William Bradford Institute
for Study of the
Early Settlement of America

The Moral Theology of William Ames:

From Thomas to Westminster
by J. van Vliet, Ph.D.

A. Introduction

This morning I want to explore the casuistry or
practical theology of William Ames (1576-1633) and trace its
evolution from the earliest Puritan casuistry to the system of moral
theology of the Reformed tradition. Along the way I provide some
reasons for the development of Puritan casuistry, observe Ames use
of French Huguenot Peter Ramus (1515-72), note Ames improvement
over his predecessors, point out his focus on the will as the center
of the act of faith and obedience, and finally conduct a close
comparison of the case divinity of William Perkins (1558-1602) and
William Ames. I show how it is that Ames casuistry represents the
informed piety of the Reformed tradition.

B. Reasons for Puritan Casuistry

Through the course of evolving Reformed system and
tradition, as the Reformation matured into what became the
post-Reformation period, it became very apparent that there did not
exist a moral compass for the conduct of the daily life of the
faithful. Living to God was often easier said then done. What was to
be the guide for an obedient, Christian faith-walk? How could
Calvins exhortation to godliness be followed without direction? No
doubt the concern at the newly-formed Academy at Franeker was how
the recently-acquired Professor Amesius would teach his
uniquely-defined theology without a pedagogical plan for the
teaching of piety. Thus the venerated Englishman wrote his own
treatise, to excite to this kind of study.[i][1]

The need for casuistry in England was most apparent with
the abolition of the medieval churchs confessional system at the
Reformation.[ii][2] Although teaching on casuistry existed in the
Roman Catholic Church since the Middle Ages,[iii][3] the Protestant
church was at its early stage of development in this area. Much of
what did exist had to do more with ones relationship to God,
chiefly insecurity regarding grace and assurance. Recall that for
William Perkins, so significant was the question of the greatest
case of conscience there ever was how a man may know whether he be
the child of God or no that he wrote an entire volume on just this
case.[iv][4] Although ministers in post-Reformation England
dispensed sound advice verbally, and casuistry was considered an
essential task of a minister of the gospel, a written literature had
not developed and was in great demand.[v][5]

To fill this lacuna, William Perkins, the father of
Puritanism, penned the first Protestant casuistic exercise and, with
this work, Puritan casuistry was born, an effort that, under the
more Reformed reconstruction by architect William Ames became the
first manual for the practice of informed Reformed pietism.[vi][6]
And although Ames, somewhat more judiciously than his teacher
Perkins, made liberal use of thinkers and theologians of the church
of Rome, it remained his preference that the children of Israel
should not need to goe downe to the Philistims (that is, our
Students to Popish Authors) to sharpen every man his share, his
Mattocke, or his Axe, or his weeding Hooke, as it fell out in the
Extreame necessity of Gods people.[vii][7] After lecturing on
casuistry since 1622, Ames crowned his teaching in 1630 with the
publication of Cases of Conscience, a seminal work on moral theology
that filled an unwarranted gap in the contemporary study of

Some cultural reasons as well encouraged Ames to focus
on casuistry: for example the dead orthodoxy he found prevalent in
the Netherlands (in the academy, the church, and the culture
generally). He was also greatly concerned with what he perceived to
be the moral slide as evidenced by Sabbath-breaking and by
tendencies towards gambling. He had, as sympathizers, Dutch Pietists
and church leaders Willem Teelinck (1579-1629) and Gisbertus Voet
(1589-1676), the two foremost figures in the post-Reformation
Netherlands both vastly interested in societal and church reform.
They also desired further reformation in the direction of a more
pious system of faith and life, a healthy Christian balance in which
orthodoxy would intersect with orthopraxy. For ultimately, when all
is said and done, Such as the life is, such is the end.[ix][9]

C. The Influence of Peter Ramus: Style and Substance
1) Ramism

While at Cambridge before his self-imposed exile to the
Netherlands, Ames was exposed to and influenced by a new philosophy
developed by Peter Ramus (1515-72), a sixteenth century Reformed
French philosopher.[x][10] Ramus developed a new approach to
knowledge to displace what he considered to be the artificial system
of Aristotle and the speculation of the schoolmen.[xi][11] Ramus
scorned Aristotles rejection of the distinction between theoretical
and practical disciplines in theological science. In agreement, Ames
held that science was to turn toward reality, was always to be
directed toward experience, and was to keep practical use in
Ramus new system of philosophy was triple-focussed: his
concerns were those of pedagogy, accessibility and practicality.
First, in developing his system for study of the arts, Ramus
developed a new framework for logic, grammar, rhetoric and religion
along lines more akin to natural reasoning yet along the deductive
method of Aristotle, whereby the movement in logic is from general
to specific, a passing from universals to particulars.[xiii][13] The
program he taught was primarily a method of organization discernible
by dichotomy and it was used, especially by Ames, not as a
substitute for but as a modification of scholastic system.[xiv][14]
Second, Ramus was also a French Protestant, concerned with making
the faith accessible to the common man and woman. This concern led
to an interest in making theology precise, methodical and teachable,
one cleansed from the scholastic influence. Third, it was not only
the Aristotelian philosophy and method against which Ramus reacted.
Close to Ramus heart was a concern for ethics. Biblical ethics knew
nothing of the ethics of Aristotle, said Ramus.[xv][15] Such a
practical system, with its emphasis on method to make theology more
usable and understandable, found a devoted disciple in William
Ames.[xvi][16] For Ames, faith and works are seamlessly unified,
indistinguishable in the life of the believer. In Technometry he
demonstrates his disdain for those who treat theology and ethics

This three-pronged interrelated emphasis of form and substance in
the Ramist system had a tremendous impact on Ames thought and work.
It provided the philosophical and pedagogical legitimization for
Ames definition of theology by joining ethics with theology and,
through the use of the (scholastic) hypothetical syllogism, it
forced the Christian pilgrim to make a decision based on comparing
Gods law with his or her faith and morals.

2) Calvin, Ramus, Perkins and Ames on Theology

Peter Ramus held that theology is the doctrine of
living well.[xviii][18] Perkins, coming after Ramus maintained that
theology is the science of living blessedly forever.[xix][19] But
for Ames, coming a generation later, it had to be even more precise:
theology is the doctrine of living to God.[xx][20] What are we to
make of this progression?[xxi][21]

Perkins found the source and fountain of living
blessedly forever in the knowledge of God. True knowledge of God was
secured by way of cognitive dialectic that involved knowledge of
self. Perkins then goes on to elaborate on just who and what God is
and his work. Perkins could have been transcribing straight from
John Calvins Institutes when he penned this first chapter of
Chaine. For Calvin, the knowledge of God the Creator was obtained in
a similar way: Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of
God and Without knowledge of God, there is no knowledge of
self.[xxii][22] And although Calvin does not explicitly offer a
definition of theology in the precise format of Ramus, Perkins, and
Ames, he does ask: To what purpose does the knowledge of God tend?
He answers that our knowledge should serve first to teach us fear
and reverence; secondly, with it as our guide and teacher, we should
learn to seek every good from him, and, having received it, to
credit it to his account.[xxiii][23] Or, as he put it elsewhere,
only there is God known where there is religion or piety.[xxiv][24]

Does Perkins make this Calvinian connecting link between
knowledge of God and willing reverence and worship? Although it is
not explicit, we did note his assertions that theology is the
science of living blessedly forever and the body of scripture is a
doctrine sufficient to live well.[xxv][25] It is thus fair to say
that Perkins derives his understanding of theology and its nature
from Calvin knowledge of God and knowledge of self with a view to
living blessedly forever.[xxvi][26] Ian Breward was correct when he
said that [Perkins] definition of theology was a combination of
Peter Ramus and John Calvin, and the arrangement of the whole work,
prefaced as it was by a formidable looking diagram, owed a good deal
to Ramist categories of arrangement and Aristotelian

