History of development of Christian Theology...Document Transcript
AS IN A MIRRORJOHN CALVIN AND KARL BARTH ON KNOWING GOD
STUDIES IN THE HISTORY OFCHRISTIAN TRADITIONS FOUNDED BY HEIKO A. OBERMAN † EDITED BY ROBERT J. BAST, Knoxville, Tennessee IN COOPERATION WITH HENRY CHADWICK, Cambridge SCOTT H. HENDRIX, Princeton, New Jersey BRIAN TIERNEY, Ithaca, New York ARJO VANDERJAGT, Groningen JOHN VAN ENGEN, Notre Dame, Indiana VOLUME CXX CORNELIS VAN DER KOOI AS IN A MIRROR JOHN CALVIN AND KARL BARTH ON KNOWING GOD
AS IN A MIRRORJOHN CALVIN AND KARL BARTH ON KNOWING GOD A DIPTYCH BY CORNELIS VAN DER KOOI TRANSLATED BY DONALD MADER BRILL LEIDEN • BOSTON 2005
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTSThe ﬁrst impetus for this study came quite a time ago. It began whenDr. H.J. Adriaanse, the co-supervisor for my doctoral studies at Leiden,invited me to think again of a sequel to my dissertation. This resulted ina plan to expand the ﬁeld of research to the later Barth and to Calvin,under the title ‘Knowledge of God as Mystery’. On the recommenda-tion of Dr. H.A. Oberman I was able to realise an unforgettable termof study at the Institute for the Humanities at the University of Wiscon-sin, Madison, WI, USA. Meeting W.J. Courtenay, D.C. Lindberg andR.M. Kingdon provided me with access to American research on thebackground and social context for Calvin which unmistakably left itsmark on this book. In Amsterdam, at the Vrije Universiteit, I was ableto continue the project next to all my other work. I would mention sev-eral persons here by name who read the manuscript in whole or in part,in that way playing a signiﬁcant role in this book coming into being.The friendship and regular exchanges with René van Woudenberg, inparticular with regard to the epistemology of the hinge section deal-ing with Kant, was of particularly great value to me. The sections ofthe manuscript on dogmatics were read by and discussed with Aad vanEgmond and Dirk van Keulen. I would further mention here MaartenAalders, and the conversations with Georg Plasger on Barth interpreta-tion. It was an enormous support for me to have Dr. C. Augustijn andDr. H.A. Oberman both read the section on Calvin and provide mewith their critique of it. That the latter passed away before he couldsee the completion of this book saddens me greatly. His reactions weremore than heartening. A fragment of the Isenheim altarpiece by Mathias Grünewald isdepicted on the cover. A reproduction of this altarpiece hung overBarth’s desk. The ﬁgure of John the Baptist pointing to the cruciﬁedChrist was for Barth a metaphor for the limited service that theologycan perform. Theology points to the matter that is really paramount; itdoes nothing more, and if it does well, nothing less.
xii acknowledgements The translation was made possible in part by support from theNetherlands Organisation for Scientiﬁc Research and the BastiaanHaack Kunneman Foundation of the Free University.
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONSAnfänge I Anfänge der dialektischen Theologie. Teil I: Karl Barth, Heinrich Barth, Emil Brunner, hrsg. von J. Moltmann, München 19774.CCLS Corpus Christianorum. Series Latina, Turnholti 1953 e.v.CD K. Barth, Church Dogmatics, 4 Volumes, 13 Parts,CO Ioannis Calvini Opera quae supersunt omnia, ed. W. Baum, E. Cunitz et W. Reuss, Brunsvigae 1863– 1900.EB Evangelische Bekenntnisse. Bekenntnisschriften der Reformatoren und neuere Theologische Erklärungen in zwei Bände, Bielefeld 1997.KD K. Barth, Die Kirchliche Dogmatik, München 1932- Zürich 1967; ET: Church Dogmatics, Edinburgh 1975.OS Opera Selecta, Ed. P. Barth/W. Niesel, München 1926– 1936.PG Patrologia Graeca Cursus Completus. Ed. J.-P. Migne, Paris 1857–1866.PL Patrologia Latina Cursus Completus. Ed. J.-P. Migne, Paris 1844–1855.Römerbrief 1 K. Barth, Der Römerbrief, (Erste Fassung) 1919 (hrsg. von H. Schmidt), Zürich 19853.Römerbrief 2 K. Barth, Der Römerbrief, 2. Auﬂage, (München 1922=) Zürich 197611; ET: The Epistle to the Romans, tr. by Edwin C. Hoskyns, London/Oxford/New York 1968.STh Sancti Thomae de Aquino Summa Theologiae, Roma 1962.WA D. Martin Luthers Werke. Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Weimar 1883 e.v.ZdTh Zeitschrift für dialektische Theologie
chapter one INTRODUCTION 1.1. Knowing God and the way of history‘What is the primary goal of human life? That we know God’.1 Thisopening sentence of the Geneva Catechism does not represent merelyan age-old vision of human life, but also refers to the mystery that tothis very day is interwoven with Christian belief and is the foundationfor all Christian theology: living has something to do with knowingGod. In our time the answer may appear in other forms, with moreemphasis on being human and humanity, but it has remained like ahidden magnet under various theological themes. It is however pre-cisely this answer that has become a problem for present generations,under the inﬂuence of a culture that is embarrassed about or evenrejects belief in God. What does it really mean to know God? Can weindeed know God? Where does such knowledge have its foundations,what nourishes it, and what is it that is ultimately known? And if thereis something like knowledge of God, what does it have to do with beinghuman, with life, with our actions? These are substantive theologicalquestions which belong to the ﬁeld of reﬂection on Christian dogma. The direction that this study will go in reﬂecting on these questions isthat of theological history, or historical theology. Theological history (orhistorical theology) will be used to treat questions in the ﬁeld of Chris-tian dogmatics. In the light of advancing diﬀerentiation between sys-tematic and historical disciplines, this is anything but an obvious choice.On the basis of the experience that such an approach very easily failsto do justice to at least one of the two—or even both—elements, pro-ceeding this way can ever generate suspicion. At the same time it mustbe said that dogmatic reﬂection is impossible without involving its own 1 CO 6, 9–10: ‘Quelle est la principale Fin de la vie humaine?’ L’enfant: ‘C’est decognoistre Dieu’. The Latin version has a somewhat expanded answer: ‘ut Deum, aquo conditi sunt homines, ipsi noverint.’ Cf. also the Instruction et confession de Foy (1537),OS I, 378.
2 chapter oneparticular situation in the reﬂection. That is to say, the reﬂection cannotbe separated from the Church—and in this case we of course mean theChurch in its ecumenical sense, namely as the community of faith in alltimes and places. If dogmatics can be regarded as the orderly reﬂectionon the content of Christian knowledge of God,2 then its interrelation-ship with the Church as an historically deﬁned entity is indispensable.That perhaps sounds like a curtailment, as if the message of Christianfaith does not extend to all the world and to all mankind. Our situ-ating of the question is anything but intended to place a limit on thepublic domain of Christian theology. It is indeed necessary however torecognise that Christian belief does come from somewhere, and pointsback to events in history and continues to bear their stamp.3 That inProtestant tradition the Bible, as the Word of God, is regarded as theprimary and decisive source of Christian theology, is something whichwill not be disputed in the following theological-historical arrangement.It is nevertheless important to realise that access to and dealing withthis source is not something that is independent of debates which werecarried on in the past, and just as little from debates that are ongoingwith contemporary culture. Expressed in the language of dogmatic the-ology, with these questions we move within the sphere of the doctrineor the Holy Spirit, or pneumatology. The organisation of this studyincludes an explicit acknowledgement that in our thinking and speak-ing we have been in part shaped and marked by preceding generations,and that with an eye to current theological reﬂection it is worth theeﬀort to grapple seriously with what previous generations have thought,experienced and felt in their encounters with the subject that lies beforeus: knowing God. 2 Thus in principle the whole of the content of dogmatics can be included withinthe deﬁnition of knowledge. God is really the most comprehensive object of Christianreligious knowledge, and thus also of theology. See for instance H. Bavinck, GereformeerdeDogmatiek II, Kampen 19082, 2 and W. Pannenberg, Systematische Theologie Bd. I, Göttin-gen 1988, 14–15; ET, Systematic Theology, Volume I, Grand Rapids/Edinburgh 1992, 4–5. 3 The choice of the Church as the primary reference point is intended both theolog-ically and sociologically. This is anything but a denial that alongside it there are audi-ences of other sorts which can be distinguished, namely society at large and academia.I merely want to underscore that Christian theology and what it has to say about Godassumes both an historical and a contemporary community. For the distinction of thethree forms of audience, see D. Tracy, The analogical Imagination. Christian Theology and theCulture of Pluralism, New York 1993, 6–31.
introduction 3 1.2. Calvin and BarthThis study limits itself to two theologians who each has assumed a rep-resentative place in Reformed Protestantism: John Calvin (1509–1564)and Karl Barth (1886–1968). It can justly be said of both that they madetheir choices and presented their vision of human knowledge of God inan independent manner and in entirely diﬀerent intellectual climates.This book therefore consists of two parts or panels which, connected bya hinge, together form a diptych. In the ﬁrst panel a sketch is given ofCalvin’s vision of human knowledge of God. How does man arrive atknowledge of God, what invites him to faith and how does this knowl-edge relate to other forms of knowledge and experience? The questionabout the way in which knowledge of God is acquired can not how-ever be separated from the substantive question of what is known ofGod. Epistemological questions are connected with the material whichconstitutes the theological content. What does man really know aboutGod and himself ? What can he hope for, what guides his life in theworld, his fears and desires? Arising from the same questions, a sketchof Barth’s concept of knowing God appears in the second panel. KarlBarth’s theology, since the appearance of his dogmatic work unjustlytermed ‘neo-orthodoxy’,4 fully bears the marks of the post-Kantian sit-uation. Barth lived and worked in a culture and intellectual climate thatstood in the shadow of the Enlightenment. He was part of that intellec- 4 In this compound ‘orthodoxy’ is viewed as the position that the truth of Godmethodically permits itself to be immediately and uninterruptedly present in words anddogmatic concepts—thus knowledge of God is knowledge of eternal truths, authori-tatively proclaimed. Originally the term primarily carried the negative connotation ofauthoritarian belief. See for instance the reaction by P. Wernle to the ﬁrst edition ofthe Epistle to the Romans: ‘Der Römerbrief in neuer Beleuchtung’ in: Kirchenblatt für diereformierte Schweiz 34 (1919), 163 and Barth’s response to that in the Foreword to therevised edition Der Römerbrief (Zweite Fassung) (München 1922=) Zürich 197611,VI: ‘…das Schreckgespenst einer neuen Orthodoxie …’ (ET: The Epistle to the Romans, trans-lated by Edwyn C. Hoskyns, London/Oxford/New York 1968, 3: ‘the appearence ofthe horrible spectre of a new orthodoxy’). Cf. also Die christliche Dogmatik im Entwurf(1927), hrsg. von G. Sauter, Zürich 1982, 7 en KD I/1, IX; ET: Church DogmaticsI/1, XIV. For the reception in the Anglo-Saxon context, see Bruce L. McCormack,Karl Barth’s Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology. Its Genesis and Development 1909–1936,Oxford 1997, 24–26. See also the reference there to F. Kattenbusch, Die deutsche evange-lische Theologie seit Schleiermacher II, Gießen 1934, 46. The association of Barth’s theologywith repristination and imposed authority received no small impetus from Bonhoeﬀer’smemorable assessment of Barth’s theology as a form of revelation positivism (letter ofMay 5, 1944).
4 chapter onetual climate, where the possibility and desirability of believing in Godwas doubted, or forcefully denied. The arrangement followed has implications for the manner in whichthe context is discussed. Put diﬀerently, the manner in which theologi-cal history is handled has considerable limitations. Tracing the factorswhich went into the development of their ideas, seeking out sources andstriking diﬀerences from contemporaries, or the course of their owndevelopment is not the intention of this study. Because of the structureof the study the reader can for a moment get the impression that Calvinand Barth were two solitary ﬁgures who arrived at their positions suigeneris. I emphasise that this is not my intention. Contemporary theo-logical research makes it clear again and again that Calvin and Barthwere both connected with their contemporaries within a ﬁne-meshednet of existing concepts and forms of exegesis. Where it was possible, Ihave made use of studies that focus on the narrower context, on a detailof the panel, but in general it is the larger ﬁeld that is of interest in thisbook. The idea of context is thus understood broadly, in the sense of thecultural climate, the whole of the positions and attitudes that permeatethe way we deal with the world, ourselves and God. An awareness ofthe context is of great importance in dogmatic reﬂection. A direct com-parison between Calvin and Barth is therefore not the intention, andthe annexation of the one for the other even less so.5 Consideration oftheir concepts of knowledge of God takes place precisely in the con-sciousness of their presumptive otherness and strangeness, while theotherness is not so absolute as to exclude the possibility of a fruitfulcomparison. I have tried to do justice to both. The step that has to betaken within dogmatics is the question of what a concept contributes tothe particular reﬂection at hand. The two panels are connected by a hinge. The hinge is formed bythe epistemological critique of the Enlightenment, culminating in thethought of Immanuel Kant. The choice for Kantian epistemologicalcritique as the hinge is not intended to suggest that Barth is respondingto Kant in any direct sense. What I do wish to express by this is thatCalvin and Barth each lived in a very particular time, separated by thetime we call the Enlightenment. Calvin is portrayed as a pre-modern 5 See the irate response of R.A. Muller, The Unaccommodated Calvin. Studies in theFoundation of a Theological Tradition, New York/Oxford 2000, 187 and idem, After Calvin.Studies in the Development of a Theological Tradition, Oxford 2003, 63–102.
introduction 5thinker,6 and Barth as someone who completely shares in the problemsof modernity.7 The focus on Kant’s epistemological critique functionsas a means to brieﬂy describe the changed constellation of theologyafter Kant. The intention of this book implies that I will not limit myself purelyto observations and assembling data. In the discussion of the two pan-els the diﬀerence in the conﬁguration of the various elements will nec-essarily be dealt with. There are shifts in the role taken by man andin the manner in which God is portrayed. As a viewer of the pan-els, one immediately forms judgements, and the judgement thus doesnot remain neutral. There is proﬁt booked, but also losses. The criti-cal glance is not only cast backwards toward Calvin, but also forwards,toward Barth. Contemporary theology may be closer in time to Barththan to Calvin, but that does not eliminate the possibility that there issomething to be learned from essential components in Calvin, some-thing which has been lost in the more modern panel. Thus material isbrought together for an individual answer to the questions of what it is 6 With this general characterisation of Calvin’s context I am implicitly taking aposition opposed to those classiﬁcations which seek to all too easily situate Calvin, ormore broadly, the Reformation, as early-modern, and thereby as a sort of overture formodernism. The collective religious and cultural characteristics of what historiographywith good reason distinguishes as the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Biblical humanismand Reformation are so decisive in comparison to the Enlightenment and modernitywhich ﬂowed from it, that the term pre-modern is fully justiﬁed. This leaves intactthe value and necessity of Calvin research diﬀerentiating within this wider context. Forthis tendency within current research see particularly the book by R.A. Muller alreadymentioned, The Unaccommodated Calvin. 7 Quite intentionally this characterisation leaves aside the approaches to Barth asa critic of modernism (for instance K.G. Steck, ‘Karl Barths Absage an die Neuzeit’in: K.G. Steck/D. Schellong, Karl Barth und die Neuzeit, München 1973, 7–33), as anexponent of modernism (D. Schellong, ‘Karl Barth als Theologe der Neuzeit’, ibidem,34–102; T. Rendtorﬀ, ‘Radikale Autonomie Gottes. Zum Verständnis der TheologieKarl Barths und ihre Folgen’ in: idem, Theorie des Christentums. Historisch-theologische Studienzu seiner neuzeitlichen Verfassung, Gütersloh 1972, 161–181) or of anti-modern modernism(G. Pﬂeiderer, Karl Barths praktische Theologie. Zu Genese und Kontext eines paradigmatischenEntwurfs systematischer Theologie im 20. Jahrhundert, Tübingen 2000, 25), or as post-modern(G. Ward, Barth, Derrida and the Language of Theology, Cambridge 1995; idem, ‘Barth,Modernity and Postmodernity’ in: J. Webster [ed.], The Cambridge Companion to KarlBarth, Cambridge 2000, 274–295; William. S. Johnson, The Mystery of God. Karl Barthand te Postmodern Foundations of Theology, Louisville 1997; L. Karelse, Dwalen. Over MarkC. Taylor en Karl Barth, Zoetermeer 1999). Barth has a very nuanced attitude towardmodernism, in which it is diﬃcult to bring the elements of continuity and discontinuitytogether under one term. For a well-considered balance, see D. Korsch ‘Theologie inder Postmoderne. Der Beitrag Karl Barths’ in: idem, Dialektische Theologie nach Karl Barth,Tübingen 1996, 74–92.
6 chapter oneto know God, where this knowledge comes from, what is to be hopedfor, and what place we are invited to take. The procedure is that in both panels there is ﬁrst a general outlinesketched of what contemporary dogmatics would call the doctrine ofrevelation (Chapters 2 and 6). Here one begins to see what the way orways are by which man can obtain knowledge of God. This is followedin each panel by two chapters in which several substantive themes arediscussed. For both Calvin and Barth several subjects from the doctrineof God and the doctrine of the sacraments are successively taken up forexamination (Chapters 3, 4, 7 and 8). The choice of using the doctrinesof God and the sacraments as the basis for sketching the content ofthe theology in both cases is dictated by the hypothesis that these arethe themes which are pre-eminently suited to serve as mirrors of thetheological concept as a whole. After all, in the doctrine of God oneﬁnds reﬂection on the question of who it is that man is dealing within faith. There lie the roots of any answer to questions about salvation.The themes of providence and election are taken up within this context.I consider the doctrine of the sacraments to be signiﬁcant because itis in this ﬁeld that it becomes clear in a concentrated way how manarrives at knowledge of God, what he perceives of God’s salvation, andwhat position he takes with respect to God as an acting person. ForCalvin this is focused on his view of the Supper, for Barth on what heleft behind of his fragment on baptism as KD IV/4. As this diﬀerentchoice in rounding oﬀ the panels already shows, I have not chosen tomaintain a strict symmetry between the two panels, nor is this strictlynecessary. Rather, it can be defended that the portion of the doctrineof the sacraments in each panel permits itself to be read as a pregnantsummary of the whole vision of the content of any way to knowledgeof God. Moreover, it appears to be precisely the view of baptism andthe Supper that is suitable for catching sight of the division of rolesbetween God and man. In addition, in the case of Barth it makes clearjust how much his view on the place of man as a subject in the God-man relationship evolved. 1.3. Faith as knowing?Proposing to study Calvin and Barth’s theology from the perspectiveof human knowledge of God is anything but an obvious choice in thepresent cultural climate. Can faith in fact be characterised as a form of
introduction 7knowing? Doesn’t theology have a lot of explaining to do in that case?Indeed, upon hearing the word ‘knowledge’, many in Western culturalcircles would think ﬁrst of scientiﬁc knowledge. The term knowledgeis in that case reserved for knowledge that derives its claim to truthfrom some form of argumentation from the natural sciences. Onlythat knowledge which fulﬁls a limited number of criteria from physicalsciences is justiﬁed.8 In terms of this approach, knowledge of God fallsout of the boat, because there is no epistemological guarantee that canbe given for it. Even if one is of the opinion that the concept of knowledge must betaken more broadly than just knowledge in the physical sciences, it isstill clear that the concept of knowledge of God can easily be misunder-stood intellectually or scientiﬁcally. Under the inﬂuence of intellectualassociations, the concept of knowledge of God as a description of therelation between man and God was pushed to the margins and hasundergone an enormous reduction. That was not just a phenomenonof this century. About a century ago the mystic ring of the concept ofknowing God was again brought to the fore when Abraham Kuypertranslated cognito dei into Dutch as kennisse Gods (which can be under-stood as mystical ‘knowledge from God’ as well as ‘knowledge of God’)instead of simply godskennis (knowledge of God).9 Since the advance ofscience and technology, knowledge has generally been associated withinstrumental knowledge and scientiﬁc knowledge. This sort of knowl-edge attempts to make phenomena as clear as possible and to come togrips with them by means of theory and experimentation. Thanks toinstrumental knowledge modern society is able to produce a massiveﬂood of goods and thus to realise a standard of welfare for at least asegment of humanity the like of which has never been seen in worldhistory. This development however has its darker side. Through thisshift to an instrumental conception of knowledge the content of what 8 Without going into the matter further, following the philosopher Alvin Plantingaone can term this approach to the guarantee of human knowledge classic foundationalthinking. See A. Plantinga ‘Reason and Belief in God’ in: A. Plantinga/N. Wolterstorﬀ,Faith and Rationality. Reason and Belief in God, Notre Dame/London 1983, 16–93 and thebroad exposition of the project of his epistemology in the trilogy Warrant and ProperFunction, New York/Oxford 1993, Warrant: The current Debate, New York/Oxford 1993and Warranted Christian Belief, New York/Oxford 2000. 9 A. Kuyper, Encyclopaedie der heilige Godgeleerdheid, Deel 2. Algemeen deel, Kampen 19092,193e.v. In the same line H. Bavinck, Gereformeerde Dogmatiek I, Kampen 19062, 11, 15;ET: Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. I: Prolegomena (ed. by John Bolt, translated by John Vriend),Grand Rapids 2003, 38–42.
8 chapter oneit meant to know has been reduced, and the broader meaning that theconcept of knowledge of God traditionally encompassed now must beexpressed by means of other words. Distinguished from scientiﬁc and instrumental knowledge, there isalso a broader concept of knowing that is possible, one which has itsfoundations in the world of experience. According to this epistemologyit is defensible to begin with the multiplicity of sensory and intellectualcapacities. If our faculties are functioning well they produce trustworthyknowledge. In addition to sense perception we possess memory, weaccept the witness of others, we know the diﬀerence between goodand bad, beautiful and ugly, truth and falsity. In short, in practicewe live with all sorts of knowledge that is the product of capacitiesand that we accept in an immediate way, that is to say, without theintervention of reasoning.10 The experience of the light of the autumnsun on a hedgerow, the ﬁrst notes of Mozart’s ‘Requiem’, the warmthof the spring sun on your forehead, the smell of lavender, the tasteof fresh bread, an intensely experienced memory, a strong feeling ofindignation, the testimony of others: all these are examples of primaryexperience and forms of knowing that do not fall into the category ofscientiﬁc knowledge, but none the less produce knowledge of a sort thatin practice we accept to be trustworthy. Knowing in this primary senseis being in contact with, spoken to by, conditioned by, in the presenceof, involved with: in other words, relationally deﬁned in a wide sense.This knowing is a form of contact in which the person who knows ﬁrstis receptive, and then receives and experiences that which transpires.This sort of knowing also has conceptual and propositional implicationsand can become the object of reﬂection; but all these operations are anabstraction of what presents itself in experience. What is experienced ismore than can be comprehended in words or reﬂection about it. Wecould call it a form of relational knowing, in which the person does notso much become master of the thing known, but is addressed by andbecomes conditioned by it. It is to be emphatically distinguished fromknowledge which has the sole purpose of the transfer of information,or control.11 In both Calvin and Barth the concept of knowing God 10 See R. van Woudenberg, ‘Plantinga’s externalisme: waarborg door het naar beho-ren functioneren van kenvermogens’ in: R. van Woudenberg/B. Cusveller, De kentheorievan Alvin Plantinga, Zoetermeer 1998, 67–82; ET: ‘The Assurance of Faith: A Themein Reformed Dogmatics in Light of Alvin Plantinga’s Epistemology’, Neue Zeitschrift fürSystematische Theologie 40 (1998), 77–92. 11 See C. van der Kooi, ‘Kennis van belang. Wetenschapsbeoefening in het licht van
introduction 9is ultimately connected with notions of this sort. In knowing Godthe person who knows is taken up into a relationship, deﬁned by theproximity of God. It should not be surprising that in contemporary theology there hasbeen an attempt to replace the concept of knowing God with wordsand concepts which lack the intellectual and scientiﬁc associations thishas assumed, and which therefore appear to ﬁt better with the pecu-liar character of knowledge in faith. An orientation to the situationof dialogue and the personal encounter has been characteristic of themanner in which revelation and the knowledge acquired through ithave been approached over the last century. In theology inﬂuencedby Barth the object of knowledge of God is formulated in terms ofrevelation, Word and being addressed by God in his Word. In somecases, such as E. Brunner and H. Berkhof, the knowledge in faith isexplicitly formulated as knowledge which arises from encounter.12 ForE. Jüngel God is the mystery which reveals itself in the history of JesusChrist. Through this the story, and the narrativity which is connectedwith it, becomes the theological category par excellence for thinkingabout God and His coming.13 In Roman Catholic theology God is oftenspoken of as the hidden perspective that one discovers if one beginswith the whole broad range of fundamental human experiences, theopen places in human existence, and through surprise and amazementcomes out at faith in God, precipitated in myths and stories. The word‘God’ becomes a meaningful word when people dare to let themselvesbe touched by these experiences, which are nothing less than tracesof God and themselves lead to the way to God.14 Among thinkers ofProtestant background this broad approach generally takes the form ofthe question of meaning as the context for the question of God,15 or,christelijke geloofskennis’ in: J.P. Verhoogt, S. Griﬃoen en R. Fernhout (red.), Vinden enzoeken. Het bijzondere van de Vrije Universiteit, Kampen 1997, 98–116. 12 H. Berkhof, Christelijk Geloof. Een inleiding tot de geloofsleer, Nijkerk 19937, 29; ET:Christian Faith. An Introduction to the Study of the Faith, Grand Rapids 1979, 30 for instance,is characteristic. 13 E. Jüngel, Gott als Geheimnis der Welt. Zur Begründung der Theologie des Gekreuzigten imStreit zwischen Theismus und Atheismus, Tübingen 1977; ET: God as the Mystery of the World.On the Foundation of the Thology of the Cruciﬁed One in the Dispute between Theism and Atheism,Edinburgh 1983. 14 A. Houtepen, God, een open vraag. Theologische perspectieven in een cultuur van agnosme,Zoetermeer 1997, 330; ET: God: An Open Question, London/New York 2002, 85–108,258. E. Schillebeeckx, Mensen als verhaal van God, Baarn 1989. 15 See for example W. Stoker, Is vragen naar zin vragen naar God? Een godsdienstwijsgerige
10 chapter oneas in Adriaanse, the question of God becomes a perspective which inthe act of thinking steadily recedes further without however disappear-ing. The continuing fruitfulness and blessing of faith in God for life isthereby acknowledged, while at the same time it becomes abundantlyclear that the notion of knowledge is profoundly problematised.16 Unde-niably these approaches oﬀer a subtle tool for catching sight of thatwhich is peculiar to faith, within a context in which religious knowl-edge is no longer rooted in the generally accepted metaphysics of being.What contemporary, Western theology has in common is that over abroad line it has undergone a hermeneutic change of course, or, in thecase of Karl Barth, even himself was instrumental in inaugurating thatdevelopment.17 As we have already said, according to this change ofcourse faith, knowing of God, still can be best compared with the sit-uation of a conversation in which two partners encounter one another,learn to know each other personally. The assumption that revelationcan be reduced to a dialogue continues to make itself felt, even thoughthe conversation takes place via a text, through an experience whichhas become a story.18 The believer is the hearer of the Word. The sensewhich dominates the paradigm of the conversation is therefore hearing,and the content of the divine Word is deﬁned as self-revelation. Onecan ask if this image of a conversation is not all too barren. Particularlyin the literature by Calvin, as we shall see, we are reminded that in theway to faith all the senses are brought into play, and that knowledgeof God can be acquired through more senses than one. Moreover, onebecomes aware of how modern, limited and perhaps also damaging itis when in contemporary theology the concept of self-revelation servesas the only adequate correlate for Christian knowledge of God.studie over godsdienstige zingeving in haar verhouding tot seculiere zingeving, Zoetermeer 1993; ET:Is the Quest for Meaning the Quest for God? The Religious Ascription of Meaning in Relation to theSecular Ascription of Meaning. A Theological Study, Amsterdam 1996. 16 H.J. Adriaanse, Vom Christentum aus. Aufsätze und Vorträge zur Religionsphilosophie,Kampen 1995, 44, 261, 300. See also H.J. Adriaanse, H.A. Krop, L. Leertouwer, Hetverschijnsel theologie. Over de wetenschappelijke status van de theologie, Meppel/Amsterdam 1987. 17 Karl Barth, Der Römerbrief (Erste Fassung) 1919, Hrsg. v. H. Schmidt, Zürich 1985, 3:‘Geschichtsverständnis ist ein fortgesetztes, immer aufrichtigeres und eindringenderesGespräch zwischen der Weisheit von gestern und der Weisheit von morgen, die eineund dieselbe ist.’ Cf. also Der Römerbrief (Zweite Fassung), (München 1922=), XI: ‘… bisdas Gespräch zwischen Urkunde und Leser ganz auf die Sache … konzentriert ist.’(ET, 7) 18 See W. Stoker/H.M. Vroom, Verhulde waarheid. Over het begrijpen van religieuze teksten,Meinema 2000, 34–51, 86–105.
introduction 11 The foregoing is not intended to suggest an intellectualistic concep-tion of faith. However, the caricature repeatedly arises that knowledgein faith could be resolved into a number of revealed truths or couldbe derived from the highest principle. Now, faith indeed has contentwhich one can also try to express in propositions. It exists precisely inthe consciousness that God has acted and spoken in contingent histor-ical acts and experiences. It is knowledge that refers to the history ofIsrael and Jesus Christ as the history in which God has spoken in wordsand deeds, has addressed man, and through His acting has accom-plished salvation.19 That God in all this also makes Himself known anddoes not withhold Himself is the deepest and most unabandonable coreof belief, which is to be heard in the modern deﬁnition of revelationas self-revelation. To what extent the latter concept is pure proﬁt ormay also involve a loss, will be a topic for discussion in the succeedingchapters. The contingent experiences of God’s dealings are passed on throughhuman testimonies and in this way have deﬁned a community, areassimilated there, and in turn passed on within varying situations. Pre-cisely these varying situations, the debate over God’s acts and speak-ing within the Christian community, and its debate with culture haveassured that Christian doctrine would be created. In the process of testi-fying, retelling, actualising and referring to plausibility there arose whatwe term tradition, a paradosis, was given form in a rite and a cultus,and Christian doctrine took shape as a meta-language in the practiceof faith. In other words, it is impossible to imagine a situation where theinvolvement and activity of the knowing subject is not at both the levelof lived faith, testimony and the cultus, and also at the level of reﬂectionabout faith. Particularly the latter, the conviction that the human subject plays anactive and constitutive role in knowledge of God and, with that, also inconfession and doctrine, is both broadly accepted in our post-Kantianculture and to a great extent deﬁnes the problem. It raises the questionof the status of dogmatic pronouncements, and in modern theologicalhistory has led to constant scepticism regarding purported objectivism 19 Cf. N. Wolterstorﬀ, Divine Discourse. Philosophical reﬂections on the claim that God speaks,Cambridge 1995, who opposes the identiﬁcation of God’s speaking and revelation,and with the aid of J.L. Austin’s theory of language acts defends the possibility ofinterpreting the Bible in a coherent manner as the speaking of God.
12 chapter onein dogmatics.20 The increasing scientiﬁc monopoly on the concept ofknowledge and the wide acknowledgement of the role of the humansubject in the acquisition of knowledge went hand in hand, so that ingeneral the question about the status of religious language, and in par-ticular that of metaphor,21 became a focus of interest. People do not uselanguage only for their dealings with the world. They also use earthlymeans in order to express that which transcends the earthly. Can thatwhich is said in religious language and concepts still be characterisedas knowledge? Can this claim be made? Or, all things considered, isall belief and all theology a human product, an entity of convictions,stories, norms, values and rules that as a cultural construct serves toprovide answers for questions in life and our search for orientation?22 Isman all alone by himself even at the heart of the deepest metaphors heuses? Western theology has been deeply inﬂuenced by the agnosticismthat modernity has accepted as its basic attitude. That knowledge is a ‘success word’ has also, in part, fed into thisdistrust. To know something implies that there is something knownwhich actually exists or works. When the concept of knowing God isused, it means that an implicit claim is being made that God exists,or rather, acts and speaks. We indeed do ﬁnd that claim with both ofthe theologians discussed here. No matter how diﬀerent the times inwhich they lived, for both Calvin and Barth the existence of God—or better, the knowability of God—is not open to question. Before aman can pose the question about God’s existence, he has already beentouched by God. Both point to experiences through which it appearsthat man always arrives on the scene too late with his scepticism.By beginning with the concept of knowledge of God, I do not deny 20 The dogmatic work of G.C. Berkouwer, particularly his Dogmatische Studien, Kam-pen 1949–1972; ET: Studies in Dogmatics, Grand Rapids 1952–1976 documents the at-tempt to banish objectivism from theology and give the subject his speciﬁc place, ori-ented within concentration on the Gospel. 21 See for example S. McFague, Metaphorical Theology. Models of God in Religious Lan-guage, London 1983; idem, Models of God. Theology for an Ecological Nuclear Age, Lon-don 1987. E. Jüngel, ‘Metaphorische Wahrheit. Erwägungen zur theologischen Rele-vanz der Metapher als Beitrag zur Hermeneutik einer narrativen Theologie’ in: idem,Entsprechungen: Gott—Wahrheit—Mensch. Theologische Erörterungen, München 1980, 103–157.Idem, Gott als Geheimnis der Welt, 357–383; ET, 261–281. 22 For an approach of this sort, see for instance G.A. Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine.Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age, Philadelphia (PA) 1984. For the anthropologicalapproach to religion as a cultural construct see the frequently cited article by CliﬀordGeertz, ‘Religion as a Cultural System’ in: idem, The Interpretation of Culture, London1993, 87–125.
introduction 13that this assertion is subject to tremendous pressure, at least withinthe agnostic climate of a Western society which, for the rest, in aglobal perspective, geographically and culturally, overrates itself. Thechoice for the concept of knowledge of God is however inspired bythe conviction that the notion of knowledge is something which simplycannot be abandoned by Christian faith. As soon as we accept theidea that man not only thinks, but reﬂects on what he hears, themetaphor no longer has to be labelled ﬁgurative language, but quiteto the contrary it can be said of a metaphor precisely that it suppliesknowledge. If what the sources of Christian faith themselves suggest istrue, namely that faith is called up by acts of God, through His Word,through the coming of God to man, to His world, then the words,stories and songs, and the metaphors that control them live from thatcoming. Knowledge in faith, or knowledge of God, arises where manlets himself be addressed, be determined, responds to God’s addressand approach. The reﬂection takes place within an already existing webof being addressed by stories, words, songs, images. That means thatfrom the very start revelation has the nature of an appeal, is creativeand performative because it creates a relationship. Knowledge of Godcertainly also implies information, but the informative is ultimatelyembedded in the performative: in the relation, in the appeal. If thatis true, there are good reasons to withstand the agnostic tendency incontemporary theology and, for the sake of internal theological reasonshold fast to the notion of knowledge.23 There are thus substantive reasons for arguing for maintaining theterm ‘knowledge of God’ as a central concept. Where people experi-ence their faith, in praying, singing, meditating, in liturgy, in shapingtheir lives, in taking responsibility for the care of creation, for their soci-ety in a larger or smaller sense, there God and his will to salvation arein one way or another the object of human knowing, however muchhesitancy and how many limitations may accompany it, and a cause foracting. There is no need to speak about it noisily or ceremoniously, as ifGod were something that could be pointed to. Man knows all too wellthat within the Christian tradition itself the knowing of God in this lifeis a knowing in part, thus tentative, and the concepts of Christian doc-trine reminds us that all theology is no more than a map on the way, invia. 23 Jüngel, Gott als Geheimnis der Welt, 383–408; ET, 281–298.
14 chapter one 1.4. Bipolarity and conﬂictIn this study knowledge of God is not used in the sense that it has asits primary meaning in scholastic theology, namely God’s knowledgeof Himself. As human knowledge of God, the concept can be picturedschematically as an ellipse with two foci. The one focus is the acting ofGod, and the other the faith of man as answer to that acting. These twoelements, which in dogmatics are generally discussed separately underthe headings of revelation and faith, are taken up together in the oneconcept of knowledge of God. By reaching back to the older conceptwe make it clear that these two, faith and revelation, belong togetherfrom the very outset, and can not be discussed apart from one another.The concept of knowledge of God thereby contains within itself thetension that characterises the relation between God and man. The con-cept of knowledge of God has not only a propositional, epistemologicalpresumption, but implies from the outset a bipolarity, namely, the rela-tion of God and man. It is therefore at the same time a conﬂict-ladenconcept. It is not without reason that I have referred already to themystical, or better in this connection, the spiritual dimension of theconcept.24 This designation must still be sharpened somewhat, becausethe adjectives mystic and spiritual taken in themselves are too pallidand can easily lead to misunderstandings. They reﬂect too little of thedrama, tension and conﬂict in this relation. If God is known, this takesplace within a damaged world, and this is partly the fault of men whoare at odds with themselves and their world. Knowing God is not amatter of tranquil reﬂection or serenity, but on the contrary refers to aconfrontation, an invitation to let oneself be deﬁned by a promise, torespond to an trumpet call, and to do that in the midst of an existencewhich is marked by emptiness and a ﬂight from the void. Put in otherwords: the concept of knowing God is soteriologically charged, and notwithout reason refers to eschatology. A short tour through the Johannine writings, at ﬁrst sight the mostserene documents of the New Testament, will teach that knowing inthis context is absolutely not serene, and has lost all sense of neutrality.According to these texts, human knowing of God involves not only adecrease of ignorance. Knowledge and acquisition of knowledge standin tension with error and lies. In the Gospel according to John the 24 Cf. H. Bavinck, Modernisme en orthodoxie, Kampen 1911, 37.
introduction 15attitude opposed to light is described as rejection (John 1:10–11), inchapter 3 the ignorance of Nicodemus is a form of error (John 3:10),and in chapter 8 the rejection is characterised as violence and lies(John 8:44). These are indications that in the sphere of faith the themeof human knowledge of God therefore can not be discussed merelyas an epistemological problem. It is a completely theological conceptwithin which the whole relation of man to God is being expressed.Knowing God involves both the aﬀective and the cognitive, but alsoacting. Knowledge of God reveals itself in love, in doing the will ofthe Father (IJohn 3:6, 16). It coincides with the perspectives on beinghuman that in the catechetical tradition were traditionally discussedunder the heads of faith, command and prayer. The knowledge to which theology refers has to do with engagement,with contact and presence. In short, it is relational knowing, sometimesin a pregnant sense. This view is not limited to the Johannine writings.It is not without reason that the Hebrew word yada is also used forsexual intercourse between a man and woman (see for instance Gen.4:25;; see also Matt. 1:25). Knowledge that really moves one often hasa corporeal basis. It will be seen that particularly Calvin’s theologycontains reminiscences of these sensory dimensions of our knowing.God invites us through concrete, earthly means. No matter how strangethat may sound, we can learn more from Calvin about the interactionof knowledge of God and creation and physicality than we can fromBarth. 1.5. The mirror as an invitationThe title given to this book picks up on the familiar passage from theapostle Paul about the limits of knowledge of God in this life, but itis not restricted to this speciﬁc association. In ICor. 13 Paul oﬀers anassessment of the charismata which are found in the community. Helists prophecy, speaking in tongues, and knowledge, gnosis. For all ofthese ways of knowing and dealing with one another, however, it isthe case that we still see ‘in a mirror’, ‘dimly’; it is to ‘know in part’.In other words, in this passage the image of the mirror refers to therestrictions and limitations to which the knowing of God is subject. Thisspeciﬁc meaning was however already in the ancient world embed-ded in the broader ﬁeld of symbolic possibilities to which the naturalphenomenon of visual reﬂection gave rise, namely as a metaphor for
16 chapter oneknowledge. The mirror invites, makes known. This broader meaning,which as it were is presupposed in the use Paul makes of the image, iswhat the title is intended to express. As a utensil the mirror was also a source of fascination in the ancientworld. One could view an object through its reﬂection in a mirror. Itwas a form of indirect knowledge. The image is not perfect, as in directobservation. The reﬂection is the mirror image of the original: what isleft appears to be right, and what is right, left. We should particularlyremember that the antique mirror, as Paul knew it, was very far fromhaving the accuracy of today’s bright and blemish-free glass mirrors.One had only mirrors of beaten and polished metal.25 The image thatwas visible in the mirror was vaguer and subject to deformations bythe unevenness of the surface. It is for this reason that the apostleadds ‘dimly’. A mirror aﬀorded no perfect image; there was indeed animage, but it was vague and freakish. That throws light on the mannerin which the metaphor is used by Paul. What we know of God and Hiskingdom has holes, empty places, things that are really unknown or areknown only in part. This is tentative knowledge. That however doesnot detract from there being enough known, according to Paul, to livewith it. Christian knowledge of God comprises the essentials. and at thesame is limited. The image of the mirror plays an important, and in part iden-tical role in both Calvin and Barth, but as we will see, they diﬀeron one important point. For both there are places, facts or a his-tory which can be pointed to which fulﬁl the role of a mirror, of anopen invitation to learn to know, to participate. In Calvin’s theologythe metaphor of the mirror stands for a multiplicity of concrete waysthrough which knowledge of God can arise and be nourished. It isan outspoken metaphor which functions positively theologically as anindicator of the range of earthly means with which God, through hisSpirit, draws men to himself. Mirrors are the places where God makesclear what He wills regarding man. God has something in store forman; He made him to be in fellowship with Him. They play an essen-tial role in the trustworthiness of the images and the content withwhich God makes Himself present with man. For Calvin knowledgeof God is not reduced to the singularity of the self-revelation given inChrist. 25 See 2.3.1.
introduction 17 The image of the mirror also fulﬁls a role for Barth, in particular inthe doctrine of the analogia ﬁdei, later elaborated into the doctrine of theanalogia relationis. Like Calvin, Barth proceeds from the actual knowa-bility of God, but knowledge of God is rigidly Christologically deﬁned,and the pneumatology that we encounter in some breadth in Calvin ishere entirely in the service of Christology. God is knowable through hisrevelation in Jesus Christ. In fact this history is the locus of knowabilityin which all other elements by which God makes himself known partic-ipate. At the same time, the manner in which this knowability is pre-sented reveals the degree to which it is interwoven with the problematicof modernity. Barth’s concept of knowing God begins with the realisa-tion that the word God, as it is used in the Bible and Christian faith,does not coincide with the fact, with the visible. The word ‘God’ refersto the Holy One who ‘distinguishes [Himself] from fate, in that He notso much is, but rather comes’.26 Barth’s preference for an idealistic struc-ture of thought, in which God, the origin or the idea, is not consideredto be represented in the factual, but as an object of knowing can onlybe gained in a process of critical distancing, is brought into relationwith this preference by Barth himself. Knowledge of God is no longerderived from the world, nor is it to be directly identiﬁed with the textof the Bible, but can only be conceived as the bestowed participation inthe self-revelation of God in Christ. In the idea of self-revelation what ischaracteristic of this concept appears to contrast with Calvin’s concept,where the work of the Spirit is conceived more broadly and is not just aproperty of Christology. According to Barth knowledge of God is onlyconceivable as participation in a movement, an irreducible but never-theless actual reality of God’s acting and speaking which must alwaysbe reconstituted anew. Only by virtue of this reality and that event cana part of earthly reality, concretely the man Jesus, become the revela-tion of God’s acting. It is characteristic of this concept of knowing Godthat, as a result of this approach, there is no plausibility whatsoever tobe searched for or to be found for the truth of knowledge of God out-side of participation in this actual reality of God’s acting. This has led tothe questions and complaints which still pursue Barth’s theological con-cept. In the wake of this theology, is knowledge of God not typiﬁed by acertain Docetism, hermetically sealed to the concretely historical? Onedoes not have to answer this question in the aﬃrmative to nevertheless 26 K. Barth, ‘Schicksal und Idee in der Theologie’ in: idem, Theologische Fragen undAntworten. Gesammelte Vorträge III, Zürich 1957, 70.
18 chapter oneacknowledge the underlying question as legitimate. In what way is thetruth of God peculiar? What are the supporting elements for a Chris-tian concept of knowledge of God that is characterised by a fundamen-tal openness for perception of reality, and that can become a contribu-tion to discussion about our world and the search for humanity? In thisCalvin and Barth, as representatives of an ecumenical Reformed theol-ogy, both agree that knowledge of God not only concerns the privateaﬀairs of the individual, but serves a public interest.
part oneJOHN CALVIN
chapter two WAYS OF KNOWING 2.1. Introduction2.1.1. Knowledge of God and pietyThe face of a theological project is at least as strongly deﬁned by thelines which are not there as by the lines which are deliberately andforcefully introduced. That is true for Calvin’s theology too. One ofthe most obvious diﬀerences with contemporary systematic theologi-cal projects is the absence of any separate handling of the doctrine ofrevelation, or the question of the nature and sources of knowledge ofGod. In modern schemes the discussion of this subject precedes all else,and is broadly conceived. Anyone reading Calvin discovers that thissubject has no separate or central place in the whole of his writingsand theology. This should not be surprising. The term revelation onlymade its appearance as a central and fundamental concept that organ-ises and qualiﬁes the whole of theology and all of its sectors when itbecame a point of debate where and if God revealed Himself.1 Thatdoes not deny that Calvin too discusses the question of how man comesto knowledge of God, but the doctrine of revelation and theologicalepistemology as such are not of primary interest to him.2 That is a notunimportant observation, because it gives us insight into the certainties 1 P. Eicher, Oﬀenbarung. Prinzip neuzeitlicher Theologie, Munich 1977, 17–57, distin-guishes among four diﬀerent functions of the concept of revelation, namely 1) as aqualiﬁer of the content of belief, 2) as legitimator, to the extent that the concept refersto God as the source of authority, 3) as an apologetic category, and 4) as a systematisingand unifying concept for the whole of theological assertions; see also H. Waldenfels,Einführung in die Theologie der Oﬀenbarung, Darmstadt 1996, 83–143. In agreement withW. Pannenberg (Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, Grand Rapids, MI, 1991, 194–195), one canargue that the explicit assumption of revelation as a subject in contemporary theologyprimarily serves the function of legitimisation and authorisation. Knowledge of Godwithout any form of authorisation remains a purely human, subjective assertion. Seefurther 9.4. 2 E.A. Dowey, ‘The Structure of Calvin’s Theological Thought as Inﬂuenced by the
22 chapter twothat Calvin shared with his times. Of course, it is possible to read anumber of portions of Book I with modern eyes and to scrutinise themin terms of the questions that are discussed as introductory questions inthe prolegomena of later times.3 We can not however overlook the factthat a general introduction of the sort that dogmatics in the modern erafeels is obligatory, is simply not present in an explicit form in Calvin.He does not worry about the question of whether knowledge of Godas such is possible or real. The critical commitment of his theology lieselsewhere, in much more substantive questions, namely who God is forman and what his salvation for man means. It is these substantive ques-tions which interest him more, precisely because their substance, whichshould guide relations with God, in his judgement has been buriedunder a weight of ritual and tradition in the church. A frequently recur-ring description of the situation in the church is ruina. In his eyes, thechurch—or better yet, Christianity—is in a state of decay. That whichpeople know of God and His salvation is hidden and smothered byillegitimate elements, by innovations which deviate from the originaltruth. Therefore, reformation is necessary, because the lack of knowl-edge, the ignorantia, that has gained the upper hand in church and soci-ety can then be combated. Calvin’s sense of his times is characterisedby his assertion that it is only recently that, thanks to the grace of God,insight into the true content of the Gospel has again been gained.4 Hesees his own role lying in propagating and strengthening the rediscov-ered Gospel in the hearts of men and in social institutions. I mentionthese elements because they are of importance in seeing more sharplywhat Calvin is out to accomplish. Pure knowledge of God is important,because only pure knowledge can aﬀord understanding of salvation. The chance is great that the word ‘pure’ will immediately set oﬀalarm bells. It conﬁrms the image of doctrinal orthodoxy, intellectu-alism and persecution of heretics, in short, of all the notions that thepejorative use of the word Calvinism has powerfully fed. Is the pursuittwo-fold Knowledge of God’ in: W.H. Neuser (ed.), Calvinus ecclesiae Genevensis Custos,Frankfurt a.M/New York 1984, 139. 3 W.J. Bouwsma, John Calvin. A sixteenth Century Portrait, New York/Oxford 1988, 153. 4 See, for instance, the letter presenting the Institutes to Francis I, where ignoranceamong those disposed to the Gospel in France is given as a reason for writing theﬁrst edition, OS III, 9: ‘… paucissimos autem videbam qui vel modica eius cognitionerite imbuti essent.’ and OS III, 15: ‘Quod diu incognita sepultaque latuit, humanaeimpietatis crimen est: nunc quum Dei benignitate nobis redditur, saltem postliminiiiure suam antiquitatem recipere debebat.’
ways of knowing 23of religious purity not inseparably linked with intolerance and inhu-manity, with the fate of Castellio, Bolsec, Gruet, Servetus and so manyothers whose lot was banishment or death? Is not purity a suspect word,because as distant inheritors of the Enlightenment we are ﬁrmly con-vinced that nothing in the world can be pure? Anyone who wishes topenetrate this distant, and for contemporary attitudes strange and dep-recated world will have to be open to the possibility that for Calvinthe concept of purity may stand in a broader context than that of doc-trine. What did Calvin have in mind? For him it did indeed mean topurify doctrine or free the church of deeply ingrained but reprehensiblerituals and customs—but it did not mean that exclusively. The word‘purify’ had a much broader and, I would say, both social and spiritualor intellectual meaning. That is to say, knowledge of God touches thefull breadth and depth of life. By breadth I mean the quality of pub-lic life, the quality of society. Religion is not just what it appears to bein modern Western society, namely a matter for individual believers ora congregation on the margins of society. The concern for religion isjust as much a responsibility of the authorities and represents a publicinterest. This ideal of a uniﬁed culture, striving for a Christian society,the societas christiana, has become totally alien to us. We associate thatwith an authoritarian culture. This is not to say that the necessity ofa certain social unity or consensus is denied in contemporary publicdebate. Anything but that; but within a situation of plurality and diver-sity of convictions, ‘norms and values’ is the search for unity narroweddown to a search for a common ethos, which is not strictly dependenton a religious source. With Calvin we are still in a climate in whichethos, religion and public interest are directly linked with one another.Merely the fact that Calvin dedicated his Institutes to the king of Franceis an indication that there was a totally diﬀerent relationship betweenthe church and government. What he writes about the task of the gov-ernment can only conﬁrm this: The worship of God and the Kingdomof Christ should also be given form in social and public life.5 The refor-mation that he had in mind operates not only on the level of doctrine 5 OS III, 11: ‘Tuum autem erit, serenissime Rex, nec aures, nec animum a tamiusto patrocinio avertere: praesertim ubi de re tanta agitur: nempe quomodo Deigloriae sua constet in terris incolumitas, quomodo suam dignitatem Dei veritas retineat,quomodo regnum Christo sartum tectumque inter nos maneat. Digna res auribus tuis,digna tua cognitione, digna tuo tribunali. Siquidem et verum Regem haec cogitatiofacit, agnoscere se in regni administratione Dei ministrum. Nec iam regnum ille sedlatrocinium exercet qui non in hoc regnat ut Dei gloriae serviat.’
24 chapter twothat ﬁnds its apex in personal salvation, but equally involves the publicsphere, as can be seen in the role that the Consistory fulﬁlled in theGenevan community. By depth I then mean personal spiritual life. This introduction willdirect attention toward both aspects. The breadth of the social rootagewill be discussed in 2.1.2. The ﬁnal introductory section (2.1.3) will givea number of examples of the inseparable connection of religion with apure conscience. The involvement of the knowledge of God with the concrete cir-cumstances of human life is programmatically expressed in the famousopening sentence of the Institutes: ‘Our wisdom, in so far as it oughtto be deemed true and solid wisdom, consists almost entirely of twoparts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.’6 In this characterisationof the content of faith, which unmistakably bears traces of the Bibli-cal humanism of the day and the search for a philosophia christiana asthe true wisdom,7 knowledge of God and human self-knowledge aredirectly linked with one another. One cannot be had without the other.Human religious understanding can be conceived as an ellipse withtwo foci, namely the knowledge of God and human self-knowledge.These two are correlates of one another. In this sense, Calvin enunci-ates a principle of methodology that will be fruitful everywhere in histheology: religious knowledge is bipolar. Knowledge of God has conse-quences for that which men know about themselves. As a man achievesinsight into himself and life, that will have direct consequences for hisknowledge of God. Knowledge of God is anything but theoretical. Inits aim and intent it is practical and, to immediately say the word thatcharacterises this concept and the spirituality which accompanies it inits whole height, breadth and depth, it is proﬁtable. Calvin’s theology isrooted in the humanistic climate shaped by the Renaissance, in which itis no longer the vita contemplativa, far from the world, which provides theparadigm for proper life, but existence in the world that functions asthe divine task.8 What we call his theology is anything but a theoreticalactivity. It is practical knowledge. 6Inst. 1.1.1. 7F. Wendel, Calvin et l’humanisme, Paris 1976, 75–76 points to Cicero’s deﬁnitionof philosophy which lies behind this, and the handling of this deﬁnition by Budéand Erasmus. See particularly J. Bohatec, Budé und Calvin. Studien zur Gedankenwelt desfranzösischen Frühhumanismus, Graz 1950. 8 See for instance Calvin’s abundantly clear rejection of monastic life in principle inInst. 4.13.16.
ways of knowing 25 The practical orientation of Calvin’s theology is expressed in a wordthat is related to knowledge of God and that describes the spiritualitywhich is connected with this theology: pietas, devotion.9 The doubleimplications of the concept of pietas have almost been lost to us. Inthe modern vernacular piety has suﬀered a thoroughgoing reductionto a description of a religious attitude. Piety then refers primarily toourselves, and not to God. Remnants of the original double meaningof the concept can, however, still be found in English in the term‘ﬁlial piety’, for piety was not originally focused exclusively on thedivine or sacred, but equally well described what was owed to ourfellowmen. Calvin has deliberately chosen to limit the deﬁnition ofpietas. Real knowledge of God results in piety. Piety is no outwardform, no inessential, but has real content. The deﬁnition that he givesfor piety is worth citing; it aﬀords access to what Calvin presents asfaith. He writes, ‘By piety I mean that union of reverence and loveto God which the knowledge of his beneﬁts inspires.’10 A couple ofelements in this deﬁnition attract our attention. In the ﬁrst place,it must involve knowledge of God’s beneﬁts, notitia. In other words,piety is not empty; it is paired with knowledge. Next, something isproposed regarding the content of this knowledge. In piety God isknown as the source of all good that mankind meets, both in theworld surrounding him and also in the Bible. Knowledge of God doesnot start at point zero; it is the perception of a source of good, ofsomething positive. Third, the deﬁnition makes it clear where suchknowledge must lead, namely to the double reaction of respect (orworship) and love. The worship acknowledges the distance of God andthe majesty of this source of all good; the love of God acknowledgesthe graciousness of the Divinity. As we have said, in the concept ofpietas the practical point of Calvin’s theology becomes visible. It is nolonger a question of doctrine or orthodoxy. Doctrine is in the serviceof a purpose, namely to present man to God in integrity and purity.11 9 See L.J. Richard, The Spirituality of John Calvin, Atlanta 1974, 97–134. See also thestudy by F.L. Battles, The Piety of John Calvin. An Anthology illustrative of the Spirituality of theReformer of Geneva, Pittsburg 1969. 10 Inst. 1.2.1: ‘Pietatem voco coniunctam cum amore Dei reverentiam quam beneﬁ-ciorum eius notitia conciliat.’ 11 See the letter to Francis I, OS I, 9: ‘Tantum erat animus rudimenta quaedamtradere, quibus formarentur ad veram pietatem qui aliquo religionis studio tanguntur.’See also what Calvin wrote in the Supplex exhortatio ad invictis. Caesarem Carolum Quintum(1543), preparatory to the religious discussion at Spiers, (CO 6, 484): ‘Certe nihil ab aliis
26 chapter twoM. de Kroon has pointed to another text where for Calvin this pointcomes clearly to the fore. In his exegesis of Psalm 97:7 (‘All worshippersof images are put to shame, who make their boast in worthless idols; thegods bow down before him’), he writes, ‘Piety in the true sense of theword is this: that the true God be worshipped totally and wholly, so thatHe alone is exalted and no creature casts a shadow on His majesty.’12Calvin is there anxious that honour which in fact belongs to God not bepaid to people or things. Further along we shall also see again how thisanxiety for the way in which he will speak of the relation between Godand man is characteristic of his theology.13 Neither man, nor a moralproject is the deepest motif of his theology, but a God who inclinesto man. The acknowledgement of this is what piety is about. All elseis subordinate to this practical purpose of piety. This is of paramountimportance for evaluating Calvin’s theology. What God makes knownof himself does not serve a theoretical or contemplative purpose, but ispractical in import. A fourth element that surfaces in the deﬁnition of piety, and which istelling for the colour and tone of knowledge of God, is related to this.I am referring to the verb conciliare, which can have the more neutralmeaning of ‘to bring about’, but with regard to human aﬀection canbe translated as ‘arouse’ or ‘win’. It is close to another word which willplay a large role in the knowledge of God, namely the word invitare, orinvite. The words ‘arouse’ and ‘invite’ are indicators of a basic line inCalvin’s theology which, I would emphasise, is far too little taken intoaccount in the reception of Calvin’s thought in dogmatics. Accordingto Calvin, in many manners, through a colourful palette of means,God entices, draws, invites and encourages man to acknowledge hisMaker. It must be emphasised that this invitation comes through adiﬀerimus, sicut dixi,nisi quod nos hominem, inopiae impotentiaeque suae convictum,melius ad veram humilitatem erudimus, ut abdicata in totum sui ﬁducia in Deum totusrecumbit, item ad gratitudinem, ut Dei beneﬁcentiae quidquid habet boni transscribat,sicut revera ab ipso est.’ 12 M. de Kroon, Martin Bucer en Johannes Calvijn. Reformatorische perspectieven. Teksten eninleiding, Zoetermeer 1991, 99. 13 According to M. de Kroon that is the point which distinguishes him from M. Bu-cer, for whom pietas describes the unity of faith and love. While for Calvin pietas isfocused on God, for Bucer the concept includes the relation to God and to man, thusfaith and ethics. Bucer opposes the Anabaptist tendency to primatise love toward theneighbour with the unity of faith in the justifying God and love of the neighbour. SeeM. de Kroon, Martin Bucer en Johannes Calvijn, 92–108.
ways of knowing 27colourful palette of means. The Scriptures are certainly central to this,but they are not the only means through which God lets himself beknown; the Scripture oﬀers the possibility of giving all sorts of otherexperiences, inward and outward, a place in the contact that Godexercises with them. To use a favourite metaphor of Calvin’s, Godplaces the believer in the school of the Holy Spirit and thus subjectshim to a lifelong learning process that only comes to an end when inthe future life men are united with Christ in a new body. We can callthat eschatological, or better yet, the ﬁnal orientation of this theology.Or yet again, Calvin’s theological idiom here betrays that it ﬁnds itsnourishment in an intellectual climate in which God is experiencedas the One who is actively occupied with mankind, spurring him on,drawing him, constantly training him. By leading oﬀ in this study with the suggestion that for Calvin theworld and Bible function as an open invitation to the knowing ofGod, I am following a path that is not often trodden. The well-wornimage of Calvin’s theology, set in stone once and for all when Hegel’sphilosophy in fact deﬁned the interpretation, is that all things cometogether at one point in Calvin’s theology, namely at the Counsel ofGod as the centre which deﬁnes everything and gives all its properplace. Calvin was the man of the system, logic and determinism. Itcannot be denied that Calvin sees no other possibility than to acknowl-edge God as the director, as the sovereign Lord who exercises domin-ion over all things in his sphere, but it is something else to separateand elevate this to the only aspect of Calvin’s peculiar theology. It mustbe admitted that this did not come out of the thin air. Seen histor-ically, in the wake of the arguments between the Remonstrants andthe Counter-Remonstrants, independent consideration of God’s Coun-sel, out of which arise both providence and double predestination, hasbecome deﬁnitive for the image of Calvinism internationally. Againstthe background of the way this image was shaped, it may appear tobe an all too easy attempt to save Calvin for ecumenical discussion tonow label invitation the fundamental element in his theology. Is suchlanguage, when it comes from Calvin’s pen, indeed to be taken seri-ously? Or does the invitation evaporate in the light of the Counsel ofGod, to become an empty haze, something that in the end does notmatter conceptually? After all, is the conviction that all things that hap-pen, happen at God’s command, not a part of the knowledge of God’sbeneﬁts? Certainly the things of man and this world are ﬁxed in HisCounsel, and all is decided about doom and salvation, about all that
28 chapter twolives, moves and has its being? It is in line with this sort of rigid doc-trine of providence that Calvin generally has been, and is understood.In the vehement critique of Bolsec, in the speculative idealist interpre-tation of the 19th century,14 and down to our own time Calvin is readthrough the one lens of God as absolute causality, which threatens tosmother the singularity of the ﬁnite world, and thus also the singular-ity of man. As has already been said, it cannot be denied that in theconception of God, man and the world that Calvin has, seen from theperspective of God all things are appointed. Calvin is absolutely con-vinced of this, and it is his view that God himself, by making knownthis part of his Counsel to man, will reveal His faithfulness to the faith-ful. Or do we have here two lines that, according to Calvin, cannotbe combined in human thought, while according to the 19th centuryspeculative-idealist interpretation indeed can be brought together inthe same discourse? Do the invitation to all hearers and the limita-tions that are given with God’s eternal Counsel contradict one another?As we have said, Calvin is generally understood only in terms of the 14 Under the inﬂuence of 19th century idealist philosophy, for a long time the theol-ogy of Calvin was reduced to a system where one central dogma dominated, namelythat of God as absolute causality. See for instance F.C. Baur, Lehrbuch der christlichenDogmengeschichte, Tübingen 1847, 218, Alex. Schweizer, Die protestantischen Centraldogmen inihrer Entwicklung innerhalb der Reformirten Kirche, Erste und zweite Hälfte, Zürich 1854/1856,(Bd. I, 199) and O. Ritschl, Dogmengeschichte des Protestantismus, Bd. 3. Die reformierte Theolo-gie des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts in ihrer Entstehung und Entwicklung, Göttingen 1926, 166–168.H. Bauke, Die Probleme der Theologie Calvins, Leipzig 1922, pointed to new paths. Accord-ing to Bauke there are always two antithetical principles that are involved with oneanother, in a complexio oppositorum. Beside the doctrine of providence stands individualresponsibility; beside justiﬁcation stands sanctiﬁcation. For a survey of the discussion:P. Jacobs, Prädestination und Verantwortlichkeit bei Calvin, Neukirchen 1937, 15–49. See alsoM. de Kroon, De eer van God en het heil van de mens. Bijdrage tot het verstaan van de theologie vanJohannes Calvijn naar zijn Institutie, (Roermond 1968=) Leiden 19962. For a contemporary‘deterministic’ interpretation, see C.H. Pinnock, ‘From Augustine to Arminius. A Pil-grimage in Theology’ in: idem, The Grace of God, the Will of Man. A Case for Arminianism,Grand Rapids 1989, 15–30. See also C.H. Pinnock/R.C. Brow, Unbounded love. A GoodNews Theology for the 21st Century, Downers Grove, Ill., 1994. The question of to whatextent one can speak of systematic theology with Calvin of course is ultimately depen-dent on the answer to the question of what is systematic. If the only thing which onecan conceive with the word is the idealist notion of a system, then the answer must benegative. W.J. Bouwsma (John Calvin, 5) appears devoted to this view of systematic the-ology. If one considers the Institutes as a well-considered collection of loci communes anddisputationes, and therefore as a genre of its own that must be distinguished from genressuch as the sermon and commentary, the answer will be otherwise. See R.A. Muller,The Unaccommodated Calvin, 140–173.
ways of knowing 29latter line, and then in such a way that speaking in terms of invita-tion no longer has any weight. The image of Calvin is still deﬁned bythe idealist interpretation that threatened to conceive the ﬁnite as amanifestation, and therefore as an appearance. It will be made clear inChapter 3 that according to Calvin a partial revelation of God’s Coun-sel does not imply that man has the freedom to take this divine per-spective as his point of departure and deny human responsibility. Therevelation of God’s preordination is no licence to play human respon-sibility and God’s Counsel against one another in the space of ourhuman understanding. Human understanding is fundamentally limitedknowledge. The position of man as creature brings with it that man’sspeaking about God must take into account the categorical diﬀerencebetween God and man. With Calvin that diﬀerence functions as a reli-gious given, which makes following through a line of reasoning logicallyimpossible. He refuses to accept the ﬁnal conclusions of an absolutedeterminism, namely that God is the creator of evil.15 Precisely becauseof this limitation it is not possible to relativise the seriousness of theinvitation and individual responsibility in the light of divine preordi-nation. What lies within the inﬁnity of God’s Counsel actualises itselfin the way of invitation and individual responsibility. In what follows we willinvestigate what it means for Calvin’s theology that he allows both per-spectives to exist.16 Not only historically, but also with an eye to present-day systematic reﬂection, it will be productive to pay attention to thatﬁrst line, almost forgotten in a dogmatic perspective: for Calvin, life intime, in the world of the senses, in everyday experience is full of a Godwho seeks, draws and stimulates. Is this something which has becomestrange to us, or does Calvin’s theology here put us precisely onto atrack that has become overgrown and will have to be rediscovered onceagain? 15 It is signiﬁcant that the critics of ‘determinism’ in Calvin, and more broadly inReformed theology, do not accept the religious character of the sovereignty of Godand reduce it to a system of causes and eﬀects that lie on the same plane. Thus forinstance Pinnock, in his eﬀort to do justice to the freedom and subjectivity of man andthe openness of history, arrives at a theology in which the notion of God’s sovereigntydisappears completely into the void. This sort of theology is right to the extent that itwill do justice to human responsibility; it is wrong to the extent that this is done at thecost of the notion of God’s sovereignty. Karl Barth increasingly wanted to do justiceto both perspectives, that of God’s sovereignty and that of human subjectivity, withouthowever telescoping them together as factors in one sphere. 16 See P. Jacobs, Prädestination und Verantwortlichkeit, 138–139.
