Antoine de la Roche Chandieu (1534-1591) on theology and the Word of God

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Antoine de la Roche Chandieu (1534-1591) was pastor of the Reformed church in Paris prior to the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre (23-24 August 1572), after which he fled to Switzerland. This passage from De verbo Dei scripto adversus humanas traditiones (1580) is a straightforward statement of the scriptural foundation of Reformed theology:

“Certain outstanding philosophers teach that the singular nature of the sciences is that they rest upon fixed principles beyond which it is not permitted to rise. If it were permitted, investigation would be infinite and there would therefore be no science, since the philosophers regard this almost as an oracle: there is no science of the infinite.

If, therefore, you should command a theologian to test his own principles, how could he do this except through some principle higher than those principles [to be tested]? And if this should happen, he would have moved into the infinite, which philosophers shudder at as if at some disgraceful act in science.

At this point a distinction of principles must be observed. One is the principle or cause of each conclusion (of these principles some are mediate, others are truly immediate); the other is a principle or axiom of science to which that syllogism should be referred. Outstanding philosophers [teach] many things about these matters.

The theological principle seems to me to be an axiom about sacred matters, undemonstrated and self-authenticated, and once it is set, an evident and necessary conclusion follows about matters which pertain to religion. This axiom is of that sort: ‘Sacred scripture is altogether inspired by God’ [Lit., θεοπνευστος, God-breathed]. No Christians are in doubt about this. Therefore every time sacred matters are discussed and someone has pointed out that ‘it has been so written by the prophets and apostles,’ the person on whom that primeval light has shined will agree: ‘It is absolutely true and certain, that scripture is inspired of God [θεοπνευστος], and scripture is true because God is truthful, and that is true because God said it’; and it will not be allowed to go any further, an untrodden way for the wise and the unwise.

Theologians, therefore, ought to be different in this respect, that they should never have to demonstrate their principles. There can be no science without undemonstrable principles about the truth of which those who profess the sciences feel no doubt. Has any mathematician ever doubted that the whole is greater than its parts? What philosopher has called into doubt this demonstrative principle… that… on whatever subject, a true affirmation or denial is immediately opposed to it. If anyone doubts this, the philosophers are of the opinion that he should be tortured until he acknowledges that it is one thing to be tortured and another not to be tortured. If anyone therefore does not admit the principles of some science, the philosophers command either that he not be disputed or that the error be conclusively proven by reducing the arguments to absurdity.

Human reason cannot be a principle of theology, for it would acquire the authority of sacred scripture and thus human reason would be superior to or more true than sacred scripture, and this would be not to be reasonable but to be insane, to blaspheme…

Likewise, proof of sacred doctrine is not adduced to prove its own principles but is adduced from its own principles for conclusions. ‘Nothing can be a principle of theology which is inconsistent with sacred scripture or is condemned by it.’ Antithesis rather often occurs between human reason and sacred doctrine, since there is so little continuity. Hence it comes about that not all those endowed with human reason recognize and approve the true Christian religion, but more often they oppose it. Human reason therefore is not a theological principle.

Finally we must turn to this point, that all reasons applied to believing are sought either from sacred scripture or from another source. If from sacred scripture, this accords with our wishes; if from elsewhere, then higher objections will always militate against them. I am not unaware that a person has certain shared ideas, but if those ideas are inconsistent with the Word of God, they must be rejected as altogether false. But if they accord with the Word of God, as do those preconceived ideas such as ‘God is one’, ‘God must be obeyed’, and similar ideas, then the truth of them is fundamental and certainty ought to be sought from God’s Word…

Christians today should prove articles of faith only by the authority of holy scripture. Nor does divine scripture need human wisdom, as Chrysostom correctly said. He also says it is very dangerous to commit matters of faith to human reason. Just as, therefore, holy scripture is inspired of God, so those who believe holy scripture are taught by God.”

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