The Fundamental Principles of Theology as the Work of the Trinity

We thus identify three fundamental principles for theology: God is the essential foundation (principium essendi); Scripture is the external cognitive foundation (principium cognoscendi externum); and the Holy Spirit is the internal principle of knowing (principium cognoscendi internum). The foundations of theology are thus trinitarian: The Father, through the Son as Logos, imparts himself to his creatures in the Spirit.

The archetypal knowledge of God in the divine consciousness; the ectypal knowledge of God granted in revelation and recorded in Holy Scripture; and the knowledge of God in the subject, insofar as it proceeds from revelation and enters into the human consciousness, are all three of them from God. It is God himself who discloses his self-knowledge, communicates it through revelation, and introduces it into human beings. And materially they are one as well, for it is one identical, pure, and genuine knowledge of God, which he has of himself, communicates in revelation, and introduces into the human consciousness.

Source: Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena


We Only Know a Limited Sketch of God

Our knowledge of God is the imprint of the knowledge God has of himself but always on a creaturely level and in a creaturely way. The knowledge of God present in his creatures is only a weak likeness, a finite, limited sketch, of the absolute self-consciousness of God accommodated to the capacities of the human or creaturely consciousness. But however great the distance is, the source (principium essendi) of our knowledge of God is solely God himself, the God who reveals himself freely, self-consciously, and genuinely.

Source: Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 212.

The Arche of All Things

According to Simplicius, the neoplatonic commentator on Aristotle, and similarly Hippolytus in his Refutatio omnium haeresium, Anaximander was the first to describe the ground of things he found in the ἀπειρον (the unbounded) with the term ἀρχη (beginning, origin, foundation, or source). By doing this, however, he may have meant only that the ἀπειρον was the beginning and first of all things. But in the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle this word acquired the meaning of the ultimate cause of things. Plato already speaks of the principle of motion, of becoming, and of proof, and Aristotle understands ἀρχαι in general to refer to the first things in a series and particularly the first causes that cannot be traced to other causes…

This terminology was adopted in theology as well. In Scripture ἀρχη not only often has a temporal meaning (Mark 1:1; John 1:1, etc.) but also, a few times, a causative meaning. In the Septuagint the fear of the Lord is called the ἀρχη of wisdom (Prov. 1:7), and in Colossians 1:18 and Revelation 3:14 Christ is called the ἀρχη of creation and of the resurrection. The church fathers frequently spoke of the Father as ἀρχη (origin), πηγη (source), and αἰτιον (cause) of the Son and Spirit, just as Augustine calls the Father “the principle of the whole divinity” (principium totius divinitatis). Thus God was the essential foundation (principium essendi) or the principle of existence (principium existendi) of all that has been created, hence also of science and specifically again of theology.

Source: Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena

Philosophy Can Never Lay the Groundwork for the Study of Theology

Reaction to page 208:

It used to be that when you write about theology, you start by discussing the nature of theology. After Kant critiqued this method, theologians lost their footing. Schleiermacher worked around this by trying to give theology another foundation. He believed that theology is not a matter of knowing but of feeling. He made dogmatics dependent on philosophy.

Following Schleiermacher, theologians began prefacing their writings with a kind of apologetic tone instead of the usual prolegomena. What happened was that theology lost its own foundation and was no longer developed from its own first principles. Theology now had to wait for philosophy to examine its basis and right to exist before it could undertake its tasks. This means that the theologian could not take his stance from within Christianity but have to look outside in the study of religions. From there, he would have to work his way to an exposition of the Christian faith.  Continue reading Philosophy Can Never Lay the Groundwork for the Study of Theology