30 chapter two2.1.2. Rootage in societyChoosing the concept of knowledge of God is not without risk. In theintroduction we have already discussed a possible intellectual and sci-entiﬁc misunderstanding due to the associations that the word ‘knowl-edge’ calls up. Once it has been made clear that knowledge of Godhas its source in the faithful relationship with God, at once the miscon-ception that knowledge of God belongs purely to the inner chamberand personal life threatens. Now, there can be no doubt about it: thepersonal is indeed present. It is one of the characteristics of Calvin’stheology that the point of knowledge of God is focused on the indi-vidual person, on his or her eternal salvation. At the same time theassociation mentioned wrong foots us if we forget that Calvin lived ina society where faith and the church were part of the ferment in soci-ety and played a central role in the public domain. Moreover, Calvinwas not willing to limit the role of religion to the civil well-being ofthe city and society alone. For him, it was ultimately a matter of thespiritual quality of society. His pursuit of pure knowledge of God is atone with his pursuit of reformation in the church and society, and inthis he had in mind not just one city, or a couple of cities, but thewhole of Europe, which threatened to fall to pieces, not through thedivisions that the Reformation as such brought about in Europe, butthrough the lack of spiritual values. He acted as the reorganiser ofthe Genevan society and as an advisor to the city council, which bywithdrawing from episcopal authority and through the disappearanceof the old ecclesiastical structures that followed from this had to dealwith countless new responsibilities in jurisprudence, administration andmorals. Important institutions that previously had seen to educationand the care of the poor and sick, and which in doing so had encour-aged the human qualities of the society, were now left in an adminis-trative and organisational vacuum. Thus thinking and acting were notseparate compartments for Calvin. His theology cannot be separatedfrom a situation in which he bore responsibility for the well-being ofa concrete society. Put more strongly, it is inseparable from a situa-tion in which the issue of reformation was a European aﬀair, and thebreak with the Roman Church was not accepted as anything like afait accompli. It would still be more than a century before the shock ofthe spiritual and political rupture in Europe had been digested some-what and the division took political shape in the Peace of Westphalia(1648). To complicate things still further, in his vision of the church
ways of knowing 31and state Calvin is in no sense modern, but stands entirely in the idealof the Middle Ages, of one undivided society. For a long time Calvinhoped for a renewal of one unbroken church, in which the old unitybetween nation and church or between city and church would still bemaintained. As a reformer of the second generation,17 his work andtheology is to be placed in a situation in which the reformation of thechurch had for some time been seen as the aﬀair of the cities and theirleaders.18 With regard to the relationship of the church and state, thereformation of the cities did not deviate from the medieval pattern: theborders of the state (or rather of the city-state) coincided with those ofthe church. Church and civil authorities considered themselves as partsof the societas christiana, in which both had responsibilities which wereindeed to be distinguished, but in which the realisation that peoplebelonged to one Christian society was so overwhelming that the civilauthorities felt themselves responsible for the welfare of the church andthe Christian identity of society. Church and government are involvedin the same concern and from that involvement work together con-stantly. Calvin can call on the government and point out to it its task,to be concerned with the organisation of church and society and thepurity of doctrine and life.19 In his Institutes Calvin includes public life, 17 Historically, Calvin’s theology can be situated at the transition of what Obermantermed the second and third reformation. See H.A. Oberman ‘Calvin’s Legacy. ItsGreatness and Limitations’ in: idem, The two Reformations. The Journey from the last Daystot the new World, New Haven/London 2003, 146–147. The ﬁrst reformation was thatof Luther and Zwingli, the second that of the cities, and the third reformation wasthat of the refugee movement. This arose because in the ‘Interim’, after the close ofthe Schmalkaldic wars, the terrain won by the evangelical movement was seriouslythreatened. It was a time in which transitions from the old church to the evangelicalmovement and vice versa were still the order of the day, as the example of Louis duTillet shows (on this see for instance A. Ganoczy, The Young Calvin, Philadelphia 1987,118–120). In short, Calvin’s theology was not born in a situation of academic peace. Theﬁrst edition of the Institutes was written because he felt the challenge to give orientationto those inclined to the evangelical movement in France, who, in his opinion, foundthemselves in a spiritual vacuum. Many of his writings were in response to concretesituations and are polemic in nature, in which he does his absolute best to win peopleover or defend his rigid and highly controversial policy in matters of organisation andreformation of the society. 18 See H.A. Speelman, Calvijn en de zelfstandigheid van de kerk, Kampen 1994. 19 See, for example, the Articles concernant l’organisation de l’église et du culte a Genève,proposés au conseil par les ministres (1537), OS I, 369–377. A striking example is Calvin’scommentary on the words from Luke 14:23 compelle intrare (‘compel them to come in’),CO 45, 401: ‘Interea non improbo, quod Augustinus hoc testimonio saepius contra
32 chapter twogovernmental authorities and their organisation under those aids thatare necessary for man’s journey to the kingdom of God. The govern-ment and its tools are not to be placed outside of God and his dealingwith mankind, as Anabaptist groups did. Certainly, God’s rule over theinward man, over the soul, is lasting and most important; worldly ruleis however just as much involved in that eschatological salvation, andsubservient to that end. In connection with the role of the governmentand the shaping of public life, Calvin uses the metaphor of peregrina-tio, a journey to a foreign land. The life of a believer is a journey tothe heavenly fatherland. It is Calvin’s conviction that the government,with its institutions, is one of the aids to accomplishing that journeysatisfactorily and preserving humanity.20 The task of government is thusdirectly connected with the objective and accomplishment of all knowl-edge of God: eternal communion with God in the future kingdom. It isclear that criteria can be derived from this purpose by which the gov-ernment can be criticised, and that unity with the government is notto be preserved at all cost. Salvation in Christ is a higher good thanremaining at one with the civitas,21 the civil unit, but this possibility ofcritical distance should not blind us to the principle from which Calvinproceeded totally: namely the linking of church and state, solidaritybetween church and government on the point of the goal of mankind,and the lifestyle which was geared to attaining that goal. One place where the entwining of the church and civil authoritieswithin the whole of the Christian society can be seen in a strikingway in the Genevan situation is the Consistory. It will be worthwhile toDonatistas usus est, ut probaret, piorum principum edictis ad veri Dei cultum etﬁdei unitatem licite cogi praefractos et rebelles: quia, etsi voluntaria est ﬁdes, videmustamen, iis mediis utiliter domari eorum pervicaciam, qui non nisi coacti parent.’ Forthe whole, see O. Weber, ‘Johannes Calvin, Gestalter der Kirche’ in: idem, Die TreueGottes in der Geschichte. Gesammelte Aufsätze II, Göttingen 1968, 1–18. 20 Inst. 4.20.2: ‘Sin ita est voluntas Dei, nos dum ad veram patriam aspiramus,peregrinari super terram: eius vero peregrinationis usus talibus subsidiis indiget: quiipsa ab homine tollunt, suam illi eripiunt humanitatem.’ 21 According to H.A. Oberman, ‘Europa aﬄicta: The Reformation of the Refugees’,Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 83 (1992), 91–111, especially 102–105, Calvin can nottherefore be understood in terms of the reformation of the cities, in which civic peaceand unity were more important than maintaining the truth of faith, but must beunderstood in terms of what he calls the ‘reformation of the refugees’. In this Calvinproceeds in a diﬀerent direction than Zwingli and Bucer before his banishment fromStrasbourg. At the same time one can determine that it was only rather late, and notthen under the force of circumstances, that Calvin became resigned to the unity of thenational church in France being broken and membership being uncoupled from the
ways of knowing 33introduce several points from more recent research into the functioningof this administrative body into this study, because they throw light onthe social rootage of Calvin’s theology.22 The Consistory was establishedby Calvin in Geneva in 1541. From the Registres of this administrativebody it can be concluded that this ecclesiastical institution in the mainplayed a role in three ways. In the ﬁrst place, it functioned as an educational institution. We canhardly imagine today what a staggering loss the withdrawal of episcopalauthority must have been for broad portions of the population interms of religious rituals. The search for reformation resulted in atremendous reduction in the shaping of their life. Rituals and customsgave form and oﬀered rootage and guidance to daily life. Henceforththere could be no appeal to saints in times of need or uncertainty;there was no longer a sacrament of extreme unction in the last hourof life; henceforth there were just two sacraments, only the ﬁrst ofwhich could still function as a rite of passage. One lived in a societywithout priests, and was driven in the direction of a more personalform of belief. The Consistory played a considerable role in this processof interiorisation, even if its remedies for ignorance and superstitionwere clumsy and deeply inferior according to today’s standards. Thereare countless cases known from the ﬁrst years in which the Consistorysummoned the citizens to leave behind the old rituals, to no longerbe involved with devotions to Mary, and to learn the Lord’s Prayerand Ten Commandments in the vernacular. The people were regularlyreminded to attend the countless preaching services and Bible lecturesthat were held in Geneva. In the second place, the Consistory functioned as a Council forArbitration and Reconciliation. In the case of disrupted relationships infamilies, or diﬀerences in business relations, people could be summonedby the Consistory, which then attempted to eﬀect a reconciliation, orimpose a solution.23state church (January, 1562). He continued to hold to the ideal of the unity of city orstate and church. See H. Speelman, Calvijn en de zelfstandigheid van de kerk, 179–184. 22 For years now the leading ﬁgure in this research has been R.M. Kingdon of theUniversity of Wisconsin. For a description of the function of the Consistory from hishand, see ‘The Geneva Consistory in the time of Calvin’ in: A. Pettegree/A. Duke/G. Lewis (eds.), Calvinism in Europe, 1540–1620, Cambridge 19962, 21–34. See idem, Adul-tery and Divorce in Calvin’s Geneva, Cambridge/London 1995, 10–30. See also H.A. Speel-man, Calvijn en de zelfstandigheid van de kerk, 72–79. 23 See the examples that R.M. Kingdon gives in Adultery and Divorce. Where possible
34 chapter two The third function was as an ecclesiastical court. Questions of doc-trine or life were brought before the Consistory. When the case wasserious enough that a public punishment was necessary, the matter wasthen handed over to the civil authorities. This last function is the mostfamiliar—and notorious. According to Kingdon, however, the greatinﬂuence this administrative body projected is to be attributed ratherto the ﬁrst two functions mentioned. Among the factors which are indicative of its close interrelationswith the government is its composition. In addition to clergymen theConsistory had a majority of elders, who in fact sat as commissionersand deputies in the church council as representatives of the variouscouncils, and were also so selected that the various neighbourhoodsof the city were represented. It was chaired by one of the syndics, orburgomasters. Although primarily an ecclesiastical organ, where theburgomaster has to set aside his staﬀ and seal, the way that the civilor municipal authorities were woven into it is very clear. The long conﬂict between the Consistory and municipal authoritiesregarding the right of excommunication,24 which was only decided inCalvin’s favour in 1555, shows not only that for him the importance ofa sanctiﬁed society prevailed over the rights of citizens, but also is fur-ther evidence of the close relationship between church and society. Theconﬂict also reveals how great the sensitivity on the point of excommu-nication was. The link between faith and society is clearly to be seenwith the Eucharist, or Supper. In this there is no diﬀerence from timewhen the church was still under episcopal control. The struggle overthe question of whether excommunication was the prerogative of themunicipal authorities or an ecclesiastical body is precisely reminiscentof the previous era when ecclesiastical courts under the guidance ofepiscopal authority could pronounce excommunication even as a sanc-tion in business conﬂicts. In the new situation too excommunicationa reconciliation between the marriage partners was hammered out, often expresslyagainst the will of the complainant. In several cases a divorce was allowed and asecond marriage permitted. Kingdon believes that in the dissolution of the marriagebetween Calvin’s own brother Antoine and Anne le Fert, the Reformer’s unswervingcommitment to preserve his own house from any possible scandal and taint played adecisive role (88, 94). The ﬁrst request for a divorce was made as early as 1548 on hisbrother’s behalf by John Calvin himself. It was only granted in 1557, when he has at theheight of his power. 24 See particularly the description by W.G. Naphy, Calvin and the Consolidation of theGenevan Reformation, Manchester/New York 1994.
ways of knowing 35had not only a religious signiﬁcance, but also immediate social conse-quences. Anyone excommunicated, or banned from the city, was notonly excluded from an important ritual, but cut oﬀ from family, friendsand business.252.1.3. Knowledge of God and conscienceWe might summarise the previous section by saying that in Calvin’smodel the growth of human knowledge of God and the life style whichaccompanied it was supported by the civil authorities and social insti-tutions. We now arrive at the second point, namely that of the inwardanchor of knowledge of God, within man. I particularly want to high-light the role that conscience has in the knowledge of God, accord-ing to Calvin. We are not used to that; in the history of philosophythe emphasis has come to be placed on the relative autonomy of faithand morality opposite, or next to, one another. A pluralistic societyﬁnds it important to emphasise a shared moral framework, apart fromreligious convictions. With Calvin we are still in an entirely diﬀerentworld. Conscience is a faculty, but not a faculty which primarily rests inmen themselves. The centre of gravity lies elsewhere and is deﬁnedtheocentrically: conscience is an opening by which God approachesman. Listening to the voice of conscience is listening to God. Con-science and God are inseparable. Those who slam the door in theirconscience to the appeal that God makes there, deprive themselves ofthe possibility of seeing the reality of God. To illustrate that it will beworth the trouble of examining two passages in which an explicit con-nection is made between an active conscience and pure knowledge ofGod. The ﬁrst passage is taken from the Advertissement contre l’astrologie iudici-aire (1549), a polemic written by Calvin on the improper use of astron-omy. Calvin begins immediately with a warning which still sounds curi-ous to the reader today. He reminds his readers of the words fromITimothy 1:18–19, where Paul impresses upon Timothy to ﬁght thegood ﬁght with faith and a good conscience: ‘By rejecting conscience,certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith.’ (RSV) Accordingto Calvin, what Paul intends to say is that those who have besmirchedtheir conscience and given themselves over to evil are not worthy of 25 See R.M. Kingdon gives in Adultery and Divorce, 18–19.
36 chapter twobeing preserved in the true knowledge of God. They deserve to beblinded and led astray into diverse errors and lies.26 In short, theone follows from the other. Astrology—or according to modern terms,astronomy27—is used properly so long as it is applied to obtain knowl-edge about the natural order and the way in which God has disposedthe planets and stars to fulﬁl their task. God has given the sun andmoon to rule the days and nights, months, years and seasons. Naturalastrology has a certain use for agriculture and public life.28 Such useﬁnds abundant support in Scripture, according to Calvin. There arehowever—so his critique runs—also people who use the Word of Godas social conversation, as a manner of obtaining a personal advantageor—still worse—of gaining access to noble women.29 God will not per-mit such abuses, warns Calvin. God will permit those who give them-selves over to such practices to lapse into the most foolish ideas. Suchpeople call down God’s wrath and punishment upon themselves. Incontrast (citing Heb. 4:12), the Word of God is living and powerful,so that it penetrates to the marrow in order to discern what is withinman.30 The tenor of Calvin’s argument is that on the human side the way topure knowledge of God begins with a clean conscience, or rather withself-examination before the face of God. The ﬁrst step in that way isthat a man, standing before the tribunal of God, becomes honest and isaware of the need for obedience. 26 J. Calvin, Advertissement contre l’astrologie judiciaire. Crit.ed. by O. Millet, Geneve 1985,47: ‘Car il signiﬁe que ceux qui polluent leurs consciences en s’abandonnant a malne sont pas dignes d’estre maintenus en la pure cognoissance de Dieu, mais plutostmeritent d’estre aveuglez pour estre seduitz par divers erreurs et mensonges.’ 27 The negative associations of the word astrology as a pseudo-science only datefrom a much later time. See the introduction by O. Millet accompanying the Advertisse-ment. 28 Advertissement, 54. 29 Advertissement, 48: ‘La plus part se sert de la parolle de Dieu seullement pouravoir de quoy deviser en compagnie; les uns sont menez d’ambition, les autres enpensent faire leur proﬁt; il y en a mesmes qui en pensent faire un maquerellagepur avoir acces aus dames.’ According to J. Bohatec, Budé und Calvin, 274, Calvin’streatise is a direct response to a text published anonymously in Lyon in 1546, entitledAdvertissement sur les jugemens d’Astrologie, a une studieuse Damoyselle. Bohatec names Mellin deSaint Gelais as the probably author. See also Millet’s introduction to Calvin’s treatise,22. 30 Advertissement, 48: ‘Elle doit estre vive et d’une telle eﬃcace qu’elle transperce lesdoeurs pur examiner tout ce qui est dedans l’homme, ouy jusqu’aux mouelle des os,comme dit l’Apostre.’
ways of knowing 37 One can ﬁnd the same crucial role for the conscience with regard tothe knowledge of God in De Scandalis (1550),31 published in a period inwhich the political prospects of the Reformation were frankly poor, as aresult of the ‘Interim’. It is a text with a patently obvious polemic ten-dency, written as an aid for those who were wavering in their attitudesregarding the Evangelical renewal. In this text Calvin indeed namesthe names of a number of freethinkers in the cultural upper crust ofParis and Strasbourg, such as Agrippa van Nettescheim, Villeneuve,Etienne Dolet and François Rabelais,32 but the treatise is not addressedto them. They have crossed a critical line. In Calvin’s view they belongto a group who have become far too casual in their attitudes towardGod and his Commandments and embody an attitude that has over-stepped all bounds. Their satiric commentary on parts of Christiandoctrine such as the immortality of the soul and hope for personal eter-nal life is, to Calvin’s mind, destructive of faith. Such commentariesresult in inward scepticism, which undermines and drives out all fearof God Calvin can just hear them thinking: if there is no personal lifeextending on into eternity, the fact of the matter is that there is also nojudgement, so why should anyone still be concerned about such things?In their eyes religion and morality are sheer fabrications, invented tokeep people in check.33 Calvin accuses them of what he elsewhere callsan Epicurean concept of God: if such a supreme being exists in someform, then it does not have anything to do personally with mankind.Calvin mentions the ominous word ‘atheist’ in this connection. Onecan best understand the function of this term by comparing it with themanner in which ‘anarchist’ was used around 1900 to stereotype one’sopponents, or the term ‘communist’ was used in the 20th century. Inany case, it means that those being so labelled were to be considereda threat to something that is fundamental. In the view of Busson, inCalvin’s mouth atheism becomes a collective label for diverse forms ofunbelief or deviant convictions. In some cases it implies the denial ofGod’s existence in any form, in others to a form of rationalism, deismor Averroism.34 What these ideas all have in common is that they leadto a form of practical atheism. People lose their respect for God, scorn 31 See the introduction and edition by O. Fatio, Des Scandales, Geneve 1984, 8. Forthe Latin text see: OS II, 162–240. 32 OS II, 201. 33 OS II, 202. 34 See H. Busson, ‘Le nom des incrédules au XVIe siècle’, Bibliothèque d’Humanismeet Renaissance 16 (1954), 273–278, who opposes the assertion of L. Febvre in his book Le
38 chapter twoobedience and lose their passion for those things that are of eternalvalue. If there is no immortal soul, if man will not always stand beforethe face of God Almighty, life in time is stripped of its importance.According to Calvin’s deepest conviction, that is the gravest of errors.As we have said, those being addressed in De Scandalis are not these‘atheists’; they have already passed the point of no return. The treatiseis directed toward doubters, to those who may indeed have diﬃcultywith some points of doctrine, but who are nevertheless still to be healed,because their conscience is not yet obstructed.35 One of the ‘stumbling blocks’ that Calvin takes up is the doctrine ofthe incarnation. It is striking that he makes no attempt whatsoever toclarify or explain this doctrine. In the passage in question we encounteranother strong example of how Calvin deals with what I previouslytermed the categorical diﬀerence between God and man. It appears asif he wants to say that any attempt at explanation rests at its outset ona false estimate of human capacity to comprehend what he terms ‘doc-trina caelestis’. The incarnation is a mystery which far exceeds humanunderstanding. Among the causes of the diﬃculty which people havewith this doctrine is that the human mind is incapable of taking it in.From God’s side there is however no paradox whatsoever. According toCalvin the real problem lies not at the intellectual level; one must digdeeper. The problem is spiritual in nature. It becomes visible when menlet their conscience speak. Calvin suggests that the oﬀence with whichthe incarnation confronts us lies in human arrogance and the refusalto accept God’s nearness in the incarnation. God comes too close forman’s taste. ‘Because God descends from his immeasurable heights toyou, would you therefore continue further removed from Him? Whatif He had called you up to the inaccessible sanctuaries of the heavens?How would you have gone to him from such a distance, you who areoﬀended by his drawing near?’ According to Calvin, the scoﬀers con-clude ‘that there is no one more foolish than we, who hope that we shallbe given life out of a dead man, who ask acquittal from a condemnedman, draw the grace of God from a curse, and ﬂee to the gallows asthe only anchor of eternal salvation.’ By laughing at so much gullibilityon the part of others, they present themselves as being extremely intel-ligent. There is however something which cannot be found in them,problème de l’incroyance au XVI e siècle, Paris 1942, that the concept cannot be considered astheoretical atheism because such an idea could not have been conceived in that day. 35 OS II, 172.
ways of knowing 39‘which is the most important in true wisdom. That is a sense of con-science. What remains of wisdom, of reason, of the capacities for judge-ment, when the conscience is blunted?’36 The stumbling block howeverdisappears when someone descends into themselves and sees their owndeplorable condition. True knowledge of God begins with the realisa-tion of who it is that men are really dealing with, with God himself.A man must ﬁrst become a fool in his own eyes. In the confrontationwith God men learn humility. Then, when someone sees their ownwretchedness, the realisation of the necessity of a Saviour will grow,someone through whose mediation one can escape eternal death. Only‘then shall the way for them to come to Christ be opened, at the sametime with the possibility for Christ to come to them.’ What is striking about Calvin’s refutation is the emphasis on thenecessity of getting a feeling for the real relationship between God andman. When the realisation of the holiness of God is absent in a man, ifhe has no fear of God, no timor Dei, he will remain stuck at the level ofquestions born of curiosity, which because of sin really do not accom-plish anything. Calvin’s thought has no room for outsiders, spectatorsin the sidelines. ‘We know that they take oﬀence, because they, devoidof fear of God, have no taste whatever for spiritual teachings. There-fore let us, so that their senselessness should not be a stumbling blockfor us, be led from the human nature of Christ to divine glory, whichtransforms all curious questions into reverence. Let us turn from thedeath on the cross to the glorious resurrection, which negates the wholeignominy of the cross. Let us exchange the weakness of the ﬂesh for themight of the Spirit, in which all foolish thoughts are absorbed.’37 We have quoted extensively in the foregoing, because these passagesput us on the track of several basic lines in Calvin’s vision of knowledgeof God.1. As a means by which the transcendent God can enter our inwardlife, conscience plays a fundamental role. God appeals to us throughconscience. No one can ignore this voice without suﬀering the conse- 36 OS II, 173. 37 OS II, 174: ‘hos sciamus ideo oﬀendi, quia timore Dei vacui, nullum spiritualisdoctrinae gustum habent. Quare ne sit nobis oﬀendiculo ipsorum stupor, sed potius abhumana Christi natura ad divinam gloriam feramur, quae omnes curiosas questiones inadmirationem convertat: a morte crucis ad gloriosam resurrectionem dirigamur: quaetotum crucis opprobrium deleat: a carnis inﬁrmitate ad potentiam spiritus transeamus,quae stultas omnes cogitationes absorbeat.’
40 chapter twoquences. That which presents itself to man in his realisation of goodand evil is precisely nothing other than the voice of God breaking inupon his life. But beginning with conscience does not suppose thatmoral restoration is possible in itself. Conscience confronts man witha gaping chasm, a gulf between them and God. Conscience forces manto consider his turning away from God.2. Knowledge of God is a way which begins with God making manrestless. This way continues by man, in his misery, grasping the gift thatis oﬀered him in the incarnation and Christ’s death on the cross, andwhich leads to the glory and power of the exalted Christ. Man is borneupward on the way of the knowledge of God. The sursum corda is a partof the movement that the human soul makes under the inﬂuence of theSpirit of God. A third characteristic is connected with this:3. Calvin exhibits no need whatsoever to ﬁrst speak of Jesus Christand then of conscience. Instead, as far as our understanding reaches,conscience is the unconditional starting point. Conscience is a sourcefor the beginning of knowledge of God. Calvin does not distrust con-science; for him, temporally and theologically, revelation is not imme-diately revelation of Jesus Christ, but revelation of the harsh judgementof God, although this is certainly ﬁnally oriented to Christ.384. Man’s knowledge of God is not an epistemological or intellectualproblem, but primarily a spiritual problem, and from the outset isdeﬁned soteriologically. That is to say, it cannot be separated from thefact of the relationship in which God and man stand. Man lives in atension between obedience and disobedience, remorse and obduracy,tractability and intractability. This is the spiritual realm in which intel-lectual, conceptual and moral problems take their place. Anyone whoreally becomes concerned with the question of how things are betweenGod and man will take a diﬀerent attitude with regard to the diﬃ-culties in understanding the incarnation theologically. The human sit-uation and God’s wrath are the real heavy-weight problems and arethe centre from which intellectual diﬃculties take their own, albeit sec-ondary place. In short, Calvin has no revelation problem as the centreof his theology. He begins with the religiously, ethically charged reality 38 See also Calvin’s answer to Sadoletus, where he describes something like an ordosalutis, OS I, 469.
ways of knowing 41in which man will henceforth ﬁnd himself. This reality is that of theman alienated from God, who is again sought out by God and enticedto a way in which community with God can again be found. That isthe passion of this thought. 2.2. Accommodation2.2.1. Accommodation as the basic form of all revelationGod’s actions are the foundation of all human knowledge of Him.This formulation, when applied to Calvin’s theology, is not untrue,but at the same time is not speciﬁc enough. In order to catch sightof the way by which knowledge of God comes into being, we mustpay attention to characteristic words and concepts that are deﬁnitivefor its structure. One of the most important words that Calvin uses todescribe God’s action is descendere, coming (or going) down. God’s actis a movement from above to below. We also ﬁnd the word ascendere,to ascend or mount, directly linked with this. In other words, Calvindescribes God’s acts as movements in space, as a movement from highto low and from low to high. Because by his movement God comescloser to man, to be within the reach of the human capacity to know,knowledge of God arises. Knowledge of God is the result of an actionof God, who through his Spirit, in a multiplicity of ways, will reveal hiswill and intentions to man, stimulate and invite him, instil him withhis presence and bring him into connection with the divine powerfrom on high. The spatiality of this concept is intended literally. Itis intended to focus attention on the distance and diﬀerence in placewhich must be bridged. That does not mean that Calvin situates heavenon the utmost edge of the universe and in that way postulates it as alocalisable place. He is well aware of the sense of the word ‘heaven’in many Bible verses. According to his exposition of the Lord’s Prayer,the apposition ‘who art in heaven’ is intended precisely to deny anypossibility of sensory perception. It reminds us that the exaltation ofthe glory of God exceeds any human capacity for understanding.39That does not detract from the fact that in the concepts of descendingand ascending, space and distance must be understood as real. That 39 Inst. 3.20.40.
42 chapter twoheaven is deﬁned as being a place, and Christ’s ascension by physicalmovement and separation from the earth, are both part of the contentof revelation which is to be taken literally.40 In the chapter concerningthe sacrament of the Supper (Chapter 4), the theological (or moreprecisely, eschatological) tenor of this thinking in terms of space anddistance will once again become clear. Revelation, or rather God’sdeeds, consist of a movement of the Spirit from high to low, andfrom low to high. In faith and in the Supper, the Spirit connects manwith the ﬂesh and blood of Christ, and so opens up participation inrenewed being existence. It is this renewed body and blood of Christthat is localised ‘above’, in heaven, and this is the guarantee andeschatological goal of our renewal. In the following sections of thischapter the various parts of this structure of descent and ascent willbe developed further. The ﬁrst movement is that of descent, and the concept of accom-modation ﬁts as part of this descent. Human knowledge of God existsthanks to accommodation.41 Accommodation describes what happensstructurally in this descent. In His coming down, in all his acts andwords, God accommodates himself to our human measure and humancapacity for understanding. We will here discuss further the necessityand form of this accommodation. For Calvin it is self-evident that in the whole of his dealings withman, God must accommodate himself to man’s measure. The neces-sity for accommodation arises directly from the inﬁnite elevation ofGod above creation.42 There is a fundamental distance which must bebridged. Accommodation therefore implies both the notion of indirect-ness and the tempering of God’s overpowering glory. The necessity ofaccommodation and tempering must be sought not only in the fact thatsinful man has lost the way to God; it is a given that arises from thecategorical diﬀerence between Creator and creature. The elevation ofGod above the transient world always makes a certain form of media- 40 See his exposition of Acts 1:11, CO 48, 13. 41 For a survey see F.L. Battles, ‘God was Accommodating Himself to HumanCapacity’ in: Donald K. McKim, Readings in Calvin’s Theology, Grand Rapids 1984, 21–42; J. de Jong, Accommodatio Dei. A Theme in K. Schilder’s Theology of Revelation, Kampen1990. The great theological signiﬁcance of thet concept of accommodation is discussedin D.F. Wright, ‘Calvin’s Accommodating God’, in: W.H. Neuser/B. Armstrong, Calvi-nus Sincerioris Religionis Vindex. Calvin as Protector of the Purer Religion, Kirksville (MO) 1997,3–19. 42 See for instance his commentary on Jeremiah 31:2, CO 38, 660.
ways of knowing 43tion necessary. Thus it is not in sin that the necessity of accommoda-tion itself is found. Some form of mediation is always necessary. Calvindoes not speak at length of this, but the matter is clear. It is one ofthe tings taken for granted in his theology: ‘Had man remained freefrom all taint, he was of too humble a condition to penetrate to Godwithout a Mediator.’ This remark comes in the course of the discussionwith Osiander about the necessity of the incarnation.43 Reﬂecting onLuther’s notion of the justiﬁcation of the godless, Osiander had arguedthat justiﬁcation is the result of the indwelling of the divine nature inman. If man is called the image of God, then that must imply his par-ticipation in divine nature in some manner. The next step that Osian-der makes is that he derives the necessity of the incarnation as suchfrom the ontological diﬀerence between God and man, and not fromthe fallen state of man. Calvin opposes that second step, but neverthe-less the remark that the distance between God and creature demands amediator or agent comes in this context. How can that be? Is the incar-nation of the eternal Son still to be derived from the distance betweenGod and man? The apparent inconsistency disappears however whenwe take into account that Calvin emphatically distinguishes betweenJesus Christ as the incarnate Word and the eternal Word as agent ofcreation. In his thinking the concept of the mediator has a wider mean-ing and reaches further than the incarnation. When dealing with theincarnation of the eternal Son, the assumption of human nature by thesecond person of the Trinity, Calvin wants to stop at the strict rela-tion that is made in the Bible with deliverance: he refuses a speculativediversion. Anyone who seeks further grounds for the incarnation thanthis soteriological ground, oversteps the bounds set by God.44 To sum-marise, as a theological concept the notion of ‘mediator’ has a widerfunction, and by Calvin is chieﬂy, but not exclusively connected withthe incarnation, the assumptio carnis. But Christ, as the eternal Son ofGod, also plays a decisive role in God’s dealings with the world outside 43 Inst. 2.12.1: ‘Quanvis ab omni labe integer stetisset homo, humilior tamen erateius conditio quam ut sine Mediatore ad Deum penetraret.’ 44 Inst. 2.12.4: ‘Ubi ad opem miseris peccatoribus ferendam Christum divinitus pro-prie addici audimus, quisquis has metas transilit, stultae curiositati nimis indulget.’ Inst.2.12.5: ‘Siquis excipiat, horum nihil obstare quominus idem Christus, qui damnatosredemit, testari etiam potuerit suum erga salvos et incolumes amorem, eorum carneminduendo: brevis responsio est, quum pronuntiet Spiritus, aeterno Dei decreto coni-uncta simul haec duo fuisse, ut ﬁeret nobis redemptor Christus, et eiusdem naturaeparticeps, fas non esse longius inquirere.’
44 chapter twoof the incarnation, extra carnem. As the Son, as the eternal Word, Heis involved with the world as mediator in creation and as sustainer.45Nor does the incarnation prevent Him as the eternal Son from beingactive extra carnem in certain ways. We here encounter a substantive ele-ment of Calvin’s concept of the knowledge of God that is taken up inthe debate between Lutheran and Reformed theologians under a titleprone to lead to misunderstanding, the ‘extra-calvinisticum’, as if thiswere a notion wholly limited to Calvin. I will restrict myself here to twoobservations. First, in light of the history or dogma, Calvin is absolutelynot original on this point. As Willis has demonstrated from an abun-dance of materials, he simply continues a line of thought that has beengenerally accepted since the apologists.46 Next, it must be stated that 45 Calvin agrees with the exegesis in the ancient church in which the appearances ofthe angel of the Lord (Judges 6:11–24; Gen. 32:29–30) were appearances of the Word asthe second person of the Trinity. See, for instance, Inst. 1.13.10: ‘Etsi enim nondum eratcarne vestitus, descendit tamen quasi intermedius, ut familiarius ad ﬁdeles accederet.’E.D. Willis, Calvin’s Catholic Christology. The Function of the so-called Extra Calvinisticum inCalvin’s Theology, Leiden 1966, 69–71, points to the clariﬁcation that Calvin introducedin his vision of the mediatorship of Christ in answer to the views of F. Stancaro.According to Stancaro Christ was only mediator by virtue of the human nature that heassumed in the incarnation. In his Responsum ad Fratres Polonos (1560), CO 9, 338, Calvinmakes it clear that Christ’s mediatorship also involves the creation and sustaining ofthe world. By virtue of this mediatorship in creation the Son is the Head of the Churchfrom the very beginning, standing above the angels, and is properly named the ﬁrstbornof the whole creation. 46 See Calvin’s famous formulation in Inst. 2.13.4: ‘etsi in unum personam coaluitimmensa Verbi essentia cum natura hominis, nullam tamen inclusionem ﬁngimus.Mirabiliter enim e caelo descendit Filius Dei, ut caelum tamen non relinqueret: mirabi-liter in utero Virginis gestari, in terris versari, et in cruce pendere voluit, ut sempermundum impleret, sicut ab initio.’ The study by E.D. Willis cited in note 71 showsthat in light of the history of dogma there is no reason this should be termed theextra-calvinisticum. The notion that the Logos was active apart from the incarnationis a component of the established store of traditional doctrine. From the abundanceof material, see for instance Athanasius, De Incarnatione Verbi Dei, 17, John Damascene,De Fide Orthodoxa, III.7, and Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae III, q.5, a.2. The termcan therefore only be understood as a polemic label that was introduced against theReformed position by the Lutheran side in the conﬂict over the nature of Christ’spresence in the Supper. The Reformed position is expressed in Question and Answer48 of the Heidelberg Catechism: ‘Q. But are not the two natures in Christ separatedfrom each other in this way, if the humanity is not wherever the divinity is? A. Notat all; for since divinity is incomprehensible and everywhere present, it must followthat the divinity is indeed beyond the bounds of the humanity which it has assumed,and is nonetheless ever in that humanity as well, and remains personally united to it.’(trans. A.O. Miller and M.E. Oosterhaven) Since its introduction the term has becomemeaningful in the theological debate to the extent that it does refer to the Lutheranaccusation that Calvin does not take the incarnation seriously enough theologically. For
ways of knowing 45the distinction has its roots in Trinitarian theology, and has major con-sequences for the whole structure of theology. In Calvin God’s acts arediﬀerentiated in a Trinitarian manner from the very beginning; that isto say, what God does is to be resolved into the work of the Father, Sonand Holy Spirit, in which these three can not be identiﬁed with oneanother without qualiﬁcation. With all emphasis on the unity of God,the work of the Spirit, for instance, has a peculiarity with respect to thework of the Son, and the work of the Son has characteristic propertieswith respect to that of the Father. The eternal Son does not coincideperfectly with the incarnate Word, and knowledge of God does nottherefore coincide perfectly with knowledge of Jesus Christ as the incar-nate Word. However much knowledge of God substantively derives thecriterion for its content from Jesus Christ as the incarnate Word, asthe mirror of divine mercy, for Calvin the work of the Spirit forms thewider horizon in which the work of the Son is situated and the Fatherleads his people to renewal and perfection through the Spirit. It is atthis point that later, in our second panel regarding Barth’s theology, avariant conﬁguration will be seen. Barth derives all knowledge of Godfrom the one revelation of God in Jesus Christ, the logos ensarkos, andsees it as consisting of the ‘disclosure’ of that which is given in Christ.The concept of disclosure would not do justice to the peculiarity andrelative originality of the work of the Spirit as conceived by Calvin. Meanwhile, from the discussion between Calvin and Osiander wecan make out the premise that both share, for all their diﬀerences: Godstands far above man, and cannot be reached from the side of man.‘The majesty of God is too high to be scaled up to by mortals, whocreep like worms on the earth.’47 God would therefore remain hidden ifHe himself had not come towards mortals by various paths and ﬁnallythe brightness of Christ had not shown upon us, according to Calvin.48After all, the diﬀerence between Creator and creature, and betweenits signiﬁcance in the structure of Calvin’s theology see H.A. Oberman, ‘Die “Extra”-Dimension in der Theologie Calvins’ in: idem, Die Reformation. Von Wittenberg nach Genf,Göttingen 1986, 253–282. According to Jüngel, Karl Barth’s doctrine of the eternalelection of the man Jesus Christ can be seen as a systematic counter-proposal to thisaccusation: one can no longer think of the man apart from the Logos incarnatus. SeeE. Jüngel, Gottes Sein ist im Werden. Verantwortliche Rede vom Sein Gottes bei Karl Barth. EineParaphrase, Tübingen 19763, 96. 47 Inst. 2.6.4. 48 Inst. 3.2.1: ‘Nam quum Deus lucem inaccessam habitet, Christum occurreremedium necesse est … Quia Deus ipse procul absconditus lateret nisi nos irradiaretfulgor Christi.’
46 chapter twoGod’s inﬁnitude and the ﬁniteness of creation, is immeasurably great.The necessity for mitigation applies even within the unseen world ofthe angels around God’s throne. Appealing to Isaiah 6:2, Calvin saysthat as parts of God’s creation, even the angels are not permitted tolook upon Him directly.49 For Calvin, the realisation of an all-excelling majesty of God is nottheory. Although Calvin exercises the utmost restraint in telling abouthimself and his religious experience, his writings nevertheless betray adirect realisation of God’s holy and mighty presence. In every nook andcranny of his work we can ﬁnd the realisation of his own insigniﬁcanceand a majesty of God that shines in the cosmic cogwheels. The awewith which he recounts and evaluates the theophanies described inScripture is typical. In the confrontation with the majesty of God thecreature is deeply convinced of his dependence and fragility.50 For thoseto whom this occurs, this is a shattering experience which they fearthey will not survive. The reason that Calvin adduces for this fear (asin Judges 13:22 and Isaiah 6:5) is interesting, and at ﬁrst sight appearstotally illogical. God is after all the source of life; why should peoplewho confront the source of life need to fear that they will die? Calvinmakes an important distinction here. He explains that the fear has itsground in something incidental (per accidens), namely the fact since thefall, mankind bears death within himself.51 There is no reason for fearbecause of our created nature as such. Whatever the case, in order to learn to know God, it is necessarythat God comes down, bends down to man, and accommodates himselfto man’s capacity for comprehension. In his commentaries, and stillmore in his sermons, Calvin never tires of impressing on his audience 49 Inst. 1.11.3. See also Comm. Isaiah 6:2, CO 36, 128: ‘Duae aliae quibus faciemtegebant satis indicant ne angelos quidem fulgorem illum Dei sustinere posse, sicqueipsos perstringi Dei conspectu, ut quum solem splendentem intueri volumus.’ 50 Comm. on Is. 6:5, CO 36, 131: ‘Itaque priusquam sese nobis patefaciat, non cogi-tamus nos esse homines, imo nos putamus esse deos: ubi autem apparuit Deus, tuncincipimus sentire et experiri quales simus. Inde vera humilitas: quae in eo consistitut homo nihil amplius sibi arroget, totusque a Deo pendeat.’ See also Comm. Gen.32:30, CO 23, 446: ‘Quamdiu praesentem non sentimus Deum, superbe nobis place-mus. Atque haec imaginaria est vita, quam stulte sibi arrogat caro, ubi deorsum incli-nat. Fideles autem, dum se illis Deus ostendit, quolibet fumo se magis evanidos essesentiunt: denique ut confusa iaceat carnis superbia, ad Deum venire necesse est.’ 51 Comm. Is. 6:6, CO 36, 131: ‘Videtur enim absurdum ut Dei intuitus vel propin-quitas vitam auferat, cuius ipse fons et autor est. Respondeo id ﬁeri per accidens:quando id ex nostro vitio, non ex Dei natura accidit. Mors enim est in nobis: eamnon perspicimus, nisi cum vita Dei conferatur.’
ways of knowing 47the fact, the signiﬁcance of God’s coming down and accommodatinghimself. We here encounter an element that will be deeply deﬁnitivefor the conﬁguration of this ﬁrst panel. It confronts us with a radicaldiﬀerence between the mentality of that day and ours. The humanspirit was still considered as lower, dependent and uncertain. We arestill a long way from an attitude toward life founded on the notion ofthe free, autonomous individual who shapes, orders and in that sensecreates the world by his own power and from his own resources. Theimages that Calvin employs leave no doubt about what the real placeand stature of the creature is, seen in the perspective of the relationbetween heaven and earth. One of the ﬁxed stars of Calvin’s symbolicuniverse is the image of the wet nurse suckling a child while speakingbaby talk to the child. God is like that. God addresses us in simple andunaﬀected language.52 We will perhaps ﬁnd the physicality of the imagevery appealing in our day, but probably not ﬁnd the point of the imageso attractive. The point is our stature, and our lack of capacity whencompared with the sublimity of God. What we hear from God is anadapted speech, an address in simple language, as a baby is spoken to.Indeed, the image of the wet nurse and her baby talk is not designedwith the self-conﬁdent, autonomous man in mind, and is calculated fora relationship in which man is by far the inferior. All of God’s self-revelation in creation, in the Scriptures, in JesusChrist and in the sacraments must be understood as a form of accom-modation. The characteristic of revelation is its downward motion. Orput in other terms, God stoops down to such an extent that he deliber-ately places himself at the level where he can be seen and heard byhis creatures. That too is an element which is often forgotten. Notrarely, the ﬁgure of accommodation is understood only as a concession,something which really does not ﬁt with the highness of God. It hasbeen part of the established theological and historical repertoire to con-trast Luther and Calvin with reference to this. Luther’s theology then isaccounted as a theology of the Cross. God is present here sub cruce. It ishowever best not to force the issue and act as if only the transcendence 52 See for example Inst. 1.13.1. See also OS II, 171, CO 5, 181 and CO 7, 149:‘Car le Seigneur, sachant bien que, s’il parlait à nous selon qu’il convient à sa maiesté,nostre intelligence n’est point capable d’atteindre sihaut, s’accommode à nostre peti-tesse: et comme une nourisse begaye avec son enfent, aussi il use envers nous d’unefacon grossiere de parle, à ﬁn d’estre entendu. Celuy donc qui renverse cest ordre, netasche sinon d’ensevelir la la verité de Dieue laquelle ne peut estre congneue, qu’en lafacon qu’il la nous al voulu reveler.’
48 chapter twoof God counts for Calvin. God is not only elevated; he comes down,with the cruciﬁed Christ as the nadir, down to within the reach of thesenses, and thus into our lives and hearts. He wishes to reach out to hispeople in his eﬀacement. The fact is, that mankind must be delivered.God does that in a way that leads down, and from the depths upward.This is the way and the movement that forms the structuring principleof Calvin’s vision of the Supper. Accommodation is a central element in Calvin’s theological epis-temology. However, for Calvin it is not limited to an epistemologicalconcept. It is also a concept that is of far-reaching signiﬁcance for thecontent of his theology. In the following section we will however limitourselves for the present to the consequences for Calvin’s hermeneuticand his conception of language. That God as the great Orator accom-modates himself to various times and places53 is even the key to under-standing the Old Testament, as we will explain in the following section.2.2.2. Accommodation as the key concept in sacred historyIn the past century the concept of accommodation has prompted ques-tions which aﬀect the content of theology. What does it mean for thecontent of religious knowledge? Is it at the cost of content if God makeshimself known under the conditions of this world? Does the reality ofwhat God has to say not suﬀer under the form of accommodation,under the baby talk? We here encounter the mine ﬁeld of anthropo-morphic language, which has occupied theology and philosophy sinceantiquity. Only in the very latest theology has this reﬂection led to arevaluation of the anthropomorphism in the Bible.54 How adequate arethe Biblical concepts actually, when all that God says is accommodatedto the measure of man? Calvin shares with the metaphysical traditionthe realisation that God exceeds all manner of human conception. Onecan ask whether the coalition between the metaphysical tradition andChristian belief does not necessarily lead to a total relativisation of thehistoric and terrene in favour of the eternal. Does this not lead usto Fichte’s adage, ‘Nur das Metyphysische, keineswegs aber das His- 53 Comm. Ex. 31:18, CO 25, 79. 54 E. Jüngel, ‘Anthropomorphismus als Grundproblem neuzeitlicher Hermeneutik’in: idem, Wertlose Wahrheit. Zur Identität und Relevanz des christlichen Glaubens, Munich 1990,110–131.
ways of knowing 49torische, macht selig; das letzte macht nur verständig’?55 What is mostremarkable, however—and I deem this fundamental—is that the pres-ence of metaphysical elements in Calvin’s concept of God has not led todisqualiﬁcation of revelation in history. He arrives at an extremely var-ied and well-considered evaluation of anthropomorphisms. Some aremetaphorical, others on the contrary very precise. In Chapter 3 we willreturn to this matter. I will here limit myself to the manner in whichaccommodation functions as a hermeneutic key for the clariﬁcation ofthe diﬀerences between the Old and New Testaments. Accommodation as a means in divine pedagogy is a familiar ele-ment in the history of Christianity. In the theology of Irenaeus ofLyons, Origen and Clement of Alexandria accommodation is the keyfor the understanding of revelation in the Old Testament. Calvin thusstands in a long hermeneutic tradition, inaugurated by Philo of Alexan-dria.56 According to this tradition, the anthropomorphic ways of speak-ing about and images for God in his relation to Israel are part of anearlier phase of revelation. Accommodation ﬁts into the childhood ofmankind. In other words, Calvin spiritualises. And yet, with all the cri-tique that has been passed on this method, a basic assumption thathas come to be of great importance for the high esteem for the OldTestament and Israel in the Reformed tradition can be seen. The wayin which Israel and the church become acquainted with revelation isvery diﬀerent, but the content of the revelation is the same under boththe old and new covenant, namely community with God.57 In terms ofits substance, the covenant is the same. It is merely that under the oldcovenant the church is still in the stage of childhood. The content ofthe covenant appears to coincide with land and possessions; the punish-ments which are threatened are corporal punishments. The ceremoniesunder the old dispensation are the primer, as it were, through which thechild is taught the rules. The old dispensation is a veil.58 With Galatians3:24 in mind, the law and its dispensation are the custodian, literallyour schoolmaster, the tutor who is to lead a young child to adulthood. 55 J.G. Fichte, Die Anweisung zum seligen Leben, oder auch die Religionslehre (1806), FichtesWerke Bd.V, ed. by I.H. Fichte, Berlin 1971, 485. 56 See among others Stephen D. Benin, The Footprints of God. Divine Accomomodationin Jewish and Christian Thought, New York 1993. For Philo see for instance W. Maas,Unveränderlichkeit Gottes. Zum Verhältnis von griechisch-philosophischer und christlicher Gotteslehre,Munich/Paderborn/Vienna 1974, 87–99, 116–118. 57 Inst. 2.10.2. 58 Inst. 2.11.3; Inst. 2.11.5; Inst. 2.2.13.
50 chapter twoWhen the content of the covenant between God and man in Christcomes into being, God speaks at another level, namely to people whohave become adults. Then what is important is no longer the letter, butthe spirit, not bondage but freedom. History is a process of educationand within this process anthropomorphisms have their function. It will help clarify things to understand which opponents Calvin istrying to fend oﬀ with this vision. He is ﬁghting against millennial-ist views which had their followers particularly in Anabaptist circles.In these groups the prophecies about the coming kingdom of peaceand the Day of the Lord were being applied directly—and in Calvin’seyes uncritically. Qualifying these prophetic predictions as anthropo-morphisms oﬀers the possibility of conceiving them as metaphorical.On the basis of the New Testament Calvin concludes that what they areabout is not the establishment of peace on earth; the prophecies in factinvolve the eternal kingdom with God. Here the concept of accommo-dation serves to spiritualise the interpretation of the promises. Accord-ing to Calvin, the same is true for other anthropomorphic images andexpressions. That God has ears, a nose, eyes and hands must not betaken literally. It is a way of speaking, a modus loquendi, which is notadequate to express the spiritual nature of God’s being. Obviously one can not avoid questions of a substantive theologicalnature about the use of this concept of accommodation. How doesCalvin arrive at the criterion for distinguishing real and metaphoricallanguage? If all revelation given is an accommodation and involvessome degree of metaphor, does this not undermine its trustworthinessas such? We betray ourselves in such questions. We touch a sore spot,the raw nerve of contemporary theology, where every mediation, everyembodiment of God’s speaking and disclosure has become the basis foruncertainty. What does the distinction between real and metaphoricalmean when the Bible speaks of God as the loving Father? Can menstill take that seriously? Or in the end is God’s Counsel all that is left,like a threatening thunderhead behind which all the sunlight suddenlydisappears? As we have indicated, these questions particularly concernthe content of knowledge of God, and will be taken up in Chapter 3. Yet it would be good to here note that Calvin was evidently notconscious of a possible relativisation of all revelation. He does not speakof this in simple terms, and that in itself is telling. It is at least asimportant to know what is not the subject of the debate, as to knowwhat is being spoken of. He is defending himself against a critiqueof an entirely diﬀerent nature, apparently coming from spiritualising
ways of knowing 51circles. Brieﬂy, in the spiritualistic view all the outward manifestationsof the church, its oﬃces and Scripture were fundamentally relativisedas means of divine revelation and sources of authority because Godcould be known by the human soul in a direct manner.59 Truth iseternal and immutable. According to the spiritualistic critique, if onereally took seriously the diﬀerent manner of revelation in the Old andNew Testament as coming from God, that would indicate mutabilityand inconstancy in God himself. Such inconsistency cannot properly beattributed to God. Calvin’s reply reads that the development in formsof revelation must be considered as being purely of a pedagogic nature.It is a response of God to diﬀerent times and circumstances, and nota reﬂection of any inconstancy in God himself, which would indeedbe absurd. In the third chapter we will yet go into that which is atstake existentially with regard to the changelessness of God, not onlyfor Calvin but for the whole of ancient and medieval thought. Theconclusion can here be limited to noting that Calvin appears to bedefending himself against the accusation from some enlightened mindsin his age, namely that his God shows some tendencies to instability. Asan illustration of how he deals with accommodation, there follows herea passage in which he points to the diﬀerence in agricultural activitiesin diﬀerent seasons as an apt comparison. ‘If the husbandman prescribes one set of duties to his household inwinter, and another in summer, we do not therefore charge him withﬁckleness, or think he deviates from the rules of good husbandry, whichdepends on the regular course of nature. In like manner, if a father of afamily, in educating, governing and managing his children, pursues onecourse in their childhood, another in their adolescence, and anotherin their adulthood, we do not therefore say he is ﬁckle, or abandonshis opinions. Why, then, do we charge God with inconstancy, when hemakes ﬁt and congruous arrangements for diversities of times?’60 In summary: changes in the means of revelation have nothing to dowith God’s own being, but with altered circumstances. Accommodationand anthropomorphism as a form of accommodation within sacred his-tory are related to changing circumstances in human history. It can be 59 According to the publishers of the Opera Selecta, Calvin is reacting against Sebasti-aan Franck and his Paradoxa, published in 1535. See Inst. 2.11.13. Regarding Franck seeA. Séguenny, ‘Sources du spiritualisme d’après la “Chronica” de Sebastian Franck’ in:M. Lienhard, Les Dissidents du XVI e Siècle entre L’Humanisme et le Catholicisme, Baden-Baden1983, 165–174, particularly 169. 60 Inst. 2.11.13.
52 chapter twosaid that the price which Calvin pays for the concept of accommo-dation is that something of the clarity of revelation must be surren-dered, but nothing of its essential content. The substance, the actualcontent, of revelation in both the Old and New Testaments is the same.Or, as formulated by K. Schilder, accommodation aﬀects the revelationreceived in such a way that it cannot be said to be perfect, but can stillbe said to be pure.61 The anthropomorphisms are means in the handsof God with which He makes clear what He has to say.2.2.3. Accommodation and languageThe foregoing turns the spotlight on Calvin’s vision of the language ofthe Bible. This view deserves attention because the diﬀerences betweenCalvin’s time and ours are great, and of immediate importance for theconcept of knowledge of God. The images in the Bible are chosen byGod in order for Him to communicate with man through them. Thatmakes anthropomorphic language useful and means that man mustcarefully follow the indications given in Scripture. This does not meanthat Calvin ignores the human nature of language in general or for thehuman input in these Biblical writings. Among the things that revealCalvin’s connections with the humanistic culture which surroundedhim is the way in which he identiﬁes and deals with the theologicalproblem of accommodation as in part a general problem confrontinganyone who wants to communicate something, that is to say, as aproblem of rhetoric. Or, from the opposite angle, one could say thatit is precisely from his familiarity with rhetoric that he is to a largeextent sensitive to this theological problem.62 The realisation of thenecessity of eﬀective communication, or eloquence, was a characteristicof humanistic culture. A speaker must choose a means of expoundinghis subject and a style that is in accordance with that subject and theaudience that he wants to address.63 With such a concept from rhetoric,decorum is necessary. True eloquence, eloquentia, seeks precisely a simpler 61 K. Schilder, Wat is de hemel, Kampen 19542, 54. See also H. Bavinck, GereformeerdeDogmatiek II, 90, 92. Human knowledge of God is not adequate, but is analogical, pureand trustworthy. 62 Among others, W.J. Bouwsma, John Calvin, 116–127, points to these connections.See further the extensive study by O. Millet, Calvin et la Dynamique de la Parole. Étude deRhétorique réformée, Genève 1992. 63 Comm. ICor. 1:17, CO 49, 320: ‘… sed eloquentiam veram, quae constat prudentirerum inventione, dispositione ingeniosa, et elegantia sermonis.’
ways of knowing 53form, not a more elaborate one, using now this image, and then thatone. But it always searches for a form that is in the service of the powersof persuasion, persuasio, for the matter involved and the audience beingaddressed.64 It is remarkable how greatly Calvin’s thought regarding God’s wayof approaching man is permeated by rhetoric. The realisation thatGod accommodates himself to the measure of man is omnipresent init, so to speak. That God expresses himself pro sensus nostri modulo orhas accommodated himself ad sensum nostrum is constantly on his lips.The consequences of this interweaving of the doctrine of revelation andrhetoric can hardly be overstated; they extend throughout his theology.For Calvin the question of how (qualis) God is (we today would say whoGod is) often appears to matter less than does sorting out the eﬀectsof certain words and images on man. Theologically his interest lies inthe pragmatic question of the handling of language and images, withwhat God seeks to accomplish in man through an image or word.In terms of language theory, the centre of gravity for his theology liesin perlocution, the eﬀect intended by the use of certain words. In thecourse of the discussion in this ﬁrst part, diverse examples of this will beprovided. It should be clear that this linkage has consequences for a theologicalevaluation of both panels of this study. When in a post-Kantian situ-ation, in which Biblical images and concepts are regarded as humanconstructs, the trustworthiness and salutary value of revelation becomesdependent on the question of whether God is revealing himself, onecan expect little understanding for a concept that structurally places somuch emphasis on the practical eﬀects of words and concepts. Calvincan stress the metaphors and images of the Scriptures precisely becausehe is convinced that they are given by the Holy Spirit and not for-mulated by the human mind. According to him, it is exactly at thosepoints in Scripture where the central truths of faith are unfolded for usthat we must make minimal use of our own freedom.65 In fact, we here 64 See for instance Calvin’s extensive commentary on ICor. 1:17, CO 49, 320–322.He exerts himself to show that the apostle does not intend to condemn rhetorical meansin general. On the contrary, the verse gives Calvin the opportunity to pronounce aeulogy on true eloquence. The power of the Cross would have been buried if Paulhad availed himself of philosophical subtlety (philosophico acumine) and rhetorical artiﬁce(artiﬁcio dicendi) (320). What is important is that eloquence serves the Gospel in all ways. 65 From a letter to Simon Grynaeus (Nov. 15, 1539), here cited from: Iohannis CalviniCommentarius in epistolam Pauli ad Romanos, ed. T.H.L. Parker, Leiden 1981, 4: ‘deinde ut
54 chapter twoencounter what Protestant theology will later call the truth principle.Scripture is the revelation of God’s will. That will have great conse-quences for dealing with the Bible, its words and stories. Knowledge ofGod arises when people carefully follow the instructions given by God. It is not human imagination or construction that takes primacy; theemphasis is on the Spirit as instructor. In this ﬁeld we encounter stillother metaphors. One image which surfaces frequently in Calvin is thatof reins.66 God does not drive with a loose hand or long rein, much lessgive free rein. The reins are tight, and train the pious to be attentive.In his text Contre les libertins Calvin also utters a strong critique of thehandling of the Bible by people such as Quentin, who he terms ‘lib-ertines’. Basing themselves on IICor. 3:6 (‘for the letter kills, but theSpirit gives life’), according to Calvin they permit themselves an expo-sition of the Scripture that is a hundred times worse than the allegor-ical exposition of the Papists. The literary means used lead the readerdown the garden path, away from the true intention. Are the injunc-tions satire, or caricature? The reader no longer knows how to properlyinterpret the author; is the author playing the clown, is he being seri-ous?67 Calvin condemns this game of disguises, because it runs counterto the order that God has laid down. Certainly when the mysteries ofid ﬁat in Scripturae expositione: in religionis autem dogmatibus, in quibus praecipuevoluit Dominus consentaneas esse suorum mentes, minus sumatur libertatis.’ 66 See for example what Calvin wrote in the prologue to his commentary on thepsalms on the experience of God’s guidance in his own life: CO 31, 20: ‘… Deustamen arcano providentiae suae fraeno cursum meum alio tandem reﬂexit.’ Faced withthe precarious situation of the evangelical movement as a result of Interim, he againused the image of reins: OS II, 192: ‘Hodie cum duro austeroque fraeno nos Dominusconstrictos teneat, videmus ut passim omnes fere lasciviant.’ See also OS II, 197. 67 Contre la secte phantastique et furieuse des Libertins, CO 7, 149–248, 174. See also thetelling chapter titles ‘Du langage et style de parler qu’ont les Quintinistes’ (168) and ‘Dela grande malice et impudence qu’ont les Libertins, en se gloriﬁant d’estre doublesde cueur et de langue’ (170). See J. Wirth, ‘“Libertins” et “epicuriens”: aspects del’irreligion en XVIe siècle’, Bibliotheque d’Humanisme et Renaissance 39 (1977), 601–627. Asexamples of such ‘spiritualistic’ exegesis Wirth refers to Agrippa’s text De nobilitate atquepraecellentia foeminei sexus (1529) and the Problemata of O. Brunfels (1523). With a range ofarguments and examples, Agrippa defends not the inferiority, or even the equality, butthe superiority of woman over man. If in his creative action God progresses from thelesser to the more perfect, then logic would dictate that the woman is the most perfectcreature. Only in female beauty does the true image of God light up! Moreover, it wasAdam who sinned ﬁrst, not Eve. However ﬁne this may sound, according to Calvin itleaves the reader in fatal confusion. The praise of woman is ambiguous in the extreme,and in the last analysis the reader does not know if the author really intends to praisewomen or if the text is persiﬂage, and the reader is being taken for a ride. See also DeScandalis, 201.
ways of knowing 55God are at stake, the Scripture itself must be the rule for exposition. Inthe Scripture the Spirit itself is speaking, without indirection. The pointfor God, in all his accommodations, is to penetrate the heart of man,to attract him, to stir him from his lethargy, to invite him to commu-nity. It would be too simple and even unjust to dispose of Calvin’s criti-cism of literary tools such as persiﬂage and satire as a want of personalartistry. Anyone hazarding such a judgement shows instantaneouslythat they have never read Calvin, or in any case read none of his trea-tises, where he permits himself more room than he does in, say, hiscommentaries. The rhetorical ideal of elegance and eloquence is highlyvalued, and it is not without reason that in Calvin studies there hasbeen so much attention for his use of the rhetorical arts.68 His critiquedoes not involve satire and persiﬂage as such, but ﬂows from a visionof the Bible and the instruction given in it. The Bible is a book draftedby the Spirit, and comprises the doctrine given by the Spirit. Put suc-cinctly, man should not step in and ﬁddle with it. What counts systematically is a totally diﬀerent vision of the lan-guage and words of the Bible. For Calvin biblical anthropomorphismand analogies are not what they are in post-Kantian theology, namelycreations of men who, in their speaking about what is more than thisworld are also connected with this world.69 For him they are creationsof and tools in the hand of God. The place of anthropomorphismin this concept therefore results in a positive valuation for rhetori-cal means employed by God.70 Man must adapt himself to the wayand order used by God. Calvin’s argument for a way of thinkingthat lies within the boundaries of revelation is therefore directly linkedwith his doctrine of scripture. The message of God enters the under-standing of man through Scripture. The Bible contains the ‘oraclesof God’,71 the ‘instruction from heaven’.72 These descriptions begin to 68 See for instance Q. Breen, John Calvin: A Study in French Humanism, Chicago 1931,Bouwsma, John Calvin, 113–127. See also R.A. Muller, The Unaccommodated Calvin, 140–158. 69 See for instance S. McFague, Models of God, 29–57. 70 In recent years quite a bit has been written on the signiﬁcance of rhetoric forCalvin’s context and theology. See W.J. Bouwsma, John Calvin, 14, 113–114. See alsoS. Jones, Calvin and the Rhetoric of Piety, Louisville 1995. See particularly the study alreadymentioned, O. Millet, Calvin et la Dynamique de la Parole. Étude de Rhétorique réformée,Genève 1992. 71 Inst. 1.6.2: ‘oracula Dei’. 72 Inst. 1.6.3: ‘caelestis doctrina’.
