The Pre-Reformation Views of Man

The Pre-Reformation views are views that were held before the Protestant Reformation. Because the Protestant Reformation took place in the 16th Century, we will look at the views of man prior to the 16th Century. All modern views of man are adaptations, transformations, and modifications of two distinctive views of man—the Classical view and the Christian view. In medieval times, during the time of Roman Catholic ascendancy, these two views of man were merged into a kind of synthesis, which Roman Catholics call Thomistic Philosophy or Thomistic Thought. They like to think of it as Christian Thought. Modern culture begins with the destruction of this synthesis in the Renaissance and the Reformation.

The Classical View of Man

What did people in the classical age think of man?

They thought that man was to be understood chiefly from the stand point of his rational faculties—his mind. They thought that man’s mind was the immortal principle of man, and thus it was largely a divine principle. Man, then was a rational being and because he possessed reason, he was immortal. Man’s body is the material or the substance in which evil inheres. Therefore, to the ancient man, the body was sinful by definition, and the soul was immortal.

The makeup of man’s body, which was like a kind of prison, was viewed as sinful. His mind or his spirit was divine, but the two had to live together for a while. Therefore, the ancients, particularly the Greeks who were affected by this Platonic type of philosophy, were extremely anxious to reach the stage where the soul would no longer dwell within the prison house of the body.

This is referenced throughout the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul had to contend with speaking about the resurrection. After he preached the gospel in Corinthians, some said the doctrine of the resurrection of the body was a bad thing because the body was evil. They questioned why one would desire a resurrection of the body, when what they were most interested in having was a spiritual resurrection where the body did not take part.

Consequently, the apostle had to deal with the problem of the resurrection of the body, pointing out along the way that the body itself is not sinful. Rather, it is comprised within the plan and purpose of God; the Christian doctrine is the resurrection of the body. You will find that this error continues to be a modern error in our Christian churches. Because of this, you will find people in supposedly Evangelical churches speaking about the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter, as if it is nothing more than the influence of our Lord. These people speak about a spiritual resurrection; they do not like to speak about a bodily resurrection. Even today, it is very unpopular in a large segment of Christianity to speak about the bodily resurrection, which is just a carry-over of Greek thought. This body-mind dualism stands in great contrast to the Biblical picture—the Bible knows nothing of a good mind and an evil body. The body of itself is not evil. The body is interpreted within the plan of God as the result of the fall; because of the fall, sin dwells within the body. However, this does not mean that the body itself is evil. Furthermore, it is also wrong to assume the idea that the mind is good. The Bible makes it very clear that our minds are darkened as a result of sin.

This classical view of man has also influenced us in other ways. Not only has it influenced us in our doctrine of the resurrection, but it has also communicated itself to us and to the medieval church. Since we are in a sinful body, part of the Christian life and its struggle is to deny the body its pleasures, longings, lusts, and passions. Therefore, a form of asceticism arises.

Paul preferred to touch not, taste not, handle not, dragging a great deal of this into Evangelical communities by saying, “Thou shall not”. This is referred to as a Christian taboo.

The Medieval View of Man

Medieval scholasticism, especially that of Thomas Aquinas, the great Roman Catholic theologian, makes a sharp dualism of nature and grace, the natural and the supernatural, reason and faith, and the image of God. To Aquinas, a natural empowerment was given to man by God through creation. However, he did not equate the image of God with the likeness of God; he saw the likeness of God as something different from the image of God. Aquinas saw the likeness of God as a supernatural gift that was received after creation, but before the fall. He believed this enabled the unfallen man to fight his natural desires of the flesh.

According to Aquinas, there was one part of man—the image of God—in which there was a lurking passion or desire. It was not sin until yielded to, but Adam was given the likeness of God as well as the image of God, which they called the “gift”. This gift was given to make him righteous and enable him to live apart from sin.

Aquinas believed that when man fell, the image of God remained, but the likeness of God was lost. Because of that, a fallen man is considered to be the same as Adam, before he received the likeness of God. It was believed that the way you obtained this work of grace, this likeness of God which enabled you to fight and conquer sin, was to become a Roman Catholic. The Roman Catholic church was in control of the means of grace. Even today, they believe that if one confesses their faith, is baptised, observes the ordinances properly, makes confessions properly, lives as the church desires, then one can receive the likeness of God.

The Roman Catholic view is to conceive that man is not corrupted, but his nature is just wounded by the fall and he is not totally deprived. Today, the will and reason of man is exactly as it was when in the Garden of Eden. Consequently, man has a free will, just as Adam had a free will. Man’s will is untouched by sin, just as Adam’s will was untouched by sin before the fall.

The Roman Catholics believe that man has a free will, but they are not the only ones; so does the Arminianist. When we think of the Arminianist we refer to John Wesley and the Methodists, Pentecostals, and the Church of the Nazarene because these churches have believed that man has a free will. When we listen to the Evangelical preaching of today, we discover that many preachers believe in free will and preach in our Evangelical churches that are Bible churches or independent churches rather than Wesleyan, Methodist, or Pentecostal. This doctrine that man has a free-will is not specifically traceable to one group or several groups. Rather, it is part of the residuum of the belief that there is something within man to which God may appeal and find merit. This kind of teaching—that people may by themselves be of positive volition—suggests that there is something within man that is acceptable to God; it suggests that man has a free will.

Therefore, the Roman Catholics and people from Medieval times believed that man was not totally depraved; they believe he was weakened and wounded, but not totally depraved. One of the five points of Calvinism in answer to the remonstrance was that man is totally depraved, but this expression is often misunderstood by people. They are inclined to believe in the total corruption of human nature, so when they see a man that is obviously not a Christian doing something good they wonder, how others can possibly believe in total depravity when here is a man who has performed a good deed.

The doctrine of total depravity does not teach us that man’s human nature is totally corrupted. Rather, it teaches us that the entire human nature is corrupt. When speaking about divine standards, we can say that we are talking about something that is perfection and that consequently, everything man does falls short of God. The doctrine of total depravity is the doctrine of the whole human nature, not the total corruption of human nature.

Categories: Theology

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