Verum cum vero non pugnat: Maccovius, Voetius, & Bavinck on philosophy and theology

First, a few theses from Johannes Maccovius’s Theological and Philosophical Distinctions and Rules, ch. 1, On Holy Scripture:

XXXVIII. The object of theology and the object of philosophy are diverse and distinct.

XXXIX. Truth never runs counter to (pugno) truth.

XL. Sound reason and theology do not conflict (pugno).1

Second, a thesis from Gisbertus Voetius’s Thersites, self-tormentor:

I. The light of nature does not fight with (pugno) the light of grace, nor philosophy with theology. Therefore, a-theological, and also doing injury to God and His truth, are those who condemn philosophy.2

Third, a summation from Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, which employs the “non pugno” motif in Bavinck’s European narrative style:

If theology thus has its internal principle not in faith as such but in believing reflection, the task of reason in theological science calls for further definition. In this context we must first of all and fundamentally reject the notion that regards faith and reason as two independent powers engaging in a life-and-death struggle with each other. . . . Faith, the faith by which we believe (de fides qua creditur), is not an organ or faculty next to or above reason but a disposition or habit of reason itself. . . . Faith, therefore, does not relieve Christians of the desire to study and reflect; rather it spurs them on to the end. Nature is not destroyed by regeneration but restored.

Believers who want to devote themselves to the study of theology, accordingly, must prepare their minds for the task awaiting them. There is no admission to the temple of theology except by way of the study of the arts. Indispensable to the practitioner of the science of theology is philosophical, historical, and linguistic preparatory training.3

  1. Distinctiones et regulae theologicae ac philosophicae (1653), 20-21; translation from Scholastic Discourse: Johannes Maccovius (1588–1644) on Theological and Philosophical Distinctions and Rules, translated and edited by Willem J. van Asselt, Michael D. Bell, Gert van den Brink, Rein Ferwerda (Apeldoorn: Instituut voor Reformatieonderzoek, 2009), 78–81. 
  2. Thersites heautontimorumenos (Utrecht : Ex Officinâ Abrahami ab Herwiick & Hermanni Ribbii, 1635), 347; translation from Aza Goudriaan, Reformed Orthodoxy and Philosophy, 1625–1750: Gisbertus Voetius, Petrus Van Mastricht, and Anthonius Driessen, Brill’s Series in Church History 26 (Brill, 2006), 30; cf. B. Hoon Woo, “‘The Understanding of Gisbertus Voetius and René Descartes on the Relationship of Faith and Reason, and Theology and Philosophy,” Westminster Theological Journal 75, No. 1 (2013): 45–63; quote referenced at p. 54. 
  3. Vol. 1, Prolegomena, trans. John Vriend, ed. John Bolt (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 616–17; Bavinck quotes Voetius’s disputations at 616n41; see also 618n46 for Bavinck’s short list of sources on the philosophy-theology relation, which includes the same disputations by Voetius. 

a prayer befitting the covenant of works

O Lord Jehovah, how little do we, poor miserable mortals, know of thy Supreme Deity, and incomprehensible perfections! . . . May the consciousness of our ignorance in other things kindle in our hearts an ineffable desire of that beatific vision, by which, knowing as we are known, we may in the abyss of thy infinity behold those things which no thought of ours at present can reach!

Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants, ch. 4. sec. 23.

Perhaps it is not far off to say that the health of one’s knowledge of the doctrine of the covenant is proportionate to an increase in such apropos prostrations before the Almighty and confessions of limitation.

Whether or not such a rule attains, this flavor of theologia viatorum is one to be desired.

Sedeo, ergo sum

We do not say with Descartes: “Cogito, ergo sum,” . . . ; on the contrary, instead of basing ourselves immediately upon the operation which is proper to the highest of our faculties, we rest first of all and with great assurance in the experience of touching, in which we have at the same time an experience of existing. To be sure, this consciousness is not without thought, but it is a thought which depends upon touch and which does not as yet reveal itself as thought. It is the tangible qualities which are to us first principles of thought and action. If we had to venture an Aristotelian counterpart to Descartes’ “Cogito, ergo sum,” we would say without hesitation: “Sedeo, ergo sum”: I am sitting, therefore I am.

Charles De Koninck, “«Sedeo, Ergo Sum»: Considerations on the Touchstone of Certitude,” Laval Théologique et Philosophique 6, no. 2 (1950): 343–48.

A Reformation Day Prayer

O Almighty God, who has built thy Church upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant that by the operation of the Holy Ghost, all Christians may be so joined together in unity of Spirit, and in the bond of peace, that they may be an holy temple acceptable unto thee.

. . . [G]ive the abundance of thy grace, that with one heart they may desire the prosperity of thy holy universal Church, and with one mouth may profess the faith once delivered to the saints. Defend them from the sins of heresy and schism; let not the foot of pride come night to hurt them, nor the hand of the ungodly to cast them down.

And grant that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered by thy governance, that thy Church may joyfully serve thee in all godly quietness: that so they may walk in the ways of truth and peace, and at last be numbered with thy saints in glory everlasting; through thy merits, O blessed Jesus, thou gracious Bishop and Shepherd of our souls, who art, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

“For the Unity, Purity, and Prosperity of the Church Universal,” in The Book of Common Prayer as Amended by the Westminster Divines, A. D. 1661, ed. Charles W. Shields (Philadelphia: James Claxton, 1867), 369–70.