William Ames diverges considerably from this
Calvinian/Perkinsian emphasis in his stress on doing. Knowledge,
intellectual apprehension, qualified as this might be with
statements of living blessedly was not sufficient for Ames. He was
seeking something much more activistic; after all, theology is the
doctrine of living to God. It is called doctrine because it is
divinely revealed. But more than that, humanity, made in the image
of God, must emulate him and since the highest kind of life for a
human being is that which approaches most closely the living and
life-giving God, the nature of theological life is living to
God.[xxviii][28] This is accomplished by living in accord with
Gods will and to his glory.[xxix][29] And then, as if consciously
wishing to refine Perkins definition, Ames asserts that although
it is within the compass of life to live both happily and well,
living well is more excellent than living happily.[xxx][30] Here
Ames re-emphasizes Ramus definition of theology living well. Lest
Perkins definition of theology might lead one to believe that
living blessedly could be self-serving, Ames makes the following
clarification: What chiefly and finally ought to be striven for is
not happiness which has to do with our own pleasure, but goodness
which looks to Gods glory. For this reason, theology is better
defined as that good life whereby we live to God than as that happy
life whereby we live to ourselves.[xxxi][31]

In this fashion Ames provides a corrective to Perkins
more open-ended definition, and a solution to what Peter Ramus
considered to be a chief problem in theology: the relation between
living blessedly and living rightly.[xxxii][32] Ramus concluded that
the latter was to be preferred over the former, that the righteous
life was to be set over the blessed life; a life rightly lived is a
life of response to God, the source of all
righteousness.[xxxiii][33] John Eusden is to the point as well when
he asserts that for Ames the end of theology was never to produce
blessedness, which he felt related chiefly to mans ultimate
aspiration and desire. In a search for his own blessedness, man
could miss God, the very object of his living rightly.[xxxiv][34]

To complement this unique (activistic) understanding of
theology, it is not surprising that William Ames teaches the
priority of the volitional faculty, the will. If theology is the
doctrine of living to God, what is the subject of theology? Perkins
and Calvin before him would have to say the intellect. For knowledge
begins there and, as Perkins said, the intellect is to the soul as
the wagginer to the waggin. But this is precisely where Ames
differs radically from his professor:

Furthermore, since this life is the spiritual work of the whole man,
in which he is brought to enjoy God and to act according to his
will, and since it certainly has to do with mans will, it follows
that the first and proper subject of theology is the will. Prov.
4:23, From the heart come the acts of life; and 23:26, Give me your

The proper subject of faith is the will as
well.[xxxvi][36] As if attempting to refine both Calvin and Perkins
(and others who place faith in the understanding and the will, Ames
closes this chapter with a lengthy and cogent justification for his
placement of faith exclusively in the will on the grounds that faith
is a single virtue and therefore indivisible.[xxxvii][37]

Thus, although their respective theological systems both
made use of Ramist methodological and logical categories, Perkins
was less a disciple of the French philosopher than was Ames whose
commitment to Ramism, as weve shown, dominated his entire system.
Their theological emphases were clearly distinctive. William Perkins
was heavily indebted to John Calvin and to the legacy of Thomas
before him; William Ames cleared a new theological path because of
his commitment to the view that theology could only be understood
first and foremost as a practical doctrine the doctrine of living
to God. Here Peter Ramus can be said to have had a stronger
influence on Ames than did Calvin.

There is an identifiable advance here.[xxxviii][38] We
move from Thomas Aquinas, through John Calvin and Peter Ramus, to
the Puritans William Perkins and William Ames. Calvins approach is
very scholastic; even his categories and organization, to a greater
or lesser degree, borrow from Thomas, but he decidedly separates
himself from the medieval Doctor where it matters most: by firmly
anchoring his theology in revelation, not reason. Nowhere do
revelation and reason appear on equal terms in Calvin, although he
accords reason and the intellect pride of place in the subjective
appropriation of objective revelation, and this through general and
special revelation. By contrast, for Ames God is the object, not of
scholastic knowledge, but of an active faith. It is not until
Chapter 34 of Book 1 of Marrow that Ames introduces his views of the
doctrine of scripture; Calvin begins this study as early as Chapter
6 of Institutes.

Now we come to Ramus who seeks to toss out both
Aristotelian philosophy and method with his own replacements. As
Perkins and Ames appear on the horizon, the former recasts Calvin
and Beza in Ramist categories while the latters commitment to
Ramist logic, method and philosophy has resulted in significant
modifications to some Calvinian priorities. We have seen that the
chief of these had to do with the subject and object of theology
for Ames the faculty of the will, and God, respectively. Calvin was
more Thomistic in his presentation in his emphasis on intellect in
the knowledge of God, while Perkins began moving in a direction
finessed by Ames. Perkins, finally, owed much more to Calvin than
did Ames, who blazed his own theological trail through the Thomist,
Calvinian, Ramist and Perkinsian paths before him.

D. The Casuistry of William Ames: Taking William Perkins out of the
Medieval Tradition

1) The Essence of Early Puritan Casuistry: Ames Theory of

For Perkins, conscience is of divine quality, placed by
God between himself and humanity, combining two parties in the
knowledge of a secret. Deriving the meaning from the etymology of
the word, Perkins reasons that this combination (scire, to know, and
conscire, to know together some one secret thing) can only be
between man and God.[xxxix][39] Further, it belongs to the duties of
this conscience to give testimony and to give judgment. Conscience
is the arbitrator, working on behalf of the Creator to pronounce
either for or against the creature in passing sentence on all of
mans thoughts, words and deeds. The proper subject of conscience so
defined, Perkins repeats, are reasonable creatures men and

William Ames casuistry, although penned to address the
same concern as that of Perkins, is a much more integral part of
Ames works. It flows directly from his definition of theology and
his practical concern for godly living.[xli][41]

In Book 1 of his 5-book collection on casuistry, Ames
discusses the nature of conscience. He defines it as follows,
somewhat more carefully than did Perkins: The conscience of man
(for I doe not intend to treat of the conscience of angels) is a
mans judgement of himself, according to the judgement of God of
him.[xlii][42] With Perkins he explains that conscience results
from exercising the intellect, not the will, because it utilizes
judgment which belongs to the faculty of reason. But this
intellectual exercise is more than just bare assent to facts or
apprehension of the truth; rather, this judgment presupposes an
already firm and settled truth. Consequently, it is not a
contemplative judgement, whereby truth is simply discerned from
falsehood: but a practicall judgement, by which, that which a man
knoweth is particularly applyed to that which is either good or
evill to him, to the end that it may be a rule within him to direct
his will.[xliii][43]

Both Puritans hold that conscience gives judgement in
or by a kind of reasoning or disputing, called a practicall
syllogisme. Rom. 2.15. Their reasoning accusing or excusing each
other.[xliv][44] This adjudication works in the court of ones
conscience by way of syllogism. This three-statement construct is
the field of operation of the mind and the memory. It comprises the
proposition, the assumption and the conclusion and by deduction
makes a judgment. Ames illustrates: the first statement the
proposition is the law, the objective biblical teaching with
respect to a particular subject, propositional truth, as it were,
e.g., He that lives in sinne, shall dye. The second statement
the assumption Ames calls an index or a book, i.e., an observation
on the state of things relative to the proposition, e.g., I live in
sinne. And finally, the third statement the conclusion is
designated the judge, e.g., Therefore, I shall dye.[xlv][45] Ames

In that Syllogisme alone is contained the whole nature of
Conscience. The Proposition treateth of the Law; the Assumption of
the fact or state, and the Conclusion of the relation arising from
the fact or state, in regard of that Law; The Conclusion either
pronounceth one guilty, or giveth spirituall peace and

