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.
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