Much of what follows is merely background material, but I find it fascinating to understand what things needed to be emphasized by the early Orthodox writers. Here (as with other entries from this series), I’ve added both paragraph breaks and bold emphasis for easier reading and digestion:
Early orthodoxy is also the period of Ramism. If the Heidelberg theology, particularly in the works of Zanchi, tended toward the treatment of loci on a massive expository scale, the theology and dialectic of Petrus Ramus (1515–1572) had an opposite effect. In his attack on aspects of the Aristotelianism of his day, Ramus produced a method of logical discourse by means of partition or dichotomy which gave to Reformed theology an extreme clarity and conciseness of approach. This clarity and conciseness appears in the writings of Perkins, Polanus, Ames, Yates, Scharpius, and to a lesser extent, Walaeus and Maccovius. If not universally accepted—indeed, opposed bitterly by Beza and Olevianus—Ramism is characteristic of the striving of early orthodoxy toward a careful and viable enunciation of theological method.
The early orthodox, whether Ramist or anti-Ramist, shared the desire to create a theological system suited to the successful establishment of Protestantism as a church in its own right, catholic in its teaching, capable of being sustained intellectually against its adversaries, and sufficiently technical and methodologically consistent to stand among the other disciplines in the university.
This concern for method and structure marks a point of genuine distinction between the theological approach of the Reformers and that of the early orthodox. Method, although a concern of Reformation writers like Melanchthon and Hyperius, was not a dominant theme. The gradual expansion of Calvin’s Institutes manifests virtually no concern for approach, method, or overarching unity until the final edition of 1559, when Calvin reorganized the whole of the Institutes on the pattern of the creed. Even in this final edition, the issue addressed by Calvin was the arrangement of all his chapters—including noncreedal topics—under the creedal form and not the development of a consistent approach, either synthetic or analytic, to the organization of doctrine. The early orthodox era, drawing on Hyperius and given direction by Ursinus, Zanchi, and the Ramists, strove toward cohesive method and arrangement of doctrine as well as toward precise definition.
Typical of the era is a concern to distinguish between a theoretical, somewhat deductive and teleological approach to system, usually called “synthetic,” and a more practical, somewhat inductive approach usually called “analytic.” The synthetic model, which became the dominant pattern for system, begins with prolegomena and the doctrine of Scripture and moves from the doctrine of God, via the historical path of sin and redemption, to the last things. Analytic patterns can, for example, begin with the problem of sin and move, via the work of redemption, to faith and the articles of the faith.
Intimately bound up with the early orthodox concern for method is the role of early orthodoxy in the positive development of Protestant theology in the form of system. Several of the earlier historians of Protestant orthodoxy, particularly those enmeshed in the theological problems of the nineteenth century, have spoken of this positive systematic development as the working out of an inner logic of Protestant doctrine. Most notable here are the writings of Alexander Schweizer, Wilhelm Gass, and Ernst Troeltsch. The two former writers argue for a metaphysical and predestinarian systematization, while Troeltsch, more on the Lutheran side of orthodoxy, tended to emphasize the inner logic of system.
While we will take issue, below, with the notion of a predestinarian metaphysic in the Reformed systems, we need to recognize here the fact of the positive, synthesizing drive evident alongside of the polemics in the early orthodox systems.
Rather than view this drive as arising from the inner logic of certain central dogmas, we ought to view it, more simply, as the result of a process of self-definition and institutionalization (or, as social historians have called it, “confessionalization”) witnessed both in the Protestant confessions and in the larger theological context of the catholic or universal churchly tradition of which the Reformers and their successors strove to be a part.
Thus the Protestant orthodox systems increasingly adopt a confessional structure and include all the doctrinal points noted in earlier theological system, specifically in the sentence commentaries and theological summas of the later Middle Ages. They also adopted a method suitable to the institutionalized educational context of the university and the theological faculty—namely, scholastic method. The methodological development, moreover, as illustrated by the work of Protestant Ramus and the Roman Catholic Zabarella, was not bound to a particular theological result or, indeed, to theology per se.
Rather, the development and alteration of method in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries belongs to the educational progress of the Renaissance, an educational progress related to the application of new forms of logic and rhetoric to the entire arts curriculum of the university and to the advanced study of such fields as philosophy, theology, and law. The rise of a revised scholasticism, tuned by Renaissance logic and rhetoric and allied to the study of the classical and biblical languages occurred in the theological disciplines as a result, not of doctrinal change, but of the participation of theological faculties in the academic culture of the age.
This positive development, moreover, provided a more suitable systematic vehicle in and through which to surmount objections leveled by Roman Catholic polemicists.
Muller, R. A. (2003). Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise And Development Of Reformed Orthodoxy; Volume 1: Prolegomena To Theology (2nd ed., pp. 62–63). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.