Ames observes that it is the synteresis which provides the
proposition; this synteresis is none other than biblical

I want to point out one final but central Amesian
emphasis before moving on to a comparison of Ames case divinity
with that of William Perkins. This is his deliberate attribution of
conscience as act. Perkins held that conscience was faculty an
inherent power or capability that can effect change. Scotus and
other Schoolmen opted for conscience as habit a characteristic
predisposed to and enabling change (presumably from disobedience to
obedience). But neither faculty, nor habit are enough. Only with
conscience as act can Ames consistently argue that Christian
experimentalism (Christian activism) is pure active obedience and
involves more than an inherent aptitude to change behavior. Act is
change. With conscience as act, the judgment of the intellect, stirs
the habit (an enabling predisposition), and motivates the faculty
(an inherent capability) to change. Hand-in-hand with the
hypothetical or practical syllogism, conscience as act must produce
an effect in keeping with the judgment arising from a comparison of
behavior to its standard (the Ten Commandments). Ames is in pursuit
of pure act, not just a propensity to act, because only pure act is
a mark of obedience to the grace given in the covenant relationship.
Nothing less than act will do for William Ames, and this
understanding of conscience is key in the construction of the
theoretical foundations for the case divinity that follows. And it
is through use of the hypothetical syllogism that one is confronted
with the truth of the law, the truth of ones behavior, and the
truth of the subsequent judgment, a judgment rendered when ones
behavior is measured against the plumb line of the authority (or the
proposition as it is called in the practical syllogism).

a) 2) The Medieval Character of Perkins Case Divinity

In this section we examine the development and structure
of the case divinity of William Perkins and William Ames. This will
help us determine the degree to which they both utilize existing
philosophical thinking and advance case divinity in a biblical
direction. We have mentioned that both Perkins and Ames develop
their case-divinity after they have established their theoretical
principles of conscience. Perkins, whose case-divinity appears in a
volume separate altogether from his theoretical treatment in The
Whole Treatise of the Cases of Conscience, constructs his practical
theology under three main headings (three books), each subdivided
into any number of Ramist dichotomies.

Book 1 has as theme man simply considered in himselfe
without relation to another and is essentially a treatise on human
nature, spiritually conceived. It covers such topics as confession,
sin, salvation (a large part devoted to preparationism), assurance
and five distresses of mind and the comfort afforded
these.[xlviii][48] All remedies begin with repentance and faith. In
case of affliction, he says, we must not live by feeling but by
faith.[xlix][49] If there is an undercurrent throughout, it would
focus on the theme of the assurance of faith and salvation. Now
remember that, for Perkins, this represented the greatest of all
cases of conscience.[l][50] Yet there are surprises for the reader
as, for example, Perkins apparent approval of the scholastic
distinction between mortal and venial sins.[li][51]

In Book 2, Perkins examines case-divinity concerning
Man as he stands in relation to God. The focus is fourfold:
theology proper, scriptures, worship, and the Sabbath. Of interest
in this book is Perkins exhaustive coverage of the arguments for
the existence of God.[lii][52] These proofs, he claims, are useful
in apologetics and are preparatory to faith.[liii][53] The remainder
of Book 2 is devoted to material having to do with christology, the
scriptures, religion and worship.[liv][54]

In Book 3 Perkins discusses case-divinity concerning
Man as he stands in relation to Man. This book, both its organizing
principles and its content will surprise the reader. The book begins
with an excursus of virtue, which he defines as a gift of the
Spirit of God, and a part of regeneration, whereby a man is made apt
to live well.[lv][55] His case-divinity focuses on the virtues of
prudence, clemency, temperance, liberality and justice, under which
heads Perkins addresses moral dilemmas arising in the course of
human relations against the backdrop of the social issues of the
day. Such issues as forgiveness, self-defense, use of money, proper
dress, recreation and reputation are discussed and resolved. This
ends Perkins case divinity.

3) The Biblical Character of Ames Case Divinity

When compared against the case-divinity of William
Perkins, our study of William Ames massive one volume, five-book
work on conscience already mentioned uncovers some significant

We have discussed already the topic of Book 1 the
theory of conscience and Ames reliance and use of scholastic
categories. The remainder of this first book follows Perkins format
and represents further elaboration of the conscience and its
workings.[lvi][56] The book closes with a brief summary including
four corollaries that were publicly debated to encourage and stirre
up to the study of Practicall Divinity.[lvii][57] It is not
surprising that Ames pedagogical technique is almost entirely

The second book flows naturally from the first. Having
elucidated the nature of conscience, Ames logically moves on to the
definition of cases of conscience. A Case of Conscience is a
practical question, concerning which, the Conscience may make a
doubt.[lviii][58] This section is devoted to sin, entry into the
state of grace, salvation, the ongoing flesh/spirit battle and
conduct in the Christian life.[lix][59] This book could easily pass
for a compendium of reformed theology and compares most uniformly
with Perkins Book 1. The Reformed ordo salutis is one of its
organizing principles.[lx][60] The book is an exploration and
inquiry into those things that belong to the state of

On the other hand, Book 3 Of Mans Duty in Generall
is an inquiry into the actions, and conversation of [mans]
life.[lxii][62] This is meant to address the whole question of
obedience to God, a distinctively Amesian priority. Ames asserts
that the signs of true obedience are submissively placing Gods will
ahead of the will of the creature, even when that will does not
appear to work towards ones advantage. How is this to be
accomplished? By exercising those characteristics that conduce to an
obedient life, viz., the cardinal virtues of prudence, courage,
temperance and justice,[lxiii][63] and by avoiding those tendencies
that thwart an obedient walk (such as drunkenness, sins of the
heart, sins of the mouth, etc.).[lxiv][64] Thus, whereas Perkins saw
these virtues as organizing principles for instruction in mans
social intercourse, Ames emphasized more their nature as
characteristic of the obedience that demonstrated theology, the
doctrine of living unto God.

At this point it is instructive to notice the priority
Ames gives the concept of virtue and the honored place assigned the
cardinal virtues as hallmarks of the life of obedience. Perkins did
this as well but to a greater extent since he used them as his
organizing structure. On the other hand and equally obvious is the
absence, from Ames, of any arguments for Gods existence. That Ames
is wary of natural theology[lxv][65] is clearly borne out here.

These three books comprise just over a third of
Conscience. Having taken care of these preliminary
matters,[lxvi][66] Ames can now concentrate on his real concern:
How are cases of conscience to be adjudicated? The simple answer is:
By a proper understanding and application of the moral law.
This is Ames organizing framework the decalogue. It
is precisely because the law does not explicitly cover all possible
eventualities that teaching on cases of conscience is needed. This
demonstrates just how wide a net the decalogue does cast. Thus,
Books 4 and 5 concentrate on the elucidation of the moral law,
respectively, mans duty toward God and mans duty toward
neighbor.[lxvii][67] The biblical Ten Commandments, not the medieval
cardinal virtues, constitute Ames synteresis. It is here, in its
very organizing structure, that we see in Ames casuistry, the very
fountainhead of Reformed moral theology and informed piety. Although
William Perkins can be properly designated as the first Puritan
moral theologian, his casuistry was dominated by medieval constructs
and very much driven by Thomistic categories, as we have seen.

