Francis Turretin’s Ecclesiology: 18.6

Sixth Question – In what sense is the church called catholic?

This section is even shorter than the previous, which leads me to this observation – scholastic theology really isn’t that bad. Some have called for dogmatic theology to be much shorter. Scholastic theology often gets a bad rap for its length. Think Turretin, Thomas, and even Barth is a scholastic of a certain type. But, most of these guys (Barth tends to be an exception) know how to get in, deal with something, and get out without excessiveness. The reason that their theology gets to be so long is that they keep working on it over a period of years with the necessity of teaching theology to students. In other words, theology gets so long because there is so much to say. Given that God is infinite, this isn’t a surprise. As Scripture tells us, “Of the writing of books, there is no end.”

Since some could construe my above comments as “Barth-bashing”, allow me a caveat. Barth’s verbosity is part of his theology. Barth’s theology is a literary theology, almost a narrative theology. The form is intimately bound up with the content. He brings nuance, greater clarity, depth, and further insight through his repetitious form. It is a theology that shapes the reader, rather than that makes clear, on the basis of straightforward argument based on evidence and distinction (although there is this in Barth), how to answer a particular question. Barth’s theology is a process (as it was for him to write it!) and not an answer.

That said, on to Turretin’s sixth question of section eighteen.

Like I said, this section is short. Turretin gives three ways in which the church can be called catholic. [1] “Catholic” refers to “all the elect and believers” past, present and future (p. 30). [2] The “catholic” church refers to the New Testament church, not the Old, because the NT church is more expansive that the OT. This is true with reference to places in that the NT church is scattered throughout the whole world (Turretin doesn’t seem to have access to information on the Jewish diaspora, so we shall forgive him), persons in that the NT church accepts all kinds of people and not just Jews (the citation for this says Romans 10.12 and Colossians 3.11 but Turretin specifically says “male and female” suggesting Galatians 3.28 – I think the editor just messed up on this one), and times in that the NT church will continue until the end of time. [3] That the church is “catholic” refers to the affirmation of “orthodox catholic doctrine”, and he calls on Vincent of Lerins for the notion that the church “holds what is believed everywhere, always and by all” (p. 31).

The opening sentences of this section single out the “Romanists” as Turretin’s opponents here, and he returns to this toward the end of the section – “it [catholicity] does not belong to the Roman church, since it neither holds the catholic faith, nor is it everywhere diffused” (p. 32). Turretin’s final comments are that catholicity is not a mark of the church, even though it is an aspect of the / a true church.


millinerd said…
Your commendation of scholasticism is very similar to R.R. Reno's latest article in First Things ("Theology After the Revolution") in respect to Catholic theology. He recalls the crispness and rigor of Thomism versus the ingenious verbosity of Balthasar, Congar, who rebelled against it. You both seem to be suggesting there is something to be said for the older ways of thinking. But of course Prot-Scholastics and Thomists would disagree on the church.
WTM said…

I haven't read Reno's piece (nor did I know it existed, so thanks for the link!) so I can't comment on it. All I know is that there is something to the rigour of scholasticism.

I'm not sure I would go in for any of their different brands of pedogogical logic, and I'm not sure that setting forth doctrine in terms of proposition is the best wedding of form and content, but you have to respect the brain-power and care involved.

Taking away the verbosity of the genius theologians (I'm thinking KB, HUvB, etc) can tend to take the life out of their thought, but at the same time, the task of interpreting these greats is something of a scholastic process.
millinerd said…
To expand on this... Reno's point is that the genius of Balthasar, etc. would not have been possible without a Thomistic culture that Balthasar et. al. chaffed against but were indebted to. One might say the same for Barth only being possible thanks to the ground of Protestant scholasticism.

The danger is that new generations only read Balthasar or Barth, not the ground that they emerged from, hence we are incapable of doing anything nearly as good.
WTM said…
I can certainly get behind that sort of a notion. If we are to be decent theologians, and especially if we want to understand the great theologians, we need to be deep into the theological tradition.

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