A Primer on Ectypal Theology

I first discovered ectypal theology from Richard Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics. Rather than being an academic topic, ectypal theology unites theological method with Christology. I’ve done pieces on ectypal theology in the past, but the following from Willem Van Asselt’s Introducing Reformed Scholasticism does it better than anyone else.

(1) Archetypal theology: the uncreated knowledge God has of himself. It is the matrix of all forms of theology (Junius).
(2) Ectypal theology: The knowledge of God revealed to humans.

2.1) It is primarily the knowledge that Christ as mediator has of the Father. This is the ectypal theology of union and is the common principle of all other theology (Junius). Muller explains it best: “The Christological problem follows the [epistemological issue]:  if the human nature of Jesus, as finite, is incapable in itself of comprehending the infinite knowledge of the theologia archetypal, then any equation of the theologia unionis with archetypal theology must involve some alteration of the human nature of Jesus” (PRRD I:250).

The following are forms of ectypal theology.
2.2) ectypal theology is communicated to men in a twofold way: Nature and grace
2.2.1) Nature: internal principle of communication
2.2.2) Grace: external principle of communication
2.3) The union of the two two natures is ectypal. This is one of the reasons why the Reformed reject the Lutheran view of the Supper.
2.4) theologia beatorum (theology of the blessed in glory; still ectypal and finite).
2.5) theologia angelorum (theology of angels)

3) This construction, if not the idea, has its origins with Duns Scotus. Scotus distinguished between theoleogia in se (theology in itself) and theologia nostra (our theology).
3.1) This might be an improvement on Aquinas’s principle of analogy. For Scotus God is the only true theologian because only he has knowledge of himself.


Reflecting on Theonomy After I left it

EDIT AND CORRECTION: Prof Clark linked David Bahnsen’s post where his father, Greg, supported Norman Shepherd.

A few blogs ago, I did a series called “The Theonomy Files.” I have since updated my own thinking more in line with Reformed Scholasticism since I wrote that. Here is the gist of it. Part of this will be a number of problems in theonomy. These aren’t “gotcha” but they are difficulties to which I never saw a satisfactory answer. I do plan on offering more substantial criticisms later.

 Let’s briefly define our terms:   theonomy is the position that all of the old testament laws are binding for the new covenant Christian, unless rescinded by command (or presumably practice), and are to be applied in their new covenant context.  

It is hard to debate with theonomists.   Part of the reason is they respond to every criticism with “Oh, but you are simply an antinomian/statist/relativist.”  

The following points of criticism do not necessary serve as any one  refutation of theonomy.    Taken together, however, the place a burden of epistemological proof upon theonomists that I deem is impossible for them to bear.

  1. Where were you all this time?   Theonomists like to point out that older, medieval Christian societies were theocratic and would be opposed to the secularism of today’s politics.   Yes, they were theocratic, but they were not theonomic.   And to the degree that the early Western medieval church was Augustinian, they were most certainly not theonomic (Oliver O’Donovan’s reading of Augustinian ethics shows how difficult the Augustine = theonomist case really is).  Further, almost ALL of these societies were explicitly monarchist, a position theonomists vehemently reject.  Obviously, you can’t simultaneously say you affirm (King) Alfred the Great’s social ethic while denying the form of Alfred the Great’s politics (and by implication, social ethic).
  2. Bird’s Nests and God’s Law.  Deuteronomy 22:6 tells you what to do when you come across a bird’s nest.   Is that considered civil case law, moral law, or ceremonial law?   While I admit at times the law can be delineated along such lines, more often than not it cannot.  It is not always clear whether a law is civil, moral, or ceremonial.  Or maybe it’s all three.   If it’s all three, and we obey the moral part, do we not also obey the ceremonial part? But isn’t that heresy on the standard reading of the law (by both sides)?
  3. Moses isn’t the same as John Locke.   Similar to (1);  theonomists have a tendency to read 18th century American (and 17th century British) political concepts back into the law of God.  Ultimately, this means they reject Christian Monarchy, but they reject Christian Monarchy along American revolutionary lines.   They conclude their rejection of monarchy (which would entail a rejection of most of Christian historical ethical reasoning–a point theonomists often fail to grasp) by an appeal to 1 Samuel 8.   Presumably, 1 Samuel 8 is binding on all Christians all the time (though 1 Samuel gives no evidence to that claim).   Notwithstanding, theonomists cannot give us a clear answer to the question:  does Torah teach monarchy or theocratic republicanism?  (Read Deuteronomy 17 and Genesis 49).  Further, is 1 Samuel 8 civil law or moral law?  Is it even law? If it isn’t a law, should we be bound by it?

