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brings forth fruit. Hence the task of the theologian is by no
means ended when he has formulated, assimilated and repro-
duced the content of the Word in its state of rest; it is his
duty, also, to trace the tvorking of this principium, when the
fountain hfloiving. After it was finished, the Holy Scripture
was not hidden in some sacred grotto, to wait for the theolo-
gian to read and to make scientific exhibition of its content ;
no, it was carried into the world, by reading and recitation,
by teaching and by preaching, in apologetic and in polemic
writings. And once brought into the world, it has exerted
an influence upon the consciousness-form of the circle which
it entered. Both its authority, and the consequent activity
which it created, are no mean factors in the rise of an eccle-
siastical confession and in the institution of an ecclesiastical
communion. The Holy Scripture and the Church, therefore,
are no foreign phenomena to each other, but the former should
be looked upon as the mother of the latter. Not that the
Word by itself was able to found a Church or a church life.
The Holy Scripture does not possess such an inherent mys-
tical power, and it is self-evident that the transcendental ac-
tion of the regeneration of the elect had to go hand in hand
with the noetic action of the Word, in order to give rise to
the Church and to maintain it. This second element, also,
will be explained later. But however much it may be bound
to this spiritual antecedent, in itself the church-forming and
church-maintaining action of the Word cannot be denied, and,
cum grano salts, the domain of the Church can be described
as the domain within which the Holy Scripture prevails and

From this it follows that he who tries to understand the
Holy Scripture, and to reproduce its content in a scientific
way, may not pass its action by, nor the product of this
action. Theological science, therefore, must also institute
an investigation into the Church, into its character, jurisdic-
tion, history, etc. He who neglects this has not investigated
his subject fully. It cannot be said, therefore, that church
history, church law, etc., are added to the real theological
studies as so many loose supplements. On the contrary, in


the theological whole they form organic, and therefore indis-
pensable, members. If it is not in itself objectionable to
compare the Holy Scripture to a gold mine, this compari-
son nevertheless fails as soon as an attempt is made to view
the method of theology as a whole. Then, indeed, there is
not a question of a quiescent, passive gold mine which awaits
the coming of a miner, but rather of a power propelled by the
Holy Spirit, and propelling the spirits of men, which has drawn
its furrows deep in the past, and which, from the living
phenomenon of the Church, still appeals to us as a principium
full of action. We do not step thus a handbreadth aside
from the conception of theology as we found it. Theology
remains to us theology in the strictest sense of the word,
i.e. that science whose object is ectypal theology, given in
the Holy Scripture, which is the principium of theology ;
but we refuse to eliminate the action of this Word from our
reckoning. Not only the statics, but also the dynamics must
be given a hearing. Hence, as a product of the energy of the
Word, the Church may not be cut off, but it must find a
place of its own in theological science as a whole. So far as
this produces an effect upon the organic system of theologic
science, this point will be treated in the last chapter but one
of this volume ; here it is mentioned only in so far as it
produces an effect upon the tnethod of theology. In this form
it comes nearest to what is generally called the relation of
theology to the Church, even though it creates some sur-
prise that this question has almost always been separated
from the question about the method. If a fixed relation
between theology and the Church is to be treated in another
than an outward sense, this relation must also appear in tlie

An outivard relation between the Church and the practice
of theology is surely conceivable, in so far as the Church as an
institution has herself taken it frequently in hand through
the organ of her appointed theologians. She can bind such
theologians to her confession; she can forbid them to pub-
lish anything in conflict with it; and by discii:)line she can
prevent them from every effort directed against it. But


this outward relation is entirely accidental. Civil govern-
ment can act along the same lines, and has often done it.
Individuals, also, in free institutions can do the same thing.
On the other hand, the Church may found a theological
school of an entirely different kind, to which it allows entire
freedom of faith and doctrine. And therefore we did not
take our start in these outward and by consequence acci-
dental relations, but in the essential and necessary relation
which exists between the Holy Scripture and the Church as
its product, in order that from this we might borrow the rule
for the relation between the Church and theology which is
to appear in its method.

