Interpreting early modern facts of publication

Maccovius RedivivusIn this post, I want to quickly mention a few online resources that I found helpful when it comes to interpreting the facts of publication on the title pages of Early Modern prints.

Latin place names

  • The Orbis Latinus online is a digital edition of a book published in 1909 by Johann G.T. Grässe. It is a dictionary of Latin place names giving the modern (German) equivalent.
  • The online database of R.L. Maxwell is more comprehensive as it draws not only on the information in the (updated) Orbis Latinus (1972), but also on the work of R.A. Peddie (1932).
  • The CERL Thesaurus is an very comprehensive database. Among other information, it contains place names “with variant name forms in Latin and other languages, including ficticious name forms.” For the city of Leiden, for instance, this database returns more than sixty variants.

Early modern printers

  • For early modern printers situated in the German-speaking area, the Christoph Reske’s book Die Buchdrucker des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts im deutschen Sprachgebiet is an indispensable resource.  A good part of it can be previewed (and searched!) on GoogleBooks.
  • A fairly old, but still valuable resource is A.M. Ledeboer’s list of printers, booksellers and publishers in the Netherlands (1872). It is available on GoogleBooks here.
  • The database created and maintained by the University Library in Utrecht contains not only the standardized names of early modern printers (up to 1801), but also much additional information.
  • The CERL Thesaurus also contains information on printers etc.

Conference in Durham: Darkness and Illumination – The Pursuit of Knowledge in the Medieval and Early Modern World

640px-Durham_castleThe Medieval and Early Modern Student Association (MEMSA) will hold its ninth annual postgraduate conference on 15 – 17th July, 2015. The call for papers (still open until Friday 17th April) reads:

This year’s Medieval and Early Modern Student Association conference will focus upon aspects of knowledge, learning, and control over information in the medieval and early modern periods and in doing so broaden perspectives not just about how people perceived their world, but also how they interpreted the past and the idea of progress.

We welcome abstract from postgraduates and early career researchers on all aspects of this topic in medieval and early modern archaeology, history, literature, theology, art, music, and culture. Presentation topics may include, but are not limited to:

• The ‘myths’ of the Dark Ages and the Renaissance
• The limits of archaeological, literary, and historical evidence
• The creation of the ‘primitive’ past
• Ideas of spiritual progression and improvement
• The growth of networks of learning
• Historical characterisations of race
• Scientific knowledge and discovery
• The expansion of the known and unknown world
• Gendered control of knowledge
• Urban and rural centres of learning
• Heretics, mystics, and conflicts over belief
• Publication, translation, and the availability of texts
• Artistic, musical, and cultural innovation


This seems to be a fine opportunity especially for young, aspiring scholars in the field of Medieval and Early Modern studies.

Book Review: Reformed Orthodoxy in Scotland (Part 3)

[This is the third and final installment of a three-part book review. For the first part, click here; for the second part here.]

Reformed Orthodoxy in Scotland: Essays on Scottish Theology 1560-1775, edited by Aaron Clay Denlinger. London/New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015. 304 pages.


The section on Late Orthodoxy is opened by Paul Helm (MA, University of Oxford; Teaching Fellow at Regent College, Vancouver, Canada). In his essay, Helm compares Thomas Halyburton (1674-1712) with John Locke on their views concerning the grounding of faith in Scripture. Before he actually gets to their positions, however, Helm provides a brief sketch of the traditional teaching in Calvin, Turretin, and Owen. When it comes to establishing the divine authority of scripture, all of them distinguished between external (e.g. Scripture’s antiquity) and internal arguments (i.e. the consistency & harmony of its doctrine). While they conceded some force to the former arguments, they held that only the latter yield infallible certainty. When bringing Locke into the picture, Helm carefully notes the differences regarding intellectual and political context. Helm argues, that Locke sought to strike a middle way between the Roman-Catholic view and the enthusiasm of the Quakers. Against the latter movement, Locke strongly emphasized the necessity of ‘external arguments’ in order to justify any claim to divine revelation. In fact, his position left no room for internal arguments as traditionally understood by the Reformed Orthodox. It was this deviation from the older position that Halyburton criticized ardently arguing for the legitimacy and importance of the internal arguments. Helm’s essay is well-written and cogently argued. It is a pity, however, that the arguments by which Halyburton sought to evade the charge of ‘enthusiasm’ are only briefly touched on towards the end of the essay.

