The Dutch theologian Frans Hendrik Breukelman (1916-1993) was not a writer. Not only during his years as a church minister, but also during the time he taught at the theological faculty of the University of Amsterdam (from 1968 onwards) he was accustomed to gathering an audience. In brilliant oral improvisation he would carry his listeners along the discoveries he had made in his study of the Bible, Rabbinics or the doctrinal traditions of the church. All of this in full agreement with his insight that we need to rediscover the book which we call ‘the Scriptures’ as Miqra, ‘that which is called out, proclaimed’. We need to become ‘hearers’ of the Word instead of being just readers. Breukelman had learned this from the Jewish philosophers Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig. Their German translation of the Bible was printed colometrically, in breathing-units. Breukelman put this principle into practice far beyond the strict territory of biblical exegesis.
It was not easy, therefore, to elicit from this man a coherent written presentation of his theological findings and expositions. His publisher (Gerrit Brinkman of the publishing house Kok in Kampen) managed with great difficulty to convince him to finish three monographs (called ‘cahiers’) in the final years of his life. However, he left behind the bulk of his work to be published by a later generation of students.
Being a perfectionist, Breukelman made numerous corrections to his initial design of the series of cahiers. The series was to bear the name of Biblical Theology, referring to the hermeneutical discipline which in his view had to reproduce the implicit theology of the ‘first witnesses’ (i.e., the prophets and apostles). As such, Breukelman claimed, biblical theology is an indispensable conversational partner of dogmatic theology. In the opinion of Breukelman, dogmatic theology is the critical reflection of the church on its own proclamation, which should be in line with the message of the first witnesses.
Part I of his series, Toledot, was to concern itself with the theology of the book of Genesis. Breukelman rejected the common historical-critical division of this book into a ‘primeval history’ followed by a ‘patriarchal history’. Instead, he posited the unity of the book. Referring to Gen 5:1 Breukelman used to call Genesis the ‘Book of the Generations of Adam, the Man’. As he saw it, the book of Genesis deals with the generation of Israel as the first-born of many brothers and sisters (the goyim, i.e., the non-Jews). The task of Biblical Theology, therefore, is to bring to light the universal scope of the particular history of Israel.
Part II was to deal with biblical keywords distinguishing the witness of Israel from the worldview of the goyim. To Breukelman’s mind, the goyim characteristically tend toward metaphysical thought. The goyim think in ‘essences’, whereas Israel thinks in ‘names’ (shemot). Also, the goyim tend to focus on ‘works’, whereas in Israel’s witness the stress is on ‘words’ (debarim). A further opposition concerns the biblical concept of the ‘days’ (yamim) in contrast to thinking in terms of ‘time and eternity’. Finally, Breukelman opposes the biblical concept of ‘the earth below the heavens’ (ha’arets tahat hashamayim) to thinking in terms of the ‘kosmos’. To be sure, Breukelman did not so much as attempt to sketch the central content of a biblical theology. Rather, he tried to outline the framework within which the various theologieswe meet in the Bible
find their place.
Part III of the series was to focus on the theology of Matthew the evangelist. Canonically situated at the beginning of the ‘New Testament’, Matthew starts with a ‘Book of the Generation of Jesus Christ’ (Mat 1:1). In doing so, he follows the example of Gen 5:1. Just as Genesis deals with the birth and growth of Israel among the nations, so Matthew’s book deals with the birth and growth of the Messiah among his people Israel. As one of Breukelman’s many poignant sayings would have it: ,,Just as we do not speak humanistically about Israel, but rather Israelitically about humanity, so we do not speak Israelitically about the Messiah, but Messianically about Israel’’.
The fourth and final part was to confront the findings of the first three parts with a study of the ‘structure of sacred doctrine in the theology of the church’. The central question here was to be: To what extent did this structure preserve the Israelite-Messianic characteristics of the biblical witnesses? The study of ‘the structure of sacred doctrine in the theology of Calvin’ was intended to be a component of this fourth part of Breukelman’s envisaged series of cahiers.[i]
The initial impetus to this study of Calvin’s theology[ii] came from the remarkable Dutch theologian K. H. Miskotte, Breukelman’s inspirer and mentor. Miskotte suggested that Breukelman contributed to the Festschrift to be published on the occasion of Karl Barth’s 70th birthday. It would be entitled Antwort (Answer). Barth – an unexpected presence in Buber’s and Rosenzweig’s company – was one of the chief sources of inspiration for Breukelman’s theological project, although this project was construed quite independently from Barth.[iii]
In his contribution to the Festschrift, Breukelman planned to confront the ‘structure of biblical witness’, as he thought he had discovered it, with the ‘structure of sacred doctrine’ in the history of Christian doctrine. In particular, he wanted to focus on the works of Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, Francis Turrettini, and Karl Barth. He aimed to arrive at the conclusion that only Barth’s dogmatics could be reconciled with the biblical structures (cf. the final words in this volume, chapter V §2).
