Post-Reformation Dogmatics: A Review Article

Founders Journal · Winter 2004 · pp. 28-31

Post-Reformation Dogmatics: A Review Article

Roger Nicole

Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, ca. 1520 to ca. 1725. 4 volumes. Grand Rapids, MI: 2003. ISBN 0-8010-2618-0. 2163 pages. $150.00 (individual volumes at $44.99).

An event! The appearance of this set is an event in scholarship and in publication. The individual volumes treat respectively:

I. Prolegomena to Theology
II. Holy Scripture
III. The Divine Essence and Attributes
IV. The Triunity of God

There is one Index for subjects and names at the end of each volume and a Bibliography of 125 pages at the end of volume 4. The very extensive footnotes, 8249 of them, appear where they belong: at the foot of respective pages. The table of contents of each volume provides an extensive outline for the whole work. The four volumes are uniformly bound in a very solid hardback way, which opens readily on the table and allows for easy Xeroxing of individual pages.

The first scholar to undertake such a project was Alexander Schweizer of Zurich who in 1844 and 1847 published a two-volume work with 124 paragraphs, Die Glaubenslehre der evangelisch – reformirten Kirche. He was a competent scholar and produced quotations from 35 different theological Reformed writers from Zwingli to Schleiermacher covering the whole range of dogmatics in some 1255 pages. The value of this work is severely limited by Schweizer’s major purpose to manifest a basic unity in Reformed theology from Zwingli to Schleiermacher under Schleiermacher’s definition of religion as expressing “a feeling of absolute dependence.” He devotes only some 200 pages to the first four loci covered by Dr. Muller.

Because of the limitations in Schweizer’s works, Heinrich Heppe published in 1861 a more objective study Die Dogmatik der evangelisch – reformirten Kirche. This volume of 520 pages and 18 chapters includes in each chapter a summary prepared by Heppe and a number of quotations from some of the 57 authors he consulted, exemplifying the position held in his summary. Heppe did not quote D. Chamier, J.F. Stapfer, J.C. Beck, nor Schleiermacher, whom Schweizer had included. As an ardent supporter of a merger of protestant churches in Germany, Heppe tried to show that Reformed theology had been more influenced by P. Melanchthon than by Zwingli and Calvin. He particularly emphasized the work of C. Pezel and V. Strigel as exhibiting this orientation.

The work was republished in 1935 with a valuable survey by Ernest Bizer concerning the sources of Heppe’s quotations. An attempt to exhibit the unity of Reformed and Lutheran views had slanted the outlook: while the quotations were appropriate, the summaries expressed what Heppe thought Reformed theology should be rather than what it had been in fact. By cutting the summaries in rather short installments immediately followed by relevant quotations, the English edition has made Heppe’s intent less prominent and the work more difficult to use.

Richard Muller’s work rises high above these two predecessors in several ways.

  1. The scope of his sources has been very greatly increased. He quotes all the authors used by Schweizer except D. Chamier, H a Diest, and Schleiermacher, the latter being irrelevant to post-Reformation dogmatics. He quotes all 57 authors listed by H. Heppe except H a Diest, who can hardly be viewed as an important source. In addition to both Schweizer and Heppe he has included such important representatives of Reformed orthodoxy as N. Arnold, N. a Brakel, M. Bucer, A. Chandieu, B. de Moor, A. Essenius, F. Gomerus, F. Hommius, J. Hoornbeck, F. Junius, J. a Lasco, L. Leblanc, J. Maccovius, P. Poiret, P. Ramus, A. Rivet, J. Scharp, F. Spanheim Sr., P. Viret, C. Wittich and others who may not have written systematic theologies. He also included the Arminians (J. Arminius, S. Curcellaeus, S. Episcopius, H. Grotius, P. Limborch) and their opponents (P. Du Moulin, and others), and the Salmurians (M. Amyraut, L. Cappel, J. Daillé, J. La Place) and their opponents (P. DuMoulin, S. Maresius, A. Rivet, F. Spanheim Sr.). One can hardly imagine an adequate survey that bypasses all of these except Maresius!

    Furthermore Dr. Muller has abundant references to Anglo-Saxon authors, thoroughly bypassed by both Schweizer and Heppe. Now J. Arrowsmith, W. Bates, R. Baxter, T. Boston, G. Bull, J. Cameron, T. Cartwright, S. Charnock, S. Clarke, J. Davenant, D. Dickson, J. Downame, J. Edwards, J. Flavel, T. Gale, T. Gataker, J. Gill, G. Gillespie, T. Goodwin, E. Hopkins, J. Howe, J. Jackson, T. Jackson, J. Jewel, B. Keach, E. Leigh, J. Lightfoot, J. Mede, S. Nye, J. Owen, W. Perkins, T. Ridgley, F. Roberts, R. Rollock, S. Rutherford, W. Sherlock, R. South, E. Stillingfleet, J. Tillotson, W. Twisse, J. Ussher, W. Whitaker, and countless others participate as representatives of the Post Reformation Dogmatics.

