Catholicity or Consensus? The Role of the Consensus Patrum and the Vincentian Canon in Lutheran Orthodoxy: From Chemnitz to Quenstedt
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Scripture References in this Resource
Acts 10:43; 2 Peter 1:20
Stewart, Quentin D. "Catholicity or Consensus? The Role of the Consensus Patrum and the Vincentian Canon in Lutheran Orthodoxy: From Chemnitz to Quenstedt." Ph.D. diss., Concordia Seminary, 2006. 340 pp.
This dissertation traces the role played by the Vincentian Canon and its theological corollary, the consensus patrum, within the parameters of Lutheran Orthodoxy. Though Luther had no use for the consensus patrum, his chief colleague Philip Melanchthon had a high view of the consensus of the ancient church, especially whenever it could be applied to evangelical Lutheran theology. As a humanist, Melanchthon maintained a critical reverence for the ancient church throughout his life, and the consensus ecclesiae is reflected prominently in his theological works. Matthias Flacius Illyricus, one of Melanchthon's former students and most bitter opponent, also sought to catalogue evangelical witnesses to the Gospel throughout the centuries in the Magdeburg Centuries. Flacius and his colleagues never maintained that there was a consensus of the fathers, but they did argue that there was a chain of witnesses to the truth throughout the centuries. Martin Chemnitz in his Examination of the Council of Trent applies the Vincentian Canon with its triple criteria of universality, antiquity, and consent to the decrees of Trent. The result of such an analysis reveals that Trent's official decrees fail to meet Vincent’s criteria and therefore are not catholic in the true sense of the word. The consensus patrum was part and parcel of Chemnitz's theology and methodology as he consistently appealed to the consensus of the fathers in his major theological works. The Canon thus becomes a polemical device for Chemnitz, but not an operative principle for his own dogmatic constructs. Chemnitz is the centerpiece of this dissertation for two reasons: (1) Chemnitz may be considered the father of Lutheran Orthodoxy, (2) Chemnitz argues for the consensus of the ancient church more fervently and consistently than any other Lutheran theologian before or after him. The advent of Cardinal Robert Bellarmine's Controversies reasserted Rome's claim to the consensus of the fathers and forced the generation after Chemnitz to reevaluate its stance on the consensus patrum. In the writings of Aegidius Hunnius, the chief representative of Lutheran Orthodoxy after Chemnitz, the notion of a consensus patrum was discarded. Hunnius argued that such a consensus never existed and that the fathers contradicted one another. Lutheran Orthodoxy shifted its emphasis from Melanchthon's and Chemnitz's stress on consensus to that of catholicity. Johann Gerhard, the most significant representative of Lutheran Orthodoxy, followed Flaicus and Hunnius and appears to discard the consensus patrum in the polemical work of his last years—the Confessio catholica. Georg Calixt, a non-confessional Lutheran, sought to unify a divided Christendom via the Vincentian Canon and the so-called consensus quinquesaecularis. Calixt's unionist efforts sparked the Syncretistic debate and called forth a bitter opponent in the person of Abraham Calov, the most influential orthodox Lutheran since Gerhard. Calov wrote twenty-six anti-Syncretistic works that refuted Calixt, the Vincentian Canon and demolished any notion that there ever was a consensus of the fathers. Ironically, Calixt’s efforts to rehabilitate the Vincentian Canon ultimately shattered the validity of its criteria for Lutheranism. Catholicity, based on Scripture and the ecumenical creeds, and not the consensus of the ancient church became the definitive norm for Lutheran Orthodoxy by the middle of the seventeenth century.
Stewart, Quentin, "Catholicity or Consensus? The Role of the Consensus Patrum and the Vincentian Canon in Lutheran Orthodoxy: From Chemnitz to Quenstedt" (2006). Doctor of Philosophy Dissertation. 54.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.