The Flemish theologian Andreas Hyperius (1511-64), 1 in the preface to his posthumous Methodus theologiae (Method of Theology) (1567), offers a brief compend of the sum and scope of Scripture (and, therefore, of theology, of which Scripture of the principium cognoscendi, or “principle/foundation of knowing”). He says:
But the sum of all those things that are handed on in Scripture (and so in theology as a whole) is contained in this one proposition: God created the world, and men in it, in order that the church might be built of them, in which he himself would be purely worshiped according to the prescription of his Word, with faith, love, hope, and the use of signs or sacraments, until the consummation of the world. 2
For Hyperius, these are the “constants,” as it were–the things that are the same both before and after the Fall, as well as before the Law, under the Law, and under the Gospel. He takes Ephesians 1 and 5 to be particularly important texts for supporting this view. Though man’s sin marred the goodness of man’s creation and introduced division and strife among human beings, God’s design, even absent the Fall, was to have a peculiar people for himself, who would trust in him, obey him, look for glorification from him, and commune with him via material sacramental signs.
Hyperius’ definition gives rise directly to his ordering of topics (loci) and the subdivisions within them. Thus, after treating Scripture as the principium of theology, the work has six major loci: God; Creation and Man; The Church; The Doctrine of Law and Gospel; Signs, or Sacraments; Consummation. That is, the doctrine of the church follows directly from the doctrine of creation, because Hyperius sees the latter as ordered to the former. So, too, just as the doctrine creation is subdivided into “Man before the Fall” and “Man after the Fall,” the doctrine of the church is subdivided into “The Church before the Fall” and “The Church after the Fall.”
Next, because man must know how to worship God in the church (that is, among and together with his people) the subjects of teaching (doctrina)–the doctrine of doctrine, one might say–and of signs follow directly from the doctrine of the church. With respect to the former, Hyperius discusses “Teaching before the Fall” and “Teaching after the Fall,” under the subheadings of love, faith, and hope, with corresponding subdivisions, so that, for instance, he discusses the doctrine of love under the headings of “The Law before the Fall” and “The Law after the Fall” and the doctrine of faith under the headings of “The Gospel before the Fall,” “The Gospel after the Fall,” “Repentance and Faith,” and “Justification, or Life.” With respect to the latter (i.e., the signs that work in tandem with teaching), he discusses signs before and after the Fall, and, because of changes in signs from the old order to the new, he discusses signs before the Law, under the Law, and after the Law, or under the Gospel.
Finally, because “all things in this world and in this life are imperfect (or incomplete),” he concludes with the consummation of the ages, subdivided into “Eternal Life” and “Eternal Death,” in which the blessed will enjoy the contemplation of God for eternity and the reprobate will enter into everlasting misery.
E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.
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