Abraham Kuyper.

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truth concerning our ego^ concerning the world about us,
and of the true reality which is with God, that takes hold of
us, convinces and follows after us, until we give ourselves
captive to it. This central truth will take hold of one by
this, and of another by that utterance, in proportion as our
inner life is tuned to it ; but the first impressions will always
cause us to descend into the depths of misery and ascend to
the heights of redemption. How far the authority, which
from this spiritual centrum obtains its hold on us, extends
itself later to those things in the Scripture that lie on the
periphery, is a question devoid at first of all spiritual sig-
nificance. Conditions are conceivable in which, after one is
captured centrally by the Scripture, the clashing is continued
for many years between our thinking and acting on the one
hand, and that which the Scripture lays upon us in the name
of the Lord as faith and practice (credenda and agenda).
Gradually, however, an ever more vitally organic relation
begins to reveal itself between the centrum of the Scripture
and its periphery, between its fundamental and its derivative
thoughts, and between its utterances and the facts it com-
municates. That authority which at first addressed us from
that centrum only, now begins to appear to us from what has
proceeded from that centrum. We feel ourselves more and


more captivated by a power, whose centrum camiot be
accepted without demanding and then compelling all un-
observedly an ever more general consent for its entire
appearance, and all its utterances. Thus it ends as Scripture
by imposing sacred obligations upon us, as Holy Book by
exercising over us moral compulsion and spiritual power.
And in the end the connection between its form and content
appears so inseparable, that even the exceptional parts of its
form appeal to us, and, in form and content both, the Script-
ure comes to stand before us as an authority from God.

But this process of conviction worked in us by the Spirit,
is always a spiritual work, which has nothing in common
with the learning of the schools ; it is moreover incapable
of maintaining itself theoretically and of continuing itself
according to a definable system. By itself it tends no further
than to bear spiritual testimony to our personal, regenerated
ego concerning the Divine character of everything the Holy
Scripture teaches and reveals ; and without more, the truth,
for instance, of graphic inspiration can never be derived from
it. If, however, an absolute certainty concerning this Divine
character of the content of the Scripture has been sealed in
the personal consciousness of man by this witness of the
Holy Spirit, the effect of this goes back to the two former
stages of the public opinion (communis fides), and the cleav-
ing to Christ. With this conviction, which is now his own for
good and always, he, who has been set free from the veil that
darkly hung between, does not stand alone, but feels himself
assimilated by the illuminated consciousness which in the
communion of the saints is distinguished from the natural
consciousness of the world. This assimilation becomes the
stronger, according to the greater vitality of the child of
God in him, by which he is evermore being changed into the
image of the Son of God. Thus there originates a communion
of consciousness not merely with those round about us, but
also with the generation of saints of former ages, affinity of
life with the saints that have gone before, unity of soul-
conceptions with the martyrs, with the fathers of the Church,
with the apostles, and so at length with Christ Himself and


with the faithful of the Okl Covenant. In the life-conscious-
ness of that sacred circle the positive conviction prevails,
that we have a graphically inspired Scripture, on which we
lean and by which we live ; and that this is not contingent,
nor accidental, but necessary. This faith in the Scripture is
found as an indispensable and an entirely natural component
part in the life-consciousness of this circle. And when in
experience the riches of the Scripture contents become ever
more precious to the heart, resistance is no longer possible.
The power of assimilation is too strong, the general unsanc-
tified human consciousness loses all its power, and at length
the believer must accept the equally general, but now sayic-
tified, human consciousness, including this component part of
its content. If then, finally, the believer goes back to the
first stage in his Christian life, i.e. to his personal faith in his
Saviour, and realizes that Christ himself has presented the
Holy Scripture — which the common opinion in the com-
munion of saints has adopted in its world of thought as
theopneustic, and of the Divine truth of which, thanks to
the " Witness of the Holy Spirit," he is himself firmly con-
vinced — as the product of the Holy Spirit, the assurance
of his faith on this point is immovably established, an^ to,
him the Scripture itself is the principium, i.e., the starting-
point, from which proceeds all knowledge of God, i.e. all

