Summary Critique of Van Tilianism

This is a short summary of the problems I see with Van Tilianism and its practical nullification of nature as an epistemological category for the Christian.

Direct proof from Van Til’s corpus that natural revelation is meaningless is difficult.
But it is a major implication of his premises.

P1: Noetic effects of sin render independent interpretation of nature by man vain.
P2: Man needs special revelation to interpret natural.
C: Any interpretation of nature independent of Scripture is vain.

This conclusion practically renders nature a null category for the Van Tilian.

This then produces all the branches of Van Tilian thought, each of which are opposed to the corresponding natural content of their field.

Theonomy vs. Natural Law
Presup vs. Classical
Egals vs. Ontology
Covenantal attribute theology proper vs. Classical theism

Each of the initial members of these pairs has a Van Tilian genealogy. Each of these initial members tries to make their case in a two step process.
1) Deny the practical usefulness of nature as an epistemological category for the Christian.
2) Force the Scriptures to make the case for the doctrine now left unfounded by the evacuation of nature as a legitimate source for the Christian.

The problem arises when we try to make Scripture say more than it was meant to say and expect of nature to say what only Scripture can.

As an example. Van Til is known for teaching that unless you hold to the Triune God of Scripture, your worldview is deficient. For the God who is, is Triune. Anything less is idolatry.

However, nature is given to reveal God as Creator and Judge. And generally, that is as far as pagan religions go. They, generally hold to an All-Father diety whom their lesser gods are subject to. Any help this would give to the Christian is voided by the noetic effects of sin in the pagan.

The solution, for Van Til, is then to argue for the existence of the Triune God from nature (this is, imo the heart and burden of the TAG) to show the pagan that they are wrong. But, nature cannot support this claim (of the Triune God) for the Trinity is a doctrine of Scripture, inextricably tied to redemption.

Conversely, the Van Tilian tries to make Scripture answer all the questions of nature. But Scripture cannot bear this burden, for the Scripture was given to show us Christ and lead us to repose in his mediation. It was not given to teach us philosophy, jurisprudence, or the natural meaning of male and female. It presupposes the content of the natural and repeats it summarily. It seldom argues for the content of nature.

Many thanks to my friend Trent Still for being right.

Why Study the Reformed Scholastics?

For most of modern Reformed theology, there has been an operating thesis which says that, after Calvin, there was a departure from the pure evangelical theology of the first generation of Reformers. The simple, pastoral style of Calvin and others was abandoned for the complex and overly rational method of the Scholastics. This thesis has contributed to a poverty in the Reformed world. This poverty can be seen in the debates over basic doctrines found in our confessions. The reason for the debate over these doctrines is that the exegetical foundation for them, which was more fully developed by the post-Calvin scholastic theologians of the Reformation, has been lost.

The passage from Zanchi’s De Operibus that I want to look at is an excellent example of why we should pay attention to the Reformed Scholastics. Two things in particular stand out from this quote; Calvin’s commendable aim of simplicity is reproduced in Zanchi and the emphasis on systematic theology as grounded in the text of Scripture. A third lesson arises from the first two, the need for Latin among our ministers.

Zanchi introducing his exposition of Genesis 1:1

Let no one expect from me, either that I will reproduce statements of every interpretation or that I will follow an minute explanation of each particular point or an observation of them in the manner that they deserve which can be searched out from clear statements of the rest of Scripture. It will be sufficient for me to draw out the common places (topics, loci communes, or heads of doctrine), if I briefly overview the context and, as I myself judge it to be, open up, for a bit, a true and genuine interpretation. This, therefore, is my view: this first verse is the overview of the whole, which afterwards Moses will explain piece by piece, in which he briefly teaches, first, that of those things which are in Heaven, as well as on earth, that is of things invisible and visible, nothing is eternal, save God. Then, all things were made of nothing. And third, all things are from God. This is the proposition; the first part arises from that which is said “In the beginning,” the second from the word “created,” and the third from the name “Elohim.”

The simplicity of Calvin

Note that at the outset, Zanchi sets the expectation for his readers. He says that he is not going to cover all the interpretations that have been produced on this verse nor is he going to descend into examination of all the details of this verse. Rather he proposes to draw out the heads of doctrine that arise from this verse. He is not engaged in logical or grammatical gymnastics. He wants, rather to edify his readers with the pure doctrine that arises from the text and to present it to them clearly.

