Tradition and Scripture in the Reformed… Tradition

“Just because one seeks to recover a tradition, one is not necessarily
committed to what we have called an archaeological reconstruction of the tradition. For a Reformed theologian any tradition, the Reformed tradition as well, needs to be measured against Scripture to determine whether it is of value. It is Scripture which has authority and the tradition only has authority when it is based on Scripture. The tradition needs to be evaluated and re-evaluated and those elements in it which are most solid emphasized. In any tradition there are elements which have played a significant role because of the needs of the day, but which in few generations no longer seemed meaningful. In every tradition, there
are the marks of compromises with the culture. There are things the
religious leaders would have liked to have done but which the state would not permit or the people would not support.” -Hughes Oliphant Old, Worship

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena, Chapter 3, “The Formation of Dogma: East and West”

A Disclaimer on Book Synopses

[N.B. the format has switched to the sub-heading numbers, rather than the editor’s headings]

36. Dogmatic reflection on Scripture has been the task of the Church throughout Church history. Yet there have been ‘extremists.’ On the one hand are those who have regarded dogmatic reflection as an invasion of Greek philosophy and a corruption of the essence of Christianity and Scripture (e.g. Adolf von Harnack: ‘one colossal error’)

37. Others have overstated the Church’s dogmatic task, granting infallibility to the Church in matters of interpretation of divine revelation (e.g. Roman Catholicism). Protestantism has been on guard against both extremes. It maintains appreciation for the Christian tradition, the first four ecumenical councils, and the theology of the Church Fathers, but it sees Holy Scripture as standing above these. The Church’s task is, being led by the Holy Spirit, to absorb gradually into her consciousness the content of Scripture, and reproduce it in her own language.

38. During the time of the Apostolic Fathers there were no dogmas or dogmatics, formally speaking. “The accent, thus, was not on gnosis but on a holy life.” As the Church came to experience opposition from others, especially intellectual opposition, and saw paganism corrupting the Christian Faith, theology arose as a means of asserting the true gnosis against the false. This task was taken up by the apologists.

39. “The moment theology came into being, divergence in trends and schools arose…” On one side are Tertullian, Cyprian, Lactantius, Irenaeus, and Hippolytus, all of whom were opposed to the use of philosophy in theology. On the other side are those associated with the Alexandrian Catechetical school (ca. 190), specifically Clement and Origen, who were in favor of the use of philosophy in theology. The Alexandrians, with the help of philosophy, sought a self-authenticating scientific theology, but the result was a collapse of theology into philosophy.

The third century also saw the emergence of internal doctrinal disputes about the relationship of the Logos to the Father. Through these battles without and within, the “foundations” and “boundaries” of Christian thought were established.

40. In the East, the Edict of Toleration (AD 313) allowed for the possibility of more fruitful and vigorous reflection on theology. But as external opposition to Christianity quieted, heresy and error manifested itself within the Church. Christological debates would go on for four hundred years. Additionally, there were debates over the Trinity, the deity of the Holy Spirit, and the attributes of God. Also, many treatises were written on various dogmatic topics.

41. The period from the sixth to the ninth centuries was a time of transition in the Eastern Church. The most notable dogmatic dispute pertained to the iconoclast controversy (726-842) and the Christological questions bound up with it. The Byzantine period is from the 800s-1453 when the Turks invaded Constantinople; Bavinck called this a period of “quiescence” and preservation of orthodoxy in the Eastern Church. Since the invasion of Constantinople, the “center of gravity” in the Eastern Church has shifted to Russia [at least until Bavinck’s day], where there is significant theological potential.

42. While Eastern theology tended to stress humanity as corrupted by sin and liberated from death by union with Christ and the divine life, Western theology tended to stress man, the guilty sinner’s, relationship to God being restored through Christ’s death. These different theological tendencies (added to different ecclesiastical tendencies) set the East and West on different trajectories which ultimately manifest themselves in schism in 1054 via the filioque controversy.

43. In a certain sense, Augustine stood in the middle of both traditions drawing upon the riches of both, though never systematizing them. Bavinck then provides a brief summary of Augustine’s theology, then concludes, “He is the most Christian as well as the most modern of all the fathers; of all of them he is closest to us.”

44. Augustine’s orthodoxy was hotly debated during his day and in the century to follow, but eventually, “not much Augustinianism was left intact” in the ancient and early medieval Church. Bavinck concludes with a catalogue of significant theologians and the advance of the Christian Faith around Europe between 600-1000.

1. The Science of Dogmatic Theology (Part 1) and (Part 2)

2. The Method and Organization of Dogmatics (Part 1), (Part 2), and (Part 3)

3. The Formation of Dogma: East and West

4. Roman Catholic Dogmatics

5. Lutheran Dogmatics

6. Reformed Dogmatics

7. Scientific Foundations (Part 1) and (Part 2)

Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, Chapter 2 “Holy Scripture”

1. The Definition of Holy Scripture (Scripture as norm/canonical authority, inspiration of Scripture, infallibility of Scripture) [Heidegger, Vermigli, Aretius, Wendelin, Riissen, Mastricht].

