1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Dogmatic Theology

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DOGMATIC THEOLOGY, the name usually given in modern times to the systematic study of Christian doctrine or of dogma in the widest sense possible (see Dogma). Among the many terms used in the early days of Protestant theology to denote the great systems, three deserve special notice—Thetic Theology, Positive Theology, Dogmatic Theology. “Thetic theology” is connected with academic life. It recalls the literal and original meaning of graduation “theses,” also Martin Luther’s memorable theses and the replies made to him. “Thetic theology,” a name now obsolete, naturally included the whole of doctrine, i.e. whatever would be argued for or against; and “dogmatic theology” came into use absolutely as a synonymous expression. “Positive theology” is also a term employed by Petau (De theologicis dogmatibus, 1644-1650), and more or less current even to-day in Roman Catholic scholarship (e.g. Joseph Turmel, Histoire de la théologie positive, 1906). “Dogmatic theology” proved to have most vitality in it. After some partial precedents of early date (e.g. F. Turrianus—one of the papal theologians at the Council of Trent,—Dogmaticus (liber?) de Justificatione, 1557), the title was used in 1659 by the Lutheran Lukas Friedrich Reinhard (1623-1688), professor of theology at Altdorf (Synopsis theologiae dogmaticae, eds. 1659, 1660, 1661), and his influence is already seen on the Reformed theologian Andreas van Essen (Essenius, 1618-1677), who, in 1659, published his Systematis theologiae pars prior, the tomus secundus in 1661, but Systematis dogmatici tomus tertius et ultimus in 1665. The same author published a shorter Compendium theologiae dogmaticum in 1669. A. M. Fairbairn holds that it was the fame of Petau which gave currency to the new coinage “dogmatic theology”; and though the same or kindred phrases had been used repeatedly by writers of less influence since Reinhard and Essenius, F. Buddeus (Institutiones theol. dogmat., 1723; Compendium, 1728) is held to have given the expression its supremacy. Noël Alexandre, the Gallican divine, possibly introduced it in the Roman Catholic Church (1693; Theologia dogmatica et moralis). Both Roman Catholic and Protestant authorities agree that the expression was connected with the new habit of distinguishing dogmatics from Christian ethics or moral theology, though A. Schweizer denies this of Reinhard. In another direction dogmas and dogmatic theology were also contrasted with truths of reason and natural theology.[1] F. E. D. Schleiermacher, in his Kurze Darstellung des theologischen Studiums, and again in his great System, Der christliche Glaube ... dargestellt, ingeniously proposed to treat dogmatic as an historical statement, or report, of beliefs held in the writer’s communion at the time of writing. He also insisted, however, upon personal conviction in writers on dogmatic. The expression Glaubenslehre—doctrine of faith—which he did much to bring into a wider currency, and which Schweizer, the most loyal of all his disciples, holds to be alone fitted for Protestant use, emphasizes the latter requirement. But “dogmatic” has also continued in use among Protestant theologians of the Left no less than among the orthodox. When we consider the different attitude towards dogma of Roman Catholicism, we feel constrained to question whether the expression “dogmatic theology” can be equally suitable for both communions. Roman theologians may properly define dogmatic as the scientific study of dogmas; Protestant scholars have come to use “dogma” in ways which make that impossible. Indeed, many of them bid us regard “dogmatic” as falling under the history of theology and not of dogma (see Dogma). Still, usage is decisive. It will be impossible to uproot the phrase “dogmatic theology” among Protestants. When A. Harnack[2] praises Schleiermacher’s description of dogmatic as “historical,” he rather strains the meaning of the remark, and creates fresh confusion. Harnack’s point is that “dogmatic theology” ought to be used in a sense corresponding to what he regards as the true meaning of “dogma”—Christian belief in its main traditional outlines. This claim is an innovation, and finds no precedent in Schleiermacher. The latter regarded dogmatic as stating in scientific connexion “the doctrine prevailing in a (single) Christian church at a given time”—as “not merely historical (geschichtlich),” but containing an “apologetic element”—as “not confined to the symbolical books, but” including all—even local expressions of the common faith which produce no breach of harmony—and as having for its “very business and task” to “purify and perfect” doctrine (Der christliche Glaube, § 19). The one merit which “dogmatic” may claim as a term in Protestant theology is that it contrasts positive statements of belief with mere reports (e.g. Biblical theology; history of doctrine) of what has been taught in the past. (See Dogma; and Theology.)


  1. For “mixed articles” see Dogma.
  2. Hist. of Dogma; Eng. trans. i. p. 21, footnote.