There is, to be sure, a theological illusion abroad, which has
its relative right, which conveys the impression that, with the
Holy Scripture in hand, one can independently construct his
theology from this principium. This position was defended
only recently by a Protestant theologian at Vienna, Professor
Dr. Bohl (^Dogmatih^ Amst. 1887, p. xiii, v) ; and it must be
conceded to him that in the days of the Reformation, also, it
was generally imagined that a leap backward had been taken
across fourteen centuries, for the sake of repeating what had
once been done by the first Christians ; viz. to investigate
the Bible, while yet no confession or dogma had been
framed. But from the nature of the case this illusion is
not for a moment tenable. He who harbors it claims for
himself the unattainable honor of doing the work of bygone
generations. And besides being unhistoric to this extent,
he forgets also that no single person, but thinking, regen-
erated humanity, is the subject of theology. Isolated in-
vestigation can never furnish what can only be the result
of the cooperation and mental effort of all. Actually, there-
fore, this illusion is a denial of the historic and the or-
ganic character of the study of theology, and for this reason
it is inwardly untrue. No theologian, following the direc-
tion of his own compass, would ever have found by him-
self what he now confesses and defends on the ground of
the Holy Scripture. By far the largest part of his results
is adopted by him from theological tradition., and even

Chap. Ill] § 88. THE PRrNCIPIUM IN ACTION 575

the proofs, which he cites from the Scripture, at least as a
rule, have not been discovered by himself, but have been
suggested to him by his predecessors. Thus, it is noteworthy
that Calvin, who, undeniably, wrote at times as though
affected by this same illusion, appeals constantly to Augus-
tine and Thomas Aquinas, which shows that this illusion did
7iot govern his method. The true element in this represen-
tation, meanwhile, should not be overlooked. And this is
grasped at once if one places at the end of the way what
Professor Dr. Bohl has held as truth at its beginning. He
makes it to appear as if by making a tabula rasa the theolo-
gian reverts at once to the Holy Scripture and nothing but
the Scripture. The actual course pursued, however, is this.
The beginning is made under the influence of all sorts of
other factors, while the task is not ended until, at the end of
the way, all these factors are made to disappear, so that finally
our well-balanced conviction rests upon nothing but the Holy
Scripture. Then the scaffold is taken away, and we stand
on the pinnacle of the temple. This is the final ground that
must be reached if the theological motive is to attain to
its point of rest. And it is from the exalted feeling which
then inspires the theologian that the illusion objected to
above is born.

Without hesitation, therefore, the factor of the Church must
be included in theological investigation. From the life of the
Church it appears, what activity the Holy Scripture occa-
sions, which activity in turn sheds light upon its content.
This would not have been the case to so great an extent if
there had been only one interpretation of the Holy Script-
ure prevalent in the Church ; for this would have tended to
likeness of formulation. But such was not the case. Almost
all possible interpretations have been tried ; all these inter-
pretations have sought to maintain themselves and to reach
fixed forms of expression, and the fruit and effect of these
several interpretations are manifest in history and in present
conditions. Hence the domain of the Holy Scripture is no
longer unexplored territory, on the contrary it is a variegated
highland, crossed in all directions, all the mountain passes and


paths of which are known, while the goal of each is freely
told by experienced guides. As it would be the height of
folly, on one's first arrival in Switzerland, to make it appear
that he is the first to investigate the Berner Oberland, since
common sense compels him on the contrary to begin his
journey by making inquiry among the guides of the country,
the same is true here. In its rich and many-sided life, ex-
tending across so many ages, the Church tells you at once
what fallible interpretations you need no longer try, and
what interpretation on the other hand offers you the best
chances for success. On this ground the claim must be put,
that the investigator of the Holy Scripture shall take account
of what history and the life of the Church teaches concerning
the general points of view, from which to start his investiga-
tion, and which paths it is useless to further reconnoitre.