In Books 4 and 5 Ames teaches the extended meaning of
the Ten Commandments and how these are to apply to the daily walk of
the pilgrim. The duty of man toward God (Book 4) covers the entire
spectrum of the obedient Christian walk. Commandments one through
four are addressed under the heading of Religion and cover the
theological virtues of faith, hope and love. Commandment two is
covered by chapters on pride against God, Consulting with the
Devill, and, alternatively, give positive instruction on prayer,
confession and singing. Under commandment three Ames teaches on the
biblical use of the oath, the lot, and the sacraments in the context
of worship to God. The book closes with a chapter on commandment
four, the Lords Day.[lxviii][68]

Throughout this book Book 4 Ames discusses general
topics such as the church and very specific topics such as the
gesture of prayer and singing. In this fashion he prepares the
reader for Book 5 interpersonal relations by first settling any
uncertainty the believer may have about his relationship to God.
About one-quarter of the book is devoted to addressing cases of
conscience arising out of the theological virtues, faith, hope and
love.[lxix][69] This book, as would be expected, covers much the
same ground as Perkins Book 2 and borrows from this volume. But it
is explicitly cast within the framework of the Ten Commandments.

In Book 5, his elaboration of the second tablet of the
decalogue, it would appear that the concern Ames has regarding the
duty of man towards his neighbour is the primary practical concern
of the day which has given rise to cases of conscience. This book
stretches 57 chapters and is twice as long as his elaboration on the
first table of the law. Under commandment five are covered such
topics as justice, revenge, restitution, favoritism, love for
neighbor, intercessory prayer, schism, humility, pride, and the
mutual obligation between opposite classes of people for which the
commandment on honoring of parents is the springboard. Here the
hallmarks are respect for others and others reputation and
obedience of one class of citizen over against another. Then follows
commandment six, or, as he labels it, Precept 6, and the
associated teaching on meekness, patience, long-suffering, slowness
to wrath, goodwill, equanimity, manslaughter, duels, and war. The
seventh commandment, proscribing adultery, addresses the
solemnities of matrimony, the mutual duties of man and wife and
divorce and polygamy. Basic issues of fairness in economic
enterprise are addressed by chapters on contracts, profits,
lending of money (usury), poverty, wealth, saving and spending,
and theft, all with respect to commandment eight and the
proscription against theft. Under commandment nine one finds
teaching not only on a lye but also on public judgments, the
judge, accusers, witnesses, advocates and defenders. Apparently
revealing a secret gave rise to a case of conscience. Finally,
Book 5 closes with Ames exposition on contentment which guards
against covetousness.[lxx][70]

This book compares with Book 3 of Perkins, but only
marginally so, since the taxonomy framing and conceptually
organizing Perkins casuistry on interpersonal relationships the
cardinal virtues is entirely different from that of Ames the
second table of the Law. As mentioned, herein lies the major
difference between the casuistry of the two Puritans: Perkins has
followed the system of Thomas very closely, Ames less so. Most
significantly, Ames has taken Perkins teachings out of the medieval
tradition, placed them into the organizational framework of the
moral law, and greatly embellished them with biblical content.
Scripture, not the medieval Thomas-inspired tradition of the Church
of Rome, was to be the Christian rule for practice, asserted Ames.
The Ten Commandments, not the cardinal virtues, were to be the
organizing principles for the parishioner needing direction for day
to day life. Thus Ames demonstrably improved over Perkins, whose
casuistry was still very much that of Thomas, and constitutes the
origins of the informed pietism of the Reformed tradition.[lxxi][71]

It is clear that Ames judiciously and unapologetically
used the Schoolmen as handmaidens, certainly with more frequency and
depth than did Perkins.[lxxii][72] At the same time, the
Aristotelian bifurcation of ethics and theology Ames assailed ad
infinitum; he meets this dualism head on with Titus 2:12, that
theology is all about righteous and honorable living.[lxxiii][73]
Indeed, the theme dominating Technometry was that knowledge is
judged by its performance, not its theory.[lxxiv][74] Thus,
although the philosophical categories and theories of the medieval
theologians and casuists were reviled, some of their practical
teaching found reception in Ames who acknowledged that the Papists
have laboured much this way, to instruct their Confessors: and in a
great deale of earth and dirt of Superstitions, they have some
veines of Silver: out of which, I suppose, I have drawne some things
that are not to be despised.[lxxv][75]
E: Summary

I repeat, the most significant discovery to remember is
the advance that William Ames casuistry made over the earlier moral
theology of William Perkins. The rationale for, and the use of, the
cardinal virtues as the organizational framework of Perkins third
book of case-divinity clearly mark him as a man just emerging out of
the medieval tradition as he cut a new path for the theory and
practice of moral theology.[lxxvi][76] Ames sweeps this new path
with a Reformed brush, even changing direction from time to time
when it appeared Perkins was dawdling too long along the medieval
trail. Ames covers the cardinal virtues in his explication of
humanitys obedience to God and thus subsumes them within the
framework of the decalogue.[lxxvii][77] For Ames, only the form and
substance of the biblical moral law are to be used in the
adjudication of cases of conscience. In this way did Ames place a
biblical gloss on early Puritan piety and moral theology, a gloss
that converted this piety from one structured around medieval
principles and categories to one whose framework represented a
paradigm shift from the medieval understanding to the Reformed view
of the organizing principles of the moral law. This was the
provenance of the informed piety of the Reformed tradition. This
torch of piety was passed on from William Ames to Richard Baxter
while it reached its most mature creedal expression in the
exposition of the decalogue found in the Westminster Larger and
Shorter catechisms.[lxxviii][78]