This was Calvin’s goal in all his expositions, sermons, and the Institutio. What we find in Zanchi is the same goal. There is then a happy continuity between the father of the Reformed faith and one of his offspring. In our expositions, this should also be our goal. Reformed theologians are not academic giants, though they should strive for academic excellence. They are not grammatical savants, though all our doctrines should be tied to the text of Scritpure. Rather, we are pastors, feeding the flock of God the pure word of doctrine revealed in the Holy Scriptures.

Calvin, Zanchi, and the other Reformed scholastics are examples to us of how this should be done.

Loci Communes

As you can see from the quote above, Zanchi uses this phrase to indicate the doctrines that arise from this text and which he will prove in his exposition. The eternity of God, the creation of all things, visible and invisible, and the source of all, God himself, Zanchi draws out of this verse. Far from being a logical deduction from a governing dogma, Reformed scholastic theology was self consciously grounded in the text of Scripture. At the end of the quote, Zanchi indicates the terms from which his three loci arise: the eternity of God from in principio, the creation of all things from creavit, and the source of all things from the name of God, Elohim.

Systematic theology has fallen on hard times. Given the logical nature of it and the complexity that sometimes attends its exposition and defense, modern Christians are little disposed to endure it. Today we are seeing the ascent of Biblical Theology, that is, the examination of the text of Scripture as a literary work with a coherent narrative structure and main narrative thread running through out. And this development is glorious. To be an effective preacher, one needs Biblical Theology if only for the fact that people love a good story. And the Bible contains the best story, God redeeming, through the death of his Only Begotten, a people to worship and adore him. Amen and amen!

But, systematic theology is necessary as well. Without systematic theology, all we have is a happy narrative that has no application to our lives. One of the contributing factors to the aversion to the scholastics is that they were, first and foremost, systematic theologians. Given their training and the language in which they worked (Latin), they were aptly equipped by God’s overruling providence to systematize the doctrines of the Reformation. It is no accident that all the great Reformed Creeds and Confessions grew in and arose from this scholastic soil. The debates over our confessions that are raging right now would be much helped by a return to these fathers of the Reformation. Even Luther saw the need for this work of systematization when he characterised himself as the one who cleared the path through the woods and Philip Melanchthon (“my Philip” in Luther’s homey phrase) as the one who smoothed out the road. Melanchthon was the first to employ the Loci method for arranging the heads of doctrine into a coherent whole. He it was who first wrote a Loci Communes.

Latina discenda est

If you are seeking the Reformed pastorate, you need Latin. The day in which we live is a fascinating modern age. I am writing to you on my phone from which I also accessed Zanchi’s De Operibus, 1602 edition. The only thing that separates my ability to read Zanchi and your inability is the knowledge of Latin. There is now no hindrance between your eyes and those pages, except the acquisition of a relatively easy to learn language (it is much easier than Hebrew and Greek).

I taught Latin for several years. It is by far the most straight forward and regular language I have studied. Whereas English has as many exceptions as it does rules, Latin has rules with very few exceptions. She is as orderly qua legio in agmine.

Your knowledge of Latin will give you access to the exegetical and theological work that went into the formation of our confessions. And it is having that background, as a pastor, that will enable you to teach and defend those doctrines to which you will or have taken vows.

May we be learned men, mighty in the Scriptures, for the good of our flocks and the glory of the Church, our beloved Savior’s Bride.

Sententio Mea

There is so much demand on a pastor’s time and energy. And yet, there is so much in this world to distract him from his goal. The same phone with which I can access Zanchi and any other scholastic text, is also a den of distraction. It is not technology itself that will perpetuate the Reformation. It is goldy pastors who give themselves to these things, whose progress is evident to all and whose teaching will save both themselves and those who hear them (1 Timothy 4:15, 16).

Learning Latin and returning to the Reformed Scholatics is one way a modern Reformed pastor can do just this.

Husbands…even as Christ…

In my two previous posts, I shared with you Zanchi’s definition of marriage and unpacked the trinitarian structure of his definition. In this post, I’d like to delve a bit deeper into what Paul means by instructing husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church in light of the trinitarian structure of marriage that Zanchi elucidates.