In chapter thirteen Richard A. Muller (PhD, Duke University; P.J. Zondervan Professor of Historical Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA) devotes himself to the theological program of Thomas Blackwell (1660-1728) as it expresses itself in his three major works Ratio Sacra (1710), Schema Sacrum (1710), and Methodus Evangelica (1712). As Muller demonstrates, the Ratio Sacra is mainly directed against Burignonism and Deism. In it, Blackwell seeks to defend Orthodox Christianity by arguing that true, revealed religion does not conflict with “natural reason properly exercised.” By applying this rationalistic approach, Muller holds, “he stepped beyond the typical sense of the limits of reason characteristic of the older orthodoxy.” (241) Having discussed the Ratio, Muller goes on to briefly analyze the Schema and the Methodus with frequent reference to the Marrow controversy that broke out less than a decade after these works were published. Muller’s portrait of Blackwell’s theological program is an important contribution to our understanding of Late Orthodoxy in Scotland (and beyond) in that it brings into focus the intellectual currents at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Yet, Muller’s treatment also clearly shows that much more research is necessary in this area, particularly when it comes to the vague notion of “rationalism”. For instance, Muller classifies Blackwell’s approach as “rationalizing” and at times even as “rationalistic”, while at the same time emphasizing his firm “anti-rationalist” polemic against Deism, his aversion to “full-blown rationalism” and the fact that Blackwell’s approach “did not arise out of an espousal of rationalist philosophy.”

The final contribution comes from the pen of Gerrit A. van den Brink (Drs. Utercht University; PhD candidate at the Evangelical Theological Faculty, Leuven, Belgium) and deals with Alexander Comrie’s controversial concept of faith as it is expressed in his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism (1753). Van den Brink argues, that Comrie’s account exhibits striking similarities to that of the new England minister and theologian John Cotton (1585-1652), particularly when it comes to the relation between faith and union with Christ, justification, and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer. Although Comrie does not mention Cotton by name, these similarities suggest that Comrie deliberately drew on Cotton’s work when developing his concept of faith. Later, in the nineteenth century prominent Dutch theologians like Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck, in turn, adopted a ‘Cottonian’ view on faith as they stood under the influence of Comrie’s work. Thus, Van den Brink’s essay fittingly concludes this volume as it demonstrates the international nature of Reformed Scholastic discourse and the lively involvement of Scottish theologians. Moreover, it points to the abiding impact of Reformed Scholasticism on modern theology.

Having discussed each chapter in turn, I want to conclude this book review with an overall assessment of this volume. No doubt, this is a valuable contribution to the ongoing reassessment of Reformed Orthodoxy. Denlinger has assembled a fine collection of essays written by both established experts and aspiring young scholars. Obviously, It belongs to the nature of such collections that there are stronger and weaker contributions. The present volume is no exception in that regard. Similarly, these kinds of projects can hardly be criticized for not being comprehensive given the breadth of the topic. Yet, in light of the fact that there are two contributions dealing with Rutherford, one may wonder why other important scholastics like Johannes Scharpius (1572–1648) are completely left out of the picture. One of the strengths of the “new school” approach is its eagerness to abandon the well-trodden paths of older scholarship by studying figures who (for some reason or another) have been neglected by modern scholarship regardless of their considerable fame and impact in their own life-times. This eagerness is, less visible in this volume. Moreover, its accessibility could have been improved by an extended introduction. A brief sketch of the major intellectual currents, the academic landscape, key political and societal developments etc. could have provided the (non-expert) reader with the necessary context helping him to better appreciate the individual contributions. That being said, I would recommend this volume to anyone interested in Scottish Reformed Orthodoxy. Those with a preference for digital texts (or with a low budget) will appreciate the fact that the PDF ebook is significantly cheaper (List price: $39.95) than the printed book (List price: $130.00). The kindle edition (around $20) is even cheaper, but not recommended for academic purposes as it does not contain real page numbers.

