By Francis Turretin in Institutes of Elenctic Theology

Are the doctrines of faith and practice to be proved only by the express word of God? May they not also be legitimately proved by consequences drawn from Scripture? We affirm the latter

Statement of the question.

I. This question owes its rise to the new method of disputing peculiar to the jugglers and mountebanks among the papists who, in order to evade with greater ease the arguments by which we invincibly established from Scripture our opinion and confuted their errors, supposed that they had no better way of getting out of the difficulty than by compelling us to prove that all our doctrines are contained in so many words in Scripture, all use of consequences being rejected. Cardinal Perronius appears to have devised this method first (Reply of the … Cardinall of Perron to the Answeare of the … King of Great Britaine [1630/1975]). Many others of the same worthless class followed him—Gontery, Cotton, Arnoldus (Arnoux) and especially Veron who caused a peculiar method of disputing to be called “Veronian” from him. To these the Wallenburgian Brethren in Germany joined themselves and other light-shunning missionaries. But other heretics darkened the world before these, for the Arians often used this argument to overthrow the homoousion. The Macedonians also denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit just because it is nowhere in Scripture expressly said that the Holy Spirit is God (see Gregory Nazianzus, Oration 31 [5], “On the Holy Spirit,” 1.1 [NPNF2, 7:318]). Maximus, the monk, testifies that the Apollinarians and Monophysites used the same weapons (in his twenty orations+ which are commonly, but falsely, ascribed to Athanasius).

II. The fifth article of the French Confession (whence they wish it to appear that they have drawn the sentence which they fix upon us) asserts indeed the perfection of Scripture when it says that “it is the rule of all truth and comprehends whatever is required for the glory of God and our salvation, so that it is lawful neither for men nor even for angels to add anything to, or take away from it” (Cochrane, 145). But it does not maintain that nothing is to be received which we do not find in so many words in Scripture; yea, by mentioning near the end that three creeds are received by us (the Apostles’, the Nicene and Athanasian) it sufficiently intimates that we do not seek for the very letters, but the truth of doctrines and worship (ibid., 146). It therefore means that the word of God alone should be adhered to exclusive of all traditions, but does not restrict us to the express word exclusive of consequences.

III. In order to understand the question, we must recollect that a thing may be said to be in Scripture in two ways: either kata lexin (expressly and in so many words); or kata dianoian (implicitly and as to the sense). We say that all things are contained in Scripture not in the first way, but in the second.

IV. Consequences may be considered either materially (to denote the doctrines themselves drawn out by consequence), or formally (for the connection itself of the terms). Augustine distinguishes between “the truth of propositions and the truth of conclusions” (CI 2.32 [50] [FC 2:105; PL 34.59]). Again some are innate and educed from Scripture, being virtually contained in it; others implied and carried into it. Some are proximate, necessary and plain; others are remote, probable and obscure. We speak here of the former, not of the latter.

V. The solid proof of a thing is such either in itself or in relation to this or that man. The one consists in the evidence of the thing; the other in the conviction of man. The former is always present in a sound reasoning by consequences, not so the latter.

VI. The articles of faith which should be proved from Scripture are either positive and affirmative (containing some doctrine to be believed), or negative and exclusive (rejecting errors introduced by heretics). The former ought to be proved clearly and certainly from Scripture because they are the proper objects of faith; but as to the latter it is not requisite that any mention should be made of them, but only of general principles by which their falsity can be shown. Hence our opponents trifle when they ask us to prove by so many words in Scripture that there is no purgatory, that the pope is not the head of the church, that the Mass is not a sacrifice, etc. (1) The affirmative is bound to prove, not the negative. (2) These doctrines are not positive, but negative with us. Therefore it is sufficient for us to teach that they are not contained in Scripture and that other things (which plainly refute them) are.

VII. The sufficiency and perfection of the Scriptures does not consist in their condemning all errors and heresies by name, but only in their announcing all positive doctrines clearly. For as the right is the touchstone of itself and of obligation (all necessary truth being clearly established), the errors opposed to it are rejected.

