- Die Vernunft des Gottendankens: Religionsphilosophische Studien zur frühen Neuzeit
On the basis of his earlier work on aspects of the topic of this book Frank meticulously reviews the formulations of the concept of God in a number of thinkers of the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries in order to assess the separation of philosophy, specifically metaphysics, from theology and thereby to show how the development of the philosophy of religion as an independent discipline took place. He presupposes that the concept of God was imaginable in the Middle Ages because Thomas Aquinas and others posited an ontological necessity for God. The fault for moving away from this ontologically based way of thinking, Frank demonstrates, lies to a large extent with Philip Melanchthon.
Luther's partner in Wittenberg shared his senior colleague's desire to establish theology as a discipline which rests alone on revelation, Frank, the director of the Melanchthonhaus in Bretten, argues on the basis of an extensive consideration of Luther's views on philosophy. The junior colleague therefore made insufficient or improper use of Aristotle and turned instead to an anthropologically based, epistemologically argued, Platonic/Neoplatonic process of explaining human knowledge of God. This knowledge springs not from the Aristotelian metaphysics of essence, which recognizes God as the principle of being and therefore is able to grasp the significance of God's being, but rather from an a priori concept that is innate in the human soul. A brief study of John Calvin's way of conceiving God, dependent on Melanchthon's, is followed by lengthier analyses of two Lutheran philosophers, Jacob Schegk (1511–87) of Tübingen and his student Nikolaus Taurellus (1547–1606) of Altdorf, the Reformed philosopher Bartholomäus Keckermann (1573–1609), and a series of English divines, the "Cambridge Platonists" of the seventeenth century, most notably Benjamin Whichcote (1609–83), John Smith (1618–52), and Ralph Cudworth (1617–88). Frank concludes by placing the developments of the concept of God in the line of thinking represented here, as it proceeded from Melanchthon's thought through that of Herbert von Cherbury into the English discussion, in the context of Locke's, Leibniz's, and Kant's approaches to devising the concept of God. [End Page 625]
Intertwined with his focus on the concept of God, Frank treats the struggle of those in Luther's train to come to terms with the relationship of philosophy and theology. Nearly all Lutherans rejected the path taken by the Helmstedt theologian Daniel Hoffmann (1538–1611) in condemning philosophical thought outright, and Frank shows how contemporaries of Schegk and Taurellus, most prominently the Jena theologian Johann Musaeus (1613–81), did in fact attempt to use metaphysics in framing their thinking. Although he mentions Walter Sparn's Wiederkehr der Metaphysik (1976), a thorough, insightful investigation of the return of metaphysics to the Lutheran universities at the turn of the seventeenth century, the author does not integrate that analysis with his own research.
The result is a series of finely focused, careful reviews of texts that illuminate how Frank's selection of theologians went about formulating their concept of God. (He unfortunately does not explain his principles of selection.) Individual chapters pose significant questions, and their mining of the texts point to the need for further exploration. For example Frank demonstrates the creative abilities of Schegk and Taurellus without having space in the context of this study to sketch their larger significance for central European thinking. The treatment of Keckermann's development of the discipline of "theosophy," as he named it, only whets the appetite (one misses engagement with the work of Richard A. Muller in this chapter).
In the end the benefit of this work is limited by the presumption that Aristotle and Thomas provide a universally valid standard point from which to judge Christian formulation of the concept of God. That presumption brings the author to the conclusion that Melanchthon's "Innatismus" is "naïve, authoritarian, and dogmatic" (68), apparently in contrast...