[i][1] Ames, Conscience with the Power and Cases Thereof: Devided
into V. Bookes (N. p., 1639), To the Illustrious and Mightie Lords,
the Staes of Zeland, Dedicatory Epistle.
[ii][2] Keith Thomas, Cases of Conscience in Seventeenth-Century
England, Public Duty and Private Conscience in Seventeenth-Century
England, eds. John Morrill, Paul Slack and Daniel Woolf (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1993), 32. Excellent introductions to
Puritan casuistry appear in Keith L. Sprunger, The Learned Doctor
William Ames: Dutch Backgrounds of English and American Puritanism
[Chicago: University of Illinois, Press, 1972], 153-66; Thomas F.
Merrill, ed. and intro., William Perkins. 1558-1602. English
Puritanist. His Pioneer Works on Casuistry: A Discourse of
Conscience and The Whole Treatise of Cases of Conscience.
(Nieuwkoop: B. De Graaf, 1966), x-xx; and H. R. McAdoo, The
Structure of Caroline Moral Theology (London: Longmans, Green and
Co., 1949).
[iii][3] Hugo Visscher, Guilielmus Amesius: Zijn Leven en Werken
(Haarlem: J. M. Stap, 1894), trans. Tjaard Georg Hommes and Douglas
Horton as William Ames: His Life and Works; hereafter Horton, Ames
by Visscher, 120. For a summary of the method and practice of
medieval casuistry, particularly that of the Jesuits, and a broader
application of the casuistry of early English Puritanism, see Jan
van Vliet, Gambling on Faith: A Holistic Examination of Blaise
Pascals Wager, Westminster Theological Journal 62 (2000): 33-63.
[iv][4] William Perkins, The Workes of that Famous and Worthy
Minister of Christ in the Universitie of Cambridge, Mr. William
Perkins, 3 vols. (London: John Legatt, 1612-1613), 1.421-1.438.
[v][5] Thomas, Conscience, 36-37.
[vi][6] In his study of the development of casuistry in England,
Elliot Rose opines that Ames has some light to cast on the spirit
of the school . . . [but] since he spent most of his active career
in Holland he cannot be expected to apply himself directly to
English problems (Rose, Cases of Conscience [Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1975], 185). This is just another of the many
random examples that could be trotted out to demonstrate the
mischaracterization of William Ames in historiography. It would
appear from a study of the level of morality in the England of the
day that Ames directed much of his casuistry, especially in Book 5
of Conscience, not only to the problems associated with the arid
orthodoxy of contemporary continental Reformed thought and the
somewhat unregulated styles of living that characterized the
egalitarian society of his adopted country, but also, if not
especially, to those more serious problems of immorality present in
his homeland. On the state of morality in seventeenth-century
England, see Douglas Campbell, The Puritan in Holland, England, and
America: An Introduction to American History, 2 vols. (New York:
Harper and Brothers. 1892), 2.350-2.375, 2.453-2.457. He portrays
Elizabethan England as a society adrift without a moral compass,
where the religious elite enjoyed lives of self-aggrandizement. He
notes that the English were not so laborious as the French and
Hollanders, preferring to live an indolent life, like the Spaniards
(ibid.). In more measured tones, Lawrence Stone observes the
difference between the freer morality of English society and the
circumspection found on the continent and notes that as early as
1499, Erasmus, on a visit to England, reported the propensity of the
English to kiss strangers on the lips, not only in greeting but for
every other occasion (Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage
in England [New York: Harper & Row, 1979], 325). See also his Road
to Divorce: England, 1530-1987 (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1990), Uncertain Unions: Marriage in England, 1660-1753 (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1992), and Broken Lives: Separation and
Divorce in England, 1660-1857 (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
[vii][7] Ames, Conscience, To the Reader.
[viii][8] Karl Reuter, Wilhelm Amesius: der fhrende Theologe des
erwchenden refomierten Pietismus (Neukirchen, Kreis Moers:
Buchhandlung des Erziehungsvereins, 1940), trans. Douglas Horton as
William Ames: The Leading Theologian in the Awakening of Reformed
Pietism; hereafter Horton, Ames by Reuter, 166.
[ix][9] The Puritans, especially, had a great aversion to Aristotle.
In his chapter on virtue William Ames approvingly quotes Peter
Ramus who opined the following:
I had rather that philosophy were taught to children out of the
gospel by a learned theologian of proved character than out of
Aristotle by a philosopher. A child will learn many impieties from
Aristotle which, it is to be feared, he will unlearn too late. He
will learn, for example, that the beginning of blessedness arises
out of man; that the end of blessedness lies in man; that all
virtues are within mans power and obtainable by mans nature, art,
and industry; that God is never present in such works, either as
helper or author, however great and divine they are; that divine
providence is removed from the theater of human life; that not a
word can be spoken about divine justice; that mans blessedness is
based on this frail life (William Ames, The Marrow of Theology,
trans. John D. Eusden from the third Latin edition, 1629 (United
Church Press, 1968; repr., Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997), 2.2.18;
according to Eusden in a note he makes on p. 227 of Marrow, Ames is
quoting Peter Ramus in Petri Rami Veromandui pro philosophica
Parisiensis academiae disciplina oratio, ad Carolum Lotharinguum
Cardinalem (Parisiis, 1551), or An Oration by the French Belgian
Peter Ramus on Behalf of the Philosophical Training at the
University of Paris, Delivered to Charles Cardinal Lorraine, 40.
Although William Perkins held to this assessment also, and very
consistently, it will become apparent that Aristotle was invoked by
William Ames where it furthered his theological or casuistic cause,
especially as mediated through Thomas Aquinas. Indeed,
scholasticism, as method, still prevailed, and was perpetuated in
the post-Reformation development of Protestantism, if in somewhat
more Christian form (Richard A. Muller, Post Reformation Reformed
Dogmatics: Volume 1, Prolegomena to Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker,
1987), 14-52. The direction of, in particular, Ames work, can be
said to have been driven, in large part, by his reaction against a
scholasticism of the sort he perceived was making shipwreck of the
pious and practical faith of the Reformed in the Netherlands.
[x][10] Sprunger, Ames, 107; Eusden, Introduction in Marrow, 37.
Ramus died in the St. Bartholomews Day massacre in Paris on August
23/24, 1572.
[xi][11] Horton, Ames by Reuter, 232-34; Eusden, Introduction in
Marrow, 39; Sprunger, Ames, 106-7.
[xii][12] Horton, Ames by Visscher, 71; Horton, Ames by Reuter, 232.
[xiii][13] Sprunger, Ames, 107-9. We have already mentioned that in
many respects, the scholastic emphasis on logic and reason is
utilized in Ramist logic. See Sprunger, Ames, 110, and Eusden,
Introduction in Marrow, 15. As Ames put it: By this methode we
proceade from the antecedent more absolutely knowen to prove the
consequent, which is not so manifestly knowen: & this is the only
methode which Aristotle did observe (Peter Ramus, The Logike of the
Moste Excellent Philosopher P. Ramus Martyr, ed. Catherine M. Dunn,
trans. Roland MacIlmaine, Renaissance Editions, no. 3 [Northridge,
CA: San Fernando Valley State College, 1969], 54-55).
[xiv][14] Eusden, Introduction in Marrow, 37. Eusden notes that at
Christs College, Cambridge, a succession of Ramist teachers
beginning with Laurence Chaderton (1536?-1640) included: Gabriel
Harvey (1545?-1630), Perkins (1558-1602), George Downham (d. 1634),
Ames, William Chappell (1582-1649) and John Milton (1608-1674).
Walter J. Ong points out the inroads the Huguenots system made in
the intellectual circles of the Palatinate and the Netherlands and
compares this favorably to Ames devotion to Ramism: English
Ramists are outdistanced by the Germans and the Dutch. The one
Englishman under Ramist influence who stands out as a possible
competitor is William Ames . . . who lived for a long time in the
Netherlands (Walter J. Ong, S.J., Ramus, Method, and the Decay of
Dialogue [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1958], 304), cited by
Eusden, Introduction in Marrow, 37. For an early study on the
theology of Ramus, see Paul Lobstein, Petrus Ramus als Theologe
(Strassburg: G. F. Schmidts Universitts-Buchhandlung, 1878).
[xv][15] Frank P. Graves, Peter Ramus and the Educational
Reformation of the Sixteenth Century (New York: The Macmillan
Company, 1912, text-fiche), 173; citing Ramus Oratio de Professione
liberalium artium (Paris, 1563), 104; Before his short life was so
violently brought to an end, he had written a treatise on ethics