    In addition to all this, Dr. Muller has given close attention to exegetical works as manifesting the doctrinal development. When the possible exception of D. Chameir, who was primarily a polemic theologian, it is difficult to see who might be added to this impressive list. The absence of G. Fared and J. Knox is no doubt due to the fact that they were more significant as ecclesiastic leaders than as theological authors.

  2. It must be noted that, in view of the much larger range of authors examined and quoted, the inquiry has been greatly deepened. The four volumes issued cover only four chapters of earlier works, as noted at the beginning of this review.

    This would indicate that a work of parallel amplitude concerning other loci of systematic theology might be desired. Whether Dr. Muller would undertake any of this is not yet indicated. Surely he would be uniquely qualified to do some of this in view of his unparalleled acquaintance with the relevant literature.

    As it is he has provided at the end of volume 4 a chapter of some 40 pages dealing with the character of Reformed Orthodoxy and its relationship to Pre-Reformation theology, the seminal reformers themselves and some developments after 1725.

    What we have here is enough to bulldoze into the dump the view often heralded since Heppe and throughout the 20th century that a great chasm exists between Luther, Zwingli and Calvin and those who exercised major leadership in Post-Reformation theology after 1564. Notably it has been urged that by a gigantic effort the seminal Reformers had set aside the methodology and excrescencies of the Middle Ages scholasticism, and that unfortunately in the leadership of Beza and Melanchthon scholasticism was reintroduced in the Reformation, to the great damage of the faith.

    Dr. Muller in this magnificant investigation has given a strong evidence that there was no chasm between Calvin and Beza, contrary to M. Amyraut, H. Heppe, O. Ritschl, H. E. Weber, B. Armstrong, R.T. Kendall, J. Rogers, and many others. The chasm occurred mainly in the 18th century when an exaggerated confidence was placed in the natural human faculties of mind, conscience or feeling and a failure to sense the gravity of the entail of human corruption precipitated a departure from the revealed truth of Scripture.

    As I have often attempted to point out, this outlook implied a very severe lack of perception in J. Calvin who had invited T. Beza to Geneva, encouraged him as the first principal of the newly founded Academy and given his blessing to his becoming Calvin’s successor as the pastor primarius of the Geneva church. It would also show a serious lack in the many Reformed theologians who flourished between 1564 and 1700, and who claimed to in the line of succession of Calvin. Now the coup de grâce has been definitively administered to this strange theory.

  3. Since Dr. Muller wrote about a century and a half after Schweizer and Heppe, he has naturally given consideration to a very large input of secondary sources that have appeared since 1861. His bibliography in this respect extends to 67 pages and manifests his through acquaintance with the whole area of his study. He lists no less than 35 publications that he himself had produced before this one.
  4. Dr. Muller, one might fear, being a church history specialist, might be satisfied to outline currents in their generality rather than in the research of the details of some controversies that might be thought to be minor. The contrary is true and we find that he discerned clearly the details of contested views, and that he could follow his sources in the intricacies of their contentions and quarrels. This is manifest, for instance, in the very extensive discussion of the doctrine of Holy Scripture, which manifests how erroneous was Rogers and McKim’s claim that the strict doctrine of Biblical inerrancy was a creation of the Princeton Theological Seminary in the 19th century. It is manifest in the extensive discussion in volume III (pp. 392-432) of God’s knowledge and foreknowledge. In volume IV we have an elaborate presentation of the vicissitudes of a Trinitarian controversy in England between 1680 and 1700. One could multiply the examples of this detailed care apparent in all four volumes.

Volumes 1 and 2 appear as a second edition of two works published respectively in 1987 and 1993. Volume I on the Prolegomena has 98 pages more than the earlier edition, is hard bound rather than a paperback, is printed rather than typed, and has 62% more footnotes, lodged at the foot of relevant pages rather than at the end of the volume. Thus the owners of the first edition will get a substantial benefit in securing this text. Volume II, on the Holy Scripture, also hardbound rather than a paperback, has approximately the same number of pages, and shows an increase of 16% over the 1870 footnotes of the 1st edition. The references in the later volumes are always in terms of this 2nd edition, and it is surely desirable to have this set in its finished form.

As one who has known, loved and used Francis Turretin for nearly seventy years, I am immensely pleased with the appearance of this formidable vindication of those who followed Zwingli and Calvin in the Reformed camp. Not Presbyterians and Reformed churches alone benefited from their labors, but the Anglican bodies, the Congregationalists and the Baptists were deeply affected, and the Lutherans, the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholics, although often in a dissenting approach, were also in some respects influenced by this massive movement, now happily represented in its original orientation rather than caricatured, as was, alas, too frequent in the 20th century! We can say that the less people knew of Reformed Dogmatics from 1520 to 1725, the more vigorous their criticism, and those who apparently knew nothing and had read nothing of their works, were the most abusive!

The work is superbly printed and admirably bound in a way that insured its usefulness for years to come. Inevitably some typographical errors have crept in occasionally. The author would surely be grateful for those who might provide him with a list of such as were discovered.

As I said at the start: this is an event in scholarship and in publication. Deep gratitude is due to Dr. R. A. Muller and to the Baker Book House.