On Being a Theologian

from The Conventicle:

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Johannes Cocceius on Being a Theologian

‘The doctor ecclesiae is certainly permitted to put forth definite theses and formulate them together into a compendium. The theologian must do so using evidence found in Scripture and comparing central themes in Scripture (analogy and typology), and employing the means of conclusions (syllogisms) and the formal tools of the scholastic method. Such compendia, however, should not be collections of abstract dogma, but are to be directed toward practical Christian devotion (doctrina secundum pietatem).

This practical orientation of doctrine also entails an apologetic element: the refutation of errors and the solution of perplexing questions. It also has a pastoral implication: those who learn this doctrine must, to the best of their ability, strive to become people “who are powerful in the Scriptures,” and who thus become heralds of the truth. They themselves must become prophets. As a result, there is the possibility for progression in the knowledge of the faith and in the teaching of the faith.

Moreover, the instructor who desires to remain true to the Scriptures must be careful with the words he uses. He will have to carefully examine, with the aid of philology, and very rationally and soberly, what the text actually says; and his expositions must only employ those words that are provided by the Scriptures themselves. The language of Canaan, the language of the Scriptures, is the instrument for setting forth doctrine. Cocceius emphatically repudiates “the leaven of the sophists”, subtleties of the type that had arisen in many a university theology faculty. Doctrine may not be encapsulated by terms that distort and obscure the original meaning of God’s words, with all their qualities and their richness.’

Willem J. van Asselt, The Federal Theology of Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669) (Brill, 2001), 125-126.

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