Of course, the program for this article was far too pretentious, and the article was not published in the Festschrift.[iv] However, Breukelman did not give up on his project. In the 1960s he tried to write a book in German, in which he wanted to expound his thesis. Chapter I of the present book, written in German, dates back to this phase of his activities (1962-1969). Shortly after his appointment as a lecturer at the University of Amsterdam, Breukelman returned to this study, this time writing in Dutch. The introduction, plus chapters II and III, of the present book derive from this period (they were for the most part ready by January 1974).[v] In the winter of 1975/76, Breukelman was invited, through the intercession of Friedrich-Wilhelm Marquardt, as a visiting lecturer at the Institute for Evangelical Theology of the Free University (West) in Berlin, where the retirement of Hellmut Gollwitzer had left a vacancy. Here, Breukelman composed a German syllabus for a seminar on Calvin’s Institutes. Chapter IV of the present publication is to a large extent based on this syllabus. During the twenty years following 1976 Breukelman never finished his study. We do have traces of lectures and seminars on Calvin and the reformed doctrinal tradition, including improvements made by Breukelman in the chapters he had already written. Yet none of these texts point to a completion of the study. As a result, chapter V of the present book had to be compiled on the basis of a series of monographs which had come into being separately. This chapter, therefore, has the fragmentary character of a ‘collage’.
It should be noted that the editor alone is responsible for the compilation of chapter V as well as for all other editorial interventions in the present publication. This is also true for the decision to cite Calvin’s works only in translation. Breukelman was (even by continental European standards) thoroughly grounded in old-fashioned, solid philology, and did not hesitate to confront his students with the Latin and French original texts. This was usually followed by a brief summary that served as a translation (traces of this habit may be found in the published texts). When Breukelman himself recited the original texts, Calvin’s words became much more easily understood to his audience. However, this effect cannot be imitated in script, though an attempt has been made to maintain the colometric transcription, facilitating oral presentation.[vi]
It is not the editor’s task to be the first reviewer of the book he has edited himself. Nevertheless, it might be appropriate to justify why this study – posthumously and in edited form – is now submitted to an international forum of Calvin-lovers and Calvin-researchers. After all, as is shown in §3 of the introduction, Breukelman undertook this study more than half a century ago. He was prompted by the simultaneous publication (in 1952) of two studies on the knowledge of God in the theology of Calvin. The authors, Edward A. Dowey Jr. and Tim H. L. Parker, arrived at contradictory conclusions. This led Breukelman to speak of an ‘impasse’ in the field. He wished to break this stalemate by a close reading of Calvin’s texts.
The background of Dowey’s and Parker’s disagreement is formed by the controversy between Karl Barth and Emil Brunner on the natural knowledge of God. This debate, however, is no longer the context within which Calvin studies move. On the contrary, a leading scholar such as Richard A. Muller vehemently opposes everything that he views as an accommodation of the historical Calvin to the systematic-theological needs and interests of the present, be they Barthian, Schleiermacherian, or otherwise.[vii] Calvin, Muller claims – and many researchers with him – must be placed back in his own time, and ought to be interpreted within the context of the issues and scientific methods of his age. Although the theology of Karl Barth has given an important impulse to Calvin study in the past, this phase is now behind us. Seen from this vantage point, isn’t the present publication hopelessly out of date?
To answer such objections we may in the first place point to the fact that Breukelman, in spite of evident differences, also shares a number of interests with a man like Richard Muller. Indeed, Breukelman in a certain sense was ahead of his time by calling attention to aspects in the approach to Calvin, which had theretofore been neglected and would only later demand attention. Consider the following examples:
a. Breukelman notes that many formal differences between the various editions of the Institutes, such as differences in style, can be explained by differences in literary genre and corresponding audience;
b. Breukelman gives much attention to the way the first generations after Calvin published his works, and how these early editorial practices can nurture our understanding of his texts (cf. chapter IV §2 II on the argumenta of Olevianus);
c. Breukelman observes that the content of what Calvin said can hardly be detached from the form in which it was said. Breukelman was sensitive to what recent studies call the ‘rhetorical’ element in Calvin. This element was given special attention by him through the colometric presentation of Calvin’s texts.
Secondly, we may add that Breukelman not only anticipated later tendencies in research, but also made discoveries which – as far as we can see – have not yet been discussed elsewhere. Here we could point out the following:
a. Breukelman concurs with Paul Wernle’s thesis that the first pages of the first chapter of the Institutes of 1536 form an introduction. Then, however, Breukelman provides his own interpretation of this introduction. To his mind it serves as an indication of the entire ordo docendi of the first three subsequent chapters in these Institutes, following the example of Luther’s Enchiridion piarum precationum (chapter I, §§ 1 and 2);
b. Breukelman offers a new explanation of the familiar observation that Calvin, in the Institutes of 1539, had replaced the title summa doctrinae (essence of doctrine) with summa sapientiae (essence of wisdom). Breukelman points out that Calvin did not throw out the expression ‘summa doctrinae’ but placed it at the beginning of the seventh chapter. It functions as a key to understanding the structure of this second edition (chapter III § 1);
c. Breukelman deals with the age-old discussion as to how much weight should really be accorded to Calvin’s arrangement of the final Latin edition of the 1559 Institutes. According to his own words, Calvin based it on the Apostles’ Creed. Breukelman asks what happens when the intent of this edition is understood from the introduction of the Apostles’ Creed as presented in earlier editions (Inst. 1543-54, chapter VI.1-5). Remarkably enough, this introduction was scrapped in 1559 for architectural reasons (see among others, introduction § 2 and chapter IV §§ 1 and 2.III).
