A Word from Musculus to Theology Students

Loci Communes in usus S. Theologiae Candidatorum parati

The second generation Wolfgang Musculus’s (1497–1563) Loci Communes in usus S. Theologiae Candidatorum parati (1560) is a fine, early example of a Reformed system produced to aid pastoral students of theology. As such, while preparing for The Davenant Latin Institute’s Advanced Latin: Theology Proper in the Early Modern Period class I’m teaching this semester, I enjoyed much the following section, occuring at the head of Musculus’ whole work, immediately prefacing his de deo. For students of the Post-Reformation, and students of theology more broadly, it orients us properly to engage in the great task of considering the divine Majesty in whatever part of the broader systematic project we occupy ourselves with—a project which is, after all, just the saying of Deus in recto et in obliquo. Here’s the text:

Plane novi, animalem hominem, secundum Apostoli sententiam, non intelligere ea quae Dei sunt, nedum ipsum Deum: imo confidenter dico, ne spiritualem quidem, clara & aperta cognitione tenere, quae divinam Maiestatem concernunt, quae luce inaccessibili sic est amicta, ut ad illam mentis nostrae acumen haudquaquam pertingere queat. Et tamen ea est nostra conditio, qui homines sumus, ut nihil sit quod maiori cum periculo ignoremus quam Deum nostrum, a quo conditi, & ad coelestem gratiam ad hoc vocati sumus, ut ipsum cognoscamus, agnoscamus & colamus, nisi in sempiternum perire velimus. Arctamur itaque illinc Maiestate divinitatis, immensa illa & inscrutabili, isthinc necessitate salutis. Quapropter omnino luctandum est, ut quoniam ad cognitionem & gloriam Dei conditi sumus, ne conditioni ac saluti nostrae desimus, opem illius invocemus, qui nos condidit, petamusque ut quod ex nobis fieri non potest, ipse suo in nobis spiritu operetur, mentesque nostras hactenus illuminet, ut quae de se cognosci vult & intelligi, si non perfecte, saltem perspeculum & in aenigmate videamus, donec ad perfectionis tempus & gloriam perveniamus.

Infinita sunt, quae de Deo quaeri possunt, magis quam inveniri & explicari. Et humana scrupulositas sic est comparata, ut citius plura, quam sufficientia, incerta quam certa, inutilia quam necessaria de Deo quaerat. Quare admoneo adolescentes pietati candidatos, ut nunquam de Deo sine ingenti reverentia & religione cogitent, nedum differere ac contendere tentent. Perpetuo occurrat primum quanta sit, & quam inscrutabilis omnipotentis Dei Maiestas, quidquid illi reverentiae ac timoris debeatur: deinde quam abiecta & vilis sit nostra conditio, quam imbecillis & evanida intelligendi vis, imo ut verius dicam, corruptum ac perversum iudicium, praesertim de rebus divinis ac coelestibus, ut haud minus perspicue res humanas intelligere possit animal ratione destitutum, quam res coelestes ac divinas cognoscere homo totus quantus quantus est, terrenus ac carnalis.

Quare opus est si uspiam, hac maxime in causa, animo & religioso pariter & cauto. Religioso, ne manibus illotis ad considerationem divinae Maiestatis temere & impie prorumpamus: cauto, ne vel nostris vel aliorum cogitationibus innitamur, sed de Deo ex ipso verbo Dei investigemus, nec modum excedentes, ea quaeramus, quae curiositati magis, quam pietati & necessitati salutis serviant, sed ea duntaxat, quae sine discrimine salutis ignorari non possunt, pia ac sedula religiosae mentis intentione investigemus, investigata retineamus, & ad gloriam Dei bene collecemus.

Here’s a quick translation:

In line with the apostle’s sentiment, I know clearly that the natural man does not understand the things which pertain to God, much less God himself. In fact, I confidently say that even the spiritual man does not comprehend with a clear and frank understanding what things concern that divine Majesty who is so covered with inaccessible light that the strength of our mind cannot reach it at all. But despite this, the condition of us who are men is such that there is nothing we ignore with greater danger than our God, who made us, who called us besides to his heavenly grace, so that we may know, claim, and worship him, unless we want to perish forever. So we are drawn in then both by that immense, inscrutable Majesty of divinity, and by the necessity of our salvation. For this reason, we should struggle by all means so that—seeing we were created for the knowledge and glory of God, and lest we neglect our condition and salvation—we seek help from him who made us, and ask that he work by his own Spirit in us what cannot be done out of ourselves, and illumine our minds, so what he wills to be known and perceived about himself, we may at least see—if not perfectly—in a glass darkly, until we come to the time of perfection and glory.

There are infinite things we can seek about God, more than we can discover or explain. And human scrupulosity is such that it easily seeks about God more things than sufficient, things uncertain rather than certain, things useless rather than necessary. For this reason, I admonish young candidates to piety, that they never think about God without hearty reverence and religion—much less try to debate and contend about him. First, let them consider how great and how inscrutable the majesty of the omnipotent God is, and what sort of reverence and fear is owed to him; second, how abject and vile our condition is, how stupid and withering the power of our understanding is—indeed, to speak the truth, how corrupt and perverse our judgment, especially about divine and heavenly matters, such that an animal destitute of reason can understand human matters no less clearly than a man howesoever great, yet earthly and carnal, heavenly and divine matters.

Thus, if ever, then especially here the soul must be equally reverent and careful: reverent, lest with unwashed hands we rush forth with temerity and impiety to consider the divine Majesty; careful, lest we lean on ours or others’ own understanding. So let us rather search about God from God’s word itself, not only withdrawing from those things we seek that serve more for curiosity than piety and necessity of salvation, but also searching only those things we cannot be ignorant of without risk of salvation, and doing so with a pious and zealous intention of the religious mind, retaining those things we have sought, and ordering them well for the glory of God.

Ryan Hurd has a BS in Old Testament; he studies systematics and Reformed orthodoxy, writes, and translates. In addition to writing a number of articles, he has edited one volume and coedited another. His interests are broadly in the systematic project, specifically theological method and the doctrine of God.