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Shadows of Divine Things

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This site is devoted to theological and philosophical investigations of the spiritual meanings of life, current events, music, spiritual growth, nature, and learning to be attuned to listening to the 'language of God.' The name of this blog comes from one of Jonathan Edwards's journals which he called 'Shadows of Divine Things,' and later renamed 'Images of Divine Things.' As a Christian I am continously on a spiritual journey to grow more into the image of Christ, to understand what it means to be crucified with Christ. To seek the truths of the Christian Faith is of upmost importance, and to know that any truths that are found outside of Christianity are present there because they ultimately point to God. I have an M.A. in theology and apologetics and I completed one year of graduate studies in Philosophy at Marquette University.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

John Calvin’s Theology (Part Two) - The Knowledge of God as Creator and as Redeemer

Calvin believed and taught that there were two forms of knowledge about God. The first of these Calvin called natural knowledge. This is a knowledge that is innate to every person and demonstrates to every person that there is, in fact, a creator God. The second of these Calvin called saving knowledge (or pure and clear knowledge). This is a knowledge that is not innate but rather is demonstrated to the individual through the works of God, the works of Christ, and the works of the Holy Spirit.

Both forms of knowledge, however, are given by God; natural knowledge is given by God through His creation, while pure and clear knowledge (saving knowledge) is given directly by God to the individual. Regarding natural knowledge Calvin declares, “[T]hat there exists in the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of Deity, we hold to be beyond dispute, since God himself, to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has endued all men with some idea of his Godhead, the memory of which he constantly renews and occasionally enlarges, that all to a man, being aware that there is a God, and that he is their Maker, may be condemned by their conscience when they neither worship him nor consecrate their lives to his service.”

Regarding the saving knowledge Calvin believed this was indeed a work of God. No man through natural knowledge could come to a saving knowledge. In other words, the natural knowledge that each person has is enough knowledge to condemn the person but not enough to bring the person to a saving knowledge (interestingly this is also the view of St. Thomas Aquinas. In fact, Calvin delineates his doctrine of this issue in an almost identical fashion as Aquinas did three centuries before him).

The pure and clear knowledge of God (saving knowledge) Calvin believed was suppressed by our corrupt nature. Calvin confirms this by declaring, “But though we are deficient in natural powers which might enable us to rise to a pure and clear knowledge of God, still, as the dullness which prevents us is within, there is no room for excuse.” What is needed here is a divine work of God in an individual. The human condition, for Calvin, was such that by its very corruption, no one could come to a saving knowledge of God. With this in mind, let’s turn our attention now to Calvin’s view of the human condition.

[Nota Bene: Ben Myers in the comments section of a previous post has declared, “For an accurate general picture of Calvin, I reckon it's also vital to read some of his commentaries and expository sermons, since he devoted the vast majority of his time and effort to exegesis, not to theology. Even the Institutes was really written as a handbook to help readers of Calvin's commentaries.” I would like to confirm wholeheartedly what Ben has declared. I failed to mention Calvin’s commentaries in the lists of works I previously provided for Calvin. Since Calvin’s commentaries are the bulk of his work, it is necessary for one to read those in order to gain a better grasp of Calvin’s overall thought. Thank you for the comment Ben.]

[Stay tuned . . . more to come]

11 Comments:

Blogger Jeremiah Kier Cowart said...

Great stuff! Thanks for giving people like me (a near Calvin know-nothing) this brief intro. It's enjoyable to consider aspects of his approach and comments.

Along those lines, I wonder, and I may be reading a bit into this, why it seems that in his comments Calvin jumps a bit quickly to self-condemnation. I follow his distinction on the types of knowledge of God--avenues of revelation. And that there is "some sense of Deity" innate is, again, obviously true to Christians. But then, the reasoning he gives for such an action of God immediately jumps to the negative "to prevent any man from pretending ignorance." Positively stated, one would think it's so that men might come to God, right? I wonder why that's not his first direction. Why does he turn somewhere negative instantly?

Also in this vain, could it really be said of all peoples everywhere (e.g., especially today) that immediately upon an awareness of Deity, individuals turn toward self-condemnation as a result of realizing they don't worship him nor have consecrated their lives to his service? Just how robust of an idea of worship and consecration does Calvin have in mind here? For all most people know, the average Christian in the West worships God by praying on occasion (or just thinking about him) and attending a church service here and there. I don't know that the average Westerner today would jump so quickly into self-condemnation for the reasons he lays out here.

Also, in so saying as he does, it seems he's gotten into the negative aspect of things immediately here as well. I don't know why. It's not obvious that this is the universal experience of mankind. In fact, I would tend to think that the opposite is more often true. That is, upon an awareness of a mighty spiritual Being who created all things, one probably goes immediately into feelings of awe and joy and gratitude, not measuring oneself with the great God of whose existence you've suddenly become aware.

Perhaps this is his legal background coming in? Have any thoughts?