Torah isn’t the Congressional Register

Of course, by Torah we mean after Christ, apart from works of Torah.   I am saying that seeing the “Law” as Torah and not theonomy provides a better model for understanding Scripture.  A quick perusal of the Pentateuch will show that it was not written with late Western modernity in mind.  In fact, seen in our categories, much of it is quite bizarre.

That’s not to deny its importance.  If anything, the strange ways in which Torah is organized should invite the reader to reflect even deeper about reality and the way that God’s world works.  Let’s consider a few and ask how these can possibly work on the theonomic thesis:

  1. While there are covenantal-sequential patterns and typological motifs (riffing off of the days of creation–Ex. 25-40), many of the laws are apparently haphazardly organized together.  This should alert us to the fact that maybe God didn’t intend for these laws to be understood in a post-common law framework.
  2. Torah is also story.  In Paul’s use of Abraham in Romans Torah is not functioning as a list of dos and don’ts, but as story.  How do you put story into a law code?

Women Breaking up fights

Here is another difficulty with theonomy.   Maybe it’s not with theonomy the idea, but it does invite young theonomists to reflect more deeply on what they are actually saying.  Here is Deuteronomy 25:11

“When men fight with one another and the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him and puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts, 12then you shall cut off her hand. Your eye shall have no pity.

There are several problems here if we take it at face value and apply it to a modern Western law code:

  1. Just think about it:  how likely is something like this ever going to happen?   I am a school teacher and I break up fights all the time.   It’s not that easy to get between two people in a fight (and I’ve been hit before, though I was so pumped up with adrenaline I didn’t feel it).
  2. If two guys are moving rapidly and throwing punches, how likely is it that a woman is going to go low and grab the private parts of the other guy?
  3. And would you really apply this?  If a bad guy broke into your home and the wife was able to help out by “disabling” him (and for the sake of argument, save your life), are you really going to reward her by cutting off her hand?  Really?

Someone could say, “Well, that applies to the Mosaic covenant when it was important to provide an heir.”  Maybe.  The text doesn’t say anything about that, so it’s just ad hoc and speculation.  There is still the justice of the matter, covenant heir or no.

And then there is the equity of the matter.   Well before that:  is this law moral or civil/judicial?   It’s obviously judicial since there is a penalty attached to it.   So what’s the equity for today for theonomists?  Remember, on the theonomic gloss the “judicial law abides in exhaustive detail.”    The Reformed Confessionalist does not have this problem.   The Confession only says “allows” the equity and no more.  Which is a nice way of saying that this law would never be applied.  The theonomist has to apply the law.

The After-Calvin Source Failure

One of the reasons theonomy failed as a movement, and this reason perhaps dovetails with why theonomy went Federal Vision and also failed to work out a coherent alternative, is that theonomists generally did not read the Protestant Scholastic sources carefully, to the degree they read them at all. 

That raises another problem:  reading these sources required reading these sources on the sources’ terms.  Theonomists usually viewed anyone who disagreed with them as a “natural law adherent,” defining natural law as a mix of Locke, Newton, and Aquinas.  Here is an experiment for you:  pick up a theonomic text and find a fair definition of natural law on Reformed terms.  Bahnsen avoids it in TiCE . Gary North slams it but never really defines (or explains how modern Reformed accepted natural law).   The real villain, I think, is Kuyperianism (though, ironically, Kuyper himself was a pluralist).   The result was the no-neutrality concept was applied to areas which really didn’t make sense in a practical way (yes, we should do math and plumbing to the glory of God, but there really isn’t a Christian praxis to Christian plumbing).

