Tag Archives: Calvin

Calvin’s Modest Method

I have been reading Calvin this semester and have been quite enjoying it. One of the most wonderful things is his insistence on contentment with God’s self-revelation. Calvin is a champion of having a humble epistemology, a modest theological method. In speaking of the Trinity he says:

“Here, indeed, if anywhere in the secret mysteries of Scripture we ought to play the philosopher soberly and with great moderation; let us use great caution that neither our thoughts nor our speech go beyond the limits to which the Word of God itself extends. For how can the human mind measure off the measureless essence of God according to its own little measure … Indeed, how can the mind by its own leading come to search out God’s essence when it cannot even get to is own? Let us then willingly leave to God the knowledge of himself. For, as Hilary says, he is the one fit to witness of himself, and is not known except through himself. But we shall be ‘leaving it to him’ if we conceive him to be as he reveals himself to us, without inquiring about him elsewhere than from his Word.” (1.13.21)


Church History Post 2

From the reading of Calvin’s testimony in his preface to his Commentary on the Book of the Psalms, how does he describe his own personality? Were you surprised by this assessment of himself? Why or why not?

Calvin describes himself as bashful, and apparently he isn`t just being modest. It sounds like the preface to this commentary is one of the few places Calvin speaks about himself. While I didn`t expect him to be boisterous like Luther, especially given the way he writes, I was nonetheless interested to see the particular workings of his disposition.

The stereotype (all too well founded) is that theologians have no care for people, the church, or really anything but the very focus of their study. (And sometimes their study is elevated above the Lord himself.) Yet Calvin doesn`t fit this category very nicely. His constant mention of desiring to `retire` to study clearly shows that he had a burning longing to know. Yet his love for God set him apart. It was his love of God that spurred him to publish the first edition of the Institutes, and thereby `come out of hiding`. It was his love of God that drew him back to Geneva `with many tears and sorrow`. Since he cherished seclusion it might be presumed his studiousness was only for his own benefit. Rather, he wrote, taught, preached, governed, and studied for the Church as a whole and in Geneva.

The general trajectory of his life might convince us that even with pure motives for study, knowledge is most useful as a benefit to Christ`s body. Calvin seemed to learn the lesson thoroughly enough that it shaped his theology. As he says that the trials with which God has exercised his soul have opened the door for him to better understand the prayers of the Psalms, he demonstrates the degree to which our understanding is dependent on God and not reason. This is a very humble (and I would say biblical) epistemology; our knowledge is subject to God in his creation, and therefore we cannot elevate ourselves above him. This is what Calvin constantly emphasizes in the Institutes. So it seems that the very pains, burning conviction for the Church, and tears also drew him to a fuller articulation of the place of knowledge (and therefore study) in relation to our Lord and his body.

It would be my prayer that I would be as concerned for the welfare of the Church in my studies as Calvin was.

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