[K:NWTS 22/2 (Sep 2007) 58-62]

Book Review

Andrea Farrari, John Diodati's Doctrine of Holy Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006. 129 pp. Paper. ISBN: 1-892777-98-3. $16.00.

Giovanni Diodati (1576-1649) is a name to which every Italian Protestant, every reader of the Italian Bible, is beholden. For this man, di nation lucchese—this pilgrim of Geneva, Switzerland in the time of Theodore Beza (1519-1605) and the epigones—this man translated the Hebrew and Greek Word of God into Italian for the first time. Diodati's La Bibbia cioè i libri del Vecchio e del Nuovo Testamento nuovamente traslati in lingua Italianna da Giovanni Diodati di nation Lucchese (1607) remains "in print" after more than 400 years—a remarkable testimony to the importance and faithfulness of the task he undertook when he turned sixteen years of age. Few today remember Diodati, his theological importance eclipsed by his greatest student, Francis Turretin (1623-1687). But his translation of the "oracles of God" into the vernacular lingua Italiano advertises his epithet as one who "being dead, yet speaketh".

This small book on Diodati's doctrine of Scripture is a Ph.D. dissertation submitted to the University of Wales, Lampeter (2003) by Mr. Ferrari, Reformed Baptist pastor in Milan, Italy. Ferrari is at home in the languages necessary to make Diodati accessible to an English-speaking audience—his bibliography contains titles in Latin, Italian and French, the laboratories of research on Diodati's career. In four chapters, Ferrari gives us: a biographical sketch (5-21); an historical survey of the doctrine of Scripture (from the early church to the 16 century, 22-45); an English translation of Diodati's Theses theologicae de Sacra Scriptura (46-51); and a commentary on the Theses, supplemented by Diodati's famous 1643 Pious Annotations Upon the Holy Bible (52-102).

For those acquainted with the historic Reformed doctrine of Scripture, there are no surprises here. Drawing upon Richard Muller's magisterial Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics (especially, volume 2, "Holy Scripture"), Ferrari interweaves quotations from Calvin, Turretin and others in support of the verbal equivalence—the Words of the Scriptures=the Words of God. There is no neo-orthodox, dialectical sleight of hand here (the Words of Scripture bear witness to the Word of God, geschichte distinguished from historie). There is no classic liberal deviance here—the Words of Scripture contain the Words of God, i.e., somewhere amidst the plethora of human words are divine words if our rational processes can divine them. The fads of rationalist (18th century), idealist (19th century), existentialist (20th century), post-existentialist (phenomenologist), post-modern (21st century) `readings' of the Bible are not the reading of the Reformers and their post-Reformation (Protestant Scholastic) students. For them, what the text of the Bible says, God himself says.

Diodati's dialogue is not fundamentally with the rationalistic humanists of his era (i.e., the Socinians, post-Renaissance literati, Libertines and pre-Spinozan radicals). The chief threat to the Protestant clarion, sola Scriptura, is the Roman Catholic non Scriptura sola sed Scriptura et traditio (the famous "two sources" of religious authority in Counter-Reformation Roman Catholic orthodoxy). Diodati's Theses are formulated chiefly with the famous Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation Council of Trent (1545-1563) in mind. It was there that the pontifical communion declared the (Holy Spirit) inspiration of both the written Word of God and the "unwritten traditions" of Christ and the apostles which had been handed down (traditio) through holy mother church and are enshrined in the ex cathedra declarations of the Vatican. The Council of Trent is clear1: these written traditions (akin to the Jewish distinction between written Torah and oral Torah2) are given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Hence such Roman Catholic doctrines as the infallibility of the Pope (Vatican I, 1870); the immaculate conception of the virgin Mary (she was conceived without original sin, even as Jesus was; decreed in 1854); and the "bodily assumption" of the virgin Mary into heaven (as Jesus was; decreed in 1950): all these are revealed to the faithful "by inspiration of the Holy Spirit".

Diodati's elevation and defense of the inspired Old and New Testament over against the claim to "on-going divine revelation" in the "living voice" of the tradition of Roman Catholicism is a classic exercise in Protestant orthodoxy—as relevant today as it was in the 16th and 17th centuries. For the Roman Catholic Church, semper eadem ("always the same," i.e., irreformable) continues to hold the "two sources" theory of divinely-inspired, infallible and inerrant truth today. Thus one of the latest official publications (with the Imprimatur) of the church, i.e., the Roman Catholic Catechism (1992/1994)—an authoritative declaration of the sum of Christianity which all the faithful must believe in "the service, that is, of supporting and confirming the faith of all the Lord Jesus' disciples"—states: "Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing;"and "As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, `does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.'" Diodati, as all historically orthodox Protestants asks: do we rely on Holy Spirit-inspired Scripture only (formal principle of the Reformation); or on Holy Spirit-inspired Scripture and tradition (formal principle of the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation)?

