Logos Publications has recently announced that it is commissioning a new translation of John Owen’s Theologoumena Pantodapa and other Latin writings. These were included in Goold’s nineteenth-century complete edition but omitted from modern reprints. The gap was filled by an ‘interpretation’ edited by Stephen Westcott, published as Biblical Theology in 1994. We owe a lot to Westcott and his co-workers for grappling with an intractable work: Owen’s syntax is often chaotic, his shifts of tone are abrupt, and his theological vocabulary – from his near-untranslatable title onwards – is alien for today’s readers. Biblical Theology, therefore, freely expands on and elucidates the original; but the result can be distortion. The outstanding Owen scholars Sebastian Rehnman and Carl Trueman have highlighted the deficiencies that have led to the call for a new version. Trueman writes: ‘Let us hope Logos find a translator with a sound knowledge of Latin, a good grasp of medieval and Renaissance philosophical and theological vocabulary, and a solid understanding of seventeenth century Reformed Orthodoxy. That is a tall order but absolutely necessary if the task is to be carried out with competence’.
In various discussions about the Theologoumena, it has largely escaped notice that such a translator had come forward in the seventeenth century. Lucy Hutchinson’s abridged version of the first two books was published in 1817, but it was not recognized until Katherine Narveson’s article of 1989 (‘The Sources for Lucy Hutchinson’s On Theology‘, Notes and Queries, N. S. XXXVI (1989), 40-41), that this was indeed a translation. A newly annotated version will appear in volume II of the new edition of Hutchinson’s works.
Hutchinson’s version often abbreviates Owen, but with characteristic economy she highlights the key points. A woman who had had no access to a university education could never be a polymath of the kind Trueman calls for, but she had enough Greek and Hebrew to tackle many difficulties, and in many ways her version was both clearer and more accurate than the Westcott interpretation. One example will illustrate both the challenges she faced and her success in tackling them. Owen writes:
[Ad infinitam Dei αὺτάρχειαν pertinet, ut] ipse solus se cognoscat perfecte. . . Itaque scientia illa, [quâ Deus se atque omnia sua attributa perfectissime novit, cùm sit infinita et necessaria], non nisi ipse Deus infinite sciens & sapiens est. Haec ideo primae veritatis ipsam se perfectissime comprehendentis [atque amantis] cognitio, non nisi improprie a quibusdam theologia ἀρχέτυποσ dicitur. Quid autem per theologiam ἀρχέτυπον intelligi vellent, an ipsi intelligant vehementer dubito.
(John Owen, Theologoumena pantodapa (Oxford, 1661), p. 11 (I.iii.2)
The passage is dense with Greek theological terms. Here is the Westcott interpretation:
It is necessary to the unlimited self-sufficiency of God that He himself alone may know Himself perfectly . . . God Himself alone is all-knowing and all-wise and, therefore, knowledge in its true fullness can rest only in God Himself. We will say, then, that this attribute of absolute Godhead, to know ‘first-truths’ in knowing, comprehending and loving itself, may not improperly be called ‘archetypal theology’. This is the only true and complete theology. (Now, our scholastics also make mention of ‘archetype theology’, but what they would wish to be understood by then term, I doubt if they themselves could explain!)
Hutchinson’s version is as follows:
God alone knowes himselfe perfectly. This knowledge in God is nothing elce but God himselfe, infinitely wise and understanding; therefore this knowledge of the first or originall truth, most perfectly comprehending itselfe, is by some, very improperly, calld truth in the architipe. I doubt, they scarce understand their owne meaning therein.
She has trimmed much of Owen’s wording (indicated in square brackets above). But she sees that here as often, Owen is ridiculing technical theological terminology, rejecting the term ‘archetypal’ for that knowledge which God has of himself and which is thus necessarily beyond our understanding. Owen uses the emphatic double negative ‘non nisi’, ‘not unless’, as he had done in his previous sentence – and as he does 74 times through his treatise. The Westcott interpretation, missing this point, has Owen accepting the term ‘archetypal’ and then has to elaborate on the next sentence to make sense of an apparent contradiction. Trueman and Rehman both accept that Owen is endorsing the archetypal concept and elaborate on this at some length: Rehnman paraphrases, ‘The fullness of this knowledge is therefore not improperly called archetypal theology, since it is the infinite divine knowledge’ (Divine Discourses: The Theological Methodology of John Owen, Grand Rapids, 2002, p. 60). As Rehnman shows, that is indeed what he might have been expected to say, in the mainstream of seventeenth-century Calvinism; but Owen was writing in a particularly radical frame of mind, after the collapse of his hopes for reforming the universities.
That Hutchinson rather than Owen’s modern commentators was right on this point was confirmed by the attenders of a conference on ‘Latinity in the Post-Classical World’, organized at Rome by the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Neo-Latin Studies. David Norbrook presented a paper on Hutchinson as translator of Owen and George Buchanan, in a session at which Elizabeth Clarke and Maria Cristina Zerbino were also present. The setting of the Vatican City may have been a piquant one for these fiercely anti-Papal writers, but they both had a commitment to Latin learning, and Volume II will have much more to say about Hutchinson and Owen.