On The Method In The History Of The Earlier Christian Doctrine -- By: Max Besser

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 032:127 (Jul 1875)
Article: On The Method In The History Of The Earlier Christian Doctrine
Author: Max Besser


On The Method In The History Of The Earlier Christian Doctrine

Herr Max Besser

Under this heading appeared, in the Jahrbücher für deutsche Theologie (Vol. xiv., 1871), an Article, by Prof. Dr. Albr. Ritschl of Göttingen, which contains so many important and suggestive thoughts that it will well repay an effort to make its contents accessible to wider theological circles. The occasion of the Article was the appearance of Fr. Nitzsch’s (Professor in Giessen) Outlines of the History of Christian Doctrine (Part I., The Patristic Period, 1870). We might expect that Ritschl, the eminent author of the Rise of the Old Catholic Church (2d ed., 1857), and of the History of the Doctrine of Justification and Reconciliation (vol. i.), would present fruitful views upon that period of doctrinal development. In undertaking to give here the principal thoughts of Ritschl’s Article, we do not purpose to abide closely by the order there followed. Our object is rather to designate clearly the new points of view which Ritschl establishes for the examination and methodical treatment of the earlier history of Christian doctrine, and to do this with constant reference to Nitzsch’s work.

In respect to the arrangement of material, Nitzsch himself departs from the usual track. He holds that it is unnatural, and contradictory to the actual course followed by the Christian dogmatical thought of the church Fathers, to begin, in a one-sided and abstract way, with the doctrine of God, and to reach the central subjects of church faith — Christ and the church — only when we are midway in the historical task, or even later. Thus, while we find in Neander and Baur, for example, the following order: theology, cosmology, anthropology, soteriology, doctrine of the church and the sacraments, eschatology, Nitzsch begins with a special section on the doctrine of the Divinity of Christ and on the doctrine concerning the church, as the two moving subjects in the development of doctrine in the patristic period. True, he then treats all other doctrines according to the customary plan.

Ritschl recognizes a certain advance in this, and yet brings weighty objections against it. Certainly, we must not suppose that the moving questions in the development of doctrine have at all times arranged themselves according to the order of the loci dogmatici, which the theologians

of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries followed in the division and arrangement of their material. If the office of the History of Doctrine is to lead us to understand how the church reached a completeness of form in her idea of truth, in her grasp of the true conception itself, and in her system of views, then the history must guard against ...

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