If you read Reformed natural law sources carefully, you will note that
1) they don’t contradict Moses [many advocated using the Mosaic judicials because of the wisdom found therein;
2) they aren’t using the term “nature” to mean butterflies and puppies [which is how I had usually glossed it].

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, reading the Protestant Scholastic sources on their own terms will also bring the reader face-to-face with their teachings on covenant and justification, areas which modern theonomists are painfully weak. 

The Steroid Effect

One of the dangers in taking steroids while lifting weights is that despite all the gains, the level you reach is likely the highest you will ever reach.   Once you get off steroids, and even the biggest “user” won’t take them perpetually (No one does steroids, or even creatine, during the regular season for risk of dehydration), it is unlikely you will ever reach those levels naturally again.

We see something similar in theological studies.   Deciding which area to major in will determine how deep one’s theological knowledge can get.   Here was my (and many others; and for what it’s worth, throughout this post substitute any Federal Vision term in place of a theonomy term and the point is largely the same) problem in institutional learning:  I immediately jumped on how important apologetics was for the Christian life to the extent that I made apologetical concerns overwhelm theological concerns.  I essentially made theology proper (and soteriology and ecclesiology) subsets of apologetics/ethics, instead of the other way around.

I won’t deny:  I became very good at apologetics and ethics, but I didn’t know anything about theology outside of a basic outline of Berkhof.   Studying Reformed theology among sources, and worse, movements, who are only barely Reformed, limited how deep I could go in Reformed theology.

I’ll say it another way:  when I was taking covenant theology we had to read sections of Gisbertus Voetius and Cocceius in class.  I got frustrated thinking, “These guys are tying in the covenant of works with natural law.  Don’t they know how un-reformed natural law is?”  Problem was, I was wrong.  But if you read the standard theonomic (or FV; by the way, the FV fully adopts the Barthian, and now historically falsified, Calvin vs. Calvinist paradigm) historiography, there is no way to avoid such misreadings.  Even worse, said historiography fully prevents one from learning at the feet of these high Reformed masters.

The Collapse of First Generation Reconstructionism

I’m not going to touch on the infamous “whitewall” sermon.

I suppose the inevitable question, one loaded with irony, is that given Christian Reconstruction’s commitment to postmillennialism, how come the movement fractured immediately and society is not reconstructed?  Before we get into the individual faults of the men and camps, it is important to first note perhaps why they were prone to fracturing.

Many CR leaders knew they wouldn’t be welcomed in the presbyteries.   So they reasoned:  too bad for the presbyteries!  For all the problems and limitations in local presbyteries, they tend to keep individuals from going off the deep end.   We will soon see why.

  1. Rushdoony:  On one hand it’s a good thing that Rushdoony’s errors are so easy to see.   Being egregious errors and out in the open, they are fairly easy to avoid.  His main errors are the dietary laws, ecclesiology, and shallow readings of some Reformed sources.  I won’t bother refuting his interpretation dietary laws.   I suspect his personal experiences drove his ecclesiology.  I don’t know the whole story, though Gary North has documented it here.   Evidently he got angry at the OPC and separated himself from church bodies for the greater part of a decade. A bit more minor issue but one more prevalent is that many young CRs began their study of theology by beginning with Rushdoony.  As a result, many simply parroted his slogans without really understanding all the theology and philosophy behind it.  Their grasp of Reformed theology was very tenuous beyond the basics.   Once they came across sharp Orthodox and Roman Catholic apologists, they were toast.  They didn’t have the strong foundation in Turretin, Hodge, and Owen that older men had.  Had they begun with the latter and had a decent foundation, then they could have approached Rushdoony Finally, people who really follow Rushdoony have a hard time accepting any criticism of the man.
  2. Was the home-church movement an inevitable spin off from Rushdoony?  That he endorsed something like it is clear, but most Reformed people understand he is wrong on that point.  I think one of the dangers of the home church movement is that apart from any presbyterial oversight, there is nothing stopping the members from embodying outrageous positions.
  3. Gary North:  His Y2K debacle lost him his credibility.  Others have pointed out his refusal to condemn the Federal Vision, though truth be told, would it have mattered?  Most people stopped listening to him in 2,000.   Would his condemning FV in 2003 have changed anything?  Another of his problems would be the Tyler connection. Tyler had the bizarre mixture of independent congregationalism and quasi-sacerdotal episcopalianism.  
  4. Was Federal Vision inevitable?  If you read Bahnsen’s Theonomy in Christian Ethics carefully, it doesn’t seem like it.  He is citing standard P&R and evangelical textbooks on hermeneutics and the Sermon on the Mount.   All of this is wildly at odds with the later Federal Visionists. That’s the problem: other theonomists either became Federal Visionists or they ran interference for them.  

