since the Reformation. The great men who built up the Western Church were almost all trained Roman lawyers. Tertullian, Cyprian, Augustine, Gregory the Great (whose writings form the bridge between the Latin Fathers and the Schoolmen) were all men whose early training had been that of a Roman lawyer,--a training which moulded and shaped all their thinking, whether theological or ecclesiastical. They instinctively regarded all questions as a great Roman lawyer would. They had the lawyer's craving for exact definitions. They had the lawyer's idea that the primary duty laid upon them was to enforce obedience to authority, whether that authority expressed itself in external institutions or in the precise definitions of the correct ways of thinking about spiritual truths. No branch of Western Christendom has been able to free itself from the spell cast upon it by these Roman lawyers of the early centuries of the Christian Church.

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