The marriage issues swirling in today’s church are serious. With the #MeToo movement, cases of alleged abuse by prominent ministers, politicians, and business men, and a growing consciousness of alleged domestic abuse, the conversation about marriage is being driven by the needs and concerns of women in marriage. This is not to be denigrated, but corrected. Women are only one half of marriage. But, living in a world suffused with feminism, they have a privileged voice in this discussion even as victims, or alleged victims, have a corner market on sympathy. Given this emphasis in the contemporary conversation, much exegesis of scriptures that deal with marriage is driven by these concerns. This is not, eo ipso, wrong. When the Arian heresy was being combated, exegesis was driven by that debate and enabled the Church to clarify her understanding of Scripture’s teaching on the hypostatic union. The fault with Arianism was that it only emphasized half of Scripture’s testimony. In this respect, the feminist hermeneutic, whether academic or popular, emphasizes only half the picture of what marriage is and what a man’s role in marriage is supposed to look like and what it is supposed to accomplish.

The reformed scholastics are a hale and hearty antidote for modern maladies. Writing, as they did, from an older perspective and concerned, as they were, with clearly defining the issues they handled, they supply the modern church with much needed clarity. In particular, Zanchi’s definition of marriage gives scope and purpose to what it means for a man to love his wife as Christ loved the Church.

But, we need some context. This is a short video, produced by The Gospel Coalition, describing how complementarian theology has no place for domestic abuse. In this video, Melissa Kruger gives a brief definition of what complementarian theology teaches. She also cites Ephesians 5 as showing that a husband’s love for his wife is to be sacrificial, even as Christ’s was for his Church. While this emphasis on Christ’s love for the Church as sacrificial is correct, it is only partial. The emphasis on Christ’s love as sacrifice, and terminating therein, reduces the love and mediation of Christ to promoting human flourishing. In the context of the discussion on marriage and because the husband is to imitate Christ in this, this resolves into emphasizing the flourishing of the woman in marriage. But, knowing that this cannot be accomplished by a husband in and of himself, complementarian writers are ready to refocus their desire for female flourishing on Christ himself. Here is an example of the type of teaching that I am interacting with. Kendra Dahl talks about a common problem in marriages where the wife seeks all her fulfillment from her husband, because he is supposed to cherish and nurture her, even as Christ does the Church. Not finding that fulfillment she expects from him, she must repent of her idolatry and look to the sacrificial love of Christ as her only satisfaction. This is fine as far as it goes, but my contention in this post is that it does not go far enough.

To understand the sacrifice of Christ, we must have a trinitarian framework within which the sacrifice of Christ makes sense. Ephesians 1 gives us that framework. It was the Father’s purpose to redeem a people back to himself through the sacrifice of Christ. The necessity for the sacrifice of Christ was God’s determination to have worshipers and the reality of man’s sin. Given sin, death must follow as the penalty; God is holy. But, God is also merciful and, not willing that his creature should perish, he provided the sacrificial lamb to take away the sin of the world. But, why take away sin? To what end was this glorious transaction ordained by divine wisdom? It was for the purpose of worship. That is, so that sinners can be reconciled to God and made able to behold the divine glory.

Thus, the sacrifice of Christ is not merely a token of passionate love which finds its purpose in satisfying the longings of broken sinners. Rather, it finds its purpose in satisfying the eternal purpose of God the Father in redeeming his people back to himself. Our longing is not sated by merely knowing that we are loved by God as displayed on the cross. No, our longing is sated by beholding him as he is. In a word, we are blessed when we see that sight which makes blessed, the Beatific Vision. And the Beatific Vision is only possible because of the Cross.

How then does this relate to Zanchi’s definition of marriage and the role of husbands? Again, if the sacrifice of Christ ipse can only be understood in the trinitarian framework of Scripture, so also, a husband’s role in marriage as imitation of Christ must also be understood in a trinitarian framework. Zanchi has given us that framework.

