Thursday, February 21, 2008

A Brief Tribute to Professor David F. Wright's Scholarship

Just today I found an interesting conference paper by David F. Wright. I thought I would post just a few sections as a tribute to his keen intellect. Volumes more could be written, but this is just a brief snapshot of his contribution to Reformation studies.

In March 2001 Dr. Wright presented "Martin Bucer and the Decretum Gratiani" at the 'Beitrage zum internationalen Symposium' on the interesting issue of Martin Bucer's frequent interaction with canon law (specifically the Decretum Gratiani). At face value, this component of Bucer's reform may suggest a legalism that would strain the philosophical underpinnings of the Reformation itself. But thanks to Professor Wright, we have a clever and nuanced explanation of Bucer's use of canon law. Bucer had a high regard for Scripture, calling it the 'canon of the Holy Spirit'. His highly selective use of canon law showed that he certainly elevated the text of Scripture above the text of the canons. As Professor Wright argues,

When Bucer invokes the Decretum, it is for the most part with some procedure or ordered practice in mind, and hence in connection with the prescriptive of precedent-establishing function of Scripture.

In other words, Bucer was a discerning reader of canon law, not a slave to its interpretations. Bucer sought to identify a 'consensus' position between previous judgements by the 'church' and the contemporary calls for reform. He was what Professor Wright called a 'consensual Reformer'. Although he sought consensus, he was still willing to draw clear lines of difference. Again, Professor Wright helps us:

So [for Bucer] there were popes and there were popes, and papal laws and papal laws, and Bucer is adept at disciminating...Reform was a return to earlier best practice, as documented by the noblest strata of the church's code of good practice.

Professor Wright concludes by reminding readers of the big picture:

Caution should be exercised in typifying this flavour of Reformation [Bucer's use of canon law] as legalistic, partly because among theologians and ecclesiastics who reckon too little with the genius of the Reformed tradition it is a much over-used term, but because also Bucer's fondness for appealing to the Decretum is more pastoral, even evangelistic than judgmental, the style of a churchman, a churchman of all the ages, or at least of as many as he can muster in his support.

Reading Professor Wright's treatment of Bucer reminds me that I have a tremendous way to go in this quest to understand great minds of great men who have gone before. Fortunately, our generation was blessed with a great man like Professor David F. Wright who helped us understand.

(Conference: Martin Bucer und das Recht: Beitrage zum internationalem Symposium, vom. 1. bis. 3. Marz 2001 in der Johannes a Lasco Bibliothek Emden)

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