The Christian Theological Tradition in 15 Latin terms

I have to admit upfront that this post is somewhat–maybe even entirely–self-serving. In preparation for a final exam in THEO40104-01, I thought it would be beneficial for me, and perhaps for interested readers, to sort out some of the primary theological concepts that define the early modern–modern Church. N.B. I do not actually know Latin.

(1) Cognitio dei experimentalis “Knowing God through experience”–This defines the mystical traditions that flourished in the 14th century Rhineland under the likes of Johannes Tauler, a Dominican monk and sermon writer. However, it also applies to any mystic tradition in general, including that of the 16th century Spanish mystics Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, who were big on seeking God for God’s sake without seeking any material or even spiritual benefits. Mysticism is all about detachment from earthly things to experience God, leading to process of (1) purgation (2) purification, and (3) spiritual union. For these mystics, the soul could lead one to encounter the divine through prayer, meditation, and asceticism.

(2) Devotio Moderna “Modern Devotion”–this movement began in the 1300s under Gerard Groot, a dutch preacher who inspired the likes of Thomas a Kempis, who wrote a very famous work the Imitation of Christ which outlines a set of ascetic practices to grow in closeness with God.

(3) Ad Fontes “Back to the source”–this can be applied to a number of Church periods, but one in particular was the return to extra-biblical sources, such as Classical Greek texts, especially those of Plato in the case of the 14th c. Florentine academy under Marcilius Ficino, an Italian teacher of theology. His most theologically significant student was Pico della Mirandola, who delivered An Oration on the Dignity of Man, which emphasized humankind’s capacity for greatness. Unlike those who saw humans as indubitably weighed down by sin, Pico envisioned humankind as capable of becoming like angels–or vicious brutes if sin was to rule over them. Humans are mediators between the earth and God–possessing both body and spirit. At any rate, returning to these older source texts inspired Renaissance writers to imagine the greatness of human potential.

(4) studia humanitatis “The study of the humanities”–AKA the Humanist tradition, meaning the study of ancient languages, especially Latin and Greek, as well as rhetoric, philosophy, history and the arts by a host of scholars, one of the most notable of whom was Desiderius Erasmus in the early 16th c. His work In Praise of Folly uses the satirical voice of Folly personified to criticize superstitious practices, like the cult of the saints, as well as perceived ministerial abuses by the Roman authorities or curia. The critical edge of the work would influence Protestant Reformers, even though Erasmus remained loyal to the Church. His other works include The Paraclesis, which introduces he revamped translation of the Greek New Testament, which he compared with the Latin Vulgate, and The Enchiridion, meaning “dagger” or “handbook” intended to inspire militant, spiritually committed Christianity.

(5) Ecclesia semper reformata “the church is always reforming”–well, seeing how the Church is always reforming, there’s no particular time to which this term belongs. However, it holds particular weight from 1517 to around 1600 during the theologically climactic fury that was the Protestant Reformation. The term essential responds to the Reformers who cited incorrigible Church abuses as grounds to separate themselves into their own Churches, from Luther to Calvin to John Knox. The Council of Trent in the mid 1500s addressed abuses in the Church and instituted a kind of Catholic Reform, including figures like St. Charles Borromeo.

(6) sola Scriptura “Scripture alone”–this controversial belief originates in the Protestant Reformation and contends that divine teaching comes only from the scriptures, meaning that the Church cannot issue divine teaching through Tradition. This means that teachings not explicitly found in the Bible, such as the sacraments of penitence and the the eternal virginity of Mary are rejected as divine teaching. Martin Luther forwarded this view in his 1520 “Address to the Christian Nobility of a German Nation.” St. Frances de Sales countered this teaching during his conversion mission to the Chamblais region of France/Switzerland in 1594. Essentially, he asked, if Scripture is the only teacher of divine truth, how do we decide what that truth is? The Church normally operates as the mediator of Scripture, and since the Church came before the formation of the collection of Scripture was formed in the 4th and 5th centuries, it ought to have the authority over its meaning.

