K:JNWTS  29/3 (December 2014): 43-46

Book Review

Bernardinis de Moor, Continuous Commentary on Johannes Marckius' Didactico-Elenctic Compendium of Christian Theology. Volume 1: Concerning the Word and Definition of Theology. Translated by Steven Dilday. Culpepper, VA: L & G Reformation Translation Center, 2014. 264pp. Cloth. ISBN: 978-1-936473-07-6. $29.95.

Before embarking on the story of de Moor and his esteemed mentor, Johannes Marckius (or à Marck), I begin with another narrative, tangential but derivative from the current volume under review.

In 1794, the first Reformed and Presbyterian theological seminary west of the Allegheny Mountains was established in Beaver County (the county of my up-bringing), Pennsylvania at Service Creek (just north of the intersection of US Route 30 and PA State Route 18). An appropriate inscription still marks the site of this historic institution. Service Seminary was the sole responsibility of the Rev. John Anderson (1748-1830) who had migrated from the church of the Scottish Secession—the 1733 break-away of the Associate Presbytery from the Church of Scotland. The Associate Synod of Scotland (or Associate Presbyterian Church—AP) dispatched Anderson to Philadelphia in 1784 in response to appeals from the recently formed Associate Synod of Pennsylvania (1782) for missionary pastors from old world Seceder flocks in the new world. The Associate Synod of Pennsylvania had been formed as a result of the union between the Reformed Presbyterian Church (RP) and the Associate Presbyterian churches in 1782—a union which resulted in the birth of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP). Two ministers and three ruling elders of the AP body had declined the merger and chose to continue the testimony of the AP Synod. Hence, what had been planned as uniting two similar churches into one resulted in the formation of three churches (a small remnant of the RP group also declined the merger and became the mother body of the current Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America [RPCNA] or Covenanter denomination).

In short, AP + RP = ARP (1792), while dissenting AP and RP bodies survived. The former eventually joined with the ARP in 1858 to form the United Presbyterian Church of North America (AP + ARP + UPCNA)—the church in which I was baptized and nurtured by my Christian parents. To complete this account of the denominational formulas, the UPCNA united with the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America [PCUSA] in 1958 to become the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America [UPCNA + PCUSA = UPCUSA]. To this body was added the Presbyterian Church in the United States [PCUS or so-called Southern Presbyterian Church arising from the 1861 Civil War in America] in 1983—UPCUSA + PCUS = PC(USA) or Presbyterian Church (United States of America). Back to John Anderson.

Anderson itinerated in the Philadelphia area for several years and was eventually called to pastor the AP congregations at Mill Creek (Service Creek, PA) and Harmon's Creek (Frankfort Springs, PA) in 1792. He would remain pastor of these congregations until his death in 1830. However, in 1794 to his preaching and pastoral duties was added the role of seminary professor and trainer of pastors for the AP Synod. He was chosen probably on account of his theological knowledge and skill in teaching; the remote location (far western edge of the frontier) was certainly not an advantage though some historians have suggested the denomination was "looking westward" in locating its theological seminary. A two-story log cabin was built near Anderson's manse residence. It consisted of a lecture room (or "recitation hall"), library and dormitory. The library which was gathered consisted of more than 800 volumes—quite impressive for a new-born institution on the western frontier of America. Anderson taught the entire curriculum alone: Greek and Hebrew, systematic theology together with lectures on the Westminster Shorter Catechism, rounded off by sermon preparation and delivery classes. Recitation or classroom work was scheduled four hours/day four days/week. Furthermore, students accompanied Anderson on his pastoral visits and worshipped with the congregations on the Lord's day.

The students lived in the dormitory for which they were charged room and board (there was no tuition charge because Anderson had his salary from his congregations). These living costs were defrayed by gifts gathered from the denomination's American and Scottish congregations. The student body was never large—nine students at the most with the average enrollment about five or six. Anderson would resign as seminary professor for health reasons in 1819 and the seminary closed. It has virtually disappeared from the memory of the churches which have descended from it. Only the stone inscription attests its reality in that once remote Western Pennsylvania location. It reads: "Site of the Service Theological Seminary of the Associate Presbyterian Church, the second Divinity School in America. In a log building erected here, the first session was held during the winter of 1794-95, the Rev. John Anderson, D.D., being the sole instructor …" 

One year after Anderson's resignation, the AP Synod launched a new seminary at Canonsburg, PA under the direction of Dr. James Ramsey (1771-1855). This school would be moved to Xenia, OH in 1855; from there to St. Louis, MO in 1920 and thence to Pittsburgh, PA in 1930 where it became Pittsburgh-Xenia Theological Seminary—one ancestral arm of the current Pittsburgh Theological Seminary formed in 1958 with the merger of the UPCNA and the PCUSA. This merger also combined the two Pittsburgh Presbyterian theological seminaries, Western Theological Seminary of the PCUSA (where B. B. Warfield taught before moving to Princeton) and Pitt-Xenia.[1]

