A Concise Marrow of Theology (JH Heidegger)

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Heidegger, JH.s, A Concise Marrow of Theology, trans. Casey Carmichael. Volume 4: Classic Reformed Theology, ed. R. Scott Clark. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2019.

“These are the guys in your footnotes.” That is a good way to describe “Classic Reformed Theology.” If one peruses a manual Heppe or reads Richard Muller, he will come across names such as Heidegger, Cocceius, and Olevianus. If he then tries to find English language material on the men, he would have been hard-pressed. This problem is being remedied by the “Classic Reformed Theology” series.

J. H. Heidegger (1633-1698) ministered in Zurich during the latter end of the Reformed scholastic era. Following “marrow manuals” like the one by Ames, Heidegger works through the key loci in dogmatic theology. Unlike Ames, at least in this volume, he does not work through the Heidelberg Catechism. Rather, as the introduction makes clear, he wants to provide youth a reliable and ready-to-use guide for theology, whereas Ames’ work might be better used for sermons or lessons. There was a certain logic behind “marrow theology”: “In the Renaissance schoolchildren throughout Europe were taught to keep notebook in which they were to record passages from their reading worth saving for memorization and later use” (Ann Blair, The Theater of Nature: Jean Bodin and Renaissance Science (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997), 65).

The goal of this manual, Heidegger notes in his preface to the reader, is that “youth may advance by steps in the same manner….from virtue to virtue” (Heidegger 7). Each chapter addresses a locus in theology, under which he subdivides the sections. For example, Locus I, section II reads I.II.

Theological Method

There is not anything particularly new in his method. He follows the general programme set forth by Turretin, although he is far more concise than Turretin. Defending natural theology, he writes: “Natural theology is a word about God from nature, taught by the dictate of reason alone” (Heidegger, I.II). Heidegger explains that reason in theology is “either principal or organic.” If principal, it brings out arguments for the faith out of one’s own bosom, “striking down the sophistries of corrupt reason.” If organic, on matters depending on revelation alone, it receives revelation, “by discerning it from what is false” (I.VIII).

He distinguishes his method from the scholastic method, not because scholasticism is bad. Indeed, he himself is a scholastic. Rather, so it seems, for he does not really explain the point, scholasticism, presumably the medieval model, proceeded by way of disputation. There is a legitimate place for that, but it is not useful to the beginning student. By contrast, and in line with authors like Herman Witsius, theology follows “in a certain order the progress of revelation, history, and the economy of the covenant of grace” (I.X). That is the outline for the book, though not rigidly so. He comments on the administrations of the economy of grace, but he does not attempt to force doctrines at different points in biblical history.

On God

Following the model of classical theology, Heidegger distinguishes between the order of being and the order of knowing. Moreover, in perhaps an advance upon previous models, Heidegger unites the two. The order of being teaches that God exists and is known by right reason. The rational mind, then, “necessarily assents” (III.I).

Following Thomas Aquinas and the better elements of the Great Tradition, Heidegger explains that God’s incommunicable attributes are not blank negatives. Apophatic theology, properly understood, is not a mystic void absent of all specificity. Rather, we remove every imperfection in the term and affirm every perfection by way of analogy (III.IV). For example, “His infinity removes him from essence of the same local boundary through immensity” (III.VIII).

Following Thomas and the tradition, Heidegger says God knows himself “in a most perfect manner, through his essence and in a single act he simultaneously knows himself and all things outside of him, from Him and through Him” (III.XI).

The Covenant of Works

Heidegger gives a strange but seemingly cogent argument for the covenant of works: “It is known from nature because conscience dictates that it is a crime against God for obedience to be stipulated by man” (IX.II). His argument seems to be that since there was some sort of law or command in the garden, and since it could not have been by man, it must have been by God. Since it was by God, it took the form of a covenant. As there is a covenant of works, so there is a natural law. Law can be divided two-fold, archetypal and ectypal, both of which are the divine law (IX.VI).

The Covenant of Grace

The covenant of grace is grounded in the testamentary promise of God, “the free disposition of God the Savior about the inheritance of righteousness and heavenly life” (XI.VIII). It is not the same as the covenant of grace; it is its cause.

The covenant of grace is “one in regard to substance, diverse in regard to economy” and “a little bit more free” under the patriarchs, “the sort for infants” (XII.I). Heidegger distinguishes this from the economy under Moses, which was “more servile, the sort for children growing into adolescence.” It is probably reading too much into Heidegger to see a fully-fledged republication of the covenant of works, but the concept is certainly there. Indeed, speaking of the covenant at Sinai, it had a legal aspect to it, “flowing from the covenant of works” (XIII:III).

On Christ

The divine Logos communicated grace to the human nature of Christ on account of the personal union (XVII.VIII). It is an “eminent grace,” seeing the human nature as eminent over creation. It is habitual, conferring “incomparable but finite qualities to it.” This communion is “real in respect to the person, verbal in respect to the natures” (XVII.IX).

On Grace

Heidegger is willing to use the language of “habit” with regard to faith. He notes that a “divine disposition (habitus) is infused. Disposition is infused because believers have (echomen) faith.” On the other hand, the cause of faith is not the sinner, nor the habit, but the merit of Christ (XX.XIII).

Regarding justification, his argument is simple: the language in Scripture cannot mean “to make,” since a judge can never make a person ontologically wicked or righteous.

In Conclusion

In an earlier review, I said that Caspar Olevianus’s commentary on the Apostles’ Creed was the best place to start with the Reformed scholastics. It still might be, but many readers will find Heidegger’’s outline and concise points very helpful. The binding of the book is very nice and it is relatively inexpensive for the quality of material and formatting.
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