VIII. The question therefore is brought within these limits: whether, besides the express word of God, evident and necessary consequences are admissible in theology; or whether the doctrines of faith and practice may be lawfully proved by them. We affirm; our opponents deny. Not all however, for Bellarmine agrees with us here. “Nothing,” says he, “is of faith, except what God has revealed by the apostles and prophets, or what may be plainly deduced from them” (VD 4.9, pp. 131–32; cf. “De Justificatione,” 3.8 in Opera [1858], 4:542–44). Cano (“De Locis Theologicis,” 12.6 in Opera [1605], pp. 586–97), Salmeron (Commentarii in evangelicam historiam [1612], vol. 1, Prolegomenon 9, Canon 7, p. 95), Torquemada, (Summa de Ecclesia 4, Pt. II.8 [1561], pp. 380–81) and many others agree with him. These maintain that to be of faith which by necessary and legitimate consequence can be derived from Scripture.

The use of consequences proved from the design of Scripture.

IX. Many things establish the use of consequences in things of faith. (1) The design of Scripture, which is to serve for doctrine (didaskalia), for reproof (elenchos), for correction (panorthōsis), for instruction (paideia) and comfort (paraklēsis) (2 Tim. 3:16; Rom. 15:4) which could not be answered without them because no thesis could be transferred to its hypothesis, nor could any application of Scripture to theological or practical uses ever be made. (2) The nature of man to whom the mysteries of religion are committed, who is not a trunk or a brute, but a rational creature and (being capable of reasoning) bound to search the Scriptures (Jn. 5:39) and not to be satisfied with the shell of the words but to penetrate to the very kernel and sense that he may gather from what he has read something which he has not read (as Augustine well remarks, Contra Maximinum Hereticum Arianorum Episcopum 2*.3 [PL 42.760]). (3) The wisdom of God; for as when a wise man speaks, he wishes everything which can lawfully be gathered from his words to be understood as being said by him; thus being infinitely wise and foreseeing all that could be deduced from the word, God so spoke that whatever could be lawfully gathered from what he said should be considered as his word. (4) The practice of heretics, who the better to defend their errors against the orthodox, have entirely repudiated the use of consequences. The Arians denied the homoousion just because it was not contained in Scripture in so many words (autolexei). Hence they are called “syllable-catchers” by Basil. Gregory Nazianzus calls the contender against the divinity of the Holy Spirit who uses this artifice, an A.B.C. Sophist and a pettifogger of words (sykophantēn tōn onomatōn, Oration 31*.24, “On the Holy Spirit” [NPNF2, 7:325; PG 36.160]). (5) The usage of papists who prove by consequences many of their doctrines concerning the primacy and infallibility of the pope, transubstantiation, purgatory and the like. (6) The example of Christ and the apostles who often used consequences; as when Christ proved against the Sadducees the resurrection of the dead from the formula of the covenant (Mt. 22:32) which says nothing expressly about the resurrection; and when the apostles proved that Jesus of Nazareth was the true Messiah promised in the Old Testament, although nothing is there said of him in so many words (autolexei). Nor should it be replied that the authority of Christ and the apostles is infallible and therefore that their consequences also are of undoubted truth, while ours are not. For although the consequences of Christ are infallible in themselves from the authority of the speaker, yet they had not their force with the Sadducees from the authority of the speaker (which they did not acknowledge), but from the nature of what was said. Otherwise, how could Christ by this proof have stopped the mouths of his enemies who did not acknowledge his authority?

X. Although the inferences of Christ as to us may pass into the word of God for the simple reason that they come from Christ and may be made lawfully objects of faith, yet it is false that these were esteemed actually by the Sadducees, the enemies of Christ. Nay for this sole reason, they were admitted because they had a foundation in the words of Moses quoted by Christ. They were therefore recognized as such by them, regard being paid to the words and not the speaker.