Gary North notes that CR split into two camps:  Tyler Ecclesiasticalism and Rushdoony’s Home Church Patriarchalism. Neither seems like a good choice.

Muller: Christ and the Decree

Christ and the Decree: Christology and Predestination in Reformed Theology from Calvin to Perkins

Richard Muller’s work begins on a promising note: he refuses to view election in any way apart from the Person of Christ, specifically regarding the role of the mediator. Part of the difficulty in this review is noting what is Muller’s own view and what is John Calvin’s. Assuming Muller wants to identify his position with Calvin’s, I will use “Muller” and “Calvin/Calvin’s contemporaries” interchangeably. One of the caricatures of Reformed theology is that it posits an angry Father making an arbitrary decision on who gets to go to hell and to heaven. Muller reconstructs Calvin’s work to show that Calvin spoke of election in the context of Christology; therefore, election and the saving work of Christ can never be separated. By the end of the review one will see how successful Muller was.

This review will examine the historical development of Reformed perspectives on predestination as they relate to a specifically Reformed approach to Christology. Also, whether or not the doctrine of unconditional election is true or false is independent of Muller’s historical thesis. If election is false, that in no way validates whether Muller’s reconstruction of these Reformers is true or false.

As to the Christology itself, Calvin distinguishes the Person of the Son from the Son as God, which leads to the Reformed doctrine of aseity and autotheos (Muller 29). Much of the book will hinge on the connections between aseity, autotheos, and extra calvinisticum. This leads to Calvin’s important doctrine of mediation, which is framed according to the Son’s two natures. Muller claims that Calvin’s Christology is a historical Christology that focuses on the covenant-keeping God who acts in history to save man. Yet, Muller claims this marks a genuine innovation. In fact, it is the covenant-keeping Christology that sets Calvin apart from the Eastern and Chalcedonian Christology (33). Presumably, the East is more interested in a Divine Person who assumes a human nature to himself, whereas Calvin is more interested in the mediator who acts in history to save his people.

The rest of Muller’s book tracing the development from Peter Martyr Vermigli to William Perkins documents how these writers viewed election “in Christ.” There is no such thing as a nude Deos absconditus who makes deals “behind the back” of the Son. Starting with Vermigli, we see an emphasis on grace as mediated (57), putting a Reformed slant on a very Roman Catholic doctrine and structure. One side-note related to this, and important for Muller’s thesis, is that election is mediated by Christ while reprobation is im-mediate (80). In other words, Christ actively saves the elect while no person actively damns the reprobate. Obviously, Muller is putting a very infralapsarian spin on the matter.

Calvin gives this specifically Antiochene Christology a more rigid structure. Starting with Calvin we see the office of mediator taking a more prominent role In other words, as Muller hints, “Office has replaced person” (180-181).

Calvin isn’t saying that the office of mediator constitutes the divine person. That would be Nestorian or Adoptionist.  Rather, the office of mediator is recognized in his human nature (p.29 of the Labyrinth Press edition).


Muller’s book deserves high praise. He has done yeoman’s work synthesizing a large amount of material, the nature of which is prohibitive to the average layman.

Divine Will, Human Choice; notes 4 (Reformed Understandings)


Necessity, Contingency, and Freedom: Reformed Understandings

With Vos, Muller notes that the Reformed orthodox did use an architectonic framework of an “ultimate and absolute divine knowledge, identified as scientia necessaria,” which meant that God knew himself and all possibles (183). This meant that some possibles are indefinite.  Others are contingent.  Neither are necessary, since God doesn’t have to actualize all possibles (and a possible is a state of affairs which doesn’t entail a contradiction).

