Francis Turretin’s Ecclesiology: Introduction

Francis Turretin’s Ecclesiology: Introduction

Have I ever told you how much I like ecclesiology? Well, I do like it a great deal. This past semester I wrote a research paper on Calvin’s understanding of church discipline in relation to his ecclesiology in general and his notae ecclesiae and notae fidelium in particular. Also, I have dedicated and continue to dedicate much of my time to thinking about sacramentology, a sub-set of ecclesiology. My honors thesis at Wheaton College was on a “properly evangelical” understanding of the Lord’s Supper, and my thesis here at Princeton Theological Seminary (currently underway) deals with Barth’s doctrine of baptism. Finally, in this my final semester of MDiv study, I have the pleasure of taking a class on the Lord’s Supper from Professor George Hunsinger (who should have a book on the subject coming out sometime soon, so keep an eye out for it).

But enough about me. I’m sure you all are wondering why, even if I like ecclesiology, I would chose to do a blog series on Turretin’s ecclesiology. All I can tell you is that I’m not sure why. Cynthia surely has something to do with it. But, I think that the primary reason is simply that I’ve had Turretin sitting on my shelf for over a year and I have still not looked through his material on ecclesiology. Such neglect cannot be tolerated.

In any case, I intend in this series to skip the stone of my mind across the lake of Turretin’s ecclesiology. A close reading of the 500+ pages in question is simply too much to ask of myself right now. So, I’ll be dropping into interesting / important sections and sharing my thoughts with you all along with any particularly interesting quotes. Here is the bibliographic information for the source of my page citations throughout the series:
Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, volume 3 (Translated by Musgrave Giger; edited by James T. Dennison, Jr; Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1997)
Below is a brief introduction to Turretin based primarily on the biographic sketch that Dennison provides at the end of volume 3, but also augmented in my discussion of Turretin at Princeton Theological Seminary by my own acquaintance with PTS’s archives gained because of my work with the Special Collections / Archives department over the past 2.5 years.

1. Peter Martyr Vermigli?

At the time of the Reformation, Turretin’s family had ascended to the ranks of nobility in the Italian town of Lucca because of their success in the silk trade. In 1541, Peter Martyr Vermigli arrived in Lucca to serve as a Prior. Vermigli was already in the process of being influenced by Luther, and – finding that Lucca had already been introduced to the “new learning” of the Renaissance humanists – set about preaching the gospel and educating the people in its import. But, the Pope got the Inquisition up and running again at about this time, and Vermigli was compelled to flee in 1542. Turretin’s great-grandfather (Regolo), though sympathetic to the Reformation doctrine, did not feel as though he needed to break with Rome. But, Vermigli had sown the seeds of the evangelical faith that would flower, generations later, in the last great Reformed scholastic.

2. Turretin’s Family, esp. his father.

Turretin’s grandfather (Francesco) was born after Vermigli fled Lucca. He accompanied his father (Turretin’s great-grandfather) on business trips and was an adept manager of the family finances even at age 17. But, these trips exposed Francesco even further to the evangelical faith, and he committed himself to it at age 19. Francesco fled Lucca in 1574 when the Inquisition returned. He passed through Lyons, Geneva, Antwerp and Zurich, making significant portions of money at each stop through plying his family’s silk trade, before returning to Geneva permanently. Here he continued to prosper, and became an important figure in Geneva, serving on the Council of 200 and the Council of 60.

It was Turretin’s father (Benedict) who upped the ante on his family’s commitment to the evangelical faith. He was educated in the Academy that Calvin established in Geneva, and he spent his career teaching theology there. He also represented Geneva at various important synods for the various Reformed churches, including Dort, and the subsequent meeting of the French Synod at Alez. He also raised money to repair Geneva’s defenses in the early 1600’s, a feat that his son Francis would repeat years later.

3. Turretin’s Life.

Francis Turretin (1623-1687) was also trained at the Geneva academy. Upon graduation, Francis went abroad to all the great centers of Reformed theology where he met the important theologians (such as Moise Amyraut) and became acquainted with the condition of Reformed theology. It was during Turretin’s life that the “Protestant Civil War” (p. 643) raged between the orthodox in Geneva (Turretin) and the Amyraldians based in Saumur (Amyraut, Cappel, and la Place). The battle progressed throughout Turretin’s life and increasingly penetrated in the inner sanctums of orthodox Geneva. It would finally be Turretin’s son, Jean-Alphonse (who was 16 when Turretin died and thus did not receive his formative theological education from his father) who repudiated the Helvetic Consensus in 1706. As Dennison puts matters,
“Turretin and his Institutio were the swan song of an orthodoxy which would be decimated by the rationalists of the dawning Enlightenment. Turretin’s orthodoxy would be regarded as a monument from a retrograde and restrictive past. Man was on the brink of freedom – the chains of orthodoxy were about to be ruptured. That freedom has proved to be more savage and totalitarian than any biblical orthodoxy. Men who will not have God as their Lord will only destroy themselves – and one another. Francis Turretin would concur – the greatest mass murderers of all time – Josef Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot – were not children of orthodoxy – they were in fact true children of the Enlightenment!” (p. 647)
A scholarly note: Turretin’s theology is scholastic in that it is done with an eye to teaching in a “school.” This is seen by its organization into questions and answers, and its high level of technicality. Further, Turretin’s theology is “elenctic” in that it seeks to expose error. It is a polemic theology, even though Turretin has a positive project in view as well.

4. Turretin at PTS.

Francis Turretin’s Institutio Theologiae Elencticae was the standard textbook for theology at Princeton Theological Seminary from the time it was founded in 1812 under Archibald Alexander until Charles Hodge published his Systematic Theology in 1872. The text was read in Latin, although Hodge asked Giger (on faculty at Princeton University and a contemporary of Hodge’s) to produce a translation, done by hand, which was put in the PTS library for students to reference. The length of Turretin’s use at PTS was extended because Hodge held off publishing his systematics, which were based on his lectures, until late in life because he thought that ministerial candidates would stop coming to PTS to hear him lecture if they could simply read those lectures. In any case, both Alexander and Hodge formulated their theology in constant critical dialogue with Turretin.


Anonymous said…
WTM, I look forward to this. I will actually being doing some work on Calvin and Turretin and the Lord's Supper later in the semester for a class on divine mediation. I am planning on eventually doing a paper on it. However, I have to admit that I had never really heard much of him before this semester. So, I am glad to hear that someone else will be writing about it. I'll be sure to email you soon.
This is an excellent introduction. I look forward to reading more about Turretin.
Thanks for this blogpost. Certainly usefull to know Turretin was such a standard at Princeton.

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