Puritan theologian William Ames (1576-1633) wrote the Medulla Theologiae, which is available in English as The Marrow of Theology (trans. John Dykstra Eusden). It’s a fine little systematic theology for many reasons. But in this age of Twitter, I’m struck by how Ames chose to express his thought. He wrote out the whole system of doctrine as a series of short, focused, carefully-worded theses.
There are many appropriate ways of writing theology. Sometimes a writer needs to go on at great length. Calvin has some very long paragraphs that start with one topic, shift to another, and then deliver an application at the end along with illustrations. John Wesley wrote some passages that string together a dozen parallel constructions joined by semicolons, alluding to scripture passages from Genesis to Revelation. Karl Barth has some sentences that never did end: they are still going on, best I can tell.
But Ames chose to go short. Not the book itself (the Marrow is about 200 pages), but the theological assertions in it: they are as brief as possible. They range in length from 4 words to about 300, but the majority seem to settle in somewhere around 40 words.
Here are a few of Ames’ brief declarations about theology. The content is solid stuff, but I’m drawn to them especially because of their brevity. They seem definitive, decisive, truculent, ready to put into action. Ames chose his words very carefully, and I’m amazed how much he can communicate with such economy.
I:3.9- The declarations in the Scriptures… are called the objects of faith by metonymy of the adjunct.
I:4.32- What God is no one can perfectly define except one who possesses the mind of God himself. But an imperfect description follows which we can understand and comes close to explaining the nature of God.
I:4.66 – The perfection of God whereby he is called blessed results from all these attributes.
I:5.1 -The subsistence, or proper manner of being of God is his one essence so far as it has personal properties.
I:8.22 -Natural things tend towards God, first, in that they declare God’s glory; second, in that they give occasion for us both to know and seek God; and third, in that they sustain our life that we may live well to God.
I:11.1 – For man there are two things to be considered in the ordering of events: apostasis and anastasis, his fall and restoration.