Calvin does remark on necessity and contingently, but not exhaustively.  While his comments are often ambiguous, “he is quite consistent in his assumption that God in no way causes human agents to act contrary to their natures or to will contrary to their own inclinations” (187; cf. Institutes I.18.2).

His contemporary Peter Martyr Vermigli, however, is quite exhaustive on the subject.  Divine knowledge doesn’t actually cause x, since knowledge isn’t a matter of will (Muller 194). We must, rather, identify the ground of a thing’s necessity. An interior principle means an intrinsic necessity. Think of fire burning, earth moving, etc.  Here’s where it gets interesting: these are necessary only in the usual course of the world.  God overrode these at times (Shadrach, etc., and Joshua and the Sun).  Therefore, it is a contingent necessity.

Vermigli then clarifies what the Reformed mean by “free will,” or more accurately free choice. He writes, “Choice (arbitrium) seems to consist in this, that we follow things that are appointed by reason….Then, without a doubt, the will (voluntas) is free what it embraces those things that are approved on the part of the knowing soul” (Vermigli, Loci II.ii.1).

In an interesting comment, Vermigli doesn’t reduce freedom to spontaneity.  That makes sense if you think about it.  If a free choice is one where the reason deliberates, then it isn’t purely spontaneous (although it doesn’t rule out spontaneity in other areas). What is important is the absence of coercion.

Zanchi, a few years later, continues the same line of thought concerning contingency and the two kinds of necessity.  Elsewhere, he modifies Vermigli’s comments on free choice by adding that the will also has the freedom of contradiction, “namely, potency to more than one effect” (Muller 200).

Divine Will, Human Choice; notes 3 (Scotus)


Duns Scotus and Late Medieval Perspectives on Contingency

Initial proposition: there remains in the creature an act of potency to be otherwise (143). Scotus isn’t concerned with multiple actualities but potencies (151).  Even when I will A, I logically have the potency to will -A, even if I can’t do both at the same time. This is in actu primo.

While Scotus doesn’t represent a break with the tradition, there are differences with Aquinas.  While both “identified the divine will as intervening between the necessary or simply divine knowledge of all possibility and the visionary divine knowledge of all actualit” (157), Scotus does not agree with Aquinas that the intellect performs the ordering function of the will (159).  Freedom of willing depends “on the absence of anything causally prior to the will.”

Moreover, Scotus grounds “contingency and God’s certain knowledge of it in God’s omnicausality and knowledge of his will” (163). Aquinas, to put it simply, says God knows possibilia by his own contemplation of his essence.  Scotus says they are produced as intelligible in a non-temporal moment or instant of the operation of the divine intellect” (163).

Scotus’s Moments in God

Muller quotes Gelber’s It Could Have Been Otherwise to show what Scotus would have meant by the above paragraph.  I’m going to put it in bullet-format to make it clearer.  Remember, these are non-temporal moments (think of the order of the decrees in the infra/supra debate).

  1. God’s intellect produces intelligible beings.
  2. God’s intellect identifies possible beings.
  3. God chooses among the various compossibilities.

Muller notes on Divine Will, part 2; Aristotle and Aquinas


Aristotle and Aquinas

Main idea: Aristotle never set aside the principle of bivalence but instead presumed a distinction between “definitely true” and “indefinitely true” propositions (88).  A human being can have opposing potencies, and even when one is actualized, the contrary potency doesn’t disappear but remains as a potency.

The Medieval Reception

It isn’t simply “either we are free or God knows everything.”  Rather, as Augustine pointed out, there is an “order of causes in which the highest efficiency is attributed to the will of God” (Civ. Dei 5.9).


Let’s take the statement, what will be tomorrow is necessary.  The medievals understood this statement to be mean: “Whatever is, when it is, cannot be in the same moment other than what it is” (Muller 107). To anticipate later discussions, while the future may not be “up for grabs” from God’s point of view, it is nevertheless contingent.

There is also a distinction between necessity and certainty.  Necessity is lodged in the thing known and certainty in the knower.


Aquinas held that not all effects have necessary causes.  Aquinas maintained free choice by saying rational beings have the potency to more than one effect.  We have a simultaneity of potencies (SCG III.72).

