Principium (Principle)

“principium: principle, fundamental or foundational principle

namely, that from which anything proceeds in whatever manner”

Richard Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally From Protestant Scholastic Theology, Term: principium

In theological argumentation there are two principium: principium cognoscendi and principium essendi. The former is the ground and foundation of theological knowledge – Scripture, and the latter is the ground and foundation of being – God. As such, all logical argumentation for the Christian must begin either with the Triune God or with Holy Scripture. We will delve into this more in a later post. For now, let’s further consider principium in general. Muller writes,

“In logic, a principium is, by definition, both self-evidently true and indemonstrable, as in plane geometry, the principle that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points.”

Muller, Dictionary, Term: principium.

For a principium to be a principium it must be both self-evidently true [i.e., known through itself] and indemonstrable. Using Muller’s example of plane geometry, the only way you can prove the shortest distance between two points is a straight line is by referencing the straight line between two points. If a principium is not both self-evidently true and indemonstrable then it is not a principium. In conjunction with the idea of principium, Muller quotes the following scholastic maxim,

Contra negantes principia non est disputandum, There is (or can be) no disputation (or argument) against those who deny foundational truths.”

Muller, Dictionary, Term: principium.

This of course has political, social, cultural, philosophical, and theological implications for the 21st century church. It seems there are many foundational truths being denied [e.g., biological male/female distinction]. Our focus will fall to theology of course, but that is for another post. Muller goes on to make a further distinction which sets the table for the next Essential Vocab. Muller writes,

“A further distinction can therefore be made between the principium quod, the ‘principle which,’ and the principium quo, the ‘principle by which’…Thus is the case of an action on the part of a human being, the person is the principium quod; the person’s will is the principium quo.”

Muller, Dictionary, Term: principium.

In theology and regarding the principium cognoscendi [i.e., Scripture], the principium quod is the words of Scripture and the principium quo is Spirit of God working in the believer by faith through the words of Scripture.

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