Aquinas: the old woman’s faith vs. the philosophers’ reason

“The just man liveth by faith.” [Habakkuk 2:4] This is evident in that no one of the philosophers before the coming of Christ could, through his own powers, know God and the means necessary for salvation as well as any old woman since Christ’s coming knows Him through faith.

Thomas Aquinas, Catechical Instructions of St. Thomas Aquinas, trans. Joseph B. Collins (Fort Collins, CO: Roman Catholic Books, 1939), 4.

Ellebogius: “When in doubt . . .”

Regarding God’s goodness, all the Protestant doctors of high esteem share the same rule: if there is the slightest doubt, go Trappist; if the doubt persists, go Dubbel; if the persistence persists, go Tripel. Against such things, when conjoined with moderation and gratitude, no doubt however dark can succeed inasmuch as the good is self-diffusive.

— Cornelius Ellebogius

Calling a spade

Significant advances can be made along the road of moral reformation by observing the simple expedient of calling a spade a spade.

D. Q. McInerny, “Dishonest Language,” in Perennial Wisdom for Daily Life, vol. 1 (Elmhurst, PA: The Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, 2002), 6.

Glossa ordinaria project

Despite its popularity as a textbook, and its importance to the development of theology in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and to medieval thought more widely, the Gloss on the Bible has never been fully edited.

In order to rectify this deficiency, the series proposes carefully to edit the Latin text of each book (and, indeed, of each version) of the Gloss.

Goudriaan on Reformed philosophy

Dr. Aza Goudriaan
Aza Goudriaan
Dr. Aza Goudriaan’s (@Academia) essays are trenchant, weighty, and all-around top shelf in quality. Take, for instance, his foray with Irena Backus on the origin of the term “semipelagianism.”1 Or consider these substantial essays on the role of philosophy in the Reformed orthodox era:


  1. Reformed Orthodoxy and Philosophy, 1625–1750: Gisbertus Voetius, Petrus van Mastricht, and Anthonius Driessen — by Aza Goudriaan Aza Goudriaan, Reformed Orthodoxy and Philosophy, 1625–1750: Gisbertus Voetius, Petrus Van Mastricht, and Anthonius Driessen, Brill’s Series in Church History 26 (Leiden: Brill, 2006).
  2. Aza Goudriaan, “Ulrik Huber (1636–1694) and John Calvin: The Franeker Debate on Human Reason and the Bible (1686–1687),” Church History and Religious Culture 91, no. 1 (2011): 165–78.
  3. Aza Goudriaan, “Theology and Philosophy,” in A Companion to Reformed Orthodoxy, ed. Herman J. Selderhuis (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 27–63.

For whetting one’s appetite, several points in the conclusion of the “Theology and Philosophy” essay are worth considering in the American Reformed and Presbyterian orb. First and foremost:

Early modem Reformed thinkers did not spurn philosophy in itself. None of the different philosophical orientations articulated during the early modem period seems to have rejected philosophical or natural
theology as such. In this period there was no such phenomenon as, in the words of a prominent present-day Reformed philosopher, “The Reformed Objection to Natural Theology.” Modern Reformed conceptions, such as those of Barthian theology or of the school of reformational philosophy, differ starkly in their attitude towards natural theology from mainstream seventeenth-century Reformed theology. The latter’s largely positive reception of proofs for God’s existence clearly demonstrates its evidentialist orientation. (pp. 61–62)

He continues with an observation on the eclecticism of Reformed philosophy in the early modern era, an eclecticism that did not devolve into sheer pluralism and that maintained commitments to biblical authority and the unity of truth in the duplex ordo cognitionis2:

The philosophy that the Reformed adopted was not a single monolithic set of thoughts. Reformed thinkers philosophized in a number of different, sometimes diametrically opposed, ways. Quite a few were Ramists, many opted for an eclectic form of Christian Aristotelianism, while yet others supported Cartesian philosophy and attempted to articulate Reformed theology in terms of Cartesian concepts and presuppositions. Reformed doctrine was obviously taken to be compatible with a number of different philosophical approaches.

This is not to say that all philosophical orientations were equally compatible with biblical Christianity. In some important respects, Aristotelian eclecticism was able to support biblical exegesis better than Cartesianism was—here one could think of its basic empirical orientation and of the form-matter concepts. The same seems to be true of the Aristotelians’ subordination of natural reason to theology in comparison to the strict separation between theology and philosophy advocated by some Cartesians. It could be argued that the latter separation contributed to a secularization of philosophy which, on the supposition of the unity of truth and its basic knowability, could only lead to an increasing antagonism between philosophy and theology. (p. 62, paragraph break added)


  1. Irena Backus and Aza Goudriaan, “‘Semipelagianism’: The Origins of the Term and Its Passage into the History of Heresy,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 65, no. 1 (2014): 25–46. 
  2. This mouthful of a term, see Richard A. Muller, “‘Duplex Cognitio Dei’ in the Theology of Early Reformed Orthodoxy,” Sixteenth Century Journal 10, no. 2 (Summer 1979): 51–62; Romanus Cessario OP, “Duplex Ordo Cognitionis,” Doctor Communis 2 n.s. (2002): 102–9; Eduardo J. Echeverria, Berkouwer and Catholicism: Disputed Questions, Studies in Reformed Theology 24 (Leiden: Brill, 2013).