Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Reformed Irenicism

“What Is the Best Method for Studying Theology?” (Part 3) (updated)

Chytraeus goes on to elaborate the way in which theological study should be undertaken. The absolute foundation of theology is Scripture: it is the “fountain” from which all Christian doctrine flows. We know that we can gain true knowledge of God thence because he speaks there. Through reading and reflection (lectio and cogitatio), the Scriptural text becomes efficacious in the reading and meditating subjects. So that this may be the more easily brought about, Chytraeus recommends a simple program of reading a chapter of the Bible in the morning and a chapter in the evening, and considering how the contents of each chapter fit under the various heads of doctrine, in addition to ascertaining its general import in the narrative of Scripture (praecipua dicta, & historias).

It is interesting to note how Chytraeus construes the relationship between Scripture and catechism. Scripture is the be the sole source of divine teaching, but the catechism forms a kind of grid for processing its contents; but it is understood that the catechism itself is drawn from Scripture, and so it serves as a Scripture-based summary that is useful for giving shape to the rest of the biblical witness.

Studium autem Theologicum, seu labores discendi, hisce regulis gubernentur.

Prima cura sit, ut TEXTUM BIBLIORUM nobis familiarissime notum reddamus, ex quo solo tanquam ex augusto & perenni fonte, vult Deus doctrinam de vera sui agnitione & aeterna salute nostra hauriri. Et hoc uno modo & non aliter, quam per lectionem & cogitationem Textus verbi divini efficax est, & veram sui cognitionem, iusticiam, & vitam aeternam in cordibus accendit. Quotidie igitur mane postquam surrexerunt, & vesperi cum cubitum ituri sunt, unum caput in Bibliis studiosi legant, & ordine ea evolvant, & praecipua dicta, & historias, in partes Catecheseos, seu in locos, qui summam doctrinae Christianae continent, digestas meminerint.

Theological study, moreoever, or the toil of learning, should be governed by the following rules.

The first object of concern should be that we make the text of the Bible most intimately known to ourselves; from this alone, as from a sacred and everlasting fountain, does God will the doctrine concerning the true knowledge of himself and concerning our eternal salvation to be drawn. And in this one way and not otherwise than through reading and reflection is the text of the divine Word efficacious and [in no other way] does it kindle true knowledge of him, righteousness, and eternal life in our hearts. Therefore daily in the morning, after they have arisen, and in the evening, when they are on their way to bed, students should read one chapter in the Bible, and should unfold its contents in order, and should memorize its chief sayings and historical contents, after they have been divided into the parts of the catechism, or into the topics that contain the summary of Christian doctrine.

By E.J. Hutchinson

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