Distinguo!

Among the Reformed, distinctions were a vital tool for proper theology. Johannes Maccovius (1588–1644), Reformed scholastic theologian and delegate to the Synod of Dordt (1618–19), wrote an entire work dedicated to distinctions: A Hundredfold Most General Distinctions. Maccovius stood on the shoulders of his scholastic forebears because he believed that distinctions were necessary to determine agreement, difference, and perspicuity in theological discourse. Such a methodology stretches back to the Middle Ages and was employed by theologians throughout their systems. For example, John Duns Scotus (ca. 1266–1308) created two categories of distinctions, formal and real. A real distinction (distinctio realis) is a difference between two or more independent things, whereas a formal distinction (distinctio formalis) identifies formal aspects of a single thing, such as intellect and will, which are not separate but distinguishable. Important to note here is that a formal distinction is not a real distinction. In other words, a formal distinction merely observes aspects of a unified object; it does not separate them, because they are inseparable given their existence in a single object. In this respect, theologians were fond of the Latin phrase distinctio sed non separatio (a distinction but not a separation).

J. V. Fesko | Reforming Apologetics: Retrieving the Classic Reformed Approach to Defending the Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019), 184.


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