Abraham Kuyper on Ectypal Knowledge

Abraham Kuyper in his Encyclopedia of Sacred Theology considers the widely discussed question "Is theology a science?" and "In What sense is theology a science?" Kuyper emphasizes through this book the necessity of palingenesia (i.e. regeneration) to have a right understanding of Christianity. In the following long quotation, Kuyper explains that a general comparison of Christianity to all other religions is not science or a right way to consider "the science of Christian religion." Christianity is a revelation of God unlike all other religions as such, so that comparing a true revelation to man's projections of religions in general anthropology (think Feuerbach), no real progress may be made. Just as having sciences of Buddhism or Islam along side of Christianity as additional departments would not be beneficial either and would only muddy the true revelation in Christianity.

An archetype is to an ectype as an original is to its copy. And our knowledge of God, although truly a revelation of God, is still Ectypal Knowledge. Knowledge of God must be revealed to man, and is not accessible to man via inquiry apart from revelation. Even within Christology this distinction is seen in Christ, where Kuyper describes the Divine Nature in the person of Jesus has Archetypal Knowledge of God, but in the Human Nature there Jesus only has Ectypal Knowledge of God.

In order to restore harmony to a certain extent between name and matter, it has been tried in more or less conservative circles, to define Theology as “the science of the Christian religion”; which, however much better it may sound than Schleiermacher’s prudish and unnatural definition, is nevertheless equally unable to stand the test of criticism. Is there likewise a science of English history? Of French philosophy? Of Greek art? Of course not. The science of history devotes a chapter to England’s national past; the history of philosophy devotes a separate investigation to that which has been pondered and reflected upon by French thinkers; and the history of aesthetics engages itself especially with Greek art; but no one will undertake to represent these parts of a broader


object as a proper object for an independent science. Hence, in the religious domain also, there is no separate science of Parseeism, of Buddhism, of Israelitism, of Christianity, or of Islam. He who takes one of these phenomena as such as object of investigation, may not take it outside of its relation to correlated phenomena, and can take no stand except in a science which embraces these correlated phenomena as a whole. It is unscientific, therefore, to speak of a “science of the Christian religion”. If I confess a Revelation, which has no correlates and which is a phenomenon of an entirely singular kind, it may well be the object of an independent science. But if one views the Christian religion as one of several religions, even though it is comparatively the highest of all religious developments known to us, he is as unable to create an independent science of the Christian religion as the botanist is to speak of a special science of the cedar. If, on the other hand, with other more or less orthodox theologians, we assert that the Christian religion is distinguished from all other religious phenomena by a special specific revelation, its distinguishing element is not in the religion, but in the revelation of Christianity, and hence this revelation must be the object of this science. This was felt by Hodge, the champion of scientific orthodoxy in America, and therefore he tried to escape from the dilemma by choosing the facts of the Bible as the object of his theology. His intention was good, for in the main he was correct in saying that the Holy Scriptures offer us no scientific theology, but contain the facts and truths, “which theology has to collect, authenticate, arrange and exhibit in their internal relation to each other” (Syst. Theology, I., p. 1). And yet we may not rest content even with Hodge’s definition. For in this way the conception of “ectypal Theology” is lost, and from all sorts of facts we are to conclude what must follow from them with respect to the Being of God. His combination of “facts and truths” overthrows his own system. He declares that the theologian must authenticate these truths. But then, of course, they are no truths, and only become such, when I authenticate them. His idea was, of course, to save theology as a positive science, and to do this in a better way than they who took the “Christian religion” as the given object; but it can scarcely be denied that he succumbed to the temptation of placing Theology formally in a line with the other sciences. All the other sciences have the data of nature and of history for their object, and Theology, in like manner, has the data of this supernatural history. There were two spheres, two worlds, which have become object of a proper science each. That the distinction between God as creator and all the rest as His creature draws the deep boundary-line between theology and all other science, could not be established in this way. The authentication of his “facts” brought him logically back again under the power of naturalistic science. And though as a man of faith he bravely resisted this, his demonstration lacked logical necessity.


Our result is that, though still called by the name of theology, the entire subsequent development of theological study has actually substituted an utterly different object, has cut the historic tie that binds it to original theology, and has accomplished little else than the union of the subdivisions of psychology and of historic ethnology into a new department of science, which does not lead to the knowledge of God, but aims at the knowledge of religion as a phenomenon in the life of humanity. Along this way also the return was made to natural theology, and whatever was still valid as “Christian revelation” was cited to legitimatize itself before the tribunal of natural theology. The harmony between the results of these modern investigations, and those derived in former ages from natural theology in India and elsewhere, could therefore arouse no surprise in the least. This only should be added, that the exchange of theologia naturalis for religio naturalis accounts for the loss with us of what the Vedanta still maintains, viz. the divine reality, which corresponds to the impressions and perceptions of the religiously disposed mind

pages 222-224, Abraham Kuyper, Encyclopedia of Sacred Theology


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