Aquinas and Divine Power.

Muller then discusses the standard distinction of absolute vs. ordained power. This undergirds how God is said to relate to the world, and the world order itself is contingent result of God’s free willing (Muller 121).

Since this created order is contingent, “God has created contingent agents that act or cause effects contingently” (123).  As a result, we have the potency to do otherwise.  We should also point out the language of “determined” in the medievals.  They weren’t thinking about the determinism vs. libertarianism debate.  Determined simply meant the “terminus whether a quo or ad quem of a causal sequence has been identified” (130).

Therefore, per a future contingent, it is “undetermined” not in the sense that God is not aware of it, but that it doesn’t have a determinate cause.  God knows future contingents as “hypothetically necessary, as the effects of contingent causes” (131).

Opening Notes on Muller’s Divine Will and Human Choice


Muller, Richard A. Divine Will and Human Choice: Freedom, Contingency, and Necessity in Early Modern Reformed Thought. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017.

This book is more than a continuation of the Muller/Helm debate on Jonathan Edwards’ view of free choice.  It clarifies what was actually debated and explores recent attempts in Reformed historiography that appropriates Duns Scotus’s view of synchronic contingency. In doing so, it explores many issues in metaphysics which older Reformed writers considered vital but sadly have disappeared from today’s scene.

In fact, according to the index Jonathan Edwards doesn’t play a role.  The conversation goes something like this:  scholars like Antonie Vos argue the Reformed used Scotist synchronicity (we’ll unpack these terms later), which allowed them to avoid divine determinism as perhaps found in Thomas Aquinas.  Helm, by contrast, counters no, they were in fact determinists and Scotist synchronicity doesn’t actually solve anything.

Muller takes a more middle position.  The Reformed did in fact use Scotist concepts but only insofar as it allowed them to affirm God’s decree and rational human choice (Muller 34).

Some Terminology

Synchronic contingency: “the contingent is something present that presently could be otherwise given the unactualized but nonetheless remaining alternative possibility or potency” (37). Let’s pretend that Socrates is sitting. He can either sit or run, sit at one time and run at another.  He can’t do both. However, his sitting is only an historic necessity, not an absolute one.

Possibility: having the potential or capacity for existence or being true. Something could be otherwise.

Power of simultaneity: he can’t do both at the same time.

Simultaneity of potency: the possibility of running exists simultaneously with the actuality of sitting.

Composite sense: Socrates cannot be sitting and running.

Divided sense: Socrates can be sitting and running, albeit not simultaneously.

For Scotists such as Vos, the divine will intervenes between a divine necessary knowledge and a divine free knowledge of all actuality (51). This means that the divine knowing “yields a sense of the continuing presence of possibles.” This corresponds to the potentia absoluta even while their contraries are known in the potentia ordinata.

In other words, God’s willing p does not exclude the synchronic possibility of the opposite state of affairs.

Muller, Prolegomena to Theology

Overview of argument:

Archetypal theology: eternal pattern for perfect truth of supernatural revelation (Muller 234).

Ectypal theology: category inclusive of all forms of finite theology. It is formed on the basis of the archetype by a communication of grace from Creator to creature (235).

Muller ties these two categories in with Christology, following the Reformed and anti-Lutheran finiti non capax infiniti: the human nature of Jesus cannot fully share with the divine nature, which, reasoning analogously, means that the theologia unionis must be ectypal, not archetypal (250).

At this point one must step back and appreciate what Muller has done. He’s tied in epistemology with Christology almost effortlessly. He has taken the hypostatic union and shown how it forms the epistemological principle of Reformed thought—the ectypal theology (251).


“double truth” does not mean one truth is opposed to another, but that one truth may transcend another (387).

“Reason” has an instrumental function for truth (399). For example, “In a syllogism the foundation for all argument is the middle term, the common ground shared by major and minor propositions. In theology the middle term is not taken from reason, but Scripture” (403).

