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Reviewed by:
  • Faith, Reason, and Revelation in Theodore Beza (1519–1605)
  • Jared L. Witt
Jeffrey C. Mallinson . Faith, Reason, and Revelation in Theodore Beza (1519–1605). Oxford Theological Monographs. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. index. bibl. $80. ISBN: 0–19–925959–3.

Bibliographically speaking, Mallinson's treatment of Beza's epistemology fills a considerable scholarly chasm. There has been no book-length treatment of the subject in English at all. A British dissertation by McPhee devoted one chapter to Beza's epistemology in 1979, as did a French work by Delval in 1982 that confined itself exclusively to Beza's sermons. And the one monograph devoted to the matter is (1) in German, and (2) wrong. The German is Walter Kickel, whose Reason and Revelation in Theodore Beza was published in 1967. While Mallinson protests that "the present study is not a refutation of Kickel's thesis" (5), it certainly reads like one. At many critical turns in the argument, it is Kickel's assessment of Beza as a rationalist who has swerved from authentic Calvinism that is rejected by Mallinson.

Mallinson's book on Beza is a useful and well-written contribution to a broad field I will call Reformed studies. It will interest those whose work focuses on issues of doctrinal development in the Reformed tradition. It is also not a bad book for those who know very little of Calvinism other than Calvin. If you tend to think of Theodore Beza as a poor man's John Calvin, a dedicated servant with little ingenuity of his own, Mallinson wants to change your mind. Beza is portrayed as an exemplary Calvinist theologian — a better Calvinist than Calvin himself when it comes to epistemology ("Beza — rather than Calvin — may have the better claim to a 'balanced epistemology'" [23]).

It is this "balanced epistemology" — a balance between the subjective and objective components of belief, between faith and knowledge, between will and reason — that seems to drive the questions Mallinson tends to ask of Beza's theological texts. And Mallinson does show that, while Beza affords a thicker role to reason, argument, evidence, and proof than does Calvin, Beza nonetheless [End Page 628] retains Calvin's emphasis upon the inward, subjective work of the Holy Spirit. Inward certainty and reasoned proof do not compete with one another in Beza, argues Mallinson, because it is the Spirit that enables reason to identify good evidence or good arguments (for Scripture's authority, for God's majesty, etc.) as such.

The book will also be of interest to those interested in contemporary epistemology from a Reformed perspective — those aligned with Barth, or Kuyper, or Plantinga are the folks Mallinson has in mind. And Mallinson fears that some of these Reformed epistemologists "anachronistically read current concerns into early modern history" (8). As a corrective, Mallinson offers "a reappraisal of the history of religious epistemology in the Reformed tradition — a tradition much more dynamic than is sometimes portrayed" (10–11). A clear summary of what Reformed epistemologists can and should learn from this study of Beza is not a part of this book, but it seems a worthy endeavor if Mallinson were willing to sketch it out in a journal article.

While Mallinson is favorably disposed toward Beza's interpretation of faith and reason, he provides a persuasive argument that Beza succeeded in the tough task of explaining Calvinism in a new intellectual context. (Beza was appointed by Calvin in 1559 to lead the Genevan Academy). The introduction and first two chapters explore the "academic" and "polemic" challenges to Reformed theology, and they serve as a nicely written overview of Beza's life and work, of its particular challenges and demands. The final four chapters — summaries of Beza's position on natural and special revelation, Scripture, and faith — lack the swift pace and steadily marching argument of the first three chapters. No doubt these studies prove Mallinson's thesis from a number of angles, but the expertly written first three chapters outshine what follows.

Calvin scholars might ask whether Calvin himself is given a fair shake in the constant comparison of Beza to Calvin. Was not Calvin himself, much like Beza, involved in...


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