Synopsis Purioris Theologiae

Synopsis Purioris Theologiae, Volume 1/Disputations 1-23
Dolt te Velde, ed. Riemer A. Faber, trans. Leiden: Brill, 2014
659 pp.  | $154.00

For those interested in Reformed theology, a lack of facility in the languages of antiquity can serve as a barrier to interaction with substantial sources. Indeed, English translations of many essential Reformed texts remain yet unavailable. Thankfully, this is no longer the case with the Synopsis Purioris Theologiae (Synopsis of a Purer Theology), owing to Brill’s recent and quite welcome publication of a parallel Latin-English version, in their Studies in Medieval and Reformation Traditions series.

The Synopsis Purioris Theologiae, often simply referred to as the Leiden Synopsis, is a highly significant seventeenth-century Protestant Reformed Scholastic document. As stated on the back jacket, the Synopsis “gives an exhaustive yet concise presentation of Reformed theology as it was conceived in the first decades of the seventeenth century.” The reference in the title of this work to a “purer” theology signals its alignment with the conclusions of the Synod of Dort (1618-1619), contra the teaching of (former Leiden faculty member) Jacobus Arminius and his disciples.

The Synopsis represents the fruit of a disputation cycle (a formal series of theological debates) at Leiden University in the Netherlands that took place between 1620 and 1624. Four Leiden faculty members presided over the disputations: Johannes Polyander (1568-1646), Antonius Walaeus (1572-1639), Antonius Thysius (1565-1640), and Andreas Rivetus (1573-1651).

The disputation is a type of debate associated with the scholastic method, and is dialectical in its approach. It involves the systematic interrogation of a particular theological question, including consideration of supporting and opposing arguments, and then the presentation of a final determination. It is primarily the determinations of the aforementioned disputation cycle that are included in the Synopsis. While functioning as a record of the determinations, the Synopsis was further intended to provide a compendium or handbook of Reformed theology.

The impact of the Synopsis on subsequent Reformed theologians has been widely acknowledged. Herman Bavinck appealed to it (and reprinted it in 1881), as did Heinrich Heppe, as is clearly evident in his influential Reformed Dogmatics. Likely owing to Heppe in part, the Synopsis was one of Karl Barth’s recurring conversation partners in his Church Dogmatics. In more contemporary Reformed scholarly work, the Synopsis receives frequent attention in Richard Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics.

The first volume of the Leiden Synopsis (under review here) was published in late 2014, the second volume is slated for publication in the second half of 2016, and the final volume is planned for release in 2018. Volume 1 covers the first 23 of the 52 total disputations contained in the Synopsis. Topics included in this volume include: sacred theology, Holy Scripture, God, creation, providence, angels, humanity, sin, the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day, and law and gospel. Along with the bilingual disputations themselves, an introductory section is supplied, as well as a glossary of Latin concepts and terms.

As is to be expected with Brill publications, the production quality of this book is exceptional. In addition, the (fairly dynamic) translation by Riemer Faber and the editorial work by Dolf te Velde are to be applauded. The introduction and the footnotes that accompany the text are informed, lucid, and lend genuine assistance to the reader. This is especially evident in the identification and explanation of a number of key philosophical (largely Aristotelian) terms and concepts that the Leiden faculty members employ. On the whole, this is a major contribution to contemporary Reformed theology, not least of which for the access it offers an English-speaking audience to one of the tradition’s premier texts.














About Tim Harmon

Timothy G. Harmon is Assistant Director of the Th.M. Program at Western Seminary, and lead pastor at Northeast Baptist Church in Portland, Oregon. He is a graduate of Western Seminary (M.A.B.T.S. and Th.M.), and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in systematic theology.