The “principia” of theology is its first principle(s). It must be of a higher degree than that of the conclusions drawn from it (431).
Principle of being (principia essendi): it is the principle of foundation
Principle of knowing (principia cognescendi): it is the principle of knowing

The archetype and the arche must be identical. The connection between archetype and ectypal theology is the logos prophorikos, the Word sent forth (433).
Archetypal knowledge is the principium essendi
When the archetype reveals himself, it is the principium cognoscendi.
All true theology reflects the archetype, which can only be known through a self-revelation.

Notes on the Divine Essence, from Muller

Notes on Muller, PRRD 3

Simplicity in pre-Reformation

The scholastic understanding of “identity” assumes various levels of identity (essential and formal), so the term “identity” does not indicate radical equation in every sense posssible (40 n. 63).

The goal is “to argue a certain manner of distinction (for the sake of manifesting the three) while at the very same time denying other kinds of distinction (for the sake of confessing the one)” (41).

Normally speaking essence and existence are not identified. The essence “humanity” is not synonymous with any one human (52).

Simplicity and Predication

Many critique absolute divine simplicity as eliminating the possibility of any real predication (on our part) of the divine essence. But when medievals used this term, all they meant was that God is not composite (54-55)

Plurality in God is secundum rationem, not secundum re (55).

Development and Decline of late orthodoxy

Interestingly, the medievals viewed “space” and time,” not as things but as relations (148).

Existence and knowledge of God

The orthodox followed three ways of approach to the problem of the knowledge of God (166):

  1. via causationes (a cause can be known in some manner from its effects)

  2. via emimentiae(we attribute to God all the perfections known to creataures)

  3. via negationis (we remove from God the imperfections known to creatures)

Rules of predication

“Predication is the logical act of attribution by which a subject is united with a predicate” (197).

Disproportionality between finite and infinite.

How does natura apply to God? Some qualities are considered “natural” in him (208).

The attributes of God are his perfections (213).

attribute: a characteristic or quality attributed to or predicated of an object, where as a property is a characteristic that belongs to an object (215). God can only have essential properties.

The Divine Essence

ens a se: self-grounded essence (237)

numerical unity: threeness of person does not contradict numerical unity of essence—there is no class of beings (whether genus or species) identifiable as “god” to which the divine persons belong and the divine unity is not a composite unity such as belongs to the several members of a genus or species (242).

genus: a universal or form, incompletely expressing essence, that can be predicated of specifically distinct subjects in species.

Species: a universal or form completely expressing essence, that can be predicated of a series of subjects distinct in number

Divine Names

The Reformed interest in the divine names is primarily exegetical and not nominalist (246).

see the note on Gillespie in PRRD II, 7.3B

Back to Simplicity

The point is to deny in God only those distinctions that imply composition and to point toward the proper distinctions that do subsist among the attributes and between the attributes and essence (278).

Persons are not distinct in essence, degree, condition, or dignity but they are distinct in order, number, manner of working, etc (281).

“three persons applied to the Godhead indicate the communicability of the sole, infinite, individual and singular divine essence to these three without division (283).”

transcendentals: the properties of being can be identified as “transcendentals.” These are properties which must be predicated of all and, therefore, also of each and every being. Being is transcendent: it is the ultimate principle and/or category of all beings. Being is not a “thing” and so there cannot be a “real” distinction between being and things (284-285).

  • ens

  • res

  • aliud; other

  • aliquid; being something

  • unum; a being is one in itself

  • verum; it is true in that it corresponds with its goal

  • bonum; it is good because it moves toward its goal

This allows the Reformed to work through the problem of realiter predication: all of these “transcendentals” reduce to one another without becoming synonymous with one another. Yet they do allow distinctions—a being is other than not-being; a being is other than not-itself.

realiter distinction is a distinction between two things. Being, though, is not a thing and so is not reduced to realiter distinctions. A virtualiter distinction …

Epistemology, Distinctions, and the Divine Decree

(The Reformed structure this discussion) “Around the epistemological problem of the finitum no capax infiniti and its resolution in the explication of the eternal decree and its execution of the sovereign will of God in and for the temporal economy. Here we see both a statement of the non capax and an approach to the divine relatedness: the mind cannot conceive of the way in which the attributes belong to the utter simplicity of the divine essence; nonetheless, the distinct attributes are coorectly distinguished by reason in the effects and operations of God in the world—and these effects and operations rightly and genuinely reveal the identity of God, indeed, the invisible essence of the utterly simple Godhead. The effect of this distinction, like the effet of the distinction between the decree and the execution, is to direct attention away from the divine essence toward the divine economy” (298).