But the influence of this factor does not limit itself to this.
The investigator does not stand outside of the Church, but is
himself a member of it. Hence into his own consciousness
there is interwoven the historic consciousness of his Church.
In this historic consciousness of his Church he finds not merely
the tradition of theologians and the data by which to form an
estimate of the results of their studies, but also the confes-
sional utterances of the Church. And this implies more.
These utterances of his Church do not consist of the inter-
pretation of one or another theologian, but of the ripest fruit
of a spiritual and dogmatic strife, battled through by a whole
circle of confessors in violent combat, which enlightened their
spiritual sense, sharpened their judgment, and stimulated
their perception of the truth; which fruit, moreover, has
been handed down to him by the Church through its divinely
appointed organs. It will not do, therefore, to place these
dogmatical utterances on the same plane with the opinions
of individual theologians. In a much deeper sense than
they, they provide a guarantee for freedom from error,
and he who belongs to such a Church has himself been
moulded in part by them. This gives rise to the demand,
that every theologian shall, in his investigations, reckon
with all those things that are taught him by the history


of tiie eliuiclies concerning well and badly chosen paths in
this territory to be investigated ; and, also, in the second
place, that he shall take the dogmas of his Church as his
guide, and that he shall not diverge from them until he is
compelled to do this by the Word of God. Hence, one should /
not begin by doubting everything, and by experimenting to
see whether on the ground of his own investigation he
arrives at the same point where the confession of his Church
stands ; but, on the contrary, he should start out from the
assumption that his Church is right, while at the same time
he should investigate it, and only oppose it when he finds
himself compelled to do so by the Word of God. If such
prove the case, of course, it must be done ; and if it con-
cerns any point of importance, an immediate break with his
Church is the necessary result, unless the Church herself
should modify her confession agreeably to his view. History,
however, teaches that ordinary differences in details of opinion
among theologians have implied no departure from essentials,
and that the conflict between God's Word and error in the con-
fession has been carried to the end in those great movements
only, which have brought about a change in the entire think-
ing consciousness. Great carefulness is always safe. The
proclamation of new discoveries is not always a proof of de-
votion to the truth, it is sometimes a tribute to self-esteem.
Nevertheless, the point of support for theology may never be
looked for in the Church. It only finds that point of sup-
port when it shows that what the Church has offered it as
acquired treasures, were really taken from the Scripture and
after the rule of the Scripture.

This decides at the same time the question, whether the
Church should prosecute the study of theology, or whether
theology grows on a root of its own. The question cannot
detain us here, whether in times of need we are not warranted
in establishing church-seminaries, and, in the absence of uni-
versity training, to provide for a need, whose supply admits
of no delay. There is no question here of the education of
untrained persons for the ministry of the Word, but of theol-
ogy as a science. And, from the nature of the case, there


can be no question of theology outside the pale of the Church,
because outside of this pale there is neither palingenesis nor
a spiritual enlightening, both of which are indispensable to
theology. But from this it does not follow, that, as an insti-
tuted corporation, the Church itself should study theolog}'.
This institution has a limited official task, and covers, by no
means, the whole of our Christian life. Outside of this institu-
tion endless factors of our human life are at work within the
pale of the Church taken as an organism, upon each of which
the Spirit of Christ must exert His influence. One of these
factors is science, and so far from proceeding from the insti-
tuted Church, science includes the Church in its object, and
must be subservient to her in the accomplishment of her
task. The subject of Christian science is also the subject of
Christian theology ; or, how could theology otherwise take
a place in the organism of science ? The instituted Church
can never be the subject of the Christian science, and conse-
quently it cannot be this of the science of theology. Hence,
the dilemma: Your theology has the instituted Church for
its subject, in which case it is no science ; or if it is a science,
the Church as an institution cannot be its subject.