which was one revision away from publication. Yet enough of Ramus
thoughts on ethics survive in extant publications to provide a
reasonably complete reproduction of his system. At the basis of his
ethical system lies an entirely different conception of God which
accounts for the vehemence with which Ramus attacks Aristotle. But
as Frank P. Graves points out, Ramus was not above exclusive appeal
to reason for he treats ethics from the standpoint of the four
cardinal virtues and almost in the terms of Plato and Cicero
(ibid., 176-77).
[xvi][16] He defends this system in his introduction to the Marrow
by asserting: There will be some who condemn the precision of
method and logical form as curious and troublesome. But we wish them
sounder reason, for they separate the art of learning, judging, and
memorizing from those things which most deserved to be learned,
known, and memorized (Ames, Marrow A Brief Forewarning of the
Author concerning His Purpose). Aristotelian metaphysics and ethics
were common fare in the Dutch academies and especially at Franeker.
Despite synodical admonition at Dort with especial regard to Ames
colleague Johannes Maccovius at Franeker, the Dutch Aristotelians
attack on the Ramism introduced by Ames continued unabated
(Sprunger, Ames, 111) Yet in the face of this considerable
opposition, Franeker officially adopted Ramist philosophy and logic
and became the center for Ramism in the Netherlands (ibid., 88, 111;
Horton, Ames by Visscher, 59-60). Graves observes that Ramus
destruction of Aristotle is based, in part, on his failure to
understand the great Greek philosopher; as an ardent Christian he
evidently holds it incumbent upon him to combat the paganism of that
philosopher. Yet Graves also remarks about Ramus: at times he
shows that the ancient philosopher had anticipated the true
Christian doctrine and accepts his positions, even at the expense of
certain usages of the Church (ibid., 174, 176).
[xvii][17] William Ames, Technometry, trans. and ed. Lee W. Gibbs,
Haney Foundation Series of the University of Pennsylvania, vol. 24
(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1979), theses 63,
88-94, 118; citations from Ames Technometry are by thesis number.
(First published as Technometria, Omnium & singularum Artium fines
adquat circumscribens [London: Milo Flesher, 1633] and itself part
of a six-piece work published posthumously (1643) as one volume,
Philosophemata). He maintains: if it is true that the commonly
accepted division of art into theoretical and practical is defective
in many ways and therefore must be rejected, (ibid., thesis 62),
how much the more must be anathematized those who would teach a
discipline or art of ethics separate and distinct from the
doctrines of theology? Repudiation of this essentially Aristotelian
distinction between practical and theoretical philosophy appears at
length in this work and Ames attack against the ethicists or moral
philosophers, those practitioners of natural ethics, is unrelenting.
Gods revealed will in scripture teaches thorough integration of
theology and ethics; attempts to drive a wedge between the two are
nothing less than metaphysical speculation and sophistry. Ames
concludes: Hence, being thoughtless or ungrateful and yet not
impious by law, do they listen who educated in the bosom of the
Church, have thoroughly learned both about the obscurity of these
principles . . . and about the new revelation in the Scriptures
yet flee from these Scriptures to search after the principles of
what they call practical philosophy and of law and seduce others
with themselves (ibid., thesis 63).
[xviii][18] Ramus, Commentariorum de Religione, cited in Sprunger,
Ames, 132.
[xix][19] Perkins, Workes, 1.11.
[xx][20] Ames, Marrow, 1.1.1.
[xxi][21] In quoting Peter Ramus, William Ames and Henry More in
sequence in their respective definitions of theology, Samuel T.
Logan, Jr., cogently demonstrates that the philosophical commitment
to Ramism was a contributing factor to the vast theological change
at Christs College, Cambridge, in the late sixteenth and early
seventeenth centuries (Theological Decline in Christian
Institutions and the Value of Van Tils Epistemology, Westminster
Theological Journal 57 (1995) 145-63). Logans observations
regarding the reasons for the intellectual shift in direction at the
University of Cambridge are acute. For Cambridge Platonists,
especially John Smith (1616-1652) and Benjamin Whichcote
(1609-1683), theology was more a Divine life than a Divine science
(Alan Gabbey, Cambridge Platonists, in The Cambridge Dictionary of
Philosophy ed., Robert Audi [New York: Cambridge University Press,
1995], 99-101). This echoes strongly the emphasis on the practical,
originated by Peter Ramus a century earlier and perpetuated by
William Perkins and especially William Ames at Christs College,
Cambridge. The influential neo-platonist in this College was More
(1614-1687) who taught that ethicks are defined to be the art of
living well and happily (Logan, Decline, 157). The transition
from Ramus through Ames to More is unmistakable, as Logan asserts.
[xxii][22] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed.
John T. MacNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, 2 vols. Library of
Christian Classics, no. 20-21 (Philadelphia: Westminster Press,
1960), 1.1.1-1.1.3.
[xxiii][23] Ibid., 1.2.2.
[xxiv][24] Ibid., 1.2.1; Here indeed is pure and real religion:
faith so joined with an earnest fear of God that this fear also
embraces willing reverence, and carries with it such legitimate
worship as is prescribed in the law (ibid., 1.2.2).
[xxv][25] Perkins, Workes, 1.11.
[xxvi][26] The editors of Calvins Institutes very astutely observe
that the word knowledge in the title, chosen rather than being
or existence of God, emphasizes the centrality of revelation in
both the structure and the content of Calvins theology. Similarly,
the term Creator, subsuming the doctrines of Trinity, Creation,
and Providence, stresses Gods revealing work or acts rather than
God in himself. The latter is more prominent in Scholastic doctrines
of God, both medieval and later Calvinist (Calvin, Institutes,
1.1.1, n. 1). A glance at Thomas (rational) arguments for existence
prove the point.
[xxvii][27] Ian Breward, ed., The Work of William Perkins. The
Courtenay Library of Reformation Classics, no. 3 (Appleford,
Abingdon, Berkshire, England: Sutton Courtenay Press, 1970), 85-86.
Did Thomas Aquinas, the medieval Doctor, have any thoughts on the
nature of theology? He opens his discussion by asserting the
necessity of theology (sacred science) for mans salvation, as
well as the philosophical sciences. This is necessary, he maintains,
because the philosophical sciences are based on reason; for the
salvation of humanity, however, revelation is needed as well:
The whole salvation of man, which lies in God, depends on the
knowledge of this truth [God]. . . . There is no reason, then, why
the same things, which the philosophical sciences teach as they can
be known by the light of natural reason, should not also be taught
by another science as they are known through divine revelation
(Thomas Aquinas, Nature and Grace, ed. and trans. A. M. Fairweather.
Library of Christian Classics, vol. 11 (Philadelphia: Westminster
Press, 1954) 1.1.1. My convention in citing from this work of
Aquinas is to cite book, chapter and section. And this sacred
science is nobler than the other sciences in every way,
transcending them because, as a speculative science, it deals with
things more certain and above reason. For it is concerned with
divine things more fundamentally than with the actions of men
although it has an interest in these actions insofar as they bring
men to the perfect knowledge of God (ibid., 1.1.4). From this
practical perspective, sacred doctrine is wisdom, says Thomas
(ibid., 1.1.6), and wisdoms end is eternal happiness (ibid.,
[xxviii][28] Ames, Marrow, 1.1.5.
[xxix][29] Ibid., 1.1.6.
[xxx][30] Ibid.
[xxxi][31] Ames, Marrow, 1.1.8.
[xxxii][32] Horton, Ames by Reuter, 175-76.
[xxxiii][33] Ramus, Commentariorum, 6; cited in Horton, Ames by
Reuter, 175.
[xxxiv][34] Eusden, Introduction in Marrow, 47.
[xxxv][35] Ames, Marrow, 1.1.9-1.1.11. Ames continues: Now since
this life so willed is truly and properly our most important
practice, it is self-evident that theology is not a speculative
discipline but a practical one not only in the common respect that
all disciplines have eupraxia, good practice, as their end, but in a
special and peculiar manner compared with all others. Nor is there
anything in theology which does not refer to the final end or to the
means related to that end all of which refer directly to
practice. To Ames, living blessedly would never have been a science
as it was for Perkins. It was a doctrine. It was a covenantal
responsibility. It was something centered in the will; it engaged
the volitional faculty of men and women more than the intellectual.
