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Hemmingsen on the Tripartita Legis Distinctio (1)

In the Enchiridion theologicum,1  Niels Hemmingsen holds to the traditional threefold distinction of the Law (ceremonial, judicial, moral).

His comments on the lex ceremonialis are exceedingly brief: it is entirely abolished (tota…abolita est), together with the Aaronic priesthood–insofar the matter pertains to its use (usum), not its “signification” (significationem). Nam res quas figurabant, ceremoniae sunt aeternae: “For the realities that they were picturing are eternal ceremonies.”

His comments on the lex Iudicialis are more expansive, and once again in sympathy with what one finds later in the Westminster Confession of Faith:2

Est et lex Iudicialis, quae cessante republica Mosis expiravit, ita ut non necessario ullum hominem obliget in specie, nisi quatenus portio eius aliqua aut pars est legis naturae, ut lex contra incestas nuptias Levit. 18. aut a Magistratu proponitur politico fine. (Enchiridion Theologicum, p. 139)

“There is also the judicial law, which, with the republic of Moses ceasing to exist, has expired in such a way that it does not obligate any man by necessity in it specifics, except in so far as some portion or part of it belongs to the law of nature (such as the law against incestuous marriages in Leviticus 18) or is imposed by the Magistrate for a political end.”3

  1. These remarks come in the first chapter of the second classis of doctrinal topics. The chapter, in which his discussion of the Law is found, is called “The Doctrine of the Common Life of the Sons of God.”
  2. The translation is my own.
  3. That is, a reason or goal that pertains to his own polity. In other words, if he imposes some part of the Mosaic Law, it cannot be simply for the reason that Moses did it: it must be motivated by some need or benefit internal to his own realm. Hemmingsen, then, does not exclude the imposition of aspects of the Mosaic Law, but does indicate that they must be justified independently of that Law with an eye to contemporary circumstances and not simply copied because they are found in the Bible.

By E.J. Hutchinson

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

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