In the scheme of redemption, the sacrifice of Christ is the great means of bringing men back to God. Therefore, the sacrifice of Christ has a purpose outside of itself and in relation to which it sustains its meaning. Therefore, the love of a husband, the headship of a husband, the sacrificial love of a husband must look outside of the marriage to find its purpose. The litmus test of a husband’s sacrificial love is not his wife’s satisfaction and fulfillment. Even as this is not the litmus test for Christ’s sacrifice. Just as Christ’s sacrifice does not find its legitimacy in whether or not it satisfies a sinner’s heart, so also a husband’s sacrificial love for his wife is not ratified by his wife’s sense of fulfillment. Christ’s sacrifice is ratified by the Father’s acceptance of it and by its power to bring sinner’s back to himself. Likewise, a husband’s sacrificial love is legitimate if it brings the wife closer to worshiping God in Spirit and truth. Recall that one of the primary purposes of marriage, as defined by Zanchi, is cultivating the worship of the true God in Spirit and truth. It is this trinitarian structure that gives purpose and meaning to the sacrifice of Christ and to the sacrificial headship of husbands.

Consider the example of Moses in Exodus 4:18-26,

And Moses went and returned to Jethro his father in law, and said unto him, Let me go, I pray thee, and return unto my brethren which are in Egypt, and see whether they be yet alive. And Jethro said to Moses, Go in peace. And the Lord said unto Moses in Midian, Go, return into Egypt: for all the men are dead which sought thy life. And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt: and Moses took the rod of God in his hand. And the Lord said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go. And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, even my firstborn: And I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn.
And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the Lord met him, and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me. So he let him go: then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision.

Moses is leading his family back to Egypt at the command of the Lord. On the way, the Lord seeks to kill Moses because he had not circumcised his sons. Zipporah performs the rite and calls Moses a “bloody husband” or “husband of blood.” Not very content or fulfilled, I’d say. But, here Moses is loving his wife even as Christ loved the Church. Notice the Lord’s purpose in calling for Israel to be let go, “…that he may serve Me.” This language is common language to describe worship. Thus all the actions of Moses in Egypt find their purpose in establishing Israel as a community who worships Jehovah. Including the incident along the way where Zipporah has to circumcise her son. If Moses were to seek only his wife’s fulfillment, this action (painful and heart rending for parents, ask one who seen their child circumcised) was not the way to get there. But, Moses loves his wife by commanding her to circumcise her son so that he and she can be worshipers of Jehovah.

Was Moses’ love for his wife like Christ’s? Yes, it was sacrificial. He circumcised his son. He had to endure the epithet of “a bloddy husband.” It was also a washing of water with the word. This reference in Ephesians 5 points to baptism and, in this episode, the action is circumcision. Both of these rites signify the same thing, regeneration by the Spirit. In the Old Testament, though, the sign was circumcision, and, as this episode shows, this sign has reference to the women who are covenantally joined to the men circumcised; not simply to the men circumcised. Note that the son’s name in not mentioned here, only Zipporah. This brings her to the foreground and alerts us to how this circumcision relates to her by way of her husband. Thus, Moses serves as an example of Christ like love for his wife in bringing her along in greater sanctification as a worshiper of Jehovah. This is also the purpose that Paul highlights in Ephesians 5:27, “That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” This holiness and without blemish is unto being presented in God’s presence, it is unto worship (Eph. 1:4).

The example of Christ for husbands must be understood in its trinitarian context. That trinitarian context gives meaning and purpose to the sacrifice of Christ just as it gives meaning and purpose to the sacrificial love a husband is to display for his wife. Zanchi helpfully defines marriage in a trinitarian framework, elucidating male headship over the woman. This elucidation is a needed corrective to the typical contemporary understanding of male sacrificial headship as terminating in the fulfillment of the wife. Rather, as the scheme of redemption shows, the sacrifice of Christ finds its ultimate purpose in bringing us back to the Father and preparing us for the Beatific Vision. So also, the sacrifice of husbands for their wives finds it purpose in bringing the woman to God as her covenant head. This is not to say that a husband’s role over his wife is identical to Christ’s. But it is a subset. Just as fathers are a subset and imitation of Our Heavenly Father, so also husbands are a subset and imitation of the Church’s Husband.

Marriage and the Trinity

In this post, I’d like to riff a bit on Zanchi’s definition of marriage which you can find here.

