From Brill, for review:
This bilingual edition of the Synopsis Purioris Theologiae (1625) makes available for the first time to English readers a seminal treatise of Reformed Scholasticism. Composed by four professors of Leiden University (Johannes Polyander, Andreas Rivetus, Antonius Walaeus, and Anthonius Thysius) , it gives an exhaustive yet concise presentation of Reformed theology as it was conceived in the first decades of the seventeenth century.
From a decidedly Reformed perspective, the Christian doctrine is defined in contrast with alternative or opposite views (Catholic, Spiritualist, Arminian, Socinian). Both on the academic level and on the ecclesiastical level, the Synopsis responds to challenges coming from the immediate context of the early seventeenth century. The disputations of this first volume cover topics such as Scripture, doctrine of God, Trinity, creation, sin, Law and Gospel.
The present volume contains notes on the contributors (which are many), acknowledgements, a list of abbreviations (which proves to be very useful indeed) an introduction, and the text in Latin of the Synopsis and and English translation on facing pages.
Readers unfamiliar with the practice of the Theological Disputation as it was practiced during the period which saw the rise of Protestant Scholasticism will appreciate tremendously the chapter which introduces the volume (which is the first of three to be published). For example
Until the mid-twentieth century, Scholasticism … was considered an early-modern philosophical and theological school of thought consisting of certain precepts. More recently, however, it is viewed that the term denotes not particular principles, but an educational approach. It is now held that Scholasticism refers to the teaching practices of the late-medieval universities, a methodology characterized by the use of a system of definitions, distinctions, argumentative techniques and styles of disputation’ (p. 3).
Our editors go on to discuss the genre and form of the Disputation and offer a survey of the contents of this first of three volumes. Before concluding their introductory material they issue a note of warning:
As a text almost four hundred years old, the Synopsis is not immediately accessible to the present-day reader. The religious, cultural, and socio-political contexts in which it originated are reflected in numerous references and allusions (p. 20).
Readers must be, then, willing to consult the footnotes with an unusual regularity.
The disputation topics themselves begin with a discussion of the subject- theology. Then they turn to Scripture, canon, tradition, God, the Trinity, the person of the Father and the Son, the creation of the world, Providence, good and evil Angels, mankind, the Fall, Original Sin, Actual Sin, free choice, the Law, Idolatry, the Oath, the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day, the Gospel, and finally, on the Old and New Testaments.
A glossary, a bibliography, a scripture index, and a general index round out the volume (which extends well over 650 pages).
Concerning the translation, it is fluid and precise, reflecting the underlying Latin quite faithfully. Concerning the content, it is exceptionally important for one reason alone: it takes researchers and scholars to the very source and headwater of Scholastic Reformed Theology as it took shape shortly after the death of Calvin and his immediate successors. Further, it is instructive as to the nature of Scholasticism which, to be fair, can now no longer, thanks to the present tome, be viewed as a form a legalism but rather must be seen as an intellectual exercise intended to enlighten, educate, and instruct a new generation of Pastors and scholars.
There is much to learn here- most especially: the clarity and exactitude of expression employed by the practitioners of disputations is surpassingly superior to theological expression in the post-modern era. Our phrasings tend too often to be ambiguous. But the crystal clear mode of expression practiced by our forebears four centuries ago can teach us a better way.
This is an expensive volume- but it is a primary source of major significance. When the three volumes are completed they will be far more valuable than the amazingly important four volume edition titled ‘Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics‘ because in this edition actual disputations are recorded and in contrast to PRRD the reader isn’t simply given excerpts chosen by an editor. This volume, and doubtless those to follow, is critically important for researchers.