A Treatise on True Theology
David C. Noe, trans.
Introduced by Willem J. van Asselt
Foreword by Richard A. Muller
Reformation Heritage Books, 2014
Franciscus Junius (1545 – 1602) was a French Reformed scholar and theologian who studied under Calvin and Beza early in his life. He later became professor of theology at the University of Leiden and it was there that he wrote De Vera Theologia, or “A Treatise on True Theology”.
In this work, Junius’s goal is to identify the various forms of true theology. He starts by dispensing false theologies – theologies of the world by reason, philosophy, and human opinon; theologies of other gods and pagan religions, etc. From there, he goes on to define what theology is. Theology is “wisdom concerning divine matters”. In calling it wisdom, Junius is utilizing the Aristotelian paradigm which looked at academic disciplines according to different forms of knowing. Van Asselt, in his introduction, explains:
Theology, he argues, is unlike intelligentia since intelligentia is identified as knowledge of principles and conclusions drawn from them. Junius further argues that theology cannot be identified with scientia… Nor ars…which proceeds from intelligentia and scientia and terminates in some external work. Thus, Junius makes the case that theology must be viewed as sapientia….theology is wisdom in the sense that it combines theoretical and moral dispositions or capacities… (P.xxix)
He then goes on to distinguish between achetypal theology and ectypal theology. Archetypal theology is divine knowledge of divine matters (the knowledge God has of Himself, which is perfect) and ectypal theology is human knowledge of divine matters (the wisdom that we have of divine matters).
After explaining various forms of ectypal theology in Christ, in the Angels and saints in Heaven, Junius gets to natural theology and supernatural theology. It is this discussion that interested me most of all. The relationship between nature and grace has been a sticky subject in the Refomed tradition, especially since the work of Cornelius Van Til. He himself was not entirely clear on how he understood the relationship between nature and grace, though some seem to find in Van Til the suggestion that man naturally knows nothing apart from gracious revelation from God. Others reading Van Til say that he is suggesting that what is revealed in nature can only be known by us through regeneration; unregenerate man cannot look to the natural world and find truth that expresses a creator. A good and charitable discussion of Van Til on this point can be found at The Calvinist International and I commend it to you if this is a topic that strikes your interest.
Junius seems to stand within the classical tradition showing that the light of nature by the mode of human reason does attest to principles of divinity. One such principle given to us by nature is that there is a God who is to be worshipped. This, of course, is not sufficient for salvation, nor does it tell us of the Triune God. However, this is a shared natural principle that we all have; certainly it is veiled (it doesn’t show God clearly) and is imperfect (it doesn’t show him perfectly). Moreover, it is corrupted by sin.
What is required is supernatural theology, the theology of grace. We see this in the revelation of Scripture which is given by divine inspiration.
Some negatives of the book were as follows: The life of Junius, which precedes his treatise, was rather boring. Perhaps to others who value the historical aspects it would be worthwhile but I found myself disinterested. Also, I would have liked some more footnotes related to the words that Junius was translating at times; some are there though I felt there could have been more.
Overall, however, I found this a fascinating read, though at times very difficult. One needs at least a basic grasp of scholasticism or Aristotelian philosophy. The introduction by van Asselt is helpful to this end so I commend reading it before jumping into the rest. One may pick this up some of the terms along the way but find oneself lost in parts. It is likely I will go back and re-read this one several times as it is useful resource for understanding how we know things in God’s world.
I suggest picking this one up if you plan any serious study of systematic theology or apologetics. I think it affirms, with Paul, that there are natural principles to our world which attest to God and by which we recognize our insufficiency. That insufficiency can only be addressed by regeneration through the Triune God.
Soli Deo Gloria.