Tag Archives: Amandus Polanus

The Synopsis of Polanus’ Syntagma (7)

Book IV

The works of God, first, are either personal or essential.

The personal works of God are generally of two sorts:  some are simply personal, others in a certain manner.

Second, the works of God are either internal or external.

In like manner, some of the internal works of God are personal, others essential.

The essential internal works of God are the eternal counsel and the Decree of God.

The parts of the decree of God are two:  all things which were predetermined for the future, & the ordination first of an end and then the means and circumstances.

The eternal decree of God is first either of the good pleasure of God or of the sign.

The decree of the sign is either prescriptive or permissive.

Second, the decree of God is either general or special.

The special decree is the predestination of rational creatures both to a certain end, then also to the means by which they are led to that end.

And it is both election and reprobation.

Election is of Christ, and then also of the members of Christ.

Election of the members of Christ is of the blessed Angels, then of people who have been redeemed in eternity.

Election of people has these parts:  the designation of people to eternal salvation, & the preparation of the means through which people are led to salvation.

Reprobation has two parts or actions:  first comes the designation of the reprobate to eternal death.  Later comes the designation of the means of carrying out the decree of reprobation.

Eternal reprobation is both of the devil and then of the members of the devil.

The reprobation of the members of the devil is both of the evil angels, and then of the people who are to be damned.

Thus far the internal works of God.  What follows are the external.

The Synopsis of Polanus’ Syntagma (6)

The synopsis of Book III is short and deals with the Trinity and the divine persons.  However, don’t let the length of the synopsis fool you.  The actual discussion in the main text is 38 pages.  Those pages are packed full of theological meat and potatoes.


Book III

The persons of the Deity are three in number:  the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The divine persons are everywhere considered either communally or singularly.

Singularly,  they are considered either absolutely or relatively.

Relatively, insofar as they have respect either to essence or to the other persons.

The persons compared to the other persons are considered both in regards to communion and in regards to their distinctives.

The persons are distinguished accorded to source (originem), order and their operations.

The distinction of the persons according to their operations is two-fold:  either with regards to the mode of operation in essence, or with regards to personal operation.

Thus far with regards to the essence of God.  What follows concerns his works.

The Synopsis of Polanus’ Syntagma (5)

Today we conclude Book II and Polanus’ consideration of the doctrine of God.  I should note that I’m doing this as an exercise in historical theology.  Historical theology is oriented toward description.  In other words, this is not a matter of what should be, but what was.  Naturally, there is the possibility that Polanus has something valuable to offer our day and our theologizing.  However, at this point, I’m not interested in commenting on that, especially since this is only the synopsis and to meaningfully interact we really should work with the meat of the Syntagma.  Maybe some other time…

However, one thing that I will say is that this synopsis is another piece in the case against the “central dogma theory” of some historical theologians.  For instance, it’s readily evident that Polanus doesn’t make predestination the center or starting point of his theological system.  He discusses it, but his system doesn’t start with it, nor does it pervade the entire work.  By now I think the central dogma theory has been thoroughly discredited by Richard Muller and others, but just in case anyone out there still buys it, Polanus is certainly worth checking (and these days, anybody can download it and read it).  From what I’ve seen of other Protestant scholastics, Polanus is not exceptional in his approach to theology.


The power of God is considered in a two-fold way:  either insofar as it is in God himself, or insofar as it works outside of itself or is able to work.

The power of God considered in itself is considered either as those which are held in common by all three persons of the Deity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) – so, for instance, that which God knows and loves in himself; or as those which are proper to each person – so, for instance, the power of begetting the Son properly belongs to the Father, because the Father alone has begotten the Son.

The power which God works outside of himself is considered as either absolute or actual.

The freedom of God is three-fold:  from compulsion, from slavery, from the burden of misery.

That is all regarding the blessedness of God.

The glory of God is either essential, or personal.

Thus far, the first distinction of the proper attributes of God.

Second, the proper attributes of God are either absolute or relative.