In this sense the Holy Scripture was the principium of
Theology to our fathers, and in the same sense it is this to
us. Hence this principium, as such, can be no conclusion
from other premises, but is itself the premise, from which
all other conclusions are drawn. Of course this does not
dismiss the fact, that objections, derived from the common
norma of our thought, can still be entered against the Holy
Scripture and its alleged character ; in this, indeed, every one
should be left free, and these objections it is the task of The-
ology squarely to face. This, however, can be considered only
in the science of the canon (disciplina canonicae) and the
science of the text (ars textualis). We merely observe that
on the one hand this critical task should not be impeded in


the least, provided it is clearly understood on the other hand
that the failure of your first efforts to solve such critical ob-
jections can rob you of the certainty of your priiicijnum^ as
little as success can strengthen it. Assurance of faith and
demonstration are two entirely heterogeneous things. And
he who, in whatever department, still seeks to demonstrate
his 2?rincipium, simply shows that he does not know what is
to be understood by a prineipium.



§ 87. What is demanded by the Wature of its Principium

The legend is still current that the Reformers intended to
represent the Holy Scripture as a sort of a code, in which
certain articles were set down in ready form, some as things
to be believed, and some as rules for practice (credenda and
agenda). According to this representation the Holy Script-
ure consists of four parts : (1) a notarially prepared ofiftcial
report of certain facts ; (2) an exposition of certain doctrines
drawn up by way of articles ; (3) an instituted law in the
form of rules; and (4) an official program of things to come.
Over against this legend stands the fact that the content and
the character of the Holy Scripture correspond in no particu-
lar to this representation, and that psychologically it will not
do to attribute such a view of the Holy Scripture to any theo-
logian worthy the name. This legend, however, is not the
product of pure invention. The way in which Scholastics
used to demonstrate from the Holy Scripture consisted almost
exclusively of citations of this or that Bible text. Neither
did the Reformers abandon this method entirely ; they made
free use of it ; but no one of them employed this method ex-
clusively. They compared Scripture with Scripture. They
looked for an analogy of faith. They were thus led to enter
more deeply into the organic life of the Scripture. And he
who gives Voetius' treatise quousque sese extetidat )S. Scripturae
auctoritas ? (Select. Disp., Tom. I, p. 29) even a hasty perusal
only, perceives at once that the view-point held by the theo-
logians of that day was very just. The narrator of this legend
is so far correct, however, that in the eighteenth and begin-
ning of the nineteenth century, under the influences of pietism
and methodism, this unscientific method became ever more



popular, and that this grotesque representation of the Holy
Scripture found acceptance with the less thoughtful among
simple believers. Scripture-proof seemed to them to be pre-
sented only by the quotation of some Bible verse that literally
and fully expressed the given assertion. This is a severe
demand, which, on the other hand, excuses one from all further
investigation ; and, provided you but quote Scripture, does
not inquire whether your citation is borrowed from the Old
Testament or the New, whether it was spoken by Job or by
his friends, or whether it occurs absolutely, or in application
to a given case. This makes the Bible your code, a concord-
ance your register, and with the help of that register you
quote from that code as occasion requires.

It needs scarcely be said that this method is utterly
objectionable. If this were the true method, the Holy
Scripture would have to be an entirely differently compiled
book from what it is. As to its facts, it should present an
accurate, precise, singular story made up in notarial form.
It would have to give the program of things to come with
the indication of persons, place, time and succession of the
several acts in the drama still to be performed. With respect
to truth, it ought to present this in the form of a precisely
formulated and systematically constructed dogmatic. And as
for the rules of practice, you ought to find in the Holy Script-
ure a regular codification of a series of general and concretely
applied directions, indicating what you should do and leave
undone. This is no exaggeration. The question of the Holy
Scripture involves nothing short of the question of a Divine
autJiority, which imposes faith in facts and teachings, and
subjection to rules and commandments. Hence your demon-
stration must be unimpeachable. And the method that is
applicable only to an authenticated official report, a carefully
formulated confession and an accurately recorded law, must
be objected to as long as it is not shown that the Scripture,
from which the quotation is made, exhibits the character
asserted. If such, however, is not the case, and if on the
contrary it is certain that the whole disposition, nature and
character of the Holy Scripture resemble in no particular

