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