XI. The Logismoi, against which the weapons of our warfare are directed (2 Cor. 10:4, 5*), are not all kinds of reasoning, but as we read there logismoi epairomenoi kata tēs gnōseōs tou Theou (viz., exalting themselves against, not acting as handmaids; opposing the gospel, not lending their assistance to it). The former are deservedly to be destroyed because they are incompatible (asystatoi) with faith; but not so legitimate reasonings, being in subjection to revelation and properly used both for its explication and application.

XII. The foundation upon which a thing rests is different from the instrument which we use for the knowledge of the thing itself. That which has a fallible foundation cannot be infallible because the effect cannot be greater in every respect than its cause. Reason here however is not the foundation, but the instrument.

XIII. Although the intellect which educes consequences is fallible, it does not follow that the consequences themselves are false and uncertain. (1) The possibility of being deceived is different from being actually deceived; the being at fault sometimes from being so always. A power which is of itself and always fallible in every exercise cannot give foundation to infallible certainty. But such is not the intellect because it is fallible not in itself but accidentally; nor in all, but only in some things. Otherwise if the argument held good universally and if (because reason is sometimes deceived) no reliance must ever be placed upon it, it would follow that all true knowledge and certainty had been removed from the world, and Pyrrhonism and incomprehensibleness (akatalēpsian) introduced. In like manner all certainty of the senses would be taken away because they are sometimes deceived, which everyone sees to be in the highest degree absurd. For the power of fallibility is not necessarily connected with each act. Nay it can by the use of legitimate means be hindered from flowing into the act. Therefore as the senses must be freed from all obstacles inhibiting their certainty (existing either in the object, the medium or the organ), so the intellect must be freed from the prejudices which stand in the way of right reason, and then it will not go wrong. Now we speak here of a sound and rightly constituted intellect.

XIV. To apprehend the reason of a consequence is different from apprehending the consequent itself. Faith apprehends the consequent; reason the consequence. And it does not follow from this that faith (by which the consequent is believed) is founded upon reason because reason is not an argument here on account of which I believe, but the instrument through which I believe. Now the instrument does not introduce into the text what was not there before, but educes by legitimate consequences what was concealed in it. Hence the theological conclusion results from the inferred mean, but the logical from reason or the instrument eliciting consequences. The consequence, as to its materiality, is founded upon the word; as to its formality, upon reason.

XV. Although reason concurs in educing consequences, it does not follow that faith is established by reason; as, although faith cometh by hearing, yet the senses are not the foundation of faith; faith uses reason, is not built upon it. It uses it as an instrument of application and mode of knowledge, but is not built upon it as a foundation and rule of things to be believed.

XVI. Mixed syllogisms (in which one of the premises belongs to natural, the other to revealed religion) do not cease to be of faith. (1) Every proposition receives its denomination from the subject and not from the predicate. (2) A proposition of revealed religion virtually contains that which is drawn from the light of nature to prove it and thus communicates its own force to it. (3) To prove a conclusion of faith, the middle term must be taken not from nature, but from the Scriptures; but where the connection of the mean with the major extreme is denied by the adversary, it must be assisted by the principles of reason, not in order to prove the truth of the mean, but of the connection. For example, I deny that the bread becomes the body of Christ in the Supper (this mean term having been assumed that it has the accidents of bread). But if the connection of the mean with the major extreme is denied (viz., that is true bread which has the properties of bread), it must then be proved from reason because it is not contained in Scripture formally, but only virtually.

XVII. The agency of reason is so far from making faith doubtful that it rather greatly assists and establishes the knowledge and certainty of it. Only distinguish between reason in the abstract and in the concrete: reason illuminates in the believer or is darkness in the unregenerate. It is true that the blind and false reason does make a doubtful faith, but we deny it concerning sound and enlightened reason.

