Westminster Seminary California
Book Review: Ex Omnes in Adam Ex Pacto Dei by Denlenger
Book Review: Ex Omnes in Adam Ex Pacto Dei by Denlenger

Aaron C. Denlinger, Omnes in Adam ex pacto Dei: Ambrogio Catarino’s Doctrine of Covenantal Solidarity and Its Influence on Post-Reformation Reformed Theologians. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2010, 306pp. $118.00.

From where did the notion of covenantal solidarity in Adam arise? More specifically, how did this idea make its way into later Reformed covenant theology? The answers proposed by Aaron Denlinger in his recently published PhD dissertation might surprise some scholars. Denlinger argues that the idea of covenantal solidarity has its origin in the theology of Ambrogio Catarino, a sixteenth-century Roman Catholic theologian. Denlinger’s basic thesis is that “Catarino’s identification of the pre-fall covenant as the theoretical basis for humankind’s solidarity with Adam was mimicked by Reformed theologians, some of whom were demonstrably familiar with his teaching” (37). In this work, Denlinger compares Catarino’s doctrine of a pre-fall covenant with Reformed theology’s subsequent notion of a covenant of works. Arguing historically, Denlinger makes the claim that there is substantial continuity between Catarino’s thought and the notion of a pre-fall covenant that would become central to post-Reformation Reformed covenant theology. Most specifically, the two accounts agree in the fact that humankind’s solidarity with Adam is due to a pre-fall covenant rather than a realistic arrangement. In other words, it was the existence of a covenant which determined Adam’s relationship to his posterity. Since the early Reformers did not advance an idea of covenantal solidarity in Adam, the question for scholars of Reformed covenant theology is how the Reformed theologians in the 17th century arrived at such a doctrine. Denlinger suggests that attention to the theology of Catarino goes a long way in answering this question.

There are two goals to this study: (1) to contribute to the study of Catarino’s theology broadly considered; and (2) to contribute to the field of scholarship that examines the origin and development of Reformed covenant theology. Denlinger attempts to accomplish these goals by examining Catarino’s covenant theology in detail, and by establishing a connection between Catarino’s thought and later Reformed covenant theology. With justifiable caution, Denlinger is on guard to prevent reductionism. He complains that too often recent scholarship on the development of Reformed covenant theology is too quick to find and pronounce a single fountainhead. Denlinger warns the reader that this is far too reductionistic and that Reformed covenant theology developed due to a number of different sources. Simply put, Denlinger’s contribution to this discussion is to suggest that Catarino’s covenant theology was one of these sources.

The questions Denlinger seeks to answer are especially engaging and interesting because many of the Reformers and the early Reformed orthodox theologians held to a realistic view of Adam’s relationship to his posterity. In a realistic view, original sin is communicated to Adam’s descendents because they possess a real and natural relationship to Adam. Sin is communicated because either Adam’s descendents exist “in his loins” or because Adam was the propagator of human nature. Calvin, for example, believed in a realistic arrangement. On the question of the transmission of original sin, even Zacharius Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus, both of whom were some of the earliest exponents of Reformed covenant theology, held to the view of a realistic relationship between Adam and humankind. In a realistic view, Adam does not act as a federal or representative head, but as a natural and biological head of the human race.

On the question regarding the origin and development of the Reformed pre-fall covenant doctrine, the answers provided by the secondary scholarship are legion. Denlinger posits that there are two broad schools of thought on this issue. One group of scholars traces the origin of the covenant of works to the Reformation period, while the other group argues that the covenant of works has its roots in the late-medieval period. Denlinger agrees with the latter school of scholarship. Yet Denlinger does not sit idly by in this scholarly debate. By examining Catarino’s theology, Denlinger posits that Catarino is a critical link between late-medieval covenantal thought and the covenant theology of the post-Reformation Reformed theologians.