§ 89. Relation to the Spiritual Reality

In connection with this there is still another, no less impor-
tant, factor which both affects theology and is indispensable
to it. The Church owes its rise not to the Word alone, but
in a deeper sense to the supernatural spiritual workings,
■which go out among men, and whose central point is palin-
genesis. In a supernatural sense this creates a spiritual
reality, which, in so far as the sphere of the consciousness
is concerned, cannot dispense with the Holy Scripture, but
wdiich potentially does not proceed from the Scripture, but
from the Holy Ghost, or if you please concentrically from
Christ. This spiritual reality does not consist merely in the
deed and in the thing wrought by palingenesis, but from
this central point it radiates also subjectively in those who
are sanctified and enlightened, and objectively finds its
basis in the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Body of


Christ. The preaching of the Word joins itself to this spir-
itual reality, becomes conscious of its inspiration, imparts
to it a conscious form, and the Church, as it actually appears,
is not merely the product of the Word of God, but at the
same time of this spiritual reality. Not as an institution, but
as an organism is she a house of the living God. The purer
a revelation the instituted Church is of her hidden, organic,
spiritual life, the greater is the authority in the spiritual sense
exercised by the Church upon the consciousness of the theo-
logian. But that which on the other hand also is of great
importance to the method of theology, is the fact that this
spiritual reality alone provides that affinity to the Divine life
which is indispensable to the knowledge of God.

The "knowledge of God" is here taken as naturally com-
municated knowledge, but not in the exclusively intellectual
sense. In our self-knowledge and in our knowledge of our
fellow-men there is also a component part, which is not
obtained by observation and reasoning built on this, but
which is of itself revealed in us. Without this working of the
sense-of-self and of sympathy, abstract intellectual knowledge
of ourselves or of others would be unable to grasp the reality
of its object. And in like manner, on the ground of our
creation after the Divine Image, a holy affinity and a spiritual
sympathy with the life of God must be manifest in our spirit,
if the revelations of the Holy Scripture are to be real to us
and to refer to an object grasped by us as a real object. Both
together are the constituent parts of our knowledge of God.
Spiritual affinity to the life of God enables us to grasp the
"things of God" as real in our deepest perception. Tiie
revelation of the Holy Scripture interprets that reality to our
consciousness. There is no conscious knowledge without a
mystic knowledge, and there is no mystic knowledge Avithout
the light of the Scripture that shines in our consciousness.
Alas, that these two should be so rudely separated. For this
gives on the one hand an intellectualism, which can do noth-
ing but construe theoretical systems from the Scripture, and
on the other hand a mystical attempt to attain unto a vision
of God outside and above the Scripture. Violence is done


to the method of theoh)gy by this intellectualism as well as
by this one-sided mysticism. That method must adapt itself
to the fact of the actual cooperation of both factors. This
is possible only, when this spiritual reality is postulated in
the theologian, and demands the consequent union of his
spirit and the spiritual reality which exists concretely outside
of him, and which allows him to borrow from the Scripture
only the conscious form for this reality. The first was called
of old not incorrectly Theology of our inclinations (theologia
habitualis), or Theology of use (theologia utens) ; we should
rather call it the mystical knowledge of God in antithesis
with intellectual ; but by whatever name it goes, from the
nature of the case it assumes regeneration, the photismos and
the communion of saints, since by these alone one is brought
into this spiritual reality and becomes sufficiently spiritual to
grasp in his innermost soul the reality of those things re-
vealed to us in the Scripture. He who is deaf must first
be healed from his deafness in order to be placed in true
touch with the world of sounds. When this contact has
been restored, the study of music can again be begun by him.
This is the case with reference to the study of theology.
Taken as the knowledge of God it is only conceivable, w^hen
the spiritual ear is opened in him who prosecutes the study,
and to whom the reality of the unseen discovers itself. Palin-
genesis, therefore, is a requirement which may not be aban-
doned. Without palingenesis one stands antipathetically
opposed to the object of theology. Hence there is no love to
quicken communion. But we may not limit ourselves to this.
Regeneration by itself is no enlightening. By regeneration
the wheel of life in the centrum of our being (the wheel of
nature or of birth, James iii. 6) is merely replaced upon its
pivot ; but this by itself has not changed the Avorld of our
conscious life. This occurs only when the Holy Spirit, hav-
ing taken up His abode in us, transfers His working from this
centrum to our facilitates, to the faculty of the understanding
by enlightening and to the faculty of the will by sanctification.
If, in a more solemn sense than the ordinary believer, the theo-
logian is called to enter into the revealed knowledge of God