666 § 87. WHAT IS DEMANDED BY [Div. Ill

sucli an official report and codification, it needs no further
comment that this method is altogether useless and has no
claim therefore on our consideration.

Nevertheless it would be a mistake to explain the popu-
larity which this objectionable method captured for itself, on
the simple ground of a lack of understanding. Call to mind
the use made of the Old Testament Scripture by Christ and
His apostles, and it not infrequently has the appearance that
they freely followed this objectionable method. If it can
readily be shown that Christ and His apostles also argue from
the Scripture in an entirely different way (see Matt. xix. 8
and Heb. vii.), the fact nevertheless cannot be denied that
literal citations from the Old Testament, as " the Scripture " or
" it is written," repeatedly occur in the Gospels and in the
apostolic discourses and epistles. Hence a distinction here is
necessary. If we note in what form the Holy Scripture pre-
sents itself to us, it certainly has nothing in common with an
official report or a code ; but it contains, nevertheless, extended
series of definite and positive utterances respecting faith and
practice, which utterances leave nothing to be desired either
in clearness or in accuracy of formulation. Such utterances
stand not by themselves, but occur mostly in organic connec-
tion with events and conversations. The flower in bloom that
exhales its fragrance is attached to a stem, and as a rule that
stem is still joined to the plant. But even so, that utterance
is there, and by its positiveness demands a hearing. Hence
with reference to such utterances the task of the human mind
has been reduced to a minimum. In controversy and exhor-
tation these utterances render most ready service. And this
explains the fact that the appeal to this category of utterances
has occurred most often, still occurs, and ever will continue
to occur. Even in the hour of dying it is this sort of utter-
ances that refreshes and comforts most quickly and sooth-
ingly, and with the lowly especially will ever carry the most
telling effect. But though we grant this, and though this
easily explains the fact that the methodistic idea so quickly
gained the day, it should not be admitted for a moment that
this use of the Scripture is the general and exclusive method.


The task imposed on us is much more difficult and intricate ;
and so far from consisting of a mechanical quotation with the
help of the concordance, the production of what the Scripture
contains demands gigantic labor. Beyond doubt the ectype
of the archetypal self-knowledge of God is contained in the
Scripture according to human capacity with respect to both
fallen and regenerate man (pro mensura humana, respectu
hominis lapsi, and pro captu ho minis renati) ; but for the most
part in the sense in which it can be said by the mine-owner,
that ofold is at hand, when with folded arms he looks across
the fields, beneath which his gold-mines hide. The special
revelation does not encourage idleness, neither does it intend
to offer you the knowledge of God as bread baked and cut,
but it is so constructed and it is presented in such a form,
that the utmost effort is required to reach the desired re-
sults. With reference also to this, you eat no bread except
in the sweat of your brow. We do not imply that this whole
task must be performed by every believer personally. The
very best of us would faint beneath its load. But we recall
what has been said before, viz., that the subject of science is
not the individual, but the consciousness of humanity ; and
that therefore in the same way the subject of the science of
theology is not the individual believer, but the consciousness
of our regenerated race. Hence it is a task which is in
process century upon century, and from its very nature is
still far from being completed. And in the absolute sense
it can as little be completed as any other scientific task. In
the Holy Scripture God the Lord offers us ectypal theology
in an organically connected section of human life, permeated
by many Divine agencies, out of which a number of blindingly
brilliant utterances strike out as sparks from fire. But the
treasures thus presented are without further effort not yet
reflected in and reproduced hy the consciousness of regener-
ated man. To realize this purpose our thinking consciousness
must descend into this gold mine, and dig out from its treas-
ure, and then assimilate that treasure thus obtained ; and not
leave it as something apart from the other content of our con-
sciousness, but systematize it with all the rest into one whole.