(7) sola fide “By faith alone”–this was the rallying cry of the Protestant Reformation, the idea that believers are saved only by their faith in God and not by their good works. Luther expresses the belief with great eloquence in his 1520 work On the Freedom of the Christian, in which he describes how faith is like the a tree, which is good, and the fruit of the tree are the good works–the fruit doesn’t make the tree good, for it comes after the tree, and the tree does not need the fruit to be good. However, Luther doesn’t think that Christians should just lay around because their faith saves them. He thinks anyone who has faith will naturally, if compulsively, perform good works–but their not the aspect of that person’s life that really saves them.

(8) Simul iustus et peccator / Homo peccator et Deus iustificans “Simultaneously justified and a sinner / humans sin and God justifies”–collectively, these ideas  entail that human beings are neck deep in sin. As Luther describes it, man is a like a dung heap covered by a layer of divine grace. When one is justified by grace he is simultaneously a sinner–the sin doesn’t go away even when God grants us grace. This runs in opposition to the Catholic teaching of iustistia inhaerens/gratia infusa et inhaenes, which states that humans are justification through grace is infused into the soul and becomes inherent in the soul. The whole controversy is can humans be good even when they are justified?

(9) cuius regio, eius religio “whose realm, his religion”–this applied to the resolution from the Peace of Augsburg in 1555 following the Catholic-Protestant divide in the Holy Roman Empire. After the violent disputes over religious loyalties, the royalty decided that the subjects of any particular region would take on the religious creed of their ruler.

(10) fides caritate formata “faith formed by love”–This term runs counter to sola fide, insomuch as it endorses the importance of love, that is acts of love, good works, in the formation and shaping of faith. One can still be saved by faith alone and have love shape that faith. The idea here is that good works can have a profound spiritual effect. Erasmus and even some of Luther’s early works endorse this theological stance on the relation between the deeds and works we sow and the faith we have, as Luther writes in On the Freedom of a Christian (1520): Here faith is truly active through love, that is, it finds expression in works of the freest service, cheerfully and lovingly done.

(11) credo ut intelligam “I believe in order that I might understand”–this term predicates understanding (reason) on belief (faith) in the debate over the relation of faith and reason. Though the term was coined by St. Anselm in the 11th c. (based of St. Augustine’s writing in the 6th c.), the notion that faith can lead to reason entered into the fray during the Enlightenment period when the role of faith, and Christian belief more specifically, were disputed by thinkers like the French rationalist Rene Descartes and later the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Where Descartes saw thinking and reasoning as the source of understanding and took notion on mere faith, Christian thinkers like Blase Pascal argued that faith can indeed lead to knowledge and that reason alone is inept.

(12) fides queaerens intellectum “faith seeking understanding”– Another term on the spectrum of faith and reason, this adage also originates in St. Anselm’s writing. In essence, it means that a belief in God will compel one to discover more knowledge about God. Faith does not remain idle but inspires a believer to look deeper and  harder at the cosmos. This strain of thought regarding faith and reason pervades through the thought of a score of Christian writers, including John Henry Cardinal Newman “Sermons.”

(13) fides non destruit, sed supponit et perficit rationem “Faith does not destroy but presupposes and perfects reason”–This relation of faith and reason actually inverts the order of credo ut intelligam, stating that when one has faith, one must necessarily have reason coming before it. This is known as the Thomistic principle, since St. Thomas Aquinas began with reason as a means to discuss God. However, it is important to note that once reason leads to faith, it enhances reason. One can come to believe in God through philosophical arguments, but once that step to faith occurs, belief in God betters reason, such as allowing one to understand objective morality or the goodness of human nature.

(14) sapere aude “dare to be wise”– this phrase describes the Age of Enlightenment, which I suppose went against the grain such that rational thinkers had something to fear from appealing to wisdom. Someone like Kant would embody this principle, who in his essay “What Is Enlightenment?” described ‘enlightenment’ as breaking free of the chains of immaturity to think independently for oneself.

And here’s a final bit of Latin for y’all:

(15) Cum Caritate “with love”–especially the love of God for humankind



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