with his understanding, it is evident that so long as he hicks
this enlightening he can make no progress. To regeneration
and enlightening, is added in the third place the communion
of saints. The theologian is no isolated worker, but in the
world of thought he is in his way the organ of restored hu-
manity. The subject of theology presents itself to us in the
renewed consciousness of restored humanity, and every indi-
vidual theologian allows this subject to work its effect pro
parte virili. The farther he isolates himself from restored
humanity the more this action must weaken, while on the
other hand its gain in energy keeps pace with his progress in
vital communion with this restored humanity. It is and re-
mains an " apprehending with all the saints " (Eph. iii. 18),
and the apostles do not hesitate to say, that by this fellowship
with them alone does one come to the fellowship of the Father
and of the Son (1 John i. 3).

By this we do not claim, that in the field of theological
science, intelligent persons, who still lack this palingenesis,
photismos and fellowship, cannot furnish results that are
productive of lasting good. The labor to be done in the field
of theology is by no means all of one kind. This can be dis-
tinguished into central and peripheral study. To search
out, decipher and compare documents and monuments, for
instance, to collect and arrange historical data, the writing of
monographs on the Cathedral of Cologne, on some order of
monks, or of Wessel Gansfort, etc., is altogether work which
lies in the periphery, and which in itself has little to do with
the research into the knowledge of God. It is all equiva-
lent to the services which were rendered by Hiram of Tyre
for the temple on Sion, but which had next to nothing in
common with the sacred ministry behind the veil. These
studies are certainly indispensable, even as the work of Hiram
was indispensable in order that the High Priest might per-
form his sacred office, but this did not require in the Tyrian
architect what was required in the Minister of the Sanctuary.
Spiritual affinity to this centrum is certainly not a matter of
indifference in these peripherical studies. What Aholiab
and Bezaleel did for the tabernacle, was much more inspired


work than what Hiram wrought on Sion's mount. And if,
instead of Hiram, a master builder of Israel, rejoicing in
Jehovah, could have built the Temple of Solomon, the work
undoubtedly would have been inspired by a higher impulse
of art. Our observation merely tends to do full justice to
the intelligence which, without being interwoven with the
life of the Holy Spirit, has been expended upon these peri-
pherical studies in the field of theology.

So far as connection with the spiritual reality is merely
put as a requisite in the theologian, it does not touch the
method of theology. But it is not difficult to show how
there flows an immediate result from this requisite for the
method of theology. For fellowship with this spiritual real-
ity is not a constant conception, but it changes and is suscep-
tible to becoming both faint and strong. This fellowship
with the Father and with the Son will at one time react
strongly, and again weakly in one and the same person, and
in the long run a lasting increase will follow. If the person
himself were passive in this, and went through these changes
merely as nature goes through the changes of heat and cold,
it would not affect the method of theology. But this is not
the case. He who has been regenerated is a fellow-worker
with God, and according as he neglects or practises holy liv-
ing, his fellowship with the Unseen diminishes or increases.
And from this follows the demand of theological method, that
the theologian shall be on the alert to feed and to strengthen
this fellowship. He who fails in this dulls the spiritual sense

Online LibraryAbraham KuyperEncyclopedia of sacred theology : its principles ... → online text (page 54 of 64)