XVIII. Although the divine may have a more perfect knowledge of consequences, yet this is no reason why an ignorant person may not have the same according to his capacity, although he may be unacquainted with logic and metaphysics because the light of reason and natural logic suffice to enable him to perceive natural consequences.

XIX. In this kind of reasoning where something is adduced by consequence, it is requisite: (1) that one of the premises, or both, immediately or mediately, be contained in proper or figurative words in the Scriptures; (2) that the consequence or inference be necessary and evident (necessary not only by a formal, but also by a material and consequential necessity, as when a consequent is deduced from an antecedent, a species from a genus, an effect from a cause); (3) that it be evident on account of assent so that on account of the evidence of inference we may assent no less to the conclusion than to the premises.

XX. It is one thing to speak of reasonings drawn from Scripture and according to it and subordinated to and resolvable into it; another to speak of those which are opposed to it. Because heretics use the latter to prove their errors, it does not follow that the former are inadmissible. For the legitimate use of a thing ought not to be taken away on account of its abuse.

XXI. The use of consequences is not at variance with the simplicity of the disciples of Christ for although it becomes the sheep of Christ to be simple, they ought not to be brutes, but rational creatures. Nor if we are bound to listen to Christ’s voice alone, ought the use of consequences therefore to be rejected provided we employ them with lawful moderation. Yea it is because the voice of Christ is to be heard that we must search the Scriptures so as to distinguish his voice from others, which cannot be done without the use of reason. So far from departing from Scripture or adding to it by reasonings drawn by consequences from Scripture, we are thus able rather to trace out and reduce to practice only those things which the Scriptures contain.

XXII. Although Scripture is said to be perfect (as a foundation of things to be believed and done inasmuch as it contains all the doctrines and precepts of life necessary to salvation) this is not to deny the necessity of explication and application. For a rule is perfect, and yet we have to apply it. Nor does that application detract from the perfection of the rule, but rather proves and declares it.

XXIII. The mataiologia or “vain jangling” which the apostle condemns (1 Tim. 1:6) is not sound reasoning by consequences from Scripture, but a curious and troublesome discussion of unimportant things which he calls fables and endless genealogies (mythous kai genealogias aperantous, v. 4) such as the fables of the Gentiles concerning the gods and their generation (theogonia) and also the dreams of the Jews concerning Lilith, Behemoth, Leviathan and other silly trifles of the Talmud.

XXIV. The abuse of reasonings is not to be confounded with their use, nor is a thing considered in the abstract to be condemned on account of its perverse application in the concrete. Thus many are deceived in their perception of objects of sound and sight. Still, on that account, we are not to say that all things are uncertain which are apprehended by the senses. So if they err, who use consequences to establish the false doctrines of transubstantiation or of consubstantiation because they are forced and illegitimate, those who use them lawfully ought not to be condemned. Otherwise it would follow that the use of the Scriptures themselves must be condemned because many heretics have made an improper use of them.

XXV. To listen to a person as a framer of doctrines (in which character Moses, the prophets and Christ alone are to be heard both as to the things taught and as to the manner of teaching) is different from listening to a maker of instruments suitable for explaining and applying these doctrines (in which character men using consequences are to be heard).

XXVI. There is a difference between the principles of doctrines and of the truth of propositions and the principles of the truth of inferences. The former are drawn from Scripture; the latter from reason. And because the truth of propositions is more important, it is principally regarded in arguments, and from it the judgment ought to be made concerning the conclusion. Hence the conclusion of the argument will be theological because the principle of the doctrines is such. But reason is not the principle of the thing, but of the knowledge of the thing; nor so much the principle as the instrument by which the thing to be proved is known.

XXVII. The consequence is a work of reason (considered formally and organically) because it is elicited by reason, but not as considered originally and materially for the doctrine elicited by consequence. Thus consequences are not of faith on the part of the organ by which they are deduced (for I do not believe because I so reason, but because the word of God declares it); yet they are of faith on the part of the principle from which they are deduced (for as the premises, so must the conclusions thence be deduced).