Up to this point, we have dealt with the proper attributes of God.  What follows are the figurative.

The figurative attributes of God are either made use of singularly or as grouped together.

Distinguished singularly, they are either metonymical, or ironic, or metaphorical, or as synecdoche.

Metonymical:  so that of God it is said that he is our steadfastness, our strength, faithfulness to the ends of all the earth, our song, our praise, etc.

The metaphorical attributes of God are taken up either from man, or from the other creatures.

From man they are taken up from his parts, the members of the body, the senses, the affections, actions, subjects, and adjuncts.

The essential parts: the spirit.

The members of the body:  the head, face, eye, eyelids, pupils, mouth, ears, nose, nostrils, neck, hands, arm, etc.

The senses attributed to God are both internal and external.

Internal:  memory or recall, and its opposite: forgetfulness.

External: seeing, hearing, smelling.

The affections:  delight, grief in the heart of God, anger, zeal, jealousy, hatred, repentance.

Human actions which are attributed to God anthropomorphically:  internal and then external.

The internal actions are:  thinking, knowing, reckoning (numerare), etc.

The external actions are:  speaking, lifting up, making light shine, hiding the face, visiting people, etc.

God visits people either through knowledge, or through effects.

The effects are two-fold:  certainly in compassion and in judgment.

The subjects attributed to God through metaphor are: throne, sun, footstool.

The adjuncts are:  majesty, garments, book, time, etc.

The book of God is four-fold:  the book of providence, the book of Sacred Scripture, the book of divine judgment and the book of life.

The book of the providence of God is two-fold:  of the world and of the Church.

The metaphorical attributes of God which are taken from creaturely things are twofold:  those which are taken from animals (such as wings or horns) and those which are taken from inanimate things (such as towers, cliffs, and shields).

Thus far with regards to the attributes of God.  What follows concerns the person of the Deity.

The Synopsis of Polanus’ Syntagma (4)

As I’ve been working on this, I’ve also been reading volume 2 of Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics.  Bavinck interacts with many authors from before his time, include many Reformed scholastics.  Judging from my reading so far and from the index, one of his favourites was Amandus Polanus, and the work invariably referenced is his Syntagma.  Obviously, Bavinck thought Polanus was a worthwhile conversation partner, even if he didn’t always agree with him.  Hopefully,  some day we’ll see a complete translation of the entire work.

We’re continuing here with Book II, where Polanus deals with theology proper.  In this section he deals with the will of God.


The very will of God is one; with regards to its gracious disposition towards us, it is firstly either essential or personal.

Second, the will of God is either effective or permissive.

Third, the will of God is either absolute or conditional.  That one is said to be his good will, this one is a sign.

Fourth, the will of God is either revealed or hidden.

The revealed will of God is firstly either antecedent or consequent.

Second, the revealed will of God is either law or gospel.

Fifth, the will of God is either necessarily of nature or free.

Sixth, some things are the will of God toward us, which he wills to be done concerning us and other creatures; some things are what he wills to be done to us.

Seventh, with regards to the objects of his will, some are good and some are evil.

The good which God wills is both with regards to God himself, and then all natural, moral and heavenly good.

When it comes to evil, God’s will either executes punishment  or assigns blame.

Outwardly, the will of God is then considered with regards to its goodness and then its justice.

The goodness of God is first considered either with regards to that good which is in him, or that which exists outside the author of all good.

Second, the goodness of God is the fount of the grace, love, compassion, patience and mercy of God.

The grace of God is considered either as residing in God, or in what God does.

The grace residing in God is consiered either as general or as special.

The love of God is said to be two-fold, either that by which God loves, or that by which we ourselves love God.

The first meaning is two-fold:  either restrained (anergeethikos) or impassioned (patheetikos).

The restrained love of God is natural, and then voluntary.

The voluntary love of God is either general or special.

The special or singular love of God is then concerning Christ with respect to his human nature, and concerning the elect in Christ.

The compassion of God is said to exist in two modes:  either active or passive.

When it comes to the objects, that compassion is considered either in a general way or in a special way.