Book Review: Reformed Orthodoxy in Scotland (Part 2)

[This is the second installment of a three-part book review. For the first part, click here.]

Reformed Orthodoxy in Scotland: Essays on Scottish Theology 1560-1775, edited by Aaron Clay Denlinger. London/New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015. 304 pages.

9780567351418The section on High Orthodoxy is opened by two chapters on the well-known Scottish Scholastic theologian Samuel Rutherford (c. 1600-1661). The first one is written by Simon J.G. Burton (PhD, University of Edinburgh; Assistant Professor and Postdoctoral Fellow in the Faculty of Artes Liberales at the University of Warsaw, Poland) and deals with Rutherford’s moral theology. First, Burton sets forth the historical context in which Rutherford developed his own moral theory, namely the discussions surrounding John Cameron’s intellectualist approach and the more voluntarist adaption of Cameron’s view in one of his students. Then, he describes Rutherford’s view pointing out the impact late-medieval Scholastic discussions (Scotus, Durandus, Bradwardine etc.) had on the development of his rather unique perspective. According to Burton, Rutherford’s moral theology ties in with the “Scotist and voluntarist” stream in Reformed Orthodoxy (Twisse, Voetius etc.). Whoever is interested in the impact of late-medieval thought on Protestant Scholastic moral theory will profit from this fascinating piece of historico-theological scholarship.

Chapter eight is the second contribution dealing with Rutherford. Aza Goudriaan (PhD, University of Leiden; Associate Professor of Church History at VU University Amsterdam, the Netherlands) analyses Rutherford’s Metaphysical Investigations (q. 1-7) with a view to ascertaining the Scotsman’s view on possibilities and impossibilities. Similar to Burton, Goudriaan does not content himself with merely describing Rutherford’s position. He also seeks to determine the historical context to the debate, the medieval background, and the reception history of Rutherford’s metaphysical thought. Goudriaan shows that Rutherford follows Bradwardine in arguing that possibility and impossibility are not founded in things themselves but rather in the omnipotence of God. This assertion Rutherford directs specifically against contemporaneous Jesuit theologians who argued for a root possibility / impossibility in the things themselves.

The ninth chapter by Guy M. Richard (PhD, University of Edinburgh) aims at discerning the role of the “Song of Songs” in Scottish Reformed Orthodoxy in comparison with its role in early modern Europe more generally. Having described the pivotal role of this biblical book for the development of ‘Reformed Spirituality’ and its use in the various debates between Protestant groups in England, Richard briefly outlines James Durham’s (1622-1658) approach to the Song of Songs in his commentary entitled Clavis Cantici (posthumously published in 1668). the final and major section of the article consists in a portrayal of the religious struggles in early modern Scotland. In this section, Richard argues that Scottish Puritan divines (like Rutherford and Durham) detected a double threat to the cause of the Reformation in their times. Both Arminianism and Laudian Episcopalianism were perceived as dangerous developments ultimately leading (back) to Roman-Catholicism. In their combat for the heart of the Scottish people, Richard argues, Scottish Puritans deliberately used the graphic allegory of the Song of Songs in order to convey the Protestant understanding of a vital, heartfelt faith. Richard’s contribution provides a good insight into the historical context of Scottish Puritanism and its struggle to safeguard the reformation. The overall argument concerning the role of Durham’s Clavis Cantici, however, could have been (significantly) improved by showing from the text of the Clavis itself, that this commentary was in fact intended to uphold the Reformation against its various enemies.

In Chapter ten Albert Gootjes (PhD, Calvin Theological Seminary), sets out to demonstrate that the Scottish theologian John Cameron (c. 1579–1625) exerted a formative influence on French Protestant theology in the seventeenth century, particularly with respect to his view on the role of the intellect in conversion. Cameron’s view implies that in conversion God does not act directly on the human will (the traditional Reformed view), but rather mediately through the (renewed) intellect. This intellectualist approach to conversion proved to be very influential as is evident from the “Pajonist controversy” in the 1660s and 1670s, in which Cameron was regularly cited as a first rank authority on the matter. While this is an interesting piece on French Protestantism, one wonders if it really fits in this volume dedicated to Scottish Reformed Orthodoxy. To be sure, Cameron was a Scotsman by origin and he received his initial training at the University of Glasgow. But these facts in themselves do not justify the bold claim that “[f]or the historian of early modern Reformed theology in France […] all roads lead to Scotland.” (190) Could it not be, that Cameron developed his influential and controversial views first during the time he studied at Geneva and Heidelberg (1604-08)?

