How Much Responsibility Does the Reformation Bear?

In my last post on Gregory’s book The Unintended Reformation, I traced Gregory’s argument that the rise of univocal metaphysics has been an important source of secularization in the west. I think he is basically right about this. However, the argument is proving to be pretty uneven. Although I generally agree with his description of the conceptual moves that had to happen in order to produce modernity, the blame he lays on Protestantism for fomenting the conceptual revolutions seems really misplaced to me. Especially beginning in the second chapter, but even in the first, Gregory really shows his cards as a Catholic polemicist. He fails to differentiate the divergent strands of the Reformation, treating, for instance, Lutherans and Zurich Anabaptists as basically the same thing. There is no good reason I can think of to do so except for polemics. Gregory thinks that the endorsement of sola scriptura by both is a good reason, but his inattention to the way in which that slogan functioned in those various communities (in no community, for instance, did it entail the private right of interpretation or the interpretation of Scripture by reason alone), nor did it entail an appeal to the Holy Spirit for the authority of a preferred interpretation by each Reformer, as Gregory appears to argue in ch. 2. All of the foregoing is pretty clear from Richard Muller’s magisterial study Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, vol. ii on Scripture. One wishes that Gregory would have learned from his own criticism of Ingrid Rowland in the most recent Books and Culture, for he too ‘has missed an opportunity to apply [his] own knowledge and historical imagination to all of the protagonists and traditions in [his] study’.

In his first chapter, he wants to blame Protestant rejection of transubstantiation and polemics against the sacramental worldview as a chief reason that efficacious Catholic response could not be mounted to the development of a physico-theology dependent upon univocal metaphyics. This claim seems dubious to me. Gregory writes, A ‘spiritual’ presence that is contrasted with a real presence presupposes an either-or dichotomy between a crypto-spatial God and the natural world that precludes divine immanence in its desire to preserve divine transcendence….The denial of the possibility of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist, by contrast, ironically implies that the ‘spiritual’ presence of God is itself being conceived in spatial or quasi-spatial terms–which is why, in order to be kept pure, it must be kept separate from and uncontaminated by the materiality of the ‘mere bread” (pp. 42-3). Essentially, Gregory is claiming, there is a hidden dualism in Reformational theology dividing spiritual and material and implicitly over-valuing the spiritual such that it must be kept free from pollution by the material. Since so much of the Reformed/Lutheran discussions of sacramental presence in the Eucharist depend upon whether the ascension means that Christ’s body is in ‘heaven’ (though one finds curiously scant speculation as to the location of said ‘heaven’) and therefore the body and blood cannot be physically located in the Eucharist, one wonders where the claim comes from.

But it cannot be the case that the spiritualization of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, at least for the non-Zwinglian Reformed, can be opposed to the reality of that presence. Calvin insists that we feed spiritually on the genuine body and blood of Christ as our hearts are lifted to heaven by the Spirit, and that is not an allegorical or metaphorical reality for Calvin. And of course Gregory’s criticism has very little to do with Luther and later non-Melanchthonian Lutheranism at all. But neither does it have anything to do with the English Reformers, who as the Conciliar Anglican has recently noted, used a very different, far more patristic vocabulary, in describing the Eucharistic body of Christ.

But the more important point to be made here is that the turn toward univocity was at least as much, if not more, a Catholic problem than a Protestant one. It was after all Cardinal Cajetan, as Henri de Lubac and Ralph McInerny have pointed out (yeah, the same guy who first examined and condemned Luther at Augsburg in 1518), who first conflated analogical and univocal naming in his commentaries on St. Thomas, by claiming that the proper sense of analogy was ‘proportion’. And it was the Jesuit Francisco Suarez, not a Protestant, that did the most to advance the conflation of analogical and univocal naming in the seventeenth century, which, as John Montag has pointed out, is the view that became normative for neo-Thomism after Leo XIII’s encyclical Aeterni Patris in 1879. One can still find this meaning taking precedence in neo-Thomist manuals by the mid-20th century, such as the popular textbook by R.P. Philips, in its seventh reprinting in 1957: ‘The correct meaning of the word analogy…is ‘proportion’ or equality of ratios’ (Modern Thomist Philosophy, ii.172). Whence then the idea that it’s mainly Protestants who are responsible for this development?

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