The very justice of God is one.  It is considered firstly either universally or particularly.

The particular justice of God is considered then with regards to itself, and then with regards to creatures.

This is further considered as either determinative (disponens) or distributive (distribuens).

The distributive justice of God is either of grace or of wrath.

The justice of divine wrath is either chastising or avenging.

The same is observed then with regards to the elect, and then with regards to the reprobate.

With regards to the elect, it is also observed in themselves, then in Christ for them.

With regards to the reprobate, it is observed both in reprobate people, and then also in the devil and his angels.

Second, the justice of God is considered both in truth and in sanctity.

God is truth, both in himself and outside of himself as he relates to creatures.

In himself, we consider his essence, then the archetype of all true things in his very existence, then his internal works.

Outside of himself, we consider the truth of God both in external works, and in his words.

That is all regarding the will of God.

The Synopsis of Polanus’ Syntagma (3)

Syntagma Theologiae Christianae is the title of this work by Amandus Polanus.  The word “Syntagma” is the clue to the character of this work.  It’s an unusual word that one doesn’t encounter often in theology.  It comes from classical Greek and is typically used to describe an orderly arrangement of soldiers.  When I was in the Royal Canadian Air Cadets many years  ago, I learned about military structure.  In the Air Command of the Canadian Forces, it begins with a flight, then a squadron, up to a wing, and then several wings make up a division.  It’s all neat and orderly.  This is the thought behind Polanus’ Syntagma — a neat and orderly arrangement of Christian doctrine.

We’ve come to Book II in the synopsis.  This is where Polanus begins dealing with theology proper or the doctrine of God.


Book II

Christian theology consists of two parts:  the first concerns faith, the other concerns good works.

The doctrine of faith consists of two parts:  the first concerns God, the second concerns the Church.

The doctrine of faith concerning God is of two parts:  the first concerns the essence of God, the second concerns his works.

The essence of God is considered either jointly, or individually.  The same divine essence can also be considered either without distinctions or with distinctions.  Moreover, it can also be considered either absolutely or relatively.

The doctrine of faith concerning the essence of God is of two parts:  the first concerns the attributes of God, the second concerns the Divine persons.

First, the divine attributes are either considered positively or negatively.

Second, either properly or figuratively.

The distribution of the proper attributes of God are especially two.

The first is with regards to the divine names, then regarding the essential properties of God.

The divine names are found in both the Old and the New Testaments.

Of those which are in the Old Testament, some signify the essence of God, others his unique (propria) essence.

The names designating the essence of God are:  Jehovah, Jah, Jae

Those designating the unique (propria) essence of God are:  El, Elohim, Shaddai, Adonai, Elion, etc.

Found most frequently in the New Testament are:  Theos and Kurios.

These also occur in the New Testament :  the Most High, Father, Father of Lights, Abba, Lord of Hosts.

The essential properties of God are two-fold in order:  some are primary, others are secondary.

The primary essential properties of God are in order:  simplicity and perfection, and then infinity and immutability.

The infinity of God is then considered with regards to eternity, and then immensity.

The immutability of God is then regarded in essence:  the nature of its essential properities, and then the decrees and promises of God.

The secondary essential properties of God are in order:  life and immortality; blessedness and glory.

The blessedness of God consists of:  exemption from all evil, and the possession of all good.

The good which the blessed God has is infinite and incomprehensible.   It is good for us to remember what these attributes entail:  wisdom, will, power, and freedom.

The essential wisdom of God consists of:  intelligence, knowledge, skill, and prudence.

First, the knowledge of God is either general or special.

Second, the knowledge (scientia) of God is knowledge (notitia) of the past and present, then foreknowledge (praescientia) of the future.

Foreknowledge is two-fold:  universal and particular.

Moreover, the foreknowledge of God is either theoretical or practical.

Third, the knowledge of God is either in seeing (visionis) or in simple intelligence.


Again, if you’re reading this and have suggestions for improving my translation, please let me know.   Thanks!