As you can see from Zanchi’s definition of marriage, the Trinity makes an appearance. This is to be expected as Christianity is Trinitarian. Our confession of God as One in Three permeates our entire theology and understanding of God’s work in the world and us. Furthermore, it is because God is a Triunity, that Christianity, alone, can preach the gospel of justification, sanctification, and glorification, not based on man’s works or efforts alone. For, it is God the Father who reconciled the world back to himself in his Son. And it is that Son who sends the Spirit from the Father into the hearts of his people to work in them faith and repentance, enabling then to repent and believe. Thus, united to Christ by the Spirit, Christians walk in that Spirit seeking to fulfill the law of God through the power of the Spirit and in obedience and imitation of Christ, all unto the glory of God the Father of whose household we are made members through his Son. There is one God, the Almighty Jehovah, who exists in three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and these three each dwell in the hearts of believers performing their proper roles in the salvation of sinners; the Father ordaining, the Son accomplishing, the Spirit applying the merit and life of the Son and enabling life to be lived out in imitation of the Son who through this great salvation leads us back to the Father, to whom be glory, power, dominion, and praise, world without end. Amen.

But, we were talking about Zanchi and marriage weren’t we? Yes, and the above digression on the proper works of the Trinity gives us the basic lines of thought for understanding how God relates to us and dwells with us as Triune. Zanchi is merely reflecting sound reformed orthodoxy when he writes his definition of marriage and gives it a trinitarian structure.

In our day there have been some efforts, especially from those upholding complementarianism, to interweave marriage with the Trinity. Most of those who read this blog will be familiar with that debate, but for those who are not, this is a brief article from Carl Trueman summarizing the situation. For those who wish to pursue this debate further, this is a biblogrpahy of all the major contributors to that debate. Here, I don’t wish to reopen debate, but simply to point out how Zanchi incorporates the Trinity into his treatment of marriage as an example to all of us as to how it should be done.

In Zanchi’s definition of marriage, he says that one of its final causes (purposes, in modern parlance) is to cultivate the worship of the true God in the Spirit and truth. At the end of his definition, he will give the example of Christ and the Church as the pattern by which men are to be heads over their wives and wives are to submit to their husbands. Applying the trinitarian linguistic rule of thumb, when the term “God” is used in close conjunction with the terms Spirit and Christ or the Son, it refers to the Father. The Spirit referred to here is the Holy Spirit, as it is capitalized in the Latin. Latin does not have a definite article as English and Greek do, so definiteness is often displayed through capitalization or some other means. Thus, we have the Trinity interwoven with marriage.

But, take note how the Trinity is interwoven here. What Zanchi has employed in his definition of marriage is an application of the economic Trinity, not the ontological Trinity. And it is in this way that heresy is avoided.

The ontological Trinity refers to the intra-trinitarian relations that obtain within God himself. It seeks to offer some account of how God exists in and of himself as the only blessed One in Three and Three in One. It is how he exists as Creator. The economic Trinity refers to how the Triune God relates to us, his creature. Because God is so far above us as Creator, when he relates to us and reveals himself in his word and covenant there is, of necessity, a voluntary condescension on his part to accommodate his revelation to our capacity. In this revelation of himself, he has shown us that each of the Persons of the Trinity, each being God nevertheless, performs certain opera appropriata (fitting works) in the salvation of men. The opera of each Person in the salvation of men is appropriata because it corresponds to their personal properties as subsisting in the ontological Trinity. Thus, the Father begets, the Son is begotten, and the Spirit proceeds from Father and Son, all eternally. That is ontological. Economically, the Father ordained salvation of the elect unto himself through the mediation of the Son in the power of the Spirit. The Son, in turn, comes down and takes on flesh to accomplish the will of the Father and upon ascension, sends the Spirit to apply that which he accomplished. The Spirit, then, takes from Christ what he accomplished in obedience to the Father and applies it to the elect whom the Father foreknew. This is economic. As you can see, the opera appropriata are related to the personal properties of each person in the Godhead.

And it is the opera propria that Zanchi weaves into his treatment of marriage. One of the purposes of marriage is to cultivate the worship of God in the power of the Spirit according to the example of Christ. At the end of the definition, Zanchi notes the oft cited Ephesians 5 passage as the example for husbands and wives to follow. We moderns often think of the example of Christ, as it relates to husbands and wives, in his sacrifice as merely an expression of deep, passionate love. Such it was, but it was also much more. The sacrifice of Christ also has a purpose. It looks outside of itself to something glorious. The sacrifice of Christ has as its purpose bringing the Church back to the Father in union and communion which is expressed in worship. So then, to tie the example of Christ back in with cultivating the worship of the true God in the Spirit, this is accomplished through the offering up of Christ and pictured to us in the metaphor of a husband and bride.

