Friday, September 21, 2007

Webster on Ursinus and Theological Education

John Webster, Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch (Cambridge University Press, 2003), 120-1.


The familiar modern pattern arranges theology by a four-fold division into biblical, historical, systematic-doctrinal and practical theology sub-disciplines. Ursinus himself mapped the theological task in a quite different way. There are, he says, ‘three parts of the study of Divinity’. First, there is ‘Catechetical institution’, defined as ‘a summary and briefe explication of Christian doctrine’. This is followed by ‘an handling of Common places’, which is differentiated from ‘institution’ not in terms of its subject matter, but in terms of depth. The study of commonplaces covers the same ground as ‘institution’ and differs only in that it offers ‘a larger explication of every point, and of hard questions together with their definitions, divisions, reason and arguments’. Finally, there is ‘the reading and diligent meditation of the Scripture, or holy Writ. And this is the highest degree of the study of Divinity, for which Catechisme and Common places are learned; to wit, that we may come furnished to the reading, understanding, and propounding of the holy Scripture.’ Three things might be noted about Ursinus’ map. First, the distinctions he draws are not between different sub-disciplines but between different modes of engagement with the same unitary subject. Second, Holy Scripture is not simply one concern of theology, but that towards which all studies in divinity move. Third, the end of studies in divinity is clear: ‘For Catechisme and Common places, as they are taken out of Scripture, and are directed by Scripture as by their rule; so againe they conduct and lead us as it were by the hand into the Scripture.’
Learn a little about Zacharias Ursinus.

2 comments:

James said...

Speaking of Webster, whereabouts might one find content from his recent Kantzer lectures?

D.W. Congdon said...

Brilliant. That's a theological education I can get behind. I wrote in my Field Ed report last spring that I think PTS is representative of a general Babylonian captivity of theology to a modern academic framework that inhibits rather than promotes theological education. Next time I will include a reference to Ursinus.