12:36 PM, January 04, 2006  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

Jeremiah states:
"But then, the reasoning he gives for such an action of God immediately jumps to the negative "to prevent any man from pretending ignorance." Positively stated, one would think it's so that men might come to God, right? I wonder why that's not his first direction. Why does he turn somewhere negative instantly?"

I guess I am not seeing the weight of your question here, Jeremiah. Calvin, in the quote's fullest context, is contrasting the two forms of knowledge. By doing so, he is distinguishing between them and thus explaining that one of the two (only) leads to salvation. However, the other, in the negative, does not keep any from actually understanding that there is a God of grace, no matter how much they suprress this knowledge.

Jeremiah states:
"Also in this vain, could it really be said of all peoples everywhere (e.g., especially today) that immediately upon an awareness of Deity, individuals turn toward self-condemnation as a result of realizing they don't worship him nor have consecrated their lives to his service? Just how robust of an idea of worship and consecration does Calvin have in mind here?"

Unless I am mistaken, when Calvin declares this - "being aware that there is a God, and that he is their Maker, may be condemned by their conscience when they neither worship him nor consecrate their lives to his service," he is not saying that there lack of worship etc. is what is condemning them in their conscience, since those Calvin is speaking of, may have perhaps never performed such acts (i.e. and atheist) but that despite the fact that they do not do these things does not keep these same people from an understanding that they ought to be doing these things. I may not communicating this too clearly, let me know if not.

Further, for Calvin their is no "immediately upon awareness of Deity" in the sense that you are applying above. Calvin would respond to your comment by declaring that men have this knowledge from birth until their death.

Natural knowledge never "comes upon them," or never happens "upon their awareness" has you seem to have misquoted Calvin here.

Jeremiah states:
"That is, upon an awareness of a mighty spiritual Being who created all things, one probably goes immediately into feelings of awe and joy and gratitude, not measuring oneself with the great God of whose existence you've suddenly become aware."

This (above) is confusing the two forms of knowledge. What you have described above would be the saving knolwedge Calvin describes, which will ultimate cause awe, joy, gratitude and then a true sense of desire to worship God.

Wow, Jeremiah, you have asked a lot of questions and I have done my best to answer them in such a short space.

I would very much recommend that you get hold of some of Calvin's works and read him. In fact, if you do this you will realize that Calvin and Aquinas actually see eye to eye on several important doctrines; something I think you, of all people, would find very interesting.

1:52 PM, January 04, 2006  
Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Well, all of this smoth prose is really making me want to pick up a Calvin (and Hobbes).

;-)

I'm particularly looking forward to your overview of his Christology.

2:38 PM, January 04, 2006  
Blogger Jeremiah Kier Cowart said...

Hmmm...I guess rather than reply to your interaction, I should just try to remake the general impression I was getting. And that was the proneness in the quotes as you gave them (naturally, I wasn't trying to interact with material you didn't present) as being a bit bent toward the negative: toward, in Calvinistic terms a view of depravity, which simply doesn't follow from the comments he makes, even despite your replies. That of course doesn't mean that he doesn't flesh it out elsewhere in his writings. But then, I wouldn't interact with writings you don't include here, right?

But, if I were to guess what is happening here between us, I would say it's a "ships passing in the night" effect. If you yourself have strong Calvinistic convictions then to question his view of depravity, which seems to pervade the comments you have given here, doesn't occur to you. That would be perfectly understandable. That would be to me like trying to talk about the Bible without addressing the means by which you got the Bible (i.e., the Church). To a certain extent then, I guess I should proceed with more caution. I thought I might have been getting ahead of myself ("reading a bit into it"). Thanks for your comments though.

I bet he is quite close to St. Thomas on not a few issues. I indicated as much on his near "Real Presence" view, having recently read portions of his short Treatise on the Lord's Supper myself. But then, this is historically unsurprising, isn't it? He wouldn't have had the privilege of interacting with Barth, Bultmann, Tillich, etc. No, he would have interacted with Catholics or the immediate Reformers (Luther, et al.). So, there would have been a natural "Catholicity" about him, by virtue of historical accident if nothing else.

3:34 PM, January 04, 2006  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

Jeremiah,

Sorry if I misunderstood your questions . . . thought I think I hit them correctly based on your response to my answers.

You state:
"he would have interacted with Catholics or the immediate Reformers (Luther, et al.). So, there would have been a natural "Catholicity" about him, by virtue of historical accident if nothing else. "

My reply:
Calvin would have interacted and reacted to Catholics. Unfortunately, he never met with Luther that I am aware of, but as of the other Reformers in his area and day, he would have interacted, yes.

However, Calvin, was a consumate Reformer from start to finish. This helps to understand him more fully. Luther on the other hand, was much more Catholic than Calvin. In fact, Luther retained much more Catholicity than I think contemporary Protestants are willing to admit - much to the detriment of their having a better understanding of Luther. Up to the day he died, from my understanding, Luther continued to make prayers to the saints (i.e. Mary, etc.), and performed other Catholic practices that Calvin would have chastise him for doing.

