Blog Template Theology of the Body: More on Federal Theologies: Johannes Cocceius, 1603-1669

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

More on Federal Theologies: Johannes Cocceius, 1603-1669

Johannes "Coch" was a Dutch Reformed theologian who became a leading exponent of Reformed “covenant theology,” which emphasized the “compacts” between God and humanity. Coch’s career spanned the fields of Biblical philology and interpretation from chairs held at the Universities of Bremen and Leiden. He was the author of the systematic theology Summa Doctrina de Foedere et Testamentio Dei (1648), wherein he develops his theory that the relationship between God and humanity may be definitively understood as a covenant. Understanding his theological paradigm sheds light on some interpretations of Romans in the Reformed tradition, particularly with regard to “the history of salvation.”

Coch’s theology is “federal” because in his view, the action of God towards humanity was pre-determined by a “pact” formed between the Father and the Son prior to creation, by which the Trinity would cooperate to draw humanity into God’s friendship for ultimate salvation. Humanity could enter this friendship by keeping “the Covenant of Works” which God formed with paradisal humanity before the universal Fall. This “covenant,” initiated by grace and promising salvation in exchange for perfect obedience, was perceived innately by the conscience.

Post-Fall, obedience became impossible for humanity to perform, so God responded by instituting the “Covenant of Grace.” This Covenant was “re-negotiated” between the Father and the Son, within the bounds of the original and unchangeable “Pact” that established that God would always seek fellowship with the creature; this fellowship was now to be realized in a succession of historical steps. Since humanity had become incapable of keeping covenant with God, God’s goodwill dictated that He would engage the necessary covenant with Himself, such that the Son would take up the “Covenant of Works” and render perfect obedience on behalf of humanity. The failed Covenant of Works with humanity and its consequences would be gradually diminished in the successive stages of “salvation history.”

Followers of Coch’s “federal theology” would have read Romans within this framework; in particular, passages such as the Romans 7 “analogy from marriage” and struggle to define the Law correctly would be read as the experience of the gradually diminishing Covenant of Works which continued to hold (diminishing) sway until Christ’s advent; thus the “the law” continues to be a force in the sanctification of the NT believers.) Not until the eschaton would the consequences of the failed Covenant of Works finally be undone.

So Coch is fun because he paints a dynamic, interactive theological picture, which employs the conceptual imagery of a divine “contract,” and a Trinitarian negotiation table, and a divine “offer” for humanity to become vicarious covenant partner, regardless of humanity’s ability to cooperate; in other words, when humanity becomes bankrupt their credit with God only increases. Coch is helpful because he quite abruptly delineates various assumptions in Protestant theology which bear on the reading of Romans, and brings them to the fore for critique. At first glance, the most obvious critique might be the blatant Trinitarian hierarchy and subordinationism which Coch presumes, and the noted absence of the Holy Spirit from the negotiating table.

Outline of Coch’s Federal Theology:

Eternal Pact between Father and Son, to allow humanity friendship with God
Covenant of Works offered to humanity
Humanity cannot keep this Covenant
Father and Son re-design the offer to humanity, extend Covenant of Grace
Successive stages in salvation history gradually “outphase” the Covenant of Works, and bring more of grace into the divine-human relationship (“Doctrine of the Abrogations”)