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Hemmingsen’s Principium of Theology (1)

In a close discussion of the prooemium to the Ten Commandents (“And God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery'”), Niels Hemmingsen finds the principium, or first principle, of theology: the Word of the Lord. Because he considers the prooemium to be twofold (duplex), he divides his discussion into two parts. The first is included below; I intend to post the second part at some point in the near future.

Hemmingsen finds here an introduction not just to the moral law or the Decalogue, but to all theological thought and speech: for the principle he sees in the preface is repeated again and again throughout Scripture, by the Prophets, by Jesus himself, and by the Apostle Paul, and it is the rock upon which all theological reflection must rest.

When anyone undertakes to speak of God, then, faith attends to whether that speech is founded upon the Lord himself speaking–whether it is founded on the verbum Domini. If it is, it must be heard; if not, not. For this reason, Hemmingsen refers to the Word as κριτήριον: the “means for judging or trying, standard; court of judgment, tribunal.”

Text and Translation

Et locutus est DEUS omnia verba haec.

Hoc prooemium leviter praetereundum non sentio. Debent enim omnes veri ministri verbi, atque adeo omnes Christiani, hoc primum Theologiae principium habere in conspectu, nimirum ut an DOMINUS loquatur attendant. Mens enim pia cupiens Deo vivere, certa non est, donec intelligat ea, quae audit, hoc principio niti, Videlicet quod DOMINUS loquatur. Hinc est quod Prophetae illud toties ingeminant: Haec dicit Dominus. Os Domini locutum est. Haec dicit Dominus Deus Zebaoth. Haec dicit Deus Israel. Et ipse filius Dei sermonem Patris se loqui testatur: Ob eandem causam Paulus ubique titulum Apostoli obijcit. Discamus igitur ex hoc prooemio, κριτήριον certum et indubitatum rei Theologicae esse VERBUM DOMINI.

“And God spoke all these words.”

I do not think that this preface ought lightly to be passed over. For all true ministers of the Word, and even all Christians, ought to have this first principle of theology in view, namely, that they attend to whether the Lord is speaking. For the pious mind that desires to live to God is not certain until it understands that the things that it hears depend upon this principle, viz., that the Lord is speaking. Hence it is that the Prophets so often repeat it: “The Lord says these things.” “The mouth of the Lord has spoken.” “The Lord God of Hosts says these things.” “The God of Israel says these things.” And the Son of God himself testifies that he speaks the words1 of the Father. Paul everywhere defends the title of “Apostle” based upon the same reason.2 Let us therefore learn from this preface that the certain and undoubted criterion of theology3 is the Word of the Lord.4 (Enchiridion Theologicum, pp. 147-8)

[For more on Hemmingsen, cf. here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here; and elsewhere on this site.]

  1. sermonem, referring to “discourse” or continuous speech.
  2. Or “rests the title of ‘Apostle’ on the same reason”
  3. rei Theologicae; more concretely, and perhaps more correctly, “of a theological issue.”
  4. The translation is my own.

By E.J. Hutchinson

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

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