Wednesday, August 25, 2010

principia ecclesia

This excellent lecture on church principles made me think a little about the first principles of the Church.

There are first (foundational) principles and derived principles. First principles are self-evident truths that as postulates cannot be derived or deduced from any other truths. Aristotle writes that first principles are the primary source from which anything is, becomes or is known.

The Church is not a first principle in itself but derived. The first principles of the Church are the same as those for religion and theology. The foundation of being for the Church is God himself (principium essendi). It is the Church of God. Without God the Church has no meaning or being and no knowledge of God - all of which originate in himself (Matthew 11:27 and 1 Cor. 2:10). Only God's knowledge of himself is complete and exhaustive, the Church's knowledge of Him is while true - creaturely, finite and dependent.

This brings us to how the Church gains its knowledge. The external foundation of knowing for the Church is the Holy Scriptures which are the Word of God. This is God's special revelation of Himself or self-communication. The Scriptures are the constitutive principle of the Church. It has only regulative, ministerial and limited power to teach and to observe all things that have been commanded in Scripture (nothing more or less). It is therefore free from the commandments and doctrines of men which are not only contrary to but beside the Word of God.

What Herman Bavinck says concerning theology could be said concerning the Church:
“The fact that theology exists we owe solely to God, to his self-consciousness, to his good pleasure [God as principium essendi]. But the means, the way, by which that knowledge of God reaches us is God’s revelation… This is implied in the nature of the thing. Other people only become knowable to us when they reveal themselves to us, i.e. mainfest their presence, speak, or act… The same is true in the case of the Lord our God; his knowledge, too, flows to us only through the channel of his revelation. Furthermore, that revelation, too, can only be his appearance, his word, and his deed. Accordingly, the principle by which we know (principium cognoscendi), the principle of theology, is the self-revelation or self-communication of God to his creatures.”

The internal foundation of knowing is the work of the Holy Spirit (principium cognoscendi internum) “the illumination of human beings by God’s Spirit” - working faith in the heart (Rom. 10:17; Gal 3:3; Heb 11:1-3). Bavinck writes: “"We do not only confess a ‘principium externum’ i.e. Holy Scripture, but also a ‘principium internum’ i.e. the Holy Spirit, who dwelling in the church makes the things of the kingdom known to her."”
"“Accordingly, the confession of the church can be called the dogma quoad nos or the truth of God as it has been taken up in the consciousness of the church and confessed by it in its own language".

Bavinck also notes concerning these principles: "These three are one in the respect that they have God as author and one identical knowledge of God as their content". One can see how some have been able to discern a trinitarian dimension to these foundational principles if one associates the external principle of knowing particularly with the Eternal Son as Logos or the Word.

From these foundations or first principles the general principles of the Church are derived. We can consider these later.