Doctrine and Method in the Era of High Orthodoxy (ca. 1640–1685–1725)

1. General characteristics.

The period following 1640 and extending, in two phases, into the beginning of the eighteenth century can be called the period of high orthodoxy, defined most clearly by further changes in the style of dogmatics.

The architectonic clarity of early orthodoxy is replaced to a certain extent or at least put to the service of a more broadly developed and even discursive system.

Much of the change relates to the incorporation of expanded polemical argumentation into the system and of elaboration of ideas already present in system as basic definitions into more extended loci.

In addition, the creative phase of orthodoxy, during which the basic Protestant scholastic system was built by writers like Junius, Polanus, Alsted, Maccovius, and Gomarus out of materials drawn from the Reformers, the tradition and Scripture, was largely over by 1640.

The creativity of the high orthodox era was more in the way of nuance and elaboration—well illustrated in the development of covenant theology in the hands of Cocceius and his followers and in the detailed exposition of other trajectories in orthodoxy by such writers as Voetius, Turretin, and Mastricht.

Among the major transitions that took place as Reformed theology passed from early orthodoxy into the high orthodox era was the transition from a philosophical development focused on the reception, assessment, and critical appropriation of the various trajectories of Christian Aristotelianism and of the late Renaissance developments that can be identified with the work of Zabarella, Suárez, and various of their contemporaries, to the encounter of these older, highly nuanced approaches with the new rationalisms of the seventeenth century.

Specifically, whereas Suárez can be thought of as a representative metaphysician of the early orthodox era, the high orthodox, ca. 1640, were beginning to feel the impact of Cartesian thought.

Just as the early orthodox era manifests not a monolithic appropriation of the older Aristotelian philosophies, but the reception of elements of various trajectories, so does the high orthodox era manifest varied receptions of the newer rationalism among the Reformed and, indeed, the continuance of themes and issues from the older trajectories, now modified and altered by the changed philosophical context.

Specifically, elements of the older Thomism, Scotism, and nominalism can still be detected as mediated through and modified by philosophical currents in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries—and elements of Cartesian thought and its modifications can also be found both debated and appropriated by various individual Reformed thinkers.

High orthodoxy, then, did not create the Reformed doctrinal system; it modified, developed, and elaborated extant system in relation to a changing intellectual environment.

The early orthodox systems and compendia, with their lucid and neatly argued structures, provided, as it were, the skeleton of the high orthodox dogmatics.

One can almost imagine the high orthodox system as an extended meditation on all tangential subjects and controversial topics adumbrated by the individual propositions and partitions of the early orthodox system.

This appears quite clearly in Rijssen’s Summa theologiae, wherein doctrine is stated in neatly numbered propositions between which the related controversies are argued and resolved.

Nevertheless, the early orthodox structure, however well conceived, did not resolve all the problems of form and order—not even in the prolegomena.

Together with the elaboration of extant loci, the high orthodox further elaborate system as a whole by the addition of new loci and, in particular, new subdivisions of loci.

For example, the doctrine of the pactum salutis appears in the discussion of covenant and the question of fundamental articles in theology is added to the prolegomena.

Muller, R. A. (2003). Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise And Development Of Reformed Orthodoxy; Volume 1: Prolegomena To Theology (2nd ed., pp. 73–74). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.