Day: 7 January 2012

calvin, times three

My apologies for the lack of ‘Calvin in a year’ posting; the laptop has been acting up, and I hesitate to use it for long periods of time. That being the case, while covering three specific readings, I’ll need to keep this post somewhat brief–albeit brevity times three, seeing that I’m a bit behind with the daily quotes.

1) As noted in the last post, Calvin makes a case for ‘knowledge of God [being] implanted in the human mind’ (Inst 1.3) and how some attempt to excise that knowledge from who they are–so that they can (attempt to) become who/what they desire. Next, Calvin explores more of this compulsion to separate oneself from the knowledge of God (see Inst 1.4). The result of the separation is a callousness or hardness of heart, which in turn leads to repulsion and even hatred toward God. However, Calvin notes the (unacceptable) paradox within such people when he says:

[A] sense of Deity is naturally engraven on the human heart, in the fact, that the very reprobate are forced to acknowledge it. When at their ease, they can jest about God, and talk pertly and loquaciously in disparagement of his power; but should despair, from any cause, overtake them, it will stimulate them to seek him, and dictate ejaculatory prayers, proving that they were not entirely ignorant of God, but had perversely suppressed feelings which ought to have been earlier manifested.

–Calvin, Institutes 1.4.4

2) The next reading (see Inst 1.5.1-4) continues the ‘knowledge of God’ theme, only this time Calvin’s focus is on external support for such knowledge–i.e. what we might loosely call cosmology (or, ‘natural theology’).* As he argues (and I paraphrase), a key point of this chapter is to show that while God displays his wisdom and power throughout creation, it is only by ‘extreme stupidity’ that  people continue to ask, Where is God?

Moreover, below the surface of the argument, I almost hear Calvin saying: God is not some vicious tyrant demanding loyalty without just cause (as tyrants do); instead God has lovingly and patiently gone out of his way not only to reveal his existence by also show himself worthy of respect.** Two examples of this are: the innate knowledge of God, given by God himself; and the external reality of creation, which he made. Specifically thinking of the wonders and depths of the cosmos, Calvin says:

none who have the use of their eyes can be ignorant of the divine skill manifested so conspicuously in the endless variety, yet distinct and well-ordered array, of the heavenly host; and, therefore, it is plain that the Lord has furnished every man with abundant proofs of his wisdom. The same is true in regard to the structure of the human frame. To determine the connection of its parts, its symmetry and beauty, with the skill of a Galen . . . requires singular acuteness; and yet all men acknowledge that the human body bears on its face such proofs of ingenious contrivance as are sufficient to proclaim the admirable wisdom of its Maker.

–Calvin, Institutes 1.5.2

3) The final reading related to this post (see Inst 1.5.5-8) seems to respond to the explanations given by those who not only suppress (or even excise) innate knowledge of God but also deny God as Creator. In other words, Calvin appears to confronting those who wish to say, ‘By my own skill and knowledge, I can define life and existence apart from God.’ To which Calvin rightly says:

Nothing, indeed, can be more preposterous than to enjoy those nobel endowments which bespeak the divine presence within us, and to neglect him who, of his own good pleasure, bestows them upon us.

–Calvin, Institutes 1.5.6

* While Calvin divides this chapter into two parts (i.e. 1.5.1-10 and 1.5.11-15), the reading plan I’m following divides it into four parts.
** Cue the criticism of Bertrand Russell.