New in Print: Brian Lee on Cocceius

lee on CocceiusThere are few subjects in historical theology about whom more has been written on the basis of less research than Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669). He has been alternately hailed as the “founder” of covenant theology and the corrupter of it. Of course, both claims are historical nonsense. Cocceius was, however, a central figure in the development of Reformed covenant theology in the 17th century. He was a scholar of immense learning but he was also controversial. There is very little reliable literature on him and his work in English, e.g. Willem van Asselt’s magisterial introduction to Cocceius.

Now, however, WSC graduate and URC pastor Brian Lee has published his research conducted under the supervision of Richard Muller: Brian J. Lee, Johannes Cocceius and the Exegetical Roots of Federal Theology: Reformation Developments in the Interpretation of Hebrews 7-10. Reformed Historical Theology, Band 7 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2009). If you’re interested in the latest scholarship on a central figure in the history of Reformed theology, you will want to get this volume.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. For what it’s worth, I say cock-SAY-us.

    Thank you, Scott. For what it’s worth, Part I of this book is focused on sixteenth century developments in Hebrews exegesis that contributed to covenant developments.

  2. Scott,

    Do you hold to Bierma’s thesis that Olevianus was in fact one of the first (if not the first) to articulate what became ‘Federal’ or ‘Covenant’ theology?

    • No, I wouldn’t put it that way. Remember, Lyle’s diss. was done c. 1988. That was a long time ago.

      I’ve an academic survey of the history of covenant theology forthcoming (Leiden: Brill, ed. by H. Selderhuis) but for now there’s a popular history here:

      Here’s Vos’ older history (late 19th century):

      The outlines of what would become covenant theology are evident in Irenaeus and Justin. Some of the basics were present in the early 1520s.

      Lyle was right, however, to say that Olevianus was a transitional figure. He put together pieces that in a more complete way than other writers but Ursinus was doing creative things at the same time.

      • Thank you Scott, often I hear, notwithstanding Cocceius, that Bullinger was the first; I realize this represents a complex of issues and persons, so thank you.

        I’ll check out your survey, when available; I see how Ireanaeus and his recapitulation could be referred to, but his approach can be appropriated by others beyond the Federal approach, right? In fact Barth and Torrance pick up on his approach as well.

        I liked Lyle’s book, it was helpful for me; I’ll be using it for future reference in a writing project I’m involved in — I think I’ll have to use some of your stuff too ;-).

        Thanks for the links, I’ll be checking those!

        • I wouldn’t use the “federal” v “covenantal” analysis. The original sources won’t allow it. Olevianus, whom Barth, Moltmann, and others have treated as a “gracious” theologian was as “federal” as the allegedly “federal” theologians.

          See my book Olevianus. See Bierma’s devastating critique of the “two- streams” analysis.

          Federal is ambiguous term. Everyone who affirms the federal representation of Adam and Christ is a “federal.” I don’t see how any Christian could not be “federal” in that sense. Paul was certainly a “federal” theologian.

          The old “covenant” v “contract” analysis doesn’t work either.

          • I agree that “Federal” is ambigous, but I see connotative and denotative usage. The former would fit, in my mind (which has not been disabused yet), with what is known today as Covenantal; the latter would fit the notion of “headship.” But the thing is, on the latter, people like Barth and Torrance (who I know I better) see the “second Adam” as the head (who Paul says is “greater” than the first Adam). The latter is following the Scotist thesis — if not the hypothesis — so in fact, the the eternal logos is seen as the “Organic Head of humanity,” the true imago dei whom humanity is restored to through the imago Christi in the Incarnation (per passages like Col 1.15ff).

            Here we go again, you’re talking history and me, theology . . . but, in fact, I think I’m actually talking history too.

            • Exactly. You seem well prepared to work on a theological thesis on TFT. Why don’t you just do that? I mean no offense, but your interests seem more theological than historical.

  3. I will, but my particular writing project is going to require that I be historical — and I don’t see such a hard and fast line between history and theology as you do.

    Let me use an analogy from another “discipline,” the so called natural sciences. The ‘natural data’ is “there;” so are the scientists with their various philosophical commitments (mostly naturalist/metaphysical materialist). Given the “philosophy” underlying the scientist’s interpretive grids, most scientists interpret the “emperical data” in a way that is informed by their “grid;” which provides the data with a unique shape peculiar to their philosophy.

    Similarly, histiorographers have their own interpretive grids intact; hence the data is sleighted toward whatever the particular historian’s grid is shaped by. My assertion is that the histiorographry is a “second order” discipline; and the philosophy or in our case theology is the “first order” ground which historical interpretive decisions are made from (so that something/someone is emphasized or underemphasized per the informing theology that the historian is committed to a priori).

    My challenge is to your theology more than to your history . . . which I realize takes us afield from this post; but not really since these two things are so intimately related.

    But I can take a hint, I’ll move on.


  4. Since we’re talking pronunciation, I’ve heard people pronounce Voetius in the following ways:
    1. FOO-shis
    2. VOO-shis
    3. Foots-I-us
    4. Voots-I-us

    Is there any consensus?

    • There are two schools of thought regarding Latin pronunciation. those who read mostly ecclesiastical Latin tend to turn it into quasi- Italian. Thus, in ecclesiastical pronunciation, Cocceius becomes “Kok- chey-ous” or something like that. In classical Latin, however, the medial consonants remand hard. Thus it might be “Kok-kay-ous.”

      As indicated by Brian, the traditional pronunciation is “Kok-say-ous” because it is a Latinized German name. The terminal “ch” in Koch (the root of Cocceius) is hard so it comes out like the Dutch Kok. I guess that the liquid ending, “say-ous” is a recognition of the Latinized name. Hence we usually say “Cal-vee-nus” rather than the strictly Latin “Cal-wee-nus., ” although the latter sounds better to my ears.

      Were it strictly Latin it would be “Wo-ay-tee-us.,” but is isn’t or hasn’t been so regarded traditionally. On that principle, since Voetius is from the Dutch “voet” and pron. “foot” but the Latinate ending tends to liquify the medial t, we should probably say something like “Foo-shus.”

      Pronunciation of these names is mostly convention. So long as we all agree and understand one another it doesn’t matter much.

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