The venerable ecumenist, George Tavard, has gathered these papers here in order to provide a background to assist readers in appreciating the Joint Declaration on Justification that was signed in 1999 by representatives of the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church. By this he means to point to some continuities in the teachings of the reformers, Luther and Calvin, and the spiritual insights of earlier scholastic theologians, particularly Bonaventure. Tavard, keep in mind, began his theological career as a medievalist with a specialization in the theology of Bonaventure. The legacy of the medieval theological heritage on the issues raised by the reformers is often overlooked in spite of a generation of historical studies such as those produced by Heiko Oberman. This collection offers a few modest suggestions along these lines.
In the first three articles collected here, Tavard explores Bonaventure's treatises on the commandments, on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and on a sermon where, anticipating Luther's language at least, he claims that a person cannot be both "just and a sinner." His exposition of Bonaventure's teaching on the law and the gifts of the Holy Spirit is quite good, if modest. What they show, in the first instance, is the distance in Western cultural assumptions between the thirteenth century and the sixteenth. Bonaventure treated law in an objective frame of reference that interpreted justification as a grace of God, not as a process by which the sinner is sanctified. Tavard suggests, however, that just below the surface here are the questions that provoked Luther. In the sermon (no. 33 in the Bougerol edition), Bonaventure insists that one cannot be a sinner and just. This goes along with Bonaventure's position, commonly accepted at the time, which denied the possibility of a convergence of opposites. Over the next two centuries, of course, this was dramatically changed (recall Nicolas of Cusa) with the orientation toward individual experience. Tavard attempts to draw on themes from Bonaventure's spiritual theology that suggest something akin to Luther's "simul justus et peccator." Tavard's suggestion is that Bonaventure's spiritual work, The Journey of the Mind into God, anticipates the experiential style of Luther's language. There may be something to this claim, but I did not find it worked out sufficiently to be any more than a tantalizing intimation.
The last three essays collected here treat of themes in Calvin's works. The first is on an early essay on the immortality of the soul, which Calvin defends as a philosophical thesis. The second deals with his commentary on Romans, which Tavard suggests has affinities with a Scotist teaching on the assurance of faith. The final essay discusses the nuances of Calvin's understanding of Christian liberty as expressed in the last part of the Institutes. Tavard explains that Calvin's understanding of liberty is not appropriately associated with later notions of freedom of conscience, but rather is more properly set in earlier medieval notions of a gift of God given to the elect through the redemptive work of Christ. This kind of freedom is what enables the Christian to assess the institutions within which it finds itself, whether ecclesiastical or political.
In this collection Tavard is at his best when he is the expositor of the texts under analysis. While they are instructive and potentially illuminating, his larger efforts of indicating ways in which the earlier medieval heritage contributed to the reformers' writings is not as successful.