To summarize then, Zanchi incorporates the doctrine of the Trinity into his definition of marriage. He incorporates the economic Trinity, not the ontological Trinity. This incorporation of the economic Trinity into his definition of marriage sheds much needed light on one of the purposes of marriage, namely the worship of the true God according to the Spirit after the example of Christ. Which in turn deepens our understanding of what it means for a husband to be the head of a woman.

The next post in this series will explore how the purpose of the sacrifice of Christ informs and deepens our understanding of the role of husbands as heads over their wives and in turn how this should inform our understanding of womanly submission to husbands.

Benedicamini in Nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti

Marriage Defined

Part of the works of God in the space of six days was the institution of marriage. Zanchi, in proper fashion, addresses this topic in the third part of his work on creation. He treats marriage in its three phases, espousal, marriage, and divorce (or the proper termination of marriages). In the middle section of these three, he provides a helpful, scholastic definition of marriage which conforms to the four-fold causation of scholastic theology and philosophy.

If you are not familiar with four-fold causation, it can get a bit confusing as we moderns think of causation as only physical (which would include biological, chemical, electronic, etc.) In a word, we tend to think of causation only in terms of the hard sciences. But, the scholastics employed the notion of causation to philosophy and theology in order to derive clear definitions of the subjects they were treating. This use of causation was most prevalent in the discipline of metaphysics. Since Hume and Kant, the use of the four-fold causation scheme has fallen into disuse and disrepair. Causation was one of the categories that Hume attacked as unreliable and one of the categories that Kant tried to rehabilitate through his categories of knowing. Like time, causation was seen, by Kant, as a necessary, but ultimately ephemeral, category that humans need to make sense of the world.

When we turn to the Reformed scholastics, though, we are turning to a body of work that was perfectly at home in the four-fold causation scheme and employed to great effect. Therefore, it is helpful to understand that the reformed scholastics employed these distinctions quite readily. But it is also important to understand how they employed them. They were employed by the reformed scholastics to clearly define the thing of which they were treating. In many ways, the classical doctrine of divine simplicity is a result of defining God clearly, before making statements about his relation to men. Once you have the definition in place, then you can begin predication.

Hence, in our day, there is much ado about marriage and relationships between (and even among) the sexes. If we are going to make headway in this debate, we must begin with clear definitions. And clear definitions were the stock in trade of the reformed scholastics. So, in this post, I bring before you Zanchi’s definition of marriage in an attempt to clarify the conversation so that we can make progress toward understanding God, his creation, and that highest element of his creation, man and woman.

Coniugium est indissolubilis duorum, maris scilicet & foemeniae, in unam carnem, a Deo iam inde a principio Mundi instituta coniunctio: ex libero utriusque partis consensus, legitime, eoque & in Domino facta: Tum ad vitam piam atque honestam summa cum fide, & charitate, simul in hoc mundo transigendam: eoque ad verum Deum in Spiritu & veritate simul colendum: honestumque solatium, & iustum adiutorium, tam in divinis, quam in humanis rebus mutuo sibi exhibendum: Tum etiam ad liberos, si Deus velit dare, Deo & Ecclesiae Reipublicaeque generandos, honeste educandos, & in vera fide ac religione instituendos: ita tamen, ut in his omnibus, totoque coniugio, vir quidem se mulieri caput exhibeat, sicut etiam Christus Ecclesiae, mulier vero subjecta sit viro, sicut & Ecclesia Christo.

“The conjugal state is an indissoluable union between two, namely a man and a woman, as one flesh, having been established by God at the beginning of the world. It is legitimate when proceeding from the free consent of both parties and when made in the Lord. Further, it is engaged in for the purpose of leading a pious and honest life in sincere faith and love in this world and in worshiping the true God in the Spirit and truth. Honest and just support and aid of each helping the other, both in divine things and in things pertaining to this life ought to be given mutually by each. Then, also, for the propagation, honest education, and instruction in the true faith and religion of legitimate offspring, if God so wills, for the sake of God and his Church and the Republic. Thus, moreover, in all these things and in the entire marriage, let the man show himself to be the head of the woman just as Christ is the head of the church and let the woman be subject to the man, just as the Church is to Christ.”

As Zanchi unpacks this definition, he will note the efficient, formal, material, and final causes which make up this definition. His own comment on this definition is that it contains everything required for a legitimate and holy marriage to be constituted.

