Synopsis Purioris Theologiae (Synopsis of a Purer Theology), by Johannes Polyander, Andreas Rivetus, Antonius Thysius, and Antonius Walaeus, eds. Harm Gorris, trans. Riemer A. Faber, vol. 3 of 3. Leiden: Brill, 2020, 716 pages, $113.00.

Reading primary sources is important. Doing so helps us understand what people thought in their own times and in their own words. People in Reformed churches and ministry today can use classic texts as a sounding board for comparing and contrasting the debates of our times with past reflections on Scripture that reflected different debates from other times. Older texts can also help us reflect on our confessional tradition to understand better the context in which the authors of our confessions and catechisms wrote. This is the third and final volume in the so-called Leiden Synopsis, which represented a series of academic disputations, partly contrasting post-Synod of Dort Reformed orthodoxy with the Arminian theological system. The international team of authors sought to set forth a theological textbook that summarized a Reformed consensus against opposing viewpoints after Leiden University had dismissed all of their Arminian faculty members. Once a standard Reformed textbook, the Synopsis has long been inaccessible to readers without knowledge of Latin. This volume completes the translation of the Synopsis into English. Serving as a superb compendium of historic Reformed thinking, the Leiden Synopsis will help contemporary readers go back to the sources of the mature period of Reformed orthodoxy.

Covering the topics of the sacraments, church discipline, civil authority, and the last things, volume three of the Synopsis treats up-to-date theological questions from that time that remain relevant today. The substantial eighty-page introduction is a significant piece of robust historical theology in its own right, serving as an invitation to and analysis of the history and text of all three volumes of the Synopsis. Like the first two volumes in the series, the English translation is solid and readable. The inclusion of the Latin text, explanatory notes, a glossary of terms, and historical introduction make this volume a vital text for understanding high orthodox Reformed theology in its own context and on its own terms. Nearly half of the volume is devoted to the sacraments, which continue to serve as a litmus test of the strength or weakness of a theological system by bringing other loci to practical resolution. Disputations 48–50, which examine church discipline, councils, and the civil magistrate, augment and complete the material on the church and its government in the preceding volume. The author’s assumptions about the necessary relationship between the civil magistrate and the church, especially church councils, will likely surprise some modern readers. This fact reveals how different the world in which we live is from the one in which the Synopsis appeared. Disputations 51–52 treat the last things by starting with the resurrection as the goal of all things and then concluding with the eternal states of the righteous and the wicked.

As with the preceding volumes, sometimes omissions are surprising. For instance, there is very little development of arguments in favor of infant baptism, though the authors both assert and regulate the practice in disputations 44–45. Such omissions are due partly to the fact that pressing controversies tended to dictate content. Other sections are underdeveloped as a result, such as Walaeus’s brief treatment of the renovation of the earth in glory in which he bypasses the standard question at the time of the role that the earth would play in the eternal state (623). On the other hand, Disputation 45 on the Lord’s Supper (172–253) occupies a disproportionate amount of space, offering a robust treatment of the subject from a Reformed perspective against many opposing views. Likewise, many readers will wish for more explanation of the Christological view of the beatific vision through which Christ will reveal the divine nature most fully through the instrument of his human nature (587). Though the treatment of such topics is often uneven, the general explanation of theological topics is well-proportioned and even includes interspersed practical uses of most of the doctrines examined.

The Synopsis Purioris is an essential text for anyone interested in classic Reformed thought. Readers with facility in the Latin language will find these volumes even more useful and enlightening. The scholastic distinctions and definitions that characterize the work make the material clear and easy to follow, with the occasional help of the editor’s footnotes. This is an ideal entrance point to reading primary sources related to the historic Reformed theological system that will continue to help readers reflect well on theological topics biblically, clearly, and practically.

Ryan M. McGraw is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and serves as an associate professor of systematic theology at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Ordained Servant Online, December 2020.

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Ordained Servant: December 2020

A Faithful Elder

Also in this issue

How a Faithful Elder Can Make a Difference: Reflections on the Life and Death of a Friend

Commentary on the Form of Government of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Chapters 7–11

With All Your Heart: Orienting Your Mind, Desires, and Will Toward Christ by A. Craig Troxel

The Gospel in Dorothy L. Sayers: Selections from Her Novels, Plays, Letters, and Essays, Edited by Carole Vanderhoof


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