Chapter III:14: Controversy concerning the Number of Fundamental Articles, Part 1

The Scholastic Papists had already furnished an occasion for disputation concerning determining the Number of Fundamental Articles, not infrequently asking in their Commentaries upon the Master of Sentences,[1] How many Articles of Faith are there? Then, the Socinians furnished an occasion, when they restrict the necessary and Fundamental doctrine concerning God to Six obvious heads. Especially the more recent Papists, the Methodists, among whom the Walenburch Brothers are chief, asking of the Lutherans and the Reformed, whether a certain and determinate Number of Fundamentals is had in readiness by them? and that from some passage of Scripture, who the Scripture itself might declare that the necessary Articles are just so many, and that the others besides these are not necessary? both in their Examine Princiorum I, § I and following, and in their Tractatu de Articulis necessariis, chapter XVII, § 5 and elsewhere.


In turn, the Scope/Goal of the Methodists is to seek an occasion for caviling; to lead us away from the handling of Controversies, in which they sustain the role of those Affirming, to quibblings, in which the role of demonstration belongs to us; to allege concerning our legitimate Secession from the Roman Church, that it is not able to be established, as long as the Number of necessary Articles is not restricted in this manner: compare SPANHEIM’S Disputation VII de Articulis Fundamentalibus, § 1-4, columns 1312-1314, opera, tome 3, part 2.


But we observe with our AUTHOR:


α. That it is not necessary, that the Number of Fundamental Articles be determined; since the Sacred Scripture neither goes before nor mandates this; neither did the ancient Church, as the Most Illustrious SPANHEIM the Younger shows outs of the first Fathers, Disputation VII de Articulis Fundamentalibus, § 10, columns 1316, 1317. And, although the Number of Fundamentals be not defined; nevertheless, that this or that is a fundamental Truth, this or that a fundamental Error, is able to be known with abundant clarity; in the same manner in which it is not necessary to know all foods and poisons by number, in order to know that this or that is a food or a poison. β. Indeed, that this is not even possible; since in various places the Sacred Codex enumerates various heads as necessary, Acts 8:37; Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 2:2; 1 John 4:2; and one article always virtually comprehends in itself other additional articles, for example, Jesus is Mediator, does not that Article comprehend in itself a number of Truths? compare SPANHEIM’S Disputation VIII de Articulis Fundamentalibus, § 5, column 1320. γ. To wish to determine the Number of these Articles is truly noxious, for thus the soul of the believer is drawn from the substance of the matters to the numbers, thus an impediment is cast in the way of progress through the sloth of man, although Peter commands in 2 Peter 3:18, Grow, etc., and it is fitting that an adult man know and believe more things than a babe in Christ. δ. It is not fitting that the authors of the new Method among the Papists object against us our disagreement concerning the definition and number of Fundamental Articles unto hoarseness; while they themselves fight among themselves concerning innumerable Heads, and the same primary and most weighty, whether with respect to the Truth of them, or with respect to the Necessity of believing them; which by an enumeration of twenty-eight Heads SPANHEIM reveals plainly to the eye, Disputation VIII de Articulis Fundamentalibus, § 8, 9, columns 1321-1324.

Also, freely, α. do they appeal to the examples of Theologians among us determining in a diversity of ways the Number of these Articles: while, 1. nothing had our Theologians less concerned than such a precise and formal Number of these Articles, who hence in passages, to which the Methodists have regard, have enumerated only some, principal heads of the Faith. 2. Of the ultimate and real agreement of our Theologians on this head the Methodists are not able to be ignorant; who hence ought to distinguish between real and verbal agreement; concerning the substance of doctrine, or the method of teaching or the manner of propounding and explaining. 3. Not even the Papists are ignorant of the unanimous agreement of our Theologians, with respect to the fundamental Errors of the Papistical Church, and the Reasons for an altogether just separation: which it would be fitting to refute one-by-one, but not to avoid the handling of controversies by a fever-ridden method.


β. That determined Number of Articles is not able to make for the avoidance of Schisms, the shunning of Heresies, the conviction of Infidels. Since, 1. it is not sufficient to hold to the words of some Article, if I deviate from its genuine sense; and so, although I profess that I hold to such a number of Articles in words, nevertheless I am able by a perverse explanation of the same to stir up Schisms, and to maintain Heresy. 2. It is easily able to be demonstrated that the Papists and the Socinians deviate in one or another Fundamental Article from the Faith, without a determination of the Number of the Articles. Thus it is nothing to the purpose, whether I determine that the Apostle’s Creed had twelve Articles, or not, so that I might demonstrate that someone deviated in one or the other head from the Symbol.


γ. They assail us with a dilemma: Either the Scriptures are Perspicacious in delivering the things necessary for Faith, or they are not: If the latter, the assertion of Protestants concerning the Perspicuity of the Scriptures in things necessary, and concerning the sufficient norm of them, falls to the ground. If the former, submit the passages that perspicuously and precisely determine those necessary things. Since Protestants hesitate in the setting forth of these, they maintain that this is an argument concerning the insufficiency of our Principium, whether Norm, or Judge. But, 1. thus the argument is circular, when for the Perspicuity and Sufficiency of Scripture it is supposed that a determination of the Number of the Articles of faith is required. 2. It is enough that the Scripture sufficiently contains all things to be believed and done, and perspicuously gives a real exposition of the same; and thus has the Number of Articles numbered, although not numbering. 3. It is enough, if in addition, either in express terms, or from the indication of a Tie between some head and our Salvation, it should supply for us Criteria, whence we might with sufficient clarity distinguish those Articles from other matters: compare SPANHEIM’S Disputation VIII de Articulis Fundamentalibus, § 1-3, columns 1317, 1318.

[1] Peter Lombard (c. 1096-c. 1164), although of relatively humble birth, became a renowned theologian in Paris. His Four Books of Sentences served as a standard theological text at medieval universities.

ABOUT US

Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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