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Question 5 on Theology

Francis Turretin (1623-1687) - The Most Precise Theologian of the Reformation Era

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“Every decree of God is eternal; therefore it cannot depend upon a condition which takes place only in time. (2) God’s decrees depend on his good pleasure (eudokia) (Mt. 11:26; Eph. 1:5; Rom. 9:11). Therefore they are not suspended upon any condition outside of God. (3) Every decree of God is immutable (Is. 46:10; Rom. 9:11).”

The Scholastic Reformer Explains the Object of Theology

Extract from Institutes of Elenctic Theology,
Topic 1 Question 5, “The Object of Theology”

Are God and Divine things the Object of Divine Knowledge. We affirm.
1. This is especially true of the object of the scientific knowledge that all the theologians treat it. Such is viewed either in a material respect to the thing, having examined it, or formally, as to the method of investigation.

2. Although theologians speak in diverse ways, however, the subject of theology, the more common and closer to their view, say this refers to God and divine things; so that God, indeed, is the first subject, and the things of God, are secondary. And the things that were made by God, and the things that are of men, or are to be believed, or should be made, directly and indirectly, i.e. that is, by God; God and his works, as those subject to him as creatures, and tending to him, as all the duties of man. In this way that all things are discussed in theology either because they deal with God himself or have a relation to him as the first principle and ultimate end.

3. God is the object of theology is clear. Then, out of the Scripture, shows no other object as this principally acknowledges. It is evident on the condition of the object that is in it which is found; 1. that it may be something simple, or is denominated from that. 2. Certain ideas may be predicated into certain aspects, for example, to the affections or properties. 3. Everything should be handled in its uncompounded order to him. God is an uncompounded being, and most simple. Some things are predicated to him, such as by his attributes; To him all things are referred, and have the relation of origin, preservation, and dependence.

4. But when God is set forth as the object of theology, God as revealed he is not to be regarded simply as God in himself (for and covenanted; in this way he is incomprehensible to us), but as revealed and as he has been pleased to manifest himself to us in his word, so that divine revelation is the formal relation which is considered in this object. Nor is he to be considered exclusively under the relation of deity (according to the opinion of Thomas Aquinas and many Scholastics after him, for in this manner the knowledge of him could not be saving but deadly to sinners), but as he is our God (i.e., covenanted in Christ as he has revealed himself to us in his word not only as the object of knowledge, but also of worship). Theology teaches that true religion consists of these two things: the object of theology, God and divine things.

5. The unity of a science and its distinction from any other is not always taken from the unity of the material solution (or thing considered), but from the unity of the formal object (or mode of considering). Although physics, ethics and medicine treat the same subject, they do not cease to be distinct sciences because they consider man in different relations; physics as a species of natural body; ethics as capacious of virtue and happiness; medicine as curable from diseases and restorable to health. In this way, although theology treats of the same things with metaphysics, physics and ethics, yet the mode of considering is far different. It does not treat God like metaphysics as a being or as he can be known from the light of nature, but as the Creator and Redeemer made known by revelation. It does not treat creatures as things of nature, but of God (i.e., as holding a relation and order to God as their Creator, preserver and Redeemer) and that too according to the revelation made by him. This mode of considering, the other sciences either do not know or do not assume.

6. Theology labors to prove the existence of God not from a primary and proper intention, but, as it were, incidentally from an adventitious necessity (viz., for the purpose of confuting the profane and atheists who without shame and with seared consciences deny it). (2) The axiom—“science does not prove its subject, but takes it for granted”— is true in human and inferior sciences, but not in theology. Theology is of a higher order for it extends itself to the proof of all things which can be proved by the means peculiar to itself (viz., by divine revelation). It does this, not instrumentally, but authoritatively.

7. It is not necessary for the habit of a science so to comprehend its object as to have a perfect knowledge of whatever belongs to it. It is sufficient if it knows many things concerning it and can draw deductions from its principles. Therefore, a science need not necessarily be equal to its subject by an exact and arithmetical equality. It suffices if it is equal according to some proportion of equality which is found in theology. For theology treats of God and his infinite perfections, not as knowing them in an infinite but in a finite manner; nor absolutely as much as they can be known in themselves, but as much as he has been pleased to reveal them. So theology may be properly said to equal its object according to the formal relation of revelation, not by equaling God himself, but only the revelation given by him.

8. The common saying, “science is not of particulars, but of universals,” must be received with limitation. For metaphysics, physics, etc. are sciences and yet they treat not the less on that account of singulars, of God and the world. Therefore the axiom must be understood as singulars composed of matter and constituted under the lowest species. For if theology treats of such (as of Adam, Noah and others), it does this not principally, but only to unfold the origin of things or for an example of life and a testimony to divine providence (and therefore on account of general causes). But if any singular, immaterial and in the pure act is presented, science can undoubtedly appropriate it because being is an object of intellect. Therefore the more perfect a being is, the more can he be known and apprehended; and he is the more perfect, the more he is in act and the less in potency. God can with great propriety be reckoned among universals for he is universal in causation, since he is the universal cause of all things also in predication; not indeed directly, but indirectly for though all things are not God, they are nevertheless of God, or to or from him. Accordingly every relation of universality is not wanting in this part in the subject of theology.

9. In the lower sciences, the principles differ from the subject as demonstrating the qualities and properties of the subject by proper principles because as the subject of every human science is of a finite essence and power, there must necessarily be certain principles from which it may flow or be constituted. But in theology (which is of a higher order), the subject is truly divine and infinite in nature and potency, and accordingly before everything, so that it can have no relation of dependence. Hence, by reason of this infinity, it contains at the same time these two relations: it is both the subject concerning which theology treats and also at the same time its principle.

10. Theology treats of sin not as belonging to God, but as holding a certain relation to him (either that of opposite and contrary or as coming under his providence and justice); just as medicine treats of diseases and their remedies although its principal subject is man as curable.

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