The Synopsis of Polanus’ Syntagma (5)

29 December 2009 by Wes Bredenhof

Today we conclude Book II and Polanus’ consideration of the doctrine of God.  I should note that I’m doing this as an exercise in historical theology.  Historical theology is oriented toward description.  In other words, this is not a matter of what should be, but what was.  Naturally, there is the possibility that Polanus has something valuable to offer our day and our theologizing.  However, at this point, I’m not interested in commenting on that, especially since this is only the synopsis and to meaningfully interact we really should work with the meat of the Syntagma.  Maybe some other time…

However, one thing that I will say is that this synopsis is another piece in the case against the “central dogma theory” of some historical theologians.  For instance, it’s readily evident that Polanus doesn’t make predestination the center or starting point of his theological system.  He discusses it, but his system doesn’t start with it, nor does it pervade the entire work.  By now I think the central dogma theory has been thoroughly discredited by Richard Muller and others, but just in case anyone out there still buys it, Polanus is certainly worth checking (and these days, anybody can download it and read it).  From what I’ve seen of other Protestant scholastics, Polanus is not exceptional in his approach to theology.


The power of God is considered in a two-fold way:  either insofar as it is in God himself, or insofar as it works outside of itself or is able to work.

The power of God considered in itself is considered either as those which are held in common by all three persons of the Deity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) – so, for instance, that which God knows and loves in himself; or as those which are proper to each person – so, for instance, the power of begetting the Son properly belongs to the Father, because the Father alone has begotten the Son.

The power which God works outside of himself is considered as either absolute or actual.

The freedom of God is three-fold:  from compulsion, from slavery, from the burden of misery.

That is all regarding the blessedness of God.

The glory of God is either essential, or personal.

Thus far, the first distinction of the proper attributes of God.

Second, the proper attributes of God are either absolute or relative.

Up to this point, we have dealt with the proper attributes of God.  What follows are the figurative.

The figurative attributes of God are either made use of singularly or as grouped together.

Distinguished singularly, they are either metonymical, or ironic, or metaphorical, or as synecdoche.

Metonymical:  so that of God it is said that he is our steadfastness, our strength, faithfulness to the ends of all the earth, our song, our praise, etc.

The metaphorical attributes of God are taken up either from man, or from the other creatures.

From man they are taken up from his parts, the members of the body, the senses, the affections, actions, subjects, and adjuncts.

The essential parts: the spirit.

The members of the body:  the head, face, eye, eyelids, pupils, mouth, ears, nose, nostrils, neck, hands, arm, etc.

The senses attributed to God are both internal and external.

Internal:  memory or recall, and its opposite: forgetfulness.

External: seeing, hearing, smelling.

The affections:  delight, grief in the heart of God, anger, zeal, jealousy, hatred, repentance.

Human actions which are attributed to God anthropomorphically:  internal and then external.

The internal actions are:  thinking, knowing, reckoning (numerare), etc.

The external actions are:  speaking, lifting up, making light shine, hiding the face, visiting people, etc.

God visits people either through knowledge, or through effects.

The effects are two-fold:  certainly in compassion and in judgment.

The subjects attributed to God through metaphor are: throne, sun, footstool.

The adjuncts are:  majesty, garments, book, time, etc.

The book of God is four-fold:  the book of providence, the book of Sacred Scripture, the book of divine judgment and the book of life.

The book of the providence of God is two-fold:  of the world and of the Church.

The metaphorical attributes of God which are taken from creaturely things are twofold:  those which are taken from animals (such as wings or horns) and those which are taken from inanimate things (such as towers, cliffs, and shields).

Thus far with regards to the attributes of God.  What follows concerns the person of the Deity.

One response to “The Synopsis of Polanus’ Syntagma (5)”

  1. Thanks Wes for your work on this!

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