XXVIII. We may consider a thing as coming from the Holy Spirit, either mediately and in branches (viz., that which is deduced from Scripture by the help of reason) or immediately and in the root (which is contained in it in so many words). In the former sense, consequences are from the Holy Spirit, not in the latter.

XXIX. Although we must not regard as the doctrine of the Reformed those which can by any method be deduced from their confessions and be imputed to them; nor as the opinion of the Lutherans that which may be inferred from their doctrine—it does not follow that we must not consider as the word of God that which may be lawfully and plainly deduced from it. The cases are entirely different. For the Holy Spirit (who searches the deep things of God [ta bathē tou Theou, 1 Cor. 2:10] as he is omniscient) could foresee and intend whatever it was possible to gather rightly from his words. But men (who are neither omniscient nor infallible) were unable to know what might in after times be deduced from their words.

XXX. When Peter denies that Scripture is of private interpretation (2 Pet. 1:20), he does not use the word “private” subjectively—that which can be legitimately derived by any private person from a comparison of Scriptures. Otherwise the Holy Spirit would not command us to read and to search the Scriptures and compare spiritual things with spiritual (1 Cor. 2:13); to prophesy according to the proportion of faith (Rom. 12:6); and to apply them to conviction and correction (2 Tim. 3:16*). Rather he means interpretation as private originally and (as the text reads idia epilysis, i.e., one’s own and individual) arising from the brain and pleasure of each man, and which the words of Scripture and the comparing of them do not furnish (such as the right which the pope claims for himself of interpreting Scripture at his pleasure according to that infallible spirit which he makes peculiar and private to himself).

XXXI. That Scripture may be explained by Scripture, it suffices that Scripture in the antecedents and consequents, in the parallels, scope, etc., supply to the interpreter the foundations and reasons by which he may deduce the genuine sense and demonstrate it to the consciences of others. But it is not necessary for the Scriptures to say in any place that this passage must be explained by another, nor that there should be read expressly in Scripture the consequences and interpretation which I propose; as when a lawyer comparing law with law and explaining one by another says that the emperor and legislator interpret each other. There is no need for the emperor to say anywhere expressly that this law must be explained by that and these words by those.

XXXII. Although Scripture judges not of the propriety of a consequence as to the truth of connection (because this depends upon the aid of reason), it does not cease to be the sole judge of controversies of faith as to the truth of propositions. As the law does not cease to be the judge of suits which arise in the state, although it does not declare that the consequences (which are deduced from it for acquitting one and condemning another) are good and well formed. Nor was it ever heard that the principles of the real sciences judged of the appropriateness of the consequences derived from them, although controversies may be decided by them, physical by physical, ethical by ethical.

XXXIII. As hearing does not make the sound and sight does not make the light (which it perceives by looking), so neither does the intellect make its own object (nor the truth and the word of God which it understands by reasoning); but in like manner it must have these things presented to it. But as the intellect by reasoning makes the truth and the word of God conclusive, so sight and hearing (by their exercise) give us the knowledge of light and sound.

XXXIV. Although that is plain and evident which is denied by no one and is immediately comprehended by all, it does not follow that a thing is not perspicuous which is not immediately comprehended by all. For often many things are obscure to many persons (which could and would be very plain to them) either because they did not give the proper attention or because they were blinded by prejudice. When we say that our consequences are evident, we do not mean in the former sense, as if they were denied by no one and could be readily comprehended by anyone without attention and examination; but that they are evident to those diligently attending and considering them in a proper manner, or such that he who does not see them cannot have a good conscience.

XXXV. If by formally revealed is meant that which is contained expressly in the word of God, we certainly cannot say that consequences are formally revealed. But if by it be meant that which is contained in so many or in equivalent words, or that which by evident and necessary consequence may be deduced from it, we cannot deny that they are formally revealed and therefore may with propriety be called the formal object of faith.


 Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger, vol. 1 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992–1997), 37–43.

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