Polanus on interpreting Scripture

‘The interpretation of H. Scripture is the exposition (explicatio) of its true sense and use, arranged in clear words (verbis perspicuis instituta), to the glory of God and the edification of the church.’ Even in my inelegant translation, that’s not a bad opening gambit. The (long…) section ends with a paragraph ‘on the use of H. Scripture for consolation’: ‘…therefore however grave the evil, so great and certain is the good set against it, that it is an effective remedy for sorrow. A most beautiful example (exemplum pulcherrinendum) is Isa. 41:26 ff. …’

The words are from Amandus Polanus’s Syntagma Theologiae Christianae; it was never going to be a big seller, even in theological terms. The edition in our library, published in Geneva in 1617, runs to something over 700 pages in folio, with two columns of (I estimate) six point Latin text on each. Oh, and the printer’s Greek font is all-but-illegible, at least to my eyes. If that wasn’t bad enough, the ‘Synopsis’ at the start of the book is a masterpiece of Ramist bifurcations (I counted six levels of subdivision on the definition of theology alone), and the text itself is in classical scholastic quaestiones form. What was it Barth said of Heppe? ‘Dry and dusty as a table of logarithms …’

I pulled it out the library to check a reference. I suspect I am its first reader in living memory; it is not yet on our electronic catalogue (most of our best books aren’t…), and was apparently misplaced in the stacks, so the librarian took a while to find it. Her perseverance seemed to demand some from me; and in between the anti-Roman polemic, and the fading and tiny Latin print, I found my heart strangely warmed.


  1. Jim Gordon
    Feb 22, 2008

    Steve, our former Principal, R E O White, quoted an earlier NT scholar who promised, ‘if you bury your head in a lexicon, you will raise it in the presence of God’. Like you I love excavations in old abandoned gold mines. The parable of the treasure in the field has always struck me as a peculiarly apt story of scholarly discovery. Anyway, thank you for this post.

  2. Jon
    Feb 22, 2008

    This sounds like a candidate for the next text in Modern Christology… *sigh*

    Still – good to see you haven’t cashed in on my new theory of the genetic development of Barth’s break with liberal German theology

  3. Steve H
    Feb 23, 2008

    I didn’t look at his Christology, Jon, but if you want to lead a seminar on it, I’m happy to let you…

  4. RuthG
    Feb 23, 2008

    Thanks for this – you encourage me in my delight in obscure and hard to read texts that too many around me find a strangeness. Treasures hidden in the darkness…..; so much to read, so little time!

  5. Jon
    Feb 29, 2008

    Steve… I’m up for it. But the others in the class might kill one of us… Probably me…


  1. Someone is Reading Polanus! « Heidelblog - [...] February 22, 2008 in Recovering the Reformed Confession Tags: hermeneutics, reformed orthodoxy Steve Holmes, to be exact. [...]

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