Does not imply that God is inactive, but that God has not been moved from potency to actuality (309). It is an absence of negative passions.

God and Time

The denial of change and succession is made for affirming a specific relationship between God and the creatures—indeed, of affirming that both God and creatures have duration, the divine duration being non-successive, the creaturely duration, successive (355).

Divine Foreknowledge

Divine willing establishes freedom and contingency (402). Foreknowledge itself is not causal. Knowledge is related to causality by means of the divine will.

Necessary and Free knowledge in God

Necessary: the knowledge that God has of himself and all possibilities ad extra (407).

Free knowledge: knowledge of all those possibilities that God freely wills to actualize.

Problem of Middle Knowledge

definition: a divine knowledge lying between God’s indeterminate knowledge of all possibilities and his determinate foreknowledge of the necessary and certain effects of his decree (417-418). God is reacting to the result of a finite contingency.

Reformed critique: the notion of a certain divine foreknowledge of future conditionals is a rather unstable concept: in order for God to know the conditional conditionally, he would have to be ignorant of its resolution in actuality. In short, there can be no being independent of the divine decree (421). The problem for such a view appears when the question is asked, “How shall such a thing exist?”

Will and Freedom

necessity and freedom are neither contraries nor contradictories: the contrary of necessity is impossibility; the contrary of freedom is coercion (434n. 360).

When God wills, the contrary remains possible—a resident possiblity in the divine scientia necessaria. God cannot equally will and not will a certain object; he can, however, will a certain object and know the possiblity of not-willing it (448).

The divine will is not determined by its objects. It was not necessary that God will object-a since the possibility of object non-a existed in God’s mind (449).

Even God’s necessary willing is free in a sense: it is not subject to external compulsion (455).

Properties and Attributes

Old post of mine.  Might shed some light on the covenantal properties controversy.

Why is this important?  Understanding that this is what “makes up” a human being is crucial in apologetics, evangelism, and the pro-life cause.

JP Moreland (either works by Moreland or about Moreland) :

property: a universal (Moreland and Craig, 219), that which can be instantiated in more than one place at once.  It would still exist apart from the substance. A substance “owns” a property (215).  Properties always come together in groups.

Gould and Wallace clarify Moreland’s position by saying a property is an instantiation of an abstract object (Gould and Wallace 24).

substance: more basic than properties. Substances do the having, properties the “had.”  “A substance is a deep unity of properties, parts and capacities.”

Richard Muller:

attributum: the attributes identify what the thing is and are inseparable from its substance (Muller 50).

proprietas: pertaining to God, it is an incommunicable attribute.  More specifically, that which is uniquely predicated of the person.  Regarding the doctrine of man, what is predicated of an individual (250).

Alvin Plantinga:

property: Plantinga broadens the discussion to where he can say “God has a nature–a property he has essentially that includes each property essential to him” (Plantinga 7).  So, God has the property of having a nature.  Plantinga seems to have reversed the relation between property and attribute.


On one hand, properties are had by the person, attributes by the essence.  Or rather, attributes are predicated of the essence.  Yet J. P. Moreland says properties are had by the substance.  Is Moreland confusing substance and person?  Maybe not.  In the West substance wasn’t necessarily identical with “essence” or ousia.  Substance denotes a standing under, which points to the idea of person.

Yet it is also important to realize that properties are explanatorily prior to the things that have them (Gould and Wallace 25).  The easiest conclusion is that attributes are predicated of the essence, properties of the person, provided we also see properties functioning as universals.

Works Cited

Gould, Paul and Wallace, Stan.  “On what there is: theism, platonism, and explanation” in Eds. Gould, Paul and Davis, Richard Brian. Loving God with Your Mind: Essays in Honor of J.P. Moreland.  Chicago: Moody Press, 2010.

Moreland, J. P. and Craig, William Lane.   Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview.  Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2003.

Muller, Richard A. Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, reprint [1995].