56 chapter twodeﬁne revelation: revelation is not exclusively, but certainly also themaking known of truths; it has a propositional content. Therefore,according to Calvin, the church has repeatedly gone down the wrongpath when people obstinately sought to add something to the contentof revelation. Calvin’s criticism of the many ceremonies and institutionsof the Roman Church as innovations with regard to doctrine given byGod, and his deathbed entreaty to change nothing both arise from this.The desired purity can only be achieved if everyone carefully holds towhat God Himself has said in Scripture.73 What is the place of man in this concept? What role remains forhim? On the basis of the above, one can conclude that man is the onewho receives, pays careful attention and listens. The relation is that ofteacher and pupil. Calvin seeks to engender in man a concentrationon what God shows, says and oﬀers to him. The roles are ﬁxed. Therole of human subjectivity in the understanding of divine teaching isnot a subject for further reﬂection. It goes without saying that this isvery diﬀerent from the manner in which Barth’s theology develops therole of man as the answering subject. The Kantian turn toward thesubject is reﬂected in a much more individual and independent activityby man. With Calvin there is less room for man as a creative, answeringbeing. The emphasis lies entirely with God. God has accommodatedhimself to our limited measure, and reveals his will to our salvationin a form adapted to our understanding. The church deals carefullywith the knowledge which is given it when it immures itself on twosides, against ignorance, and against speculation. Truth is thereforean approach to the truth supplied by God, an approach made underthe guidance and direction of God; and knowledge of God is thereforethe via media between these two extremes. On the one hand men mustguard against lagging behind the knowledge they are given, and on theother side they must not run out ahead of it.74 It goes without saying that Calvin aﬀords few opportunities for thehuman capacity for invention and imagination with respect to theteachings of God. When it comes to divine revelation, it is other virtuesthat count. Let me emphasise once again: in saying this, I am in no waydenying that many points in Calvin’s writings reveal rhetorical skill, 73 See the example of Ahaz in Inst. 4.10.23. See IIKings 16. 74 For an interpretation of Calvin’s theology with the aid of limit theory, see F.L. Bat-tles, Calculus Fidei—Some Ruminations on the Structure of Calvin’s Theology, Grand Rapids1978.
ways of knowing 57creative power and imagination. I am only saying that on theologicalgrounds one should expect no place for invention, imagination andliterary ﬁction in the theological concept. This has not been without itsconsequences for ﬁction and literature within the Calvinistic tradition.752.2.4. The metaphor of the mirror: knowledge as imitationFrom whence does mankind obtain knowledge regarding God’s salva-tion? In a world in which the church is no longer the dispenser of sal-vation, but its role is reduced to a service in which man comes beforethe face of God without human mediation, the question of how thesubject is able to take part in this salvation becomes all the more press-ing. According to G.P. Hartvelt, the deepest intention of the Reforma-tion can be understood as the ‘recovery of the subject’.76 According tohim, the history of both Lutheranism and Calvinism is a great extentdeﬁned by the dynamic of this question. According to the usual inter-pretation the core of Lutheran theology is the preaching, or in termsof content, the justiﬁcation of sinners, and election takes second placeto this. In Calvinist tradition the emphasis, in terms of content, wasreversed. There too the promises of the gospel were proclaimed in thepreaching, but this salvation was explicitly anchored in the Counselof God. To again cite Hartvelt, ‘there is nothing more solid than theCounsel of God—but nothing more distant, either’.77 This characteri-sation is given particularly with an eye to the development of Calvin-istic thought in the Canons of the Synod of Dort, and can indeed besaid to be characteristic of the image we have of Calvin himself andthe questions addressed to him. When Barth suggests that Calvin’simage of Christ as the mirror of election has hardly any eﬀect onCalvin’s theology and has only a pastoral intention,78 he is moving inthe same line. Should we not take seriously the idea of the mirror asthe place where knowledge of God is obtained, because the locus ofthe decision is the Counsel of God? Is that justiﬁed? In this sectionI will argue that the metaphor of the mirror is a structural part ofCalvin’s theological epistemology, and therefore must be taken more 75 For example, with regard to Agrippa d’Aubigné, see C. Randall Coats, Subvertingthe System. D’Aubigné and Calvinism, Kirksville (MO) 1990, 1–24. 76 G.P. Hartvelt, Symboliek. Een beschrijving van kernen van christelijk belijden, Kampen1991, 129. 77 Hartvelt, Symboliek, 132. 78 KD II/2, 68; ET, 64.
58 chapter twoseriously theologically than it has generally been. It stands for the indi-rect means to which God commits himself toward man. As a theolog-ical concept, the Counsel of God only becomes a relativisation of andthreat to the revelation which is given if it is forgotten that God has com-mitted Himself to man by means of the mirrors in which he permits Himself to beknown. The whole of created reality, in all its facets, is a tool in the hands ofGod by which He makes himself known to man—or better, an invi-tation to enter into community with God. The word ‘facet’ is usedhere deliberately; it connects with another metaphor which surfacesfrequently in Calvin’s writings. To describe the forms of divine accom-modation Calvin uses the metaphor of the mirror. The metaphor is def-initely not unique to Calvin; it has a long and rich history in epistemol-ogy, in optics and in literature. Since antiquity the natural phenomenonof the reﬂection of an object on the surface of water and the mirror as autensil have provided a paradigm for understanding what knowledge isand how it comes to be.79 In the neo-Platonic and Augustinian traditionthe nature of knowledge is understood primarily in terms of light andsight. Knowledge comes into being because an external object throughits eﬀect represents itself to the knowing subject.80 The criterion in bothaesthetics and the artes was that trustworthy knowledge and art were animitation of reality. In pre-modern times knowledge was a form of rep-etition or imitation of the given. The metaphor of the mirror is closelyconnected with imitation (imitatio) as an epistemological principle. Justas the steam engine had a paradigmatic function in the culture of the18th and 19th century, and the computer at the end of the 20th, the mir-ror and its optical potential aﬀorded the 16th century the possibility ofvisualising what knowledge was and how it arose. In Calvin we ﬁnd themetaphor in connection with knowledge of God. What the use of thisfundamental metaphor implies for Calvin’s doctrine of revelation willbe summed up in several points in the paragraphs which follow. 79 H. Leisegang, ‘Die Erkenntnis Gottes im Spiegel der Seele und der Natur,’Zeitschrift für philosophische Forschung 4 (1949), 161–183. 80 For a brief survey of optics in the Middle Ages—or as it was then known, per-spectiva—see D.C. Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science. The European Scientiﬁc Tra-dition in Philosophical, Religious and Institutional Context, 600 B.C. to A.D. 1450, Chicago1992, 307–315. For Roger Bacon’s inﬂuential theory of representation, see particularlyK.H. Tachau, Vision and Certitude in the Age of Ockham. Optics, Epistemology and the Founda-tions of Semantics, 1250–1345, Leiden 1988, 3–26.
ways of knowing 59First and foremost, the metaphor allows us to visualise that God per-mits himself to be known by indirect means. God makes his will knownwith the aid of a selection of means in creation, in which he makes hisown qualities visible, as though in a mirror.Second, that the various mirrors are places where God becomes per-ceptible in his works is something that rests on God’s order. The con-cept of ordo refers back to that which is the subject of the place andquality of the created thing, namely God. From their inception, themeans of God’s revelation have never been neutral in any sense.Third, the metaphor makes it clear that the image that is visible is therebecause of God, and is not the result of human thought. The image ina mirror is not the result of mental activity in man himself, or whichhe has arrived at by way of an abstract process. God himself sees toit that something of himself and his works is visible in these mirrors,and presses himself upon man in his ineluctable majesty. For Calvin thestress lies upon direct experience, the realisation of God’s presence inthe mirrors He has set up, and less on a process of abstraction throughwhich man comes to a conclusion about God’s activity. Perhaps, froma theological-historical perspective, one might say that in this regardthere is a formal similarity between Calvin’s concept of knowledge ofGod and what in late medieval philosophy was termed cognitio intuitiva,as distinguished from cognitio abstractiva.81 As will be seen in the remain- 81 For the concept cognitio intuitiva, see among others W.J. Courtenay, Schools andScholars in Fourteenth-Century England, Princeton 1987, 206–208; K.H. Tachau, Visionand Certitude in the Age of Ockham, 55–84, 113–153 and T.F. Torrance, ‘Knowledge ofGod and Speech about him according to John Calvin’, included in: idem, Theologyin Reconstruction, Grand Rapids 1965, 76–98. The term cognitio intuitiva was originatedby Duns Scotus in contradistinction to cognitio abstractiva, in order to resolve a numberof problems for which perspectivism had no solution. It is assumed in Roger Bacon’stheory that the knowing subject obtains knowledge of an object because the objectitself produces ﬁgures or forms of itself (species) in the space surrounding it, conceivedof as transparent and mediating material. Through endless multiplication the formis imprinted on the outward senses, becoming visible on the retina. From here theforms are then assimilated by the various inward senses and noetic faculties. Thediﬃculty with this theory was that the knowing subject had not been confronted withthe substance of the object itself, but only with its accidental qualities. This being thecase, it becomes impossible to distinguish between the forms that actually go back toan object and those which are purely hallucination or imagination. With the conceptof a cognitio intuitiva, Duns Scotus asserts that there are actually countless moments inwhich we are directly certain of the existence of the known object. The statement ‘Isee a tree’ does not mean that on the basis of the shapes and colours that I see, I
60 chapter twoder of this chapter, knowledge of God is less a matter of abstraction anddemonstration, and more a consequence of immediate impressions, adirect realisation of God’s presence, which is not gained through aninterjacent process of reasoning.Fourth, for Calvin the metaphor serves to make it clear that the imagethat appears in the mirror is always of less quality, less pure than theobject itself. With regard to this, we must remember that in Calvin’stime they did not yet know the smooth glass mirror we have today.82Mirrors were then of hammered metal, and depending on the smooth-ness of the surface achieved, the image was unclear or vague. Never-theless Calvin holds fast to the trustworthiness of the mirror image. Inhis exegesis of ICorinthians 13:12 he suggests that the mirror lacks onlythe precision that characterises direct sight.83 The angels do not needthe aid of mirrors; for them God is already openly present. Mortalshave not yet risen to that height in this life. In comparison with theconclude that these could indicate something like a tree. I am immediately certain thatthere is a tree there. This cognitio intuitiva involves both the receptive capacities of thesoul as well as the intellectual faculties. Cognitio intuitiva is thus knowledge that is causedby an immediately present object. It aﬀords immediate certainty of the existence ofthe object. With cognitio abstractiva, on the other hand, one is speaking of a processwhich abstracts from the factual existence of an object. This knowledge is derived fromother objects. According to Torrance, it is this concept of a cognitio intuitiva, in a versionreinterpreted by John Major, that is the foundation of Calvin’s concept of knowledge ofGod. Knowledge of God is not obtained through abstraction, as Aquinas maintainedfollowing Aristotle, nor does it come about because God grants man some form ofcognitio abstractiva during his pilgrimage on earth, which coincides with the revealedtruths established in Scripture and tradition, as argued by Ockham, but it arises fromthe intention and inﬂuence of God, who is personally present through his Spirit (seeTorrance, particularly 84–86). Torrance demonstrates that there is at least a formalsimilarity with Duns Scotus and John Major at important points. However, evidenceis not forthcoming for his conﬁdent assertion that Calvin was directly dependent onMajor and Scotus. 82 The technique of making glass mirrors was known in antiquity, but lost until itwas rediscovered at the end of the 12th century. Only in the course of the 16th centurywas the glass mirror imported into Western Europe from Venice. It steadily gainedpopularity as a mass product. One can assume that Calvin was primarily familiar withmirrors of cut or polished material. See H. Grabes, The mutable Glass. Mirror-imagery intitles and texts of the Middle Ages and English Renaissance, Cambridge 1982, 72ﬀ. 83 Comm. on ICor. 13:12, CO 49, 514: ‘Hanc visionem, aenigmaticam hic appellatPaulus: non quia dubia sit aut fallax, sed quia minus conspicua est, quam quae olimextremo die constabit … Quare sic habendum est, notitiam Dei, quam nunc exVerbo habemus, certam quidem esse et veracem, nihil in ea confusum aut perplexumaut tenebricosum: sed comparative aenigmaticam nominari, quia procul abest ab illaperspicua manifestatione quam exspectamus: quia tunc videbimus facie ad faciem.’
ways of knowing 61state of angels, our knowledge is less clear. Calvin emphatically disputesthe idea that what appears in a mirror is dubious or deceptive. Onlyin comparison with the knowledge that will come in the perfection ofseeing face to face can it be said that the image with which the pilgrimmust make do in this state is dark. The comparison of knowledge ofGod with a mirror image must not be conceived in such a way that it isat the cost of the clarity of the Gospel. Calvin disputes that the revela-tion of God is packaged in other things and must ﬁrst be distilled fromthem. The revelation God oﬀers in his word is ‘open and bare.’84Fifth, for Calvin the metaphor functions within the eschatological struc-ture which characterises all human knowledge of God. There is not onemirror, but many, and all serve to aid the pilgrim on earth in growing inknowledge and conformity with the image of God, not in one moment,but in a successive series of moments.85 The diverse mirrors are God’saids on the way on earth, the manner in which God brings himselfinto our ﬁeld of vision and exerts his attraction. They are part of God’sorder of salvation, of the intention that He has for man.86Sixth, the metaphor illuminates the belief in the divine origin of Scrip-ture and the assurance of salvation. Although both topics will be dis-cussed again later in this chapter, an explicit reference is now already inorder: while the mirror and the image that appears in the mirror can bedistinguished logically, in fact both are directly linked with one another.Scripture is called the mirror in which Christ comes to us.87 One can-not see the image that appears in the mirror without looking at themirror. One does not see the mirror ﬁrst, and after that the image. Inthe act of seeing, both moments coincide. It therefore does no justice toCalvin’s theological epistemology to make a separation between formaland material belief in scripture. 84 Comm. ICor. 13:12, CO 49, 514–515: ‘… aperta et nuda Dei revelatio in Verbo(quantum nobis expedit), nec quicquam habet involutum (qualiter ﬁngunt impii …)’ 85 Comm. IICor. 3:18, CO 50, 47: ‘… continuo successu …’ 86 If there is anywhere that there is a possibility of placing Calvin against thebackground of the theology of the late Middle Ages, then it is at this point, of an expressordo salutis. Despite all attempts to make direct connections and indicate sources, onecan apparently not get beyond a number of analogies. For a survey see H.A. Oberman,‘Initia Calvini. The Matrix of Calvin’s Reformation’, in: W.H. Neuser (ed.), CalvinusSacrae Scripturae Professor. Calvin as Confessor of Holy Scripture, Grand Rapids 1994, 117–127on ‘The Pitfalls of Pedigree Pursuit’. 87 Inst. 3.2.6. See also Comm. IICor. 3:18, CO 50, 47.
62 chapter two In short, the metaphor of the mirror provides the key to enter intoCalvin’s concept of the knowledge of God. In order to learn to knowGod and his salviﬁc intent, man must look into the mirrors that areheld up before him by God himself. God engages man through themirrors He himself appoints for man’s knowledge of God and hissalvation, and forbids man to obtain insight outside of these mirrors.This draws a line on both sides for knowing and thinking. The one limitis that man must not neglect the knowledge of God that is given, theother is that the knowledge of God that is given must not be a reasonfor continuing to ask questions out of curiosity. Transgressing this latterline leads to speculation. Theology moves between these two lines. Wewill return to this point again. What are these mirrors? In a brief compass we will summarise themhere, in order to elaborate them in the following sections. The ﬁrstform of accommodation or mirror is found in the creation of heavenand earth. God invites man to knowledge of him. To that end he placesthe structure of heaven and earth before our eyes, thereby making him-self visible in a certain manner.88 The cosmos can therefore, with Psalm104, be called the garment of God, or the mirror in which he madehimself visible.89 But, second, Calvin says that man himself, with his fac-ulties, is a mirror in which God’s image appears.90 Through the comingof sin, however, this mirror is not longer adequate for arriving at a suﬃ-cient knowledge of God. The third mirror, the Bible, assumes that role.The Bible too is a consequence of divine accommodation, a mirror, inwhich faith can behold God.91 Or better, to use another optical image,the Bible is the spectacles through which God’s revelation in creationbecomes visible again.92 In this sense, the Bible fulﬁls an integratingfunction. The fourth and highest form of accommodation is the incar-nation, an idea which Calvin takes over directly from Irenaeus: ‘TheFather, who is boundless in himself, is bounded in the Son, becausehe has accommodated himself to our capacity, lest our minds be swal- 88 See his Argumentum in Genesin, CO 23, 7: ‘Haec ratio est, cur Dominus, ut nos adsui notitiam invitet, proponat nobis ante oculos coeli terraeque fabricam, et in ea sequodammodo conspicuum reddat. Nam aeterna quoque eius divinitas et potentia (utinquit Paulus) illic relucent.’ 89 Comm. Ps. 104:4, CO 32, 86. 90 Inst. 1.15.4. 91 See, for instance, Inst. 3.2.6; see also CO 31, 16. 92 Inst. 1.6.1; Inst. 1.14.1. See also Argumentum in Genesin, CO 23, 9.
ways of knowing 63lowed up by the immensity of his glory.’93 Finally, the sacraments arealso among the mirrors. They are the apex of what Calvin terms theoutward means through which God comes to the aid of those who stillﬁnd themselves on earth. It is true for all of the forms of accommodation or mirrors listedthat they must be understood as means through which God, throughthe Spirit, invites mankind to come to himself. The goal is that manbe enticed into entering into communion with God. Calvin’s vision ofthe events of revelation is located within a very broad and dynamicview of the work of the Holy Spirit. At its deepest, knowledge ofGod is possible because God, through his Spirit, becomes presentin his creation in all sorts of diverse ways, and brings man into avital community with Christ. This will be developed further in whatfollows. First, we will discuss the forms of accommodation that wemight characterise as God’s manifestations in the inward life of man.Then we will turn our attention to revelation in creation and thecosmos. These manifestations of God are likewise insuﬃcient to bringman to real knowledge of God. To state it roughly here already: manneeds the spectacles of Scripture to arrive at a saving knowledge ofGod. Ultimately that is still too little, too formally put. Men need theguidance and instruction of the Holy Spirit in order to really discoverwhat is really important and to be led to a mirror where God is reallyto be seen, namely in the face of Christ. Fellowship with God is reachedthrough faith, in the interaction of Word and Spirit. This chapter willthen conclude with a discussion of Calvin’s concept of faith, his view onthe assurance of faith and a provisional exploration of the boundariesof knowledge of God. 2.3. Inward revelation2.3.1. The soul as bridgehead: mental capacitiesIn every age, and for every person there are certain unquestioned ver-ities. Such certainties do not have to coincide with those things whichare subconsciously accepted; they can even be contested in their owntime and still belong to what is accepted as entirely self-evident by 93 Inst. 2.6.4.
64 chapter twosome people or some groups because there is also a range of goodreasons which can be adduced for them. For the persons themselvesthey are not a point of discussion. In reading Calvin it is striking howfrequently the expression extra controversiam appears. Certain views orconvictions are beyond dispute. As is often the case, these verities arenot to be traced back to one origin or source. Bouwsma has charac-terised the early-modern culture in which Calvin lived as a culture inwhich, in general, two impulses were at work, namely those of the Stoaand of Augustinianism.94 Each of these is a set of convictions which arenowhere to be found in a pure form, and that sometimes have becomeinextricably intertwined with the content of Christian belief. One ofthese convictions, which Calvin passionately defended and which can-not be traced back to any one single source, is the immortality of thesoul. For him, this doctrine not only has the negative eﬀect of beingan antidote for religious and moral indiﬀerence, but also has a posi-tive side, namely lasting community with Christ. In this section I willtherefore discuss the doctrine of the immortality of the soul as some-thing which has great signiﬁcance for epistemology.95 For Calvin episte-mology lies embedded in classical metaphysics, where the human soulforms the link between the visible world and the divine world. In con-trast to the independence of human knowing in Kant, this epistemol-ogy is still wrapped within an all-inclusive vision of the relationships ofGod, man and the world. The existence of a number of human mentalcapacities which in their marvellous power point to a connection andrelationship with that which is above the world perceived by the senses,with God, is still something which is beyond question. Calvin is ﬁrmly convinced that man comprises a duality-in-unity ofsoul and body, in which the soul must be qualiﬁed as the nobler part.96The soul is the immortal and higher element in man. In contemporaryterms, the soul guarantees the mystery of the identity of the humanperson.97 It is, so to speak, the bridgehead to the higher created world 94 Regarding the diﬀerent impulses of Stoicism and Augustinianism in early-modernEurope, see W.J. Bouwsma, ‘The Two Faces of Humanism’ in: idem, A Usable Past.Essays in European Cultural History, Los Angeles 1990, 19–73. 95 Regarding this see E. Cassirer, Das Erkenntnisproblem in der Philosophie und Wissenschaftder neueren Zeit, Bd.I, Darmstadt 1991 (=19213), 89. 96 Inst. 1.15.2: ‘Porro hominem constare anima et corpore, extra controversiam essedebet; atque animae nomine essentiam immortalem, creatam tamen intelligo, quaenobilior pars est.’ 97 For a contemporary analysis of the mystery of the human person, see R. vanWoudenberg, Het mysterie van de identiteit. Een analytisch-wijsgerige studie, Nijmegen 2000.
ways of knowing 65of the angels, where immortality reigns. The anthropological dualismwhich we ﬁnd in Calvin is of immediate importance for epistemology.Man, as he literally says, is formed from the dust of the earth, andthat is immediately a curb on man’s pride. Through its physicality, thatwhich is created has a humble place in the order of created things.98 By virtue of their possessing a soul, however, all people also belongto the world of immortality, in which the angels likewise have a share.After all, the angels were also created, but thanks to their immor-tality stand closer to God. Calvin refers to words from Matt. 22:30:‘For in the resurrection they [men] are like angels in heaven’. Thisdoes not mean that corporeality and physicality are in themselves tobe disdained. In that respect we cannot simply identify Calvin’s viewwith a neo-Platonic devaluation of the material as such. The body isalso created by God. There are numerous passages to be found inCalvin’s writings that reveal that he knew from personal experiencethe joys of life as a created being and of physical pleasure. Even morestrongly, as we will elaborate in Chapter 3, material reality is a dailyevidence of God’s continuing goodness. But nevertheless physicalityoccupies a low position in the hierarchy of being. It belongs to thethings which are perishable. The soul or spirit—Calvin uses the twoterms interchangeably—is the created, immortal part. With this posi-tion Calvin draws a line separating himself from two views which hadconsiderable following in the late Middle Ages. In the conﬂict withServetus, among other points, Calvin encountered the view that thesoul must be considered as an emanation from the divine Spirit.99 Asmight be expected, Calvin sharply opposed this idea, apparently aris-ing in French and Italian rationalism. The distinction between GodHimself and the human soul must not be blurred. The human soulor spirit is a result of God’s creative action, and not an outpouring ofdivinity. The soul is an incorporeal substance of its own sort, an entityof its own.100 The same rejection is dealt to the idea, labelled Epicurean, 98 Inst. 1.15.1. 99 Inst. 1.15.5: ‘Quod dicitur inspirasse Deus in faciem hominis spiraculum vitae,putarunt animam traducem esse substantiae Dei, quasi aliqua immensae divinitatisportio in hominem ﬂuxisset.’ For Calvin’s attitude toward the thinking regarding thesoul in spiritualistic circles, see G.H. Williams, The Radical Reformation, Kirksville (MO),19923, 899–904. The idea of a world-soul appears to have its roots in the Averroismof Siger of Brabant, and through the Italian Platonism of Pomponazzi to have gainedinﬂuence in free, non-conformist groups. 100 Inst. 1.15.5: ‘Creatio autem non transfusio est, sed essentiae ex nihilo exordium.’
66 chapter twothat the soul is mortal in nature, because its form is linked to thematerial, in this case to the body. According to this idea which achievedpopularity in the Aristotelian climate of Averroism, with the death ofthe body the soul dissolves again in the general world-soul.101 In histext Psychopannuchia Calvin passionately opposed this idea, which hadfound a home in Anabaptist circles.102 While the soul may be created,it is an immortal element. In this text it becomes crystal clear whyCalvin is so attached to this doctrine. The ultimate salvation in theconsummation is at stake. If the soul dies with the body, communitywith Christ is broken. It is of eternal importance that the pilgrim onearth has already entered into the Kingdom of God, shares in thecommunity with God which lasts for eternity, even if that Kingdomhas not yet been perfected. From the fact that the Kingdom is not yetin its perfected form one may not conclude that there is no Kingdom.103 101 In De scandalis, OS II, 201 Calvin names Agrippa, Villanovanus (alias Servetus)and Dolet. See among others G.H. Williams, The Radical Reformation, 900–901 andS. Schreiner, The Theater of His Glory. Nature and Natural Order in the Thought of John Calvin,Durham 1991, 20. For this idea of monopsychism, reminiscent of the radical Averroismof Siger of Brabant, see D.C. Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science, 234–236. 102 CO 5, 177–232. The subjects of the immortality of the soul and the situationbetween death and the consummation are central in the Psychopannuchia, a ﬁrst versionof which had been written as early as 1534 but which was only published in 1542, asmatters of the ﬁrst order. The existential importance of this theme must be said to bedirectly linked with the heart of Christian faith, fellowship with Christ. If the soul wouldsleep or perish in death, fellowship with Christ would be broken, or at least interrupted.That was in complete conﬂict with Calvin’s conviction that in faith and through thesacraments man, with regard to his soul, was now already together with Christ, andthat this fellowship could not be broken by anything or anyone. Although it cannotbe said of the dead that they are already delivered, they can nevertheless be calledblessed. Thus the situation between death and the general resurrection is characterisedby the eschatological perspective, through the ‘not yet’. This looking forward howevertakes place in a situation of rest and bliss with God, and the seeing of things thatduring their life on earth the faithful only foresaw in hope. ‘Cur enim nondum salvatidicuntur aut regnum possidere, qui in domino mortui sunt? Quia exspectant, quodnondum habent, nec ﬁnem suae felicitatis attigerunt. Cur nihilominus beati sunt?Quia et deum agnoscunt sibi propitium et futuram mercedem eminus vident et incerta expectatione beatae resurrectionis acquiscunt. Quamdiu certe habitamus in hoccarcere luteo, speramus quae non videmus et preater spem credimus in spem, quodait apostolus de Abraham (Rom. 4:18). Ubi autem oculi mentis nostrae, qui nuncsepulti in hac carne hebetes sunt, absterserint hanc velut lippitudinem, videbimus quaeexspectabamus et in ea requie delectabimur.’ Quoted from the edition of W. Zimmerli,Psychopannychia. Quellenschriften zur Geschichte des Protestantismus 13, Leipzig 1932, 81. 103 CO 5, 212: ‘non ideo nunc nullum esse regnum, quia nondum perfectum est’. Seealso C. van der Kooi, ‘De spanning van het “reeds” en “nog niet” bij Calvijn, Kuyperen Berkouwer’ in: M.E. Brinkman (ed.), 100 jaar theologie. Aspecten van een eeuw theologie inde Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (1892–1992), Kampen 1992, 257–259.
ways of knowing 67 The soul is the sustaining element of all human faculties, and thusthe bearer of knowledge. What, however, are these faculties? Calvinexhibits a remarkable reticence toward making an all too speciﬁc anddistinct breakdown. With him we ﬁnd no extensive discussion of therelation of the various faculties of the soul. The discussion of theproblem occurs in the context of soteriology, and thus has more todo with the freedom—or absence thereof—of man to make use of hiscapacities, than with the question of what man might be capable ofin an ideal state. With this qualiﬁcation, however, one can neverthelessdetermine that the most important faculties are those of understandingand will. Calvin refuses to consider an original opposition or tensionbetween higher and lower capacities of the soul before the fall. Theconﬂict that takes place within man is a consequence of sin.104 If the fallhad not occurred, will and understanding would have been perfectlyattuned. The inner economy of understanding, will and feelings wouldhave been an harmonious unity, such as Calvin attempts to derivefrom the example of Christ. Understanding steers and gives directionto the mental faculties. It helps make the distinction between good andevil, between justice and injustice. Will however is the capacity withwhich in fact a choice is made. Every other capacity that is foundin man is resolved into these two faculties. It is not unusual to ﬁndthat, because Calvin speaks of the intellect as the leading part, theconclusion is drawn that he takes an intellectualistic standpoint in hisvision of humanity. That understanding is the leading part impliesanything but that understanding is determinative. It is leading onlyin the sense that it comes ﬁrst. According to Calvin, however, thereal decisions are made by the will. That would argue for a morevoluntaristic position.105 This last tallies with the observation that, aswe will soon see, for Calvin understanding, cognitio, includes more thanonly intellectual categories. 104 Inst. 1.15.6–7. 105 See Inst. 1.15.7: ‘… quasi animae ducem et gubernatorem’. Cf. Bouwsma, JohnCalvin, 101, who is of the opinion that Calvin’s vision of man is intellectualistic. Muller,The Unaccommodated Calvin, 162, points out that intellectualism and voluntarism arewrongly identiﬁed with a particular human type. Intellectualism is then associated withthe inclination to want to reason everything out, voluntarism with the inclination tofocus entirely on free will. In a theological-historical perspective, both qualiﬁcationsdescribe the relation of God and man in eschatological perfection. If bliss can be char-acterised as a visio beatiﬁca, and is thus a form of seeing, we can speak of intellectualism.If in the consummation the soul devotes itself to God as the highest good, then we canspeak of voluntarism. In this case God is the summum bonum or summum volendum.
68 chapter two Calvin classiﬁes all forms of perception, sensus, both inward and out-ward, under understanding, and desire under the will, although he alsosays he has no objection to others who arrive at three basic capacities,namely the senses, understanding and desire.106 We ﬁnd the word sensusused by Calvin to denote the ﬁve senses, and in the phrase sensus com-munis, which has not yet taken on the later meaning of sound humanunderstanding (‘common sense’).107 Here sensus communis denotes theground for the whole ﬁeld of inward and external perception. What isreceived in perception is subsequently subject to processing by the cog-nitive faculties in three steps.108 He further names phantasia as the facultythat makes the ﬁrst distinction, after which follows reason, ratio, whichrenders a general judgement, and ﬁnally mens, mind, through which amore reﬁned and diﬀerentiated judgement comes into being. Parallelwith the three cognitive faculties of phantasia, ratio and mens, there arethree corresponding capacities in there will. Will strives to obtain thaton which can produce judgement and feeling. Choler, vis irascendi, drawsto itself that which is supplied by the ﬁrst faculty of discrimination andreason,; then there is desire, vis concupiscendi, which takes to itself what isoﬀered by perception and phantasia. The degree of caution with whichCalvin presents this further distinction of mental capacities is striking.Understanding and will are not separated from one another. They arenot faculties which each lead a life apart from the other. Both belongto the equipment of human reason. Anthropologically, what is mostimportant for him that in the soul man possesses an immortal, incor-poreal element which is still involved with the body, through which heas such is connected with God as the source of life. In short, the facul-ties of the soul proclaim aloud that ‘something divine is engraven upon’man.109 The soul, as integral for the mental faculties of the human person,is therefore not linked with the ﬁve senses. One can sense Calvin’sadmiration for the fact that the reach of human mental capacities farexceeds the range of sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell. The soul 106 Inst. 1.15.6. For the whole see Muller, The Unaccommodated Calvin, 165–166, whopoints out that Calvin, despite his refusal to participate in the debate between ThomasAquinas and Duns Scotus regarding the designations intellectus appetitivus or appetitusrationalis, appears to opt for the Scotian position. 107 See H.G. Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, Tübingen 19754, 22. 108 For the origin of this triple division, Barth and Niesel refer to the commentary byThemistius on Aristotle’s De Anima. See Schreiner, The Theatre of God’s Glory, 141. 109 Inst. 1.15.2: ‘divinum aliquid insculptum ei esse.’
ways of knowing 69transcends the limitations of place and time, to which the senses areconnected. For example, it possesses the capacity to gauge and bridgedistance in the mind, and memory is able to link past and present.In short, in contrast to the Aristotelian tradition, where the indepen-dence of the soul is simply not conceivable, on this point Calvin standsin the Platonist current of thought, where the independent soul is thefoundation of thinking and knowing. The independence of the soulcan especially be seen in the phenomenon of the dream. While thebody shows no sign of activity during sleep, the mind can be highlyactive, and even be elsewhere. The fact that man can form a conceptof angels and of the invisible God points to a capacity that cannot beascribed to the senses.110 Thus, as an independent substance the soulor spirit is not to be identiﬁed with God, but in relation to the bodyis indeed to be labelled as ‘something divine’.111 At the same time thatsays something about its value and destiny. Calvin exhibits no hesita-tion at all on this point. The senses of honour and shame are a tangibleproof for everyone that man is born to lead a just and honourable life.The concept is already founded in the soul of what the really satis-fying life for man is, namely life lived in relation to God. These arethings which are absque controversia, beyond discussion. In its original andundamaged state the soul strove for these higher things. Even in thesituation where the soul sits imprisoned in the web of a life turnedaway from God, good remnants of this original orientation still exist.112This conviction that is so essential for the early Renaissance echoespowerfully through Calvin’s theology too. The soul is of cosmic signif-icance and the orientation of its life is deﬁnitive for human worth.113 110 Inst. 1.15.2. 111 Inst. 1.15.2. 112 Inst. 1.15.6: ‘Unde enim tanta famae cura hominibus, nisi ex pudore? undeautem pudor, nisi ex honesti respectu? cuius principium et causa est, quod se adcolendam iustitiam natos esse intelligunt: in quo inclusum est religionis semen. Sicutautem absque controversia ad caelestis vitae meditationem conditus fuit homo, ita eiusnotitiam animae fuisse insculptam certum est. Et sane praecipuo intelligentiae ususcareret homo si sua eum lateret foelicitas: cuius perfectio est cum Deo coniunctumesse.’ 113 See Ch. Trinkaus, ‘Renaissance Idea of Man’s Dignity’ in: Idem, The Scope ofRenaissance Humanism, Ann Arbor (MI) 1983, 345. Idem, In Our Image and Likeness.Humanity and Divinity in Italian Humanist Thought, London 1970, 171–321 and 459–551.With Florentine Platonists such as Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola and PietroPomponazzi human dignity is complementary with the factual misery of the humancondition.
70 chapter twoCalvin may then be known for his negative image of man,114 but onealso ﬁnds passages sounding forth the praises of human possibilities.M.P. Engel explains this contradiction on the basis of the changing per-spectives of Calvin’ss theology.115 If it is forgotten who the Giver is ofman’s superb potential, then there is reason to speak of the immensefrailty or fragility of human existence. If the divine origin of human-ity is indeed acknowledged, then there is every reason to challenge thedisparagement of human potential.116 Precisely because man throughhis terrestrial existence participates in both the visible and the unseenworld, he can be highly regarded in comparison with other createdbeings. In terms of his original nature, man was a being who stroveupward, and theology must not deny the traces of this dynamic andexcellence. Calvin appeals to the fact that, in a cultural perspective, his viewis anything but isolated. He points out that what he writes aboutthe soul is also eloquently said by profane writers.117 In his eyes, thatincreases its plausibility. In other words, according to Calvin the exis-tence of an independent, immortal soul is a truth that is also upheld bynon-Christian thinkers. Insights from non-Christian sources and dataderived from Scripture form a perfect unity. In summary, the inwardfaculties of thought, will and feeling are explained by Calvin throughthe concept of an independent, created, but immortal soul.2.3.2. Sensus divinitatisThe above can serve as background for the two faculties of inwardperception that play a role in knowledge of God coming into being, towit the sensus divinitatis and the sensus conscientiae. What is the sensus divinitatis? It is beyond question, says Calvin, thatin the human soul there is ‘a certain realisation present of Divinity,and this through natural inspiration.’ In his theology this is a funda-mental anthropological given. It precedes all denial and obfuscation; 114 Inst. 1.13.1. From the majesty of God, man is a worm crawling upon the earth.If God did not elevate the human soul toward those heights, the spirit in its slownesswould continue to hang back on earth. 115 For the signiﬁcance of perspective in Calvin’s theology, see M.P. Engel, JohnCalvin’s Perspectival Anthropology, Atlanta 1988. 116 Calvin’s Comm. on Is. 2:22 aﬀords a good example of this dual perspective, CO36, 77–78. 117 Inst. 1.15.2.
ways of knowing 71it possesses a facticity that God Himself has deposited in man. Theimportance assumed by the subjectivity of God in the description ofthis faculty is signiﬁcant. God, we are told, has ‘engraved [this realisa-tion] in the heart of man’. It is not something which can wear away; itis constantly renewed. In images that relate to a most strongly dynamicview of God’s work (see Chapter 3), we are told that God ‘constantlyrenews’ the memory of the Godhead, and ‘constantly sends down newdroplets of it on him’.118 Calvin borrows from Cicero’s De natura deorumthe conviction that this sense of the Godhead is to be found in everynation and tribe, however civilised or uncivilised they may be. Mankindhas thus never been without the realisation of God’s presence. Knowl-edge of God’s existence on the basis of this sensus divinitatis is not theresult of a conclusion which men arrive at after a process of argumen-tation, or the result of the human capacity for abstract thinking. Thesensus divinitatis implies a more or less developed capacity to directlyperceive God’s majesty inwardly. It is a form of knowing that thrustsitself upon us, which can be repressed, but which man can never shakeoﬀ for good. In terms of ‘Reformed epistemology’ the sensus divinitatisbelongs to the ‘design plan’ of man. The knowledge that results from itis not derived, but is ‘basic’, fundamental. For man, who would preferto dismiss the very idea of God, it is an uncomfortable sort of sense.Man can never entirely free himself from the eﬀects of this faculty, nomatter how deep he sinks. The Emperor Caligula is adduced as anillustration: ‘We do not read of any man who broke out into more unbridled and audacious contempt for the Deity than Gaius Caligula, and yet none showed greater dread when any indication of divine wrath was mani- fested. Thus, however unwilling, he shook with terror before the God whom he professedly studied to contemn. You may every day see the same thing happening with his modern imitators. The most audacious despiser of God is most easily disturbed, trembling at the sound of a falling leaf.’119It is impossible to escape from God’s majesty, either in this life, or in thelife to come. In his Psychopannuchia Calvin makes it clear to the readerthat this is not only a comforting truth, but also one of terror. One 118 Inst. 1.3.1: ‘Quendam inesse humanae menti, et quidem naturali instinctu, divini-tatis sensum, extra controversiam ponimus: siquidem, nequis ad ignorantiae praetex-tum confugeret, quandam sui numinis intelligentiam universis Deus ipse indidit, cuiusmemoria assidue renovans, novas subinde guttas instillat.’ 119 Inst. 1.3.2.
72 chapter twocannot ﬂee God’s presence, not even if one is prepared to throw himselfinto the deepest abyss.120 Calvin’s theology is thought dominated by thepresence of God. Theologically and spiritually it has no room for atheoretical atheism. All men have indeed some knowledge of God.121Moreover, while the direct realisation of God can be disrupted, itcannot be destroyed by sin. The noetic eﬀect of sin never goes so farthat this capacity ceases to stir. ‘They all, indeed, look out for hiding-places where they may conceal themselves from the presence of the Lord, and again eﬀace it from their mind; but after all their eﬀorts they remain caught within the net. Though the conviction may occasionally seem to vanish for a moment, it immediately returns, and rushes in with new impetuosity, so that any relief from the gnawings of conscience is not unlike the slumber of the intoxicated or insane, who have no quiet rest in sleep, but are continually haunted with dire horriﬁc dreams.’122Sin and rebellion against God thus will not silence this capacity forknowledge. At the same time, Calvin makes it clear that possessing thesensus divinitatis has no positive eﬀect spiritually. The realisation of Godcomes to life in a ﬁeld of inﬂuence which carries man away from Godrather than toward Him. Man lives in an attitude that turns aside fromGod; his life is ruled by pride and vanity. The blindness toward Godgoes together with emptiness, vanitas and restiveness, contumacia. Therealisation of the Godhead therefore becomes a function of an imageof divinity developed by man himself. Calvin is, we can say, well awareof the creativity inherent to human consciousness. However, accord-ing to him, this creativity has only negative results. In his imaginationsinful man, caught up in himself, cannot rise above his own measure.Once again we encounter the familiar concept of accommodation, butthis time as something which is in the hands of man. Accommoda-tion promptly becomes a mechanism preceded with a minus sign. It isnow man, alienated from God, who has control of things. He designsan image of God according to the things which he encounters in hisown world. In his creativity man ‘manufactures’ idols.123 The attitude 120 Psychopannychia (Zimmerli), 6: ‘Et quemadmodum maiestas dei, quam sit sublimis,verbis explicari non potest, ita nec quam terribilis sit ira iis, quibus incimbit. Videntpraesentem dei omnipotentis gravitatem, quam ut eﬀugiant in mille abyssos se demerg-ere parati sunt, eﬀugere tamen non possunt.’ 121 Inst. 1.3.2: ‘aliquem Dei notionem’. 122 Inst. 1.3.2. 123 Inst. 1.4.1: ‘Itaque non apprehendunt qualem se oﬀert, sed qualem pro sua temer-
ways of knowing 73of faith is diﬀerent. There, so to speak, there is no space between theway God presents Himself and the perception of faith. Pure knowl-edge of God comes into being because man follows the instructionsof God and directs his capacity for knowledge in strict obedience tothem. Calvin’s dependence on what Paul wrote to the Romans onthe substitution motif is obvious (Rom. 1:23). The worship of the liv-ing God has made way for that which is not-God. This is not only amatter of ignorance or pure vanity. It has to do with man’s wantingto reach further than the boundaries which are set for him, and pre-cisely through this, dissatisﬁed with his human measure, man courtsdarkness of his own accord.124 The idolater exhausts himself in allsorts of rituals and ceremonies, but precisely in that misses the holi-ness of life and integrity which are necessary to come before the face ofGod.1252.3.3. Sensus conscientiaeThe second form of inward faculty for perception in Calvin’s conceptis the sensus conscientiae. Of this faculty too it must be said that it ispart of the basic equipment of man, and its results present themselvesdirectly. The only response possible for man is to embrace the results, orrepress them; the capacity cannot be denied as such. In modern termswe would also thus here use the term ‘basic’. The diﬀerence from thesensus divinitatis is that here it is not the majesty of God with which manis confronted, but in his conscience he is being summoned before God’scourt. In conscience, then, man stands before God’s judgement seat.Conscience is a powerful evidence of the immortality of the soul, ofthe indissoluble bond between man and God.126 Etymologically Calvinderives the meaning of the term conscience from the word scientia,or knowledge: it is the realisation of divine judgement ‘as a witnessnot permitting them to hide their sins, but bringing them as criminalsitate fabricati sunt, imaginantur’. (‘Hence, they do not conceive of him in the characterin which he is manifested, but imagine him to be whatever their own rashness hasdevised.’) See also his Comm. on Rom. 1:22, CO 49, 25: ‘Nemo enim fuit, qui nonvoluerit Dei maiestatem sub captum suum includere, ac talem Deum facere, qualempercipere posset suopte sensu.’ 124 Inst. 1.4.1: ‘… quia sobrietate non contenti, sed plus sibi arrogando quam fas sit,tenebras ultro accersunt …’ 125 Inst. 1.4.4. 126 Inst. 1.15.2.
74 chapter twobefore the tribunal of the judge’. Literally it is ‘a kind of middle placebetween God and man, not suﬀering man to suppress what he knowsin himself ’.127 Conscience is not only the formal potential to distinguish betweengood and evil. It is also the source from which substantive knowledgeof good and evil is drawn. It will be clear that in this Calvin’s appeal toconscience diﬀers radically from that in modern times. Calvin’s appealto conscience is deﬁned by the struggle against what in his eyes wasthe restraint of conscience by the Roman Church. These were rulesand dictates of Pope and tradition which were slipped in between therevealed word of God and man. For him conscience was not a lastsource of appeal which has authority because it is viewed as beinganchored in the integrity of an unique human person. In Calvin there isno place for an appeal to individual conviction and personal consciencein that sense. Appealing to conscience means that there is immediatelya given content, namely the will of God, and that this sets the norm forthe whole of society. Calvin exhibits no doubt about the clarity of thewill of God.128 There is no room for divergent opinions.129 Even as with the sensus divinitatis, here we must ask about the eﬀect.What are the results of the working of this faculty for perception?Conscience marks the human being as a responsible being, and throughthat deprives him of every excuse of ignorance before God. Man isconvicted by the witness of his own conscience.130 Still, Calvin is morepositive about the eﬀects of this capacity than he was about the sensus 127 Inst. 4.10.3. 128 It appears to the conscience as the lex naturalis. This lex naturalis is in turn thefoundation for the Ten Commandments, and the Ten Commands in turn point forwardto the complete unfolding that God’s will received in the obedience and love of JesusChrist. See I.J. Hesselink, Calvin’s Concept of the Law, Allison Park (PA) 1992, 68, 101. 129 The collective of society can be corrupted if a pernicious element is tolerated.A rotten spot is a danger to the whole apple and the whole basket. Cf. what Calvinsays in a sermon on Deut. 13, with an eye to the cases against Bolsec and Servetus:‘What sort of mercy is it really to want to spare two or three and subsequently suﬀercutting the throat of a whole people? Quite the reverse: if they who are found so lawlessare suppressed, no longer allowed the last word, but are destroyed, you see a puriﬁedpeople and healing of society.’ CO 27, 268. Calvin acknowledges that Jesus Christ didnot come to establish His kingdom with the sword, but he argues that everyone withinhis own calling is required to advance that kingdom. CO 27, 247. CF. also CO 24, 362.The alienation that we feel from Calvin on this point has less to do with the principlethat not everything can be tolerated in society, as with the decision about what it iswhich is intolerable, and the choice of means to accomplish its elimination. 130 Inst. 2.2.22.
ways of knowing 75divinitatis. I will return to this later. For now it is suﬃcient to establishthat the conscience is an irreducible and axiomatic element in thedeﬁnition of man. No one can escape this appeal. ‘The sinner, whentrying to evade the judgement of good and evil implanted in him,is ever and anon dragged forward, and not permitted to wink soeﬀectually as not to be compelled at times, whether he will or not,to open his eyes.’131 Under the inﬂuence of this source of knowledgeof God man is brought under judgement, because the choice betweenobedience and disobedience is a matter that is part of true piety. Truepiety lies within the force ﬁeld of the choice between obedience anddisobedience. 2.4. Manifestations in the external world2.4.1. Stirring the sensesA third and important place where God reveals Himself is the externalreality of heaven and earth. Here the outward senses pave the way forknowledge. According to Calvin, contemplating the natural order andwealth with which the created world is endowed automatically forcesone to look up to the Maker of all of this. The good things that mandescries in himself and through which he is surrounded are not of hisown making. Man can follow them, as one follows a stream upwardsto seek out its source, and thus arrives at God.132 Calvin frequentlydescribes God as an architect, a craftsman or an artist, whose workunmistakably bears his signature. One would in these cases be able toqualify knowledge of God as a matter of indirect recognition. WithinCalvin’s thought there is, as we said before, also an other, more directand intuitive knowledge possible, which does indeed arise in connectionwith the senses, but which is not the result of argumentation. Anyonereading Calvin is impressed at the way in which in his experiencethe presence of God and the sparks of his glory can be perceived bythe external senses. The realisation of an ordered cosmos, a heritagefrom the Stoa, and belief in a free, creating God are fused into anindissoluble unity. Modern readers are however warned: the beliefin God the Creator has still by no means eroded into the general 131 Inst. 2.2.22. 132 Inst. 1.1.1.
76 chapter tworealisation of ‘something’, a Supreme Being. At no point does thisrealisation of God become general or vague. All our pores are open, so to speak, and all our senses participatein our encounter with God. God and his acts enter our consciousnessnot only by hearing. A quote from the introduction to his commentaryon the book of Genesis illustrates the sensory nature of our experi-ence of God: ‘With the eyes we see the world, with the feet we walkthe earth, with the hands we touch God’s works in uncounted forms,we breathe in the sweet and pleasant odour of grasses and ﬂowers, weenjoy a multitude of good things; but in all these things of which weobtain knowledge, lies an inﬁnity of divine power, goodness, wisdom,an inﬁnity through which all our perceptions are devoured.’133 The cita-tion reveals the immediacy and tangibility with which the presence ofGod manifests itself, according to Calvin. Smelling, tasting, providingfood for the eyes, the tactile sense of skin and feet: it is all as God haswilled it. In these ways too God approaches man. This is an elementin the image of Calvin which is hardly recognised today, thanks to theoverpainting of later generations who were certain that Calvin was allhead, and no body. The image of Calvin held by modern Protestantismhas no room for this unrestrained enjoyment.134 Indeed, the senses andenjoyment do not stand alone in Calvin. They are in a spiritual forceﬁeld, but that does not stand in the way of the immediacy and sur-prise of the experience of God. In modern terms, the meaning of lifeis astoundingly close at hand: it forces itself on the senses.135 It is liter-ally to be found in experience. With Alston, one could also call this sortof knowledge, which arises in close connection with the senses, indi-rect mystical experience of God.136 In this context the word ‘mystic’ hasnothing to do with a supposed unity between God and man, but is suit-able for indicating the intuitive character of the experience. That seemsto be in conﬂict with the term ‘indirect’, but this is only apparent. Theexperience is indirect because it arises in the contemplation of evidence.At the same time, the perception of evidence is to be distinguished fromthe experience of God’s presence. That is another word for ‘experimen- 133 Argumentum in Genesin, CO 23, 6. 134 See M. Weber, ‘Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus’ Gesam-melte Aufsätze zur Religionssoziologie, Tübingen 1922, 183. 135 For the relationship of the senses and the question of meaning, see the ﬁne bookby G. Sauter, Was heißt: nach Sinn fragen, München 1982. 136 W.P. Alston, Perceiving God. The Epistemology of Religious Experience, Ithaca/ London1991, 28.
ways of knowing 77tal Christianity’. There is a congruence of evidence and God’s presencein the service of God’s presence. That is the inner dynamic of this con-gruence. I use the term ‘mystic’ only to indicate that dynamic, by virtueof which God imposes Himself on the senses. The preceding ﬁxes attention on a fundamental given in Calvin’svision of knowledge in general and knowledge of God in particular. Inhis thinking and world the connection of the senses with knowledgeis still very direct. The senses are in principle direct and trustworthyentries into reality itself, and lead to what one could call experien-tial knowledge of God’s goodness and care. Only in the course of thedevelopment of modernity would the place of sensory perception inthe realisation of knowledge become complicated. The way from sensesto knowledge became longer because such aids as the microscope andtelescope made their appearance, and thus gave shape to the method-ological procedure of the experiment. Knowledge became more andmore the fruit of a rational operation than the direct fruit of the senses.In the long term that led—not only in continental philosophy, but alsoin theology—to the drastic decline in the market value of the senses assources of direct and evidential knowledge. In the course of that devel-opment the role of the senses in the acquisition of knowledge of Godwould also fade in comparison with what we ﬁnd in Calvin. For him,faith in God the Creator and Maintainer of the world and its orderis not just a logical conclusion; it rests also on the recognition of Hispresence and majesty which forces itself upon man through the senses.2.4.2. A splendid theatreWhat we earlier remarked regarding receptivity is now conﬁrmed inanother manner: here too in the encounter with the majesty of Godin creation, man does not play the role of active subject; the emphasislies on human receptivity. The external structure of the world is aninvitation to the purpose of life, the knowledge of God. It is importantto note that it is inconceivable in Calvin’s theology that someone couldpass over the exterior world as if it was meaningless. Calvin did not livein the modern climate where nature is experienced as dumb, as user-unfriendly, a labyrinth of phenomena that bit by bit must be mappedout until the whole of reality lies open to the all-seeing rational mind.On the contrary, his reality testiﬁed on all sides to a connection with itsCreator. In this ﬁrst panel people were still in a time in which thingswere considered to have an openness to their Maker, a capacity to obey
78 chapter twoGod’s command. In the language of medieval theology, the createdworld possessed a potentia oboedentialis. In Calvin this openness comesto the fore in terms of the Holy Spirit. The mysterious working ofGod’s Spirit is the vital ground of being for all that exists. That is allimportant. The realisation that there is a secret working of God in allthings deﬁnes his symbolic universe. Reality is the primary handiworkof God. Every element is dependent on Him, a mirror in which theCreator testiﬁes to Himself. Thus, God displays his majesty in theordering of the world, and man is the spectator. God is not far away.He is indeed exalted, but his majesty is perceptible and nearby. TheSpirit is active in the tiniest details. A somewhat longer quote: ‘God has been pleased … so to manifest his perfections in the whole structure of the universe, and daily place himself in our view, that we cannot open our eyes without being compelled to behold him. His essence, indeed, is incomprehensible, utterly transcending all human thought, but on each of his works his glory is engraven in characters so bright, so distinct and so illustrious that none, however dull and illiterate, can plead ignorance as their excuse.’137The visibility and appearance of God’s activity and goodness are strik-ing elements in this ﬁrst panel. For more than one reason this pre-modern panel saddles us here with suggestions that we ﬁnd almostentirely strange, with ﬁgurations that we ﬁnd confrontational at theleast. With regard to creation and the natural world, it is not the com-plaint about pain and physical suﬀering that dominates the image. Wemight expect something of that sort in a time when physical pain, childmortality and economically straitened circumstances ravaged daily exis-tence in untempered intensity. That is not however the dominantthought. What rather manifests itself in Calvin’s writings is surpriseat the wealth of the external world and its essential user-friendliness.Calvin may be known for being severe and austere, but he experi-enced the natural reality which surrounded him as anything but barrenor meagre. Creation is a ﬁne and spacious house, provided and ﬁlledwith the most exquisite and at the same time copious furnishings.138The image lies close to another metaphor, namely that of the the-atre. Bouwsma points out that the 16th century was not just one of theGolden Ages inside the theatre. It also provided theology and preach-ing with a wealth of images and metaphors. The world of the theatre 137 Inst. 1.5.1. 138 Inst. 1.14.20.
ways of knowing 79included a range of forms, a ﬁeld of possibilities for picturing man, Godand the world.139 In this case the metaphor oﬀers the opportunity for acomparison of the world with a most glittering theatre, into which manis placed as both actor and audience.140 That implies a high esteem forcreated reality. This cosmos as such is a visible representation of God’sglory. Knowledge of God is in part nourished and constructed via theeyes. These observations prompt us to see a not unimportant nuance inthe image that the literature has created with regard to Calvin’s atti-tude to the visual arts. It is generally acknowledged that Calvin hadlittle use for the visual arts. Personal disinterest may have played a rolein this; a more important factor in this connection is the criticism ofthe use of images and representations in worship that was expressedacross the whole breadth of the Reformation.141 Images in the church as‘books’ for the laity undermined the instruction that God gives primar-ily through the Word. The language of the second commandment setthe tone: ‘Thou shalt not make for yourself any graven image, or anylikeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or is in the earth beneath,or in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow down to them orserve them: for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God …’ (Ex. 20:4–5) In his exposition of these words Calvin makes clear what the inten-tion of the ban on images was. God, in his incorporeality and majesty, ismuch too exalted for men to be able to represent him in stone or wood.Worship of images shifts the attention to the object and thus dishonoursGod’s majesty.142 To this extent it is thus true that in Calvin’s theology 139 According to Bouwsma, John Calvin, 177–188, the notion of theatre made it pos-sible to perceive historical changes and mobility, and the peculiar role of man on thestage of history. The general repudiation of the stage and theatre is not yet present inCalvin. He does sharply criticise every form of hypocrisy. Man can play no role oppo-site God, and cannot make himself up to be what he is not. But that does not preventdramatic expression from being powerfully present in the manner in which the historyof the church and faith is perceived. Creation is a stage, God the director, man both theactors and the audience, life a pilgrimage and heaven the distant fatherland where blissawaits. 140 See for instance Inst. 1.5.1–2 and Inst. 1.6.2. 141 Philip Benedict, ‘Calvinism as a Culture? Preliminary Remarks on Calvinism andthe Visual Arts’ in: Paul Corby Finney (ed.), Seeing beyond the Word. Visual Arts and theCalvinist Tradition, Grand Rapids (MI) 1999, 19–45. See also in the same collectionDaniel W. Hardy, ‘Calvinism and the Visual Arts: A Theological Introduction’, 1–16,12. Cf. also William A. Dyrness, Reformed Theology and Visual Culture. The Protestant Imagi-nation from Calvin to Edwards, Cambridge 2004, 62–89. 142 Inst. 1.11.1–2.