668 § 87. WHAT IS DEMANDED BY [Div. Ill

Christian thinking, i.e. scientific theology, has been at work
on this task for eighteen centuries; among all nations; under
all sorts of constellations. This had to be so, simply because
no single nation represents the absolute consciousness of hu-
manity, but every nation, and every period of time, according
to their nature and opportunity, has the power and the ca-
pacity to do this in a peculiar way ; and because the natural
content of the consciousness, with which this knowledge of
God must be placed in connection, continually changes.

But amid all these changes the threefold task is ever
prosecuted: (1) to determine, (2) to assimilate and (3) to
reproduce the contents of the Holy Scripture. This task of
determination covers, indeed, a broad field, and is, moreover,
exceedingly intricate. The pertinent utterances of Sciipture
are, of course, invaluable aids ; but more than aids they are
not. The content of the Scripture lies before you in the
form of an historic process, which covers centuries, and, there-
fore, ever presents itself in different forms. The Scripture
reveals ectypal theology mostly in facts, which must be
understood; in symbols and types, which must be interpreted.
All sorts of persons make their appearance in strange com-
mingling, one of whom is, and another is not, a partaker of
Divine grace. The rule for practice presents itself in nu-
merous concrete applications, from which the general rule
can only be derived by dint of logical thinking. Thus what
stands written is not merely to be understood as it was meant
by the writer, but its significance must be estimated in
separation from its accidental connection. The several rev-
elations must be taken in their true unity after the analogy
of faith. And, finally, from behind the meaning of the
writers there must be brought out the things, which often
they themselves did not perceive, but which, nevertheless,
they were called upon to announce to the world, as the mys-
tery of the thoughts of God in worked in their thoughts.
Hence, the free citation of pertinent utterances is lawful;
but the person should be considered who spoke them, the
antithesis which they opposed, the cause that invited them,
as well as the persons to whom they were directed. If this


had been observed, the statement, for mstance, '-Man shall %ij^ i ^
not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth
out of the mouth of God," would never have been misused,
to represent the spiritual needs as more important than the
material needs. The thoughtless citation of this has been
very misleading; and this is the more serious, since such
classic utterances are indeed authoritative, and when wrongly
interpreted confuse and mislead.

In the second place, follows the task of assimilating the
ectypal theology offered us in the Scripture. We do not
speak now of the action of the spiritual factors required
for this, but limit ourselves exclusively to the task of taking
up into our human consciousness the content found. This
content to be assimilated comes to us in language both sym-
bolical and mystical, which reveals and again conceals. Hence,
the purpose must be to analyze this content, to transpose the
parts discovered into conceptions, and to reconstruct these
conceptions thus found into a synthesis adapted to our think-
ing. This is the more exceedingly difficult because an analy-
sis made too hastily so readily destroys the mystical element,
and thus leads to rationalism, while, on the other hand, the
synthesis must be able to enter into our thinking. To this
the fact is added that in this work no one is able to separate
himself from his personal limitation and from his limited per-
sonality. This assimilation is, therefore, possible for individu-
als only in so far as the limits of their spiritual and mental
action extends, and still it should ever be our effort to assimi-
late in such a way as to promote this assimilation-process in
others. Otherwise there might, indeed, be a spiritual up-
building of self, but no scientific study. If there is to be
scientific study, one must be able, by giving an account, to
objectify the assimilation-process one has himself experi-
enced. This task demands intense application of thought,
because it is not enough that we take up in ourselves the
loose elements of the revelation, but we must take those ele-
ments as constitutive parts of one organic whole, and thus in
our thoughts, also, order them in one system. This would
require great energy of thought in a consciousness otherwise


empty ; but it does this the more, since our consciousness is
already occupied. Now it becomes our duty to expel from
our consciousness what is criticised by revelation as untrue,
and to weave together what remains with the content of reve-
lation, so that the unity of our world- and life-view shall not
be lost.