I ought to do a post comparing Luther and Calvin. . . oh well, for another day perhaps.

3:59 PM, January 04, 2006  
Blogger Jeremiah Kier Cowart said...

Is there no evidence that Calvin ever interacted with the writings of Luther? That would be news to me. There's no evidence that they met, but I always supposed he would have been familiar with Luthers writings, and with the writings of Zwingli too. Interesting.

With all due respect, Calvin and Luther (and especially Zwingli) were consumate Revolutionists. Reform in the Church can only be brought about by those who remain in it (e.g., Sts. Charles Borromeo, Peter Canisius, Teresa of Avila, Vincent de Paul, John of the Cross, Ignatius Loyola, Francis de Sales, etc.). To divide and conquer is the strategy of revolutions; not reformations. And there could be no denying the historical dividing and conquering in Renaissance Germany and Switzerland by the Protestants contra the Catholic Church.

But, it is interesting to note, as you do, the liturgical (though not necessarily doctrinal) "Catholicity" more possessed by Luther than Calvin. I would have thought this had everything to do with what you mentioned in an earlier post as to how ostensibly secularized Calvin's family was. From such a home life lacking in liturgy one is not shocked to see the types of bare churches he soon had constructed. Luther, however, having taken orders, having celebrated the mass, would have been steeped in liturgy, which to some extent or another inevitably makes one a theologian just by virtue of one's participation in the divine worship celebration. Once you've had liturgy, it's very hard to transition away, so I've heard. I would have thought that to be the explanation for the difference in appearance of outward "Catholicity" between them.

5:10 PM, January 04, 2006  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

Jeremiah states:
"Is there no evidence that Calvin ever interacted with the writings of Luther?"

You need to go back and re-read my comment, Jeremiah, that is not what I said.

I said Calvin never met Luther, not that he never interacted with Luther's writings.

And Calvin (and the other Reformers) being "revolutionists" as you so called them is a matter of your opinion. I am still unconvinced that the RCC did not need reform at the time in many crucial theological areas.

Putting that in the positive, I still think there was much needed reform in the RCC during the Reformation.

11:37 PM, January 04, 2006  
Blogger Jeremiah Kier Cowart said...

T. Vick,

Is it getting hot in here, or what?

My question to you regarding Calvin not having interacted with Luther's writings was a genuine one. If that's not what you meant, then I wonder why you saw fit to write, "Calvin would have interacted and reacted to Catholics. Unfortunately, he never met with Luther that I am aware of, but as of the other Reformers in his area and day, he would have interacted, yes." And as revisiting comments goes, please note that I never claimed that they met. Hence, my natural wonder at the intention behind your comment I requote above.

And as regards revolution, my post up on my site "What will you have, Reformation or Revolution" has every bearing on what you say here and preempts it. A Reformation did occur within the Church. That's just the point my converting friend is making. If Luther was so concerned about the corruption in the Church (and he was, and there was widespread corruption), then a natural desire to reform it would be wonderful, even necessary. But the point is that that corruption was reformed by all the measures I mention in the post and more.

However, since the "Protesting" bodies are still divided and as equally settled in their rebellion as in the first, it is not difficult to see a spirit of revolution here. The point was that the only way to reform something is to stay within it. Most Protestantism (e.g., PCA) is so wholly unlike the Catholicism of the 16th century from which it came that there is no evidence to suggest that Protestantism is a reformation. It is altogether separate and new. That is a revolution. As I said, "Reform in the Church can only be brought about by those who remain in it...To divide and conquer is the strategy of revolutions; not reformations." Who could call the violent and political overthrowing of a monarchy with a democracy a "reformation." No, it is a revolution.

11:42 AM, January 05, 2006  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

lol. No heat Jeremiah, I mistook your question as you repeating what you thought I had "declared." My fault, sorry 'bout that. That tends to happen in this medium.

However, regarding the other issue I have not read your post apparently, so I took issue with your calling Luther a "revolutionist" instead of "Reformer."

WE are getting off subject here with our comments and I would rather stay on the subject of the post. But I would like to chat with you, perhaps via e-mail, or I will call you some evening, and let's talk about the "revolution" issue, especially as it pertains to Luther - since I am convinced that the RCC never allowed Luther the time of day due to an incompentent Pope (Leo X) and group of Cardinals during Luther's day (not to mention that the RCC did reform certain things in which Luther had great issue . . . but we need to chat elsewhere about all this).

I am very willing to carry on maningful dialogue about things Catholic and things Protestant, this is just not the setting for it.

1:13 PM, January 05, 2006  
Blogger Jeremiah Kier Cowart said...

No argument here. A breather would be nice. Yes, let's chat in anyway you see fit. And do read that post if you get a moment.

Thanks. See you.

1:49 PM, January 05, 2006  
Anonymous Crazy Calvinist said...

Hi, I saw your link on my blog comments. Interesting stuff here and will no doubt revisit. I'll blogroll you too ASAP

2:21 PM, January 05, 2006  

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