Finally, one may wonder whether the resistance of scholars such as Muller to ‘accommodating’ Calvin should really be the last word on the subject. If it should be regarded as the final wisdom of historical theology, one might ask how one could honor the confession of the communio sanctorum? Aren’t earlier and later generations placed in the communion of saints among the witnesses of Christ, in a common space and in a common hope? Aren’t they placed in mutual conversation, since they all find themselves in conversation with the Scriptures and with the Messiah proclaimed by those Scriptures? Indeed, ‘being in Christ’ means ‘being in conversation’.
Needless to say, a certain distance must be respected in that conversation. This applies not only to our conversation with Calvin but also to our conversation with Karl Barth. (Of course, being his younger contemporary, Breukelman kept much less distance with regard to Barth than we are able to keep.) Yet we should not abandon every attempt at conversation. That Breukelman has ventured into such a conversation – in this case starting from the theology of Karl Barth – with the theology of John Calvin, may be seen as a shortcoming as far as historical distance is concerned, but also as a virtue. It is a promise and a task for all those who will, in the communion of saints, continue the conversation between the generations with the speaking Scriptures in their midst.
Rinse H. Reeling Brouwer
[i]i. The Dutch edition of Breukelman’s Biblical Theology, as it has been published so far, consists of ten volumes: I.1.Schriftlezing. Een verhandeling over de kolometrische weergave van bijbelse teksten als hulp bij het lezen en als grondslag voor de exegese [Scripture Reading. A Treatise on the Colometric Presentation of Biblical Texts as an Aid to Reading and as a Foundation for Exegesis], Kampen 1980; I.2. Het eerstelingschap van Israël [Israel as the First-Born], Kampen 1992; I.3. Ouvertures van Genesis [Overtures on Genesis] (in preparation); II.1. Debarim [Words], published in German, Kampen 1992; II.2. Sjemot: overige oudtestamentische studies [Shemot/Names; Miscellaneous Old Testament Studies] (in preparation); III.1. De ouverture van het evangelie naar Matteüs. Het verhaal over de genesis van Jezus Christus [The Overture of the Gospel according to Matthew. The Narrative of the Origin of Jesus Christ], Kampen 1984; III.2. De Koning als Richter. Het evangelie naar Matteüs als ‘Heilsbotschaft vom Königtum’,hoofdstuk I [The King as Judge. The Gospel according to Matthew as ‘Message of Kingship’. Chapter I], Kampen 1996; III.3, Idem, hoofdstuk II [Idem, chapter II] (in preparation)’ IV.1. De structuur van de heilige leer in de theologie van Calvijn [The Structure of Sacred Doctrine in the Theology of Calvin], Kampen 2003; IV.2. Theologische opstellen [Theological Essays], Kampen 1999. Breukelman personally has only been able to take care of cahiers I.1 (1980), III.1 (1984) and I.2 (1992).
[ii]ii. The Dutch edition of the present study (Bijbelse Theologie IV.1, Kampen 2003, 540 pages) was published by Rinse H. Reeling Brouwer, who teaches The History of Christian Doctrine at Kampen Theological University. The edition was based on fragments left behind by Breukelman. Reeling Brouwer has utilized many successive versions, which can be found in the Breukelman archives, and are stored under number 674 in the Historisch Documentatiecentrum voor het Nederlands Protestantisme (1800-present), a research institute of the Free University of Amsterdam. Also, in the Dutch edition a ‘second’ apparatus of notes is provided, clarifying the origin of certain textual fragments. This textual apparatus has been left out of this English edition, as well as (not all, but many) duplications, which are the result of the complicated genesis of the text.
iiii. It may be suggested that Breukelman – completely independently – envisaged to some extent a similar elaboration of the theology of Karl Barth as the so-called ‘New Yale School’ in the United States.
iv. Miskotte himself wrote the article, entitled ‘Erlaubnis zu schriftgemässem Denken’. It inspired Breukelman immensely. See: W. Wolf (ed.), Antwort, Zurich 1956, 29-51.
v. A chapter on ‘Karl Barth and the Tradition of Theological Dualism’, which also stems from this period, is not included in. the present work, except for some fragments from this chapter, such as chapter V §1.11 on Jean Alphonse Turrettini.
[vi]vi. Particularly in chapter I, this meant that the English translation of the Institutes of 1536 by Ford Lewis Battles (Revised Edition, Grand Rapids MI 1986), in spite of all its merits, could not used.
[vii]. A. Muller, The Unaccommodated Calvin. Studies in the Foundation of a Theological Tradition, New York/Oxford 2000.