80 chapter twotoo the visual in the church service is suppressed in favour of hearingand the Word. ‘Because faith comes by hearing, the beginning of spiri-tual life lies here,’ we read in his commentary to Luke 11:28.143 Calvin’sunderscoring the commentary of Jesus on the anonymous voice fromthe crowd in the same passage is typical. ‘Blessed is the womb that boreyou, and the breasts that you sucked!’ shouts a woman. When Jesusthen answers, ‘Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keepit,’ according to Calvin that is an indirect reprimand. It is by way ofthe word that God indeed opens heavenly treasures to us, and this isthe way through which life eternal must take root in the heart.144 ‘Thekey to the kingdom of heaven is the free acceptance, through God, thatwe receive from his word.’145 To this extent, our view is correct: thesource of knowledge of God is the word, and hearing. But that is notthe whole story. Anyone who wrenches Calvin’s concentration on theBible as the Word to which we must listen from its 16th century contextand brings it over to our culture, has the inclination to all too quicklybypass the sensory web by which knowledge is fed in Calvin. His highesteem for the Word does not permit us to shut our eyes to the extentto which Christian knowledge is fed by all the senses in his theology,and particularly the large role played by sight. Thus the criticism of therole of the visual arts in worship may not result in a general judgementthat the visual plays no role of importance in his theology. Calvin doesnot reject those sources of revelation that appeal to the visual faculties.Visible signs and wonders conﬁrm that which the ear receives, whichmust penetrate to the heart.146 The sobriety of the design of the Calvin-ist worship service must not mislead us, living as we do so much later.It must not be misunderstood rationalistically. The point of his criti-cism of the use of images in the cultus is not that God has nothing toshow us. Anything but! The point is that men must not let their eyerest on things other than those which God places before our eyes. Goddoes indeed give us visible signs of his presence, and signs perceptible tothe other senses. The problem with the visible arises when man beginsto get involved in their design. That is the background of the ban onimages. This point of the knowledge of God, the focus on Christ, thus 143 Comm. Luke 11:27, CO 45, 349: ‘… ﬁdes est ex auditu …’ 144 Comm. Luke 11:27. CO 45, 349. See also Comm. Gen. 28:13, CO 23, 392. 145 Comm. Luke 11:27, CO 45, 349: ‘Clavis enim regni coelorum est gratuita Deiadoptio, quam nos ex verbo concipimus.’ 146 See for example Comm. Gen. 15:4, CO 23, 210.
ways of knowing 81does not detract from the fact that Calvin’s theology includes a highdegree of pictural content. There is a lot to see and experience in the worldand its order. There is a richness and a glory in creation, which mancan ignore only at the cost of the greatest possible ingratitude. Thus for Calvin there is much to be experienced in the world andits content. This point touches upon a subject that became the exposednerve in theology in the last century, namely the question of naturaltheology. What is the place for the appeal to conscience and referenceto natural order in theology, and particularly the theology of revela-tion? In such an appeal is the worship of God in fact exchanged forthe worship of idols, and is there an attempt to replace God’s freegrace? There are no tensions in Calvin’s own theology which reﬂectsuch questions. He maintains both that the world is God’s creation,and the radicalness of our alienation from God. I would suggest thatthe charged debate about natural theology in recent theological historyreﬂects questions that occupy theology in a culture marked by moder-nity. Can the proclamation and theology still appeal to the world ascreation? Or, has the inﬂuence of a range of factors—the epistemologi-cal critique of Kant, the natural sciences, and later historical sciences—so made reality into something that must be understood in terms oflaws, energies, particles, human actions and thinking that the notionof a revelation of God in the reality surrounding us has trickled away,and Christian theology has no other choice than to radically begin withspecial revelation? The question can also be posed in other terms: does man encountervague traces of God as Creator before knowing him as Redeemer? Ordo men in fact know Him only as Redeemer, and after that as Cre-ator? How are these two matters of the knowledge of God related toeach other? We are here faced with a fundamental problem in Chris-tian theology, which is not only important for doctrine regarding God,but also for the doctrine of revelation. With Calvin we encounter thisproblem when he speaks of the knowledge of God as cognitio duplex. Godreveals himself as Creator and Redeemer. In response to the debatebetween Barth and Brunner on the possibility of a natural knowledgeof God, an extensive discussion arose in the 20th century with regardto the relationship between these two aspects of the knowledge of Godin Calvin.147 The issue in this discussion was what place knowledge of 147 E. Brunner, ‘Die andere Aufgabe der Theologie’, Zwischen den Zeiten 7 (1929), 255–276, idem, ‘Die Frage nach dem “Anknüpfungspunkt” als Problem der Theologie’,
82 chapter twoGod outside of Christ—i.e., knowledge based on nature or history—holds for Calvin. Both sides acknowledge that the idea that man canlearn of God from creation, apart from Christ, is problematic. How-ever, the question which is posed for Calvin’s theology in the 20th cen-tury is what place this problematic knowledge occupies. Can it serve asa point of departure for the proclamation of Christian belief ? Or doesCalvin speak of this knowledge of God so negatively that it is entirelyuseless theologically? It is obvious to both schools of expositors that inCalvin’s concept knowledge of God as Redeemer is necessary to recog-nise God’s creative role. Calvin says this clearly: ‘It is certain that afterthe fall of our ﬁrst parent, no knowledge of God without a Mediatorwas eﬀectual to salvation … It would have been useless, were it notfollowed up by faith, holding forth God to us as a Father in Christ.’148That however does not remove the ambivalence of Calvin’s view ofthe creation. On the one side he asserts that God objectively manifestshimself in the order of created reality, and on the other denies witheven greater force that these manifestations really produce the spiri-tual fruit for which they were intended. Thus we read that ‘In vain forus, therefore, does Creation exhibit so many bright lamps … but that[men] have no eyes to perceive it until they are enlightened throughfaith by internal revelation from God.’149 Sin thus has a negative eﬀecton God’s revelation for man. Only because Scripture is added as anaid—or as spectacles—does man again receive sight to see God’s rev-elation in created reality. Laid out schematically, Word and Spirit arethe aids to double knowledge of God, to learning to know God as Cre-ator and Redeemer. True knowledge of God as Creator is not availableoutside Christ. Certainly Calvin is convinced that creation would havebeen a suﬃcient basis to arrive at true knowledge of God ‘had Adamstood upright’.150 It would have been the natural course of events, weunderstand him to say, for the structure of the world to have served asour school, in which piety would have been taught, so that we mightZwischen den Zeiten 10 (1932), 505–532 and idem, Natur und Gnade. Zum Gespräch mit KarlBarth, Tübingen 1934. K. Barth, Nein! Antwort an Emil Brunner, München 1934. Thediscussion was continued with some bitterness by G. Gloede, a student of Brunner,Theologia naturalis bei Calvin, Stuttgart 1935 and P. Brunner, student of K. Barth. For anextensive discussion and rejection of E. Brunner and G. Gloede see: W. Krusche, DasWirken des Heiligen Geistes nach Calvin, Göttingen 1957, 67–85. 148 Inst. 2.6.1. 149 Inst. 1.5.4. 150 Inst. 1.2.1: ‘… si integer stetisset Adam …’
ways of knowing 83have subsequently passed from that school directly to eternal life andperfect bliss.151 Under the factual circumstances of a world fallen intosin, however, there is what Calvin terms a conditio irrealis. In the intro-duction to his commentary on Genesis Calvin makes it clear in animpressive way that Christian knowledge of God does not have its cen-tral source in the construction of the world, but in the Gospel, whereChrist on the cross is proclaimed to us.152 Notwithstanding all this, oneﬁnds in Calvin an appeal to the universal presence of God and theineradicability of a fundamental realisation of God which is entirelyabsent from contemporary theology. Is this an inconsistency in Calvin,or is it precisely typical of his thought? What separates Calvin’s pre-modern theology from contemporary theology is that he appeals toan evidence for which the inward faculty now seems to have disap-peared. The appeal to God’s evident presence appears to contradictCalvin’s assertion that we ‘will ﬁnd nothing in the world that drawsus to God, until Christ will have instructed us in his school’.153 Butthese words do not contradict the appeal to evidence of God’s revela-tion in nature. Where modern, post-Kantian theology experiences anabsolute opposition, Calvin did not see one. Precisely in the school ofChrist can creation, providence and the hidden work of the Spirit becalled upon. In fact the school of Christ includes classes and gradeswhere initially a faint notion of God is given, then a more powerfulimpression of his majesty and role as judge is imparted, and ﬁnallyChrist appears as the image of the loving Father as centre and goalof the knowledge of God.154 God’s revelation through the inner capac-ities of the sensus divinitatis and sensus conscientiae and the outward sensescan indeed be repressed, but never entirely eradicated. What can con-ceptually be described as a continuing ﬁeld of tension pushes itself tothe surface in Calvin’s texts: only someone who himself was stronglyimpressed by the givenness and irresistibility of God’s presence couldwrite about the world around us as he does. When one reads Calvin’s 151 Inst. 2.6.1.: ‘Erat quidem hic genuinus ordo ut mundi fabrica nobis schola esset adpietatem discendam: unde ad aeternam vitam et perfectam foelicitatem ﬁeret transitus’. 152 Argumentum in Genesin, CO 23, 10: ‘Nam ita innuit, frustra Deum quaeri rerumvisibilium ductu: nec vero aliud restare nisi ut recta nos ad Christum conferamus. Nonigitur ab elementis mundi huius, sed ab evangelio faciendum exordium, quod unumChristus nobis proponit cum sua cruce, et in eo nos detinet.’ 153 Ibidem, 10. 154 Calvin’s exposition of the conversion of Zachaeus in Luke 19, CO 45, 563, oﬀersa ﬁne example: ‘Sic Dominus saepe, priusquam se hominibus manifestet, coecum illisaﬀectum inspirat, quo feruntur ad ipsum adhuc latentem et incognitum.’
84 chapter twodescriptions of the creation and becomes acquainted with his admi-ration of the ingenious structure of the cosmic order, one does notreceive the impression that he was hindered by the conviction thatGod’s work is obscured by sin. Calvin counts on the ceaseless, uni-versal activity of God through his Spirit. The revelation of God has ateleological structure which certainly ﬁnds its completion in the knowl-edge of Christ, but which is not determined by Christ in all its com-ponents. Expressed conceptually, there is indeed a soteriological Chris-tocentrism, but not of a fundamental Christocentrism.155 In Calvin’sTrinitarian concept the work of the Spirit has its own place in the actsof God, which is certainly involved in Christ, but not congruent withChrist. Only in this way, taking into account the separate work andweight of the Spirit, can we understand how Calvin presents knowledgeof God the Creator to his audience as something over which the speak-ers and hearers must be in agreement.156 Men who open their eyes mustindeed lift their eyes to the Creator of all of this. The ignorant and thelearned alike must admit that the world can not be understood withoutGod. Remarks on the unproductivity of knowledge derived from natureare thus not the only thing that determines Calvin’s thought and con-cepts. Calvin proceeds from a very diﬀerentiated, active presence ofGod, and this must also have a place in our reconstruction of histhought. It can only be understood if one takes into account that, evenin man’s rebellion and estrangement, God continues to invite man anddraw him to Himself in very many ways. The fact that men cannotarrive at a true knowledge of God on the basis of their contemplationof the world remains an undiminished source of amazement for Calvinand internalises the tension that is deﬁned by God’s active presence inthe creation on one hand, and by sin as an intervening factor and thenecessity for the Spirit as a spiritus adoptionis on the other. 155 See R.A. Muller, ‘The Barth Legacy: New Athanasius or Origen Redivivus? AResponse to T.F. Torrance’, Thomist 54 (1990), 685. See also C. Link, ‘Der Horizont derPneumatologie bei Calvin und Barth’ in: H. Scholl (ed.), Karl Barth und Johannes Calvin.Karl Barths Göttinger Calvin-Vorlesung von 1922, Neukirchen 1995, 22–45. 156 Inst. 1.14.21. Calvin’s unnuanced appeal to nature has nothing to do with the factthat ‘something escaped the otherwise so sharp eyes of the Reformers’, as Karl Barth
ways of knowing 852.4.3. Excursus: the discussion between Dowey and ParkerThe question regarding the knowledge of God as Creator and theknowledge of God as Redeemer was drawn into the foreground inCalvin studies once again in the 1950s through the previously referredto studies by E.A. Dowey and T.H.L. Parker on knowledge of Godin Calvin. At stake in the discussion was the question of how greatlythe distinction of the duplex cognitio inﬂuences Calvin’s thinking in itstotality, and in particular the structure of the Institutes. In the 1559 edi-tion the Institutes, which by that time had grown to 80 chapters, wasdivided into four sections, conforming with the fourfold division of theApostles’ Creed. In agreement with older observations by J. Köstlin,E.A. Dowey suggested that the cognitio duplex nevertheless should beconsidered the true principle behind the design of the Institutes. Thedivision into four parts indeed took place, but the distinction whichis systematically and epistemologically of importance is the point ofview of double knowledge of God.157 Dowey sums up his thesis in theassertion that the duplex cognitio must be considered as a double presup-position. According to Dowey, justice is best done to Calvin’s positivestatements regarding the understandability of God’s self-revelation increation and providence, and alongside them his decisive words on thenecessity of learning to know God through the face of Christ, if oneconsiders them as two perspectives which stand next to one anotherin Calvin in a dialectical duality, which cannot be taken up into onehigher synthesis. Parker forcefully rejects this.158 He accuses Dowey of reforging thetheme of God’s being as Creator into a general, preparatory chapter, inremarks in KD II/1, 140; cf. ET, 127 but with another, more subordinate place that theconcept of nature had in the intellectual climate of the day. 157 E.A. Dowey, The Knowledge of God in Calvin’s Theology, New York 1952, 49. Thusaccording to Dowey Book I in fact runs through Book II, Chapter 5. On page 46 hewrites: ‘All that he says subsequently lies within the vast background he has given of theTrinitarian God, his creation of the universe and of man in a state of perfection andhis providential care of that creation. Yet, while this background is a frame of referenceand a presupposition of the redemptive revelation—it is not even known apart fromthe redemptive revelation which Calvin has yet to discuss. Thus from another point ofview the redemptive revelation is actually the presupposition of the knowledge of theCreator which in Calvin’s treatment precedes it.’ 158 T.H.L. Parker, Calvin’s Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, Grand Rapids 1959, 121:Dowey ‘takes one methodological distinction made in the word and magniﬁes it intothe leading principle to interpret the whole.’
86 chapter twothe sense of a 17th century prolegomena. Through labelling the knowl-edge that man can gain of God’s being as Creator as insuﬃcient,Dowey would suggest that the eﬀects of the fall to which this knowledgeis subject are much too innocuous. According to Parker, in Calvingeneral ideas of knowledge of God lead only to man not being ableto excuse himself before God. What are we to conclude about this debate? Aside from its highquality as Calvin studies, after a half century one must admit that itis chieﬂy signiﬁcant for the way that modern dogmatic distinctions andsensitivities were so directly applied by both parties. Parker correctlydraws attention to the fact that subject of creation regularly surfacesin Calvin after Book I. It is indeed extreme to split the Institutes intotwo parts on the basis of the methodological distinction of a duplexcognitio. At the same time, it is highly curious and anachronistic whenParker for his part feels the need to declare Calvin somewhat guilty ofinterpretations such as those of Dowey. After all, Calvin does not at allpoints make it entirely clear that Christ is the starting point for everysort of knowledge of God, whether it is of God as Creator or of God asRedeemer.159 The fact that Calvin fails to do so is no slip of the pen, butreveals the importance of this twofold perspective. In the irresolvablemutual involvement of both sorts of knowledge with one another, thediﬀerence between the conditions under which reﬂection is carriedout on Christian belief in a pre-modern and a post-Kantian contextbecomes clear. Calvin feels no need to emphasise at every moment thattrue knowledge of God is Christologically determined. His theologyreﬂects the fact that he encountered the self-revealing and manifestingGod everywhere in his world, and the conviction that appealing to thissort of experience continued to have a purpose of its own, even thoughone must the following moment stress that this source of knowledgewas insuﬃcient for faith. Knowledge of God as Creator must also bepuriﬁed through Scripture, but the knowledge of this goodness of Godretains its peculiarity alongside the knowledge of God’s mercy in Christ.Calvin did not share the aversion against an appeal to nature or history,issues which became so problematic as sources of knowledge of God inpost-Kantian theology. 159 Parker, Calvin’s Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 121.
ways of knowing 87 2.5. Appreciation of cultureOn the basis of the motif of substitution and displacement one mightget the impression that Calvin’s vision of human mental capacities isoverwhelmingly negative. As has already been seen, this impression is,however, inaccurate. Calvin’s negative judgement must be further dif-ferentiated. He explicitly follows Augustine when he says that throughthe fall man has lost his preternatural endowments, and his natural giftsare corrupted. That does not mean that they are entirely eradicated. Asso often, Calvin refers both to Scripture and to experience for the con-ﬁrmation of this view.160 In one key passage he writes, ‘We see that there has been implanted in the human mind a certain desire of investigating truth, to which it never would aspire unless some relish for truth antecedently existed. There is therefore now in the hu- man mind discernment to this extent, that it is naturally inﬂuenced by the love of truth … Still it is true that this love of truth fails before it reaches its goal, forthwith falling away into vanity … the human mind is unable, from dullness, to pursue the right path of investigation … in the search for truth.’161The human mind has a natural inclination to truth. That is no smallthing. The result of this desire for truth is however dependent on thesort of knowledge that is involved. Elsewhere Calvin makes a clarifyingdistinction in this connection, that is of immediate importance for hisappreciation of science and culture. There are two sorts of knowledge,namely those of terrene and heavenly aﬀairs: ‘By earthly things I mean those which relate not to God and his king- dom, to true righteousness and future blessedness, but have some con- nection with the present life, and are in a manner conﬁned within its boundaries. By heavenly things I mean the pure knowledge of God, the method of true righteousness, and the mysteries of the heavenly kingdom. To the former belong the matters of policy and economy, all mechanical arts and liberal studies. To the latter belong the knowledge of God and of his will, and the means of framing life in accordance with them.’162Calvin’s appreciation of culture thus depends to a great extent on theperspective that he chooses.163 With regard to our human capacity to 160 Inst. 2.2.12: ‘experimento sensus communis repugnat.’ 161 Inst. 2.2.12. 162 Inst. 2.2.13. 163 See the previously cited book by M.P. Engel, John Calvin’s Perspectival Anthropology,
88 chapter twooccupy ourselves with earthly aﬀairs, with the design of society andlawmaking, he is strikingly positive. Following Aristotle, he identiﬁesman as a ‘social animal’, who by nature has the inclination to formand preserve society. Undeniably in such judgements one encounterssomething of the jurist who was educated within a climate shaped bythe Renaissance and Humanism, and within whose purview lie pub-lic administration and social questions. From a cultural-historical andsocial perspective this interest is easy to place. But it is also interest-ing to inquire about this positive attitude on theological grounds. Pro-ﬁciency in the matter of earthly aﬀairs can be positively valued preciselywhen it is certain that man is blind in the matter of his eternal salvation.As soon as the relation between God and man enters the discussion,the soteriological perspective applies and we hear judgements aboutman as a whole person. Sin, as loss of original splendour and identity,has ﬂooded over the human person like a tidal wave and has saturatedhim from head to toe.164 The alienation from God aﬀects everything.Thus even the most ingenious are ‘blinder than moles’.165 Accordingto Calvin the discernment of the greatest philosophers, some of whomcan now and then provide very apt visions of God, ‘resembles that of abewildered traveller, who sees the ﬂash of lightning glance far and widefor a moment, and then vanish into the darkness of the night before hecan advance a single step. So far is such assistance from enabling himto ﬁnd the right path.’166 Like his contemporaries, Calvin is surely not sceptical about thepossibilities of the human mind in the public domain. He is certainlysceptical about man’s possibilities for ﬁnding a way to God and hissalvation. What he says about culture, man, his skills and his knowledgeis bounded by this distinction. That is the basis of his view of freedom,that knowledge of God is not anywhere just for the taking, but mustbe found in the way which the Spirit points. And which way doesthe Spirit point? With apparent pleasure Calvin tells the story of thephilosopher Simonides, whom the tyrant Hiero asked what God is. Anumber of times Simonides sought to postpone answering, and ﬁnallyAtlanta 1988. 164 see Inst. 2.1.9: ‘Hic tantum breviter attingere volui, totum hominem quasi diluvioa capite ad pedes sic fuisse obrutum, ut nulla pars a peccato sit immunis.’ See alsoComm. on Rom. 7:14, CO 49, 128: ‘Tota mens, totum cor, omnes actiones in peccatumpropendeant.’ 165 Inst. 2.2.18. 166 Inst. 2.2.18.
ways of knowing 89replied, ‘The longer I consider, the darker the subject appears.’167 Thedarkness in which man ﬁnds himself with regard to heavenly things canonly be removed by the Word of God. 2.6. Scripture as accommodationAccording to Calvin the world of creating and maintaining, howeverpositively he may want to speak of it, is still no longer suﬃcient to drawman to God. One could say that because of the other direction that thehuman heart has turned, creation no longer has its intended eﬀect asa conduit for God’s revelation. Because of this the place of Scripturemust next be discussed. Calvin’s doctrine of Scripture has been the subject of ﬁerce discus-sion in Reformed theology over the past century. That should not besurprising. To the extent that the status of the Bible as the Word ofGod has been threatened in theology through the increased consider-ation of its human dimensions, various proposals have been advancedwith respect to the question of how the inspiration of the Bible couldbe further handled. With this the question of Calvin’s position regu-larly arose. Is his doctrine already practically one of verbal inspiration?Or is his doctrine of inspiration best described as mechanical, or is theadjective ‘organic’ to be preferred? For Calvin is the Bible the revela-tion of doctrinal truths, or is it the revelation of the person of Christ?168Such alternatives, it must emphatically be said, do no justice to Calvin’sviews. As mutually exclusive possibilities these bear the stamp of a laterera. In his theology the concepts mentioned here simply stand nextto one another. That the promise of Christ given in the Gospel is thepoint of revelation169 does not detract from the fact that God inspiredthe whole Bible with all its contents. That God uses men, includingtheir character and talent, does not detract from the fact that everyword of the Bible came into being under direct inﬂuence, or even bet-ter, under the ultimate direction of the Holy Spirit. We will go into thismore extensively. According to Calvin’s concept of knowledge of God, knowledge ofGod acquired on the basis of God’s Word qualitatively far exceeds the 167 Inst. 1.5.12. 168 For a discussion see B.B. Warﬁeld, Calvin and Calvinism, New York 1931, 60–65. 169 Inst. 3.2.29. Calvin literally uses the word scopus.
90 chapter twoknowledge that fallen man gains from nature. The one school is notthe other. After the fall of Adam, post Adae lapsum, man must receiveknowledge from the instruction God gives by means of verbal revela-tion. This conviction on Calvin’s part is only given added strength bythe extensive place that his commentaries and Bible exegesis took in hislife’s work. In the eyes of later generations Calvin may frequently havebeen the systematiser, the one who arranged the elements of the Chris-tian faith and attuned them to one another, but in his own eyes theInstitutes was a manual for students and preachers in their expositionof Scripture. This manual does not replace the commentary; it doesnot replace the sermon; it is a genre of its own. It provides space fordealing with subjects, loci, and discussions, disputationes, connected withthe knowledge of God granted in Scripture.170 Ultimately, however, itis about the knowledge of God, about God’s Words and promises thatmen learn from Scripture. The superiority of the Bible over every othermeans of revelation is not open to discussion; in the Institutes 1.6.1 it istermed ‘a better aid’,171 or concretely, the spectacles with which God’smanifestations in created reality can be perceived.172 Compared with it,God’s manifestations in nature are still only general indications. Theyare ‘dumb teachers’, while in the Scriptures God opens his own holymouth. Creation testiﬁes that there is a God, in Scriptural revelation Hetells who this is.173 For methodological and didactic reasons Calvin doesnot enter into the connection between Scripture and the revelation ofChrist as Mediator in this chapter. The disquisition on Scripture inthe chapter on God the Creator can therefore easily leave the impres-sion of being a defence of the formal authority of the Bible. This viewhowever cannot be maintained when one sees to what degree Calvinalready appeals to experience in this context. His exposition of revela-tion through the Word in Book I of the Institutes is intrinsically linkedwith the content that is given in the revelation. The methodologicallimitation of Book I to God the Creator can not disguise the fact thatthe experience which Calvin assumes of every reader of the Scripture 170 Muller, The Unaccommodated Calvin, 101–117. 171 Inst. 1.6.1: ‘aliud tamen et melius adminiculum accedere necesse est.’ 172 Calvin uses the image of an old man who can no longer distinguish the letters ina book held before him. Only when someone provides him with spectacles is it possibleto distinguish the words and understand what is being said there. See Inst. 1.6.1: ‘… specillis autem interpositis adiuti, distincte legere incipient.’ See also Argumentum adGenesin, CO 23, 10. 173 Inst. 1.6.1.
ways of knowing 91relates to everything that God has made known through his prophets andapostles, and just as little can it remain unsaid that this content, as willappear further on in the Institutes, will ﬁnd its culmination in Christ asthe real content of the Gospel.174 We will return to this point later inthis section. What is the foundation for the authority of Scripture? Does theBible have authority on formal and external grounds, or because of itscontent relating to faith? Such alternatives, it must be clear, say moreabout later discussions than about Calvin, and are too limited. Bothpositions are found in Calvin. Scripture has authority because it comesfrom God, and it has authority because of its content. In Calvin studiesit is not rare to see the conclusion that there is dissonance in Calvin’sdoctrines on Scripture. As a matter of fact, this reproach, made by bothDowey175 and Gerrish176 is once again most curious. It is a theologicaljudgement at which one might arrive on the basis of a later position,but which has no historical basis. Calvin would not have recognisedhimself for even a second in the conclusion that he considered theBible to be external and formal authority! The adjectives ‘external’ and‘formal’ simply do not square with the manner in which he describesthe experience that he has in his encounter with Scripture, and whichhe equally assumes for his readers. In the Scriptures man encountersthe unceasing activity of God, which he, when he looks up from thepage, sees in the world around him and within himself.177 At no pointdoes Scripture come to man with an authority that is abstracted fromits content. After all, it is God himself who brings his message to manin these writings, with all their diversity. The paired concepts of formal-informal and internal-external do not ﬁt into Calvin’s vision of themanner in which Scripture acquires its authority. Revelation through 174 See at Inst. 3.2.29. See also Argumentum in evangelium Ioannis, Comm. John 14:1, CO47, 321. 175 E.A. Dowey, The Knowledge of God in Calvin’s Theology, 161–162. Dowey writes: ‘Wemust conclude, in fact that two “interpretations” exist side by side in Calvin’s theologyconcerning the object of the knowledge of faith, because he never fully integrated andrelated systematically the faithful man’s acceptance of the authority of the Bible en blocwith the faith as directed exclusively toward Christ.’ 176 It would appear from this statement that B.A. Gerrish, The Old Protestantism and theNew. Essays on the Reformation Heritage, Chicago 1982, 62 also shares this view: ‘Calvin didnot adequately relate his doctrine of faith and his doctrine of authority; for while hisfaith was strongly Christocentric, he continued to work with the Bible -in the medievalfashion- as an external and formal authority’. 177 Inst. 1.10.1.
92 chapter twothe Word is a matter of God’s active instruction, and that instructiontakes place in countless separate events in which God has revealed hiswill. Calvin makes clear what it is that must be conceived as the initialforms of divine instruction. One must think of visions, of appearances,of voices which conﬁrm the visions, so that at the same time the visionis received the prophet is granted certainty that this was indeed fromGod.178 In this case the Bible writer is conscious of the inspiration,and functions as an amanuensis.179 In short, on the human side of theprocess revelation receptivity is the dominant factor. Calvin’s theologyis governed by an orientation to the object, which means that there ishardly any attention given to the human role. We also ﬁnd this object orientation in a diﬀerent form. In mod-ern theology the distinction between revelation and ‘revelation becomeScripture’ has become increasingly important. We will encounter thispervasively in the second panel. Calvin does indeed know this distinc-tion, but it is characteristic that it plays no signiﬁcant role in his doc-trine of revelation. There is no gap between God in his revelation andGod who speaks through Scripture. God simply wanted to seal his rev-elations of himself, his oracula, to the Fathers for coming generationsby in eﬀect hanging them up in public, as on a bulletin board.180 Thatpublic notice board is the Bible. Revelation and Scripture coincide inthe Scriptures. The terms employed by Calvin for the content of rev-elation are telling in this connection. The terms ‘heavenly doctrine’,181‘heavenly wisdom’, oracula Dei,182 and the use of the word dictare183 lackprecisely that which through historical-critical research has come to bethe centre of attention, namely the human factor. The Scriptures asthey lie before us come from God, and in all their parts came intobeing under the direct inﬂuence of the Holy Spirit. In later theologythis concept is elaborated into the doctrine of verbal inspiration, andwith good reason theologians appealed to Calvin in the process. Thereis however a striking diﬀerence, which has to do with attention for the 178 See for instance Comm. on Gen. 28:12, 13, CO 23, 391–392. 179 Inst. 4.8.9: ‘certi et authentici Spiritus sancti amanuenses’. 180 Inst. 1.6.2: ‘Tandem ut continuo progressu doctrinae veritas seculis omnibus su-perstes maneret in mundo, eadem oracula quae deposuerat apud Patres, quasi publicistabulis consignata esse voluit.’ 181 Inst. 1.7.4. 182 Inst. 1.6.2; see also Inst. 4.8.9. 183 Comm. IITim. 3:16, CO 52, 383 and IIPeter 1:20, CO 55, 457–458.
ways of knowing 93human factor. Calvin does not deal further with the question of howthis inspiration occurred; he does not elaborate on the method of inspi-ration. B.B. Warﬁeld has rightly indicated what mattered for Calvin.While it is true that Calvin did use the term ‘dictate’ ﬁguratively, itis clear that what he meant to say in doing so was that the result ofthe inspiration by the Spirit is a revelation that comes as directly fromGod, as if it were a letter being dictated.184 To repeat: in his doctrineof revelation Calvin gives no explicit attention to the human factor.All of his attention focuses on the result of revelation, which does notbelie its divine stamp. It is easy to test this proposition. Even in thosecases where, to the modern mind, the human character of Scripture isabundantly clear (such as in the complaints, lamentations and doubtsin the Psalms), even then it is still Calvin’s view that these sections cameinto being expressly under the direction of the Holy Spirit. That is notbecause Calvin had no concept of the psychology of the inner man.Quite on the contrary. It is, so he says, the Holy Spirit who in thePsalms portrays the human soul in powerful lines, and who holds a mir-ror up before the reader, with therein his own spirit and its anatomy.185The Spirit is the great Psychologist. Still another example: When intheir presentation of the succession of events the evangelists diﬀer fromone another, that is for Calvin no reason to examine their work furtheras a human product. It is once again the Holy Spirit who has found thequestion of chronology unimportant. What is important is that which isto be learned from the history.186 Other examples are there for the tak-ing: the diﬀerence in style among Biblical texts is for Calvin no reasonto look further at the issue of human mediation. He draws from this theconclusion that the Holy Spirit is the greatest of all rhetoricians. Whatcan be said here ultimately ﬁts with what was said above in the sectionon accommodation and language. The fact that some parts of the Biblecan measure up stylistically with the best of profane Latin literaturedemonstrates that the Spirit is indeed a powerful rhetorician. But theunaﬀected and indeed sometimes uncouth style in which other parts 184 Warﬁeld, Calvin and Calvinism, 62–64. 185 CO 31, 16: ‘I’ay accoustumé de nommer ce livre une anatomie de toutes lesparties de l’ame, pource qu’il n’y a aﬀection en l’homme laquelle ne soit yci representeecomme en un miroir. Mesme, pour mieux dire, le S. Esprit a yci pourtrait au viftoutes les douleurs, tristesses, craintes, doutes, esperances, solicitudes, perplexitez, voireiusques aux esmotions confuses desquelles les esprits des hommes ont accoustuméd’estre agitez.’ 186 See Argumentum in Evangelium, CO 45, 3–4.
94 chapter twoof the revelation have come to us equally demonstrates what is and isnot a prime concern for the Holy Spirit. Making a literary impressionis not important; what is important is the eﬀect on the listeners. TheSpirit will pierce the heart, penetrate to the very marrow, far surpass-ing the powers of the greatest speakers. Holy Scripture is redolent of‘something divine’.187 In these remarks the emphasis does not line onthe role of the mediator or the mediation, but on the authenticity of themessage. In the Bible men really encounter the message of God. We now arrive at the following point that is important for the sketchof Calvin’s concept of knowledge of God. Divine revelation throughthe word and sight has a propositional value. It has content. Ultimatelythat is self-evident for Calvin. As the Son is the expression and imageof God, and conversation or speech is the mark of the human mind,revelation thus must have a content which can be described. TheSon is the speech, sermo, of God.188 Instruction and teaching with apropositional content are an integral component of Calvin’s concept ofknowledge of God, although they are not identical with it. Knowledgeof God arises and exists in part in instruction, doctrina. Knowledge ofGod cannot however be reduced to the act of knowing propositionsor to an attitude of submission and acceptance, which always mustbe paired with certain content, with certain truths. This substantivecomponent in Calvin’s concept of faith has already been discussed inthe deﬁnition of piety. Unavoidably we here encounter an aspect of theconcept of faith that within the Calvinistic tradition has led to greatemphasis on the formulation of content. Frequently in this traditionthe conﬁdence placed in good formulation and intellectual doctrine hasbeen great—all too great.189 At the same time I will remind readersonce again that Calvin’s concept of faith can in no way be categorisedas intellectualistic. Knowledge lies within much broader connections.The propositional is rooted in and subject to living, active experienceeﬀected by the Spirit, of which the aﬀective is integrally a part. Thepropositional is an implication of the mystic unity with Christ. We willreturn to that later, in the discussion of the concept of faith. 187 Inst. 1.8.1. 188 See Comm. John 1:1, CO 47, 1: ‘Quod Sermonem vocat Dei ﬁlium, haec mihisimplex videtur esse ratio, quia primum aeterna sit Dei sapientia et voluntas, deindeexpressa consilii eius eﬃgies. Nam ut sermo character mentis dicitur in hominibus, itanon inepte transfertur hoc quoque ad Deum …’ 189 See also B.A. Gerrish, Grace and Gratitude. The Eucharistic Theology of John Calvin,Minneapolis 1993, 81–82.
ways of knowing 95 For the rest, the foregoing makes clear how far Calvin’s view ofdoctrine, doctrina, stands from modern views of dogmatics. For Calvin,doctrine is instruction given by God. What he tries to do in his Institutesand his dogmatic tracts is, in his own mind, nothing more than arrangethe given truth, which is clear in itself. He does not view doctrineas something that is formulated by man on the basis of stories andhistories. Doctrine is not primarily a product of human intellectualcapacities formulated for the sake of preaching or the guidance of theChristian community. These are views that ﬁt with the post-Kantiansituation. In this ﬁrst panel doctrine is a part of divine speaking itself.At the same time it is clear that doctrine is not an end in itself. Thegoal of doctrine is that man comes to worship and obedience. Even histhinking is permeated by Calvin’s character as a doer. 2.7. Knowledge of God as result of Word and SpiritWith the terms Word and Spirit we stand before two key concepts inCalvin’s views on the knowledge of God. They can not be separatedfrom one another, nor can they be resolved into one another. Theintersection here is the Bible, revelation set down in writing. Here thereis already a relation with the work of the Holy Spirit, to the extentthat all revelation through the Word is an act of the Holy Spirit, and‘in the sacred volume there is a truth divine’.190 Scripture arises fromthe Holy Spirit. The Word, heavenly wisdom, as Scripture howeverremains an outward entity. Only through the work of the Holy Spiritdoes man become inwardly convinced of the truth of the message ofsalvation that resounds in this Holy Scripture.191 Knowledge of Godcannot, therefore, be resolved into either Word or Spirit; it arises in theinvolvement of the Word and Spirit with each other.192 In short, theyare correlates. 190 Inst. 1.8.1: ‘divinum quiddam spirare sacras Scripturas.’ 191 Inst. 2.5.5. 192 Inst. 1.9.3: ‘Mutuo enim quodam nexu Dominus verbi Spiritusque sui certi-tudinem inter se copulavit: ut solida verbi religio animis nostris insidat, ubi aﬀulgetSpiritus qui nos illic Dei faciem contemplari faciat: ut vicissim nullo hallucinationis tim-ore Spiritum amplexemur, ubi illum in sua imagine, hoc est in verbo, recognoscimus.Ita est sane. Non verbum hominibus subitae ostentationis causa in medium protulitDeus, quod Spiritus sui adventu extemplo aboleret, sed eundem Spiritum cuius vir-tute verbum administraverat, submisit, qui suum opus eﬃcaci verbi conﬁrmationeabsolveret.’
96 chapter two With this correlation of Word and Spirit Calvin takes an intermedi-ate position between the Roman Church and contemporary spiritual-istic currents. He emphatically defends the primacy of Scripture overagainst oral tradition. Calvin considered the primacy of ecclesiasticaltradition as an usurpation and unnecessary expansion. God has madeenough known in his Word for us to live and to organise the church.Biblical authors are cited as critical authorities against ecclesiasticaldoctrine and practice.193 That is an important point of diﬀerence incomparison with pre-Reformation theology. The authority of the Bibleis distinguished from the authority of the hierarchic church. It is notself-evident that divine truth coincides with an institution. One couldrespond that in the situation of Geneva the authority of Scripture infact corresponded with the exposition and authority of Calvin, and thatthis distinction thus could not have meant all that much. There willalways be people who speak in the name of God. The obvious conclu-sion that little has therefore changed is, though, only partially true. Itis valid to the extent that in the concrete situation of Geneva Calvin’sdominance was indisputable. But strikingly enough, there was at thesame time a change in the view of authority. No longer were antiquityor tradition decisive arguments. Against Sadoleto Calvin argues thatan appeal to Scripture has more weight than an appeal to tradition orantiquity. In other words, the authority of Scripture is not dependanton the church, despite the famous words of Augustine that he wouldnot have believed the Gospel if the authority of the church had not ledhim to that. Calvin denies that the authority of the church is the foun-dation for the authority of the Bible as the Word of God. According tohim, Augustine meant that the moral authority of the church was forhim the impetus for turning to Christ.194 The second front that Calvin has in mind with these terms is thespiritualistic disparagement of the concrete text of the Bible.195 Earlierin this chapter we brieﬂy mentioned IICor. 3:6; among the spiritualiststhe text of the Bible was the dead letter and the Bible was seen assubordinate to the immediate revelation of the Spirit. In Calvin’s eyesthis is an improper devaluation of Scripture as divine revelation. Forhis defence he reaches back to the premise that the words of Scripture 193 See A. Ganoczy/S. Scheld, Die Hermeneutik Calvins. Geistesgeschichtliche Voraussetzungenund Grundzüge, Wiesbaden 1983, 11–15. 194 Inst. 1.7.3. 195 Inst. 1.9.2.
ways of knowing 97speak in clear and ordinary language. There is a clarity that stands inshrill contrast to the randomness at which one arrives as a result of theallegorical exegesis of the spiritualists. On both fronts Calvin maintainsthat God works through Word and Spirit. The Spirit binds itself to theconcrete text of the Bible, although this does not mean, as this wasinterpreted against Rahtmann by the later Lutherans, that the work ofthe Spirit is wholly absorbed in the Word. The Bible as the Word ofGod proceeds from the work of the Spirit, and continues in union withthe Spirit, but in involvement with the Word the Spirit does not ceaseto exercise its own identity. The Bible cannot be understood by manexcept by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Further in this section wewill return once again to how far-reaching, but also how productive itis to think about knowledge of God from a correlation of Word andSpirit. First however we must return to the historical context of Calvin’sregard for the Bible. The issue here is not the question of the human-ity of the Scriptures, but the question of where its authority ultimatelyrests: in the authority of the church, or in an individual, inner revela-tion? Against opponents who in his eyes undermined the authority ofScripture for various reasons, Calvin argued that there were enoughgrounds why the Scriptures themselves commanded respect.196 He didnot hesitate to employ the usual apologetic arguments against scep-tics: the Bible contains the ground of its authority within itself, in themajesty which is manifest in these writings.197 At the same time heemphasises that the question of the authority and trustworthiness ofthe Bible at its deepest cannot be decided in this way. The solid cer-tainty in the hearts of the patriarchs that they were dealing with Godhimself in the revelation which had been bestowed upon them can,we are told, only be traced back to God himself. The certainty thatis obtained in encounters with the divine Word exceeds any derivedfrom human thought and opinions. Scripture is, at its heart, autopis-tos.198 It is worth the eﬀort to see just what Calvin says here. In theScripture he experiences God as an active, working person. The high-est proof for the theopneustie of Scripture is derived ‘from the character 196 Inst. 1.7.4. 197 Inst. 1.8.2. Calvin lists, for example, the antiquity of the Bible texts, the miracleswhich attest to the truth of the proclamation, the fulﬁllment of prophecies, the provi-dential preservation of the books of the Bible, and the unanimous feeling of the churchregarding the truth of Scripture. 198 Inst. 1.7.5.
98 chapter twoof him whose word it is’.199 Or stronger yet, the basis of trust and conﬁ-dence lies in experience that transcends human reason and conjecture.In faith there occurs a moment at which trust and certainty come aboutin an immediate and intuitive manner, beyond anything that man canadduce in apologetics. A somewhat longer quotation will not be out ofplace: ‘For though in its own majesty it has enough to command reverence, nevertheless it then begins to truly touch us when it is sealed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Enlightened by him, we no longer believe, either on our own judgement nor that of others, that the Scriptures are from God; but, in a way superior to human judgement, feel perfectly assured—as much so as if we beheld the divine image impressed upon it—that it came to us, by the instrumentality of men, from the very mouth of God. We ask not for proofs or probabilities on which to rest our judgement, but we subject our intellect and judgement to it as too transcendent for us to estimate … we feel a divine energy living and breathing in it—an energy by which we are drawn and animated to obey it, willingly, indeed, and knowingly, but more vividly and eﬀectually than could be done by human will or knowledge.’200What is striking in this citation is that Calvin draws a contrast betweena conclusion in the basis of human judgements and arguments on theone hand, and the certainty from the majesty of Scripture on the other.Certainty arises as a consequence of the experience of divine activity.The certainty that the faithful have regarding divine origin of Scrip-tures is compared by Calvin with the manner in which we are imme-diately certain of the diﬀerence between black and white. It is beyondall doubt.201 It is knowledge which imposes itself without the interven-tion of reasoning or argumentation. In Calvin’s discussion the decisivefactor is that man is subject to an energy, carried along by the force of 199 Inst. 1.7.4: ‘Itaque summa Scripturae probatio passim a Dei loquentis personasumitur.’ 200 Inst. 1.7.5: ‘Etsi enim reverentiam sua sibi ultro maiestate conciliat, tunc tamendemum serio nos aﬃcit quum per Spiritum obsignata est cordibus nostris. Illius ergovirtute illuminati, iam non aut nostro, aut aliorum iudicio credimus, a Deo esse Scrip-turam: sed supra humanum iudicium, certo certius constituimus (non secus acsi ipsiusDei numen illic intueremur) hominum ministerio, ab ipsissimo Dei ore ad nos ﬂuxisse.Non argumenta, non verisimilitudines quaerimus quibus iudicium nostrum incumbat:sed ut rei extra aestimandi aleam positae, iudicium ingeniumque nostrum subiicimus… sed quia non dubiam vim numinis illic sentimus vigere ac spirare, qua ad paren-dum, scientes quidem ac volentes, vividius tamen et eﬃcacius quam pro humana autvolutate, aut scientia trahimur et accendimur.’ 201 Inst. 1.7.2.
ways of knowing 99God’s activity; in short, human receptivity is key in this discussion.202H. Bavinck correctly and keenly formulates it that Christian theologytakes the believing subject as its point of departure.203 That is alreadytrue for Calvin when he ﬁnally points to the inner testimony of theHoly Spirit. It is however important to see how many, and what termsare used to specify the reality of this subject. Man is the one who in thedepths of his being hears, perceives, receives, is carried along, aﬀectivelymoved through what is heard. The answer to the question of how the believer can be certain of theauthority of Scripture is in fact found in the foregoing. The battlefrontthat Calvin has in mind is not that of historical criticism, although in hisimmediate environment there were sceptical voices to be heard whichasked how people could be historically certain that Moses and theprophets had spoken for God. His remarks are directed against the viewthat the acknowledgement of the authority of the Bible depends on thejudgement of the church. In the encounter with Scripture there is anexperience that exceeds all argumentation. From the human side, thisacknowledgement is however the consequence of the inner testimony ofthe Spirit. The Spirit brings a believer to the certainty of the majesty ofthis Word, but this certainty must be distinguished from the truth thatthe Spirit binds upon the heart of man.204 In Book I of the Institutes Calvin discusses the subject of the testimonyof the Holy Spirit extensively in connection with the authority of theBible. For that reason Bavinck has accused Calvin and his followers ofstanding at the beginning of a tradition in which the inward testimonyof the Spirit is involved exclusively with the authority of Scripture, andis too little related to the signiﬁcance for faith and the life of faith asa whole.205 Is Bavinck right? S.P. Dee and J. Veenhof have correctlypointed out that at least in the Institutes the inward testimony of the 202 One should carefully note the verbs in Inst. 1.7.5: aﬃcere, obsignare, intueri,subicere, sentire, vigere, spirare, trahere, accendere. 203 H. Bavinck, Gereformeerde Dogmatiek I, Kampen 19062, 603–604; ET, 564. 204 In Reformed orthodoxy this diﬀerence is formulated as the diﬀerence betweenthe authority of Scripture and certainty regarding the authority of the Scriptures. Byvirtue of its inspiration, Scripture bears inspiration in itself; in the light of the Scripturesthe ﬁrm belief in this truth, that comes upon man of itself, is derived from the innertestimony of the Spirit. See S.P. Dee, Het geloofsbegrip van Calvijn, Kampen 1918, 133. 205 H. Bavinck, Gereformeerde dogmatiek I, 563ﬀ. For a discussion of oldere Calvininterpretations on this point, see W. Krusche, Das Wirken des Heiligen Geistes nach Calvin,217. See also J. Veenhof, Revelatie en inspiratie. De openbarings- en schriftbeschouwing vanHerman Bavinck in vergelijking met die der ethische theologie, Amsterdam 1968, 494–495.
100 chapter twoHoly Spirit is also discussed in relation to the question of the certaintyof salvation.206 The impression that the authority of the Bible takes ona formal character with Calvin arose chieﬂy when people reduced himto the author of only one text, the Institutes. Anyone reading the Institutesin relation to his sermons and commentaries will presently come to thediscovery that the work of the Spirit, the Spirit as teacher, is a constantin Calvin’s thinking. The testimony of the Spirit is linked with all of thecontent of faith, and with the course of a life of faith itself. KnowingGod is not just parroting the Bible; it is a learning process under theactive tuition of the Holy Spirit. It is therefore a distortion to appealto Calvin for the distinction between formal and material authority. Forhim, belief in the divinity of Scripture is inseparable from the encounterwith God, who speaks as a person in these texts. To replace that witha reference to the activity of the Spirit, who conﬁrms the truth of thesetexts in the heart of the faithful, is to go too far. Calvin’s position iscompletely pneumatological. God speaks in these texts, shows his face,opens his mouth,207 and gives his adoptive children certainty about thistruth. In order to have a correct picture, one must also bring in howCalvin thinks about the certainty of faith and, last but not least, howthis testimony evidently functions in his commentaries—thus not apartfrom the content of God’s instruction. The way in which Calvin speaksabout the Scripture is identical to the way in which he speaks in BookIII of the Institutes with regard to the certainty of salvation. The thingswhich are expounded in Book I with respect to the whole of Scriptureas a source of knowledge of God return in connection with the pointof faith. Further, one can recall what was said previously in connectionwith the metaphor of the mirror. When Calvin says that Scripture isthe mirror in which we recognise Christ, this image itself makes anydistinction between formal and material faith in the Scriptures impos-sible. In one and the same act of looking into the mirror one also per-ceives the image in the mirror.208 We therefore ﬁnd that there is goodreason to reject the opposition that is implied in the paired concepts offormal and material authority. The way in which Calvin discusses theauthority of Scripture in Book I of the Institutes shows that this authority 206 See J. Veenhof, Revelatie en inspiratie, 494, and S.P. Dee, Het geloofsbegrip van Calvijn,136ﬀ. 207 Inst. 1.9.3. 208 See once again the outstanding discussion in S.P. Dee, Het geloofsbegrip van Calvijn,166.
ways of knowing 101comes to light in experience, and that it is conﬁrmed by the Spirit inthat experience. It is not an a priori authority. In creation, in the per-ceived order of things, in conscience and ﬁnally in the Scripture Godshows his face to man. Scripture acquires its authority, and certaintygrows, in the course of God’s dealings with man.209 Calvin arrives at hischaracterisation of the authority of Scripture and its certainty preciselythrough the indissoluble relation between Word and Spirit. The Biblehas authority because it, in all its parts, stands in the dynamic sphere ofinﬂuence of the work of the Holy Spirit. Of course there are obvious diﬀerences in the present debate onthe Bible and certainty. While in contemporary biblical scholarship theemphasis has come to lie on the historical process through which theBible took shape, and with that on the human form in which revelationcomes to us, in Calvin one ﬁnds hardly any speciﬁc attention for therole of the human subject in the Bible’s coming into being. To be sure,he acknowledges that the personality and origins of the writers playeda fundamental role in the language and style they employed. He has noproblem pointing to certain faults. This is all possible, though, becausethe human character of the Bible is not yet a charged issue. Howevermuch Calvin may stresses that God makes use of the services of menin his revelation, nowhere does he imply that the human subject shouldreceive an independent place in his theology as an active and shapingsubject. The roles are ﬁxed. The centre of gravity lies with God as sub-ject of revelation, and man is the one who listens and gives heed to it. The division of roles between God and man works through into themetaphors that characterise the way the Bible is to be seen. The rev-elation in the Old Testament is termed the ‘fencing in’ which wouldprevent the Jewish people perishing like the heathen nations.210 Themetaphor of the school, so beloved by Calvin, also ﬁts in this context.The believer must be a pupil of the Holy Scriptures. This is not a classin which the students do experiments and make discoveries for them-selves; they are there to listen attentively. Man must be prepared tolearn.211 All the way through to Calvin’s own biographical notes at thebeginning of his commentary on the Psalms we encounter the wordthat describes this readiness to learn: docilitas.212 The development of 209 Dee refers to Comm. Acts 17:11, CO 48, 401. 210 Inst. 1.6.1. 211 Inst. 1.6.2. 212 CO 31, 21.
102 chapter twodocility in our time into a pejorative term is telling. That was not thecase with Calvin. The Bible is the school in which pure knowledgeabout God can be learned. In short, the instruction that is given in rev-elation and Scripture, the images and metaphors that are used, are notgrounded in human creativity, nor in chance historical circumstances;they are so intended by God, and deliberately given. Anyone who allows the foregoing to sink in will perhaps begin toget a sense of what in the Reformed tradition has come to be termedthe Scripture Principle, and of the tremendous formative power of thisprinciple. Within the ‘fence’ of Scripture God has said neither too littlenor too much, but precisely as much as is proﬁtable for man. It is a viewwhich has great consequences for both the borders and the content ofknowledge of God, as we will see in the course of these chapters. Everydeviation from this given content, every innovation is then a changefor the worse. Therefore one does not encounter a positive regard forhistory and development in Calvin.213 We will pause for a moment to pose the often-heard question: canthis attitude toward the Bible be described as Biblicism?214 In view ofthe short history of this concept it is certainly an anachronism, and anunfortunate designation.215 Biblicist use of the Bible is associated witha very simple and direct appeal to the Bible and a rejectionist attitudetoward hermeneutics. It is crystal clear that the term Biblicism cannotbe applied to Calvin in that sense. It is however also understandablewhy this term is used in connection with Calvin. It is a later applicationby a theology that has made an explicit issue of the humanity of theScriptures. In the second panel we therefore ﬁnd an entirely diﬀerentsituation. For Karl Barth theology is something that man has to engagein on his own responsibility, conscious of the humanity of the Scripturesand in obedience to the Word of God that sounds therein. This makingan issue of the humanity of the Scriptures is not yet present in Calvin. 213 In this Calvin does not deviate from Renaissance culture. See Bouwsma, ‘Thetwo faces of Humanism’, A Usable Past, 37: ‘As the retrospective preﬁx in the familiarRenaissance vocabulary of amelioration attests—renascentium, reformatio, restoratio,resititutio, renovatio, etc.—it could only look backward for a better world.’ 214 For instance, Bauke, Die Probleme der Theologie Calvins, 19–20, 44–52. 215 The term Biblicism arose in reaction to historical criticism and is generally asso-ciated with an attitude in which there is hardly any room for a conscious hermeneutic.Calvin indeed has very much a conscious hermeneutic, and the problem of Scripturalcriticism played no role in his time. It goes without saying that Biblicism is not to beconfused with fundamentalism. See J. Veenhof, ‘Orthodoxie und Fundamentalismus’,Praktische Theologie 29 (1994), 9–18.
ways of knowing 103Everything in the Bible is worth study because God has consciouslyprovided it for us. The Bible must be taken seriously and obeyed asthe revelation bestowed by God. In part this forms the background forCalvin’s preference for a short and sober exegesis of the Bible. In orderto make progress in knowing God, the line must be kept short and taut.It is in this context that the famous words come: omnis recta Dei cognitioab oboedentia nascitur.216 Right knowledge of God is born of obedience. In our contemporary Western society the idea of obedience cancount on being received with a large dose of distrust. The extermina-tion camps of the Second World War would not have been conceivablewithout an underlying system that was kept going in part by a cultureof obedience. The anti-authoritarian experiments of the 1960s and theuncertainty on the part of the generation of parents in the last fewdecades not only reveal how diﬃcult it is to unite freedom and restric-tions, but also something of a collective trauma surrounding this con-cept. When training in obedience is uncoupled from the simultaneousshaping of personal, unrelinquishable responsibility of the individual,an essential element of humanity is undermined. In this respect onemust also ﬁnd that the Reformation, with its Scripture Principle, fun-damentally uncoupled authority from the church as institution. Calvindoes not deny that God works via means, and thus also through men.Yet in relation to the preceding situation something has changed in theplace of the church. Its divine authority is no longer direct, but deriva-tive, and that opens the door to discussion on the place of the church. What does it mean that this concept of obedience surfaces in Calvin’sdiscussion of the way to knowledge of God? It stands within the contextof the invitation to follow the direction that the Spirit points out tofaith in the Scripture. Concretely, that way leads to Christ. Obedienceobtains for the living word of God, through which men come furtherthan the confusing knowledge on the basis of nature, and further thanthe barricade that the church erected in her cults and ceremonies.217That is the context within which one must understand Calvin’s remarkson obedience. But at the same time it is clear that the subjectivityof man is poorly developed in this concept. It is a curtailment andlimitation if the role of man is discussed only in terms of obedienceand the space given to the creature in his answer to God. 216 Inst. 1.6.2. 217 Ibid.: ‘aures tamen praecipue arrigere convenit ad verbum, ut melius proﬁciat.’
104 chapter two 2.8. Faith2.8.1. A qualiﬁed concept of faithIn the preceding section Calvin’s concept of faith was discussed implic-itly. It is time to make this explicit. A beginning can be found in Calvin’s‘full deﬁnition of faith’: ‘It is a ﬁrm and certain knowledge of the divine favour toward us, founded on the truth of a free promise in Christ, and revealed to our minds and sealed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.’218Each aspect of this well-considered deﬁnition deserves special attention.First of all, it strikes us that the concept of faith is, from its inception,a theological, content-ﬁlled deﬁnition. It is not limited to a formaldeﬁnition. Faith is deﬁned by its content, namely God’s ‘divine favourtowards us’. Second, it is to be noted that the object of faith does notsimply coincide with God. It is, rather, God’s favour, founded in thepromise given in Christ. Faith has as its object Him who is sent by Godand the gifts bestowed in his person. The focus on the person Jesus Christ has a polemic point, or so itwould appear in the discussion of the concept of faith. The disputeconcerns the concept of implicit faith, ﬁdes implicita. One may considerthis concept as a theological solution to a pastoral problem which hadarisen for the church in the preceding centuries, with the Christianisa-tion of Europe. This concept opens the way to argue that the benightedfolk by implication receive eternal salvation by submitting to the cultusand rites of the church, even if they have only a very limited or dis-torted understanding of the truths of salvation. Calvin has no sympathywith this. Perhaps the fact that he himself was part of a culture in whichthe standards for development and civilisation among the bourgeoisiehad risen sharply played a part in this.219 In any case, he can not see theidea of ‘implicit faith’ as other than a legitimisation for gross ignoranceand lack of knowledge. It conﬂicts with the attempt to reform the wholeof society. Faith does not reside in ignorance, but in knowledge. The sharpening that Calvin introduces in his concept of faith how-ever goes still a step further. Faith does not focus on God as such, buton the will of God. The object of faith is in fact that God, for the sake 218 Inst. 3.2.7. 219 H.A. Oberman, Forerunners of the Reformation. The Shape of Late Medieval Thought,Philadelphia 1981, 6.
ways of knowing 105of reconciliation, is our merciful Father, and that Christ is given to usfor righteousness, sanctiﬁcation and life.220 Calvin is conscious that he ishereby stipulating the concept of faith theologically. He acknowledgesthat in Biblical texts the concept of faith is also used in a much moregeneral sense. Still he quite deliberately chooses for a pointed conceptof faith that is deﬁned by the concept of revelation. The content of faithis not just the conviction that God exists, and just as little, how God is,as He is in himself. Faith focuses on how God is as he is toward man, or, toput it diﬀerently, on God’s will.221 Yet this too is not suﬃcient, and further speciﬁcation is necessary.According to Calvin, the focus of faith is not just any expression ofGod’s will. Nor can that be the case. When Adam heard from Godthat he would suﬀer death, or when Cain heard the curse pronouncedon him, those were indeed expressions of God’s will, but at the sametime they are things at which man can only turn away. Faith is nota formal concept, but is from the very outset a concept guided andﬁlled by the revelation of God’s mercy. Man will not rely upon cursesand threats, although they be expressions of God’s will; at such pointsthe threatened conscience ﬁnds no rest. Faith does not focus simplyon God’s will, but on His favour and mercy.222 In this context Calvincalls on the concept of scopus, which can perhaps best be translatedas the target or point of faith. Christ is the point of faith, and thispoint determines the direction of gaze. Faith then is only invited andquickened when man has learned that there is salvation to be foundwith God. Man learns this by looking to Christ and the good news hebrings. ‘The true knowledge of Christ consists in receiving him as he isoﬀered by the Father—namely, as invested with his Gospel. For, as heis appointed as the end of our faith, so we cannot directly tend towardshim except under the guidance of the Gospel.’223 According to Calvin,in the incarnation of the eternal Son we have the deepest momentof God’s descent toward us. This is the closest point where God hasshown himself in our reality as in a mirror, namely in the ﬁgure of 220 Inst. 3.2.2. 221 Inst. 3.2.6: ‘Neque enim unum id in ﬁdei intelligentia agitur, ut Deum essenoverimus, sed etiam, imo hoc praecipue, ut qua sit erga nos voluntate, intelligamus.Neque enim scire quis in se sit, tantum nostra refert, sed qualis esse nobis velit.’ 222 Inst. 3.2.29. 223 Inst. 3.2.6: ‘Haec igitur vera est Christi cognitio, si eum qualis oﬀertur a Patresuscipimus, nempe Evangelio suo vestitum: quia sicuti in scopum ﬁdei nostrae ipsedestinatus est, ita nonnisi praeeunte Evangelio recta ad eum tendemus.’
106 chapter twothe Mediator. Further, it must be noted that the death of Jesus on thecross is the sharpest facet of this mirror. Indeed, from the resurrection itretrospectively becomes clear that Jesus Christ has assumed the conditionhumaine in his death agony, has undergone the punishment which mandeserved, has endured the forces which imprisoned man. There thechasm is deepest. At that deepest moment it is no longer visible thatChrist is the eternal Son. The pronouncement of Irenaeus that thedivinity of Christ is not active in His suﬀering, but was as it were hiddenand at rest, is assumed by Calvin: the divine powers of Christ wereat that moment concealed.224 The light in this mirror comes from theresurrection. Only then does the image become visible: Christ, whotakes the place of all, so that all can be included in fellowship withGod.225 In the resurrection God makes visible what really happenedon the cross. Even here—or perhaps precisely here—Calvin does notshrink from appealing to the dramatic possibilities of the theatre asa place where the spectators must be touched to the depths of theirhearts: ‘The incomparable goodness of God his made visible before thewhole world in the cross of Christ, as in the most splendid theatre’.2262.8.2. Unio mysticaIn the deﬁnition that Calvin gives for faith in Institutes 3.2.7, it becomesclear that the content of the knowledge involved in faith is anchored inChrist’s promise of the grace of God and that this knowledge is plantedin the believer through the Holy Spirit. The reference to the work ofthe Spirit is essential: ‘So long as we are without Christ and separatedfrom him, nothing which he suﬀered and did for the salvation of thehuman race is of the least beneﬁt to us’.227 In Calvin’s characterisationof the experience of faith we encounter both the experience of thedistance from God as well as God’s closeness. However, the experienceof proximity and community is decisive. While we in one place read 224 Comm. Luke 2:40, CO 45, 104: ‘… quatenus salutis nostrae interfuit divinamsuam potentiam quasi occultam tenuit Filius. Et quod dicit Irenaeus, quiescente divini-tate passum fuisse, non modo de corporali morte interpretor, sed de illo incredibilianimae dolore et cruciatu, qui hanc illi querimonimam expressit, Deus meus, ut quidme dereliquisti?’ 225 Inst. 2.12.3. 226 Comm. John 13:31, CO 47, 317: ‘Nam in Christi cruce, quasi in splendidissimotheatro incomparabilis Dei bonitas toti mundo spectata fuit.’ 227 Inst. 3.1.1.
ways of knowing 107that the gracious God shows himself in faith as indeed still ‘high andlifted up’,228 further on we read the opposite: ‘We expect salvation fromhim—not because he stands aloof from us, but because ingrafting usinto his body he not only makes us partakers of all his beneﬁts, butalso of himself … If you look to yourself damnation is certain: butsince Christ has been communicated to you with all his beneﬁts, sothat all which is his is made yours, you become a member of him, andhence one with him. His righteousness covers your sins—his salvationextinguishes your condemnation’.229 As Bavinck has rightly observed,230with these words we have landed in the midst of Calvin’s concept offaith: the unio mystica. What Luther called the miraculous exchange231takes place in the communion between Christ and men. Through faithChrist takes up his dwelling in man. ‘That Christ is not external to us, but dwells in us, and not only unites us to himself by an undivided bond of fellowship, but by a wondrous communion brings us daily into closer connection, until he becomes altogether one with us.’232There are several notable points in this important characterisation.First, the present and eschatological elements of the knowledge of Godcoincide. In faith, participation in the new reality is already a realitynow, and at the same time there is the potential for growth. Second,what faith is about is anchored in the person of Christ. Christ is themediating person in whom man is again brought into fellowship withGod. But third and ﬁnally, I would call your attention to somethingremarkable. The new reality is expressed in terms of corporeality andgrowth. These are not the obvious categories of consciousness or ofpersonal encounter which one would expect to be used in describingthat which is new. The basis of the knowledge of God and its certaintyis not primarily cerebral, but expressly transcends that. The languageof the body has primacy. It is about powers that will be exercised. Wehere encounter an element of Calvin’s view of the knowledge of Godthat also permeates his teaching on the Lord’s Table and gives it itspeculiar colour. This will be discussed further in the fourth chapter. 228 Inst. 3.2.19. 229 Inst. 3.2.24. 230 H. Bavinck, Gereformeerde Dogmatiek III, Kampen 19102, 594. 231 M. Luther, WA 40 I, 443. 232 Inst. 3.2.24; ‘quia Christus non extra nos est, sed in nobis habitat: nec solumindividuo societatis nexu nobis adhaeret, sed mirabili quadam communione in unumcorpus nobiscum coalescit in dies magis ac magis, donec unum penitus nobiscum ﬁat’.