Having established this theological principle, how does Ames further
develop his dogmatics a treatise which, as we judged earlier, can
be considered the first full-fledged systematic theology of
post-reformation Elizabethan England of which Perkins work was the
harbinger? So non-negotiable was this particular view of theology
that Ames entire theological enterprise, Ramist of course, was
undergirded by the responsibility of the creature in living to God:
faith and observance. These comprise the division or parts of
theology not emphasizing knowledge of God and of self but rather
observance (the doctrine of living to God), and faith (rooted in the
sound theological principles of the Reformation). Ames entire
theology unfolds along this dichotomy.
[xxxvi][36] Ibid., 1.3.13-1.3.19.
[xxxvii][37] Ibid., 1.3.22.
[xxxviii][38] This is not entirely surprising given the
philosophical/theological commitments and presuppositions of the
early philosophical-theologians compared to those of the later
theological philosophers.
[xxxix][39] God knows perfectly all things of man though they never
be so hid and concealed: and man by a gift given him of God; knowes
togither with God, the same things of himselfe: and this gift is
called Conscience (Perkins, Workes, 1.518).
[xl][40] Ibid.
[xli][41] His casuistry is part of a unified system of doctrine and
life, explained in Marrow. In his introduction to Marrow, Ames
promises that if there are some who desire to have practical
matters better explained, especially those of the latter part of
this Marrow, we shall attempt, God willing, to satisfy them in a
special treatise, which I mean to write, dealing with questions
usually called cases of conscience (Ames, Marrow, Brief
Forewarning). Recall that by latter part of this Marrow Ames was
referring to Book 2 of this work which addresses the observance
category of theology, the doctrine of living to God. The first half
of this Ramist presentation of theology was faith.
[xlii][42] Ames, Conscience, 1.1.Preamble.
[xliii][43] Ibid., 1.1.2-1.1.3.
[xliv][44] Perkins, Workes, 1.535.
[xlv][45] Ames, Conscience, 1.1.8-1.1.10.
[xlvi][46] Ibid., 1.1.11; Ibid. It is important to note that this
method of syllogism applied to the practical reason is purely
Aristotelian. In his discussion on the Nature of Law in Question 90
of Summa Theologiae, Thomas asks whether law is a function of mind
(reason) or will? He answers:
Law is a kind of direction or measure for human activity through
which a person is led to do something or held back. . . . Now
direction and measure come to human acts from reason, from which, .
. . they start. It is the function of reason to plan for an end, and
this purpose, as Aristotle notes [Physics II, 9. 200a22. Ethics VII,
8. 1151a16. St. Thomas, lect. 8], is the original source of what we
do. . . . We are left with the conclusion, then, that law is
something that belongs to reason.
Hence: . . . As with outward acts a distinction can be drawn between
the doing and the deed, . . . , so also with the activities of
reason the actual thinking, namely understanding and reasoning, and
what is thought out, namely first a definition, next a proposition,
and finally a syllogism or argument, can be considered apart. And
because the practical reason makes use of a sort of syllogism in
settling on a course of action . . . in accordance with the teaching
of Aristotle [Ethics VII, 3. 1147a24], a proposition can be
discerned which is to practice what a premise is to the conclusions
the theoretic reason draws (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, vol.
28, Law and Political Theory, ed. Thomas Gilby O.P. Blackfriars
Latin text and English translation with Introduction, Notes,
Appendices and Glossaries. 60 vols. [New York: McGraw-Hill,
1963-76], 5-7).
Aquinas upholds that such a proposition in the practical reason has
the character of law and sometimes they are actually adverted to,
sometimes they are convictions held merely as habits of mind
(ibid., 9).
[xlvii][47] Ames draws a direct connection between the law of nature
in primitive humanity and the moral law. By adding the notion of
conscience into this mix, he has painted a full portrait of the
responsibilities of the creature to maintain covenant faithfulness
through obedience to all the principles that extend from the moral
law. This is where case divinity comes in. (Calvin had an inchoate
sense of this in Institutes, 2.8.1.)
Synteresis has reference to the conscience as being the internal
repository of the laws of right and wrong. Ames refers to synteresis
as the storehouse of principles (Ames, Conscience, 1.2.1). Thus it
is this storehouse of principles out of which the law of God the
biblical law is drawn. It is a habit of the understanding
because it houses those principles governing moral actions that God
has implanted in the domicile of humanitys mind and which continue
to reside there, even in the fallen state. Broadly understood,
synteresis encompasses not only generall conclusions touching right
or Law, which are deduced by good consequence out of naturall
principles, but likewise all practicall truths, whereunto wee give a
firme assent, through the revelation we have by faith (ibid.,
1.2.6). Thus it is, that synteresis can be ramistically dichotomized
into natural and enlightened conscience (ibid., 1.2.7). The
former embraces the principles of nature as law; the latter
recognizes the legally binding character of scriptural principles,
and it is the revealed will of God whereby a mans duty is both
showne and commanded which contains both of these categories. To
re-emphasize, the revealed will of God, or the law of God,
incorporates both the moral principles within humanity and the
additional laws that God hath injoyned. Thus Ames can uphold that
the conscience can be bound only by the revealed will of God, the
law of God, all those things commanded in the Gospel. And it is the
Law of God that binds men and women to submit to the laws of the
creature, not the latter in and of themselves. To be bound in
conscience by the laws of men (or children by parents or a promise
by an oath) is idolatry, since only God knows the inward workings of
the conscience (ibid., 1.2.9-1.2.15). This Amesian view of the
conscience follows very closely Thomas understanding of synteresis
as habit. Thomas designates synteresis the law of our understanding
inasmuch as it is the habit of keeping the precepts of natural law,
which are the first principles of human activity (Aquinas, Law and
Political Theory, 77).
[xlviii][48] See a discussion of Perkins concept of conversion in
Mark R. Shaw, The Marrow of Practical Divinity: A Study in the
Theology of William Perkins, (Th.D. diss., Westminster Theological
Seminary, 1981), 111-53. In this section of Book 1 Perkins also
summarizes briefly some of his earlier teaching on the nature of
conscience. Perkins tone can be described as gentle, highly
sympathetic, practical and extremely pastoral, especially in his
excursus on comforting the distressed.
[xlix][49] William Perkins, The Whole Treatise of the Cases of
Conscience, Distinguished into Three Bookes (London: John Legat,
Printer to the University of Cambridge, 1606; repr. The English
Experience: Its Record in Early Printed Books Published in
Facsimile, no. 482. Amsterdam: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum Ltd., and New
York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1972), 1.8.5.
[l][50] Perkins first addresses assurance of faith in terms of
case-divinity in an entirely separate and small work on casuistry
(already referred to in Chapter III above) entitled A Case of
Conscience, the Greatest thatever was: how a man may know whether he
be the child of God, or no in Workes, 1.421-1.428. The resolution to
this case of conscience is anchored in Psalm 15 and the first
Epistle of John and proceeds in discourse form between the Church
and the Apostle (for 1 John) and Jehovah and David (for Psalm 15).
(See Shaw, Perkins, 154-213, for a look at Perkins doctrine of
assurance in connection with worship.)
Although I would not say that the issue of assurance of faith was
not important for William Ames, we can certainly say that Ames did
not afford it the priority that Perkins did. It would be interesting
to pursue the assertion, I believe legitimate, that to center faith
in the volition (Ames) as opposed to the intellect (Perkins)
preempts overdue concern with assurance of faith/salvation. If it
can be said that there is an undercurrent in Ames casuistry, it is
clearly the theme of obedience, the responsibility of living a life
to God.
[li][51] Perkins, Conscience, 1.2.3-1.2.11; especially
[lii][52] Perkins both apologizes for and explains the usefulness of
these proofs in this manner: I doe not meane to dispute the
question, whether there be a God or no; and thereby minister
occasion of doubting and deliberation in that which is the onely
maine Ground and pillar of Christian religion: But rather my purpose