What does this narrative digression have to do with à Marck and de Moor? à Marck was the ‘text-book' which Anderson used in systematic theology instruction—i.e., his Compendium theologiae Christianae didactio-elenchticum (1722) and his Christianae theologiae medulla (1742). The English translation of de Moor provides the modern scholar and student with access to à Marck's compendious system anchored in classic Reformed scholasticism. For this reviewer, it also rekindles sentiments associated with his childhood, his theological alma mater (Dr. John H. Gerstner was the man who keep him sane in that radical 60s theological environment, thanks be to God) and the denomination of his ordination and early theological formation (though that denomination was far removed from the orthodoxy of à Marck and Anderson). It also places à Marck alongside Francis Turretin whom this reviewer and NWTS greatly esteem—de Moor calls the great Genevan "Most Illustrious" (77).

Bernardinus de Moor (1709-1780) was a student, disciple and successor to Johannes à Marck (1689-1731). His commentary in seven Latin volumes is a review of his mentor's Compendium or summary of dogmatic and systematic theology at the climax of its maturity. The translator has chosen to render this particular work into English in order to acquaint the reader with the precisely developed and richly matured version of scholastic Calvinism which follows the ‘Golden Age' of Reformed Scholasticism (17th century Puritanism and continental Calvinism). Thus, "a System written relatively late in the period of Reformed Orthodoxy, that surveyed and summarized the preceding systems" (11). à Marck had asked de Moor to further his work after his own death in the work now appearing in English, thanks to Dr. Dilday. All that is lacking from this massive compilation is the element of praxis or "Practical Uses" of the expounded doctrine. This gap was filled especially by two Durch contributions: Andreas Essenius (1618-1677), Compendium Theologiae Dogmaticae (1669) and Peter van Mastricht (1631-1706), Theoretico-practica theologia (1682-87). Van Mastricht's magisterial work is currently being translated into English by the Dutch Reformed Translation Society.

Our translator has obliged our ignorance with numerous footnotes identifying names, providing titles of noteworthy works and explaining obscure references. He provides a short preface introducing the work with its historical context and significance (9-12). He then provides a readable translation (in somewhat literal fashion so as to preserve the force of the original) in an attractive font. The volume contains a name index at the conclusion (though my copy unfortunately had the final two pages of that index inserted before the back board via photocopy—likely a glitch in assembling the final galley for binding). This volume claims to be the forerunner of the entire seven-volume set. We look forward to the ensuing translations, d.v.

Our translator whets our appetite for what remains. He provides de Moor's outline of the entire work (33-37). We observe that this is an exposition of historic orthodox Calvinism in the best tradition of elenctic theology, i.e., orthodox Reformed systematic theology engaged with its antitheses—Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, Socinianism, Arminianism, Amyraldianism, Islam, Judaism, etc. The first volume contains a thorough exposition of the definition and task of theology (systematic theology). Featured are distinctions between natural and inscripturated theology; true and false theology; noëtic and dianoëtic doctrine (208-214); and the principium of revealed theology (which is the inspired Word of God) (247ff.). An outline of the entire first volume is found on pages 41-44.

A quibble or two. Our translator uses the archaic word "promoving" (24) when "promoting" or "advancing" would have been preferable. He also lists the Reformed scholastic works which "it seems desirable to render . . . into English" (11). He then notes that "Calvin, Turretin and Witsius are available", but that Mastricht, Pictet and Markius are "locked up in the Latin tongue". The incipient remedy for Marckius is before us; Mastricht is in preparation (see above); but Benedict Pictet (1655-1724) is also available in English—a work heavily dependent on Turretin, whose funeral eulogy he delivered on Nov. 3, 1687 (David Lillegard, trans., "Funeral Oration of Benedict Pictet concerning the Life and Death of Francis Turretin," in James T. Dennison, Jr., ed., Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 3:659-76). Pictet's Theologia Christiana (1696) or Christian Theology was translated by Frederick Reyroux in the 19th century and published by the Presbyterian Board of Publication (no exact date of publication is found in the copy on my shelf).

—James T. Dennison, Jr.

[1] The following is a select bibliography from which details of Anderson and Service seminary may be reviewed. R. D. Harper, The Church Memorial: . . .The United Presbyterian Church of North America (1858); W. M. Glasgow, Cyclopedic Manual of the United Presbyterian Church of North America (1903); H. A. Kelsey, The United Presbyterian Directory: A Half-Century Survey, 1903-1958 (1958); W. N. Jamison, The United Presbyterian Story (1958); E. A. Smith, The Presbyterian Ministry in American Culture (1962); J. A. Walther, ed., Ever a Frontier: The Bicentennial History of the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (1994).