Faith as Knowledge, Assent and Trust: Protestant Scholasticism

What is Protestant scholasticism?

Roman Catholicism is not the only branch of Western Christianity to have had a scholastic period. Protestantism enjoyed its own flowering of scholastic thought from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries (roughly from between 1560 and 1800). Just as their Roman Catholic counterparts, the Protestant Scholastics employed and developed the language and logic of Aristotle, presented and refuted their opponents’ positions, appealed to certain set authorities and principles and had a predilection for making ever finer and more precise distinctions. Though bound together by the claims of the various Reformations and the scholastic method, the theology and teaching of Protestant Scholasticism should not be thought of as one homogenous block. The two dominant and often contending branches of this movement were made up of Lutheran and Reformed theologians, but one could also say that there were Anglican and Arminian Scholastics. Even the Lutheran and Reformed branches of this period could be divided up into smaller contesting groups.

As for their understanding of faith, the Protestant Scholastics quickly identified and settled upon faith having three different aspects: knowledge (notitia), assent (assensus) and trust (fiducia). Generally speaking, knowledge and assent were thought to be matters of the intellect, while trust or confidence was a matter of the will or affections. There were some disagreements: assent could be thought to concern the will; the chief element of faith was usually trust but sometimes assent; and at times trust or confidence was not technically part of faith but consequent upon it. In general, however, there was a remarkable consensus on this issue with some squabbling over minutiae. While all three of these different aspects of faith can be found in earlier Reformers such as Luther, Calvin and Zwingli, it was their immediate followers who provided this view of faith that would come to characterize Protestant Scholasticism.

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