Who is Bernardinus de Moor? and Why Translate his Commentarius?

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Bernardinus de Moor was born on January 29, 1709. He studied at the great, Dutch University of Leiden, which had been a center of Reformed scholarship from the time of its founding in 1575. Its faculty had included some prominent Reformed theologians, such as Franciscus Junius (1592-1602),[1] Franciscus Gomarus (1594-1611),[2] Antonius Walæus (1619-1639),[3] Johannes Hoornbeeck (1653-1666), [4] and Herman Witsius (1698-1708),[5] among others. De Moor attended at Leiden from 1726-1730, and had the opportunity to study under Johannes Wesselius (1712-1745),[6] remembered for his Dissertationibus academicis, and Johannes à Marck (1689-1731).[7] De Moor was especially attached to à Marck, and à Marck, shortly before his death, asked De Moor to continue his work,[8] which he would indeed do.

After his time at Leiden, De Moor labored in the pastoral ministry at Ingen, Broek in Waterland, Zaandam, and Enkuizen.[9] He was appointed as professor of theology at Franeker in 1744, but, before he was even able to deliver his inaugural address, he was appointed to succeed his former teacher, Johannes Wesselius, as professor of theology at Leiden, upon Wesselius’ death in 1745; De Moor continued in this position for the rest of his life.

It seems that in his teaching method, De Moor honored the dying wish of his teacher and friend, Johannes à Marck. The substance of De Moor’s lectures survives in his massive Continuous Commentary on Johannes Marckius’ Didactico-Elenctic Compendium of Christian Theology (1761-1778; in seven volumes). As its title indicates, De Moor’s lectures were something of a running commentary upon the Compendium of à Marck, while also drawing upon and digesting the fruits of two centuries of Reformed theological thought. De Moor’s Commentary is a masterpiece.

The translation of De Moor’s Commentarius is certainly a massive undertaking. It raises the question: Why expend the effort?
The great Scottish divine William Cunningham said, “The English language, though it contains many valuable works on particular doctrines and on separate subjects in systematic theology, contains comparatively very few systems; i.e. very few works in which all the leading doctrines of Christianity are arranged in systematic order, proved from the word of God, and their connections and relations pointed out. Systems of theology have been chiefly the productions of Continental writers, and are to be found principally in the Latin language, —one fact among many others of a similar kind, which establishes the necessity of students of theology acquiring the capacity of reading Latin with perfect ease and readiness. Systematic theology, however, has been always a good deal studied by Scottish Presbyterians; and indeed Bishop Burnet alleges that the Presbyterian ministers of the era of the Restoration had for their principal learning an acquaintance with the systematic writers of the Continent…. Calvin, Turretin, Maestricht, Pictet, Marckius, and Witsius, are the authors who have been most generally studied in Scotland as writers on systematic theology; and there can be no doubt that the study of the writings of these men has tended greatly to promote correct and comprehensive views of the scheme of divine truth…. [T]he English language does not contain a great deal, comparatively speaking, that is of much value in the way of systems of theology.”[10]

“Correct and comprehensive views of the scheme of divine truth”, and all the means that foster such views (including these massive Continental Systems), are certainly to be coveted with a holy covetousness. Since “the capacity of reading Latin” is relatively rare among Ministers and students, and since this does not seem likely to change any time in the near future, it seems desirable to render these works into English. Calvin, Turretin, and Witsius are available in English, but Mastricht, Marckius, Wendelin, and a great many more remain locked up in the Latin tongue. Since translation seems desirable, and yet a translator has limited time and strength, where would be the most economical and advantageous place to begin?

If there was a System, written relatively late in the period of Reformed Orthodoxy, that surveyed and summarized the preceding Systems, this would be valuable in and of itself, giving some knowledge of the others, and would be a springboard for other translation projects in the future. As it turns out, such a System does indeed exist. “[Bernardinus de Moor] wrote a commentary on à Marck’s dogmatic compendium…which represents the most comprehensive dogmatic text that was ever produced in the Netherlands. In this work of seven volumes (1761-1778), de Moor classified and combined material from the Reformed dogmatics produced by his predecessors at Utrecht and Leiden into a whole.”[11] “The Commentary gives an all-round description of theology…. The Commentary has the character of an extensive and comprehensive handbook for theology…. [T]he primary task was to lend an overview of the clearest expositions for each theological topic.”[12]

May the Lord bless this work again, now in English-speaking lands, so that He might be glorified, and His people edified.

[1] Franciscus Junius (1545-1602) was a French theologian and pastor. He studied theology in Geneva under John Calvin and Theodore Beza. Together with Emmanuel Tremellius, he produced a major Latin translation of the Scriptures. He concluded his career as a Professor of Theology at Leiden, at which time he published De vera theologia and Theses theologicæ.

[2] Franciscus Gomarus (1563-1641) was a Dutch theologian. Gomarus is most remembered for his opposition to Arminius and Arminianism, and was a significant participant at the Synod of Dort. His systematic work is entitled Disputationes theologicæ.

[3] Antonius Walæus (1573-1639) was a Dutch Reformed minister and theologian. He studied at Leiden under Franciscus Junius, Lucas Trelcatius, and Franciscus Gomarus. He was appointed as a professor at Middelburg (1609), and in this capacity he attended the Synod of Dort. In 1619, Walæus became a member of the theological faculty at Leiden. He joined Johannes Polyander, Andre Rivet, and Anthony Thysius in the composition of the Synopsis purioris theologicæ.

[4] Johannes Hoornbeeck (1617-1666) earned the degree of doctor of theology under Voetius at Utrecht (1643), where he was also appointed professor. In 1653, he went to teach at Leiden, where he died. He excelled in the fields of philology, Old Testament exegesis, church history, and polemical theology.

[5] Hermann Witsius (1636-1708) was a Dutch Reformed Theologian of the Voetian school. He served as Professor of Theology at Franeker (1675-1680), Utrecht (1680-1698), and Leiden (1698-1708). Witsius’ federal theology was heavily influential in the Netherlands, Germany, and Scotland.

[6] Johannes Wesselius (1671-1745) was a Dutch Reformed Pastor and Theologian. He served as Professor of Theology at Rotterdam (1711), and then at Leiden, where he produced his systematic Dissertationes academicas.

[7] Johannes Marckius (1656-1731) was a Dutch Reformed Theologian, serving as Professor of Theology at Franeker (1676-1680), Groningen (1682-1689), and finally at Leiden (1689-1731).

[8] J. Martin Bac, “Clear and Distinct Freedom: A Compendium of Bernardinus de Moor (1709-1780) in a Cartesian Context,” Reformed Thought on Freedom, eds. Willem J. van Asselt, J. Martin Bac, and Roelf T. te Velde (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 201.

[9] Willem J. van Asselt, Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2011), 177.

[10] Theological Lectures (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1878), 39, 40.

[11] Willem J. van Asselt, Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2011), 176.

[12] J. Martin Bac, “Clear and Distinct Freedom: A Compendium of Bernardinus de Moor (1709-1780) in a Cartesian Context,” Reformed Thought on Freedom, eds. Willem J. van Asselt, J. Martin Bac, and Roelf T. te Velde (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 202.
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