- The Teaching and Impact of the 'Doctrinale' of Thomas Netter of Walden (c. 1374-1430) by Kevin J. Alban
Thomas Netter studied arts at a Carmelite studium in London and theology at Oxford, became the Carmelite Provincial Superior for England in 1414, confessor to Henry V in 1422, and subsequently tutor to Henry VI, and attended the councils of Pisa in 1409 and probably Constance in 1414, as well as trials of alleged Lollards in England. He is reported to have written a number of other works, but only a collection of correspondence and the substantial Doctrinale antiquitatum fidei catholicae ecclesiae contra Wiclevistas et Hussitas libri VI, completed in the 1420s with the encouragement of Pope Martin V, are extant.
The Doctrinale is one of a number of Catholic refutations of John Wyclif (c. 1330-1384), Lollardy, and the Hussites. It presents a defence against their criticism or interpretations of the dual natures of Christ, the problem of predestination, Church and Papacy, mendicancy and contemplation, the seven sacraments, and a range of devotional practices. Netter summarizes the positions he opposes, before presenting biblical, Patristic, and other arguments in support of orthodox belief and practice; the work reflects an independent approach rather than a conventional Scholastic presentation. It is not a comprehensive theological summa, although Kevin Alban argues that the book is of broader usefulness than merely a refutation of heresy.
Alban provides a survey of the principal arguments of each book of the Doctrinale, rounded out with a biographical sketch of Netter, some contextualization of his theology, and a review of the historical influence of the Doctrinale to Vatican II. The book reads like a dissertation (PhD, London University, 2007), and is not a thorough examination of the subjects it addresses. Alban's acquaintance with medieval philosophy seems to be largely dependent upon secondary literature, while the positions of Wyclif that were refuted by Netter are not always clearly explained. The discussion of Augustine's doctrine of predestination is less than satisfactory; equally significant is the problem, apparently unrecognized, that both Wyclif and Netter (among other medieval authors) could draw upon the same 'authorities' such as Augustine, but reach divergent conclusions. [End Page 319]
There is little reference to longer-running medieval debates such as those over poverty and ecclesiastical wealth, or the authority of the papacy, and their possible influence on Wyclif or Netter. The discussion raises other questions, such as, if Wyclif's views were formulated not merely on an intellectual level but also in response to specific contemporary social circumstances, then does Netter's reply adequately address those same circumstances? Evidently not, at least in justifying the wealth of the Church. Alban's emphasis on Carmelite traditions is also perhaps a little one-sided.
The text of the Doctrinale, last printed in 1757-59, is not widely accessible, and while it has attracted the attention of scholars of Lollardy, it has not been the subject of much detailed study. It is an achievement to have distilled an obviously complex and lengthy text into a readable introduction, as Alban has done, and his work affords a useful reference.