I am currently reading two books by Alister McGrath, Reformation Thought: An Introduction (1988) and The Intellectual World of C.S. Lewis (2014). By the time I finished reading the preface in Reformation Thought I realized my understanding of the movement was, at best, paltry. I appreciate McGrath’s careful explanations that assume the reader is not familiar with key terms and ideas, finding out that even someone (me) who has fundamental understanding of these things needs correction or clarification.
From the section titled “How to Use this Book:”
Three words sum up the aim of this book: introduce; explain; contextualize. The book aims to introduce the leading ideas of the European Reformation during the first half of the sixteenth century. It is like a sketch map, which indicates the main features of the intellectual landscape: notes, suggestions for further reading will allow the reader to add finer detail later. Second, the book aims to explain these ideas. It assumes that the reader knows nothing about the Christian theology which underlies the Reformation, and explains what terms such as ‘justification by faith’ and ‘predestination’ mean, and why they are of religious and social relevance. Third, it aims to contextualize these ideas by setting them in their proper intellectual, social and political context. That context includes such great intellectual movements as humanism and scholasticism, the alternative religious ideologies of the radical Reformation and Roman Catholicism, and the political and social realities of the imperial cities of the early sixteenth century. All these factors affected the thought of the reformers, and its impact upon their public— and this work aims to identify that influence and assess its effects.
Here are the section headings of the book:
2 Late Medieval Religion
3 Humanism and the Reformation
4 Scholasticism and the Reformation
5 The Reformers: A Biographical Introduction
6 The Doctrine of Justification by Faith
7 The Doctrine of Predestination
8 The Return of Scripture
9 The Doctrine of the Sacraments
10 The Doctrine of the Church
11 The Political Thought of the Reformation
12 The Diffusion of the Thought of the Reformation
13 The Thought of the English Reformation
14 The Impact of Reformation Thought upon History
One of the surprises, to me, was the nature of Medieval humanism and its contribution to the Reformation movement. Humanism here is described as:
a cultural and educational movement, primarily concerned with the promotion of eloquence in its various forms….It is beyond doubt that the Renaissance witnessed the rise of classical scholarship. The Greek and Latin classics were widely studied in their original languages….[T]he evidence available makes it clear that such study was regarded as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. That end was the promotion of contemporary written and spoken eloquence….it has become increasingly clear that ‘humanism’ lacked any coherent philosophy….In short, humanism was concerned with how ideas were obtained and expressed, rather than with the actual substance of those ideas.
The literary and cultural program of humanism can be summarized in the slogan ad fonts—back to the original sources. The squalor of the medieval period is bypassed, in order to recover the intellectual and artistic glories of the classical period. The ‘filter’ of medieval commentaries—whether on legal texts or on the Bible—is abandoned, in order to engage directly with the original texts. Applied to the Christian church, the slogan ad fonts meant a direct return to the title-deeds of Christianity—the patristic writers and, supremely, the Bible.
I am enjoying this immensely.