Dogmatics, therefore, is not a dull and arid science. It is a theodicy, a doxology to all God’s virtues and perfections, a hymn of adoration and thanksgiving…
I’m a big Ol’ History nerd, so I really enjoyed Chapter 3 – The Formation of Dogma: East and West (pgs. 115-142). Scripture is not a work of dogmatics or systematics, it is the inspired word of God and “the immediate expression of life.” He says that Scripture had not yet become the something that early believers reflected upon with a ‘thinking conscience.’
For this reason, the early church merely articulated dogmatics in epistolary writings and basic creeds. Outside of the canonical epistles, we have those that came later, i.e. Clement, Shepherd of Hermes, etc. As the church grew, we entered the era of apologetics. No longer writing just answers to questions of actions, we were forced to reflect more deeply on scripture in order to defend our beliefs in the face of persecution or our community being ostracized.
Educated converts such as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus defended the faith against Gnosticism and created a ‘Christian vocabulary and worldview.’ Later through Tertullian and Origen, the foundations of Theology were set and Christianity increasingly became to be ‘understood primarily as a set of idea.’
The fourth century led to great developments in dogmatics as, after becoming the official religion, questions of theology moved from external attacks to internal struggles. The most compelling issues where those of the Christological nature, especially that of homoousia, that is the dual nature of Christ. Athanasius strongly asserted that the deity of Christ was the essence of Christianity; that is Christ had to be God to bring salvation. He along with others (Basil, the Gregorys, etc.) wrote polemic on this, the Trinity and the incarnation, all over and against the Arians and Macedonians. Orthodoxy was settled in 381 A.D. at the Synod of Constantinople.
The next four centuries were ones of turmoil for doctrine. For the eastern church the focus was that of humanity being subject to sin and corruption, and through Christ, we do not die but partake in life. The west focused on our relationship with God. We are guilty of violating the commandments, but through the work of Christ, we have grace. He notes that John resonates with the East and Paul with the West. I have no idea if this is still true of the Orthodox church today, but it always seemed to me there is a further division in the West, that the protestants resonate with Paul, while Catholics focus on Peter.
Regardless, these differences were compounded and then exaggerated by the issues of the filioque, eventually leading to the great schism of East and West in 1054.
Bavinck wraps up the chapter with a discussion on the impact and importance of Augustine. This made me feel bad, considering my dislike for Confessions. He sees East and West meeting in Augustine, saying that his legacy is the greatest of the church fathers; also calling him the most ‘modern of the church fathers.’ Interestingly, he states ‘His influence extends to all churches, schools of theology, and sects.’ However, for me, and I’d venture to guess most of American evangelicals, St. Augustine was a beach until sometime in college or maybe after.
That could probably be a whole post some other time, the American Church’s lack of knowledge of history and theology, but for now let’s get back to Bavinck. Granted, he was writing over 100 years ago in another country, so I’ll assume he is correct in his time and place. Obviously, the impact of Augustine’s writing on Grace and Predestination were major impacts to the Reformation and Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, etc. and are well known in the Reformed community today.
Two final people of import in this period are Pope Gregory the Great, whom he calls the ‘capstone of the ancient world, and the foundation stone of the new’ for his writings and introduction of Christianity to the Germanic peoples. Also, Isidore of Seville, possible the first dogmatician. He writes a 20 book work, called Etymologies, which encompasses all that is known in Christian theology at the time. This work become the model for medieval theologians.
Good quote: “Dogmatics arises from reflection on the truth of Scripture”
Follow along with me, go buy the whole set here – Reformed Dogmatics (4 Volume Set)