108 chapter two For the rest, fellowship with Christ is not something about whichone can say nothing further. Calvin’s interest is primarily in the beneﬁtthat is found in faith in Christ. ‘Christ and his beneﬁts’ is a typicalexpression for Calvin. In fellowship with Christ man shares in thebeneﬁts which are contained in Christ’s person. Here is the one sourcefrom which both justiﬁcation and sanctiﬁcation spring. According toDee, the terms ﬁdes, unio mystica and iustiﬁcatio can be conceived aspurely logical distinctions within what is ultimately one and the samereality.233 With Calvin, faith and knowledge of God are not formalconcepts, but are deﬁned precisely in relation to their content. His isa soteriological understanding of faith and knowledge.2.8.3. Faith and certaintyIn the preceding the work of the Spirit has been discussed several times.The Spirit binds us with Christ, at the same time making man certainof his own connection with Christ. But what kind of certainty andconﬁdence is that which marks the knowledge vested in faith? We willenter into that question in this section. The work of the Spirit is the foundation for various aspects andphases in the way faith proceeds. ‘For the Spirit does not merely orig-inate faith, but gradually increases it, until by its means he conductsus into the heavenly kingdom,’ we are told.234 It is characteristic thatCalvin, within the context of this pronouncement about knowledge ofGod’s election, contrasts the word that he uses to indicate the mind orunderstanding, mens, with the Holy Spirit. The mind (or understand-ing) is termed blind, stubborn, inclined to vanity. The human mindmay have originally been inclined to God, but once imprisoned in thesphere of sin this capacity or keenness appears to be lost. That withwhich man is equipped is simply inadequate; it has become blunt, lacksacuteness. Therefore faith must come in the form of a gift. Calvin dis-tinguishes steps or aspects in the work of the Spirit. The ﬁrst aspect isilluminatio, enlightenment of the understanding. In illumination by theHoly Spirit, man receives a new power of sight, as it were, aciem. Thesecond step is that the heart (or better, the soul), animus, here seen ina more limited deﬁnition as the seat of the human aﬀections and emo- 233 Dee, Het geloofsbegrip van Calvijn, 190–194. 234 Inst. 3.2.33.
ways of knowing 109tions, is conﬁrmed in the truth as something which applies to it.235 Theone work of the Spirit thus has a double eﬀect, on understanding andheart, intellectual and aﬀective.236 In evaluating Calvin’s view of knowl-edge of God, it is important to note that this work of the Spirit, bothin illumination of the understanding and the conﬁrmation of this in theheart, are both discussed in terms of experience. ‘As we cannot possibly come to Christ unless drawn by the Spirit, so when we are drawn we are in both mind and spirit exalted far above our own understanding. For the soul, when illuminated by him, receives as it were a new eye, enabling it to contemplate heavenly mysteries, by the splendour of which it was previously dazzled. And thus, indeed, it is only when the human intellect is irradiated by the light of the Holy Spirit that it begins to have a taste of those things which pertain to the kingdom of God; previously it was too stupid and senseless to have any relish for them.’237Human understanding itself is weak and incapable of grasping thepromises of the Gospel of on its own. Therefore it is ﬁrst necessarythat God through his Spirit makes these promises seen. In the midstof the discussion of the concept of faith and the certainty of faith, itbecomes clear that it is not the concept of cognitio which must be used tounderstand that knowledge which man can attain on his own initiative.Man can attain knowledge of created reality through his faculties forperception. The knowledge toward which faith is oriented howevertranscends created reality. The knowing that is involved in faith is notsimply a matter of comprehending, comprehensio, but rather of ‘tasting’.238 235 Ibidem, ‘Ergo singulare Dei donum utroque modo est ﬁdes, et quod mens hominisad degustandam Dei veritatem pergatur, et quod animus in ea stabilitur.’ We herefollow R.A. Muller’s view, in turn taken over from Stuermann. Animus can be usedas the equivalent of all the mental capacities, but used in connection with the termmens, animus means all the aﬀective parts of the human mental faculties, or that partof the human mind that reaches out to that which is known. See R.A. Muller, TheUnaccommodated Calvin, 168. 236 Comm. Eph. 1:13, CO 51, 153: ‘Respondeo, duplicem esse eﬀectum Spiritus inﬁde, sicuti ﬁdes duabus praecipue partibus continetur, nam et mentes illuminat, etanimos conﬁrmat. Initium ﬁdei, est notitia: consummatio, est ﬁxa et stabilis persuasioquae contrariam dubitationem nullam admittat.’ 237 Inst. 3.2.34: ‘Quemadmodum ergo nisi Spiritu Dei tracti, accedere ad Christumnequaquam possumus: ita ubi trahimur, mente et animo evehimur supra nostram ipso-rum intelligentiam. Nam ab eo illustrata anima novam quasi aciem sumit, qua caelestiamysteria contempletur, quorum splendore ante in seipsa perstringebatur. Atque ita qui-dem Spiritus sancti lumine irradiatus hominis intellectus, tum vere demum ea quae adregnum Dei pertinent gustare incipit: antea prorsus ad ea delibanda fatuus et insipidus.’ 238 Inst. 3.2.14: ‘Cognitionem dum vocamus, non intelligimus comprehensionem,
110 chapter twoThe knowing comes from contact with a reality that one experiencesrather than understands. According to Calvin, in faith a convictionof something which men can not understand presents itself. Therearises a degree of conviction and certainty which, he says, exceeds thecertainty that is involved in the knowing of normal human matters. Inthis context we again encounter the concept of persuasio, familiar fromrhetoric. The knowledge which arises in faith is a fruit of convictionby God. God is the rhetorician who inescapably places before us thetruth of salvation. Paul, when he spoke of the height, depth, length andbreadth of the love of God (Eph. 3) wanted to say that in faith we comeinto contact with something inﬁnite, something which far surpasses allordinary understanding.239 The knowledge of which faith speaks, Calvinsays, is therefore more a matter of certainty than of comprehension.240 I would ﬁnd that at crucial points in his concept of knowledge ofGod Calvin is not the intellectualist that he is so often accused ofbeing.241 The opposite is rather the case. Aﬀective elements predomi-nate. The moment of acceptance of the truth of faith is, we read, ‘morea matter of the heart than the head, of the aﬀection than the intel-lect’.242 Trust, ﬁducia, must not be considered as a closing phase on thepath of faith; on the contrary, it is the supporting element for the cog-nitive in faith. When the grace of God is presented to our vision, our‘truly perceiving its sweetness, and experiencing it in ourselves’ mustbe the inevitable result. Put succinctly, experience surrounds and sur-passes understanding. The encounter with the goodness of God callsforth trust and open-heartedness on the part of man.243 In short, faith isbecoming convinced, persuasio, and as such that faith is a point of free-dom. When the goodness of God is experienced, the freedom arises inwhich one can surrender to it. Although the term ‘voluntaristic’ bringsqualis esse solet earum rerum quae sub humanum sensum cadunt. Adeo enim superiorest, ut mentem hominis seipsam excedere et superare oporteat, quo ad illam pertingat.Neque etiam ubi pertigit, quod sentit assequitur: sed dum persuasum habet quodnon capit, plus ipsa persuasionis certitudine intelligit quam si humanum aliquid suacapacitate perspiceret.’ 239 Ibid.: ‘Voluit enim signiﬁcare, modis onmibus inﬁnitum esse quod mens nostraﬁde complectitur, et genus hoc cognitionis esse omni intelligentia longe sublimius.’ 240 Inst. 3.2.14: ‘Unde statuimus, ﬁdei notitiam certitudine magis quam apprehen-sione contineri.’ 241 Muller, The Unaccommodated Calvin, 171. 242 Inst. 3.2.8. 243 Inst. 3.2.15: ‘Quae audacia nonnisi ex divinae benevolentiae salutisque certaﬁducia nascitur.’
ways of knowing 111with it the danger of easily becoming associated with decisionism andtherefore must be employed cautiously, the fact that the aﬀective ele-ment is the keynote in Calvin’s concept of the knowledge of God andin that sense is deﬁnitive, still points in that direction. God is known asthe source of all good. Faith has as its object something which exceeds all intellectual con-cepts, in the sense of comprehension. It encompasses the whole humanperson, with all his intellectual and aﬀective faculties, and his will. Thisdoes not, however, cancel out the idea of knowledge. Rather, it is knowl-edge of and contact with a reality that men cannot comprehend, butfreely acknowledge. The knowledge involved in faith thus implies a realisation of personalinvolvement in the truths of salvation. This therefore implies a critiqueon the late medieval distinction between ﬁdes formata and ﬁdes informis.Faith is never a matter of intellectual aﬃrmation alone; it is, from theoutset, more a matter of the heart than the head, more of the aﬀectivefaculties than understanding. The Spirit is directly present as a witnessthat man is adopted as a child of God.244 Calvin’s discussion of the certainty of faith has moments of greatbeauty. At the same time it must be noted that with his great attentionfor the inwardness of faith and for self-investigation, Calvin sometimesﬁnds himself on thin ice. The journey inward here also serves thedistinction between true and false faith. Calvin explicitly mentionsforms of faith in which faith remains superﬁcial. He lists the parable ofthe sower (Luke 8:6) and Simon Magus (Acts 8:93). In these cases faithmeans that persons are in some way impressed, in the same way onemight be impressed by a masterpiece.245 The impression is temporary,and does not take root in the heart. Does Calvin’s theology, in whichman is turned back upon his own capacity to distinguish betweentrue and false faith, between the work of the Spirit in believers andunbelievers, not very vulnerable, or outright dangerous? In Calvin’s callto self-examination, does man not become both the protagonist and hisown audience, and is he not asked to assume an impossible distancefrom himself in order to see what is real and what is hypocrisy?246 244 Inst. 3.2.8. 245 Inst. 3.2.10. 246 Bouwsma, John Calvin, 180 oﬀers the critique that Calvin, in the call to examineone’s conscience, imposes on man the role of the contrite sinner, making it impossiblein advance to arrive at a moment of integration between role and reality. Spontaneity
112 chapter two Election is the background for Calvin’s exposition of true faith; Howcould it be otherwise?247 Calvin distinguishes two sorts of operationsby the Spirit. The operation of the Spirit in the reprobate is calledthe inferior Spiritus operatio, which nevertheless exhibits considerable sim-ilarity with the operation in believers. For a time the reprobate canbe subject to almost the same feeling as the elect, ‘that even in theirown judgement there is no diﬀerence between them’.248 God can infuseunbelievers with his grace, so far as ‘his goodness can be felt withoutthe Spirit of adoption’. In his concept Calvin does have the theologicalcategory of temporary faith, which must not be identiﬁed with the con-ﬁdence on the grounds of which the believer says ‘Abba, father’ (Gal.4:6). With his discussion of the experience of the Spirit of God by thesetwo diﬀerent groups, Calvin works himself into a tight corner theologi-cally and pastorally. For the reprobate the discernment of grace is noth-ing other than confused, muddled, a shadow of what is the lot of thebelievers. Nevertheless he acknowledges that God is also experiencedby them as a reconciling God. They too ‘accept the gift of reconcilia-tion, although confusedly and without due discernment’.249 The diﬀer-ence is that the reprobate never reach that full eﬀect and fruition withwhich God endows the elect.250 All told, we must say that Calvin, withhis call for self-examination (seipsos excutere), has laid the foundations fora tradition in which the turn inward plays a great—not to say all toogreat—role that is at odds with that other line of thought according towhich the apprehensive conscience must be directed toward Christ asthe mirror of God’s fatherly love and favour. For salvation it is not onlynecessary that Christ has died for sinners in general, but also to knowthat one has a share in that grace oneself. This certainty can be con-ﬁrmed again through the testimony of a good conscience.251 To fairlyjudge what Calvin had in mind, it is necessary to keep this successionstrictly in mind. When it comes to the foundation of salvation, faithfocuses only on the goodness of God, on the promises. This goodness isis made very diﬃcult, so that the person is continuously conscious of his or her ownconduct. 247 Inst. 3.2.11. 248 Inst. 3.2.11. 249 Ibid.: ‘Merito tamen dicuntur reprobi Deum credere sibi propitium: quia donumreconciliationis, licet confuse nec satis distincte, suscipiunt.’ 250 Inst. 3.2.11. 251 Inst. 3.14.18.
ways of knowing 113not only the starting point, but the end point. This does not, however,detract from the fact that, once having achieved rest, someone is calledto take care in how this status as an adopted child of God works out inpractical terms. These works are, Calvin says, ‘proofs of God dwellingand reigning in us’.252 Thus man is invited to assess his own practice oflife in the light of the work of the Spirit, his unity with Christ given infaith. With his invitation to self-examination Calvin indeed stands in alonger tradition. It is apparent that in his years at the Collège Montaiguhe came into very direct contact with the piety encouraged by ModernDevotion. This tradition of inwardness is continued in his own con-cept of the knowledge of God. It is a rich tradition, because it bestowsattention on the way in which man inwardly relates to that which sur-rounds him. If there is knowledge of God, then there is also somethingto be experienced which will work itself out in a person’s life, creatinga conﬁdence in this contact that is indissoluble. At the same time, inReformed Protestantism this tradition has led to the ultra-Reformedform of spirituality, which is at odds with Calvin’s own admonitionto see Christ as the mirror of election. The succession can easily bereversed:253 ﬁrst wanting to undergo an inner experience of adoption byGod, and thereafter daring to look to Christ as the image of a mercifulGod. In other words, there is a hidden revelation, a tasting of God’s sal-vation that is shared only by God’s children. Calvin denies that thereprobate really embrace God’s eternal will to grace; they remain atthe level of a ﬂeeting realisation of it.254 That is the one point of viewthat he emphatically maintains, appealing to concrete examples fromthe Bible. But now he turns to the other side and oﬀers some pas-toral commentary with the high adjectives in his deﬁnition of faith. InCalvin’s theology psychological, pedagogical and theological elementsstill form one whole. He says of faith that it is ‘true’ and ‘certain’. Butwho experiences that at all times? Calvin realises full well that the ﬂameof certainty does not always burn bright with believers. He acknowl- 252 Ibidem. See also Comm. IJohn 2:3, CO 55, 311: ‘Tametsi enim suae quisque ﬁdeitestimonium habet ab operibus: non tamen sequitur illic fundatam esse, quum posteriorhaec probatio instar signi accedat. Certitudo itaque ﬁdei in sola Christi gratia residet;sed pietas en sanctitas vitae veram ﬁdem a ﬁcta et mortua Dei notitia discernit …’ 253 Cf. R.C. Zachman, The Assurance of Faith. Conscience in the Theology of Martin Lutherand John Calvin, Minneapolis 1993, 222. 254 Inst. 3.2.12.
114 chapter twoedges that among believers too now and again doubt will arise aboutwhether this merciful God is for them. But now we suddenly hear thatthis doubt should not be considered as a sign of a false faith. To thevacillating he says that they ‘conﬁne [God’s mercy] within too narrowlimits’.255 This grace indeed reaches others, but not themselves. Calvinrefers here to a ﬁgure from the Bible, with whom he gladly identiﬁes:David. Contesting is possible, as the Psalms demonstrate, but faith isnot swallowed up in this chasm. As soon as a drop of true faith hasseeped into the heart, Calvin tells us that we begin to behold the faceof God as placid, serene and propitious.256 The eschatological streakin Calvin’s theology and spirituality appears clearly with the certaintyof faith. Man is a pilgrim on his journey, and as he travels more closelyapproaches God’s countenance. Ignorance yields slowly.257 The believer,still in the earthly body, is like someone in a dungeon, who sees thesun enter his prison only through a high window. A sense of limitationdominates this image. Nevertheless, there is a radiance by which he isillumined. Thus, in this existence knowledge of God can only be obtained inpart. In connection with the image of the dungeon, Calvin takes up themetaphor of the mirror from ICor. 13, to which we already referred.258The nature of the certainty of faith that is man’s share in this life isrelated to the fact that man still leads an earthly existence. As wealready saw, according to Calvin corporeality and mundanity implyimperfection. The human condition means a limitation in respect tospiritual things, through which it is impossible to fully perceive whatis inﬁnite, and through which it becomes necessary that we have tobe taught continually. Life on earth implies a ruditas which makes itimpossible to approach perfection.259 We have previously discussed the eschatological orientation of Cal-vin’s theology in this context. It can be seen at countless points in hiscommentaries and sermons. It is not without reason that Calvin can sostrongly identify with Biblical ﬁgures from the Old testament, who livedwith the promise of fellowship with God through Christ, but had thisfellowship in hope, in spe.260 Faith possesses the content of the promise 255 Inst. 3.2.15. 256 Inst. 3.2.19. 257 Comm. in epistolam Pauli Ad Romanos, 26. 258 Inst. 3.2.20. 259 Inst. 3.2.20. 260 Inst. 2.10.11.
ways of knowing 115in the mode of hope. That did not change with the appearance ofChrist. In a certain sense the believer has indeed passed from death tolife, but it must not be inferred from that that he already possesses thebeneﬁts that are contained in Christ. Calvin here reminds his reader ofIJohn 3:2. Although we know that we are God’s children, all is not yetrevealed until we see God as He is. ‘Therefore, although Christ oﬀersus in the Gospel a perfect fullness of spiritual blessings, fruition remainsin the keeping of hope, until we are divested of corruptible ﬂesh, andtransformed into the glory of him who has gone before us.’261 In the light of the foregoing, it is understandable why Calvin linksfaith and hope so closely with one another. Faith hopes that God willfulﬁl the promises, promises that are grasped in hope. According toCalvin, faith has hope in eternal life as its companion.262 2.9. The limits and beneﬁt of knowledge of GodFinally, at the end of this chapter on Calvin’s doctrine of revelation, Iwant to indicate one striking feature which has major consequences forthe content of the knowledge of God. Human knowledge in faith is alimited knowledge. In the preceding sections we discussed the functionof the metaphor of the mirror. God reveals himself in various mirrors,which each have diﬀerent qualities. The mirrors in which God makeshimself known—the natural order, Scripture, Jesus Christ—have bothnegative and positive functions. Positively, this means that God willbind his creations to the revelation given. Only by concentration onthese mirrors will meaningful knowledge to be obtained. Negatively thismeans that man must not attempt to go beyond the mirrors given him.Man must not desire to contemplate God outside of the ways in whichGod oﬀers himself. We can now summarise: according to Calvin, knowing God is fromthe outset a practical matter, focused directly on the human beingas an individual person. It begins with man permitting himself to beaddressed in conscience, in his encounter with the natural world, inhis inner life, in the Word, and most important at the point where God 261 Inst. 2.9.3: ‘Quanvis ergo praesentem spiritualium bonorum plenitudinem nobisin Evangelio Christus oﬀerat, fruitio tamen sub custodia spei semper latet, doneccorruptibili carne exuti, transﬁguremur in eius qui nos praecedit gloriam.’ 262 Inst. 3.2.42.
116 chapter twospeaks: fellowship with Christ, and the gifts contained in Him. It is Godwho, through his Spirit, invites man to begin on this path, and to movetoward ever fuller knowledge. It is a way that lasts a lifetime, a pil-grim’s journey that becomes concrete in obedience, in worship, in thecertainty of faith, reverence and love: ‘The knowledge of God whichwe are invited to cultivate is not that which, resting satisﬁed with emptyspeculation, only ﬂutters in the brain, but a knowledge which will provesubstantial and fruitful wherever it is duly perceived, and rooted in theheart.’263 This path is not described by Calvin as intellectual acceptanceof truths on the authority of others. By its very nature, knowledge ofGod is not limited to the cerebral. On the contrary; what comes fromGod does something with man, touches his aﬀective faculties to theirdepths and calls forth a diversity of experiences. ‘The Lord is mani-fested by his perfections. When we feel their power within us, and areconscious of their beneﬁts, the knowledge must impress us more vividlythan if we merely imagined a God whose presence we never felt.’264Knowledge of God does indeed include the intellectual, the concep-tual, and at the same time is more than understanding. Knowing Godis, at its apex, aﬀective. The Spirit moves soul and senses and opens theway forward. 263 Inst. 1.5.9. 264 Ibidem.
chapter three GOD: JUDGE AND FATHER 3.1. Utility and the doctrine of GodThe previous chapter describes how man arrives conceptually at knowl-edge of God, and directly connected with that, what the nature of thatknowledge is. Answering the question of the way to acquire knowl-edge of God did not appear easily possible without giving a provi-sional answer to the question of the content of that knowledge. Implic-itly it appears that the distinction which entered the conceptual sys-tem of Protestant orthodoxy in the early 17th century, namely the dis-tinction between ﬁdes qua and ﬁdes quae, between the act of faith andthe content of faith, must be regarded as inadequate.1 The miscon-ception that faith as an attitude, as an act, can be separated fromthe content of faith very quickly arises. In the previous chapter itwas absolutely clear that Calvin’s concept of faith, or, to be moreprecise, his concept of knowing God, can not be separated from thecontent, namely Christ and all the good things that the believer cancount on in fellowship with this Lord. In the context of fellowshipwith Christ, knowing has the connotation of sealing, that is to say,it engages the heart, the intellect is grounded in the aﬀective, satu-rated in trust. This chapter is a further elaboration of the content, orthe contents, of human knowledge of God. What are the features ofGod as he appears in the mirror of Calvin’s theology? What are themost important metaphors and images, and how do they relate to oneanother? Is there actually a dark and threatening side to Calvin’s imageof God? 1 According to Karl Barth, KD I/1, 248; ET, 236, this distinction is already tobe found in Augustine, De Trinitate XIII, 2, 5, but it apparently only came to beemployed as a methodological distinction with J. Gerhard in his Loci theologiae (1610).From that time the concept has been part of the standard armamentarium of dog-matics, though not without risk. Barth correctly notes that the distinction indicatesthe ‘dialectic’ between faith and the object of faith, but contributes nothing to furtherreﬂection.
118 chapter three Doctrines regarding God are not known for being the most fascinat-ing part of dogmatics; they deal with matters which absolutely fail totouch man in his day to day existence. It appears to be as the adagewhich Luther uses in De Servo Arbitrio says: ‘Quae supra nos, nihil adnos.’2 This maxim, originally attributed to Socrates and included inErasmus in his collection of proverbs,3 is used by Luther as a warningnot to become engrossed with the hidden Counsel of God. Only thedeus revelatus, the revealed God, matters for man, not the hidden God,the deus absconditus. One could say that the traditional curiositas motifreturns in a new shape in Reformation theology.4 In both the adagecited from Luther, and in Calvin’s theology one can discern the desireto concentrate on what really concerns man in his relation to God,and touches human existence directly. With Calvin, this leads to whatis sometimes is termed his Biblicism: he wishes to strictly limit himselfto that doctrine which God in his wisdom had determined to grant.Does he succeed in this? What we at least must say is that Calvin hadthe intention not to take speculation as a point of departure. To whatdegree he really succeeds in this, and to what extent such an enter-prise is really possible, or even desirable, is another question. In thesecond panel we will encounter a view of systematic theology that, seenin the light of Calvin’s vision of theology, is much more speculative. Onthe one hand it is much more modest in its acknowledgement of thehuman status of doctrine; on the other it is more speculative because,in its conception of fulﬁlling a regulative function, it ventures to thelimits of the discussion. That, however, will be dealt with later. I nowwill simply note that Calvin, seen subjectively, believed that the eﬀortto maintain sobriety and moderation was a matter of obedience to theGospel. One repeatedly encounters such exhortations to observe limitsas a methodological rule, particularly in the case of doctrines involvingangels and devils. ‘Since the Holy Spirit always instructs us in what isuseful, but altogether omits, or only touches cursorily on matters whichtend little to ediﬁcation, of all such matters it is our duty to remain inwilling ignorance.’5 The word ‘willing’ reveals where his heart lies. He 2 WA 18, 685. 3 Erasmus von Rotterdam, Adagiorum Chiliades (1536). Ausgewählte Schriften, hrsg. VonW. Welzig, Bd. 7, Darmstadt 1972, 414. 4 E.P. Meijering, Calvin wider die Neugierde. Ein Beitrag zum Vergleich zwischen reforma-torischem und patristischem Denken, Nieuwkoop 1980 and H.A. Oberman, Contra vanamcuriositatem. Ein Kapitel der Theologie zwischen Seelenwinkel und Weltall, Zürich 1974. 5 Inst. 1.14.3.
god: judge and father 119prefers to stay away from questions which it is not given to man to beable to answer, and is, we must say, correspondingly angry when in thepolemics on double predestination logical consequences were imputedto his position which he himself did not wish to draw. This call for discretion and the acknowledgement of limits doesnot stand by itself. The determination of limits is not a goal in itself,nor an expression of a general timidity, but is directly linked with thepractical and spiritual utility of the content of faith. Knowledge must beuseful, we hear time and again. Knowing must result in advancement,in worship of and life with God.6 In a manner which is reminiscentof the ﬁrst edition of Melanchthon’s Loci Communes, Calvin states thatman only seeks God in the proper way when he curbs his curiosityand worships rather than investigates God’s being. The correct path forknowledge of God is to see Him in his works, in which he approachesman, reveals and in a certain manner shares Himself.7 The relation between knowledge of God and experience is so strongin Calvin that in contemporary Calvin studies a direct line is indeeddrawn from Calvin to Schleiermacher.8 In one of the few places in theInstitutes where what are termed the ‘perfections’ of God are discussed,he says for instance that knowledge of God consists more in ‘a vividactual impression than empty lofty speculation’.9 The context makesclear what Calvin here views as being involved in the ‘impression’. First,discussing Exodus 34:6, he says that the Bible is the mirror in whichGod shows his image to man in the clearest way. Next he asserts thatall these qualities of God can also be experienced in the created world.That is an assertion which may strike us as very strange, accustomed aswe are to thinking of things in an instrumental, and sometimes natu-ralistic manner. Can man indeed really experience God’s perfections inthe physical world which surrounds us? According to Calvin, we can. 6 Inst. 1.14.4: ‘… tenendam esse unam modestiae et sobrietatis regulam, ne derebus obscuris aliud vel loquamur, vel sentiamus, vel scire etiam appetamus quamquod Dei verbo fuerit nobis traditum. Alterum, ut in lectione Scripturae, iis continenterquaerendis ac meditandis immoremur quae ad aediﬁcationem pertinent: non curiositatiaut rerum inutilium studio indulgeamus. Et quia Dominus non in frivolis questionibus,sed in solida pietate, timore nominis sui, vera ﬁducia, sanctitatis oﬃciis erudire nosvoluit, in ea scientia acquiescamus.’ 7 Inst. 1.5.9. 8 8. B.A. Gerrish, ‘Theology within the Limits of Piety Alone: Schleiermacher andCalvin’s Notion of God’ in: idem, The Old Protestantism and the New. Essays on ReformationHeritage, Edinburgh 1982, 196–207. 9 Inst. 1.10.2.
120 chapter threeThe qualities listed in Exodus do not involve only a propositional truthdelivered to us, but are conﬁrmed in the experience that the believergains from human experience and the world, from nature and history.10With experience as his teacher (experientia magistra), man once again dis-covers the deﬁnitive features in the portrait of God.11 Subsequently, for Calvin it is simply not understandable that thatwhich is said about God should leave man unmoved. Anyone whocomes into contact with God also encounters himself. Repeatedly wecome upon the methodological principle of bipolarity to which wealready referred in the previous chapter. Both the terms with whichGod’s qualities are characterised (goodness, wisdom, righteousness,judgement and mercy), and the images or metaphors which refer toGod as a person (source, judge, Lord and Father), can be considered asone focus in an ellipse. To that corresponds the second focus, namelythe answer and attitude on the human side. Knowledge of God is thus useful knowledge. But what is useful? Theanswer to the question of whether something is useful depends greatlyon culture. Use is a qualiﬁcation derived from a fundamental systemwith its acknowledged norms and values. If that fundamental system isan anthropology which supposes that relation to God is by deﬁnitionnot part of being human, then it at the same time decides that Godis unnecessary or even undesirable. It will become clear that the basic,theocratic system which Calvin had in mind is fundamentally diﬀerentfrom a basic system that threatens to reduce utility to economic value.For Calvin, that which does justice to the correct relation betweenGod and man, or which promotes fellowship between man and God,and which motivates man to obedience and worship is useful.12 Forinstance, in Calvin’s second sermon on Job 33 we can hear that which 10 Inst. 1.5.9: ‘Atque hic rursus observandum est, invitari nos ad Dei notitiam, nonquae inani speculatione contenta in cerebro tantum volitet, sed quae solida futura sit etfructuosa si rite percipiatur a nobis, radicemque agat in corde. A suis enim virtutibusmanifestatur Dominus: quarum vim quia sentimus intra nos et beneﬁciis fruimur,vividius multo hac cognitione nos aﬃci necesse est quam si Deum imaginaremur cuiusnullus ad nos sensus perveniret.’ 11 See also W. Balke, ‘The Word of God and Experientia according to Calvin’ in:W.H. Neuser (ed.), Calvinus Ecclesiae Doctor, Kampen 1980, 19–31. 12 Inst. 1.5.9: ‘Unde intelligimus hanc esse rectissimam Dei quaerendi viam et aptis-simum ordinem: non ut audaci curiositate penetrare tentemus ad excutiendam eiusessentiam, quae adoranda potius est, quam scrupulosius disquirenda: sed ut illum insuis operibus contemplemur quibus se propinquum nobis familiaremque reddit, ac quo-dammodo communicat.’
god: judge and father 121is understood as useful in the ﬁrst panel of this study. At verse 12(‘God is greater than man’), Calvin notes that it is not suﬃcient toconfess that God is almighty, that He has made the world and thatHe guides things and holds them in his hand. Those are only confessionsvolages, empty words. These confessions are of no use to us if we donot move beyond them. According to this sermon it is a matter of hisconfession regarding God having an immediate eﬀect on the mannerin which a person relates to God. Thus, on the human side God’smajesty translates into awe and obedience. If we declare God good, inwhatever He does with us, then we accept his will, and we confess hisrighteousness. If that has a real, practical signiﬁcance, then we maintainthat God never subjects us to anything unjustiﬁed or without reason.13Yet Calvin’s conviction that all that happens is in one way or anotherwilled by God and has a purpose and sense, also has its shadow side,which we would rather not accept. This shadow side is that Calvin hasthe inclination to seek an apparent reason for everything that occurs.Disasters, illnesses, adversity, good fortune: everything is immediatelytranslated into punishment, or discipline, or blessing or undeservedgrace. We will return to this further in this chapter (3.8). This constant focus on the practical use of the knowledge connectedwith faith is linked with another aspect of this concept, namely the anti-speculative tenor. The anti-speculative tenor and the usus motif are likethe head and tail of a coin. 3.2. The anti-speculative tenorWhat is the background of this anti-speculative trait in Calvin’sthought? Precisely this theme invites consideration in a theological-his-torical context. Bouwsma points out that the focus on experience anduseful knowledge in Calvin’s thought ﬁts well in the anti-speculativemood of the Renaissance.14 His explicit anti-speculative statements canbe understood against the background of the diverse impulses in theintellectual climate in which Calvin developed and played a role. For 13 CO 35, 62: ‘Voila donc ceste grandeur de Dieu comme elle doit estre recognue,c’est qu’il ait toute authorite de faire de nous ce que bon lui semblera.’ 14 See Bouwsma, John Calvin, 150–161, idem, ‘Calvinism as Renaissance Artifact’ in:T. George (ed.), John Calvin and the Church. A Prism of Reform, Louisville, Kentucky 1990,28–41.
122 chapter threeinstance, in the sphere of French humanism in which he moved, thecritique of speculative knowledge, devoid of any practical beneﬁts, waswidely shared. In this connection it is also useful to place Calvin’s think-ing against the background of the spiritual and philosophical-theologi-cal legacy of Scotism and Modern Devotion. He came in contact withboth as a student at Collège de Montaigu. But precise lines of inﬂuencecan hardly be proven. Several decades of research into late medievalbackgrounds for Calvin have indeed produced a mass of suggestions,but little concrete evidence of direct inﬂuences.15 That does not detractfrom the fact that one can say there is in fact a congruence of convic-tions, and that particularly impulses surface that are to be associatedwith the via moderna. Behind the distinction between the via antiqua andvia moderna as diﬀering directions in the late-medieval debate stands thereconsideration of the relation between God and the world. Charac-teristic of the via moderna, as opposed to the via antiqua, is the idea thatthe relation between God and the world should no longer be thoughtof in terms of necessity. The theology of Thomas Aquinas and Anselmis still dominated by a powerful trust in the possibility of ratio, thought,penetrating the truth of God’s existence and essence on the basis ofthe created world. Or, going in the other direction, conclusions basedon a consideration of God as the highest being, of drawing conclusionsin a deterministic manner regarding nature and sacred history, the viamoderna gives way to a view in which the relation of God to the world 15 For an overview of the present state of the matter, see H.A. Oberman, ‘InitiaCalvini: The Matrix of Calvin’s Reformation’ in: W.H. Neuser (ed.), Calvinus SacraeScripturae Professor. Calvin as Confessor of Holy Scripture, Grand Rapids (Mi.) 1994, par-ticularly the section ‘The Pitfalls of Pedigree Pursuit’, 117–127. The evidence is notyet present to prove the suggestion of direct dependence upon, for instance, the Sco-tist inﬂuenced John Major at the Collège de Montaigu, as proposed by K. Reuter,Das Grundverständnis der Theologie Calvins unter Einbeziehung ihrer geschichtlichen Abhängigkeiten,Neukirchen 1963 and by T.F. Torrance, ‘Knowledge of God and Speech about himaccording to John Calvin’ in: idem, Theology in Reconstruction, Grand Rapids 1965, 76–98,part. 81–84. Oberman himself also seems to have become more cautious with regard toa direct contact between Major and Calvin. See the paper ‘Die “Extra”-Dimension inder Theologie Calvins’, dating from 1966, in: idem, Die Reformation. Von Wittenberg nachGenf, Göttingen 1986, 275: ‘Wohlmöglich hat er [sc. Calvin] … unter dem gelehrtenJohannes Major … studiert.’ In his ‘Initia Calvini’ Oberman limits himself to a clus-ter of concepts that belong to the Scotist legacy and could in part form a key to theunderstanding of Calvin’s order of salvation. The argument that I make in this studyto understand Calvin’s theology as a concept in which the invitation of God to manis central, and the believer is called to hold fast to the mercy of God appearing in themirror of Christ, ﬁts into this pattern.
god: judge and father 123is determined by his will.16 When God and the world could no longerthought of only in terms of a hierarchy of being, this had consequencesfor knowledge of both the natural world, and for knowledge concerningsalvation. To what degree this separation really stimulated freedom forempirical investigation or formed a condition for the creation of moder-nity, will not be entered into here. It can however be said that thisemancipation in late-medieval theology led to a reduction in the extentof theological knowledge accepted on philosophical grounds. Knowl-edge acquired by speculative means no longer had a place unless it wasconﬁrmed by revelation.17 Church and theology were thrown back onthe revelation of God. Calvin’s theology, and certainly his doctrines ofGod, stand closer to the via moderna than to the via antiqua. As this chap-ter continues we will again discuss this with the doctrine of election andCalvin’s conﬂict with Bolsec in mind. Calvin’s remarks concerning limits and useful knowledge are in a pri-marily theological context. Apparently closely related to Kant’s adagesapere aude, in which thinking reﬂects on its own limits and possibili-ties, in Calvin we ﬁnd the phrase nostrum vero est ad sobrietatem sapere.18The argument for accepting such limits is however fundamentally dif-ferent. With Calvin it is God who in his word sets a boundary, and not 16 According to Terminist logic, linguistic structures are human constructs whichonly acquire their meaning within a certain context. According to the dominant viewin modalist logic, such linguistic structures belonged to the nature of things. Terministlogic leads to a diﬀerent view of Aristotelian categories. Only substance and qualityare still considered as res permanentes; quantity, relation, movement, place and time aredescriptions of a situation in which quality and substance ﬁnd themselves. A universalconcept, for instance the term ‘rational being’ in the sentence ‘Socrates is an rationalbeing’, refers to nothing which exists outside of the concrete individual, in this caseSocrates. See W.J. Courtenay, Schools and Scholars, 198–201. 17 For this development, see, among others, H.A. Oberman, ‘Via Antiqua and ViaModerna. Late medieval prolegomena to early Reformation Thought’, Journal for theHistory of Ideas 48 (1987), 23–40, m.n. 26–28. According to a now long outmoded pictureof medieval theology and philosophy, this further distinction led to a skeptical attitudein philosophy and to ﬁdeism in theology. Moreover, the development was thought tohave had a direct consequence for the idea of God Almighty as a potentia absolutawho worked in a capricious and arbitrary manner. Further on in this chapter wewill demonstrate that in his theology Calvin left room for acknowledging that God’sgovernance sometimes takes on a form that cannot be reconciled with the confession ofHis goodness. At the same time his concepts of providence and election reﬂect the factthat for his knowledge of God man must keep to what is presented to him in Scriptureand in Christ. In terms of the paired concepts of potentia absoluta and potentia ordinata, forhis knowledge of God the believer is referred to what God has ordained as the potentiaordinata. 18 Inst. 1.15.8: ‘it is ours to keep within the bounds of soberness’.
124 chapter threeman who is to reﬂect on the boundaries of his own possibilities. Godtreats sparingly of his essence to keep us within the bounds of soberness,Calvin writes at the beginning of the chapter on the Trinity. The thingswhich God indeed says are useful, because they indicate a boundary,and indicate man’s proper place.19 In short, for Calvin the resistance tospeculation does not spring primarily from a general, epistemological-theoretical concern, but is immediately religious in its basis. The idea of a boundary has, as we have previously noted, a doublefunction. On the one hand a border is something man should not wishto transgress; on the other hand the border encloses that which canindeed be known about God. Or put in other terms, with the metaphorwhich was discussed in the second chapter, the boundary is formed bythe multiplicity of mirrors in which God himself appears and can beseen by man, and reaches in this existence. To what degree does Godmake himself knowable? 3.3. Partial knowabilityHow much does man actually know of God? A distinction frequentlymade by Calvin in connection with the content of human knowledgeof God is that God has not revealed what He is (quid sit), but onlywhat He is like towards us (qualis sit).20 In recent dogmatics this dis-tinction has been interpreted from various angles in such a way as toopen the door for the idea that there is still something more real hid-den behind the revelation given.21 In his doctrine of election Karl Barthexpresses the fear that referring to Christ as the speculum electonis hasmore a pastoral signiﬁcance than that it must be taken seriously theo-logically. The real electing God is after all hidden behind this mirror,and that is threatening.22 In this connection Berkouwer has spoken of ashadow that lay over the doctrine of election,23 and this characterisationpales in comparison with the crushing diagnosis pronounced by Max 19 Inst. 1.13.1. 20 Inst. 1.2.1. See also Inst. 1.10.2. 21 See for example H.M. Kuitert, De mensvormigheid Gods. Een dogmatisch hermeneutischestudie over de antropomorﬁsmen van de Heilige Schrift, Kampen 19693, 111. See also K. Barth,KD II/1, 208; ET, 185–186. 22 KD II/2, 68; ET, 63. 23 G.C. Berkouwer, De Verkiezing Gods, Kampen 1955, 11, 25. ET, Divine Election. Studiesin Dogmatics, trans. by Hugo Bekker, Grand Rapids, 1960, 12, 25.
god: judge and father 125Weber: pathetischer Unmenschlichkeit.24 Later in this chapter, in connectionwith the doctrine of election, we will return to this question. However, itmay serve as a warning for us, living in a diﬀerent cultural and theolog-ical landscape, that Calvin absolutely does not appear to be consciousof the possibility that the discrepancy between what of God’s Counselwhich is concealed from human knowledge and what has been givento man in revelation could be interpreted in terms of real and unreal.The distinction serves primarily to bar speculation about God, outsideof his own self-revelation. With this negative attitude in regard to thequestion of whether we can know what God is, Calvin stands in a longand much-frequented tradition.25 The background is in part formed bythe tradition of Aristotelian teaching on categories. It is fundamentalfor every being that it is a substance, something. The remaining cat-egories answer questions about all sorts of aspects of that being: forinstance, quantity, quality, its relation to other beings, the place that itassumes. The ﬁrst and most important category is that of substance,that which makes a thing a particular thing. It is a question of whatsomething is, and what deﬁnes its individuality.26 That which can beanswered with regard to created things is not able to be determinedwith relation to God, namely quidditas. Nor, we are given to understandby Calvin, is this something which concerns man. What does matter forhuman knowledge of God is what God has thought it ﬁtting to revealof himself, quid eius naturae conveniat scire,27 how He is disposed to andconducts himself toward man and his world. Calvin’s interest lies morewith God’s acts than with God’s essence. It is therefore striking that theexplicit discussion of the doctrine of God remains limited. In the rela-tively little that Calvin does say on the subject, Ex. 3:13, where God’s 24 M. Weber, ‘Die Protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus’ (1904–1905)in: M. Weber, Die protestantische Ethik I. Eine Aufsatzsammlung, Hamburg 19754, 122: ‘Inihrer pathetischen Unmenschlichkeit mußte diese Lehre nun für die Stimmung einerGeneration, die sich ihrer grandiosen Konsequenz ergab, vor allem eine Folge haben:das Gefühl einer unerhörten inneren Vereinsamung des einzelnen Individuums.’ 25 See for instance John of Damascus, De orthodoxa ﬁde, Liber 1, cap. 4, PG 94, 797.See also Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Prima pars, q1, a.7. The emphasis onthe inﬁnite diﬀerence between God and man does not serve here, as we have said,to undermine the revelation received. It is a distinction that we ﬁnd, for instance, inThomas Aquinas when he asks of man is able to know God per essentiam. Thomas rejectsthis view. God is known by man only in his eﬀects. The names which are applied to himindeed do refer to his being, and do to that extent predicate God as substantialiter, butwith regard to the modus signiﬁcandi. 26 Aristotle, Metaphysics, book VII, 1. 27 Inst. 1.2.2: ‘what things are agreeable to his nature’.
126 chapter threeholiness and majesty are prominent, takes a prominent place.28 Thisholiness and majesty is precisely, however, that which eludes humanunderstanding. Regarding God’s essentia, his essence, it can be said thatit is incomprehensible (incomprehensibilis) and inﬁnite (immensa).29 Thereis good reason not to take the word incomprehensible in an abso-lute sense. Taken to its logical conclusion, that would mean denyingevery possibility of knowledge of God, and that is obviously not Calvin’sintention. In his exegesis of the vision accompanying the call of Isaiah,the point of the distinction between who God is in himself and who Heis as he reveals himself is not that God might be other than in his reve-lation. The point is that in his majesty and glory God utterly surpasseshuman measure. God as it were doses out the appearance of his gloryso that it is not overwhelming for angels and men. Human knowledgeof God is a matter of ‘tasting’, ‘touching upon’. It is thus certainly theintention that men, like the angels, each behold the majesty of God andtake it in, but each within their own sphere and only to the extent thatGod manifests his majesty.30 In the previous chapter there were frequent references to the impor-tance of classic cosmology in Calvin’s thought. It is also importantwithin the context of the doctrine of God, and particularly for therecognition of God’s sublimity. Astronomy functions here as the par-adigm of scientiﬁc knowledge. The knowing soul measures the heavens,counts the stars, establishes their magnitude, their distance, observesthe faster or slower speed of rotation, and calculates the deviation.31The distances are as it were compassed by the tape measure of thespirit. If this encompassing activity of the soul is considered as knowl-edge, we can understand why Calvin calls the being of God incom-prehensible. It is after all literally immeasurable and is not embracedby any limits.32 In the encounter with God, man learns to know Godas inﬁnitely exalted above every measure.33 The realisation of God’smajesty and sublimity is a fundamental and ﬁrst fact in the content ofrevelation. 28 In Inst. 1.10.2 Calvin lists the qualities of eternity (aeternitas) and ‘self-existence’(autousia), to be understood in the sense of aseitas. We do not ﬁnd the term aseitas. 29 Inst. 1.11.3 and 4. See also Inst. 1.13.1: ‘spiritualis’. 30 Comm. Jes. 6:1, CO 36, 128. Cf. also Calvin’s Comm. to 1 Joh. 3:2, CO 55, 330. 31 Inst. 1.15.2. 32 It is said of God’s Spirit in Inst. 1.13.14, ‘Iam hoc ipso creaturarum numeroeximitur, quod nullis circunscribitur ﬁnibus’. 33 Inst. 1.13.1.
god: judge and father 127 3.4. Unceasing activityWhile the sublimity of God may have a prominent place in Calvin’sdoctrine of God, this means anything but that man can learn nothingmore of Him. It is also clear that one can in no way reduce Calvin’simage of God to mechanistic causality. That idea rests on a mani-fest misconception, apparently determined by the stubbornly persistentperception of a speculative idealistic reading of Calvin, that his think-ing about God is reducible to the force of the principle of causality.The opposite is the case. Calvin needs a multiplicity of verbs to do jus-tice to God’s many sorts of activity. One does not persist with such asuperﬂuity if there is no reason to do so. That God is the Living Onedoes not receive from Calvin a concentrated discussion of one para-graph, such as is usual in a more scholastic treatment, but fans out overa broad ﬁeld. God is active and involved in many ways. The reader ofCalvin’s texts is impressed by the many-faceted work and engagementof God. God is the one through whom the Spirit is ceaselessly active.The particular victim of Calvin’s onslaught is the Epicurean idea of adeus otiosus, a God who withdraws into the heavens and whose workremains limited to the creation of the world,34 or who, self-fulﬁlled, lim-its himself to the higher reaches of the spheres.35 God, Calvin says, doesnot withdraw to some distant corner.36 His power is ‘vigilant, eﬃca-cious, energetic and ever active’.37 Therefore man should not supposeGod’s power as only the prime movement in an otherwise automaticand blind succession of movements, ‘as in ordering a stream to keepwithin the channel once prescribed for it’. Thus there is in no way aprocess closed to outside inﬂuence; God’s power is an active regulatinginﬂuence and is involved with each separate moment of a process orhappening. In order to remain in the picture, He guides not only a boil-ing mass of water or a burst of energy, but each drop, at every moment.Thus God is not only the prima causa which stands at the beginning ofa series of events; through the hidden working of his Spirit He equallyis involved in the second and every subsequent cause. It is characteris- 34 Inst. 3.20.40. 35 See Inst. 1.16.4: ‘Taceo Epicureos (qua peste refertus semper fuit mundus) quiDeum otiosum inertemque somniant: aliosque nihilo saniores, qui olim commenti suntDeum ita dominari supra mediam aeris regionem, ut inferiora fortunae relinqueret;siquidem adversus tam evidentem insaniam satis clamant mutae ipsae creaturae.’ 36 In a sermon on Iob 12, CO 33, 588. 37 Inst. 1.16.3.
128 chapter threetic of Calvin’s theology and spirituality that this immanent divine workin our created world is ascribed to the Holy Spirit.38 God is spoken ofas both the inﬁnitely high and elevated God, and at the same time asthe God who through his Spirit is the power which sustains and quick-ens all that exists, deeply engaged with the whole of created reality. Theexaltedness and the indwelling are correlates of one another. In his doc-trines of the Lord’s Table Calvin directs his gaze to Christ, who, withregard to his humanity, is in heaven since his Ascension; but this ideais borne by the fundamental conviction that man, as a created being,and all of creation around him, lie within the reach of the immanentand hidden power of the Holy Spirit. This involvement of God’s actsthrough his Spirit takes on ever diﬀerent forms, and can be pictured ascomprising three concentric circles. In the outermost there is the uni-versal action of God’s Spirit through which He supports the whole ofcreation. In the second circle we ﬁnd the guidance of God in humanhistory, and the innermost circle is formed by the very peculiar andpreternatural action of the Spirit, who works only in the believers, orelect.39 The hidden, bearing power of the Spirit in all creation is sostrong that Calvin is prepared to accept the view that originated withthe Stoics, provided that, as he says, it is interpreted in a god-fearingmanner.40 His objection to the Stoics is not that they say too much,but rather too little. God is not to be subsumed in nature, but naturerests on an ordo prescribed by God. Calvin therefore wants absolutelynothing to do with the idea, much identiﬁed with Epicurean philos-ophy, that God’s capacities now and then go unused. God directs allthings through his providence and arranges all things so that nothinghappens outside of his will.41 God is the moderator and conservator. In afrequently used metaphor, God is the source of all good things, whichin very diverse ways are directly involved with his work. Calvin uses arange of verbs for God’s work of maintaining and governing the world.God’s actions are described with the verbs fovere, sustinere and curare,42 38 Cf. also W. Krusche, Das Wirken des Heiligen Geistes nach Calvin, Göttingen 1957,particularly Chapter 2. 39 See his comm. on Rom. 8:14, CO 49, 147: ‘Caeterum observare convenit, essemultiplicem Spiritus actionem. Est enim universalis, qua omnes creaturae sustinentur,ac moventur: sunt et peculiares in hominibus, et illae quidem variae. sed hic sanctiﬁ-cationem intelligit, qua non nisi electos suos Dominus dignatur, dum eos sibi in ﬁliossegregat.’ Cf. also CO 7, 186. 40 Inst. 1.5.5. 41 Inst. 1.16.3. 42 Inst. 1.16.1.
god: judge and father 129conservare, tolerare, tueri.43 All these verbs express something of God’s solic-itude. God cares, supports, preserves, protects. God’s activity is focused,caring activity. That is His way of being Lord. Typical nouns in thiscontext are also nod, nutus, and rein, fraenum. All things that happen,happen at His nod. He holds everything and everyone, even the devil,in his reins.44 Never, on any occasion, is the movement which proceedsfrom God general and disordered, as in the case of Pharaoh’s reac-tion to the words of Moses.45 God always acts ﬁttingly, and undertakesfocused action. What man learns of God in all this is thus not simply activity; itis not an impersonal process. What man learns to know is God’s willin action. God thus does not reveal his essence, but his will. With thisemphasis on the unceasing activity of God in all things, Calvin doesnot deny the existence of secondary causes, but in contrast to the Stoicand Epicurean world-view, the emphasis unquestionably lies on Godas the one who through his Spirit is constantly, decisively and activelyinvolved in all that happens.46 Calvin describes a world which is notdeserted by God, no blind process, but a world which has the hiddenwork of the Holy Spirit as the peculiar locus of activity in the Triunebeing of God to thank for its unity and colourful diversity. This isthe line of Trinitarian theology which, looking back, one can connectwith Cappadocian theology, and, looking forward, one which JurgenMoltmann made productive for an ecological doctrine of creation.47 With this, Calvin’s vision of the relation of God to the world stands inthe tradition of the condemnation of radical Averroism by the Bishopof Paris, Etienne Tempier, in 1270 and 1277. These articles are generallyregarded as a mirror in which the very fundamental debate betweenChristian faith regarding the creation and Aristotelian thought regard-ing necessity becomes visible. One of the points in that debate was,for instance, the proposition defended by radical Averroism that the 43 See for instance Inst. 1.2.1: ‘Hoc ita accipio, non solum quod mundum hunc,ut semel condidit, sic immensa potentia sustineat, sapientia moderetur, bonitate con-servet, humanum genus praesertim iustitia iudicioque regat, misericordia toleret, prae-sidio tueatur: sed quia nusquam vel sapientiae ac lucis, vel iustitiae, vel potentiae, velrectitudinis, vel syncerae veritatis gutta reperietur quae non ab ipso ﬂuat, et cuius ipsenon sit causa.’ 44 See H.A. Oberman, ‘Calvin’s Legacy’ in: idem, The two Reformations, 132. See Inst.1.14.7. 45 Comm. on Rom. 9:17, CO 49, 184: ‘… universali et confuso motu …’ 46 See for instance Inst. 1.16.2. 47 J. Moltmann, Gott in der Schöpfung. Ökologische Schöpfungslehre, Gütersloh 19934, 23.
130 chapter threeworld must be considered eternal. Another sharply debated subject wasthe immortality of the personal soul. According to Averroism, that wasunthinkable. If the material is the individualising principle, and thesoul the form, at death the individual soul dissolves into the world-soul. Over against these views the Paris articles defended the proposi-tion that the given order within which we live stems from the will ofGod. The power of God cannot be limited to that which is conceivableaccording to Aristotelian principles. A large number of the propositionstherefore are aimed against things that are impossible according to thisAristotelianism. Concretely they oppose any limitation on the freedomof God’s action. In this content, the autonomy of the causae secundae istherefore explicitly disputed.48 This is the line in which we also suc-cinctly ﬁnd Calvin: God, through the Holy Spirit, is involved with allthings in various ways. He is actively at work in the natural world, inthe course of history, and to a particular degree there where the centreof his exertions lie, where man enters into fellowship with God throughChrist. 3.5. Core concepts: loving-kindness, judgement and righteousnessCalvin describes God’s dealings with and relation to man and theworld with a multitude of words and concepts. In the following para-graphs I will try to introduce some order into this complexity, usingtwo mutually connected approaches to do so. We discover the ﬁrstapproach by paying attention to the perfections or qualities which char-acterise God’s actions. The second approach to Calvin’s image of Godis through the most frequently used images or metaphors. The qualitiesand metaphors used are connected with each other, and are clariﬁedprecisely in their mutual relationships. We must say it again: what one does not ﬁnd discussed in Calvin’stheology is as telling for it as what is found there. One does notencounter an explicit, elaborated doctrine of God, as one ﬁnds in themanuals of Protestant orthodoxy. Calvin does here and there provide a 48 See for a discussion of this articles a.o. D.C. Lindberg, The Beginnings of WesternScience. The European Scientiﬁc Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context,600 B.C. to A.D. 1450, Chicago 1992, 234–239. Cf. also H.A. Oberman, ‘Via antiquaand Via Moderna: Late medieval Prolegomena to early Reformation Thought’, Journalof the History of Ideas 48 (1987), 27.
god: judge and father 131list of qualities,49 nor does he fail to take up the debate with those theo-logical currents which do not do justice to God’s presence and activity.In Institutes 1.10.2 we encounter a comparatively extensive discussion ofthe question of how the various perfections relate to one another. Afterthe qualities listed in Exodus 34:6 are cited (eternity and self-existence;compassion, goodness, mercy, justice, judgement and truth), and ref-erence is made to the treasury of Psalm 145 as a summary of doc-trine regarding God, in connection with Jeremiah 9:24 Calvin pointsto three concepts that can serve as headings under which to classifyall of the acts of God. These are the concepts of misericordia (mercy orloving-kindness), iudicium (judgement) and iustitia (righteousness). God’sloving-kindness accomplishes the salvation of his elect. Judgement isthat action of God ‘which is daily exercised on the wicked, and awaitsthem in a severer form, even for eternal destruction’. Finally, thereis God’s righteousness, in which he preserves and cherishes those hehas justiﬁed. The other qualities, such as truth, power, holiness andgoodness, can be arranged under these three, because, as we are told,mercy, judgement and righteousness support God’s inviolable truth.How could one believe in God’s judgement and loving-kindness if hispower and strength were not assumed? It is impossible to imagineGod’s mercy except as a consequence of his goodness. Finally all threequalities reveal God’s holiness. In this paragraph from the Institutes, and equally from his expositionof Psalm 145, it once again becomes very clear that according to Calvinknowledge of God does not bypass human experience; it is somethingthat can be experienced here on earth. The knowledge that is set beforeour eyes in Scripture, and that which shines in creation too, has adouble purpose. God invites man to respect or fear, and subsequently, totrust. With these two words, fear and trust, we have the terms in whichCalvin describes the reaction which, on the human side, correspondswith what God has made known of himself. The three concepts of mercy, judgement and righteousness can inturn be connected with various metaphors. That is the second ap-proach. In the following special attention will be given to the metaphorsof Lord of the world, judge and father. The concepts of judgement andrighteousness fall into the ﬁeld of meaning surrounding the metaphorof Lord of the world. In the judgement that the wicked and unbelievers 49 For instance in Inst. 1.14.21: sapientia, potentia, iustitia, bonitas. See also Inst.1.1.1. and Inst. 3.20.41.
132 chapter threeexperience, they encounter God in his role as judge. In the care exer-cised for the faithful in the world, they encounter God’s fatherhood. Ina series of steps I will describe how these qualities become concrete,and becoming concrete means, among other things, that they are expe-rienced in a sensory manner. 3.6. Lord of the world: God’s care and goodness in the order of the worldCalvin’s thought is permeated by an idea that has ebbed away as one ofthe certainties of life in the centuries after the Enlightenment, namelythat man and the world belong inalienably to God. He is the Creatorof this world, and as such the world is his property, literally his domain.He is the only one with sovereignty over it. All authority, that of monar-chs, that of the church, of parents and patrons, is therefore derived fromthe authority of God. It is not without reason then that in the Frenchtranslation the title of the ﬁrst book of the Institutes calls God Createur, etsouverain Gouverneur du monde. In the introduction to the Ten Command-ments we read that God claims for himself the authority and right togovern.50 It is his by right, and therefore all men, the godless and believ-ers alike, must deal with him. It also means that from the outset thereis an asymmetry in the relation between God and man. It is not a rela-tion with equal partners. That idea is completely foreign to Calvin. Themajesty of God, his exaltation, is so great that he owes nothing to anyof his creations.51 In theory, God is not beholden to us in any way. Thecompetencies of the two parties are therefore incommensurate. Thisidea perhaps sounds repugnant. Does God then have no obligations tohis creation? Should God not be responsible for his creation? But thesequestions already betray the modern reversal of perspective in whichman summons God to judgement, rather than the other way around.In the following sections on election and damnation I will return to this. From the manner in which Calvin describes God’s providing forthis world, or better, His care for his creation, it seems clear thataccording to him it is inconceivable that man could ever bring Godto the bar, as if man had a right to anything. The primary relationbetween the Creator and the creation makes that impossible. Therefore 50Inst. 2.8.13: ‘potestatem ac ius imperii vendicat.’ 51Comm. on Rom. 9.15, CO 49, 181: ‘Hoc autem oraculo declaravit Dominus, senemini mortalium esse debitorem.’
god: judge and father 133as he develops his arguments regarding Christian life and ethics, weﬁnd Calvin repeating the dictum nostri non sumus, sed Domini time aftertime.52 Nor can unbelievers ever escape from God’s oversight, thoughthere is no comfort for them in this. To their eyes He appears only asa harsh judge. For modern readers, for whom as outsiders it is hardlypossible to understand what Calvin experienced of God and the world,this discourse is brimming with pitfalls. Terms such as ‘property’ and‘Lord’ provoke distrust in a context where the inalienable rights of theindividual have found their way into constitutions and human rightstreaties. Words like this seem to assail the dignity of man. This makes itall the more important to investigate what meaning these concepts hadfor Calvin. First and foremost, it must be remarked that God’s being as Lord ofthe world must in no sense be confused with a despotism. Calvin knewwell that earthly lords could reveal themselves to be despots, but theseare excesses and deformations of the ruler who should be caring forhis subjects justly, with moderation and leniency. It has already beennoted that it is not by accident that the Institutes are preceded by aletter of dedication to a monarch, Francis I. This ends with a criticalexposition of the oﬃce of the government and on the subjection of allgovernmental powers to God. ‘The Lord is the King of kings’.53 Theaversion to the idea that God is a Lord who rules arbitrarily or whoallows himself to be led by his whims will occupy us again later in thesections regarding God’s absolute power (3.12.5–6). In the preceding wehave already however established that God’s being as Lord becomesconcrete ﬁrst and foremost in providence. God’s caring dealings withbelievers indeed take on a form that encompasses the lives of all men,and the whole of creation. It becomes concrete in what Calvin callsgeneral grace, and which embraces all life on earth. It is characteristic of Calvin’s world of faith that in support of God’sgoodness and care he does not appeal just to Bible passages. God’sgoodness and providence is not just a theologoumenon that one candiscover only from Scripture; Calvin’s premise is that it is conﬁrmedin everyday experience. It is clear that at this point we encounter anunbridgeable chasm which has opened between Calvin’s times and ourmodern sense of life, and that a direct appeal to Calvin is impossi-ble without explicitly reminding ourselves of our altered relation to the 52 Inst. 3.7.1. 53 Inst. 4.20.32.
134 chapter threeworld around us. In today’s dogmatics God’s being as Creator is a con-fession which goes ‘contrary to what can be seen and experienced’.54That was not the case in Calvin’s world. For Calvin, God’s being Cre-ator and God’s providence have an inherent plausibility. The perfec-tions of God’s goodness and care shine forth in the structure of theworld, and are conﬁrmed in Scripture. Of what is Calvin thinking with regard to this visibility? What doeshe have in mind? In particular, we must think of the order of theuniverse. In the preceding chapter we have already cited his statementthat man cannot open his eyes without seeing the hand of God theCraftsman in the ordering of the world.55 According to the geocentricpicture of the cosmos current in Calvin’s time, constructed accordingto Aristotelian concepts, the earth had its place at the centre of theuniverse. Around the earth were to be found the spheres, nine or tenin total.56 Seven spheres were counted for the moon, the sun, and theﬁve planets then known, and the eighth was for the stars, which had apermanent place in the vault of heaven. Some argued the existence ofa ninth sphere, which explained the tremors of the eighth sphere, and atenth sphere which was identiﬁed with the waters above the heavens.The cosmos was thus an inner space encapsulated by the vaults ofheaven. That which was between the sphere of the moon and the earthwas the sublunary or terrestrial realm, and shared in the susceptibilityand instability that is characteristic of the earth. According to theAristotelian view, the turning or rotation of the outermost sphere wasperpetuated by the nearness of God in the void behind the heavens.57As the primum mobile, the outermost sphere imparts its movement to thespheres within it. Brought into motion by this ﬁrst impulse, the spheresmove around the earth with great regularity and serenity. The closerone comes to the outmost sphere, the greater the tranquillity and orderof the rotation is. Calvin’s own picture of the universe is in general agreement withthe usual medieval concept.58 There is at least one point at which it 54 H. Berkhof, Christelijk geloof, 152; Christian Faith, 149. 55 See Inst. 1.5.1. 56 C.B. Kaiser, ‘Calvin’s Understanding of Aristotelian Natural Philosophy: Its ex-tent and Possible Origin’ in: R.V. Schnucker (Ed.), Calviniana. Ideas and Inﬂuence of JeanCalvin, Kirksville (MO) 1988, 81–83. 57 Aristotle, De generatione II,10, 333b; 11, 338b. 58 See Kaiser, ‘Calvin’s Understanding of Aristotelian Natural Philosophy’, 85. Cal-vin denies the existence of a tenth sphere and does not make notice of a ninth sphere.
god: judge and father 135deviates, and that he brings explicitly in connection with God’s specialprovidence. According to Aristotelian science, as the ﬁrst mover Godexercises his inﬂuence by means of an impulse that moves from theoutermost spheres inward. The inﬂuence is thus mediated by interme-diate causes, causae secundae. At this point Calvin strikes out in a dif-ferent direction, and argues that God, in his work of sustaining andmaintaining, is not bound to intermediate causes, but can intervenedirectly. He avows that it can be seen from all manner of things thatthere is a direct inﬂuence that runs counter to the regular course ofnature or which bypasses it. One example he gives is that the earthis not covered by water, as could be expected from the principles ofAristotelian science. The sublunary realm is constructed of four ele-ments, namely earth, water, air and ﬁre. It is the quality of these ele-ments that each has its natural place in the sublunary realm. As theheaviest element, earth is the lowest, above which comes the lighterelement of water, followed by air, and ﬁnally ﬁre, as the lightest ele-ment and therefore the highest, to be found on the upper margin ofthe sublunary sphere. The moon is made of ﬁery matter, although thestrength of its light is not so great that it can do without the aid of thesun.59 Calvin does not appear to have been aware of other explanationsfor why the oceans do not cover the land.60 It is precisely God’s spe-cial providence that is expressed in the marvellous fact that the watersare limited to the seas and do not spill over the land.61 Calvin experi-enced the boundary between the sea and land as a fragile order, whichcan only be explained by appealing to God’s guiding and protectivehand. Another evidence of God’s goodness is the constancy of the earth.The fact that it occupies the centre of the universe, in a position of rest,is frankly to be termed marvellous. While the earth is surrounded bylighter and inconstant elements, and is subject to the inﬂuence of therotation of the heavenly spheres, it nevertheless remains anchored fastin the centre. That is an inexplicable miracle. In this too Calvin seesthe good providence of God.62 Thus there could be still more exampleslisted in which God’s visible power is made to serve his care for man, 59 See Comm. Gen. 1:15, CO 23, 21–22. 60 Kaiser, ‘Calvin’s Understanding’, 81. 61 Comm. on Ps. 104:5, CO 32, 86 and on Gen. 1:9, CO 23, 19. See also Inst. 1.5.6. 62 See Comm. Ps. 93:1, CO 32, 16–17 and Inst. 1.5.5.