In addition to the Diodatina (the moniker of his justly famous Italian translation of the Bible), Giovanni held a distinguished career as pastor of the Italian Church in Geneva (1612-1649) and professor at the Academy of Geneva (chair of Hebrew, 1597-1605; chair of Theology, 1609-1649).3 With his colleague, Theodore Tronchin (1582-1657), he was a delegate to the famous Synod in Holland where he and his Geneva peers endorsed the Calvinistic orthodoxy of the Canons of the Synod of Dort (1618-1619).

The one slight blemish on Diodati's career was the unfortunate—even tragic—dispute over his attempt to revise the French (Protestant) Bible of 1588. Heavily favored by French Huguenots and French-speaking Genevans for use in French-speaking Roman Catholic regions, this translation became virtually sacrosanct following its publication. Though many (Beza included) admitted it needed revision, in the polemical contests with Roman Catholic apologists (especially the Jesuit, Pierre Cotton [1564-1626], and Francis Veron [1575-1625]), the Protestants were being crushed by a blitzkrieg of Roman Catholic books and pamphlets alleging their French Bible was plagiaire ("falsified"). The debate is detailed by Brian Armstrong in "Geneva and the Theology and Politics of French Calvinism: The Embarrassment of the 1558 Edition of the Bible of the Pastors and Professors of Geneva," Calvinus Ecclesiae Genevensis Custos (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1984) 113-33 (an article conspicuously missing from Ferrari's bibliography, 123-29). But the adverse publicity from this Roman Catholic dis-information campaign against the French Bible succeeded in destroying any chance Diodati may have had for publishing his own revision. It also produced internal dissension in Reformed circles in France and Geneva. The upshot was a strict refusal to permit Diodati's revision to appear; and an entrenched defense of the 1588 version. Sadly, the feud left Diodati embittered, disillusioned, uncharitable and even undiscerning (his defense of the Amyraldian tendencies in Alexander Morus was both alarming and short-sighted).4 Still, Ferrari's little book permits us to look beyond these unfortunate incidents to the Diodatina—the on-going legacy of this great Lucchese di Ginevra.

There are a few minor faults in the text which should be noted. "Miraculously" (p. 10 may be too strong a translation. If the original is miraculeursement, it may mean simply "wonderfully" and in this context, more appropriate lest Diodati appear to be suggesting the continuation of miracles (implicitly repudiating his sentiments in Thesis XX, as well as the Protestant case for the cessation of the charismata in the polemics with the original `charismatic' church, i.e., Rome). I suspect "DuMulin" (p. 19) is a typo for DuMoulin. Our author notes Athanasius's declaration of the 27 canonical books of the New Testament. But he omits the important Muratorian Canon which dates (as conservative scholars suggest) from the late 2nd century A.D. Ad fonts (p. 34) should read ad fontes. The biographical essay and bibliography lacks any use of A Milton Encyclopedia (ed. W. B. Hunter) and David Masson's monumental Life of Milton—both of which contain trenchant reflections on the Diodati family, especially Charles, Giovanni's nephew, who lived in London and was the close boyhood friend of the famous Puritan poet, John Milton. In addition to Armstrong's article mentioned above, also missing from the bibliography is the important article by Simonetta Adorni-Braccesi, "Religious Refugees from Lucca in the Sixteenth Century: Political Strategies and Religious Proselytism," Archive for Reformation History 88 (1997): 338-79. (Adorni-Braccesi has made numerous important contributions to the discussion of the Lucchese in Geneva and elsewhere during the 16th century.)

These quibbles aside, the author and publisher are to be thanked for this little "niche volume"—i.e., an (un)weighty tome which opens up the life and doctrine (of Scripture) of a significant voice of Reformed orthodoxy in the "citadel" — post-Calvin Geneva.

—James T. Dennison, Jr.


1 The authoritative Latin version and English translation of the Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent is by H. J. Schroeder (St. Louis, MO: Herder, 1941). The "Decree concerning the Canonical Scriptures" (April 8, 1546) reads, in part: "[the Council] clearly perceives that these truths and rules are contained in the written books and in the unwritten traditions [traditionibus], which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ Himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down to us, transmitted [traditae] as it were from hand to hand" (p. 17/296). Cpr. Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma [Enchiridion Symbolorum] (1954) 244.

2 Cf. this reviewer's comments on this facet of Judaism in Kerux: The Journal of Northwest Theological Seminary 18/1 (May 2003): 51.

3Cf. this reviewer's summary of the history of the Italian community of Geneva in "The Life and Career of Francis Turretin," in Francis Turretin, The Institutes of Elenctic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Co., 1997) 3:639-58. Cpr. also his "The Twilight of Scholasticism: Francis Turretin at the Dawn of the Enlightenment," in Carl R. Trueman, ed., Protestant Scholasticism: Essays in Reassessment (Cambria: Paternoster Press, 1999) 244-55.

4 Cf. Armstrong's article (p. 113, n. 1) and my article on Turretin's life cited in note 3 above for the entire discussion.