n Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe - Aristotelies-filosofiese invloede by die Sinode van Dordt (1618-1619) en die bevrydende perspektief van 'n Reformatoriese filosofie op goddelike soewereiniteit en menslike verantwoordelikheid - : navorsings- en oorsigartikel

Volume 52, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 0041-4751


Alreeds in die vorige eeu het Gereformeerde teoloë die aandag daarop gevestig dat die Dordtse Leerreëls, opgestel deur die Sinode van Dordt (1618-1619), se visie op die verhouding tussen God en mens (toegespits op die probleem van verkiesing en verwerping) sterk op die Aristoteliese oorsakeleer gesteun het. (Vergelyk ook die vorige artikel van die skrywer, Van der Walt 2011.) In die onderhawige artikel word geargumenteer dat nie slegs Aristoteles se logika of oorsakeleer nie, maar sy hele filosofie 'n belangrike rol by Dordt gespeel het. Daarom word in die eerste hoofdeel sy ontologie, godsidee, oorsakeleer en sillogistiese logika ondersoek. Dit blyk onder andere dat (afgesien van hulle Christelike oriëntasie) twee belangrike standpunte by Dordt (dié van F. Gomarus en J. Arminius) dieselfde filosofiese standpunte gehuldig het as twee van die Stagiriet se filosofiese konsepsies gedurende sy latere lewe. Volgens die skrywer het die Gereformeerd-Skolastieke teoloë by die Sinode se sintese met Aristoteles se filosofie egter verhoed dat 'n suiwer Bybelse standpunt ingeneem is. Daarom handel die tweede hoofdeel van hierdie ondersoek oor 'n latere Christelike filosoof, D.H.Th. Vollenhoven, se meer Reformatoriese alternatief vir die verhouding tussen God en mens. As vertrekpunt word geneem sy omskrywing van religie as die verhouding van die mensheid tot die God van die verbond in gehoorsaamheid of ongehoorsaamheid aan sy fundamentele liefdesgebod. Vollenhoven beskou, in lyn met die Skrif, religie nie as iets misties of bonatuurlik nie, maar as 'n inherente deel van menswees wat elke aspek van die lewe insluit. Ter afsluiting word genoem dat die Dordtse Leerreëls oorspronklik slegs as 'n oor die Remonstrantisme bedoel was en nie as 'n nie. Verskillende standpunte oor die huidige gesag van die Leerreëls word genoem. Die outeur se eie standpunt ten opsigte van hierdie 17de-eeuse belydenisskrif is nie dat dit verwerp of opgedateer behoort te word nie. Daar moet eerder besin word oor nuwe, eietyds-relevante, inspirerende belydenisse, wat Christene se verantwoordelikheid in God se allesomvattende koninkryk op alle lewensterreine uitspel. Op dié wyse sal dit reg laat geskied aan 'n integraal-Bybelse visie op religie.

The clash between the Reformed and Arminian parties at the Synod of Dort (1618-1619 ) and its Canons (1619) can be explained philosophically as the result of different interpretations of the philosophy of the pre-Christian Greek philosopher, Aristotle (384-322 BC), which were sanctioned through the methods of eisegesis-exegesis and nature-grace. The present article firstly investigates more in detail Aristotle's philosophy, especially his idea about being, God, doctrine of causality and syllogistic logic. It will explain why this pre-Christian thinker's philosophy (which experienced a revival in Europe from about 1500 to 1650) was attractive to Reformed theologians of the 17th century. At the same time the investigation will reveal the impossibility to achieve a synthesis between an unbiblical philosophy and the Bible when looking for a solution to the problem of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Therefore, the second main part of this contribution provides an alternative to this age-old problem from the perspective of a Reformational philosophy, founded on God's revelation in his creation and in his Word.
The study develops in the following way. The first main section contains an attempt to provide a brief summary of Aristotle's philosophy, mainly derived from his book De mundo, as well as secondary sources. The following aspects are analysed.
First his hierarchical ontology or "great chain of being", from the lowest form of being to the godhead, from pure matter (an abstraction) to pure form, from a lack of being to the perfect being (god) are described. Although it does not seem so on the face of it, this is a purely cosmological philosophy, a static way of thinking in which everything has a fixed place in an ontological hierarchy.
Secondly, Aristotle's view of god is investigated against his dualistic ontology, dividing reality in two parts, namely, transcendent (god) and non-transcendent (the cosmos). According to Aristotle his god is the first mover or cause, while he himself is immovable, as well as the final aim of everything. As an entirely self-centred and dispassionate being, no religious relationship with him is possible. Apart from superficial similarities between this notion of the divine and that of the Bible, Scripture does not proclaim a deus immutabilis, but a God fully participating in his creation. God's Word also does not teach about a predetermined human being, but a responsible one.
In the third place Aristotle's hierarchical and dualistic ontology is causally determined. He distinguishes four different basic causes and explains reality from the transcendent god above to the lowest reality as a chain of cause and effect. In the light of biblical revelation God, however, cannot be regarded as a cause since the relationship of cause and effect is of a cosmic nature. Created reality is also much richer than simply a chain of causes and their consequences.
In the fourth place it is argued that Aristotle's syllogistic reasoning cannot be applied to the Biblical concept of God, since he transcends human logical categories.
The second and third last phases of Aristotle's development are especially insightful in the light of the philosophical conceptions of Gomarus (1563-1641) and Arminius (1560-1609), discussed in the preceding article in this journal (Van der Walt 2011). Gomarus' philosophical conception, underlying his theology, is in every aspect identical to Aristotle's third last conception (intellectualistic semi-mysticism). And Arminius' final conception is exactly the same as the second last phase of Aristotle's development (inconsistent empiricism). The only difference being that Aristotle was a pre-Christian thinker, while these two theologians were synthetic Christian thinkers from the 17th century.
The significant conclusion is that the real controversy at Dort was not that between the (correct and wrong) interpretations of the Bible of the two opposing parties, but a struggle between different interpretations of the pagan philosopher, Aristotle, possibly based on different phases in his thinking.
As mentioned above, the second main section of this investigation is an attempt to find a genuine, Reformational answer to the relationship between God and mankind. The Christian philosopher, D.H.Th. Vollenhoven (1892-1978), provided a starting-point with a new ontology and his definition of religion as "the relationship of humankind to the God of the covenant in obedience or disobedience to his fundamental law of love". His viewpoint is explained as a liberating alternative to that of Reformed Scholasticism at Dort, based on Aristotle's philosophy. Instead of religion being viewed as something supernatural and mystic, and thus only part of human life, Vollenhoven regards religion as an inherent part of human existence, encompassing every aspect of human life. It can, however, be either directed in obedience to God's law of love or in disobedience.
In conclusion it is mentioned that the Canons of Dort were initially intended to be a judgement, but finally they became accepted as a confession. Following a brief discussion about how Reformed people today view the authority of this creed, new creeds or testimonies are suggested which, instead of focussing on dogmatic-ecclesiastical controversies, formulate human beings' various responsibilities in God's worldwide kingdom in different spheres of life. If this happens, the relationship between the sovereign God and the human being's responsibility can be expressed in a new, inspiring way in the contemporary world.

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