To properly understand Catarino’s pre-fall doctrine, Denlinger examines Catarino’s covenant theology in total. Denlinger argues convincingly that Catarino is a full-blown covenant theologian. Catarino used the covenant concept to structure his theology. Specifically of interest in relation to the subsequent development of Reformed covenant theology is Catarino’s notion of a pre-fall covenant between God and Adam. In opposition to his Catholic contemporaries, Catarino argued that the covenant is the theoretical basis for solidarity in Adam. In the garden, God made a covenant with Adam and demanded his obedience in order for him to maintain the gifts of grace he had received. Yet in this covenant, Adam acted not only for himself but on behalf of his posterity. When Adam sinned, he lost the gifts of original justice for himself and his descendents. Due to the covenant, Adam’s descendents were seen to have committed the same sin and also made morally culpable.

Since no idea or intellectual development falls out of the sky, the question that begs to be answered is how Catarino was lead to adopt the notion of a covenant that grounded solidarity in Adam. After reviewing some of the suggestions made by previous scholarship, Denlinger suggests that Catarino was most significantly influenced to assimilate the notion of covenantal solidarity due to his familiarity with medieval and late-medieval nominalist thought. Following the likes of Scotus, Ockham, and Biel, Catarino was confronted by the notion of “covenantal causality.” While these thinkers applied the notion of covenantal causality to doctrinal topics such as the sacraments and the relationship between divine acceptance and human merit, the novelty of Catarino’s thought is that he applied this notion to the problem of original sin. As Denlinger argues, Catarino “was the first theologian to include the peculiar relationship between Adam’s sin (cause) and humankind’s culpability and forfeiture of the divine gifts (effects) among ‘[divinely] willed’ rather than ‘natural’ causal realities” (227). In other words, the reason original sin passed to Adam’s descendents was the covenant between God and Adam, rather than some natural and real relationship between Adam’s sin and the subsequent punishment.

In the chapter dedicated to the influence of Catarino’s pre-fall covenant on Reformed theologians, Denlinger argues his case under three broad headings. In the first, he suggests that the Reformed were familiar with Catarino’s own works on the pre-fall covenant. He provides evidence that Calvin may have read Catarino’s Genesis commentary. Secondly, and more convincingly, he argues that the Reformed were aware of other Catholic authors who had engaged—both in opposition and agreement—Catarino’s doctrine. Finally, under the third heading, he provides examples of Reformed theologians who were directly aware of Catarino’s theology. Denlinger focuses his argument on the Scottish Reformed theologian, Robert Rollock. In his 1597 work, Treatise on Effectual Calling, Rollock posits that the efficacy of Adam’s sin on his posterity is due to the covenant. Due to this, Denlinger suggests that Rollock did adopt from Catarino the notion of covenantal solidarity.

My criticism regarding this work is limited yet substantial. My main critique is that Denlinger was unable to provide explicit and unequivocal evidence that Catarino’s notion of covenantal solidarity influenced later Reformed covenant theology. To his credit, Denlinger is not ignorant of this critique. He rightly notes that theologians in the seventeenth centuries were not prone to cite their sources. Even more, given their differing confessional positions, Reformed theologians had good reason not to credit Catarino, a counter-Reformation Roman Catholic theologian, as their source. Nonetheless, I think Denlinger’s case would be far more convincing if he was able to connect Catarino’s influence directly with a later Reformed theologian who espoused a pre-fall covenant that identified the covenant as the basis for solidarity in Adam.

Denlinger covers a lot of ground in this work and it is difficult to point out all of his most significant insights. Nonetheless, it must be noted that Denlinger exemplifies a thorough and firm grasp of the secondary literature. Denlinger’s criticisms of some of the secondary literature are especially poignant. Denlinger writes clearly and makes his points effectively. Denlinger is also careful to point out the limits of his study and indicate what he is not arguing. For one, he argues that Catarino’s theology is neither the sole nor the main source for the development of Reformed theology’s covenant of works. In Reformed covenant theology, the covenant of works performed many functions beyond acting as a basis for Adamic covenantal solidarity. Overall, the strengths of this work overwhelm its weaknesses. Denlinger displays profound historical acuity. He shows that the phenomenon of post-Reformation Reformed covenant theology did not develop in a vacuum; the post-Reformation theologians’ doctrine of a covenant of works is rooted beyond the Reformation period in late-medieval thought. By shedding light on Ambrogio Catarino’s notion of covenantal solidarity in Adam, Denlinger has made a substantial contribution to the field of scholarship dedicated to the study of Reformed covenant theology.

Reviewed by Micah Throop, MAHT Candidate