136 chapter threesuch as the cycle of the seasons, the alternation of day and night, andthe form of man as a microcosmos.63 Once again, we underscore the relation between power and care.In Calvin’s theology the concept of might does not have the negativeassociation of the blind exercise of power by a Supreme Being. Godexercises his power with precision and deliberation and is in no waythe neutral Supreme Being of the Enlightenment era.64 God’s mightserves particularly for preserving the structure of the world, the theatreof his glory. That banishes the idea of neutrality. The power with whichGod pushes the seas back into the depths and holds the earth fast andimmovable in the centre of the cosmos assures that life on earth willbe possible for man. From the outset power is under the dominationof God’s goodness, and is conceived in religious-ethical terms. Thereference to a passage in the prophet Isaiah, where the evidences toGod’s might are enumerated, and this summary is to serve as a meansof quickening trust on the part of man.65 Calvin still directly feels that. 3.7. The judgement of the judge and the discipline of the fatherIn the preceding we have given several examples of natural instancesin which Calvin sees God’s goodness exempliﬁed. Can Calvin alsobring the life histories of people into this context? Part of the intel-lectual baggage that modern readers bring with them is the idea thatCalvin teaches a rigid form of providence. The question is how thislooks and if it can still be recognised. We immediately encounter twoseries of images and terms that describe the relation of God’s actionin history with various groups of men. These are the images of Godas Father and Judge, and the terms righteousness and judgement, oriustitia and iudicium. Indisputably these terms correlate with the dualitywhich, according to Calvin, is perceptible in historical reality and thathas its deepest roots in the hidden Counsel of God, in the double deci-sion of election and damnation. I will not discuss Calvin’s doctrine ofpredestination here yet, but ﬁrst limit myself to the question of how thisdualism works out in the doctrine of providence. Or to put it diﬀerently, 63 Inst. 1.5.3. 64 Th. de Boer, De God van de ﬁlosofen en de God van Pascal. Op het grensgebied van ﬁlosoﬁe entheologie, ’s Gravenhage 1989, 158. 65 Inst. 3.2.31. See further Comm. on Isa. 40:21, 26, CO 37, 20–21, 24–25.
god: judge and father 137the dualism has an eﬀect on the perception of man and his fate. First,it must be noted that Calvin does not use the term judgement in onlyone sense. The concept iudicium is on the one hand used to characterisethe dealings with the damned. Calvin describes God’s dealings with hischildren under the central concept of iustitia. In this context, in connec-tion with atonement, iudicium then emerges again to express God’s deal-ings with the elect. However, there is a sharp distinction made betweenpunitive judgements and corrective judgements, or iudicium vindictae andiudicium castigationis. In the ﬁrst case there is real punishment involved,connected with total rejection. Discipline means something very dif-ferent, namely correction and admonition. The ﬁrst form of judge-ment is explicitly coupled with God as Judge, and the second with theFatherhood of God.66 Therefore, already in this life the damned andunbelievers must undergo God’s curse and wrath, and their life hereis already the gate to hell. God is the judge and avenger of wrong. InCalvin’s eyes this is to be seen many times in history, on occasions suchas Joshua’s conquest of Jericho, when the city was laid under a curse,and all its inhabitants, man and animal alike, were exterminated. Theatrocities committed in the Old Testament are, in this panel, justiﬁedby an appeal to the righteousness of God. God has the right to demandobedience, and when this is not given, to punish.67 In order to endurethe aﬄictions they will face, God’s children—the elect—however mustalso undergo discipline, which is a blessing for them. This totally diﬀer-ent perception of suﬀering that at ﬁrst sight may seem to be the same,can be understood as an logical application of the belief that Christ hasborne the punishment for sins. If Christ has borne God’s wrath oversin for His children, the suﬀering that still happens to them can neverbe accounted as a consequence of God’s wrath. Discipline may then beexperienced as severe, but it is not to death. For Calvin the doctrineof providence and the doctrine of ‘repentance to life eternal’ are onewhole.68 He considers the utterances of the prophets where God’s Peo- 66 Inst. 3.4.31: ‘Iudicium unum, docendi causa, vocemus vindictae: alterum, castiga-tionis … Alterum iudicis est, alterum patris … Iudex enim quum facinorosum punit,in ipsum delictum animadvertit, et de facinore ipso poenam expetit. Pater quum ﬁliumseverius corrigit, non hoc agit ut vindicet aut mulctet, sed magis ut doceat et cautioremin posterum reddat.’ 67 Comm. Josh. 6:21, CO 25, 469. Cf. also the sermon on IISam. 8:2, JohannesCalvin, Predigten über das 2. Buch Samuelis, hrsg. von H. Rückert, (Supplementa Calvinia6) Neukirchen 1931–1961, 235–238. See also Inst. 2.8.14. 68 Inst. 3.9.
138 chapter threeple are subject to God’s wrath (for instance Micah 7:9 or Hab. 3:2) as amanner of speaking which does not say as much about God’s Counselas about the manner in which the prophet experiences God’s hand.69One must conclude that the dualism within God’s Counsel and thebearing of the punishment for sins by Christ is decisive for the percep-tion and interpretation of the vicissitudes which happen to a person.In the theological theory we encounter a duality that runs as a hiddenthread through all history. 3.8. The absurdity of lifeGod’s care, his wise measures with his children, and his judgement ofthe disobedient are far from always visible. Thus the visibility of God’srule does not totally deﬁne the picture in the panel of Calvin’s theology,although it must be said that Calvin generally sees little ambiguity. Atsuch moments his thinking shocks us, and we experience the distancefrom contemporary theology, which has come to be dominated by thequestion of human suﬀering. There are more than enough examples of passages without ambiva-lence. They create the impression that God’s fatherly care and righ-teousness toward the justiﬁed in this life is already completely obvious.God here shows himself an avenger of injustice and a defender of theinnocent.70 When in the course of the narrative of Judah and Tamarin Genesis 38 the early death of Er is explicitly characterised as thepunishing hand of God, this gives Calvin an opportunity to once againexpound the general rule with regard to God’s governance over thegood and the bad. The death of Er shows how the hand of God rules.The connection between the event and God’s action is very direct forCalvin—indeed, we must admit, with just as much appeal to other pas-sages of scripture, all too direct. The conviction that all things have apurpose, a sometimes hidden but generally undisguised meaning, hasas its down side that everything can be reduced to punishment or dis-cipline.71 Calvin has great diﬃculty with the mystery of God’s actions.Anyone who cleaves too closely to Calvin at this point runs extreme 69 Inst. 3.4.32. 70 Inst. 1.5.7. See also Comm. Ps. 107: 1.5.8, CO 32, 136–137. 71 Cf. H.J. Selderhuis, God in het midden. Calvijns theologie van de psalmen, Kampen 2000,130, 304.
god: judge and father 139risks from the perspective of pastoral theology. The conviction thateverything which happens has a certain utility, is ordained by God witha speciﬁc goal, is dangerous because it is accompanied with the ideathat man can generally discover what the purpose of these things is, forwhat use they were intended. In this Calvin’s theology is inclined to aclosedness that leaves no room for the acknowledgement of the absurd,for the experience that things happen which we, for the sake of Christ,can not and will not identify with God. For the rest, Calvin acknowledges that God’s just governance is farfrom always obvious, because the punishments and rewards are notalways immediately dealt out. When it comes to God’s policy in history,he leaves space for that which is not yet understood, but not for theabsurd. Calvin does say that the immediate interventions on the partof God were more visible in the time of the law than after Christ. Inthe new dispensation it is no longer ﬁtting that man be seized by thefear of immediate death. When men who live an ungodly life live longand prosper, this is however in no way a reason to doubt that Godwill execute his judgements. Nor does their execution always happenin the same manner.72 Moreover, the revelation of the judgement of thegodless and of provision for the elect can be pushed forward to theconsummation.73 But this is not the total picture. There are passages in which Calvindwells extensively on the total opacity of life, which means that doubtcan strike regarding the goodness and regularity of God’s rule. We ﬁndsections that strike us as modern in their trembling at the randomnessof life. ‘Innumerable are the ills which beset human life, and present death in as many diﬀerent forms. Not to go beyond ourselves, since the body is a receptacle, nay, the nurse of a thousand diseases, a man cannot move without carrying along with him many forms of destruction. His life is in a manner interwoven with death. For what else can be said where heat and cold bring equal danger? Then, in what direction soever you turn, all surrounding objects not only may do harm, but almost openly threaten and seem to present immediate death. Go on board a ship, and you are but a plank’s breadth from death. Mount a horse, the stumbling foot endangers your life. Walk along the streets, and every tile upon the roofs is a source of danger. If a sharp instrument is in your hand, or that of a friend, the possible harm is manifest. All the savage beasts 72 Comm. Gen. 38:7, CO 23. 73 Inst. 1.5.7; Inst. 3.9.6.
140 chapter three you see are so many beings armed for your destruction. Even within a high-walled garden, where everything ministers to delight, a serpent will sometimes lurk. Your house, constantly exposed to ﬁre, threatens you with poverty by day, with destruction by night. Your ﬁelds, subject to hail, mildew, drought and other injuries, denounce barrenness, and thereby famine. I say nothing of poison, treachery, robbery, some of which beset us at home, others follow us abroad. Amid these perils, must not man be very miserable, as one who, more dead than alive, with diﬃculty draws an anxious and feeble breath, as if a drawn sword were constantly suspended over his neck?’74It would appear from this quote that anxiety, fear and the experienceof insecurity were not unfamiliar to Calvin, and in contradiction tothe cliched contrast between Calvin and Luther which still surfacesin Max Weber,75 they are not invented but primarily a matter of hisown life experience. His theology focuses on such experiences, andowes part of its vitality and continuing worth to this. If faith hassomething to do with the lives of ﬂesh and blood people, then thepoles of anxiety and desire will take their place in its theology ina theological shape. It is the task of theology not to silence anxietyand desire; it will rather bring these fundamental experiences of lifeinto dialogue with what can be said theologically. Calvin’s theologytoo points us toward the conﬁdence in God rooted in Christ, butnevertheless the shape of this theme in his thinking is so diﬀerentthat in our time it is almost unrecognisable. For him the demandfor a just system in the world and history is not the all-consumingissue that has become dominant in theology from after the SecondWorld War. In contemporary theology we ﬁnd a powerful tendencyto make the experience of suﬀering mankind the point of departure fortheological knowledge. The focus on the subject has worked itself out inthe focus on the suﬀering subject and his aporetic experience of evil.76Suﬀering man is the place where knowledge of God and his rejectionof suﬀering and evil is to be won. With Calvin the human subject neverhas this central function. The world is more than a man experiencespersonally. He has but a limited place in the system of heaven andearth. Therefore the theological strategy works out entirely diﬀerently,so to speak. The fragility of life, the constant uncertainty can only beborne by keeping God’s providence continually before one’s eyes. That 74 Inst. 1.17.10. 75 M. Weber, Die protestantische Ethik, 121. 76 A. Houtepen, God een open vraag, 124; ET, 83.
god: judge and father 141means that invariability, changelessness, steadfastness receive a positivevalue. For Calvin providence is not an equivalent of a blind fate, but itis the care of a heavenly Father who never lets fall that which he takesinto his hands.77 The issue is not so much the mystery of God’s actions,as that man might be dealing with a blind fate. That would be trulydreadful. In Calvin’s sermons on the book of Job we also ﬁnd countless pas-sages which touch upon the terror and absurdity of life. Obviously thesubject matter of this book provides an opportunity for this, but read-ing several sermons brings home how deeply Calvin himself is involvedwith the topic. It is true, he says, that world history oﬀers a confusedprospect. To be sure, man can sometimes see the good sense in whathappens, and in so doing endorse that God in his deeds is guided bydeliberation, wisdom and prudence. Sometimes He blinds those whosuppress the truth, and his vengeance is evident. But so often too thisclarity is absent, and neither the reason nor the purpose of God’sactions is apparent.78 At this point Calvin comes up with the idea ofa double wisdom of God. That is to say, from the perspective of Godthe wisdom with which God rules is indeed one, but from the perspec-tive of man one must speak of two sorts of wisdom. The one sort is thatwhich God has taught in His Word; the other wisdom includes thatwhich God has kept to himself. But it is with this wisdom that he rulesthe world. When tyrants rule, villainous men lead astray, the spirits ofthe one group proceed to destruction and others are saved, then thatis all the wisdom of the incomprehensible Counsel of God. When weask about the reasons for all of this, an abyss opens up into which allof our senses are plunged.79 Calvin takes into account a fundamentalnot-knowing. What it all comes down to, according to him, is that man, in hisdesire to reconcile the events of the world with God’s goodness, isable to stop, and not accuse God of arbitrariness and tyranny. Lim-ited insight into the righteousness of God’s rule must on man’s sidecorrespond to the acknowledgement of our own insigniﬁcance and lim-itation. Calvin refers here to a discipline for faith. Faith acknowledgesﬁrst the goodness of God, and then acknowledges that there is a wis-dom bound up with this goodness that makes it impossible to accuse 77 Inst. 1.17.11. 78 CO 33, 581–582. See also CO 35, 51–66. 79 CO 33, 579–580, 590.
142 chapter threeGod of excessive use of his power or of tyranny.80 It cannot be doubtedthat Calvin is reticent in making statements about God’s being. Butone thing is absolutely certain for him: God is not morally reprehensi-ble. God’s might, wisdom and righteousness are inseparably linked withone another.81 The acknowledgement of God’s majesty and his inﬁnite elevationover man has the consequence that as a matter of principle room mustbe left for the respectful acknowledgement that there are spaces inGod’s Counsel to which man has no access. In short, human knowledgeof God is literally a knowing in part. With Calvin we indeed ﬁndthe attempt to ﬁnd explanations for most experiences of calamity andsuﬀering, but even he falters. Suﬀering is explicable in so far as it isa punishment of the godless, or a pedagogical measure for the pious.There remain cases that cannot be explained, and that cannot beexplained with an appeal to God’s wisdom and goodness. The practical orientation of Calvin’s theology becomes visible whenhe in his sermons time and time again impresses upon his hearers theuse of this doctrine. The sense in the disasters suﬀered is, accordingto Calvin, that man learns to exercise patience and humble himselfunder the hand of God.82 The majesty and inscrutability of manyof God’s judgements make man conscious of his low standing overagainst God. This nurtures respect, the recognition of the place thatthe human being takes in the face of realities of life, be they delightfulor disconcerting. The disasters in our lives throw us back upon Godhimself, who preserves his children through the salvation of Christ. Andthen the refrain sounds: Puis qu’ainsi est donc remettons nous en la protectionde nostre Dieu. When that is the case, let us then place ourselves underthe protection of our God.83 80 CO 33, 584: ‘Car il faut que nous recognoissions sa vertu premierement, et puisque nous adioustions avec sa vertu une telle sagesse que nous ne l’accusions point detyrannie ne d’excez. Car ce n’est point le tout de dire, Il est vray que Dieu gouvernele monde, et cependant ne murmurions contre lui, que nous ne la accusion piont detyrannie ne dexcez’. 81 CO 35, 60: ‘Quand nous parlons de sa puissance, ou iustice, ou sagesse, ou bonté,nou parlons de lui-mesme: ce sont choses inseparables, et qui ne se peuvent pointdiscerner de son essence, c’est à dire pour en estre ostees. Car elles sont tellementconiointes, que l’une ne peut estre sans l’autre’. 82 CO 35, 9–10. 83 CO 33, 592.
god: judge and father 143 3.9. The anchor of God’s unchanging willIt is perhaps diﬃcult if not impossible for the modern reader of Calvin’stheology to empathise with the foregoing, but the conclusion is inescap-able: in the panel on Calvin’s theology the knowledge that all thingscome forth from God’s hand is a source of comfort. In their need andmisery, God’s children do not fall into the hands of God’s adversary, thedevil. As fragile creatures they do not fall into an unfathomably deepravine, but live and have their being within the reach of God.84 Whatovercomes them will ultimately appear to have been for the good. Thatis comfort in the maelstrom of events. When God’s good care is not however visible, it is all the more anoccasion to hold fast to the teaching of Scripture that God controlseverything in the life of man. That means that man is dealing withGod’s will in all that occurs and all that happens to him.85 In this lineof thought we encounter the concept of providence, though indeed ina hard form. God’s foresight does not mean only that God knows whatwill happen before the fact, but expressly also that all things in onemanner or another ﬂow directly from his will, and are ordained byHim.86 That is, God’s decrees in his providence are unchanging, andseen from his Counsel all things are ﬁxed. We here run up against those elements in Calvin’s theology that arealways connected with the darker side of his theology, because theynot rarely have led to ‘fatalistic consequences and misunderstandings’,87namely, the doctrine of the decrees of God, and particularly provi-dence and election. What does the changelessness of God’s Counselmean? It is necessary here to say something, because there are few con-cepts that have so changed complexion through changes in attitudestoward life, that call up such a diﬀerent constellation of associations,that they really can only be misunderstood. In the spiritual climate inwhich Calvin lived, God’s unchangeableness was nothing less than hisﬁdelity. God is not capricious, not an uncertain beacon. Changeless-ness is an unadulterated positive quality of God. From being a termwith a positive meaning, eminently suitable for describing God in his 84 Inst. 1.17.7. 85 Inst. 1.16.9. 86 Inst. 1.16.9. 87 E.P. Meijering, Voorbij de vadermoord. Over het christelijk geloof in God, de Schepper,Kampen 1998, 96.
144 chapter threehighness and goodness, with our present outlook on life it has becomea word that calls up associations of lifelessness and inspissation, andprovokes whole-hearted abhorrence. In our climate today change, his-toricity and vitality are positive concepts, because they give precedenceto possibilities, in place of a ﬁxation on the past or givens. In the earlyRenaissance culture in which Calvin moved, innovation had a franklypejorative implication, and improvement was to be found in rebirth andreformation, a return to an original situation. The change in the cul-tural climate which has taken place since then extends over the wholemanner in which we look at and evaluate Calvin’s premodern thinkingin our time. Questions arise which previously were impossible: if theconstancy of God is so obvious, if regret and contrition are only formsof anthropomorphic speech, what then are the consequences for otherconcepts and images which are also undeniably anthropomorphic, andappear to have something to say about God’s relation with man? CanGod then still love and have compassion as a father, be moved as amother? What does anthropomorphic speech mean for the trustwor-thiness of the images used? Can not being hurt, not being moved, bereconciled with loving? What sort of love is it that must be thought ofapart from such aﬀects? Is God still love then, or does this reﬂect moreon the ‘iron Calvin’, to use Harnack’s stereotype?88 Since the cosmolog-ical paradigm has been exchanged for a paradigm oriented to modernpsychological insights, in which the capacity for change and relation-ality are highly valued,89 it has become impossible to iterate Calvin’sdoctrine of God unchanged. These matters touch on the next subject that is connected with theforegoing: human freedom. If everything that happens can be tracedback to God’s unchanging will, what is left of human freedom? Arewe not marionettes with no will of our own, moving across the stageof the puppet theatre on invisible strings bring pulled from above? Inshort, Calvin’s image of God the Father, who protects and supports hischildren, seats them at his table, and urges and trains them to moveforward—images from life that form a continuous line in his exege-sis and sermons—appears to be threatened by the notion of God’sunchangingness. It is quite common to ﬁnd the suggestion in theologi-cal literature that Calvin’s conception of God as Father or Mother has 88 A. von Harnack, Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte Bd.3, Tübingen 19325, 773. 89 For the change in paradigms and the tension between classic theism and modernpositions, see H. Jansen, Relationality and the Concept of God, Amsterdam 1995.
god: judge and father 145a darker ﬂip side, and in view of this, has little true content. The knowl-edge that the image of God as Father or Mother appears to yield isimmediately undermined because the immutable will of God is con-cealed behind it.90 God’s real essence would deviate from this image.We will not try to answer these questions all at one time. If we willcome to some degree of understanding of Calvin, we will ﬁrst have toinvestigate within what context and with what meaning the invariablewill of God occurs. Calvin’s explication of Bible verses which speak of God’s regret andcontrition is well known, not to say notorious. In Genesis 6:6 we readthat God regretted that he had created man, and in ISamuel 15:11 wehear that the Lord regretted that he had appointed Saul as king. Wecan reach for the book of Jonah, where God, through the repentanceof the city of Ninevah, is moved not to execute his judgement onthe city. What does Calvin do with these texts about God’s regretand compunction? He considers them as ﬁgurative language. It is away of speaking that is completely accommodated to the manner inwhich the course of events could be understood by those who thenheard it. According to Calvin, one must read these texts in the lightof other Bible passages, such as ISamuel 15:29. There one will ﬁndthe key. From these we learn that God knows no regret, ‘because Heis not a man, that he should repent’. In his opinion, in this versethe Holy Spirit does not speak in a metaphorical manner, but absqueﬁgura, and teaches straightforwardly about the invariability of God, Hisimmutabilitas.91 The talk of regret and compunction, in other wordsabout an actual response on the part of God, is an accommodation tothe way in which man hears and understands. From man’s perspectiveit appears as if God has had regrets and changed his mind, but this doesnot describe how God is, in se, sed a nobis sentitur. According to Calvin itis clear as day that God himself is elevated above all emotions, and thatthe supposition of a change in the exercise of his will simply cannot becontemplated. Thinking about God’s sovereignty must rather take as itsstarting point a passage such as Isaiah 14:27, where we read ‘For theLORD of hosts has purposed, and who shall disannul it? And his handis stretched out, and who shall turn it back?’ It will be clear that thisexposition will leave us, with our ideas, in a considerable quandary.Can one say then that God really responds at all? Put irreverently, 90 H.M. Kuitert, De mensvormigheid Gods, 111. 91 Inst. 1.17.12.
146 chapter threecan prayer be anything more than speaking back to an automatedanswering machine, the message in which was recorded long ago? As we have said before, the reason why Calvin has so little hesita-tion about rejecting the attribution of feelings, regret and compunctionto God as ﬁgurative language has become foreign to us. According tothe attitudes of that day, the feelings in question are human, charac-teristic of terrestrial life. There is a great diﬀerence between the heav-enly spheres and existence in the lower spheres. Inconstancy, ignorance,error and impotence rule the sublunary sphere. This cosmological her-itage, already described, plays a powerful role in Calvin’s vision of manand his regard for the perfections of God. From pre-Socratic philoso-phy on, in Plato and particularly after Aristotle, metaphysics or think-ing about the highest existence was deeply inﬂuenced by the horizonof contemporary cosmology.92 God as the immobile prime mover is thescientiﬁc explanation for the regular, steady rotation of the ﬁrst heaven.In the Platonic-Aristotelian tradition, immutability is the quality of thehighest, divine being. Earthly things are compounded, and thus divis-ible. The wholeness of an earthly object can be sundered by externaleﬀects. Since Parmenides it was accepted that existence itself is eternal,and therefore imperishable, unfaltering and without purpose, homoge-nous and therefore invariable.93 These ideas were taken up into Chris-tian doctrines regarding God, and deeply inﬂuenced the interpretationof Bible passages such as Psalms 102:12–13 and Psalm 103:15–18. Theunchanging nature of God, his immutabilitas, was taught because it hadto be denied that the being of God is divisible, as are things in ourworld. Being compounded is a characteristic of the material world, andis a mark of weakness. God is the One who is perfect in himself. Forclassic doctrines of God the category of relation is therefore problem-atic in light of this perfection, because it is associated with dependence.With regard to divine being, relation as a category is illusory. In thedeepest sense, God has no relations. God is suﬃcient in himself. Rela-tions are only real for earthly things, because they are dependent onone another in all sorts of ways, are aﬀected by and are connected withone another. For classic thought the highest being is indivisible and in that senseinvariable. Nothing from outside it can impinge upon this being. Thatis, the divine being is a being that is not subject to eﬀects external 92 W. Maas, Unveränderlichkeit Gottes, 59. 93 W. Maas, Unveränderlichkeit Gottes, 35–39.
god: judge and father 147to itself. This concept became deﬁnitive for the idea of the impassive-ness of God. The centre of the universe, on and around the earth, iscontrolled by movement, change and transitoriness. There phenomenaeﬀect one another. The further one goes from the earth, the higher intothe heavenly spheres, the more stable God’s creation is and the moretranquil, orderly and ﬁxed. In this model, regret and compunction arequalities of the terrestrial. They are emotions, aﬀects that belong to thevariability and capriciousness of human nature fallen into sin, throughwhich people become playthings of their own or other’s whims. With the distance of history, we can indeed assess how thoroughlythis cosmological heritage permeated teaching about God. On thebasis of a doctrine of God supported by the geocentric paradigm,Calvin was certain that God could never be tormented by emotions,that inconstancy is excluded from God, and that transitoriness anddivine nature are irreconcilable.94 The classical Scriptural proofs ofthe changelessness of God, such as Ex. 3:14, Mal. 3:16, Ps. 102:28 andJames 1:17, were interpreted in this light, and other passages that spokeof variability in God were pushed aside. At this point the legacy ofclassical metaphysics hangs over Christian tradition like a shadow, andwe will have to discount change and relation as positive qualities ofGod’s being and acts. Yet, for a fair and proper understanding of theclassical concept, it will be necessary to stand by the remarks regardingthe concept of the constancy of God and the existential signiﬁcance thishas for faith. Calvin experienced the constancy of God as a reason forconﬁdence in the steadfastness of God in the mist of the uncertainties ofhuman life. God does not suﬀer from moods. God does not play gameswith his children.95 This conviction assures that the history of this concept indeed willseem chaotic, but in reality all things occur under God’s rule andgovernance. In Calvin’s own idiom, nothing happens except by Hisorder, or his nod.96 No branch breaks from the tree,97 no tile falls from aroof,98 no storm arises (Jonah 1:4) except that it comes forth from God’swill. Calvin is able to cite countless examples of Biblical events thatare to be resolved into God’s initiative and conﬁrm it, because they 94 See his exegesis of Ex. 3:14, CO 24, 43–44. 95 Inst. 1.17.1. 96 Cf. Oberman, ‘Calvin’s Legacy’, in: idem, The two Reformations, 132. 97 Inst. 1.16.6. 98 Inst. 1.17.10.
148 chapter threearise from His will. Although seen from the human perspective, thethings happen by chance, in reality they happen by God’s counsel anddisposition. Chance is therefore a human explanation, but, according toCalvin, in the light of God’s divine teaching that must be regarded as afalse understanding.99 But this is a conclusion from a divine perspective,not the perspective of man. In this distinction we again encounter theimportance of the limits that, in Calvin’s own conviction, there arefor the human mind. There is a qualitative diﬀerence between God’sCounsel and the human mind. However highly Calvin may speak ofmental powers, in these things man is still characterised by sluggishness,weakness and incapacity.100 The conclusion that Calvin draws fromall this—and that is signiﬁcant—goes in a diﬀerent direction than wewould expect. His conclusion is not that man loses all his freedom. Theaccent lies on the smallness and impotence of man over against themajesty of God. But the intended reaction is not paralysis, but trustand security. The message is this: in the chaos of life, frail man mayknow himself to be in the hand of God. 3.10. Predestination and responsibilityThe concept of the changelessness of God’s will does not detract fromman being responsible for his own actions. How can that be? Is not thetruth more on the side of the critics who assert that Calvin’s position isin fact that of fatalism? To what degree is Calvin bound by the thoughtof the Stoic philosophy that we ﬁnd in his times? This inﬂuence hasoften been adduced in connection with the tremendous tension that thissort of thinking implies with regard to conceiving freedom of the will.101 99 Inst. 1.16.9: ‘quasi fortuita sunt quae certum est ex Dei voluntate provenire’. 100 ‘mentis nostrae tarditas’ (1559), ‘imbecellitas nostra’ (1539), Inst. 1.16.9. 101 See for instance D. Nösgen, ‘Calvins Lehre von Gott und ihr Verhältnis zurGotteslehre anderer Reformatoren’, Neue Kirchliche Zeitschrift 23 (1912), 690–747, whoCalvin’s concept of providence qualiﬁes as a ‘mechanisches ablaufendes Geschehen’(702). Cf. more recently A. Ganoczy/S. Scheld, Herrschaft—Tugend—Vorsehung. Hermeneu-tische Deutung und Veröﬀentlichung handschriftlicher Annotationen Calvins zu sieben Senecatragödienund der Pharsalia Lucans, Wiesbaden 1982, 46–53. I quite deliberately speak, followingW.J. Bouwsma, of a Stoic impulse, because this in fact leaves room for other inﬂuences,such as Augustinianism. For this see W.J. Bouwsma, ‘The two faces of Humanism:Stoicism and Augustinianism in Renaissance Thought’, in: idem, A Usuable Past. Essaysin European Cultural History, Berkeley 1990, 19–74. See also H.A. Oberman’s critiqueof the suggestions of Ganoczy and Scheld that under Stoic inﬂuence Calvin teaches
god: judge and father 149We would do well to remember that this is a problem that also ledto ﬁerce controversy in Calvin’s own day. The serious problems whicharose in Geneva surrounding Bolsec had to do with this. It is not easy to do justice to Calvin in the matter of whether histheology results in fatalism. It is signiﬁcant however that when thisconclusion was drawn, he always reacted against it ﬁercely. All thingsare indeed ﬁxed in God’s Counsel, and the idea that the course ofall things is established does resemble the concept of fatalism, butCalvin disputes the conclusion that in this manner man is completelydeprived of his responsibility. The distinction which he makes againand again in the matter of human knowledge of divine things is thatthe heavenly and terrestrial must not be confused with each other.God’s merciful and just actions are in a sphere which may not beplayed against the sphere of human responsibility. He is convincedthat the Scripture teaches us that, too. With a conviction equal tothat with which he argues the decisive role of the will of God, he alsoopposes resignation and passivity as attitudes on the human side. Hederives his argument from concrete Biblical examples. Again, althoughGod sends illness, man must resist sickness and death with might andmain, when there are means to do so.102 After all, man does not knowwhat the purport of God’s will is in this concrete case; he knows onlythat things are ordered according to God’s will. His own acts musthowever be determined by taking active responsibility for the situation.God’s purpose will be fulﬁlled in the way of human obedience andreadiness for action. According to Calvin, they are fools who do notsee that the means of deliverance and relief that we are given comejust as much from God, and His purpose will be fulﬁlled in that way.In other words, no conclusion regarding the outcome of any speciﬁcsituation may be drawn from the fact that God’s will is deﬁnitive inall things. God’s deepest Counsel is never known from factuality assuch, is never ‘nakedly’ obvious, but, says Calvin, by employing means,assumes a visible form.103 In short, the doctrine of divine providencedoes not mean that man is relieved of responsibility. There are twoa predetermination for evil: In Stoicism, the Deity or divinity does not interferewith the course of an individual person’s life. ‘Initia Calvini: The Matrix of Calvin’sReformation’, in: W.H. Neuser (ed.), Calvinus Sacrae Scripturae Professor. Calvin as Confessorof Holy Scripture, 120, nt. 22. 102 Inst. 1.17.4. 103 Inst. 1.17.4.
150 chapter threeﬁelds of action which appear to collide with one another, on the onehand divine Counsel and on the other human responsibility. Becausedivine Counsel is unchangeable and lies outside time, logically Calvinwill inevitably have diﬃculties. He must acknowledge that, seen fromthe perspective of divine Counsel, freedom of action indeed does notexist. But it is essential for Calvin’s theology that precisely at this point,when he comes to the actions of man and man’s responsibility, thathe shifts the perspective. Then we are dealing with a second givenin knowledge of God, namely with the limitation that is imposed onhuman knowledge of God, and the mirrors in which God chooses thathis power and will be known. The Bible witnesses to the existence ofGod’s unchanging will. But it is not given to man to know how thisunchanging will looks, precisely, and how it relates to human freedom.At that point Calvin instructs man within the boundaries of his limitedknowledge. Seen from the human perspective there is a double will.First there is the revealed will of God’s decree. Next, Scripture informsus of the existence of a comprehensive will of God that determinesall things. But in his revelation God has not permitted us insight intohis will. Man knows only the existence of this comprehensive will. Heknows nothing from the perspective of God; his knowledge is limited towhat is revealed to him. Finally, Calvin argues for living within these setboundaries in obedience and responsibility.104 In accordance with thisvarying perspective, Calvin accepts the distinction between of necessitasand coactio, necessity and compulsion, from medieval theology. Postlapsum Adae, human acts are indeed under the necessitas of sin, of a lifethat is going the wrong direction. From all sides man is vulnerable to sinand destruction. That does not however mean that in a psychologicalrespect one can speak of coactio, compulsion. Enchained by sin, manis always still called to account in his own responsibility; from theperspective of psychology there is still voluntariness.105 For the evaluation of the concept of the unchangeable will of Godas the ground of all events, the spiritual proﬁt that according to Calvinlies there is important. Calvin’s thinking and feeling is characterised bythe fact that something being ﬁxed by God’s will is not in the least to 104 Inst. 1.17.3–5. 105 Inst. 2.3.5. See J. Bohatec, ‘Calvins Vorsehungslehre’ in: J. Bohatec (Hrsg.), Calvin-studien. Festschrift zum 400. Geburtstage Johann Calvins, Leipzig 1909, 339. See also K. Reu-ter, Das Grundverständnis Calvins, 157ﬀ. and F. Wendel, Calvin. Sources et évolution de sa penséereligieuse, Paris 1950, 141.
god: judge and father 151be connected with fatalism and paralysis. The spiritual proﬁt is thatthe faithful know that in all things which happen to them, they haveto do with nothing other than with the grace and correcting hand ofthe Living God, and not with blind fate. In Calvin’s view of life, theconstancy of God does not have the negative freight that it has takenon in our time. God’s changelessness is a beacon or anchor in the midstof an uncertain and constantly changing sea. We will return to this inconnection with the doctrine of election. 3.11. Father and Lord: love and fearAccording to Calvin, the manners in which we know God are sharplydivergent. God’s authority and the ways he exercises his power havea diﬀerent form for believers and non-believers, for those who turntoward Him in reverence and for those who refuse the relationship.Toward believers He exercises his caring justice, while the reprobateencounter his wrath and judgement. It is now time to turn our atten-tion to the third main concept that we noted earlier: mercy, miseri-cordia. The corresponding metaphor for God in this case is also Godthe Father. The fact that fatherhood is the controlling metaphor withinCalvin’s concept of God does not exclude that believers, on their wayto Christ, also come to know of God in his role of judge. As soon asman descends into himself and his conscience is summoned before thetribunal of God, according to Calvin he encounters God as Judge andAvenger. Wherever man may turn his gaze, above or below, after thefall he encounters the curse against him.106 But that image of God dom-inates where Christ is not known. Outside of Christ, man does not getbeyond it. For the believer God has another face. In Christ, God’s countenanceis full of grace and kindness. He appears as Father. Only in faith inChrist does one get sight of salvation, of eternal security with God.We must remember here that which was said in the previous chapter 106 Inst. 2.6.1: ‘sed post defectionem quocunque vertamus oculos, sursum et deorsumoccurit Dei maledictio.’ Inst. 2.16.1: ‘Quum enim nemo possit in seipsum descendere acserio reputare qualis sit, quin Deum sibi iratum infestumque sentiens, necesse habeateius placandi modum ac rationem anxie expetere, quod satisfactionem exigit, nonvulgaris requiritur certitudo: quia peccatoribus, donec a reatu soluti fuerint, semperincumbit ira Dei et maledictio, qui, ut est iustus iudex, non sinit impune legem suamviolari, quin ad vindictam armatus sit.’
152 chapter threeabout the speciﬁcity of Calvin’s concept of faith. Faith is that manclings to the ‘fatherly mercies of God toward us’.107 Revelation in Christbrings into coherence the two aspects in which God is known. God’sdisclosure in Christ makes it possible to acknowledge him at the sametime as creator and sustainer of life and as liberator and deliverer.Human knowledge of God is therefore a cognitio duplex. Put otherwise, inChrist man learns to know God as Lord of the world and as a mercifulFather.108 Calvin explicitly opposes the idea that God becomes mercifuland kind after Christ has borne divine wrath for sin. God himself is infact the primary source for the whole of the way that God goes in hissalvation. The exposition of Romans 5:10 is instructive with regard tohis doctrine of God and soteriology. How is it possible that the sameGod ‘whose benevolence and fatherly love’ we embrace in Christ109in this verse is pictured as the enemy of man? Do wrath and lovecoexist next to each other? The manner in which Calvin resolves thisis characteristic. First the reader is reminded of the didactic intentionthat the Spirit has in stating it in this manner. The wrath of God evenappears to evaporate into an anthropomorphism, into the ‘locutiones adsensum nostrum … accommodatae’,110 through which believers are made tounderstand the miserable situation from which they are saved. Throughappearing as their enemy, God wishes to achieve an eﬀect in man,namely an intense desire to seize with both hands what God oﬀershim, and deep thankfulness for the gift given. In short, the manner inwhich Scripture speaks is a way of speaking which is adapted to humancapacities, so that we can understand how things are with man outsideof Christ.111 But, what is our situation now? Is the Biblical testimony about God’swrath then false? Does this language correspond to something reallyin God? It is as if the lines of Calvin’s theology become blurred whenthe human eye seeks what is taking place within God. Only when thegaze is once again directed on the mirror, where God shows his faceand to which he has tied man for his knowledge of God, does theeye once again discover certainty and deﬁnition. Wrath is describedas a response to man. ‘All of us have that within us which deserves 107 Catechismus Ecclesiae Genevensis, OS II, 92. 108 Inst. 2.6.1. 109 Inst. 2.16.2. 110 Inst. 2.16.2. 111 Inst. 2.16.2.
god: judge and father 153the hatred of God’, writes Calvin. God ﬁnds in us enough to deservehis wrath.112 In his commentary on Romans 1:18 Calvin writes thatin the Scripture wrath is a anthropomorphic manner of speaking ofvengeance, ‘because God, when he engaged in punishing, to our con-ception shows the face of a wrathful man. With this word therefore[Paul] does not in any way designate a disposition on the part of God; itis only related to the perception of the sinner who is being punished.’113Wrath as an actual conduct only beﬁts a man who has lost control ofhis emotions and is dependent on his environment. It is characteristicof Calvin that, both in the case of God’s wrath and God’s love, he doesnot ask after what corresponds to wrath and love in God’s own being.He stops where we would want to continue questioning, and wherecontemporary theology, in its initiative of self-revelation, actually doescontinue to question. In the exposition of IJohn 4:8 (‘for God is love’)Calvin writes ﬁrst that ‘God’s nature is to love man’. Because God isthe source of love, and all love comes from God, He is called love andlight. As soon as a statement about God’s essence seems to be made,immediately there appears to be something which must be corrected,through shifting attention to the way in which God desires to be experi-enced. ‘Thus nothing is being said of the essence of God, but he is onlyteaching about how we experience Him.’ Such a displacement marksthis concept. The attention is shifted to what God wishes to accomplishin man. God desires that we become new creations and that we becomesimilar to Him. Indisputably, here Calvin will not inquire further, and he refuses tofurther deﬁne the relation of wrath and love. There are spaces in God’sCounsel to which the creature ﬁnds the door shut. In his disclosure,God keeps a part of his Counsel hidden. For Calvin, secrecy doesnot have the role that it would later come to have in the theology ofBarth, namely as a quality of God’s revelation. It simply means thatGod withholds a part of his Counsel from man. For the believers it istrue, however, that under sin they lived with God’s wrath and at thesame time were living in God’s love. To put it in the words of Augus-tine, ‘thus in a manner wondrous and divine, he loved even when hehated us.’114 There are thus two elements in God, which in his concept 112 Inst. 2.16.3. 113 Comm. Rom. 1:18, CO 49, 22–23. 114 Inst. 2.16.4: ‘Habebat itaque ille erga nos charitatem, etiam quum inimicitiasadversus eum exercentes operaremur iniquitatem. Proinde miro en divino modo et
154 chapter threecannot be reduced to or connected with one another. God must con-demn sin because he is the highest righteousness, summa iustitia. At thesame time he loves sinners ‘according to his pleasure’. There are twoelements in God, righteousness and love. The reprobate encounter therighteousness, the elect children his righteousness and his love. Unde-niably this doubleness has major consequences, which, considering thepresent state of aﬀairs in investigations of the Biblical concept of God’sjustice, we no longer want to accept, and that in Barth’s theology aretherefore related to each other. Yet, as is evident from the quote from Augustine, according to Calvintoo the two qualities have something to do with one another. There isa coherence in God, although Calvin neither can nor desires to makethe nature of this coherence more clear. It is of the greatest importanceto pause at this point—and not only for theological-historical reasons.We here encounter a structure—or better yet, a rule—for speakingtheologically that is still of the utmost importance. For its speakingabout God, Christian theology should take seriously the way that Godhas gone in Christ, and not take as its point of departure an elementthat lies behind that. What is involved here is the question of whetherwhat is really to be said of God lies behind Christ and the concreteevents of his life. As has already been said, Calvin’s theology is open tocriticism from various sides on precisely this point. Barth presumes thatin speaking of Christ as the mirror of election the real decisive momentlies in God’s decision, and that Christ is the more or less technicalmeans by which this decision is carried out. Then there is no longeran intrinsic connection between God’s Counsel and Christ. In his owntime Calvin was challenged by Laelio Sozino to distinguish betweenGod’s decision and the way of Christ. Sozino proposed that speaking ofthe love of God as the source of human justiﬁcation made it impossibleto still speak of Christ’s suﬀering as being meritorious. The death ofChrist as meritorious would be in conﬂict with the assertion that Godredeems as a result of His love. Calvin’s answer to Sozino demonstrates how deeply he wanted tohold together what was separated by Sozino. He impresses upon hisaudience—that is to say, on potential readers of Scripture—that thequando nos oderat, diligebat. Oderat enim nos, qualies ipse non fecerat: et quia iniq-uitas nostra opus eius non omni ex parte consumpserat, noverat simul in unoquoquenostrum et odisse quod feceramus, et amare quod fecerat.’ Calvin quotes Augustine, InJohannis Evangelium Tractus 110.6, CCSL 36, 626.
god: judge and father 155love of God is not the result of Christ’s suﬀering for sin. Accord-ing to Calvin, an essential element of Christian knowledge of Godis that the love of God is a disposition that arises from God Him-self. The love of God the Father is primary, is a prima causa.115 Thisremains true despite the fact that in Scripture the obedience of Christ istermed the merit through which grace is obtained. Christ’s obedienceis causa secunda or causa propior. What comes ﬁrst: God’s grace, or themerit of Christ? To our ears, speaking about a ﬁrst and second causevery quickly sounds like the distinction between actual and apparent.The love of God and the way of obedience and the cross are so eas-ily played against one another. In his explanation of the doubleness,Calvin however opposes precisely the separation of the two sorts ofcause. As a ﬁrst step in his explanation of the doubleness, Calvin reachesback to Augustine. God’s grace cannot be regarded as a consequenceof the work of Christ. The fact that the work of Christ can be char-acterised as meritorious rests on God’s ordinatio.116 With this conceptfrom the doctrine of grace as it developed in the late middle ages, weencounter an element that plays a decisive role in Calvin’s theologyat various points, namely the idea of the self-binding of God. Fromhis mere good pleasure God has decided that there will be a media-tor who will purchase salvation for us.117 Two statements that are atﬁrst sight contradictory thus become possible. The ﬁrst is that manis justiﬁed from the sheer mercy of God. The second is that man issaved by the merit of Christ. These two assertions, Calvin suggests, arenot logically contradictory, if one takes in to account that they eachlie on a diﬀerent level. After all, the meritoriousness of the work of 115 Inst. 2.16.3: ‘Proinde sua dilectione praevenit ac antevertit Deus Pater nostramin Christo reconciliationem.’ Cf. his commentary on Jn. 3:16, CO 47, 64: ‘arcanumamorem quo nos apud se complexus est coelestis Pater, quia ex aeterno eius propositomanat, omnibus aliis causis superiorem esse.’ 116 Inst. 2.17.1: ‘Quum ergo conscendimus ad Dei ordinationem, quae prima causaest: quia mero beneplacito Mediatorem statuit qui nobis salutem acquireret. Atque itainscite opponitur Christi meritum misericordiae Dei. Regula enim vulgaris est, quaesubalterna sunt, non pugnare; ideoque nihil obstat quominius gratuita sit hominumiustiﬁcatio ex mera Dei misericordia, et simul interveniat Christi meritum, quod Deimisericordiae subiicitur.’ 117 Inst. 2.17.1. In other words, the reception of the human nature of Christ intothe unity of the divine person is the paradigm par excellence for election. Withoutantecedent merit, God has chosen this human nature, in order to ﬁll humanity with hiswealth, through his corporality. That is the way of salvation, the arrangement that Godin his grace has chosen.
156 chapter threeChrist rests upon an order of salvation which God himself ordained.Calling upon John 3:16, Calvin terms God’s love the ﬁrst and highestcause of salvation, and Christ the second or further cause. It is how-ever incorrect to draw the conclusion on these grounds that Christ isonly the formal cause of salvation.118 Why? Because in many placesScripture says more. With reference to IJohn 4:10, Col. 1:20 and IICor.5:19, Calvin states that the substance of our salvation—that on whichman can draw—must be sought in Christ. One cannot separate causaprima and causa secunda as actual cause and proximate means; the vari-ous causes are aspects of the one event that man is faced with in God’srevelation. When one separates God’s love from the way and the per-son in which this love became concrete, one wrenches apart that whichcan not be disjoined. Laelio Sozino confronted Calvin with the argu-ment that God’s love does not permit speaking of Christ’s obedience asa merit, and at a later date Barth accused Calvin that in his theologyspeaking about Christ as the mirror of election is an unstable basis fortrust in God, because for Calvin Christ is ‘merely’ the means of elec-tion. Both have overlooked the fact that we may not play a prima causaand causa secunda against each other. Both causae are aspects enablingus to comprehend the one event of God’s salvation and do justice toit. Believers encounter God’s love and righteousness. Thus here the twoconcepts describing the attitude toward God the Father in the life of thebeliever correspond. To remind ourselves, these two aforementionedconcepts are fear and trust.119 Knowing God in Christ leads to a doubleeﬀect. Believers know God as Father, but this Father is at the same timeLord, and deserves respect. In order to roughly sketch the content ofthe knowledge of God, something must be brieﬂy said with regard tothe relationship of faith, atonement and justiﬁcation. At this point we can reach back to the concept of faith. The object offaith is not the commandments or announcements of punishment. Thereal scopus of faith is God’s loving-kindness.120 Those who are unitedwith Christ through the power of the Spirit know Him not merely 118 Inst. 2.17.2. See also commentary on Jn 3:16, CO 47, 64. 119 Inst. 1.10.2. 120 Inst. 3.2.29: ‘… sed misericordiae promissionem ﬁdei in proprium scopum desti-namus. Quemadmodum iudicem et ultorem scelerum Deum debent quidem agnoscereﬁdeles, et tamen in eius clementiam proprie intuentur: quando talis considerandus illisdescribitur qui benevolus sit et misericors, procul ira, multus bonitate, suavis universis,super omnia opera sua misericordiam suam eﬀundens.’
god: judge and father 157as a strict judge. ‘In Christ his countenance beams forth full of graceand gentleness towards poor unworthy sinners.’121 But this faith, theintercourse of God with man, has a dynamic, an irreversible direction.The believer knows God as Lord and realises that outside of Christthis lordship of God takes the form of judgement. Within the sphereof inﬂuence of God’s Spirit, faith holds fast to the image that prevailsthere: God as the merciful father, who invites his children to come tohim and in Christ gives them a share in his beneﬁts. Or, followingIsaiah 49:15: God’s love goes beyond the love of a mother. If a motherwill not forget her children, how much more will God keep man in Hisheart.122 There is yet something more that lies behind the metaphorof a mother, but this analogans is not of lesser import than the familiarelements of the analogy. God’s love goes deeper, compared to the loveof a mother or a father. This knowledge does not however lead to stasis; it leads man onceagain into the midst of life and into himself. Calvin speaks of a doublegrace that is received in faith.123 On the one side there is the regen-eration that takes a concrete form in penance; on the other side thechild of God receives forgiveness of sin.124 Christian life can be typiﬁedfrom this origin and by this dual process. It is characteristic of Calvin’sdynamic of knowing God that immediately after his discussion of theconcept of faith he next speaks of repentance. In this way every chanceis removed that the believer who is preserved for justiﬁcation in faithmight therefore be careless in regard to renewal of life.125 Faith sets inmotion a process of life-long regeneration, a rebirth which for Calvinis not limited to one single moment. One might say that life with theSpirit opens a moment with him in which man particularly gets insightinto the depths and chasms of his own life. That is rebirth. Knowledgeof God in Christ implies a continual participation in forgiveness, and atthe same time a renewal that is characterised by the concepts of mortiﬁ-catio and viviﬁcatio. The manner in which Calvin works this out howeverreveals that mortiﬁcatio is really a designation in which he includes new 121 Inst. 2.7.8. 122 CO 37, 204. 123 Inst. 3.3.19; Inst. 3.11.1. 124 Neither penance, nor the simultaneous mortiﬁcatio and viviﬁcatio, are conditions forsalvation, but its consequences. This does not detract from the fact that in Calvin’sunderstanding of man the conscience is an important pedagogical path, along whichGod draws the sinner to himself. This however is not yet penance. 125 Inst. 3.11.1.
158 chapter threelife. O. Weber has correctly remarked that in this manner Calvin doesnot distinguish himself from a long Western tradition.126 Although faith is focused on God’s mercy, it is still characterised bya certain doubleness. As Calvin remarks, God has within himself thehonourable qualities of a Lord and a Father. That means that love forGod the Father is constantly characterised by his lordship. The childrenof God thus do not obey as servants, that is to say because they cannotavoid doing so, but in respect. Malachi 1:6 is cited as evidence thatthis fear of the Lord is a reverence in which fear and respect cometogether. The fact that a believer knows himself to be an adopted childand subject of pity thus does not detract from the realisation of God’smajesty. In other words, the man of faith also knows the experienceof trembling, the abyss, although this diﬀers in quality from the fearthat seizes the unbeliever when he is confronted with judgement. Inaddition to the timor Dei the believer also knows of God’s mercy, and inthe orientation to that mercy he has the realisation of God as avengerof all wrong behind him, as it were. This is clear: Calvin disputes that in faith there is no fear whatsoever.In doing so, he seems to ﬂatly contradict the words of IJohn 4:18,‘Perfect love banishes fear.’ Calvin however boldly declares that thisrefers only to the fears of the unbelievers. The unbeliever has an abjectspirit and his only concern is to avoid the wrath of God. The fearpeculiar to faith is that of the child, who suﬀers from it when therelationship with the father has been disrupted.127 3.12. Knowing in faith, in bits and pieces: predestination3.12.1. A center or the core?In the foregoing various essentials have already been discussed: inCalvin’s thought, one essential part of the knowing involved in faith isthe acknowledgement that all things, including the answer that peoplegive to invitation which God extends to them, are anchored in God’s 126 Inst. 3.3.8–9. See the critique of O. Weber, Grundlagen der Dogmatik II, Neukirchen19775, 394: ‘Der Ton der eschatologischen Freude, der das ganze Neue Testamentdurchzieht, der in den gebundenen Formen des Rituals und der Sitte die Ostkircheso kräftig bewegt, is in der auch von Calvin nicht durchbrochenen abendländischenFrömmigkeit zu wenig, zu kärglich zu vernehmen.’ 127 Inst. 3.2.27.
god: judge and father 159Counsel. In other words, it is time to take up explicitly the doctrineof election. If ever a doctrine has become notorious, if ever a personhas become identiﬁed with and viliﬁed for a doctrine, if a movementnamed for that person has ever become isolated through a doctrine,128then that has been Calvin and his doctrine of predestination. It is as simple to describe the content of Calvin’s doctrine of predes-tination and to reject it on the basis of the insights of modern Biblicalstudies as it is problematic to determine the place of the doctrine in thewhole of his thinking. Responding to the question of what is at stakeexistentially with this doctrine of knowing in faith is the most diﬃcultand at the same time most theologically rewarding direction. One canrefer to the deﬁnition in the Institutes for a characterisation. There weread, By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestined to life or to death.129What strikes one ﬁrst in this deﬁnition is the parallelism. Eternal salva-tion and damnation are bound up together. A second striking elementis that the subject of election is singular: God. It is not clear from thisdeﬁnition to what degree Christ plays a role in the decision for salvationor damnation, and one can aﬃrm that Calvin oﬀers no more clarity onthis elsewhere in his writings.130 It is exactly this which has played alarge role in the critique of his doctrine of election. 128 Cf. Oberman, ‘Calvin’s Heritage’, The two Reformations, 156. 129 Inst. 3.21.5: ‘Predestinationem vocamus aeternum Dei decretum, quo apud seconstitutum habuit quid de unoquoque homine ﬁeri vellet. Non enim pari conditionecreantur omnes: sed aliis vita aeterna, aliis damnatio aeterna praeordinatur. Itaqueprout in alterutrum ﬁnem quisque conditus est, ita vel ad vitam vel ad mortem praedes-tinatum dicimus.’ 130 When Calvin speaks of God, he is thinking of the Triune God. As the second per-son of the Trinity Christ is indeed involved in predestination, but then only as authoremelectionis of the positive pole of predestination, election (Inst. 3.22.7). Calvin appeals toJohn 13:18 and John 15:19. Election is not thought through from the incarnation, butprecedes the incarnation in order. Calvin is silent on a role for the Eternal Son inreprobation. See C. Graaﬂand, Van Calvijn tot Barth. Oorsprong en ontwikkeling van de leerder verkiezing in het Gereformeerd Protestantisme, ’s Gravenhage 1987, 37–40, who correctlyobserves that Calvin, by regarding the double determination for salvation and repro-bation as the decision of the one God, creates an enormous tension in the doctrine of
160 chapter three What place does election have? In the previous chapter I maintainedthat it is not correct to reduce Calvin’s theology to a doctrine of doublepredestination. The invitation which God extends is primary, the mir-ror of his grace that he holds up before the hearers of the Word. Theattempt has been made many times in research to sharply distinguishCalvin’s thinking from that of his successors, where the discussion of theloci is much less soteriologically ordered, and more logical-deductive.While it is doubtful how much of a sharp distinction it is possible tomake between Calvin and his follower Beza,131 the fact is that on thispoint Calvin’s theology has ‘a certain ﬂuidity’.132 As is known, in theﬁnal edition of the Institutes Calvin discusses predestination only in thethird Book, after having discussed the new life that comes to man ina two-fold manner in regeneration and justiﬁcation, and after prayerhas been discussed. But what importance should we attribute to thisplacement? It would be improper to conclude on this basis, that elec-tion only has a subordinate place. In handling the Bolsec aﬀair, in theaftermath of this aﬀair and the elaboration that he subsequently gaveto the doctrine of double predestination, it is clear that with this doc-trine we are indeed dealing with a core of Calvin’s thought. It is equallyimpossible, however, to conclude on the basis of the teleological struc-ture of Calvin’s theology that the most important issues come at theend. Such a conclusion is based on the idea that systematic perspec-tives play a decisive role in Calvin’s concept of knowing God. That isnot the case. Calvin desired to be a Biblical theologian ﬁrst and fore-God. With equal justice Graaﬂand remarks that Calvin never works out the implica-tions of this theologically. Indeed, we are compelled to say, it is precisely characteris-tic of Calvin’s concept of knowing God that man never works out certain questions,respects limits, and turns his gaze on that which God’s actions have produced which isbeneﬁcial for him. 131 See particularly the work of R.A. Muller, who in various publications has de-fended the continuity between Calvin and Beza. See ‘Calvin and the “Calvinists”:Assessing Continuities and Discontinuities between the Reformation and Orthodoxy’,Calvin Theological Journal 30 (1995), 345–375, and 31 (1996), 125–160, now also in: R. Mul-ler, After Calvin. Studies in the Development of a Theological Tradition, Oxford 2003, 63–102;idem, ‘The Use and Abuse of a Document: Beza’s Tabula Praedestinationis, The BolsecControversy, and the Origins of Reformed Orthodoxy’ in: C.R. Trueman/R.S. Clark(eds.), Protestant Scholasticism. Essays in Reassessment, Carlisle 1999, 33–61. 132 Thus Graaﬂand, Van Calvijn tot Barth, 9 and 15. A well-known example of thisﬂuidity is the place of the doctrine of providence, which in the 1539 edition Calvin stilldiscussed in connection with election. In the 1559 edition the doctrine of providence isplaced in Book I, with the doctrines of creation and sustenance. Predestination is nothowever placed within the doctrine of God, a step which is though taken by Beza.
god: judge and father 161most, and with regard to the discussion of election sought to respect theBiblical-theological connections which he had discerned. It is for thisreason that election is discussed after he has spoken of God’s gesture ofinvitation in the creation, of sin, of Christ and of the ‘leading’ work ofthe Holy Spirit. Predestination, God’s decisive Counsel to life or death,is not the core of his theology, although it is undoubtedly one deﬁningelement. What are the consequences, however, if the aspect of God’s predeter-mination is postulated as sharply and radically as Calvin does, withoutany inclination to want to mitigate the reprobation or providing moreinsight into it? As is known, Calvin was unwilling to suppress the factthat, according to his conviction, Scripture also taught a negative coun-terpart to election to life, namely reprobation. What does that mean forfaith? Does the doctrine of double predestination undermine the imageof the well-disposed father? For the reprobate portion of humanity, isGod not a tyrant who mercilessly destines them to remain entrappedin total misery? One can really not dismiss these questions as ques-tions which have only arisen in modern times. Therefore we must ﬁrstlook back into history. When Jérome Bolsec stood up in the Congrégation(a public Bible lesson) on October 16, 1551, and attacked the conceptof predestination taught in Geneva because this doctrine would makeGod a tyrant or false god like Jupiter, he undeniably laid his ﬁngeron a sore point in Calvinist thinking. R.M. Kingdon has demonstratedthat Bolsec’s accusations struck a sympathetic chord with the commonpeople.133 One can call the charge that with Calvin God becomes theauthor of evil an easy cliché, which since then has been repeated end-lessly; the accusation points to an aporia with which everyone is con-fronted if they wish to maintain both God’s omnipotence and his good-ness. What were the motives that contributed to Calvin developing thispart of the doctrine as he did? Is it because he feared the responsethat Bolsec received from among the common people, and saw sup-port for the Reformation in the city being threatened?134 Is that whyhe attempted to comprehensively explain what he intended? Or canhis harsh attitude against Bolsec be traced back to his personality? Wasthere simply something wrong with Calvin as a person, that at deci-sive moments he lacked humanity, which subsequently was projected 133 R.M. Kingdon, ‘Popular Reactions to the Debate between Bolsec and Calvin’ in:W. van ’t Spijker (Hrsg.), Calvin. Erbe und Auftrag, (Fs. W. Neuser) Kampen 1991, 138–145. 134 Kingdon, ‘Popular Reactions’, 145.
