Chapter III:9: Definition of “Fundamental Articles”

Concerning Fundamental Articles of the Faith, FREDERIC SPANHEIM the Younger most learnedly and solidly, as always, has spoken openly and at length in diverse Disputations, which are found in his Operibus, tome 3, part 2. Where he forewarns, Disputation I, columns 1289 and following, that the question concerning Fundamental Articles and their determination is difficult in the extreme, of which matter he renders several reasons: of which sort there are, α. General reasons, partly of the human intellect, its limitations and the partial gift of prophesying, the diverse ways of conceptualizing and explaining a matter: partly of the will, the want of charity and excessive zeal for parties, or a tenacious belief of prejudices. β. More Specific reasons, 1. the silence of Scripture concerning a determinate number of Fundamental heads; and also, 2. the various ways in the Scriptures and among the Theologians of handling the Foundation of the Faith. 3. The difficulty arises from this anxiety-raising distinction in the argument, if there be sin either in excess, or in defect. 4. The definition of the Fundamentals is made more difficult by this, that the intricate interconnectedness of the more or less necessary Articles of the Faith among themselves is remarkable. 5. It is difficult to define that minimum in the business of Faith, upon which eternal salvation might depend; indeed, the diversity of the subjects hinders. 6. The contentions of Christians from the beginning are added, in such a way that some refer to the Foundation what things others desire to remove from there.


Nevertheless, he commends the Usefulness of this Inquiry concerning Fundamental Articles, Disputation III, § 4 and following, columns 1297 and following. 1. In order to the advancement of peace among Evangelicals. 2. In order to the controversies sometimes arising among the Reformed themselves. 3. In order to the Remonstrants, so that it might be evident to what extent they hold fast to the Foundation, and to what extent they wander from the way in their rejected plea for tolerance: likewise in order to the minimal elevation of Socinianism. 4. In order to today’s Papists, so that in this way their Fundamental heresies might be set out in the open, and the cause of separation vindicated as just. 5. In order to the Skeptics and Libertines, who proclaim that nothing is certain in Religion, and wish to have all controversies eliminated. 6. In order to the scruples of those Weaker, as if the Teachers themselves controvert the Foundation of Religion among themselves; in order to those ruder, so that the degree of knowledge to be given might be understood.


Many others that are able to be consulted concerning Fundamental Articles, STAPFER[1] commends, who also discussed the Fundamental Articles in his Theologica polemica, tome 1, chapter IV, pages 513-550.


Let us see what our AUTHOR also relates concerning this difficult and useful material.

The Articles of Religion, says he, are divided in a variety of ways: Namely, 1. into Positive Articles, which affirm some true dogma, that Christ is the proper, only begotten, and natural Son of God, for example; or that His Death is a true λύτρον/atonement and satisfaction for the sins of the elect: and Negative Articles, which reject false doctrine, that there is neither Mass nor Purgatory. 2. Into Theoretical Articles, which deliver things to be believed, that there are three Persons in the one Essence of God, for example; and Practical Articles, which deliver things to be done, that the Triune God alone is to be worshipped in Spirit and truth, etc., for example. 3. Into those that have regard to the Principium, which are the very first Articles, the primary and immediate heads of the Faith, making the essential constitution of that Foundation, for example, that Christ is God, that Man was made, etc.: and into those that have regard to Conclusions drawn from the Principium, or Articles arising from the first Articles, which flow necessarily from the Foundation, are founded on the same, and interpret the same more fully: These are the secondary and mediated Heads of the Faith, not so much constituative of the Foundation strictly considered, as following upon the same, and in the end necessary for belief in those, in which the ignorance of such truths is characterized by affected lowliness, but the denial by pride and obstinacy, conjoined with the subversion of the Foundation itself. In which class are those formal truths, the belief of which Antiquity desired in Arius,[2] Nestorius,[3] and Eutyches.[4] 4. But especially into those less and more Necessary, whether for the obtaining of Salvation, which are simply Necessary, or for the Communion of some Visible Church; which differentiation is established because Articles are given without the retention of which one is not able to be tolerated in the external communion of the Church for the sake of unity, order, discipline, and edification; whom nevertheless, with External Communion denied, we do not then exclude from Salvation or by our internal judgment deprive of communion with God, if he hold fast to the rest as the Foundation. This especially has place in a Minister, who is not able to undertake the ministry in a Reformed Church, with the Article of Pædobaptism not admitted, which Article, nevertheless, is hardly able to be reckoned among those simply necessary for Salvation: thoroughly compare HOORNBEECK’S Miscellanea Sacra, book I, chapter XXVI, pages 712-715; and JAN VAN DEN HONERT’S[5] Orationem de mutual Christianorum Tolerantia, pages 50, 51.


Some Articles are Necessary to Know, others to Believe, others to Do. Those necessary to Know, which have an immediate connection with Salvation, are simply Necessary. They are Necessary to Believe, which one is able to be ignorant of simply and with no ill affection, while he well understands the rest; for example, if one rude and immature in Christianity should ἁπλῶς/simply be ignorant of Predestination, it does not thereupon appear that he is to be excluded from Salvation: but it is a far different matter, if one should sternly deny this Article, after it has been skillfully explained from the Scriptures, and should not admit that eternal dispensation of Salvation made by God; I would very much doubt of his Salvation; and so I would refer this Article among those that, if not simply Necessary to Know, when they are known, are Necessary to Believe. Or they are Necessary to Do; thus Idolatry is to be avoided, God is to be glorified in body and soul, Parents are to be honored, etc.


