Hallowing of logic : the Trinitarian method of Richard Baxter’s Methodus Theologiae
Burton, Simon James Gowan
While Richard Baxter (1615-91) is well known and rightly held in high esteem for his practical divinity and his evangelistic zeal, he has hitherto been conspicuously neglected as a theologian. In particular there have been no major studies of him with respect to the renewed paradigm of Protestant Scholasticism and none at all of his Methodus Theologiae (1681), which represents the fruit of a lifetime of theological reflection and study and which is arguably, in both scope and vision, one of the last great Summas of English scholastic divinity. This thesis focuses on the Methodus and on Baxter‟s theological method, which he took, though imperfect, to be the closest to the true Scripture method of theology that anyone had yet come. Baxter believed that every level of (active) created reality reflected the impress of God‟s Triune being in metaphysical composition, structure and activity. This he described, following the Italian metaphysicist Tommaso Campanella, in terms of the divine primalities or principles of Power, Wisdom and Love. In the Methodus these insights are systematised into a kind of Trinitarian logic. Baxter held that human reason should be sanctified in order to conform to the Trinitarian structure of created reality, and therefore espoused a method of trichotomising organised according to these same divine principles, derivative of both Ramist and Lullist method. This thesis argues that the whole of Baxter‟s mature thought is structured in a Trinitarian fashion according to his own „hallowed logic‟ and that two themes, often interlinked, are the key to interpreting his thought: the metaphysics of the divine principles and the Christian‟s baptismal covenant with the Triune God. Furthermore it examines Baxter‟s analogical ascent from the general vestigia Trinitatis present in the whole created order through the special vestigium of man‟s soul fashioned in the image of God and finally to the Trinity itself. This detailed exposition provides the basis, in the concluding chapter, for an examination of the whole of the Methodus and a demonstration that this represents a methodological unfolding of the covenant between the believer and God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the threefold Kingdom of Nature, Grace and Glory. In this way the Methodus may be seen as having taken its inspiration from the Theo-Politica (1659) of Baxter‟s friend George Lawson. Finally this thesis concludes that Baxter‟s thought has pronounced Scotist and Nominalist accents. His Scotism in particular runs deep and has strong ties with his Trinitarian thought, which is especially significant in light of the recent increasingly vocal discussions of the Scotist character of Protestant Scholasticism. Overall therefore it is suggested that Baxter is a neglected figure who deserves to be rediscovered and whose mature theology represents a fascinating reconstrual of biblical ideas according to a Trinitarian and scholastic paradigm.