Paul Tillich, A History Of Christian Thought

Pre-Reformers, the Counter-Reformation. Council of Trent.

We discussed yesterday the movements which somehow prepare the Reformation, I gave you some ideas about the meaning of nominalism, some ideas about the meaning of German mysticism, and now I want to come to some people who often are called by the questionable term The Pre-Reformers.

The whole period before the Reformation is quite different from the period of the high Middle Ages. It is a period in which the lay principle becomes important and in which biblicism prevails over the Church tradition, An expression – -and perhaps the most important expression – of this situation is the Englishman Wyclif. It is not the Reformation that he represents, but he has a large amount of ideas which the Reformers have themselves used, and it has certainly prepared the soil for the Reformation in England. What is lacking in all the pre-Reformers is the one fundamental principle of the Reformation, the breakthrough of Luther to the experience of being accepted in spite of being unacceptable, called by him, in Pauline terms, justification through faith by grace. This principle does not appear before Luther. Almost everything else does appear in the so-called pre-Reformers.

Therefore if we call them “pre-Reformers,” we mean many of the critical ideas against the Roman church, almost all of them which were later used by the Reformation. If we say one shouldn’t call them “pre-Reformers,” then we mean the main principle of the Reformation, the new relationship to God, appeared only in the real breakthrough of the Reformation. So we must be clear, when we use such a word, as to what we mean, either the one or the other Wyclif is dependent on Augustine and on a man in England who represents an Augustinian reaction against the Pelagian invasions which are connected with nominalism. This man was Thomas of Bradwardine – an important link from Augustine to the English Reformation. The title of his book is characteristic, “De Causa Dei contra Pelagium.” the cause of God against Pelagius .– not Pelagius as the enemy of Augustine, but Pelagius in the nominalistic theology and in the practice of the Church. Against this he followed Augustine and Thomas Aquinas with respect to the doctrine of predestination. He says: “Everything that happens, happens by necessity. God necessitates whatever act is done, Every act or creature which is morally evil is an evil only accidentally.” Now this means God is the essential cause of everything, but evil cannot be derived from Him. From this follows, also for Augustine, that the Church is the congregation of the predestined.

It is not the hierarchical institution of salvation: . This true Church is in opposition to the mixed and hierarchical Church which is now living and is a distortion of the true Church, and nothing other than a distortion. The basic law of the Church is not the law of the Pope, but is the law of the Bible, and this is the law of God, or the law of Christ. All this was not meant to be anti-Catholic. Neither Bradwardine nor Wyclif thought of leaving the Roman church.

There was only one Church, and even Luther needed much time before he separated himself. This was not the idea. But there were dangers for the Roman church in the Augustinian principles. And therefore, as you remember, the semi- Pelagian and crypto-semi-Pelagian movements after Augustine, removed the dangers of Augustinianism from the Roman church. Here these dangers appear again under the name of Augustine, taken up by Thomas of Bradwardine, and by Wyclif. If predestination is applied, then that means that many people are not predestined – for instance, many of the hierarchs – and this gives the basis for finding symptoms in the hierarchy which show that they are not predestined.