The Necessary Articles are commonly called Capital, with the denomination taken from Colossians 2:19; Elementary, Principal, out of Hebrews 5:12; Fundamental, out of 1 Corinthians 3:11, 12; Hebrews 6:1, 2: in which places, nevertheless, in a variety of senses the titles of head, κεφαλῆς/head, στοιχείων τῆς ἀρχῆς, elementary principles of the beginning, θεμελίου/foundation, occur. Whence also the Fundamental Articles are either taken broadly concerning the first lessons of the Christian Religion, which are wont to be delivered to Catechumens; in which sense the Apostle expressly explains τὸν θεμέλιον, the foundation, using it interchangeably with τῷ τῆς ἀρχῆς τοῦ Χριστοῦ λόγῳ, the doctrine of the beginning of Christ, and opposing it to τῇ τελειότητι, perfection, Hebrews 6:1, 2, in which passage all the heads enumerated do not have an equal degree of necessity. In the same sense you read τὰ στοιχεῖα τῆς ἀρχῆς τῶν λογίων τοῦ Θεοῦ, the principles of the beginning of the oracles of God, Hebrews 5:12. Or the Fundamental Articles taken strictly denote especially the essential heads of Christian doctrine, necessary before the rest; as a Foundation is in a building, which is laid first, upon which the rest of the building is built, and without which the building would not be able to be erected or to stand: to which the passage in 1 Corinthians 3:11, 12 has regard, in which ὁ θεμέλιος, the foundation, is distinguished from those things that are built on τῷ θεμελίῳ, the foundation. And while ὁ θεμέλιος, the foundation, is observed to be taken either not summarily and personally, and to be referred to Christ as the Foundation of all salvation and of the entire Church; or summarily and normatively, for Fundamental truth, which is prescribed as to be believed by all, and which is hence called the Foundation of the Faith; both those notions of τοῦ θεμελίου, the foundation, in the passage cited in 1 Corinthians 3:11, 12, are able to be judged not poorly to concur, and Jesus Christ to be considered as the Foundation of salvation, of the church, and at the same time of the doctrine of salvation: see Concionem meam on 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, in the volume entitled Gedachtenis, etc.


In this denomination of Articles Fundamental, Capital, etc., as especially Necessary, the Jews also go before, who call the principal heads of Religion יסודות/foundations, יסוד האמונה, the foundation of the faith, ראש אמונה, the head of faith, ראשים/heads, עקרים/שרשים/roots; as the Thirteen Articles of the Jewish Religion are commonly called, which MAIMONIDES[6] first reduced into order, Commentary on Tractate Sanhedrin, chapter XI. Now, they are the following: 1. that God is, that His essence is altogether perfect, and that He is the cause of all things that are. 2. That He is one, yet not as a genus, nor as a species, nor as a species of one, nor as a body divisible into infinite parts: but in such a way that He excludes all multitude and composition, and that there is no unity like His. 3. That He is incorporeal and liable to no bodily circumstances. 4. That He is the first of all things and altogether eternal. 5. That He alone is worthy of worship, honor, and religious regard. 6. That there is prophecy. 7. That Moses is the father of all the Prophets. 8. That the Law is from heaven, both the whole and all its parts, in such a way that nothing in it is not divine. 9. That the explication of it is by God, in such a way that nothing is able to be added or subtracted. 10. That God knows all the deeds of men, and governs all things. 11. That He is going to distribute rewards and punishments justly or in accordance with deeds. 12. That the Messiah is going to come; He is therefore to be expected, but the time of His advent is not to be searched out. 13. That the dead are going to rise again: see SURENHUSIUS’[7] Mischnam, part IV, pages 263, 264.


But whatever might be in other respects concerning the signification of Articles Necessary and Fundamental, our AUTHOR here understands the Articles absolutely and simply Necessary for obtaining salvation; or of which either a simple Ignorance or Rejection, according to the revealed will of God, excludes adults from Salvation: which are to this extent Necessary, not only to Believe, but also to Know.


Concerning the denomination of the Fundamental Articles, thoroughly compare SPANHEIM’S Stricturas adversus Bossueti Expositionem Doctrinæ catholicæ, chapter II, opera, tome 3, part 2, column 1058, 1059.

[1] John Frederick Stapfer (1708-1775) was a Swiss Reformed divine of the first order. He served as a Pastor in the canton in Berne. His Institutiones theologicæ, polemicæ, universæ, ordine scientifico dispositæ ranks among the best elenctic theologies.


[2] Arius (c. 250-336) was a presbyter of the church in Alexandria, Egypt. He denied the Son to be of one substance, and co-equal Deity, with the Father. His views precipitated the Arian controversy, and led to the calling of the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea (325).


[3] Nestorius (c. 386-451) taught that in Christ, there are not only two natures, but two persons, Jesus of Nazareth and the eternal Son of God. Some believe that this was not actually Nestorius’ view, but rather his opponents’ caricature of his beliefs.


[4] Eutyches (c. 380-c. 456) was a presbyter of Constantinople. He opposed Nestorius, arguing that Christ was a mixture of human and divine elements. He was excommunicated at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.


[5] Jan van den Honert (1693-1758) was a Dutch Reformed theologian. He served as Professor of Theology at Utrecht (1727-1734), and later at Leiden (1734-1758).


[6] Moses Maimonides, or Rambam (1135-1204), is reckoned by many to be the greatest Jewish scholar of his age. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Rabbinic tradition, natural science, and Aristotelian philosophy, Maimonides demonstrates great command and almost equal facility.


[7] Willem Surenhuys (1666-1729) was a Dutch Reformed scholar and Hebraist. He was Professor of Oriental and Greek Languages at Amsterdam (1704-1729).

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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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