2. The extent of the canon (extent of the canon) [Wendelin].

3. The Church’s testimony to the extent of the canon (the extent of the canon, substance and historical dispensation) [Cocceius, Riissen, Gallican Confession].

4. The Apocrypha (OT and NT apochryphal books, inspiration of Scripture, Scripture as autopistos, extent of the canon, Scripture as norm/canonical authority, testimony of the Church) [Wendelin, Musculus, Hyperius, Zanchius, Cocceius, Bucanus].

5. The relationship of the Word of God to Holy Scripture (unwritten word, written word, internal word, external word) [Calvin, Hyperius, Helvetic Confession, Wollebius, Voetius, Heidegger, Riissen].

6. The inspiration of Holy Scripture (revelation, authority of Scripture, illumination, amanuensis, dictation, testimony of the Holy Spirit, the divinity of Scripture, divine mandate, ‘organic’ inspiration, divine authorship, the “presidency” of the Holy Spirit, the inspiration of the Hebrew vowel points, the charism of infallibility, the inspiration of the book titles, the authenticity of the Greek and Hebrew accent marks, divine canonization) [Calvin, Hyperius, Cocceius, Heidegger, Leiden Synopsis, Academy of Samur, Formula Consensus Helvetica, Voetius, Mastricht].

7. The relationship of the inspiration of Holy Scripture to its attributes (authority of Scripture, certitude of Scripture, sufficiency of Scripture, perfection of Scripture, necessity of Scripture, perspicuity of Scripture, the authority of Scripture in itself and with us) [L. Crocius, Riissen].

8. The authority of Holy Scripture (authenticity, certitude, infallibility, divine authorship, Scripture as  norm/canonical authority, principia theologiae) [Polanus, Leiden Synopsis].

9. The attributes/affections of Holy Scripture (authority, perfection, perspicuity, effectiveness, power, historical authenticity, normative authenticity, integrity, holiness, and necessity) [Crocius, Mastricht].

10. Proofs of the Divinity of Holy Scripture (testimony of the Holy Spirit, external evidences, Scripture as autopistos, testimony of the Church, certitude of Scripture, illumination, authority of Scripture) [Calvin, Musculus, Ursinus, Bullinger, Piscator, Heidegger, Wollebius, Voetius, Alsted].

11. The Authority/Authenticity of Holy Scripture (historical authenticity of Scripture, normative authority of Scripture, divine inspiration) [Voetius, Turretin].

12. The Perfection of Holy Scripture (unwritten word, good and necessary consequence, normative authority of Scripture, transmission of the text) [Burmann, Turretin, Riissen].

13. The Essential and Integral Perfection of Holy Scripture (articles of faith, formation of the canon, providence) [Heidegger, Peter Martyr, Riissen (2x), Leiden Synopsis, Marck, Alting).

14. The Role of Tradition (historical tradition, dogmatic tradition) [Riissen, Wyttenbach].

15. The Necessity of Holy Scripture (Scripture as norm/canonical authority, esse and bene esse of the Church, necessitas ex hypothesi dispositionis) [Calvin, Musculus, Turretin, Cocceius, Polanus, Heidegger].

16. The Perspicuity of Holy Scripture (illumination, single passages and single heads of doctrine) [Wendelin, Leiden Synopsis, Polanus].

17. The Reception of Holy Scripture (regeneration, general grace and illumination) [Polanus, Bucanus, Voetius].

18. The Supreme Interpreter of Holy Scripture (analogy of faith, rule of faith and love, the Holy Spirit, authority of the Church, interpretation of Scripture, exegesis, use of Scripture, power of interpretation and judgment, true and false sense of of Scripture, gift of distinguishing, vocation) [Chamier, Turretin, Voetius, Heidegger].

19. The Legitimacy of Inferences from Holy Scripture (analogy of faith, according to understanding/according to speech, sufficiency of Scripture, perspicuity of Scripture) [Chamier, Turretin, Voetius, Heidegger].

20. The Proper and Improper Exposition of Holy Scripture (quadriga, literal sense, sense of the text, application) [Polanus, Turretin, Danaeus].

20b. The True Sense of Holy Scripture (literal sense, allegory, typology, articles of faith).

21. Tools for the Proper Interpretation of Holy Scripture (analogy of faith) [Second Helvetic Confession, Wollebius].

22. Contradictions in Holy Scripture (real contradictions/apparent contradictions) [Wendelin, Heidegger].

23. The role of the Holy Spirit in the interpretation of Holy Scripture (supreme judge of the Church, analogy of faith, agreement of the catholic Church, perspicuity of Scripture) [Ursinus, Leiden Synopsis, Cocceius, Riissen, General German-Reformed Confession].

“Helps for Studying Heppe” (Introduction)          Chapter 1, “Natural and Revealed Theology”          Chapter 3, “The Foundation of Holy Scripture”