The final essay pertaining to High Orthodoxy consists in a comparison of the doctrine of justification in John Calvin and John Brown of Wamphray (c. 1610-1679) conducted by Joel R. Beeke (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary; President and Professor of Systematic Theology and Homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, MI, USA). Beeke begins with an outline of Calvin’s view by means of ten principles drawn mainly from his institutes. In a second step, these very same principles are employed in order to ascertain the extent of agreement between Calvin and Brown. In his conclusion, Beeke notes that “there is a remarkable continuity of message between the two men” (209) despite the significant difference with respect to their historical context and theological method. No doubt, this essay adds grist to the mill of those who follow the ‘new school approach’ arguing for a substantial continuity between Calvin and the ‘Calvinists’. Yet, critical questions can and must be raised. Does not the choice of media comparationis (i.e. the ten principles taken from Calvin) to some extent predetermine the result of the comparison? How does Beeke avoid reading Brown through the lens of Calvin? Moreover, one wonders, why there is no interaction with Hans Emil Weber’s famous and still quite influential thesis according to which Orthodoxy’s emphasis on the forensic nature of justification is fundamentally at odds with the organic understanding in the magisterial Reformers. In a sense, this is illustrative of a weakness in some of the more recent contributions from the ‘new school’ approach to Reformed Orthodoxy. Some scholars all too easily dismiss the considerable body of literature adhering to the ‘old school’ perspective (like Weber’s three volume work Reformation, Orthodoxie und Rationalismus, 1937-1951 without careful interaction with its arguments. This is, in my opinion, much to the detriment of ‘new school’ scholarship.

[This is the second part of a three-part series. Next week I will post the final part of this review dealing with section three on Late Orthodoxy. This final part will also include my overall assessment of the book.]

Book Review: Reformed Orthodoxy in Scotland (Part 1)

[This is the first installment of a three-part book review. For the second part, click here.]

Reformed Orthodoxy in Scotland: Essays on Scottish Theology 1560-1775, edited by Aaron Clay Denlinger. London/New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015. 304 pages.

9780567351418The past three decades have seen a significant shift in historical scholarship regarding the assessment of Reformed Orthodoxy. While older accounts posit a sharp discontinuity between the outlook of the magisterial Reformers and their theological heirs, recent research suggests a more complex relationship involving both fundamental commonalities in terms of content and differences when it comes to theological method. Following this ‘revisionist’ approach, the present volume focuses on theological developments in post-Reformation Scotland. According to the overarching claim of this collection of essays “Scotland played a significant role in the development of Reformed Orthodoxy” as it harbored a theological life that was “vibrant and intimately connected to the wider European scene.” (2) Each of the fourteen essays included in this volume is meant to substantiate this claim in some way or another. As a cursory look at the table of contents suggests, the emphasis clearly lies on Early (c. 1560–c. 1640; six essays) and High Orthodoxy (c. 1640–c. 1690; five essays). Only three contributions deal with Late Orthodoxy (c. 1690 onwards). In what follows, I will briefly discuss each essay before I conclude this review with an overall assessment of this volume.