First, the efficient cause. Here Zanchi makes a distinction between the primary and secondary efficient causes. The primary efficient cause is God himself, who instituted marriage by bringing the first man and woman together and continuing to bring men and women together in marriage. The second efficient cause is the free consent of both parties. This cause is called by Zanchi “the immediate and proximate” efficient cause.

As an aside, this distinction between the will of God and of man as both being efficient causes is an important distinction for reformed theology. The importance of this distinction is more readily seen when it comes to union with Christ by faith. The primary efficient cause of saving faith is God’s work by his Spirit effectually calling a sinner. But, that faith must be exercised by the sinner if he is to be united to Christ. Therefore the second efficient cause, the proximate one, is the exercise of faith on he part of the sinner. Now, both must be in place for union with Christ to happen. Without either, there is no union with Christ.

And so, Zanchi, acknowledges that there is a two fold efficient in bringing about the married state. God and man must consent to the union between the man and woman. In reformed theology, men are not robots, though God is the primary efficient cause of all.

The material cause is the man and woman themselves. They are that which makes up the substance of the marriage. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that the material cause of marriage is a man and woman. Any other two brought together do not constitute a marriage. Men cannot marry men and women cannot marry women.

The formal cause of marriage is that which Zanchi has just described in these three ways: as one flesh, legitimately, and in the Lord. The formal cause deals with how a thing takes shape, that is in what form it presents itself. Therefore, marriage, holy marriage, is one in which a man and woman are united as one flesh, legitimately, and in the Lord. This aspect of the definition is important for current discussions going on in relation to friendship between the sexes. Note that marriage takes the form of two becoming one flesh. Zanchi, here, is using biblical language by terming the union “one flesh.” What this language means is that the husband and wife are so united that they become one entity, one flesh. This does not mean that they lose their identity as individuals. Rather, it means that their identity as individuals arises out of their union to the other.

Finally, the final cause. Or should I say causes? Here, Zanchi makes another distinction. He notes three final causes for marriage. First, that the couple themselves might live an honest and holy life together in this world which is directed toward God and is honest and pleasant (iucundam). Second, the propagation of children. This is for the enlargement of the church through thier education and training in righteousness. These two combine to the third and final final cause, the glory of God.

Here, I will only make a brief application of this definition to the current debate over spiritual friendship, in particular as it relates to the “siblingship” notion promoted by some and which advocates deep spiritual intimacy between married men and women who are not married to each other. The problem with his approach to male and female relations is that it undercuts one of the purposes of marriage. The first purpose for marriage, as defined by Zanchi, is that the couple might lead a holy, healthy, and happy life together. Those who promote spiritual intimacy between married people, not married to each other, are teaching that spouses need to seek, either holiness, happiness, or mental and emotional health, out side of their marriage. This undermines one of the primary purposes for marriage.

One final application, for all of us, married or not. Note how broad Zanchi’s description of marriage is and how much good you can do for yourself, the church, and your country, by engaging in a holy, legitimate marriage! God’s purposes for marriage are the happiness of the couple, the growth of the church, the good of the commonwealth, and his own glory. Is that not what you want your life to be? Well then, get married, have kids, and love your spouse with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength!

Summer Project

Greetings all!

It’s been a while since I have updated this blog and I appreciate your patience! Given that this is a personal project of mine, in the nature of the case it takes a back seat to other callings that I have.

Recently, I took up an internship in Charlelston and will be in the Holy City with my family over the summer. But, during that time I hope to put in some work on Zanchi and this blog.

Given all the debate going on right now over sexuality, spiritual friendship, marriage, and the general relations between the sexes, I thought it good to shift my focus in Zanchi to Book IV of De Operibus. In Book IV, Zanchi delas with marriage. He runs through a very helpful definition of it as well as how to initiate marriage (espousal) and how to end it (divorce). I want to delve into this section of Zanchi to bring to light some good Reformed material that bears upon the current discussion. My prayer is that it will help you to think through some the issues being debated in the church today as it has helped me!



Greetings all!

There have been some new followers lately and I thought it good to update you all (especially the new ones) on what’s going on.

There has not been a lot of activity here because I have been wrapping up my semester in seminary. Over the summer. Once exams are behind me I plan to get back to mining Zanchi for the benefit of all ot us.

Thanks for your patience!