The suggestion that we should learn from the representatives of a communion that still binds men’s consciences and misleads them with false doctrine is highly objectionable. Such men are members of a communion that has spent most of the last 500 years saying that believing Protestant doctrine is damning sin, has regarded it as within its power and duty to curse Protestants for such ‘error’ by its anathemas, and that has readily abetted such spiritual coercion with physical persecution of the cruelest types when and where it has been within its power to do so.
There exists a certain method of argumentation in which someone who disputes a given position does not argue against it but instead implies that the position’s proponents are motivated by fear. Thus, for example, someone who thinks it imprudent to allow large numbers of immigrants into one’s nation is apt to be dismissed as a xenophobe, as if doubting the wisdom of allowing large numbers of foreigners to spontaneously immigrate without careful assimilation is some sort of clinical condition.
Craig Carter, in an article at Credo, does not go so far; though from a Christian perspective he arguably does worse by quoting Karl Barth’s statement that “fear of scholasticism is the mark of a false prophet.” Scripture gives certain criteria for how to identify false teachers. Some are methodological—false teachers are fond of “relying on their dreams,” Jude tells us (v.8)—while others have to do with their moral character, and with the nature and effects of their teaching (“you will recognize them by their fruits,” Matt. 7:20). Prof. Carter admits in his article that Barth’s teaching was sorely mistaken at sundry points and bore ill consequences. Indeed, he says that the last two centuries (which include Barth) were “disasters” and “among the most forgettable in the two-millennium history of Christian theology,” and that after them there is a need to “recover and revitalize classical orthodoxy”.
More importantly, by the standards of scripture Karl Barth was a false teacher himself. Such people are characterized by “sensuality” (2 Pet. 2:2) and “have eyes full of adultery” (v.14). It just so happens that Karl Barth maintained a long affair with his assistant, even having her move into his house over his wife’s protests and maintaining the relationship against the stern disapproval of his mother, her rebukes (“What’s the point of the very sharpest theology if it suffers shipwreck in your own home?”) going unheeded. (Comp. Prov. 1:8; 6:20; 30:17; 31:1.) You may be forgiven, dear reader, if you are inclined to think that Barth’s opinions about the nature of false prophets are therefore about as authoritative and useful as a pronouncement from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe on prudent monetary policies.
Turning to Prof. Carter’s essay we find a long analysis of Barth’s thought as it relates to various trends in theology after the Enlightenment, including concepts taken from Schleirmacher and Kant. I make no comment on the accuracy of this analysis as such. It may be a faultless exercise in historical and theological analysis that traces the development of Barth’s thought with perfect accuracy. That is an academic question which I do not presume to address here.
I must confess that the analysis seems somewhat oddly formed, however. The title of the section is, “Barth’s Rejection of the Scholastic Doctrine of Election,” yet in the second sentence we read that Barth “was particularly critical of the reformed doctrine of election” (emphasis mine), which suggests that “reformed” and “scholastic” are synonyms, when in fact they are not. Also, this section is not merely about Barth’s rejection of election (be it Reformed or scholastic), but about his fundamental metaphysical framework and its sources, and of how it lead him to a more apparently Christocentric but in fact still anthropocentric theology; and in fact discussion of his method, sources, etc. makes up the larger part of it, hence it seems somewhat misnamed. Something like “Barth’s Rejection of Common Scholastic Metaphysics” would seem a more accurate title given the actual content.
Elsewhere in the section Prof. Carter does speak of “the scholastic doctrine of election.” In one case he presents it as a question and follows it with a sentence about how, though Barth engaged “with Protestant scholastic theology, he never felt it was possible to take on board its metaphysical framework.” The second case is after he discusses the Thomistic proof for God’s existence and before he begins the next section with a discussion of a recent “Thomistic Ressourcement movement.” It is therefore unclear what he means by “the scholastic doctrine of election.” It would seem it means something along the lines of ‘Thomas Aquinas’ doctrine of election as it was received and developed by the later Protestant Scholastics, especially those that were Reformed,’ but this is not certain given Prof. Carter’s failure to define it more clearly.
This notwithstanding, Prof. Carter is right in his broad assertions. The last couple of centuries in Protestant theology were not merely strained but, as he asserts, disastrous. Philosophy did indeed wreak havoc on theology in a variety of ways, the application of its concepts to divinity causing strange developments that came at the expense of historic orthodoxy. Barth too was sorely mistaken in his thinking and would have done far better to return to more reliable sources and to break free from the erroneous concepts which formed so much of his thought.
But where Prof. Carter is right in diagnosing the problem, we must differ in his suggested solution and in the argument he pursues. He begins the next section with the statement that we must “reject nineteenth century historicism and the flawed metaphysical assumptions on which it rests” and mentions four people in the Thomistic Ressourcement movement who “are providing the impetus for doing this.” All four authors are members of the papal communion, as was Thomas, yet Prof. Carter does not hesitate to say that “confessional Protestants need to learn from them,” as if there are not other sources that might give one good grounds to reject historicism.
