While studying the interpretation of scripture during the Reformation, I came across this observation by Richard Muller:
The related identification of Scripture as pure, holy, sufficient, and perfect – pure, holy, and sufficient in its teachings for the preaching of salvation and perfect or complete in its communication of those teachings – is a point of doctrine that marks out a major line of continuity between the medieval scholastics, the Reformers, and the Protestant orthodox. This particular element of the doctrine of Scripture had been developed in considerable detail in the later Middle Ages and was not altered at all in its basic statement. Whereas it is quite true that the concept of the purity, holiness, sufficiency and perfection of Scripture did not, in its original medieval context, point ineluctably toward the Reformation, the Reformers and their orthodox, scholastic successors were able to place the concept into the context of a different view of authority and interpretation and to use it as one of the foundations of their declaration of sola scriptura. Indeed, the radically altered shape of the questions of interpretation and authority in the post-Reformation era placed the Roman Catholic polemcists [sic] in the somewhat unenviable position of arguing against the express statements of great medieval doctors like Aquinas and Scotus concerning the prior authority, sufficiency, and perfection of the text.
Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, volume 2: Holy Scripture, pg. 310. (bold emphasis added)
Every time I come across statements like these (see here, for example), I am reminded of how few people really think critically about the relationship of the Reformation to its Catholic predecessors. The Reformation did not come along and introduce a fundamentally new theology, rather it insisted on things that had long been allowed in the Catholic Church.
And while Muller is absolutely right – we must not be simplistic about identifying medieval theology with fully developed Reformation thought – we must never concede the newness of the Reformation. After all, the Reformers sought to reform the Catholic Church, not to form something new!
Christ Reformed Church