162 chapter threein his image of God? Most recently Ph. Holtrop, in his book on theBolsec controversy, has ascertained, to his own shock, that the doctri-nal discussion was not only all tangled up with questions of social andpolitical power, but that Calvin personally also played a highly dubiousrole in the aﬀair. The appearance of Bolsec coincided with a momentat which Calvin—and with him a large number of French refugees inGeneva—found themselves in a threatening situation, in terms of pol-itics.135 The risk that he would come oﬀ the worst against the nativeresidents of the city and their party, the Libertines, was great. Possiblyit was for this reason that in his trial Bolsec appealed to the magistratein order to seek judgement in his favour. Apparently he estimated thesituation as being such that it was deﬁnitely not a foregone conclusionthat Calvin and his supporters could be able to maintain their positionin the city. The way in which Calvin handled this situation and dealtwith Bolsec provides an insight into a number of dubious features inCalvin’s personality. Although he viewed himself as moderate, in real-ity his response was bitter, harsh and disproportionate.136 He was com-pletely convinced that he was in the right and could only understandBolsec’s diﬀering opinion as a revolt against God. It is understandablethat the list of those who in the name of humanity have appointedthemselves complainants against the man has slowly grown to endlesslength, and one is inclined to promptly declare in their favour. Thatis all the more so because the negative verdict on Calvin’s role in theBolsec aﬀair is not only a judgement which has been made in retro-spect, on the basis of modern attitudes toward life. It also ﬁnds sup-port in the reactions of Calvin’s own contemporaries and supporters:Bullinger, Viret, Myconius. The personal element thus certainly played a role, but one does notdo justice to Calvin’s theology when it is suggested that this is the lastword on the matter. That would be all too easy. As it happens, in hisdoctrine of election Calvin is no exception. In its outlines, one ﬁnds 135 Ph.C. Holtrop, The Bolsec Controversy on Predestination, from 1551 to 1555. The Statementsof Jerome Bolsec, and the Responses of John Calvin, Theodore Beza, and Other Reformed Theolo-gians Vol.I Lewiston/Queenston/Lampeter 1993, 167–230, 56. See also W.G. Naphy,Calvin and the Consolidation of the Genevan Reformation, Manchester/New York 1994, 172:‘The lukewarm support that Calvin’s views received from the Swiss cities must haveundermined his position somewhat.’ 136 For several instances of Calvin’s lack of mercy and spitefulness see the study byW.G. Naphy, Calvin and the Consolidation of the Genevan Reformation and his conclusionon page 68: ‘Calvin had a particularly unforgiving side to his character.’ See alsoC. Augustijn, Calvijn, Den Haag 1966, 70–79.
god: judge and father 163the same teaching in Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and all the majorﬁgures in late medieval theology.137 Moreover, in his doctrine of electionCalvin takes a position that logically follows from his concept of humanknowledge of God. Why, according to Calvin, does double predestination belong to thefund of human knowledge of God? How did people come to conceiveelection as the heart of the church? It has been correctly noted thatwithin Reformed Protestantism the doctrine of election has gone from‘inheritance to stumbling block’, and on to being ‘an article of faithfrom the day before yesterday’.138 What could the foundation of thisdoctrine ever have been? What was at stake here, according to Calvin?In the past an attempt was made to answer this question by referringto the horriﬁc inequality in opportunities in nature and history. Elec-tion then becomes a principle that is visible in the whole of life andwhich rules all existence.139 Although one also ﬁnds in Calvin an appealof this sort to the inequality everywhere in life, it cannot be deniedthat in Calvin this does not do justice to the soteriological context ofthe concept of election. Or put diﬀerently: standing behind the con-cept, its primary background, is the awesome astonishment that manis not overtaken by disaster, does not disappear into his own darkness,but is brought home by God in his love. For a part of the Reformedworld it was G.C. Berkouwer who again underscored the existentialcharacter of election. Election has to do with the acknowledgementof the supremacy of God’s grace, with the heart of God which seeks 137 See A.D.R. Polman, De praedestinatieleer van Augustinus, Thomas van Aquino en Calvijn,Franeker 1936, G. Oorthuys, De leer der praedestinatie, Wageningen 1931, P. Jacobs, Prädes-tination und Verantwortlichkeit bei Calvin, Neukirchen 1937. 138 Author’s translation from Oberman, De erfenis van Calvijn, 41. Cf. Oberman, ‘Cal-vin’s Legacy’, The two Reformations, 156. 139 See A. Kuyper, Het Calvinisme. Zes Stone-Lezingen in october 1898 te Princeton (N.-J)gehouden, Kampen Tweede Druk z.j., 179–181; ET: Lectures on Calvinism, Grand Rapids,197810, 195–197. Here and there in neo-Calvinism one ﬁnds others who similarlybegin with inequality. See G.C. Berkhouwer’s sensitive discussion of the theology ofK. Schilder in Zoeken en Vinden. Herinneringen en ervaringen, Kampen 1989, 263–264.Berkouwer refers to an otherwise undeveloped marginal comment in Schilder’s Preken,Vol. I, 81: ‘Heaven cannot be imagined without hell. Election cannot be imaginedwithout reprobation. Here too day arises with night, and light is linked to darkness.This is diﬃcult. Yet life is replete with this. This law applies everywhere. Many arecalled, few are chosen. One man’s death is another man’s breath. Darwin: survival ofthe ﬁttest. Thousands of blossoms fall oﬀ, so that a handful can ripen into fruit. Why?Millions of living beings are born, only a few continue in life.’ Berkouwer does not seemto be aware that these remarks are a direct summary of a passage from H. Bavinck,Gereformeerde Dogmatiek II, Kampen 19082, 417–418; ET, 401–402.
164 chapter threeways where, from the human perspective, all ways have been blocked.Looking toward history, Oberman has tried to anchor election in thefaith experience of a community under the cross. Where the commu-nity is threatened, where people must ﬂee for the sake of their faith,living in the diaspora in the midst of a threatening world, and wheretheir own faith is robbed of all its certainties, there perhaps the realisa-tion arises again that election has to do with an anchor in God, whichprovides comfort. Some understanding for this doctrine can perhapsalso be found in the ‘recognition of the structures of the existence ofrefugees in our own time’.140 This is the search for an existential con-text. It is obvious that all these explanations and situations ﬁnd theirbasis in the manner in which Calvin has written of election as comfort.It is however also worthwhile to begin with the basis which Calvin him-self identiﬁed. In this one is in no way whatsoever denying the existenceof an existential context, but beginning with that which in any case alsomust be said. The simplest justiﬁcation for the doctrine of double predestination,and the one given by Calvin himself, is the following: it is taught bythe Holy Spirit in Scripture. Scripture itself declares ‘he [God] doesnot adopt promiscuously to the hope of salvation, but gives to somewhat he denies to others’.141 Key texts for the concept of double elec-tion are, for instance, Romans 9:18 and 9:22, and Proverbs 16:4. Suchtexts are interpreted by Calvin in the light of the double ending ofhistory. Mankind is divided into two groups: one group predestinedto be damned and one group of persons who will live in communionwith God eternally. On the basis of contemporary insights from Bib-lical research we can only observe that already, on exegetical groundsalone, there is no longer any support for Calvin’s purely individualisticexegesis of these texts and his undervaluing of the category of covenant.Calvin did not see that in chapters 9–11 of Romans election is a cate-gory of sacred history, and that the question of personal salvation is sub-ordinate to the question of how God will remain true to his promisesand his covenant. One can conclude that Calvin introduces a symme-try between election and reprobation that is not expressly present inRomans 9–11. He mirrors the positive connection of God’s action inthe election of Jacob with the rejection of Esau as the negative counter-part of election. For election and reprobation being parallel, he appeals 140 Oberman, ‘Calvin’s Legacy’. The two Reformations, 160. 141 Inst. 3.21.1.
god: judge and father 165to the omnipotence of God, by virtue of which all things ultimatelyproceed from the Counsel of God. It is in this context that the remarkabout a decretum horribile, a terrible decision, comes.142 In retrospect wemust say that Calvin’s concept of the omnipotence of God has led to aparalleling that ﬁnds no support in the text itself. The second reason that Calvin adduces for this element of Christianknowledge of God is that it ﬁts perfectly with the experience thatthe Church has gained from its preaching of the Word of God. TheGospel does not ﬁnd the same positive reception from all. But thatis still putting too ﬁne a gloss on it. Calvin makes no secret that heproceeds from the idea that the number of the elect will only be small.He believes he reads this in Paul when in Romans 11:5 the latter speaksof the remnant saved for God. Moreover, this word from Scripture isconﬁrmed by daily experience, ‘because experience shows that of thegeneral body many fall away and are lost, so that in the end a smallportion only remains’.143 Experience supports what Scripture teaches. The third point is the argument that Calvin always advances as themost important point in favour of this doctrine. Election functions asthe anchor of salvation. Salvation, becoming a child of God, is notanchored in one’s own good works; the foundation of salvation is inGod himself. God is not obliged to grant participation in salvation.Status as a child of God is not conferred on the basis of merit, butpurely because God wills this salvation for believers. With Calvin,election has to do with the surprise that one is safe with God, isultimately secure. That is the heart of the doctrine. If one wishes tosense something of that surprise in faith, then it is advisable to readthe commentary of Ephesians 1:4–5, for instance, and not the Institutes.There Calvin comes closer to the sense. In this section he speaksexpressly of the call with which the community, the hearers of theWord, are confronted. ‘If it is asked what is the cause of God callingus to participate in the Gospel, why He daily invests us with so manyblessings, why He opens heaven for us, then we must always return tothis fundamental point: because He has chosen us, before the worldwas made.’ Thus he does not speak of election apart from faith, butalways after the hearing of the good news, after men have accepted theinvitation of Christ. That men belong to God’s family, have a seat at histable, share in the communion of the body of Christ, arises out of God’s 142 Inst. 4.23.7. 143 Inst. 3.21.7. Cf. also Inst. 3.24.12.
166 chapter threehigh prerogative. It does not happen on the basis of good works orprospective good works; it comes forth from God himself. The mannerin which Calvin speaks of this in his exegetical work radiates a senseof surprise, relief, not that of disputatio, as in the Institutes. In Calvin’sdoctrine of election the element of the unexpectedness of God’s graceis magniﬁed and maintained in a manner that makes it impossible toideologise this grace, in the way that this is at least present as a risk inthe development of Barth’s doctrine of election.144 According to Calvin election to life has a parallel in a decision toreprobation. What reasons does he adduce for this? Here too Calvin’sreading of Scripture plays a large role. Thus in Scripture God himselfteaches man about the existence of double predestination. That doesnot mean, however, that God has given man unlimited access to hisCounsel and has thrown open all its spaces to inspection. There arematters of his Counsel that God has revealed in Scripture, and mat-ters that he has not revealed. According to this concept, the doctrineof double predestination is among those matters that God has madeknown for a very speciﬁc purpose. Therefore Calvin had no sympathywhatsoever for the standpoint of the preachers in Bern, who in theirresponse to the questions asked in 1551 about the Bolsec aﬀair con-tended that one would do better to refrain from discussion of this mat-ter, because it would agitate the common people.145 What it came downto is that Calvin did not want to introduce any distinction betweenwhat theologians said among themselves and what they would bringup in the presence of the laity.146 The theological reason that Calvinholds fast to his view that one must not refrain from speaking of dou-ble predestination is that God himself has willed that these things fromhis holy Counsel be made known to people. In the preceding chap- 144 In the second panel, of Barth’s theology, precisely this unexpectedness is main-tained by the ‘actuality’ of God’s Counsel. The fact that all men are chosen for life inChrist prevents grace from becoming a thing, a decree that has existence apart fromthe living God who judges and establishes his justice in the present. That in the recep-tion of Barth’s theology grace can indeed become a principle, and thereby an ideologythat in fact crushes the life out of the call to repentance and a change of life, is a factthat is still too little recognised. 145 See Calvin’s disapproval in Inst. 3.21.4. 146 According to Holtrop, The Bolsec Controversy, 28, in the Bolsec aﬀair Calvin rea-soned along Scholastic lines. He not only based himself on the covenant and election inChrist, but strongly posited a causal relation between God’s Counsel and faith. Whilein the Institutes he argued from the eﬀects to the cause, in the Bolsec aﬀair he arguesfrom cause to the eﬀects.
god: judge and father 167ter I sought to make clear how greatly Calvin’s doctrine of Scripturewas determined by that idea that God, through his Spirit, is the actingSubject of Scripture. The fact that God made use of human writersdoes not deﬁne his vision of Scripture. Those things which appear inthe Bible are precisely what God considers good and useful for man toknow. They all belong, without distinction, to the doctrina, to the teach-ing which does not come from man, but comes to us from God. One ofthe hidden things of his will that He wished to reveal is the existence ofa double predestination.147 The making known of this secret in no waymeans, now that God has revealed one element from the secret things,that suddenly all secrets will be revealed. It is just as little permitted thatman can just do what he likes with the revelation. Revealed truths mustbe handled carefully. It is a matter of historical fairness to take Calvin at his own wordon this point. Even if one is of the opinion that he too easily dismissedBolsec’s conclusions, it is precisely then that the protest that Calvin reg-istered must be taken up as a signal that he wished to deal with revealedtruth diﬀerently here. Calvin saw absolutely nothing of his own posi-tions in Bolsec’s accusations that in the doctrine of predestination Godwas turned into a tyrant and the author of sin. He was so vehementprecisely because conclusions were being foisted upon him that he didnot wish to draw. In his view he stopped short of the line of revealedknowledge of God, while his opponents sought to draw him over thatboundary.3.12.2. Handling of the doctrine of predestinationIt is in the very important introductory paragraph to the doctrine ofelection in the third book of the Institutes that Calvin famously uses theterm labyrinth in connection with this doctrine.148 One might be of theopinion that, now that the double decision regarding eternal salvationand reprobation has been disclosed, all locks and bolts slid back, allis now freely accessible and every possible conclusion could be drawn.We have noted already that this is in no way the case. The warningagainst curiosity comes in this context, and rational consideration is 147 Inst. 3.21.1: ‘Quae nobis patefacienda censuit voluntatis suae arcana, ea verbo suoprodidit.’ (‘Those secrets of his will, which he has seen it meet to manifest, are revealedin his word’). 148 For instance in Inst. 3.21.1 and in the Commentary on Rom. 9:14, CO 49, 180.
168 chapter threeasked to take a back seat, yielding to worship. This takes nothing awayfrom the fact that Calvin rejects every form of Pelagianism in the sal-vation of man, and aﬃrms that God is the highest cause of electionand reprobation. Time and again we see how he believes that this posi-tion is supported by Scripture. Election and reprobation take place onthe basis of God’s dispensatio,149 ordinatio,150 in arcano Dei consilio.151 Calvinregards the argument that reprobation is based on God’s foreknowledgeof actions, or that God only permits the fall, as being untenable.152 Withappeals to Scripture, and knowing himself supported by Augustine, theregular refrain throughout his discussion of the objections is the propo-sition that it is certain that all things happen through God’s ‘ordinanceand nod’.153 To use other terms, there exists a direct causal connectionbetween God’s double decision and the eternal misery of the repro-bate on the one hand and the eternal bliss of the elect on the other.We noted that in this context Calvin, in addition to the more dynamicterms nutus and ordinatio, also makes use of the term causa from Aris-totelian metaphysics.154 In the Institutes 3.14.17 Calvin explicitly acceptsthese distinctions. The mercy of God is the causa eﬃciens, Christ withhis obedience the causa materialis, faith is the causa formalis or instrumen-talis. The causa ﬁnalis is lastly the manifestation of divine justice andthe praise of his goodness. Contemporary theology rightly questionswhether the causa concept does justice to the nature of God’s actionsand whether as a concept it does not remain inadequate. It wouldbe well to remember, however, that in the Enlightenment this con-cept of causality underwent an enormous impoverishment, graduallybeing reduced to mechanical causality. Causality was pried away fromAristotelian metaphysics, and what remained was a systematic relationof cause and eﬀect.155 With Calvin we encounter a concept of causa-tion that is much richer in nature. The classic-Aristotelian concept ofcausality is characterised by its distinguishing among various aspects or 149 Inst. 3.23.8. 150 Inst. 3.23. 8–9. 151 Inst. 3.23.4. 152 Calvin’s tone is very deﬁnite in designating God’s election and reprobation asthe necessary foundation for all that happens; see Inst. 3.23.8: ‘Non dubitabo igiturcum Augustino simpliciter fateri, voluntatem Dei esse rerum necessitatem atque idnecessario futurum esse quod ille voluerit.’ 153 Inst. 3.23.6: ‘… ubi constat ordinatione potius et nutu omnia evenire.’ 154 Inst. 3.23.8. In his Metaphysics I,iii.1, Aristotle makes distinctions among what havegone down in philosophy as causa formalis, causa materialis, causa eﬃciens and causa ﬁnalis. 155 See for instance G.C. Berkouwer, Divine Election, Grand Rapids 1960, 188.
god: judge and father 169principles that all form peculiar approaches to the one reality. It is char-acteristic of the various sorts of causality that they all describe one andthe same thing from various perspectives. The danger however existsthat the causa eﬃciens will be adjudged as the ﬁrst member in a seriesof secondary causes which are dependent on the ﬁrst in a mechanical-causal manner. There is then no place left for an acknowledgement ofthe peculiarity and relative independence of the other causes. For theevaluation of Calvin’s concept of God’s acts this means that no oneaspect may be isolated, but that the unity of actions is assumed. Calvinknew the various causae and used them as aspects which can be usedto describe the history between God and man.156 To come closer toCalvin’s spirituality, it seems to me we must make an important dis-tinction, which has much to do with the limit of human knowing ofGod, namely the distinction between causae remotae and causae propinquae.God’s predestination is a cause which lies in the area that is inaccessi-ble to the reach of human investigation; it belongs to the causae remotae.With regard to reprobation, man ﬁrst encounters the nearer causes,namely his own revolt and apostasy.157 If we look at election to life, thenGod’s love is the summa causa, and faith the causa secunda et propior. Thevarious causes lie at varying levels and can not be played against oneanother. In fact, Calvin is speaking of one reality. God’s love, the workof Christ, and the faith of men, sanctiﬁcation are not diﬀerent com-partments existing apart from one another. God’s love is realised in thework of Christ, and God’s election is realised in faith in Christ. Thefaith that takes on visible form in the world has an invisible ground inGod’s eternal Counsel. What men primarily have to deal with are thecausae propinquae. 156 This means that election and reprobation indeed can be described as causa ﬁnalisin order to reveal God’s severity and his compassion, respectively; see for instancethe Comm. on Romans 9:22–23, CO 49, 187 and Inst. 3.24.12. In the explication ofRomans 3:22, CO 49, 60, God’s compassion is explicitly termed the causa eﬃciens andChrist is the materia. In the Comm. on Eph. 1:5, CO 51, 148–149 the pleasure of God’swill is the causa eﬃciens, Christ is causa materialis and the praise of his grace the causaﬁnalis. A bit later, at Eph. 1:8, CO 51, 150 he calls the preaching of the Gospel the causaformalis. 157 See Comm. on Romans 9:11, CO 49, 178. See also the treatise against AlbertusPhigius, De aeterna praedestinatione CO 8, 296. See also Comm. on Romans 9:22, CO49, 187: ‘… causam in aeterno ac inexplicabili Dei consilio absconditam esse: cuiusiustitiam adorare magis quam scrutari conveniat.’ What would later be called thesupralapsarian perspective thus lies further away, in a region that is closed for humaninvestigation. What man does have to deal with are the things of this life and the appealthat is heard there by the providence of God.
170 chapter three The same is thus also true for reprobation. The unbelief of men alsohas an origin which reaches back to God. But God may not be termedunjust. However contradictory it may seem, Calvin thought that on thebasis of revelation both things must be said: In the decision of God’sown Counsel lay the deepest cause of salvation and doom, while atthe same time revelation forbids the conclusion that God is the authorof sin, or is liable to moral censure.158 The existence of good and evilalongside one another, of light and dark, of weal and woe, has reasonsthat lie in God and which are further unknown to man.3.12.3. The beneﬁt of the knowledge of predestinationWhy has God made these secrets known? Calvin remains true to hisconviction of the usefulness of all revealed knowledge of God. Thisconviction has an axiomatic signiﬁcance in his theology. Thus somehowthe principle applies here that knowing God and knowing ourselves arecorrelates. Doctrine is not complete if it remains exterior, like a dropleton a window; it must penetrate and only then ﬁnds its purpose in theﬁtting response on the part of man. What are the beneﬁts? In the ﬁrst place, knowledge that human sal-vation is founded in God’s election aﬀords certainty. Certainty? Indeed,one would not suspect this after so many centuries of individuals insome Reformed Protestant circles wrestling with the question of wheth-er they are really children of God. Yet Calvin connects election withcertainty. It however becomes somewhat clearer when one takes intoaccount the forum that Calvin had to deal with. The anchor for cer-tainty of salvation does not lie in works or in personal sanctity; theanchor of eternal salvation lies in God’s own decision. But it is notwithout reason that in the Institutes this decision is discussed after therealisation of community between God and man in Jesus Christ istreated. The inward work of the Holy Spirit, through which Christ isno longer at a distance but in whom the believer grows together withChrist, is the mystery of faith. That is in the foreground. That thiswork of the Spirit has its foundation in the election to life, and thatthere is even a double predestination whereby some are chosen for life 158 Inst. 3.23.8: ‘nihil aliud quam divinae iustitiae, occultae quidem, sed inculpatae,dispensatio … sic ex Dei praedestinatione pendet eorum perditio, ut causa et materiain ipsis reperiatur … Cadit igitur homo, Dei providentia sic ordinante: sed suo vitiocadit.’
god: judge and father 171and others rejected, is the mysterious background of an experiencedfact that, according to Calvin’s ﬁrmest conviction, is entirely palpable.The teaching of the Spirit in Scripture is conﬁrmed in everyday experi-ence. Remarkably enough, Calvin begins his treatment of the doctrineof predestination precisely with this reference to experience. Preachingis received very diﬀerently by various persons; the eﬀect can be diamet-rically opposite. The depth of divine rule is revealed in this experiencedfact.159 The ordo cognoscendi, the way of knowing of faith, is paramount inCalvin’s treatment—that is to say, ﬁrst the divine mercy that is revealedin Christ, and then the background of this faith in the decision of divineCounsel, the ordo essendi. As opposed to the late medieval doctrine ofgrace, in which merit played a fundamental role, Calvin has, as he seesit, adduced a stronger basis. Calvin proposes thankfulness as a second practical purpose of thedoctrine. Election points to God’s free mercy, and this evokes thank-fulness from the side of man. In this way God is gloriﬁed. It is notwithout reason that in connection with God’s eternal Counsel we hearthe phrase that is also typical of Calvin’s concept of knowing God: it isﬁtting to praise God’s judgement, rather than to interrogate it.160 As athird point Calvin lists humility. Man must learn to know his place inrelation to God. He is being trained in humility and submission. Once one has taken cognisance of these three practical eﬀects, itcan then be understood why Calvin reacted furiously to the suggestionthat it is better to hold one’s peace about the doctrine of election. Ifelection were not to be spoken of, according to Calvin then on thecontrary the honour of God would be disparaged and the faithfulwould not be stimulated to thankfulness and meekness. In this case manis being wiser than God, who indeed thinks it useful to reveal this secret.Calvin’s ‘Biblicism’ is here of decisive importance. He labels the adviceof the Bern clergy to practice reticence in speaking of predestination ashuman pride.161 No concession is possible. Calvin indicates where theboundary between speaking and remaining silent lies for him: Let us, I say, allow the Christian to unlock his mind and ears to all the words of God which are addressed to him, provided he do it with this moderation—viz. that whenever the Lord shuts his sacred mouth, he also desists from inquiry. The best rule of sobriety is, not only in learning to 159 Inst. 3.21.1. 160 Comm. Romans 9:22, CO 49, 187. 161 Inst. 3.21.4.
172 chapter three follow wherever God leads, but also when He makes an end of teaching, to cease also from wishing to be wise.162It is characteristic of Calvin’s position that, with Deuteronomy 29:29 inmind, he seeks a via media with regard to predestination. At one extremeis an excessive curiosity, in which man wants to know more than whatGod has disclosed in his Word. On this side the limit is formed by adocta ignorantia, a not-knowing that is precisely the fruit of revelation.163The emphasis however comes to lie on the second boundary thatCalvin wants to avoid, namely that ‘lest under the pretence of modestyand sobriety we be satisﬁed with a brutish ignorance’.164 This ignoranceis in fact ingratitude with regard to that which God has disclosed.165 In the above we have once again discovered the three fundamentalconcepts that qualify human knowledge of God. Man is certain of hissalvation, not on the basis of works, but on the basis of God’s mercy, hismisericordia. Further, in this earthly existence he practices humility andthankfulness. Anchoring salvation in election in Calvin’s theology indisputably hasconsequences for the place which the concept of covenant will assume.Covenant is subordinated to election. The particularity of God’s gra-cious acts is indeed reﬂected in the covenant with the people of Israel,but that does not mean that all who belong to that nation have theSpirit of regeneration bestowed upon them.166 God’s gracious actionis focused on single individuals. For Calvin the covenant is a functionof election. The election of the one nation of Israel out of the manynations reﬂects the splendour of election, which takes place not on thebasis of merit, but purely on the basis of mercy. In other words, thefreedom of God’s grace and turning toward man becomes visible in themirror of the covenant.167 Thus all this means that far from everything is decided about theeternal salvation of those who are included in this covenant. Esau was 162 Inst. 3.21.3: ‘Permittamus, inquam, Christiano homini, cunctis qui ad eum diri-guntur Dei sermonibus mentem auresque reserare, modo cum hac temperantia, utquum primum Dominus sacrum os clauserit, ille quoque viam sibi ad inquirendumpraecludat. Hic optimus sobrietatis terminus erit, si non modo in discendo praeeuntemsemper sequamur Deum, sed ipso ﬁnem docendi faciente, sapere velle desinamus.’ 163 Inst. 3.21.2; see also Inst. 3.23.8. 164 Inst. 3.21.3: ‘… ne modestiae et sobrietatis praetextu bruta inscitia nobis placeat.’ 165 Inst. 3.21.4. 166 Inst. 3.21.7. 167 Inst. 3.21.7.
god: judge and father 173part of the covenant, but in no way belongs to the elect. Salvation isindeed oﬀered by the covenant, but that is not to say that God sealsall for salvation.168 The invitation of a whole people into the covenantis followed by a second act of God in which he elects a part of thatpeople in a special, or indeed active, manner. The ﬁrst or generalelection is, Calvin literally says, a sort of ‘middle ground’169 betweenthe rejection of the human race and the election of a small numberof sinners. There is, we must conclude, still a large gap between God’sinvitation to and oﬀer of salvation, and actual, personal participationin salvation. We undeniably there encounter the tension that lies withinCalvin’s doctrine of God and that he, as we previously observed, doesnot attempt to resolve. He only points his readers toward a way ofdealing with it. Calvin saw clearly that people can easily blunder in the discussionof God’s rule in election and rejection. Those who will know toomuch, who are led on by their curiosity, will, he contends, end upin questions and observations that are ridiculous and arouse mockery.He will therefore teach his readers to respect the limits of Scripture.There are questions which can be asked, and questions which mustnot be asked. As was said earlier, one can object that Calvin him-self does not abide by that principle when he characterises reproba-tion as the necessary counterpart to election. His exegesis of Scrip-ture is here crucially deﬁned and distorted by a vision of omnipo-tence and election that can not be defended. Calvin did not see thatin the Bible election is a category of sacred history that describes themanner of God’s mighty acts. For him, following the tradition inau-gurated by Augustine, election has become a category of the Coun-sel of God, in which decisions are made about the eternal salvationand damnation of separate individuals. It is not just the indefensibil-ity of his exegesis of Romans 9–11 that has meant that Calvin’s the-ology is no longer followed on this point. In our second panel, inthe description of Barth’s theology, we will see how deeply changingviews of the Bible and the relation between the Bible and systematicreﬂection have had their eﬀects there too. That God’s acts in the his-tory of Israel and in Christ are unconditional acts for good, in thesecond panel will be seen to be a compass for the reading of Scrip-ture. 168 Inst. 3.21.7. 169 Inst. 3.21.7: ‘… medium quiddam …’
174 chapter three Calvin has gone down in the history of theology as the one whodefended the doctrine of double predestination in its most rigid form,thereby undermining the character of the Gospel as a message ofsalvation. Seen from Calvin’s own position, that is a most curious andparticularly ungracious outcome. The fact is that he precisely did notwant to burrow around in the Counsel of God, did not wish to obscurethe image of God, but intended to ﬁx his reader’s minds on revelationas it is given, on Christ as the one in whom God comes to meet themwith his salvation. In Him God’s will is revealed.3.12.4. God’s will as the farthest horizonThat Calvin felt himself provoked by the accusations that his doctrineof predestination cast a shadow over the image of God as a lovingfather is understandable not only psychologically, but theologically. Godhimself revealed that man’s eternal salvation depends on a decision inGod’s hidden and immutable Counsel.170 If anyone subsequently askswhat the reason of this decision was, what the reasons are which guidedGod’s will, then he will receive no answer. God’s will is the ﬁnal point towhich knowledge in faith, instructed by Scripture, can go back. In thismatter the believer will have to live with a docta ignorantia, as Calvin,following Augustine, termed it171 The ﬁnal thing we can know, theextreme of human knowledge, is the will of God. The reference to the will of God immediately calls up the questionof what it means if Calvin’s doctrine of God is termed voluntaristicand is situated within the channel of Scotism.172 Is God’s freedom tobe distinguished from arbitrariness? Undeniably there are statements tobe found in Calvin that appear to give cause for the negative picturethat is given in the older manuals of the voluntarism of late medievaltheology. We are told in the discussion of predestination that there is nosense in asking why God entered into covenant with Abraham and hisdescendants. Calvin dismisses such questions with the requisite irony. 170 Inst. 3.21.7: ‘Quod ergo Scriptura clare ostendit, dicimus aeterno et immutabiliconsilio Deum semel constituisse quos olim semel assumere vellet in salutem, quosrursum exitio devovere.’ 171 Inst. 3.21.2. Cf. Augustine, Epistulae 130, 15, 28, CSEL 44, 72, 13. 172 For a careful but nevertheless sure backgrounding on this tradition, see H.A.Oberman, ‘Initia Calvini: The Matrix of Calvin’s Reformation’ in: W.H. Neuser (ed.)Calvinus sacrae scripturae Professor. Calvin as Confessor of Holy Scripture, Grand Rapids 1994,113–154, particularly 117–127.
god: judge and father 175People who try to understand such irreducible facts could just as wellask why they were created as men and not as oxen or donkeys. Godcould just as easily have made them as dogs. Calvin asks if peoplewho want to investigate these contingent things might also wish toallow lower animals to expostulate with God about not having madethem men.173 Things are as they are. God’s right to make a varietyof creatures now transports Calvin to the realm of salvation. God’sfreedom to introduce diversity into creation serves as an argument forGod’s freedom to elect some and reject others. Such an appeal to theconcept of freedom is dangerous because in this context it is not madeclear how God’s freedom diﬀers from arbitrariness. Considering suchstatements in isolation, one can easily manage to separate election fromthe soteriological context in which the doctrine stands in Calvin, andmake it an independent, controlling principle of the sovereignty of God.God then becomes a duplicate of the double face of nature. A naturalobservation comes to deﬁne the image of God. Above I have referred toremarks by Kuyper and Schilder which do not escape this danger. Thatin the Bible election stands in the context of salvation and redemptionis entirely lost. If we look at the context in which these statementsappear in Calvin, then it is clear that the point of his argument is not somuch the concept of freedom, but the foolishness of some questions.The farthest horizon of human knowledge of God is God’s will. Aboundary is drawn in the reference to God’s will, which man cannotpass. It is not possible to ask again why God wills as He does.174 Doesthis reference to God’s will as the furthest horizon open the door tothe view that God, at his deepest, is deﬁned by arbitrariness? That ishow Calvin is often understood. I would say this is incorrect, certainlyif one takes him at his own word. God’s will is always governed byhis justice and goodness. One can not search for reasons behind that.I have previously noted that Calvin fences oﬀ reﬂection on God’sbeing, and always has the inclination to move immediately through toquestions about the eﬀect that God wishes to produce with man. It ischaracteristic of Calvin’s concept that he makes thinking about God asprima causa subordinate to the ﬁnality of God’s action. It is not without 173 Inst. 3.22.1. 174 Inst. 3.23.2: ‘Adeo enim summa est iustitiae regula Dei voluntas, ut quicquid vult,eo ipso quod vult, iustum habendum sit. Ubi ergo quaeritur cur ita fecerit Dominus,respondendum est, Quia voluit.’ The publishers of the OS refer to Augustine, De Genesicontra Manichaeos I 2, 4 MSL 34, 175.
176 chapter threereason that I previously pointed out the dominance of active verbs suchas invite, awaken and draw. These verbs are more deﬁnitive for Calvin’sdoctrine of God than thinking in terms of primary causality is.175 Hishandling of the concept of potentia absoluta also ﬁts within this pattern.Calvin storms furiously against the idea that God acts as a potentiaabsoluta, as absolute power. The reference to God’s will as the furthesthorizon serves to remind us of the categorical diﬀerence between Godand man.3.12.5. God as absolute power?Is God’s will identiﬁed with caprice? In his actions is God a powerstanding above the law? Calvin thoroughly realised that this idea couldeasily take root.176 Yet everything indicates that he did not wish to godown this road. Already, in section 3.8, it was mentioned that Calvinstrongly militated against the idea that God might be a despotic powerwho wielded his might arbitrarily. The ﬁrst thing to which faith clingsis the goodness of God, his grace and justice. God’s power is notseparated from justice, but is always its norm and exponent. ‘We donot imagine God to be lawless. He is a law to himself.’177 What does Calvin mean by this? There are various places in hisworks where he explicitly speaks negatively about the concept of abso-lute power, potentia absoluta or puissance absoluë. It appears to be a termwhich has frankly objectionable connotations for Calvin. What didCalvin have in mind when he rejected this term? In the treatise De aeterna praedestinatione (1552) we ﬁnd an example. Hethere disputes the papales theologastri, according to whom one can ascribeabsolute power to God. A more extensive citation is in order here: It would be easier to wrench light away from warmth, or to separate warmth from ﬁre, than to divorce God’s power from his justice. Thus let these monstrous speculations be far from pious minds, that God can do more than is ﬁtting, or that He carries out something without measure and without reason. And I do not accept this as illusion, that God, because he is free of law, is free of reproach, whatever He does. Those who place God outside the law rob Him of the greatest part of 175 See Oberman, ‘Initia Calvini’, 126. 176 Inst. 3.23.4. 177 Inst. 3.23.2: ‘Adeo enim summa est iustitiae regula Dei voluntas, ut quicquid vult,eo ipso quod vult, iustum habendum sit … Non ﬁngimus Deum exlegem, qui sibi ipsilex est’.
god: judge and father 177 his glory, because they bury His truth and justice. Not because God is subject to law, except to the degree that He is law to himself, but because between his power and justice there is such an harmony and symmetry that nothing can come from Him except that it knows measure, law and rule. And it is certainly necessary that believers acknowledge that the same One whom they confess as almighty at the same time is the judge of the world, so that they regard the power as in this sense determined by justice and equity.178God does not act arbitrarily. His deeds are always determined byhis justice and goodness, although that is sometimes hidden. Otherpassages too where Calvin speaks explicitly of potentia absoluta are of thesame tenor.179 By absolute power Calvin understands an actually usedcapability, which stands apart from God’s justice and wisdom.180 Calvinwill have none of this. If that were true, God would indeed be a tyrant,someone who acts arbitrarily. According to Calvin, to think of God inthat way is the equivalent of blasphemy.3.12.6. Excursus: potentia absoluta et ordinata. A brief historical overviewIn the following I will place Calvin’s negative statements regarding Godas potentia absoluta within the context of late medieval discussions onGod’s power. The term potentia absoluta refers to a discussion that wascarried on since Augustine about the relation between God’s powerand his will, and which resulted in a distinction between absolute andordained power. In the later middle ages, under the inﬂuence of theuse of these terms in canon law, this distinction led to the view that thehighest authority, that is to say the pope, can act according to powersthat are not bound by any law or regulation. It will be clear that inthis context freedom rapidly takes on overtones of arbitrariness. Onthe basis of recent studies I will here present a brief survey in order tosituate Calvin’s ideas.181 178 CO 8, 361. Cf. also CO 8, 310: ‘nihil esse in Deo inordinatum’. 179 See Comm. Isa. 23:9, CO 36, 391; and Altera Responsio de occulta Dei providentia, CO9, 288. One will also ﬁnd frequent examples in the sermons on Job, for example CO35, 60 (‘puissance absoluë’) and CO 33, 584 (‘puissance tyrannique’). 180 Inst. 1. 17.2 and Inst. 3.23.2. 181 For the view of the relation between potentia absoluta and potentia ordinata, seethe study of H.A. Oberman, The Harvest of Medieval Theology. Gabriel Biel and LateMedieval Nominalism, Cambridge (MA) 1963. For a critical evaluation of the older viewand a reinterpretation, see particularly 30–56. Further, I have made extensive use ofW.J. Courtenay, Capacity and Volition. A History of the distinction of Absolute and OrdainedPower, Bergamo 1990, idem, ‘Nominalism and Late Medieval Religion’ in: Ch. Trinkaus
178 chapter three A good place to begin in order to understand what the distinctionwas originally about is the famous table conversation between PeterDamian and abbot Desiderius at the abbey of Monte Cassino in 1067.The subject of the conversation was the manner in which a citationfrom Jerome should be interpreted, in which he asserted that God,although he could do anything, could not undo the loss of virginity.182Although the question can be so conceived that the problem of therelation between the natural order and a supernatural interventionbecomes the nub, the discussion between Peter Damien and Desideriusfocused on the ﬁrst aspect, namely the question of in what sense itmay be said that God cannot do a thing. Desiderius defended the viewthat God’s omnipotence cannot be understood as the capacity to doanything whatsoever. Discussions about God’s power apart from hiswill are senseless. Pronouncements about what God can not do simplymean that God does not will doing this. Damian thought this positionunsatisfactory. It would mean that God’s power is limited by his will.According to Damian, God is able to do more than He in fact wills.Outside of what God actually does, there lies a ﬁeld of possibilities thatare open to Him. The questions which were raised in that conversation were not new;they have their background in Augustinian tradition. Already in Augus-tine one ﬁnds the distinction that God can do more than He wills.Potuit, sed noluit, as he put it. It is true for God: ‘poterat per potentiam,sed non poterat per iustitiam’.183 Divine will can, for unsearchable reasons,choose not to do a thing which from our perspective would seem toﬁt better with God’s goodness, although it does not tally with what isright. An example given by Augustine is the fall of Adam. It wouldappear in keeping with God’s goodness if he had prevented the fall ofAdam; he has however, for inscrutable reasons, chosen not to do that.184For other things which He cannot do, it is the case that He can not doand H.A. Oberman (ed.), The Pursuit of Holiness in Late Medieval and Renaissance Religion,Leiden 1974, 26–59. Further F. Oakley, Omnipotence, Covenant, and Order. An Excursion in theHistory of Ideas from Abelard to Leibniz, Ithaca 1984; G. van den Brink, Almighty God. A Studyof the Doctrine of Divine Omnipotence, Kampen 1993, 68–92. 182 Hieronymus, Epist. 22 ad Eustochium, 5, CSEL 54, 150: ‘Audenter loquor: cumomnia Deus possit, suscitare virginem non potest post ruinam. Valet quidem liberarede poena, sed non valet coronare corruptam.’ 183 Courtenay, Capacity and Volition, 28. 184 Augustine, De natura et gratia, 7.8, CSEL 60, 237 and Contra Gaudentium I, CSEL 53,233.
god: judge and father 179them because they are contrary to His nature. ‘Can not’ must simply beregarded as ‘does not will to’. It is nonsense to think of God’s capacityapart from his will. Particularly Anselm is important for the further development of theclassical meaning of the distinction. In his writings he took several stepsthat stimulated reﬂection on the capacity of God and suggested that inGod there is an unrealised sphere of potential that is apart from his will.One of these steps is found in the consideration of the incarnation inCur Deus Homo. If Christ has taken on a truly human nature, by virtue ofthe communion between the two natures in the divine-human personHe has the communicatio idiomatum, the capacity to do things which aretotally out of keeping with the divine nature, such as to lie and steal.At this point Anselm applies the distinction between being able toand willing. God in Christ has well the ‘bald’ capacity to do all sortsof things, but on account of his divine nature he does not have thecapacity to want to do them. The step which Anselm takes here is tothink hypothetically about what God might have wanted to do.185 A further step taken by Anselm is the distinction between vari-ous sorts of necessity. First, there is the distinction between necessitasantecedens and necessitas consequens. Necessitas antecedens describes the causeof a particular eﬀect. Necessitas consequens refers to the act as it takesplace or that is a result of an act. The second distinction is related tothis, namely that between an act that is compelled by an external inﬂu-ence and an action that takes place on the basis of a previous, freelymade act of will which the subject imposes on himself.186 Particularlythis latter distinction was to have immense consequences for thinkingabout God, man and the world in terms of covenant. In freedom Godcommits himself to act in a certain manner in his creation and in sacredhistory. It is in keeping with God’s honour to act in conformity withthat to which he has committed himself in creation and redemption.To the extent that these actions of God can be described as necessary,this necessity is characterised by his honour, or, better, by his nobility. Nearly all the ingredients which would be deﬁnitive for the classicalmeaning of the distinction are already present with Anselm. The diﬀer-ence is that Anselm limits himself to God’s freely chosen obligation. Inits classic form the distinction describes the operation of a covenant interms of a comprehensive system of causes and eﬀects on the basis of 185 Courtenay, Capacity and Volition, 33. 186 Cf. Cur Deus homo, II 5.
180 chapter threeattributed value. The second diﬀerence is that while Anselm’s thinkingabout God’s capacity apart from his will has only a hypothetical value,in the classic form that capacity is considered as a real, continuing,although often unused potential. For the subsequent debate it was important that more and moreemphasis came to be placed on what God had the power to do, apartfrom his will. Against Abelard, who wanted to limit God’s potential towhat really occurred, Hugo of St. Victor, Bernard of Clairveaux andPeter Lombard, for instance, insisted that it was unacceptable that Godcould not do other, or better, than what he actually did. The idea thatdivine goodness was fully realised was unacceptable. As we have said, with that the accent shifted. If Damian and Anselmnot read non potuit as noluit, in the ﬁrst decade of the 12th century thestress fell on the posse: ‘potuit, sed noluit’. If at ﬁrst the distinction had hadGod’s incapacity as its subject, now it became a positive assertion aboutGod’s capability, about his power.187 Added to this was the fact that reﬂection on the diﬀerence betweenGod’s willing and capacity was increasingly used to make room formiracles. In the 12th century, under Aristotelian inﬂuence the worldwas more and more being viewed as a place governed by laws. Insuch a world, how were men to regard God’s interventions by meansof miracles? What sort of powers and causes formed the basis formiracles taking place? Questions of this nature led to the expansionof the available concepts. It was assumed that created things had areceptive capacity, a potentia oboedentialis, which made possible a reactionor response on the part of lower natural powers and causes to thehigher, preternatural power of God himself. Courtenay remarks thatwhen, in the late medieval debate, the term potentia absoluta was deﬁnedas potentia extraordinaria, it already had a long history of being used in thissense. The world was experienced as responding to God. At that time,such an operationalising of the term potentia absoluta had not yet takenplace. Miracles were thought to belong among the potentia ordinata, asthe deﬁnition in the Summa Halensis (1250) demonstrates. Around 1250 the distinction between potentia absoluta and potentia ordi-nata was taking on its classic form and meaning. The distinction mustnot be regarded as an assertion about two powers in God. It is a man-ner of speaking about the one power of God. Potentia absoluta is used for 187 Courtenay, Capacity and Volition, 68–69.
god: judge and father 181speaking of God’s power apart from his will and his concrete deeds increation and sacred history. Potentia absoluta refers to the whole of pos-sibilities that initially stood open for God. These possibilities are onlylimited by the principium non-contradictionis. God can not will and not-will at the same time. Potentia ordinata regards God’s power according towhat He has actually done. The adjective absoluta is thus not a state-ment about a concrete act of God; it is his potentia considerata abstracta.188We see that it is not the intention of the distinction to make a statementabout what God can and cannot do. The intention is rather to makea positive statement about his relation to the world. The point of the dis-tinction is God’s binding himself to the order that He has chosen in creation andsacred history. Since God in his Counsel has chosen for this world andthis sacred history, he is approachable on that basis. In light of this, thedistinction ﬁrst of all says something about the contingency of creation,as opposed to Graeco-Arabic determinism.189 The present order is aproduct of God’s will. It is an order that is not necessary, and not logi-cally deducible. It is not the only possible order, and it rests positively inthe will of God. The diﬀerence between willing and potential in God isinterpreted as potuit per potentiam, sed non per voluntatem. This classical form of the dialectic between potentia absoluta and poten-tia ordinata is not the end of the debate, however. When so much empha-sis is placed on God’s self-binding to a particular order, and when heis thought of as the one who has appointed the laws in his creation,it becomes more diﬃcult to situate miracles within the potentia ordinata.Moreover, the self-binding of God’s power to particular forms and lawsassumes an element of deliberation in God. This assumption is not easyto square with God’s immutabilitas. In the third quarter of the 13th century, under the inﬂuence of adebate carried on by canon lawyers, still another use of the distinctionemerged. Potentia absoluta was understood by analogy with papal powerand sovereignty. The pope was thought to possess the plenitudo potestatiswith which the status ecclesiae must be maintained. The principal of lexdigna, coming from Roman law, encouraged the opinion that the popecould act ex ratione ecclesiae.190 Concretely, that meant that the pope couldgrant dispensation or could act against rights which had been granted,when larger interests or the greater good was served by doing so. Then 188 Courtenay, Capacity and Volition, 74. 189 Courtenay, Capacity and Volition, 90. 190 Courtenay, Capacity and Volition, 92.
182 chapter threehe acted extra or supra legem. Potentia absoluta at that moment enteredthe sphere of practical actions; the concept was operationalised. Thearticles of 1277 must be situated within this historical context. In fact thecondemnations involved propositions according to which God acted exnecessitate. With the condemnations the possibility was kept open thatGod acted directly and unexpectedly. According to Hendrik van Gent,a secular priest in Paris, the pope could use his power to cancel theprivileges of mendicant orders. According to Courtenay, this development in the meaning of theterm potentia absoluta as a means of thinking of the order of the worldand sacred history as a non-necessary, given order, according to amodel in which potentia absoluta was considered as a sphere of actuallyused power, was unintentionally furthered by Duns Scotus. Duns him-self emphatically did not regard potentia absoluta as a form of practicalaction. However, the debate among the canon lawyers is undeniablyreﬂected in the deﬁnition he gives. According to his deﬁnition, the dis-tinction between potentia absoluta and potentia ordinata can be applied toevery possible subject that possesses the capability to will and think.191Duns hereby attributes an element of free choice to God. Free willapplies to God and mankind. Potentia absoluta is no longer a realm ofpossibilities from which a choice can be made. It is the capacity to actoutside the given order. In this way Duns hands the pope a resourceenabling him to change his mind. For William of Ockham the distinction has primarily the traditionalmeaning. It is used to explore the boundary between the necessaryand contingent in the reality of creation and grace. Ockham reaﬃrmsthe explanation that Augustine had already given of the diﬀerencebetween willing and capacity to act. God could do much more, butHe does not will it. The concept of potentia absoluta only illuminates that 191 Courtenay, Capacity and Volition, 101 refers to Ordinatio I. Distinctio 44. OperaOmnia vol IV 363–369: ‘In omni agente per intellectum et voluntatem, potente confor- ,miter agere legi rectae et tamen non necessario conformiter agere legi rectae, est dis-tinguere potentiam ordinatam a potentia absoluta; et ratio huius est, quia potest agereconformiter illi legi rectae, et tunc secundum potentiam ordinatam (ordinata enim estin quantum est principium exsequendi aliqua conformiter legi rectae) et potest agerepraeter illam legem vel contra eam, et in hoc est potentia absoluta, excedens potentiamordinatam. Et ideo non tantum in Deo, sed in omni agente libere—qui potest ageresecundum dictamen legis rectae et praeter talem legem vel contra eam—est distinguereinter potentiam ordinatam et absolutam; ideo dicunt iuristae quod aliquis hoc potestfacere de facto, hoc est de potentia sua absoluta,—vel de iure, hoc est de potentiaordinata secundum iura.’ See also Lectura I, 44.
god: judge and father 183God could have acted diﬀerently. The contingency of the given orderis underscored. After all, certain miracles, such as the three men inthe ﬁery furnace or Elijah’s oﬀering on Carmel, demonstrate that thelaws of nature are not necessary laws, but are contingent. Fire does notalways burn human ﬂesh, and water and ﬁre are not always opposites.The question of whether the incarnation of the Son could have takenplace in a donkey is not asked because it was a serious possibility, but asa means of distinguishing the incidental from the essential. It howevercreates confusion when Ockham regularly creates the impression ofspeaking of actual forms of Divine actions, when he only intends tospeak of the contingency of the world and the order of salvation. Nevertheless, the operationalising of the term potentia absoluta throughthe debate among canon lawyers unquestionably had inﬂuence on theera after Scotus and Ockham. The literature refers to Gabriel Bieland Pierre d’Ailly as examples where potentia absoluta was interpretedas potentia extraordinaria.192 To return to Calvin. His use of the term potentia absoluta as actuallyused power—thus in operationalised form—leads one to suspect thathe became acquainted with the concept as it was being used in thecircles of canon lawyers. It is important for Calvin that an absolutefreedom can never, ever be attributed to God in his actions. Both in thework of creation and in the order of salvation, his actions are alwaysconnected with his wisdom and his goodness. This does not mean, wewould once more emphasise, that man always understands how God’saction rests in his justice and goodness. The fact that they form thepillars of God’s action is something that the believer must accept asan axiomatic point of departure, on the ground of revelation given inScripture. Calvin’s view of the concept of potentia absoluta also leads one tosuspect that he was not aware of the classic meaning of the pairedconcepts potentia absoluta et ordinata. At least he says nothing about themexplicitly. This in no way has to be in conﬂict with the proposition thatboth terminologically and in its content Calvin’s theology is permeatedwith the idea of the self-binding of God to a given order. This isparticularly to be seen in the discussion of the work of Christ as ameritum. In still another manner in our study we also already cameacross elements which in terms of their content are related to the 192 See for example van den Brink, Almighty God, 85.
184 chapter threeidea of self-binding. God makes himself known through a variety ofmirrors, and it is therefore logical that believers are referred preciselyto these mirrors for their knowledge of God. The importance of theself-binding of God emerges with particular clarity in his discussion ofelection and Christ as a mirror of election. Believers must derive theirknowledge of God from the means that God has appointed for thatpurpose. These are the mirrors that God intentionally set up, in whichHe makes himself visible. Scripture opens our eyes to God’s goodnessalso being visible in nature, and, most important, Scripture points theway to Christ as the mirror where God’s fatherhood is to be seen. Ourknowing of salvation proceeds in an orderly manner. None of this detracts from Calvin’s thought that God’s power in acertain sense is related to the late medieval view of God’s power asa potentia extraordinaria. God’s governance of the world does not alwaysproceed through natural laws, through causae secundae. It is also truethat salvation does not always proceed through a given order. Godretains his freedom with regard to the normal means with which Herules the world and draws men to him. God’s might appears as apotentia extraordinaria which governs man and the world and draws themto him through his secret or hidden power. It is crucial however thatthis inimitable quality does not concern the trustworthiness of humanknowledge of salvation. Man’s knowledge of salvation comes throughobediently looking in the mirrors God has set up.3.12.7. Where faith must lookOne could say that Calvin wishes to ﬁx the gaze of the reader ofScripture on the image that is given in Christ. In the discussion ofthe concept of faith we already arrived at the conclusion that theknowledge of faith is an aimed knowledge. It has a scopus, a target, andthat is Christ, who is oﬀered by the Father, as vested in the Gospel.193In the doctrine of election we read, ‘if we seek for the paternal mercyand favour of God, we must turn our eyes to Christ, in whom alone theFather is well pleased’.194 The knowledge of faith indicates the sourcefrom which believers must draw. ‘If we are elected in Him, we cannotﬁnd the certainty of our election in ourselves; and not even in Godthe Father, if we look at him apart from the Son. Christ, then, is the 193 Inst. 3.2.6. 194 Inst. 3.24.5.
god: judge and father 185mirror in which we ought, and in which without deception we maycontemplate our election.’195 Calvin was aware that this reference toChrist as mirror was threatened when the believer, on the basis ofthe same Bible, seeks to get behind this mirror and open up a pathto the Counsel of God. This was discussed in the previous chapter inconnection with the question of the certainty of salvation. Precisely themanner in which Calvin goes to work here reveals how deeply he wasconvinced that believers for their knowledge of God must turn theireyes to those sources or mirrors in which God lets himself be known,and must not desire to go outside this appointment, this ordinatio. Inthese sources He provides trustworthy knowledge, in human languageand metaphors, acting as a father who out of his own love gives Christand adopts men as his children. With this concept we once againstand before the central metaphor in Calvin’s vision of God. But what,however, is this term worth in Calvin’s conception if one considers thatthis term too is the language of accommodation? How trustworthy isthe knowledge that God oﬀers about himself in Scripture? We return tothis question one more time. 3.13. Once again: God as fatherAre metaphors or anthropomorphisms such as father and mother notendangered by the stress on the transcendence of God? Can the formsof accommodation be taken seriously when faith itself also knows thatGod is always still higher and more than the images with which Hemakes himself known? In short, is the value of accommodated lan-guage not undermined by God’s majesty, precisely because He is notswallowed up in his accommodation? It is my contention that Calvin gives no reason to distrust them.Indeed, the whole of revelation to man is a form of accommodation,a descent of God from his majesty. The already cited comparison thatCalvin makes in this connection is that of a woman feeding her child.In the same way that a woman who communicates with her infantdoes so in baby-talk, God defers to man and gives of himself in a waythat is understandable for the child. According to Calvin this descent isinvolved in all revelation, but that in no way means that every form 195 Ibid. Cf. also De aeterna praedestinatione (1552), CO 8, 318.
186 chapter threeof accommodation must now be qualiﬁed as illegitimate. Certainly,when it is said that God has nostrils, a mouth and eyes, snorts, oris drunk,196 then Calvin considers this as excessive accommodation toman’s capacity for understanding, through which a great measure ofillegitimacy accrues to such statements. But I believe I can establishthat there are for Calvin various degrees of accommodation. There aremoments when Calvin drops these reservations regarding the language.Some images are apparently much more precise and ﬁtting than others.I wish to develop this somewhat further. I do not ﬁnd in Calvin the smallest trace of fear that accommodationand anthropomorphisms would ultimately undermine the trustworthi-ness of the content of revelation. As we have previously noted, withregard to revelation in the Old Testament he does express this reserva-tion. But in a fundamental sense his doctrine of revelation rejects thisreservation about illegitimacy, and with it distrust. Man must gain hisknowledge regarding God from the mirrors that God holds up beforehim; these he must consult, where the Spirit in Scripture pins himdown and where God shares the metaphors with him most radically.According to Calvin, in Scripture God is actively leading. The studentof Scripture must keep to the pointers given, and not go elsewhere. There is however no basis whatever to suppose that Calvin wished toundermine the image of father. On the contrary—and to conﬁrm thisI refer to his exposition of the Lord’s Prayer. In his explication of thisprayer he oﬀers a surprising perception of this metaphor. ‘With whatconﬁdence could anyone call God his Father?’ he asks. His answer isthat it is not possible other than through the believers being adoptedas God’s children in Christ. The whole of the metaphor of the familyand adoption is given a key role here, and later in the doctrine of thesacraments. The reason for calling God Father lies in God himself.God takes us into his home as children. ‘Hence he both calls himselfour Father, and is pleased to be so called by us, by this delightfulname relieving us of all distrust, since nowhere can stronger aﬀectionbe found than in a father.’ It is apparent from this quote that Calvinrealises very well that the term father is an ordinary word that has ageneral applicability as a designator. There is however a substantivereason for applying this term to God in particular. ‘His love toward usis so much the greater and more excellent than that of earthly parents, 196 Comm. Ps. 78:65, CO 31, 742.
god: judge and father 187the farther he surpasses all men in goodness and mercy.’197 In thisexposition there is nothing of the image of an impassive God and ofa threat through his highness. God’s love is not less than that of earthlyfathers, but exceeds it greatly. The aﬀection that earthly fathers have,upon which children can call even if they have misbehaved, is appliedto God without any hesitation. For if among men a son cannot have a better advocate to plead his cause with his father, and cannot employ a better intercessor to regain his lost favour, than if he come himself suppliant and downcast, acknowledging his fault, to implore the mercy of his father, whose parental feelings cannot but be moved by such entreaties, what will that ‘Father of all mercies, and God of all comfort’ do?198In this quote the appeal to the sublimity of God has an extremelypractical consequence. God’s mercy exceeds that of earthly fathers.That is the practical meaning of the deus semper maior. In the parableof the prodigal son God has sketched out how he himself is, accordingto Calvin: By setting before us this admirable example of mildness in a man, he designs to show in how much greater abundance we may expect it from him who is not only a Father, but the best and most merciful of all fathers, however ungrateful, rebellious and wicked sons we may be, provided we only throw ourselves on his mercy. And the better to assure us that he is such a Father if we are Christians, he has been pleased to be called not only a Father, but OUR Father.199The term father may have applicability as a general designator, butfrom a citation like this it is clear how in the language of faith this termbecomes a ‘rigid designator’ and in fact functions as a personal name.200It also becomes clear that Calvin does not view the metaphorical use asan initiative of mankind, but as a usage that God himself willed andassigned. In his relation with mankind He appoints himself as father,with whose will and whose purposes the children will deal. He commitshimself to this. Of course, the fact remains that God in Christ makinghimself known as Father is a specimen of accommodation and theterm father is an anthropomorphic image, but in these images, derivedfrom the sphere of the family, adoption and meals, God provides very 197 Inst. 3.20.36. 198 Inst. 3. 20.37. 199 Ibid. 200 Cf. I.U. Dalferth, Religiöse Rede von Gott, München 1981, 577.
188 chapter threeprecise information about the way in which He intends to relate tomankind. I draw the conclusion that in Calvin’s thought there is agreat diﬀerence in the precision and truth of the various metaphorsand anthropomorphisms. Calvin himself has no intention of makingthese distinctions arbitrarily. Rather, he believes distinctions betweenthose images which are less precise and those images in which Godmakes himself known to man in a precise sense, without ambiguity, canbe made on the instruction of the Holy Spirit, by means of Scripture.The trustworthiness of God has its theological guarantee in a conceptof self-revelation, but the ﬁnal guarantee is in the Spirit who keeps mento the Word given in Christ. God desires to give man something, toaﬀect him inwardly. The model of the family and adoption oﬀers anapt image for accomplishing this. The pre-eminent place to which Godwill bring his children is the Supper. Our next chapter is devoted tothat.
chapter four THE SUPPER AND KNOWLEDGE OF GOD 4.1. IntroductionThe preceding two chapters were centrally concerned with the questionof what sources give rise to and support human knowledge of God, andof what comprises this knowledge of God. This closing chapter in theﬁrst panel concentrates on what is variously termed the Eucharist, theLord’s Table, or, to use the word Calvin himself used, the Supper orla cene. The reason is that in the understanding and experience of thissacrament several characteristic features of Calvin’s conception of theknowledge of God become visible. The doctrine of the Supper revealsin a concentrated manner how Calvin thought about the nature of theknowledge of God, how it was mediated, and what its most importantcontent is. The Supper is not only an illustration of God’s invitationto mankind to enter into communion with Him, but it is also for thepresent its apex. Although the theological perspective will be dominant in this Chap-ter, it should be noted that this subject is interesting for another reasonas well. One can also point to the wider social function of the Eucharistor Supper. Together with infant baptism the Supper is one of the rarerituals that survives, in comparison with the old situation in the church.In accordance with their nature as public events in religious life they aremoments of direct social and communal importance. Thus the changedsocial and religious situation in Geneva and the demand for public obe-dience to the Word of God somehow had to be expressed surroundingthese rituals. It is therefore not surprising that precisely in relation tothis sacrament a conﬂict with the civil authorities broke out in 1538,namely over the right to excommunication. It would lead to the ban-ning of Calvin and Farel from Geneva, a period of absence that wouldlast until 1541. The sociological and theological perspectives cannot be separated,not even in Calvin’s own theology. It is undeniable that the sacramentof the Lord’s Supper occupies a central place in Calvin’s own life and
190 chapter fourthought. For him, the church as a sociologically visible organisation infact coincides with the community at the Lord’s Table. There, aroundthe Supper, the church ﬁnds its centre. Among other points where thiscan be seen is the view that every member of the church is expectedto participate,1 and the desire that the Supper should be celebratedweekly.2 In order to clarify what is involved in the Supper and how it reﬂectsthe concept of the knowledge of God, I will trace the theological argu-ments in the debate over the Supper. They are not entirely self-evident.From the modern perspective the debate can perhaps be assessed as asuccession of tragic misunderstandings that could have been avoided ifthose involved had had at their disposal better (that is to say, more mod-ern) concepts. Berkhof ’s critique may serve as representative of this: thedispute over the Lord’s Supper would not have gotten so out of handif people had conceived the media of transmission less in terms of sub-stance and more personalisticly.3 According to Berkhof ’s own theology,the core of the Supper as an instrument of transmission is the ‘eﬀec-tive representation of Christ’,4 the encounter and the acknowledgementof the impossibility of formulating the encounter.5 Berkhof ’s distancinghimself from the concept of sacrament is directly related to his observa-tion that the doctrine of the sacraments has become isolated in Protes-tant theology. The latter is certainly true. The advantage of the newdebate sparked by the Lima report is that reﬂection now stands in thebroader context of the question of the mediation of salvation, so thatnot only the proclamation of the Word, baptism and the Lord’s Table,but also the place of the other means of mediation are involved in thediscussion.6 This broader context is emphatically absent in Calvin. Theological debates are rarely interesting only for the sake of theirarguments; there is generally much more at stake. They are not only 1 See H. Speelman, Calvijn en de zelfstandigheid van de kerk, 88–91: Church and par-ticipation in the Supper are most closely connected with one another. In an organisa-tional sense, to all intents and purposes the church coincides with the community at theLord’s Table. 2 Christianae Religionis Institutio 1536, Joanne Calvino autore, OS I, 150 en Articlesconcernant L’organisation de l’eglise et du culte à Genève, OS I, 370. 3 H. Berkhof, Christian Faith, 347. 4 H. Berkhof, Christian Faith, 366. 5 Berkhof, Christian Faith, 368. 6 Berkhof himself includes what was traditionally discussed under the concept ofthe sacraments in a broader pneumatological context of media of transmission. Thushe arrives at nine institutional elements that have a conductive character, whether
the supper and knowledge of god 191about shifts in the arguments themselves, but ultimately they reﬂectshifts in the ﬁeld of spirituality, in the way faith itself is experienced.That is certainly true for the conﬂict around the Lord’s Supper, andthat is also the case in Calvin. For him, what was at stake in the Sup-per touched on the heart of his theology and his spirituality. In orderto make the contrast with today immediately clear, Calvin’s spirituality,that which he experienced in and around the Supper, is much moredistant from what has come to be called the Reformed view of the Sup-per, and much closer to the ‘material’ experience of Christ’s presence ofthe undivided church in which he had grown up. One can look back on this conﬂict as an unnecessary battle, whichunfortunately arose because people did not have the ‘right’ set of con-cepts at their disposal. When today, as in the case of Berkhof, a reducedconcept of the sacrament is criticised and set aside in favour of a widervision of conductive elements of the revelation event, then this expan-sion can undoubtedly be linked up with the breadth that we encounterin Calvin in the ways by which human knowledge of God arises andis guided. At the same time it must be feared that, once the revelationevent is characterised in a personalistic sense as an encounter event,a standard has been established through which those elements in theknowledge of God for which personalism has no regard will disappear.Personalism is itself a critical oﬀshoot of modern subject thinking, inwhich only that which can be distinguished and designated by the sub-ject within his own horizon is of value. Those things which exceed thehorizon of the personal encounter are bracketed oﬀ in advance andreduced to that which is of concern within a personalistic perspective.In Calvin one ﬁnds a vision of knowledge of God in which both per-sonal terminology and substantialist and physical terminology play arole. In faith the believer discovers himself as a child that is introducedinto a new community, a new entity. This inclusive, more encompassingdimension of a new coherence of life established by Christ becomes asubject of discussion in the conﬂict about the sacrament. In the imma-nence of Christ justice is done to the personal, but that personal dimen-sion is not without a context, the world.intentionally or not. See Christian Faith, 348. For a broader discussion in the contextof the doctrine of creation, see M.E. Brinkman, Sacraments of Freedom, Ecumenical Essayson Creation and Sacrament, Justiﬁcation and Freedom, Zoetermeer 1999, 57–90. For a recentdiscussion of ordained ministry as a medium of transmission, see M. Gosker, Het ambt inde oecumenische discussie. De betekenis van de Lima-ambtstekst voor de voortgang van de oecumene en
192 chapter four Debates with regard to the Lord’s Table, Eucharist or Supper andits meaning have been long and ﬁerce. One need not think only of theReformation rejection of the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstan-tiation. More painful and shameful, and at ﬁrst sight more remarkable,is the dissension within the Reformed camp itself. These diﬀerenceswere raised in successive religious discussions, and there were momentswhen it appeared that a consensus had been reached.7 But the mistrustremained and the splits among Lutheranism, Zwinglianism and Calvin-ism were the result. In these discussions Calvin tried to take a middleposition, and hazarded various attempts to eﬀect reconciliation. HisPetit Traicté de la Saincte Cene (1541) and the negotiations with Bullingerthat ultimately led to the Consensus Tigurinus (1549) are prominent exam-ples of this eﬀort. But we must record that he did not succeed in hisaim. It lies outside the issues being dealt with in this book to answer thequestion of to what degree the cause of that failure lay within Calvinhimself. One can at the most state that he employed a terminologywhich made him suspect from both sides. In the eyes of Zwingli’s dis-ciples it leaned heavily toward a substantialist view of the presence ofChrist in the Supper. In their eyes Calvin stood close to the RomanCatholic doctrine of transubstantiation, or at least leaned toward theLutheran doctrine of consubstantiation. Luther’s followers took a dia-metrically opposite position. Westphal and Heshusius placed Calvinclose to the spiritualism of Zwingli, and in their own way continuedLuther’s conﬂict with Zwingli and Bucer. To their mind, with Calvinthere is nothing left of the real presence of Christ in the Supper, hispresentia realis, and they criticised him on that score. For Calvin it wasstill only a matter of memory and intellect. Calvin absolutely couldnot recognise his own position in these accusations, and repeatedlydefended himself.8 Our subject in this chapter is not the arguments of the disciplesof Luther and Zwingli in themselves.9 They only enter considerationde doorwerking in de Nederlandse SOW-Kerken, Delft, 2000 and E.A.J.G. van der Borght, Hetambt her-dacht, Zoetermeer 2000. 7 See G.W. Locher, Die Zwinglische Reformation im Rahmen der europäischen Kirchenge-schichte, Göttingen 1979, 310–318. 8 See J.N. Tylenda, ‘Calvin and Westphal: Two Eucharistic Theologies in Conﬂict’in: W.H. Neuser/H.J. Selderhuis/W. van ’t Spijker (ed.), Calvin’s Books. Festschrift dedicatedto Peter De Klerk on the occasion of his seventieth birthday, Heerenveen 1997, 9–21. 9 For a useful survey see W. Köhler, Zwingli und Luther. Ihr Streit über das Abendmahl
the supper and knowledge of god 193to the extent that it is necessary to recognise the characteristic waythat Calvin took, since Calvin’s views on the Supper, together with hisexperience of it, can serve as a mirror in which all that he meant byknowledge of God or knowledge of faith appear in concentrated form. Calvin experienced the long and debilitating dispute in Reformationcircles about the Supper as unnecessary and shameful. He ultimatelydid not know how to cope with it. He characterised the doctrine of theeucharistic meal, as it had developed since Paschasius Radbertus (832)and been laid down by the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) as the doc-trine of the transubstantiation of the bread and wine, as nothing morethan a furious attempt by Satan to deter simple believers from fellow-ship with God.10 With this critical attitude Calvin ﬁts into Renaissanceculture, and he has his own variant for putting paid to what had takenplace in the preceding centuries of theological debate. The miracle ofthe last decades, he wrote in his Petit Traicté, is that in such a short timethe Lord has brought leading ﬁgures out of the net of error in whichmen had been ensnared for so long.11 But he showed his deep unhap-piness at the discord that had now arisen. It is entirely consistent withCalvin’s own doctrine of providence when he says that not only doesSatan have a hand in this, but that it is ultimately the Lord himself whointends to humble his servants with this aﬄiction. The Lord and Satancan both play their role on this stage, but that does not place man inthe role of marionette or mannequin. Calvin, we might say, did all thathe could to play his own role as protagonist and take responsibility inthis debate. Everything indicates that for Calvin this diﬃcult dispute was not overtriﬂing matters. With this, at least, his partners in the debate were inagreement. The reason why the conﬂict was carried out with so muchpassion, or even bitterness, had to do with the importance of the issuethat was at stake, according to all concerned. It was about the real-ity of salvation itself. Or more precisely, the issue was the question ofhow man takes part in that salvation. Is that only through proclama-tion and faith? All the parties were in agreement about the centrality ofproclamation. They were also in agreement that the celebration of theSupper is closely coupled with the proclamation, and means somethingnach seinen politischen und religiösen Beziehungen. Bd. 1 und 2, Leipzig 1924–1953 (=NewYork/London 1971). 10 See Inst. 4.17.1. See also OS I, 517, 527. 11 OS I, 527.
