Authors E.J. Hutchinson Reformed Irenicism

“What Is the Best Method for Studying Theology?” (Part 2)

Here are the second and third of Chytraeus’ instrumenta (tools) for studying theology. The second is eagerness or application, and the third is praxis. In this instrumentum, Chytraeus touches upon the importance of lived piety for understanding the Christian faith. This, of course, is not the approach of academic theology, but it is exactly the kind of thing one finds among ancient writers–say, Gregory of Nazianzus or Athanasius; which is to say, the Christian faith must be lived in order to be understood. Chytraeus has an interesting way of phrasing this: through the daily practice of the faith, doctrina is translated (transfertur) into usus, which I have chosen to render by the English word “habit.” Through the practices of prayer, repentance, resisting temptation, etc., head-knowledge is turned into use(fulness), benefit, advantage, profit, into a skill acquired by practice.1 Chytraeus’ sentence to describe this process is long and involved, with the phrase ad usum transfertur coming deep in the sentence after the phrases dealing with the practices one must cultivate and the struggles one must face. He writes this way perhaps to reflect the arduous process itself as one moves from knowledge-by-learning (doctrina) to knowledge-by-living (experientia).

II. Studium seu meditatio & diligentia in discendo.

III. EXPERIENTIA seu PRAXIS, qua doctrina discendo percepta, in quotidiana invocatione & exercitiis poenitentiae, in doloribus ortis ex sensu irae Dei & poenarum, in studiis & laboribus nostrae vocationis, in petendo & expectendo Dei auxilio, denique, in toleranda sancta cruce, & tentationibus ac aerumnis multiplicibus, ad usum transfertur: in quibus, fides, invocatio, spes, patientia, humilitas, & caeterae virtutes in quarum cultura, religio Christiana potiss. sita est,2 exercentur, crescunt & expoliuntur, & vis ac efficacia verbi divini experiundo cognoscitur.

II. Studious zeal or constant reflection and diligence in learning.

III. Experience or practice, by which the doctrine grasped by learning, in daily calling upon [God] and in the practice of repentance, in griefs that arise from a sense of the wrath of God and of punishment, in the exertions and toil of our vocation, in seeking and waiting for the help of God, in short, in enduring the holy cross and numerous temptations and tribulations, is converted into habit. In these things faith, calling upon [God], hope, patience, humility, and the other virtues, upon the cultivation of which the Christian religion especially depends, are exercised, grow, and are polished, and the power and efficacy of the divine Word is perceived by experiencing [it].

  1. Cf. Lewis & Short, s.v. “usus” I.A.5
  2. The text here is different from that used by Dinda.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.