Lucas Trelcatius, 1604, and the Question of Authority

Trelcatius listed five points in his polemic against Roman Catholic scholar Franciscus Costerus (1532-1619) and Rome’s emphasis of the superiority of the Church Authority over Scripture. As cited in previous posts, there is a close analogy between Rome’s notion of authority and that of the modern evangelical text critic. Though writing in 1604, Trelcatius provides a succinct discussion, outlining the salient points for demonstrating the Authority of Scripture against externally imposed criteria whether ecclesiastical or otherwise.


There is a double consideration of the Church and the Scripture; the one common in respect of the Author; the other singular in respect of the Authority which the Author hath put into them. God is the Author of both, whether mediately or immediately, but the Authority from God is diverse, that of the Scripture is principal and formal, but the other of the Church is secondary and ministerial.


The Scripture is in two ways considered, either according to the substance of the Word principally, or according to the manner of writing. Secondarily, in that the Scripture is more ancient than the Church as by the Church was begotten or generated.

[Scripture is considered first, in itself, res or as substantia doctrinae, the substance of the writing or what the word means, and second, as substantia verba, or the accidence of writing, the external shape of the words. Scripture, being more ancient than the Church, birthed the Church and not vice versa. (Note: If the priority of the Scripture over the Church were reversed, the Church’s capacity to generate the Scripture is limited to the accidence of writing not possessing access to the inspired meaning, or substantia doctrinae which comes only from God. That is, the Church cannot beget an inspired text of Scripture, but a God-inspired Scripture can generate the Church.)]


Some things are required for the confirmation of a thing absolutely and of it self, and some by accident and for another thing. If the Scripture need any confirmation of the Church, it needeth the same by accident, and not of it self, and therefore the confirmation of the Church belongeth not to the Cause Efficient, but ministerial.

[The confirmation of the authority of Scripture by the Church is not of Scripture’s self-authentication or the Cause Efficient, but only by the accidence of writing. The authority of Scripture resides in the Scripture itself and secondarily the Church recognizes this authority in Scripture’s words.]


In causes coordinate, those which are inferior, and latter cannot obtain force and faculty of others, which are the former. Now every Authority of the Church is subordinate, yet the use is very great of the Scripture as the means principal to believe and of the Church, as the mean outward and ministerial.

[As stated above, God is the Author of both the Authority of the Scripture and the Authority of the Church, the Authority of the Scripture being principal and formal, the authority of the Church being secondary and ministerial. The Authority of the Church is latter and inferior and cannot overrule the Authority of the Scripture which is former. The Authority of the Church is therefore subordinate to the Scripture. The Scripture is the principal to faith and the Church’s use of Scripture the outward standard and ministerial, or for the practice of religion.]


There is one corruption of words and certain particular places, through the blemish whereof the principal parts cannot be corrupted, and there is another corruption of the essential parts of the Scripture: the former, if any hath happened unto the Scripture, (for the latter, we utterly deny) is not the corruption of the Scripture, but was caused either by the naughtiness of some other, or through the infirmity of the church, or through the particular ignorance of them that were of the household.

[There are two kinds of irreparable corruption of Scripture. The first can occur only in the accidence of writing due to naughtiness, infirmity, and ignorance. The cause of this corruption is known and can be corrected. The second notion of corruption relates to the essential parts of Scripture or in the substantia doctrinae, or res is denied. The Protestant Orthodox Church in 1604, (unlike many today) was confident that it was in possession of the Holy Scripture.]

Lucas Trelcatius, A Brief Institution of the Common Places of Sacred Divinitie wherein the Truth of every place proved, and the sophisms of Bellarmine are reproved, translated by John Gawen (London: Imprinted by T. P. for Francis Burton, dwelling in Pauls Church-yard, and the sign of the Green Dragon, 1610), 34-36

Please note that Trelcatius places the weight of his argument upon the Scriptures themselves.

Published by Dr. Peter Van Kleeck, Sr.

Dr. Peter William Van Kleeck, Sr. : B.A., Grand Rapids Baptist College, 1986; M.A.R., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1990; Th.M., Calvin Theological Seminary, 1998; D. Min, Bob Jones University, 2013. Dr. Van Kleeck was formerly the Director of the Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, Grand Rapids, MI, (1990-1994) lecturing, researching and writing in the defense of the Masoretic Hebrew text, Greek Received Text and King James Bible. His published works include, "Fundamentalism’s Folly?: A Bible Version Debate Case Study" (Grand Rapids: Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, 1998); “We have seen the future and we are not in it,” Trinity Review, (Mar. 99); “Andrew Willet (1562-1621: Reformed Interpretation of Scripture,” The Banner of Truth, (Mar. 99); "A Primer for the Public Preaching of the Song of Songs" (Outskirts Press, 2015). Dr. Van Kleeck is the pastor of the Providence Baptist Church in Manassas, VA where he has ministered for the past twenty-one years. He is married to his wife of 43 years, Annette, and has three married sons, one daughter and eighteen grandchildren.

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