James T. Dennison, Jr., Ed.
Reviewed by: Mark A. Garcia
Date posted: 10/24/2010
Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation: Volume 1, 1523–1552, compiled with introductions by James T. Dennison, Jr. Published by Reformation Heritage Books, 2008. Hardback, 820 pages, list price $50.00. Reviewed by OP pastor Mark A. Garcia.
This is the first volume of a projected multivolume compilation of Reformed confessions from the early stages of the development of that tradition. They are presented in a clear, quality English translation, many of them for the first time. Each confession is briefly introduced by the editor, and these introductions are simply outstanding. They provide, usually in only a page or two, interesting and helpful information on the authorship and background of each confession, including notes on the text(s) of the confession used in the course of translation.
In these pages, we hear from some familiar voices, such as Zwingli and Calvin, but also from some less familiar yet important ones, such as the lengthy Bern Synod (1532), translated by R. Sherman Isbell; Juan Diaz's Sum of the Christian Religion (1546), translated by David H. Vila; the London Confession of John à Lasco (1551); and the Rhaetian Confession (1552), translated into English for the first time by medievalist Atria A. Larson. Predictably, some of these confessions are more historically important and theologically rich than others, yet each one proves instructive. Many are truly edifying, capturing with memorable phrases the doxological heart and posture of the act of confession.
Furthermore, these confessions reflect the complexities of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century political and theological movements. In fact, comparing their emphases and forms of expression grants the reader an interesting window into the role of such factors in the process of confession formation.
It should be noted that this is not a critical edition of the confessional texts; rather, it is a collection of English translations, and includes no textual or explanatory notes or references. While we eagerly await such a publication someday, this series promises to render an invaluable service to us all. The editor has helped the church considerably during a time in which what qualifies as "Reformed" often reflects a highly selective appeal to what is in fact historically a rather broad yet coherent consensus. Indeed, a careful reading of these texts suggests it may be better to conceive of early Reformed confessional codification as, to a considerable degree, the codification of the church's general theological and ecclesial orientation in her ongoing pursuit of God's truth and glory. Dennison should be warmly thanked, then, for aiding us in our efforts to do better justice to the unity, as well as the marked diversity and complexity, of the tradition we call Reformed.