194 chapter fourfor participation in salvation. The question was only, what role did itplay? Why was this precisely the sticking point? Does this not funda-mentally call into question the church with its oﬃces, rituals and cere-monies? The Reformation took leave of a concept in which the oﬃcialchurch was self-evidently the embodiment of and dispenser of grace.The presence of God was no longer congruent with the church and itssacraments. In that case, are the church and its sacraments not amongthose outward things that are of little or subordinate importance? Inthis connection I wish to discuss several observations by Graaﬂand soas to point out some of the ambivalences that particularly dominatedReformation theology on the church, oﬃces and sacraments. Graaﬂand has pointed out that formally Calvin’s discussion of thecontent of faith in the Institutes is within the plan of his discussion ofthe themes of the Apostles’ Creed. This coincides with the ﬁrst threebooks of the Institutes. What follows in Book IV regarding the church,the sacraments and government is no longer the object of confession.For Calvin church and covenant fall outside the actual content of faith.He demonstrates that with Calvin covenant stands in order under pre-destination. The emphasis on the invisible church as the gathering ofthe elect leads to the hollowing out of the concept of covenant as aprimary theological category. Participation in the covenant is still notparticipation in eternal salvation. The consequence of all this is a mea-sured dualism in the view of the church; one unintended eﬀect mightbe disregard of the visible church.12 All this critique is just. However, itappears to me to be incorrect to also suggest on the grounds of this thatthe outward means, which are discussed in Book IV, have little weighttheologically. This brings Calvin’s own theology all too easily undersuspicion of spiritualism. That might be the result in a time in whichinterior and exterior, inner experience and world experience are sepa-rated from one another, or a perspective on their mutual relationshipsis no longer acknowledged, but does not apply for Calvin’s pre-moderntheology. With Calvin there is a theological line that keeps the institu-tional church and inward and outward communion with Christ closeto one another. In the preceding chapters we have frequently seen howconsiderable and fundamental the role is that Calvin grants to externalreality in the way that knowledge of God comes. One might even speakof a sacramental function of outward, created reality. Outward means 12 C. Graaﬂand, Kinderen van één moeder. Calvijns visie op de kerk volgens zijn Institutie,Kampen 1989, 51.
the supper and knowledge of god 195which God uses in a speciﬁc sense, such as preaching, the church,sacraments and the authorities, are no less essential because of theiroutwardness. The fourth book of the Institutes deals with ‘the outwardmeans or aids through which God invites us to fellowship with Christ,and preserves us therein.’13 Reading what Calvin then writes of theseaids, one discovers that theologically they receive their stature becauseGod is pleased to invite man by means of them. ‘Outward’ is any-thing but synonymous with ‘non-essential’ or ‘unimportant’. The out-ward world is just as much theologically charged as the inward world.God relates to it in an immediate way and appears in it ‘in a certainmanner’, thus in ever-changing ways. A direct line connects Calvin’stheological appreciation for creation to the place of the sacraments inhis thought.14 4.2. What is a sacrament?4.2.1. Only a cognitive advantage?Chapter 2 discussed by which means God invites men to knowledgeof Him. One can rightly say that for Calvin the created world plays apowerful guiding role on the path to knowledge of God. For all that,however, the natural world is not in itself a sacrament. One can onlyspeak of sacraments if God has chosen the element from the createdworld as a sign of his promise.15 With this it immediately becomes clearthat Calvin’s concept of the sacraments must be understood against thebackground of a long tradition that stems from Augustine, in whichnotions from a general hermeneutic or semiology go hand in handwith speciﬁc theological or soteriological notions. The doctrine of thesacraments is a ﬁeld where doctrines of creation and soteriology cometogether. Augustine proceeded from a general ontological distinction, 13 ‘De externis mediis vel adminiculis, quibus Deus in Christi societatem nos invitat,et in ea retinet.’ 14 See Brinkman, Schepping en sacrament. Een oecumenische studie naar de reikwijdte van hetsacrament als heilzaam symbool in een weerbarstige werkelijkheid, Zoetermeer 1991, 43–52. Cf. alsoM. den Dulk ‘De verzoeking Christus te representeren’ in: M.E. Brinkman/A. Houte-pen, Geen kerk zonder bisschop, Utrecht 1997, 115–129, which in connection with oﬃcepoints to two lines in Calvin: one line in which the oﬃce arises from the commu-nity, and a line in which the oﬃce is rooted in the hierarchical structure of God’sgovernance. 15 Inst. 4.14.18.
196 chapter fournamely that between thing, res, and sign, signum. For instance, words aresigns for the things to which they refer. Signs are also things themselves,to wit res signiﬁcans. There are also, however, things that are not signs,but simply res. These are eternal things, to which earthly signs refer.It is necessary for man that there be powerful pointers toward eternalthings, because left to himself he would remain stuck among earthlyor temporal things. Here only the remedy of a given sign, a signumdatum, can help. At this point a distinction that is of eminent impor-tance within the theological use of semiotics comes into sight, namelythe distinction between the natural sign and the given sign. A fox spooris a natural sign that a fox has been at a particular spot. A given signinvolves, for example, a gesture or a facial expression, or is more fre-quently connected with the sense of hearing.16 Language or the spokenword is thus the given sign or signum datum par excellence. After all, aword can be used only as a sign. Apart from that it loses its meaning.To the extent that signs are involved with the sense of sight, accordingto Augustine we can gather them under the broad meaning of ‘word’and language, and speak of visible words, verba visibilia. In Augustine’sanalysis of the sacrament these general ontological considerations enterinto connections with speciﬁc theological matters. A sacrament includesa natural element and a word which stems from the ﬁeld of belief andrevelation. Because the verbum ﬁdei is spoken, the sacrament mediatesthe enduring things that are of God. ‘Accedit verbum ad elementum etﬁt sacramentum, etiam ipsum tanquam visibile verbum.’17 Thus thereis a distinction made between that which mediates, the sacramentum reior the res signiﬁcans, and that which is mediated, the res sacramenti. Withregard to sacraments, this also makes clear what they are. The selectionof the element or sign from the created world is certainly not a com-pletely random choice. According to Calvin it is also a general rule thatthere must be a certain resemblance between the sign and thing. Forinstance, it is abundantly clear that a tertium comparationis exists betweenthe water of baptism and the cleansing from sin, or between breadand wine and the body and blood of Christ as spiritual food for thesoul, which makes the analogy possible.18 The emphasis is not how-ever on the naturalness of the sign, or with the people who seek asymbol, but on God as the One who gives it its signiﬁcance. It is not 16 Augustine, De doctrina christiana, II.2.3; CCSL 32, 33. 17 Augustine, Joh.Ev.Tract. 80, 3; CCSL 36, 529. 18 OS I, 521.
the supper and knowledge of god 197man who assigns it signiﬁcance, reads or interprets it. He simply fol-lows God, ‘who at his pleasure makes all the elements subservient tohis glory’.19 Calvin also points to various accounts in the Old Testa-ment in which an element from created reality becomes a sacrament.But this sacramental function was of a temporary or incidental nature,such as the Tree of Life (Gen. 2:17), the rainbow for Noah (Gen. 9:13),circumcision (Gen. 17:10) and Gideon’s ﬂeece (Judges 6:37). Each hastemporarily fulﬁlled a role in God’s dealings with man. For Calvin it isbeyond dispute that other elements of created reality also function tolead to God, but that does not yet make them sacraments. Thereforeonly those actions that are included by God’s ordinance can be termedsacraments.20 Sacrament rests upon a choice by God. Sacraments areonly those actions that are instituted by Jesus Christ himself, and towhich he has conferred a particular signiﬁcance. According to his deﬁ-nition, a sacrament is ‘an external sign by which the Lord seals on our consciences his promises of good-will toward us, in order to sustain the weakness of our faith, and we in turn testify our piety towards him, both before himself, and before angels as well as men.’21Various components can be distinguished in this careful deﬁnition.First, it is clear how closely the understanding of the sacraments islinked with the understanding of faith. The content of the thing withwhich the sacramental act deals is the good will of God toward us,his benevolentia. A sacrament is therefore qualiﬁed as an act of God’sturning toward man, with which He conﬁrms his promises of salvationto mankind. Only secondarily is the sacrament an action in which menalso do something, namely testify before the forum of the world and theinvisible world of the angels. With this testimony faith or piety takes ona public character. The peculiarity of the way in which God acts in the sacrament isdescribed by the words ‘seal’ and ‘sustain’. What precisely are we tounderstand by these notions of sealing and sustaining? As it standshere, the sacrament primarily appears to be nothing other than a con- 19 Inst. 4.14.18: ‘qui pro suo arbitrio elementis omnibus in obsequium gloriae suaeutatur.’ 20 Inst. 4.14.19. 21 Inst. 4.14.1: ‘… externum esse symbolum, quo benevolentiae erga nos suae pro-missiones conscientiis nostris Dominus obsignat ad sustinendam ﬁdei nostrae imbecelli-tatem: et nos vicissim pietatem erga eum nostram tam coram eo et Angelis quam apudhomines testamur.’
198 chapter fourﬁrmation by God to man, a reinforcement of the certainty that mancan entertain toward God and his promises.22 Does that mean thatthe sacrament is a thick underscoring of something that man alreadyknows from proclamation? Or does the meaning of sealing and sustain-ing transcend a cognitive act? It is not easy to determine precisely whatCalvin’s own position is. Does it consist, as Hartvelt suggests, of a ‘cog-nitive plus’ toward man?23 At ﬁrst glance one is inclined to accept thisconclusion. The fact is, from the deﬁnition of a sacrament it appearsthat what is made visible to man in the sacraments has already beenreceived in faith. Calvin strongly opposed the idea that participation insalvation could only be obtained by participation in the sacrament.24Faith is and remains the central moment in the concept of knowledgeof God, because in it the Holy Spirit enables man to share in Christ.To this extent the assertion is true that ontologically the sacraments addnothing to that which has already been received in faith. It seems to me however that the point of Calvin’s theology is beingmissed if one stops with this conclusion. Anyone reading what Calvinhas to say on the Supper ﬁnds it impossible to escape the impressionthat the Supper in fact meant more for him. They discover a ‘plus’ thatis inadequately designated with the adjective ‘cognitive’, particularly ifone interprets cognitive in its limiting sense as intellectual. In crucialpassages it appears that what we already remarked with regard toCalvin’s concept of the knowledge of God is also true for the Lord’sTable. Knowing God is more than an intellectual act. In the Supperbelievers are fed with ‘the body and blood of Jesus Christ’, as thestubbornly maintained formula puts it. Anticipating the conclusion ofthis chapter I will propose: In Calvin’s thought regarding the Supper, 22 In Inst. 4.14.13 he rejects the derivation for the word sacrament that Zwinglihad given in De vera et falsa religione. For Zwingli the sacrament is the battle ﬂag uponwhich the soldier swears loyalty to his commander. With it he aﬃrms something tohis general. Calvin argues that the Latin writers were no longer aware of this meaningwhen they chose the word ‘sacrament’. They understood nothing more by it than asacred sign, but no longer from the perspective of the soldier who swears his allegiance,but from the perspective of the commander, who calls up the soldiers to his ranks.For the rest, Calvin does not consider this etymology decisive. According to him, theword sacrament is derived from the Greek musterion (Inst. 4.14.2). As the New Testamentuses musterion for a hidden thing that God makes visible to man, so in the sacrament ahidden thing, God’s goodwill, is made visible. 23 G.P. Hartvelt, Verum Corpus. Een studie over een centraal hoofdstuk uit de avondmaalsleer vanCalvijn, Delft 1960, 115. See also B. Gerrish, Grace and Gratitude. The Eucharistic Theology ofJohn Calvin, Minneapolis 1993, 127–133. 24 See for instance his commentary on John 6:47, CO 47, 151.
the supper and knowledge of god 199but particularly in his experience of the supper, there is an element thathas found little or no reception in Reformed theology. In the way thatit takes, both conceptually and spiritually the knowledge of God hasan involvement with the physical and sensory which has been lost inCalvin’s intellectual heirs. The entrance to salvation is embedded in thematerial, in the world of the senses. The Spirit is not in opposition tothe material, the external, but dwells in it, uses it and stimulates manfrom all sides to permit himself to be taken along.4.2.2. Sign and thingThe real signiﬁcance of the sacrament in addition to the preaching isthat it sets more clearly before our eyes, or better yet, internalises whatthe proclamation is about. The sacraments are signs that obtain theirmeaning through the word that the preacher speaks. To call on Augus-tine’s deﬁnition, ‘Accedit verbum ad elementum et ﬁt sacramentum.’25But evidently in the sacramental act something more happens with thatwhich has already come to people in the proclamation. The sacra-mental act sustains the knowledge, increases and conﬁrms it. Calvinadduces various examples from daily life to illustrate the function of theLord’s Table. He reminds his readers of the old custom of slaughteringa pig when a treaty was concluded. He reaches into the world of archi-tecture: sacraments are the columns that support the roof. He reachesfor other metaphors, speciﬁcally one which has been present promi-nently in the study of the knowledge of God in this section: the mirror.Sacraments are a mirror in which God’s benevolence becomes visible.26That benevolence is the thing to which the signs refer, or rather, thething which comes along in the signs. Calvin is classic in the distinction between sign and thing. He followsAugustine. The sacrament is rei sacrae visibile signum.27 That is to say,the sacramental act refers to a thing which is certainly connected tothe sign, but which nevertheless must be distinguished from it. Bothparts of this assertion, the connection and the distinction, are of equalimportance for Calvin, as we will see further on. The sign is notindependent of the thing. The sacramental act as such may thus never 25 Augustine, Homilia in Johannem 13; In Ioh. tract. 80,3, MSL 35, 1840. CSEL 25 I,512, 19ﬀ.. 26 Inst. 4.14.5. 27 Inst. 4.14.1.
200 chapter fourbe isolated from the word that it contains.28 This means a repudiationof sacramentalism and magic and a key role for faith, with which theWord is accepted. The work of the Holy Spirit has a central place in the doctrine of theSupper, even as it has in faith. But precisely the work of the Holy Spirittakes multiple forms. Not everything is accomplished in proclamationand faith. ‘For, ﬁrst, the Lord teaches and trains us by his word; next,he conﬁrms us by his sacraments; lastly, he illumines our mind by thelight of his Holy Spirit, and opens up an entrance into our hearts forhis word and sacraments, which otherwise would only strike our ears,and fall upon our sight, but by no means aﬀect us inwardly.’29 The HolySpirit is ‘the internal Master, whose energy alone penetrates the heart,stirs up the aﬀections, and procures access for the sacraments into oursouls.’30 Without this Spirit, without faith, we are like the blind in fulldaylight or the deaf in a world full of sound. If there is no organ tosee or hear, images and sounds cannot reach us. The Holy Spirit thusﬁrst brings us to understanding. The work of the Spirit is not howeverlimited to enabling perception among men. There is a second aspectto the work of the Holy Spirit: the sacraments themselves are onlyeﬀective because the Spirit takes them into service in order to convinceand persuade men. Without that they would be ‘empty and frivolous’.31But that means that these sacraments do not stand apart, and couldactually be dispensed with, but that through the sacraments the Spiritvery much brings man along and helps him on the way. 4.3. Sacrament as a form of accommodationThe gift of the sacrament is immediately linked with the situation inwhich men ﬁnd themselves as created beings. In the previous chapterwe have seen that this situation is not deﬁned by sin alone. It also hasto do with the place that man has in the hierarchy of being. 28 Inst. 4.14.15. 29 Inst. 4.14.8: ‘Nam primum verbo suo nos docet et instituit Dominus: deindesacramentis conﬁrmat: postremo sancti sui Spiritus lumine mentibus nostris illucet:et aditum in corda nostra verbo ac sacramentis aperit, quae alioqui aures duntaxatpercellerent, et oculis observarentur, interiora minime aﬃcerent.’ 30 Inst. 4.14.9: ‘… interior ille magister Spiritus … cuius unius virtute et cordapenetrantur, et aﬀectus permoventur, et sacramentis in animas nostras aditus patet.’ 31 Inst. 1.14.9: ‘… inane et frivole …’
the supper and knowledge of god 201 The characterisation that Calvin gives of the condition humaine strikesour ears today as frankly alienating. With endless frequency we hear thelist of what typiﬁes man, namely his ignorance, sloth and weakness.32Through his body, man is still bound to the earth. In all sorts ofways his existence is deﬁned by the cares and limitations that this lifebrings with it. Calvin can say that we still creep like animals along theground. In short, man’s station is low, and God must descend deeplyto reach mankind.33 The sacraments are therefore typical examplesof God’s accommodation to the low station of man.34 God descendsand accommodates himself to man’s capacity to understand in order todraw him into fellowship in this way, by means that man understandsand in which he himself participates. In Calvin’s day this positive regard for the sacraments as means ofaccommodation was anything but a generally accepted idea. His posi-tion is interesting because on the one hand it guards against objec-tivism or sacramentalism, and on the other hand does not surrenderto the rising spiritualism. At the same time, maintaining this via mediamakes his position vulnerable on both sides. On the one side he defendshimself against the spiritualist views according to which God can workvery well in the faithful without physical means. Because of his empha-sis on the mediating work of the Holy Spirit, Calvin himself is oftenunderstood in this sense, and from the Lutheran side identiﬁed with thethought of Zwingli. Zwingli had emphasized that the Holy Spirit hadno need of means.35 Calvin does not contest that God would be able todo this.36 That is not really the point. The important thing is that it hasbeen God’s will to make use of this means. Making use of a physicalmeans is in no way an oﬀense to God’s honour.37 It is his disposition tomake use of these signs in order to convince man by means of them.One can not forbid God to make use of these signs to illumine ourheart, Calvin says, in the same way as our eye is stimulated by a medi-ating beam of light.38 In other words, it simply pleases God to use these 32 Inst. 4.14.3. 33 Inst. 4.14.3: ‘quomodo nostrae ignorantiae ac tarditati primum, deinde inﬁrmitatiopus esse Deus providet.’ 34 Inst. 4.14.3. See also Petit traicté de la Saincte cene, OS I, 505, 520. 35 H. Zwingli, Fidei ratio ad Carolum V (1530), Corpus Reformatorum 93 II, 803–804. 36 For instance, in connection with infant baptism, see Inst. 4.16.19. 37 Inst. 4.14.10. 38 Inst. 4.14.10.
202 chapter fourmeans in his dealings with man, and men must accept that.39 One mustnot seek to deny the revelation we have been given. 4.4. The meaning of the meal4.4.1. The familyWe have suggested that one can consider the meal as an intersectionwhere various lines which are deﬁnitive for the existence of the believervisibly come together. In his Petit Traicté de la Saincte Cene Calvin sums upthree functions.40 The Supper is primarily intended as a gift, throughwhich God internalises the promises that are contained in the gospel.Or more precisely, God binds the promises to the consciences of men.God does this by making man a sharer of Christ, of his body and blood,de son corps et de son sang. This expression may sound strange, not to saybizarre, to us, but for Calvin it is essential to put it in this way, and noother. I will return to this point. The second purpose of the Supper is to call upon the faithful toacknowledge God’s goodness toward them. In the Supper man ﬁndsreason to praise God and to live a life of gratitude. From here one candraw connections to the theme of obedience and sanctiﬁcation. Finally,the third purpose is related to the visible community in which theSupper is celebrated, and in which people thus participate: the church.One who shares in the Supper is thereby included in the church, andis then called to a holy, puriﬁed life, and in particular to a living inharmony with his or her other brothers and sisters. 39 It is this element that has gone unnoticed for a long time in the catholic recep-tion of Calvin’s theology. See for instance A. Ganoczy, The Young Calvin, translated byD. Foxgrover and W. Provo, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1987 (= Le jeune Calvin: Genèseet évolution de sa vocation réformatrice, Wiesbaden 1966). In this study Ganoczy reaches theconclusion that in Calvin all emphasis lies on the distinction between the human anddivine, which is expressed in a manifest aversion to linking grace to earthly elements,237. See however the remarkable retraction in the introduction to the American trans-lation, 11: ‘We could say today that Calvin’s pneumatology serves not only to aﬃrmGod’s absolute freedom in his saving acts but also to support a dynamic understandingof the sacraments, which in many ways is quite close to the doctrine of the Eucharistin the Eastern Churches. It makes possible a theology of epiclesis.’ The closeness ofCalvin’s theology to Eastern Orthodoxy is something to which I would subscribe. Seefurther 4.4.3. 40 OS I, 505–506.
the supper and knowledge of god 203 The following paragraphs limit themselves principally to the ﬁrstintention. The reason is anything but that the latter two purposes arebeside the point. They both have to do with the intended response fromman, and refer to the themes of the law, sanctiﬁcation and the visiblechurch. A discussion would however lead us outside the plan of thisstudy. What is the salvation, actually, that is oﬀered in the church in theproclamation and the celebration of the Supper? This question dealswith its reality. Images and metaphors sometimes express what peoplewant to say more precisely than abstract deﬁnitions do. Later theolog-ical heirs have perhaps frequently been fascinated by Calvin’s deﬁni-tions, but his ﬁrst hearers pricked up their ears rather at the images andmetaphors with which his tracts and, above all, his sermons overﬂow.They evoke the concrete world of the family household, adoption, andmeals. Here we can refer back to the conclusions of the previous chap-ter about the image of God as father. Never for a moment does one getthe impression that the thought ever occurred to Calvin himself thatthe image of a father could become eroded as a metaphorical image forthe relation between God and man. Something similar is true for themeal. The prominent place that the metaphor of the family has in Calvin’stheology of the sacraments, including in the Petit Traicté, is telling.Calvin ﬁrmly believes that the image of the family is the mediumthrough which God lets us see how he wishes to relate to mankind.That is true both for baptism and the Supper. According to Calvin,God takes man into his family through baptism, not as a boarder, butas an adopted child, with full rights. The walls of the church are in factthe walls of God’s house.41 The image of the family appears not onlyin the discussion of baptism, but also is the background for the Supper.God is visualised as the father who has adopted us as his children andfeeds us at his table as his children. The food consists of the life that isfound in Jesus Christ. It is given to us in Word and Sacrament. Whenunpacked, this gift appears to consist of multiple gifts—benefactions, asCalvin says. Men receive forgiveness, the promise of eternal life, a sharein sanctiﬁcation, in perseverance. What sort of people are these who are given a place at the tablein this house? The necessity for receiving a share in these benevolences 41 OS I, 504.
204 chapter fourbecomes painfully clear when one sees the state, according to Calvin, ofthe people to whom the invitation comes. Here we should be remindedof what was said in previous chapters about the function of consciencein knowledge of God. Calvin proceeds from the idea that the peoplewho come together for the Supper are people in need, and that theythemselves recognise this need. It is not something they have beenpersuaded of; they recognise it as their own world. Anyone who looksinto his or her own heart knows very well that this is a wasted lifeand that there is no scrap of righteousness to be found there.42 Nothingfrom outside need be called upon to arrive at that judgement; our ownconscience is suﬃcient to remind us that we have fallen into death andiniquity. In short, if we take our own inner world under consideration,we see a structure that cannot stand, one rotting away. It is at thatjuncture that the Supper holds a mirror up before us, in which thereappears another image, namely that of the cruciﬁed Christ.434.4.2. The body of Christ after Ascension. The discussion with the LutheransThe body and blood of Jesus Christ are given to believers by the HolySpirit in the bread and wine. What does Calvin mean by this? Whatdid he want to say in this discussion that was carried on with conceptsderived from Aristotelian metaphysics? First we must note what hedid not intend. He did not intend any view in which the presence ofChrist is given in an immediate way in the elements of bread and wine.The water of baptism and the bread and wine in the Supper have noinherent power of their own. The power of the Spirit, everlasting life,is not inherent in the substance. The eﬀect of the sacrament does notlie in the performance of the act itself, ex opere operato. Were that so,sign and thing, signum and res, would be identiﬁed with one another inan improper way, a view that Calvin encounters in Peter Lombard.44In Calvin’s concept the bread and the wine that the believer drinksremain bread and wine, and nothing else.45 The physical element neverreceives a power that is inherent to the element. The acting subject 42 OS I, 506. 43 OS I, 504. 44 Inst. 4.14.16. In his research into the theology of the young Calvin, Ganoczy, TheYoung Calvin, 168–170 comes to the conclusion that Calvin quotes only from the fourthbook of the Sententiae of Peter Lombard, in an extremely selective manner, and with adeclared polemic intention. 45 Inst. 4.17.15.
the supper and knowledge of god 205remains God, who works through the power of the Spirit. We mightsay that with this Calvin maintains the moment of freedom of God’sact over against any possible form of sacramentalism. For that reason he disputes both the Roman Catholic doctrine oftransubstantiation and the position defended by the Lutherans, usuallydenoted as consubstantiation. In Calvin’s view the words spoken at theconsecration are a magic formula through which the bread and wineare reputed to be changed with regard to their substance. But alsothe view defended by the Lutherans, the doctrine of consubstantiation,that Christ is physically present ‘in, under and with’ the elements ofbread and wine, goes too far for him. The body of Christ would thusbecome omnipresent, have an ubiquity ascribed to it that supposesthat the nature of that body has undergone a complete alteration.Because of this supposition he also separates himself from the Lutheranposition. A human body implies spatial limits, and although Jesus afterhis resurrection was gloriﬁed, that does not alter the fact that Jesus,according to his corporeal nature, could only be in one place at a time.According to Luther and his followers, the substance of the bread andwine remain unchanged, but Christ, according to his corporal nature,is present in the form of the bread and wine. The capacity to be in aninﬁnite number of places at the same time is ascribed to the humannature of Christ on the basis of the connection with the divine naturethat there is in the unique person of Jesus Christ.46 It is a development 46 We should refer here to the development of the concept of a communicatio idiomatumin Lutheran theology. From as early as John of Damascus, the foremost theologian ofthe 8th century, the doctrine that provides a reﬂection on the consequences of theunio personalis has been designated by this term. Traditionally it has been acceptedthat the union of two natures in the one person implies that the qualities of bothnatures can be predicated for that one person. This is true, however, not only forthe being of Jesus, but also for his works. The reference is the unique person. Onthe Lutheran side theologians spoke of a genus apotelesmaticum, on the Reformed sideof a genus operationum. With Luther one also however ﬁnds a development in whichthe qualities of the divine nature are communicated to the human nature, the genusmaiestaticum. The human nature shares in the omnipresence of the divine nature. In theother direction, one can argue that the divine nature must share in the limitation andvulnerability of the human nature (genus tapeinoticum). The traditional objection is that inthis manner one arrives at the proposition that the divine nature could suﬀer and die.In his remarks in Vom Abendmahl Christi. Bekenntnis (1528) Luther has apparently indeedseen this objection and nevertheless is willing to accept the idea of the involvement ofthe divine nature in suﬀering, WA 26, 320:10–14; 321:5–10: ‘Denn wenn ich gleube, dasallein die menschliche natur fur mich gelidden hat, so ist mir der Christus ein schlechterheiland, so bedarﬀ er wol selbs eines heilands. Summa, es ist unsaglich was der teuﬀelmit der Alleosi sucht … weil Gottheit und menschheit ynn Christo eine Person ist, so
206 chapter fourof the idea of the communicatio idiomatum into a genus maiestaticum, as thatis found in Luther. One might say that in this concept the incarnationdeﬁnitively prescribes the manner of Christ’s presence. The incarnationoﬀers the model of God’s presence. Calvin also wants to retain a real presence of Christ in the Supper,but he places the accents elsewhere. Theological theory and personalexperience go hand in hand here. Distance and communication, theAscension and the work of the Holy Spirit are deﬁning factors. Ascen-sion stands for the distance, and the Spirit for the connection: withregard to his human nature, Jesus Christ is far away, in heaven on thethrone next to God the Father. In the Supper however the believer isfed with the blood and ﬂesh of Christ,47 even though since the Ascen-sion the Cruciﬁed One is no longer on earth in any form whatsoever.Calvin thus also sees the cross as the deepest point of God’s approachand accommodation to man. It is the moment at which God’s majestyis no longer visible. But this moment is not deﬁnitive for the nature ofGod’s continuing presence. The history of the cross is made produc-tive in the dynamics of Ascension and Pentecost. The Spirit guaranteesthe connection. He is the One who ever and again spans distance andspace, connecting that which is far separated. That leads to another,eschatological accent, reaching above and to the future. I will go into this more deeply. In Calvin’s judgement, the conceptsby which the presence of Christ are linked to the physical elements ofbread and wine do not take account of the situation after Ascension.Ascension implies that with regard to his humanity, thus with body andmembers, Christ is taken away and remains in heaven. By virtue of thepower and glory that Christ since then shares with God the Father, heexercises his rule on earth. Thereby He is, as we read, ‘not limited byany intervals of space, nor circumscribed by any dimensions’. Christmanifests his presence in his potentia and virtus.48gibt die schriﬀt umb solcher personlicher einichkeit willen auch der gottheit ales wasder menschheit widderferet und widerümb … Denn das müstu ia sagen. Die person(zeige Christum) leidet stirbet. Nu ist die person wahrhaftiger Gott, drumb ists rechtgeredt Gottes son leidet …’ The cross invites us to think of God’s nature as involved inhuman suﬀering and death. Correctly, theology in our time has attempted to go furtheralong this path. The question is how this relates to the pathos that we encounter inCalvin surrounding the distinction between heaven and earth which is never ever givenup. Or do we ﬁnd in Calvin himself other notions when the salvation of man is theissue? 47 OS I, 506. 48 Inst. 4.17.18.
the supper and knowledge of god 207 Several times already we have had occasion to refer to the distinctionthat is fundamental for Calvin’s understanding. This is the distinctionbetween the heavenly and the earthly, the spiritual and the physical,between body and soul. These are fundamental dichotomies that arebased on God’s will.49 The problem with the concepts of transubstanti-ation and consubstantiation is that, in his view, they do not respect theboundary between heaven and earth. They mix up that which God hasseparated. According to Calvin they are intellectual attempts to get ahold on something which cannot be grasped by the human mind. Thepresence of Christ is distrained by perishable elements of this world,and in this He is robbed of his glory.50 He considers both Luther’sview and the doctrine of transubstantiation as concepts through whichChrist is in fact robbed of his concrete corporeality and turned into aghost. In Calvin’s eyes these views thus run counter to the God-givenorder. A body is deﬁned by space and delimitation; it has a certainplace.51 If in the Supper the ﬂesh of Christ becomes ubiquitous, andthus is present everywhere that the Lord’s Table is celebrated, it nolonger satisﬁes the deﬁnition of spatial delimitation. It takes on qualitiesthat are characteristic of the divine. This is the same as rejectingthe principium non-contradictionis. Westphal, from his side, responds byaccusing Calvin of not taking seriously the words of the Bible andas a result underestimating the might of God. He attacks Calvin ata point which is for him an axiomatic basic assumption, but whichprecisely because of their allegiance to the concrete word of the Biblewas regarded diﬀerently within Lutheran circles. He argues that Calvinincorrectly declares the general laws of nature to apply to the gloriﬁedbody of Christ. Thus accusations of intellectualisation ﬂy back andforth from both sides. Calvin defended himself against the accusation of shortchanging thebiblical witness, and lobbed the same accusation back. Unlike West-phal, he argues that with their concept Luther’s followers impermissi-bly overthrow an arrangement that comes from God. In fact he accusesthem of what one might call anachronistic biblicism. According toCalvin the starting point for the reading and exposition of Scripturemust be that each word in the Bible has precisely the same meaning 49 OS I, 144. 50 OS I, 521. Inst. 4.17.19. 51 Inst. 4.17.24 and Inst. 4.17.29.
208 chapter foureverywhere. He says that with each passage the exegete ‘with placiddocility and a spirit of meekness’ must make an eﬀort to understandthe teachings that come from heaven. We do our best, he says, toobtain understanding, not only through dutifulness, but also by pre-cision. Westphal, he thinks, has failed in the latter. The meaning of apassage is not the ﬁrst thing that comes into our mind. Diligent thoughtis necessary, and in it we will embrace the meaning that God brings tous through the Spirit.52 From the heights we attain we look down onwhatever opposition may arise from worldly wisdom. Calvin felt the accusation of his Lutheran opponents that in his viewthe presence of Christ in the Supper evaporated into a notion or amemory was a total misrepresentation of his position. In the followingsection we will return to how he responded conceptually to the spatialproblem that is a given with Ascension. For now it will suﬃce to saythat Calvin to his own conviction confessed nothing other than the realpresence of Christ in the Supper. In the Supper one does not receiveonly a share in the Spirit53 or the beneﬁts of Christ. Jesus Christ ismaterial and substance.54 Or put more sharply, what is partaken of isthe ﬂesh and blood of Christ. What did Calvin mean by this?4.4.3. Flesh and bloodThat Calvin so stubbornly insisted that we share in the ﬂesh andblood of Christ has caused no little wonderment in the history ofresearch. For him, the terminology from John 6 is holy. He speaks ofcaro viviﬁca, the life-giving ﬂesh of Christ,55 of the body of Christ thatis the only food of the soul which must be viviﬁed. In the history ofresearch this has led to the question of whether we are here dealingwith a Catholic remnant in Calvin’s doctrine of the Supper.56 In hisstudy on Calvin’s doctrine of the Supper, Hartvelt pointed out that onedeﬁnitely does not do justice to Calvin if they skip over these ideas and 52 Inst. 4.17.25: ‘… placida docilitate et spiritu mansuetidinis …’ 53 Inst. 4.17.7. 54 OS I, 507. 55 Inst. 4.17.8. Cf. the ‘lack of ease’ on this point with C. Trueman, ‘The Incarnationand the Lord’s Supper’ in: D. Peterson (ed), The Word became Flesh. Evangelicals and theIncarnation, Carlisle 2003, 200–201. 56 Gerrish, Grace and Gratitude, 2–7, refers for instance to J.W. Nevin, The MysticalPresence: A Vindication of the Reformed or Calvinistic Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist, Philadelphia1846.
the supper and knowledge of god 209interpret them ﬁguratively.57 Nonetheless, the metaphorical view gainedthe upper hand. Through John à Lasco this view has become the usualinterpretation in Reformed theology.58 Why did Calvin so tenaciously hold to the concept of the ‘ﬂesh andblood of Christ’? Here lies the core, the vital and indispensable momentin Calvin’s doctrine of the Supper—or more precisely, the nucleus of hisdoctrine of the knowledge of God. What Calvin says of participationin the ﬂesh and blood of Christ is not limited to the Supper. On thecontrary, in his exegesis of John 6 he makes it clear time after time thatit would be improper to think that Jesus is speaking here only aboutthe Supper. In its content, the terminology from John 6 describes thatwhich takes place in the mystic union between the believer and Christ.Communion with the life-giving ﬂesh and blood of Christ also takesplace outside participation in the Supper, extra Coenae usum.59 There are at least four reasons that can be given why Calvin sotenaciously speaks of communion with the ‘ﬂesh and blood’ of Christ.First, Scriptural considerations play a tremendous role. In insisting onthe words ‘ﬂesh and blood’ Calvin tried to be obedient to that whichhe believed he read in Scripture. After all, the biblical writers and theirtexts are the means through which God holds up divine wisdom beforemen. Evidently God has found it necessary to use these concepts in alltheir concreteness. Second, it should be noted that the reference to ﬂesh and blood hasan epistemological function and thus ﬁts within the path to knowledgeof God. Divine salvation comes to the believer through the concreteman, Jesus Christ. Just as for Luther, the cruciﬁed Jesus is the deepestpoint of God’s coming down. Salvation is localised in the physicality 57 See Hartvelt, Verum Corpus, 87. Calvin indisputably wanted to say more than thatin the Supper the faithful have communion with the person of Jesus Christ. Hartvelt,Verum Corpus, 171, cites Berkouwer as an example of a personalising interpretation. SeeG.C. Berkouwer, De sacramenten, Kampen 1954, 305. Berkouwer disputes that for Calvinit was a matter of ﬂesh and blood as an abstraction and interprets this as a metaphorfor the act of reconciliation, ibidem, 307. It is a matter of He himself in his sacriﬁce,ibidem, 313. I do not dispute that in Calvin’s view of salvation the act of reconciliationplays an essential role, but it still appears to me most fundamental that for Calvin theblood and ﬂesh of Christ is a source of divine, everlasting life. 58 Hartvelt, Verum Corpus, 184, 194. 59 See for instance his commentary on John 6:53, CO 47, 154: ‘Neque enim deCoena habetur concio, sed de perpetua communicatione, quae extra Coenae usumnobis constat’ and on John 6:54: ‘Et certe ineptum fuisset ac intempestivum, de Coenanunc disserere, quam nondum instituerat. Ideo de perpetua ﬁdei manducatione eumtractare certum est.’
210 chapter fourof this concrete person. God, in his approach to man, takes the roadof incarnation. Man does not have to climb above the clouds. No, thegate to God’s inner chamber is on earth, in the body of Jesus.60 No onewho disregards Christ as a man shall reach God in Christ.61 Life fromthe divine source reaches us in the way of a concrete man.62 Faith mustbe gotten from the lowest place that God appoints in his revelation, themost accessible to sight. That is the concrete Son-become-ﬂesh, whowas among us physically. From there faith can ascend to the source, toGod the Father as the source of life. Third, in connection with the preceding point, the conviction thatthe believer is fed with the ﬂesh and blood of Christ has immediatesoteriological content. Believers receive the ﬂesh and blood of the Cru-ciﬁed.63 Life, you see, is in this ﬂesh and blood. It is striking that in hisexegesis of John 6 Calvin constantly links the words caro and vita withone another. It is according God’s marvellous Will that He reveals lifeto us in this ﬂesh, in which previously only substance moving to cor-ruption, materia mortis, was to be found.64 Life, for Calvin, means ever-lasting life. Salvation is formulated in terms of transient and eternal. InCalvin’s exposition in the Institutes we ﬁnd conﬁrmation that for Calvinsalvation means sharing in immortality. Not sacriﬁce and satisfactionbut the antitheses transient-everlasting and perishable-imperishable aredominant. At the Lord’s Table it is once more, as it were, literallyheld under the nose of the mortals that mortal man, doomed to death,receives a share of heavenly life through faith, as appears from a cru-cial section like Institutes 4.17.8: in his Word God previously diﬀusedhis vigour into all creatures, but man became alienated from God bysin and lost the communion with life. In order to regain the hope of 60 Comm. John 6:51, CO 47, 152. 61 Comm. John 6:56, CO 47, 156: ‘Neque enim ad Christum Deum unquam perve-niet qui hominem negligit.’ 62 Comm. John 6:57, CO 47, 156: ‘Primum locum obtinet vivens Pater qui scaturigoest, sed remota et abscondita. Sequitur Filius, quem habemus velut fontem nobisexpositum, et per quem ad nos vita diﬀunditur. Tertia est vita quam nos ab ipsohaurimus.’ 63 Berkouwer, De sacramenten, 314, refers to Kuyper, Dictaten Dogmatiek, Locus desacramentis par. 24 Kampen, n.d., where he argues that the communion exercisedis with the corpus cruciﬁxum Christi, not with the corpus gloriﬁcatum Christi. Kuyper hereappears to proceed from the idea that communion with the gloriﬁed Christ wouldmean cancelling out the cruciﬁxion. That is a distinction that has no foundation inbiblical witness. God has identiﬁed himself with the Cruciﬁed, and with the Cruciﬁedclad in glory he bestows communion upon the disciples. (John 20:26–27). 64 Comm. John 6:51, CO 47, 152.
the supper and knowledge of god 211immortality man must be restored to the communion with that Word.This restoration began in the incarnation, that is, the personal unionthat the Word enters into with the human nature of Jesus. ‘Since thatfountain of life began to dwell in our nature,’ writes Calvin, ‘he nolonger lies hid at a distance from us, but exhibits himself openly for ourparticipation. Yea, the very ﬂesh in which he resides he makes vivifyingfor us, that by partaking of it we may be fed for immortality.’65 The foregoing in part ﬁnds basis in the fourth point, namely the rela-tion between Calvin’s insistence on the communion with the ﬂesh andblood of Christ and his doctrine of the immortal soul. Because in ourculture this relation is no longer felt or seen, it seems obvious to relatethe expression ‘ﬂesh and blood’ to the personal relation with Christ. Ido not deny that with Calvin one must speak of solidarity with the per-son of Christ, but wish to also emphasize that for Calvin this solidaritygoes together with thinking in impersonal terms of power and life. Ifwe now try to reconceive Calvin’s theology in terms of revelation as anencounter event, then we overlook an essential element in this theol-ogy. The concept of encounter is too personalistic; it suggests that weinternally have a grip on that which happens with man in God’s acting.The concept of power points to there being elements in the process ofrenewal and salvation that exceed the grasp and control of man. In solidarity with the person of the Mediator our soul is fed by theHoly Spirit with the life-giving power of God himself. Calvin’s doctrineof the immortal soul seems of the greatest importance here. Fromthe time of the polemic text Psychopannuchia it is clear that whoeverdenies the immortality of the soul in Calvin’s view assails a principleof salvation of the ﬁrst order. In the doctrine of the Supper we onceagain encounter the importance of Calvin’s anthropological concept.The soul is the created, immortal core of man, and in faith once againbecomes the possession of the everlasting life that ﬂows from Christ.66In the Supper this reality is bound to the heart of the believer andinwardly impressed more powerfully than in the preaching of the wordalone. If the soul is at the same time fed with eternal life, then there is acontinuity which cannot be broken even by death. 65 Inst. 4.17.8: ‘At vero, ubi fons ille vitae habitare in carne nostra coepit, iam nonprocul nobis absconditus latet, sed coram se participandum exhibet. Quin et ipsam,in qua residet, carnem viviﬁcam nobis reddit, ut eius participatione ad immortalitatempascamur.’ 66 Inst. 4.17.4–5.
212 chapter four Two remarks here as commentary. First, Calvin’s concept of salva-tion as a whole stands much closer to Eastern Orthodoxy than to mod-ern personalistic interpretations. Characteristic of this is the direct callon Cyril of Alexandria.67 For Calvin the ﬂesh or human nature is notonly the place where sin is found, but thus must also be the place wherereconciliation must take place. That is the common, later Reformeddoctrine of Christ’s active and passive obedience, in part based onAnselm, and we indeed also ﬁnd this concisely with Calvin.68 But itis not the be all and end all of his teaching. In addition to thinkingin terms of right, guilt, satisfaction and reconciliation we ﬁnd that thereﬂection takes place in terms of transience and immortality. Possiblythis latter is even a more comprehensive frame of thought. This lat-ter polarity is strongly present not only in the doctrine of unio mystica,but also in the doctrine of the Supper. The ﬂesh of Christ is a channelthrough which we come in contact with God. In his commentary onJohn 6:51 it can be seen how close Calvin comes to Alexandrine theol-ogy in his Christology and soteriology. The distinction between life inGod, life in this ﬂesh and the life that is our inheritance through thissource is certainly maintained. But at the same time it becomes clearhow much the humanity of Christ, which in itself would be mortal,is permeated with immortality through the incarnation of the eternalSon. The ﬂesh of Christ is certainly not the primary source of life inGod; that is an attribute of the being of God. But in a secondary senseit can certainly be said that this ﬂesh is the locus of life. ‘It rests ina marvellous decree of God that life is presented to us in that ﬂesh,where formerly there was only matter doomed to death to be found …Because even as God’s eternal Word is the source of life, so as a channelhis ﬂesh confers life on us. And in this sense it can be called life-giving,because it bestows upon us the life that it takes from elsewhere.’69 Next, because of the mortal-immortal polarity it is scarcely surpris-ing that at crucial moments in his doctrine of the Supper Calvin shouldspeak in impersonal terms rather than in relational terms. In the Sup-per we receive communion with the substance of Christ.70 That is to 67 Calvin quotes Cyril’s Expositio in Evangelium Ioh. lib. II, cap. 8, MPG 73, 381–382.In Cyril see also for instance his Quod unus sit Christus, MPG 75, 1360–1361. 68 Inst. 2.17.2–5. 69 See Comm. John 6:51, CO 47, 152. Hartvelt, Verum Corpus, 215–226, wronglyconcludes that for Calvin, in his discussion of the eating of the caro viviﬁca, the verehomo is breached. 70 Inst. 4.17.3.
the supper and knowledge of god 213say, we receive a share of the virtus or vigour from this substance. Infaith and in the sacrament the soul of the believer stands in the imme-diate sphere of inﬂuence of divine power, the divine current of life,which comes directly from the divine-human nature of Christ. Thehuman nature of Christ, his humanity, has this power because thesecond person of the Trinity has taken on this human nature, and inthat taken in the divine sphere of inﬂuence. Thus the ﬂesh and bloodof Christ has that life-giving property by virtue of the unio personalis.It would be incorrect to negatively qualify this manner of speakingwith the adjective ‘impersonal’. Perhaps it is also possible to say thatCalvin’s theology reminds us that we, as persons, always move withina sphere of inﬂuence, a relationship, that does not permit itself to beadequately expressed in personal terms. Our contemporary theology,still very much marked by the personalism of modern subject thinking,should be reminded by this sort of pre-modern theology that the lifeof a human being, as a person, is always determined by supra-personalcategories. 4.5. The Holy Spirit and instrumentality4.5.1. The Supper as instrumentIn the preceding it has been discussed how Calvin, together with theLutherans, emphasized that in the Supper there is a real participationin the ﬂesh and blood of Jesus Christ. At the same time it is clearhe held the concept of a local presence of the body of Christ to beuntenable. On the question of how the union with something that is sohigh and far away could come to be, Calvin answered with a referenceto the work of the Holy Spirit. The spirit is the link through which thedivine power comes to man. Here the Spirit is the vinculum coniunctionis.71The question is now what Calvin meant by this. The Lutherans were of the view that through the reference to theHoly Spirit no more could be left of a real communion with the ﬂeshand blood of Christ than a remembrance or communion with theHoly Spirit. The presentia realis would be lost. On the basis of Calvin’squalifying this communion as spiritualiter it has always been interpreted 71 Inst. 4.17.12.
214 chapter fourin a spiritual sense. Westphal concluded that when Calvin speaks abouta spiritual eating (spiritualis manducatio) this was in opposition to a realand true eating (vera et realis manducatio).72 According to Calvin however,the reality of the eating of the ﬂesh and blood of Christ is not at issue inthe adjective spiritualis, but only the manner in which this participationin the ﬂesh and blood of Christ comes into being. Among the Lutheransthis eating is understood materially or physically (carnalis), because it isincluded under the bread and wine. Among them spiritualiter meansan actual non realiter. Calvin insists that this eating, this communion, isbrought about by the Holy Spirit, and therefore speaks of a spiritualeating (spiritualis).73 It is now time to examine another front with which Calvin wasinvolved in debate, namely Zurich, and particularly with the personof Bullinger. In his negotiations with Bullinger Calvin showed himselfwilling to say more than just that in the Supper we are connected toChrist through the Spirit. The characteristic feature of Calvin’s positionis to be seen in the course of the correspondence with Bullinger leadingup to the Consensus Tigurinus. In essence it turns always on the questionof whether bread and wine can be termed a sign or an instrument ofGod’s grace.74 Calvin is in agreement with Bullinger that bread and wine mustbe termed an analogy of the ﬂesh and blood of Christ. The conceptof analogy is used to respect the boundaries of the physical and thespiritual, earthly and heavenly. The invisible thing is given in the sign,in the physical thing. One operation of the Holy Spirit through ananalogy cited by Calvin himself is the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan.The visible thing that is seen is a dove, the invisible thing that isconnected with visible thing is the Spirit. A similar use of the sign alsois to be found in the sacraments. The signs are an analogy for a hiddenoperation of the Spirit.75 As wine and bread connect nourishmentand the preservation of the body through eating and metabolism inthe body, so the everlasting life of the body of Christ ﬂows over intoman and bestows the power of imperishable life upon his soul, that 72 J. Westphal, Collectanea sententiarum D. Aurelii Augustini ep. Hipponensis de Coena Domini,Ratisbon 1555, E7a. 73 Inst. 4.17.33. 74 The following is based heavily upon P.E. Rorem, ‘The Consensus Tigurinus(1549): Did Calvin Compromise?’ in: W.H. Neuser (ed.), Calvinus Sacrae Scripturae Professor.Calvin as Confessor of Holy Scripture, Grand Rapids (MI) 1994, 72–90. 75 OS I, 509.
the supper and knowledge of god 215immortal, eternal part of him. The promise of the resurrection ofthe body is also given in this vitalisation of the soul.76 Calvin is nognostic. However, the question remains how this life is conveyed in Calvin’sconcept. The body of Christ does not come to earth, but remains inheaven, does it not? How then can be believer be fed by the ﬂesh andblood of Christ? Discussions about the nature of the communion withChrist that man exercises in the Supper are directly connected with thediscussion about the previously mentioned extra-calvinisticum.77 Thisterm refers to the coordinates of the whole of Calvin’s theological con-cept, namely the range of works of the Triune God. God’s works cannotbe reduced to one denominator, but have a diversity in sacred history.The work of the second person of the Trinity, God the Son, is there-fore not limited to the incarnation in Jesus Christ. The eternal Son alsoworks outside the incarnation, extra carnem, and also outside the Sup-per.78 Thus, for instance, we encounter the Son already in creation. Asthe incarnate Word, with regard to his body Jesus Christ is in heavenafter his Ascension. There he exercises power and rule at the righthand of the Father. As we read elsewhere,79 this regnum is not limitedby spatial distance or deﬁned by any dimensions. It is human naturethat is characterised by boundaries. According to his divine nature theincarnate Son is not bound by these limits. Anywhere He wills, any-where it pleases Him, in heaven and on earth He exercises his power,and through this power He is near his people. He gives them life, livesin them, sustains them, preserves them, pours out power on them. Tomake this more speciﬁc, Calvin uses an older distinction between Christin his gloriﬁed state and everything that there is in Christ. According tohis gloriﬁed state, Christ is totus, as a person, present with his people.But, says Calvin, not everything that is in Christ, namely his humanﬂesh, is present in the Supper, non totum. The distinction between totusand totum reminds one again of the eschatological import of his con- 76 Inst. 4.17.32: ‘Quam tanta virtute tantaque eﬃcacia hic eminere dicimus, ut nonmodo indubitatam vitae aeternae ﬁduciam animis nostris aﬀerat, sed de carnis etiamnostrae immortalitate securos nos reddat.’ 77 See E.D. Willis, Calvin’s Catholic Christology. The Function of the so-called extra calvinis-ticum in Calvin’s Theology, Leiden 1966. See also the paper by H.A. Oberman, also from1966, ‘Die ‘Extra’-Dimension in der Theologie Calvins’ in: idem, Die Reformation. VonWittenberg nach Genf, Göttingen 1986, 253–282. 78 See Chapter 2, note 46. 79 Inst. 4.17.18.
216 chapter fourcept. It refers to the completion of all things, in which mankind alsowill share in the gloriﬁed state of Christ according to the ﬂesh.804.5.2. The incomprehensibility of the work of the SpiritThe substance of Christ’s body is thus in heaven, and nevertheless sub-stantial communion takes place. ‘The local absence does not hinderthat the ﬂesh does its work in an incomprehensible and hidden man-ner.’81 It is the Spirit who feeds the faithful on earth with the power ofChrist, in a manner we cannot grasp. At various points Calvin makes itclear that the limits of human comprehension have been reached. Thenature of the way in which the Spirit works is not among those thingswhich have been revealed to man. Calvin is very decided in his con-viction that there must be no confusion of heaven and earth, and therecannot be a ubiquity of the divine-human nature of Christ. He consid-ers that distinction a foundation of human religious knowledge. Withthe question of how man, here on earth, comes in contact with thelife-giving ﬂesh of Christ in heaven, he does not know how it happens,but only that it happens. A boundary looms up before thought whichattempts to follow the working of the Spirit and experience.82 Calvindoes, however, reach for the metaphor of the sun and its rays. The sunthrows oﬀ its rays and its power onto the earth, and in this some of itssubstance ﬂows into that which grows. It is not only the power of thesun that reaches man in this way, but the substantia comes along withthe power.83 In the same way, at a great distance Christ pours out hispower. In the image of the sun and its warmth, distance and presencego together. But, is the distinction between the creator and the creationnot overstepped in the image of the sun and its rays? The mysticalimage of communio does not cancel out the boundaries. The substanceof Christ does not merge with that of our soul. It is, Calvin says, suﬃ-cient that Christ ‘out of the substance of his ﬂesh breathes life into our 80 Inst. 4.17.30: ‘Mediator ergo noster quum totus ubique sit, suis semper adest: et inCoena speciali modo praesentem se exhibet, sic tamen ut totus adsit, non totum: quia,ut dictum est, in carne sua caelo comprehenditur donec in iudicium appareat.’ 81 CO 9, 509: ‘… mysticum et incomprehensibilem carnis operationem non prohi-bet absentia localis.’ 82 In the literature the reference is always to Calvin’s letter to Peter Martyr of August8, 1555, CO 15, 722–723. 83 See also Hartvelt, Verum Corpus, 180.
the supper and knowledge of god 217bodies’.84 With the formula used, e carnis suae substantia, Calvin attemptsto build a bridge between the bodily presence of Christ in heaven onthe one hand and the real presence of Christ in the Supper on theother. How successful is the metaphor of the sun and its warmth? IsChrist not just as far away as the sun stands above us? Is the knowledgeof Christ not marked by distance? It fed the suspicions of the Lutheranside if it came down to Christ being far away. What did Calvin accomplish in a theological sense with the referenceto Ascension and the bridging work of the Spirit? I will attempt to listseveral points. First this: these are the conceptual means of his day forestablishing that the believers on earth do not out of their own powercommand the life-giving ﬂesh and blood of Christ.85 Ascension empha-sizes the distance from mankind, still pilgrims on this earth, under way.The work of the Holy Spirit stands for the bridge building, the reacha-bility on earth. Second, this concept is the means of preserving knowl-edge of God on earth through its eschatological structure. The gloriﬁedbody is not here; the completion has not yet arrived. Through the SpiritGod comes near to his children living in this world with his power tolife, but the presentia realis does not cancel out the state of incompletion.Within Calvin’s theology lies a strong sense of the incompleteness ofGod’s way with man, of that which is not yet realised. Those who followCalvin have the room theologically to say that there is still much that isnot ﬁnished in God’s work. God makes life hard for his children witha range of things that lay claim on their daily existence. There is still away to go, the most important is yet to come. Things that cause diﬃ-culty and that stand in shrill contrast to the promises of the Kingdomdo not have to be polished up or ironed out. This theological notionis important, in part because it can be productive in other dimensionsand relationships. It is of direct importance for pastoral care, for pol-itics, for what we demand of ourselves and of others. Seen positively,with Calvin faith has the form of hope. The body of Christ in heaven isthe guarantee of the renewal of man and the world at the end of time. 84 ‘quia nobis suﬃcit Christum e carnis suae substantia vitam in animas nostrasspirare: imo propriam in nos vitam diﬀundere, quamvis in nos non ingrediatur ipsaChristi caro.’ Inst. 4.17.32. 85 See O. Weber, ‘Calvin’s Lehre von der Kirche’ in: idem, Die Treue Gottes in derGeschichte der Kirche. Gesammelte Aufsätze II, Neukirchen 1968, 76.
218 chapter four4.5.3. The way of knowledge of GodIf the Lutherans suspected an evaporation of the content of concepts inCalvin, from his side Bullinger feared an impermissible objectiﬁcationof grace with Calvin. Succinctly put, that which distinguished Calvin’sdoctrine of the Supper from Bullinger’s is the instrumentality of theoutward reality of the signs. While in their written discussion Bullingertime after time repeats that the bread and wine are signs which forman analogy with that which is done for the believer by the Holy Spirit,Calvin advances a powerful argument that the signs also be termed aninstrument. We previously encountered this theme of the instrumentality of thecreated in the way to knowledge of God. We ﬁnd it again here. Calvinagrees whole-heartedly with Bullinger that the proclamation of theWord brings man into communion with the eternal life that is in JesusChrist. In receiving the bread and wine this reality is once again, andnow more strongly, inwardly impressed and bound upon the heart ofthe believer. Previously we have already argued that Calvin thinks inspatial terms. That is also true for the Supper. In the sacraments itis not the intention that man’s eye should continue to rest upon theoutward signs. His gaze must rise to the Giver himself. To the extentthat this movement can be thought of with the aid of an analogy,there is no diﬀerence with Bullinger. The characteristic feature anddistinction for Calvin is that he reserves a more fundamental placefor the outward and visible sign by terming it an instrument or chan-nel. Therein resides the added value of the sacrament. Bullinger fearsthat in the use of this term something that can only come from Godwill be assigned to that which is created. He fears an objectiﬁcationor materialisation of the grace in the qualifying instrument. Bullingerwanted to emphasize the role of God and the Spirit as acting sub-jects in such a radical way that the close relation between the signand the signiﬁed actually became looser. Brea