The Wesleyan Quadrilateral, also known as the Methodist Quadrilateral, is a method of theological reflection and of arriving at theological conclusions based on scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.

According to the Wikipedia article linked above, it is attributed to John Wesley, founder of Methodism, though the term "the Wesleyan Quadrilateral" was coined by 20th century American Methodist scholar Albert C. Outler.

My question:

Is the substance of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (drawing theological conclusions based on scripture, tradition, reason, and experience) present in Martin Luther's writings, or in any other pre-Wesley theologians in the Western Christian tradition, Protestant or Catholic?

I am especially looking for clear or fairly clear formulations of this four-point system, though I would also be interested in more implicit appearances of this method in pre-Wesley Protestant or Catholic theologians.


I don't know of anyone who made this formulation explicit. One example of where all four are present is in the Confessions of Augustine:

  1. Scripture: Confessions quotes from scripture extensively.

  2. Reason: Augustine describes at length the importance of Cicero and Plato in his conversion, and how even there he saw God's light through their reason.

  3. Experience: the Confessions takes several examples from Augustine's own experience was important in his conversion and later theological work and conclusions. He meditates (for a few examples) on stealing a pear just because he felt like it, his experience as a Manichaean, his conversion experience, and dealing with death of loved ones.

  4. Tradition: One sees the importance of Ambrose and Augustine's mother Monica in both his conversion and his ongoing contemplation of the Faith.

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Richard Hooker, a 16th Century Anglican Priest and one of the major architects of the early Church of England, said theology was derived from a combination of scripture, tradition, and reason. This has since become known as the "three-legged stool of Anglicanism." John Wesley was an Anglican Priest (and Methodism began as a movement within the Anglican Church), so it is highly likely he was familiar with this formula and expanded it to four points by adding experience.

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    Thanks for your answer. Can you provide any references as to where Hooker said this? I would like to be able to read the source(s), and see it in its context. Thank you. – Lee Woofenden Aug 3 '15 at 21:15

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