The first essay by Donald MacLean (PhD, University of Wales; Research Supervisor at Wales Evangelical Divinity School, UK) deals with the Scottish Reformer John Knox and the reception of his doctrine of predestination by later orthodox theologians. MacLean disputes with two assertions propounded by older scholarship. First, he takes issue with the claim that Knox’s strict doctrine of double predestination as expounded in On Predestination (1560) stands in conflict with the more lenient statements in his other writings (‘Knox vs. Knox’). Second, MacLean challenges the assumption concerning a sharp discontinuity between Knox’s allegedly rigid predestinarianism and the ‘evangelical’ federal Calvinism of people like Rutherford, Gillespie, and Dickson (‘Knox vs. the Knoxians’). In General, MacLean’s case for “one John Knox” as well as for a “relative consistency of Knox’s doctrine of predestination with the teaching of the Scottish federalists” (24) is convincing. MacLean’s treatise evidences a wide familiarity with Knox’s writings and recent historiographical discussions. However, from a methodological point of view a critical remark concerning the comparison conducted in part two is in order. To establish a basic continuity between Knox and the Scottish federalists with respect to the doctrine of predestination, he compares their views on reprobation, the gospel offer, common grace, and God’s universal love. MacLean does not make the effort to justify his choice of media comparationis. Yet, it is far from self-evident and is even problematic in light of the fact that the ‘gospel offer’ and ‘common grace’ became well-defined and much debated concepts only in later centuries. Using these categories without careful reflection opens the door for anachronistic interpretation, i.e. reading Knox through the lens of later theological developments.

The second chapter written by Ernest R. Holloway III (PhD, University of Aberdeen; Adjunct Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary, USA) focuses on the Renaissance humanist Andrew Melville (1545–1622) and his role in the university reforms and particularly the establishment of Hebrew studies in post-Reformation Scotland. This essay begins with a historical sketch outlining the developments of Hebrew scholarship in early modern Scotland. Next, Holloway describes the phenomenon of ‘Christian Hebraism’ in the context of European Humanism. This provides him with the necessary background to depict and evaluate Melville’s own ‘Christian Hebraism’ in the final sections. According to Holloway, Melville’s achievements had a considerable impact on the development of Hebrew studies in his home country, but they could hardly compete with those of major Hebraists on the continent. Thus it seems, that the conclusion of this particular contribution runs somehow contrary to the overall thesis of the volume.

Chapter three comes from the pen of Brannon Ellis (PhD, University of Aberdeen) and consists in an analysis of the relationship between Christ and election in the thought of Robert Rollock (1555-1599). Ellis argues that Rollock’s position on this matter does not conform to “typical covenantal Reformed views” (e.g. Turretin). Instead of viewing Christ as the primary means by which the eternal decree is carried out (election through Christ), Rollock taught that “both as an eternal decision and according to its temporal execution, election occurs in the person of Christ” (49). In Rollock’s ‘Christological Supralapsarianism’, Ellis explains, the person of the divine-human Mediator logically precedes election, as well es any other aspect of the decree of God. Thus, Rollock’s position to a certain extent evades the criticism leveled at Reformed Orthodoxy by modern theologians like Barth, Torrance, McCormack etc.
Ellis’s piece is a well-informed and stimulating ‘minority report’ on an important dogmatic issue. It demonstrates once more that the old portrayal of Reformed Scholasticism as a monolithic movement has rightly been abandoned in recent years.

The forth chapter by Nicholas Thompson (PhD, University of Glasgow; lecturer in Church History at the University of Auckland, New Zealand) is devoted to a special emphasis of Aberdeen theologians in the first half of the seventeenth century, namely the engagement with Roman-Catholic polemics claiming universality and doctrinal continuity. Drawing on many primary sources Thompson sets out to show, how particular developments on a local level were connected to the international exchange among Reformed Orthodox theologians. Unfortunately, this contribution suffers from the lack of a clear structure which makes it difficult to follow the train of thoughts.

Aaron Denlinger (PhD, University of Aberdeen, Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, USA), the author of chapter five tackles a topic that has received much attention in very recent years: hypothetical universalism. He does so by focusing on the soteriology of Robert Baron (c. 1596-1639), a Scotsman whose views have variously been described both as ‘quasi-Arminian’ and ‘moderate Calvinist’. In his unpublished and incomplete work Septenarius sacer de principiis et causis fidei catholicae, Baron deals with two major questions related to the concept of hypothetical universalism, namely, if there is a universal will in God to save each and every man, and whether Christ’s work was intended by God for all men without exception. As Denlinger shows, Baron tries to steer a middle course on either of these questions rejecting both the Arminian position and the more strict particularism of most of his Reformed colleagues. Having outlined Baron’s hypothetical universalism, Denlinger concludes his chapter with worthwhile methodological reflections concerning the use of such umbrella terms like ‘Calvinist’ and ‘Arminian’. Instead of using these problematic descriptors, he suggests to employ the terms ‘Orthodoxy’ / ‘orthodox’ in order to classify views like that of Baron. Since Denlinger defines ‘orthodox’ simply as ‘in line with the Reformed Confessions’, one wonders if the term “Reformed” would not be an even better alternative.