is, in shewing that there is a God, to remoove, or at least to help
an inward corruption of the soule that is great and dangerous,
whereby the heart and conscience by nature denieth God and his
providence. The wound in the bodie that plucks out the heart, is the
most dangerous wound that can be: and that opinion that takes away
the Godhead, doth in effect rend and plucke out the very heart of
the soule (Ibid., 2.2, Introductory question).
[liii][53] Ibid. Closely following Thomas, the existence of God can
be seen from nature, grace and glory, Perkins maintains (cf.,
Aquinas, Nature and Grace, 1.2.3). From the realm of nature and
creation, Perkins advances five distinct arguments . . . the
consideration whereof will not be unprofitable, even to him that is
best setled in this point (Perkins, Conscience, 2.2.1). And with
this justification, he repeats Thomas arguments for the existence
of God. Perkins employs a mixture, as it were, of revelation and
sense experience, to which he applies his powers of intellect.
Recall that Thomas cosmological arguments relied on pure sense
experience and mentioned nothing of divine revelation (ibid.).
Perkins proofs from nature can be characterized as grounded in
scriptural revelation and viewed from a cosmological and
teleological perspective; he cannot let go of Thomas completely. On
the other hand, however, Anselms argument from pure abstract
thought, is, as expected, absent altogether from Perkins.
[liv][54] Perkins coverage of the Sabbath is the longest chapter in
all of Book 2, which length is approached only by the chapters on
baptism, the scriptures and the godhead (the latter of which is,
primarily, his teaching on the existence of God summarized above).
The nature of the work is highly practical and pastoral, with
corrections to current (typically papist) views made clear. Thus,
although the writing is robustly anti-papist, it is generally not
vehement, except where practices of the Roman Catholic Church are
particularly detestable and heretical. At times Perkins employs an
Aristotelian style of discourse, and rapidly disposes of any
opposition to his casuistic teaching with biblical texts. It could
be said that this second book follows the pattern of commands found
in Table 1 of the moral law.
[lv][55] Ibid., 3.1.
[lvi][56] Such as a conscience which is good, bad, or weak; one
which errs, doubts, surmises; its interaction with the Law; and so
on (Ames, Conscience, 1.3-1.15).
[lvii][57] Ibid., Book 1, pp. 49-55. No doubt the 38 theses and four
corollaries defended by Ames for his doctoral degree at Franeker
under Sibrandus Lubbertus on May 27, 1622. See Sprunger, Ames, 74.
[lviii][58] Ames, Conscience, 2.1.1.
[lix][59] Ibid., Book 2.
[lx][60] And preparationism is taught as well
[lxi][61] Ibid., 3.1, Preamble.
[lxii][62] Ibid.
[lxiii][63] Or, in expanded form, wisdom, humility, sincerity, zeal,
peace, prudence, fortitude, patience, temperance, etc.
[lxiv][64] Ames, Conscience, 3.
[lxv][65] Observed by Eusden, Introduction in Marrow, 49.
[lxvi][66] Which were primarily detailed definitional statements and
conceptual elaboration on conscience, instruction on entry into and
maintenance of the Christian life and exhortation to obedience
through the exercise of the cardinal virtues.
[lxvii][67] Ames, Conscience, 4-5.
[lxviii][68] Ibid., 4.
[lxix][69] This is in addition to the extensive coverage already
afforded these concepts in ibid., 2.2-2.7.
[lxx][70] Ibid., 5.
[lxxi][71] Over a quarter of a century ago, Breward observed that
Hookers thomism has long been common knowledge, but there has been
little investigation into the thomism of the puritans and second
generation protestant theologians (Breward, Perkins, 53). Although
more is known now of the Puritans intellectual indebtedness, for
our purposes we have established that this debt is huge indeed,
especially to Thomas, and especially in the work of William Ames.
It appears that William Ames was much more apt to seek the advice
and input of medieval Roman Catholic scholars than was William
Perkins. We have only scratched the surface, as it were. Roman
Catholic Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) and medieval
theologian William of Paris also make appearances in Ames work,
both in polemic (in the case of the former) and in approval (in the
case of the latter). Ames saw fit to append Book 2 of Conscience
with a number of pages of teaching on temptation penned by the
thirteenth-century Bishop of Paris. Noteworthy, too, is Ames
ambivalence toward Spanish Jesuit philosopher Francisco Surez
(1548-1617), a colleague of Bellarmine at a Jesuit college in Rome.
Surezs dualism Ames abhorred, but his thomistic theory of law is
almost straight from this Jesuit, the last of the Schoolmen.
According to Eusden, the sabbatarianism of the Reformed tradition
owes much to the findings of the late scholastics, particularly
Surez (Eusden, Introduction in Marrow, 19, n. 40).
An excellent sampling of the thought of Surez is found in
Selections from Three Works. De Legibus, AC Deo Legislatore, 1612
Defensio Fidei Catholicae et Apostolicare Adversus Anglicanae Sectae
Errores, 1613 de Triplici Virtute Theologica, Fide, Spe, et
Charitate, 1621, Vol. Two, The Translation, prepared by Gwladys L.
Williams, Ammi Brown and John Waldron with certain revisions by
Henry Davis, S. J., and an Introduction by James Brown Scott
(Oxford: Clarendon Press and London: Humphrey Milford, 1944; repr.,
Buffalo: William S. Hein & Co., Inc., 1995).
[lxxii][72] It is worth noting that despite Perkins stated
opposition to the Church of Rome, he was generally gentle. It is
curious that Thomas Pickerings highly anti-papist introduction to
Perkins Conscience contrasts markedly with Perkins own Preface, a
model of tender pastoral exposition of Christs burden recorded in
Isa 50:4 and the need of the church of the day for just such a
healer of souls. The Catholic Church isnt even mentioned. Although
Ames shared this opposition, his significantly more scholarly bent
resulted in a library well-stocked with medieval thinkers. For a
study of Ames library, see Julius H. Tuttle, Library of Dr.
William Ames, Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts
19 (1911): 63-66.
[lxxiii][73] German Protestant theologian Bartholomus Keckermann
(1571-1609), a contemporary exponent of this dualism and favorite of
Maccovius, is quoted scornfully at length in Marrow.
[lxxiv][74] Observed by Sprunger, Ames, 168.
[lxxv][75] Ames, Conscience, To the Reader. However, the sentence
immediately following reads: But they are without the life of this
Doctrine: and death is in their pot.
[lxxvi][76] Vertue said Perkins, is a gift of the Spirit of God,
and a part of regeneration, whereby a man is made apt to live well.
How was this different from the schoolmen? And this I put in the
first place, to confute the received error of the wisest Heathen
Philosophers, which call Vertue an habite of the minde, obtained and
confirmed by custom, use, and practice (Perkins, Conscience, 3.1).
Yet Ames was willing to borrow yet again from these Heathen
Philosophers when he defines virtue as a condition or habit by
which the will is inclined to do well. But he placed it in the will
because, as we have already observed, the will is the true subject
of theology (Ames, Marrow, 2.2.4-2.2.7). An important distinction
between Ames and the Schoolmen on this point is that, for Ames,
virtue was a result of faith; for the scholastics, it made one
acceptable to God (ibid., 2.2.8-2.2.9).
[lxxvii][77] In fact, one searches in vain for coverage of these
scholastic categories in standard, Reformed systematic theologies;
nor do they surface in theological dictionaries. In a popular
dictionary of philosophy under the entry theological virtues, the
reader is directed to the entry Aquinas (Cambridge Dictionary of
Philosophy, 31-34, 103, 842). Emphasis on the four cardinal virtues
as principles of the virtuous life, an emphasis picked up by both
Ames and Perkins, reaches back to Cicero and to Plato before him.
[lxxviii][78] Richard Baxters work represents Puritan casuistry in
its most developed (some might say over-developed) form. See
particularly his A Christian Directory: or, A Summ of Practical
Theologie, and Cases of Conscience (London: By Robert White for
Nevil Simmons, 1673); see also the following: The Life of Faith, as
it is the Evidence of Things Unseen (London: Printed by R. W. and A.
M. for Francis Tyton and Jane Underhill, 1660) and The Practical
Works of Richard Baxter, Introduction and life by William Orme, 23
vols. (London: James Duncan, 1830; reprint ed. in 4 vols., London:
George Virtue, 1857 and Ligonier, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications,
1990-91). See also James M. Phillips, Between Conscience and the
Law: The Ethics of Richard Baxter (1615-1691), (Ph.D. diss.,
Princeton University, 1959).


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