And then follows the third part of the task, by which we
are called to reproduce what is thus acquired. The duty of
witness-bearing and confession calls us to this third action,
but also, without abandoning this practical end, the claim of
science itself. Apart, also, from the maintenance of God's
honor in the face of the denier of His truth, God counts it His
glory that in the human consciousness which He had dis-
posed to His truth, and which we had applied to the service of
error and falsehood. His truth is again reflected. The Script-
ure offers us the grain of wheat, but we may not rest until
the golden ears are seen in the fields, by which to prove
the j)ower potentially hidden in the seed. Hence, it is not
enough that the knowledge of God, which, as a flower in the
bud, is hidden and covered in the Scripture, is set forth b}- us
in its excellency ; but that bud must be unfolded, the flower
must make exhibition of its beauty, and scent the air with its
fragrance. This can be done spiritually by piety of mind,
practically by deeds of faith, sesthetically in hjmms, pareneti-
cally in exhortation, but must also be done by scientific ex-
position and description.

No theologian, therefore, can go to work in an empirical
or in a speculative manner. He who empirically takes reli-
gious phenomena as his starting-point is no theologian, but
an ethnological or philosophical investigator of religions.
Neither is a speculative thinker a theologian. We do not
question the relative right of the speculative method. Con-
ceptions also generate, and rich harvests may be gathered
from the fields of logical thought, but he who goes to work in
this manner is no theologian. Theology is a positive science,
which finds the object of its investigation, i.e. ectypal knowl-
edge of God, in the Holy Scripture, and therefore must draw
the insight into its object from the Scripture. The reason


why abstract intellectualism is insufficient for this will appear
later ; but in so far as now we limit ourselves exclusively to
this intellectual task, it follows from the nature of the object
and from the principium of theology that it must determine,
assimilate and reproduce, but with this its task is ended.
For the sake of completeness, we may add that this includes
the investigation of the instrument of revelation, i.e. the
Holy Scripture ; which task is the more extensive, as that
Scripture has not come to us in autographs, nor in our
own language, but in foreign languages and in apographa,
which are in many respects corrupt, so that it requires an
entirely independent effort of the mind, by the study of criti-
cism and language, so to approach the Scripture as to render
an investigation of its content possible. Meanwhile this de-
tracts nothing from the character of principium which is pos-
sessed by the Holy Scripture as the effective cause of all true
theology. In view of the full demonstration of the former
chapter, this requires no further emphasis.

§ 88. I7ie Principium of Theology in Action

Without further explanation the impression would be
conveyed, that the method of theological investigation, as
described in the preceding section, makes theology to termi-
nate in dogmatics. The more so, since earlier dogmaticians
frequently named their dogmatics " Theologia Christiana."
Even Calvin's Institutes is based on such a supposition. It is
readily seen, however, that in this way theology as a science
would be curtailed. To mention one particular only, we
ask, what would become of Church history? In this second
section, therefore, we observe that he who investigates a
given object, obtains full knowledge of it only by the study
of its states both of rest and action. This applies also to the
ectypal knowledge of God, which, in behalf of the Church,
is deposited in the Holy Scripture. The Word of God also
has its action. It is "quick and powerful and sharper than
any two-edged sword," " a hammer that breaketh the rock
in pieces." It works also as a living seed that is sown, and:
which, according to the nature of the soil, germinates and

572 § 88. THE rraxciPiuM in action [Div. hi

Online LibraryAbraham KuyperEncyclopedia of sacred theology : its principles ... → online text (page 53 of 64)