Chapter six by Donald Macleod (DD, Westminster Theological Seminary; Emeritus Professor of Systematic Theology at the Free Church College in Edinburgh, UK) concludes the first part of the book on Early Reformed Orthodoxy. By examining the life and work of Alexander Henderson (c. 1583–1646), Macleod sets out to show that “the thought and labours of Scottish Reformed orthodoxy were not confined to the pulpit and the classroom.” (119) What emerges is a vivid portrait of an ecclesiastical statesman who – despite his meager literary legacy – had a decisive formative impact on the shape of the Scottish kirk. When, Macleod occasionally contrasts Anderson’s ecclesiastico-political vision with the modern separation of church and state, the reader can only guess that these brief comparisons are meant as a critique of present-day secularism.

[This is the first part of a three-part series. Next week I will post the second part of this review dealing with section two on High Orthodoxy.]

Conference in Warsaw: The Tree of Knowledge: Theories of Sciences and Arts in Central Europe, 1400−1700

There is an interesting conference coming up in May organized by the Liberal Arts faculty of the University of Warsaw (Poland). The website reads:

The seminar is open to all scholars working in the field of early modern intellectual history, or related disciplines such as history of philosophy or theology, but contributions from younger scholars (doctoral candidates and post-doctoral fellows) are particularly invited.

Arbor scientiarumIt seeks to investigate the way in which new currents of reflection on epistemology, the structure of knowledge, and the relations between arts and sciences impacted the intellectual culture of Central Europe on a variety of different levels: from philosophy of knowledge and theoretical reflection, through pedagogical organisation and methodology – the reform of schools and universities, to the wider dissemination of knowledge through print, and the fostering of national and international intellectual networks. A particular focus will be on Ramism and the reception of Ramist, pre-Ramist and post-Ramist models in diverse intellectual and religious milieus of Central Europe. In this way the seminar aims to place Ramism (broadly understood) in a wider intellectual trajectory, stretching back to the Middle Ages and Renaissance and looking forward to the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution.

First volume of the ‘Synopsis Purioris Theologiae’ published

On 26th september 2014 the first volume of the new bilingual edition of the Synopsis Purioris Theologiae (1st Ed. 1625) was presented to the mayor of Leiden. On this occasion, Prof. Dr. Riemer Faber (the translator, Waterloo University, Canada) gave a lecture on “The Language(s) of the Synopsis” which was followed up by a presentation on “theology as teamwork” by Dr. Dolf te Velde (volume editor, TU Kampen). After that, Dr. Jo Spaans (Utrecht University) and Prof. Dr. Marcel Sarot (Tilburg School of Catholic Theology) reacted with the first critical reviews of the new edition.

The book cover reads:

Synopsis Purioris Theologiae book coverThis bilingual edition of the Synopsis Purioris Theologiae (1625) makes available for the first time to English readers a seminal treatise of Reformed Scholasticism. Composed by four professors of Leiden University (Johannes Polyander, Andreas Rivetus, Antonius Walaeus, and Anthonius Thysius), it gives an exhaustive yet concise presentation of Reformed theology as it was conceived in the first decades of the seventeenth century. From a decidedly Reformed perspective, the Christian doctrine is defined in contrast with alternative or opposite views (Catholic, Spiritualist, Arminian, Socinian). Both on the academic level and on the ecclesiastical level, the Synopsis responds to challenges coming from the  immediate context of the early seventeenth century. The disputations of this first volume cover topics such as Scripture, doctrine of God, Trinity, creation, sin, Law and Gospel.

For more information on this event / the new volume see

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