The suggestion that we should learn from the representatives of a communion that still binds men’s consciences and misleads them with false doctrine is highly objectionable. Such men are members of a communion that has spent most of the last 500 years saying that believing Protestant doctrine is damning sin, has regarded it as within its power and duty to curse Protestants for such ‘error’ by its anathemas, and that has readily abetted such spiritual coercion with physical persecution of the cruelest types when and where it has been within its power to do so. Theirs is a communion that believes, further, that it is infallible in its official pronouncements, so that it can never confess it has erred in past or repent its sins, and which has in some ways taken a strange twist since about Vatican II and now asserts that, while all previous pronouncements declaring Protestant beliefs anathema still stand, nonetheless they can also be regarded as estranged brothers who are really members of Rome because of an implicit but unknown desire to be part of her. Contemporary Rome says that the canons of Trent, which curse us unambiguously, are still in force as infallible declarations of the truth about our beliefs; it also says that we (or at least some of us) are really members of itself, but that we are just ignorant of that fact and mistaken when we refuse formal participation with her.
It does this because on its view nothing – be it scripture, tradition, or previous church councils or papal pronouncements – means anything other than what the present church says it means. ‘The church is the official interpreter’ of all such things, so that Trent’s anathemas meant ‘those who believe thus are doomed to hell’ up until about Vatican II, but have since apparently come to mean something along the lines of ‘those poor, silly Protestants are mistaken, but we should pity them for they mean well and we hope for them to come to their senses.’ What anything means, in short, is what Rome finds it advantageous to mean at any given time, an obvious violation of “let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’” (Matt. 5:37 NKJV). Such double-tongued tendencies are no less reprehensible in an institution than in an individual, and the discerning reader should recognize what they reveal about the Roman communion. And yet many Protestant theologians, as Prof. Carter here, have no qualms about commending members of such a communion as reliable teachers.
Prof. Carter then moves quickly to his point: because of the failure of Barthianism “the time has come to re-visit scholasticism.” Prior to this he had just spent over 1,200 words describing how Barth had allowed philosophy to ruin his theology — and his response is to return to another movement that was conspicuous for allowing philosophy to dominate theology!
Perhaps it will be objected that the historic understanding of scholasticism as melding theology and philosophy is wrong. But why then did Pope Leo XIII, in an encyclical in which he declared Thomas’ excellence and recommended his restoration to a place of preeminence, speak of “that philosophy which the Scholastic teachers have been accustomed carefully and prudently to make use of even in theological disputations,” and say that “since it is the proper and special office of the Scholastic theologians to bind together by the fastest chain human and divine science, surely the theology in which they excelled would not have gained such honor . . . if they had made use of a lame and imperfect or vain philosophy”? Unless we wish to say that Leo did not understand the method of his own favored school, his testimony seems an accurate description of the nature of scholasticism, and it is abetted by John Owen, who described the scholastics as “the men, who out of a mixture of Philosophy, Traditions, and Scripture, all corrupted and perverted, have hammered that faith which was afterwards confirmed under so many Anathemaes at Trent.”
For his part Prof. Carter asserts that the “rediscovery of the value of the metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas does not necessarily lead back to Roman Catholic theology” and that it “can just as well lead us back to the post-Reformation, Protestant scholasticism.” Perhaps; but in practice it often does lead to Rome, a road which even a president of the evangelical theological society has traveled. Also, it is a somewhat strange method that would go to Thomas in order to wind up in the Protestant scholastics. Why not just read the Protestant scholastics themselves, especially if they are, as Prof. Carter asserts, “the sources of the classical expressions of the Reformed faith that would emerge over the next two centuries”?
He asks “who is afraid of scholasticism?” but does not directly answer his own question, states “nobody should be afraid of it,” and answers with a strange disquisition on John Webster’s contribution to a book called The Analogy of Being: Invention of the Antichrist or Wisdom of God. Note the movement. He starts with a question about a broad school of thought and transitions to a technical question about a single scholastic concept in a single recent theologian. An odd movement, surely.
There follows a brief account of the late career of the English theologian John Webster, the relevance of which to the question of evangelical readers embracing scholasticism is not at all clear. ‘Because a single Anglican theologian in recent memory moved in an opposite direction from Barth and ended by studying Protestant scholastics appreciatively, therefore evangelicals should read Aquinas seriously’ is a strange argument, but it seems to be the one Prof. Carter makes here. As for the rest of his suggestions, we will consider them and offer a rejoinder in the second and final part of this series.
Tom Hervey is a member of Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Simpsonville, S.C.
 Any discussion of Rome’s beliefs is difficult owing to the wide array of beliefs and practices that exist within her. My statements here are an attempt to take Rome at its official word and at the practical consequences of the principles of her polity. They do not deny that in practice many individuals and groups within Rome might differ in their opinions: hence I recently found a Roman laywoman calling Pope Francis the antichrist, which is really impermissible by Rome’s belief that the laity form the ‘listening church’ whose duty it is to obey and uncritically assent to the clergy (or ‘teaching church’), at whose head is the pope.
 Aeterni Patris
 Animadversions on Fiat Lux, 122
 Francis Beckwith
 There are some practical difficulties, however, since many of them have not been translated out of Latin.