Psalm 1: Torah and the Way of the Righteous

Introduction

Psalm 1 serves as an introduction to the Psalter. Along with the other Torah Psalms, which have been strategically placed in specific central positions throughout the Psalter, Psalm 1 serves to place the Psalter as well as the worship of the community of faith in the context of the choice of whether or not to live torah. The basic message of the Psalm is that a life centered on torah leads to blessings, life, acceptance by Yahweh, and inclusion in the eschatological community of faith while the path of those who reject torah leads to ruin, worthlessness, and exclusion from the eschatological community of faith.  This essay will discuss the content of Psalm 1 in greater detail, before analyzing the genre of Torah Psalms, and the significance of their placement throughout the Psalter.

 

Content

The aim of the first verse of Psalm 1 is to communicate the progressive solidification in wickedness that a person undergoes if they do not live Torah, as well as the negative results of this way of life. The first word is an intensive plural in Hebrew and is designed to signify the multitude of blessings for those who do not live a life that is devoid of Torah[1]. There is a triadic structure to the narrative sequence of the first verse. Firstly, there are three phases or degrees of pursuit of non righteous things. These are walking, standing and sitting[2]. This movement is counter-intuitive and seems to represent a progressive departure away from God and a solidifying of one’s wickedness[3]. Secondly, there are three degrees of fellowship or involvement in evil. These are counsel, path and seat[4]. In these three degrees there is a definite progression away from God and a greater identifying of the person with those who are ungodly[5]. Thirdly, there are three degrees of ungodly people who are being associated with. They are the wicked, sinners and scoffers. Again, we see a progression in the levels of ungodly people involved with[6]. The title ‘scoffer’ signifies an active participation in derision and an attitude of contempt towards Yahweh[7]. The Psalmist portrays this as the ending position of one who continues in their progression away from God. The triadic pattern demonstrates a progressive movement away from Yahweh, and a pattern of habit forming until one is solidified in wickedness[8].

 

In verse two the Psalmist equates the meditation on and living of Torah with the way of the righteous, happy person, thereby equating the aforementioned way of the wicked with those who do not live or meditate on Torah[9]. But what is meant by Torah? Bullock asserts that as individual piety developed in the direction of postexilic wisdom thought, the way of the righteous became synonymous with the way of Torah so that in most of the psalms Torah is synonymous with our idea of worldview rather than the law outlined in the Pentateuch by itself[10]. It is clear that the foundation of Torah is in the Pentateuch; however it seems that Bullock is correct in recognizing that in the post-exilic Psalter, Torah is a God centered way of life rather than adherence to the Mosaic Law alone[11]. This revealed way of life is portrayed as liberating, life giving and demanding[12]. Given the post-exilic understanding of Torah it seems that the meditation which is mentioned would be more than a reading of the Pentateuch. It is likely to be continuous meditation on the life God wishes us to live and a lining up ones thoughts with God’s will[13].  Verse 1:3 is connected with the former verse on the Torah and consists of a metaphor and a propositional statement about the results of living torah. It compares the righteous person who delights in and meditates on Yahweh’s Torah with a tree planted by a stream[14]. This image suggests that living Torah nourishes and transforms a person. The image of being planted signifies solidarity in a certain way of living life as being seated did in verse one[15]. The fruit, that is mentioned, represents blessings[16]. The text asserts that this fruit does not wither. This seems to suggest freedom from crippling circumstances and seasonal blessings[17].  In contrast to the symbolism of the well nourished tree planted by the stream, the wicked are compared to worthless chaff[18].

 

The last two verses drive home the contrasting consequences of one’s choice between the two possibilities. Firstly, Verse 1:5 could possibly refer to the coming judgment, in which case it would seem to assert that the wicked will not be able ”stand” or endure, Gods final judgment and will therefore not be admitted into the eschatological community of faith, while the righteous will[19]. Secondly, Verse 1:6 suggests that God identifies himself with those who walk the righteous path [20]. In contrast the next part of the verse proclaims that the way of the wicked perishes. This seeks to communicate that the wicked will come to nothing or will go to ruin[21].

Style

Psalm 1 is one of a few Psalms which correspond to the Genre ‘Torah Psalms’. The Psalms are poetic writings that were designed to be read, chanted or sung by the post-exilic Israelite community[22]. The Torah Psalms are linked by their emphasis of the importance of living torah for the community of faith. They focus on the beauty of Torah, using poetic devices such as chiasmus, reiteration, and metaphor to communicate its life giving nature and its associated blessings[23]. However, each Torah Psalm has its own specific message to communicate about the Torah. While Psalm 1 seeks to make the living of Torah the defining factor of whether or not one is a righteous person, Psalm 19 emphasizes the living of Torah as an act of worship. Together these Psalms piece together a wholesome view of the living of Torah as the beautiful God ordained means of worship, and challenge the community of faith with the call to live Torah.

 

Significance

This Psalter has been structured intentionally by its compilers so as to emphasize certain concepts in the worship of the community of faith[24]. The Psalter was most likely compiled by a post-exilic priestly circle, for the purpose of the facilitation of the public reading of the Psalms[25]. This is evidenced by the number of Psalms (around 150), which closely corresponds to the number of Psalms needed in order to allow one Psalm to be read per week for each three year cycle, in the liturgy of the Israelite community of faith, as well as the Psalter being composed of five books in reminiscence of the five books of the Pentateuch[26]. The Torah Psalms have special significance in the Psalter[27]. While Psalm 1 serves as an introduction to the Psalter, Psalm 19 and 119 are also central to their own books of the Psalter. The Torah Psalms serve as a unifying point of view by which the Psalter is to be read and understood[28]. Psalm 1 is one such Torah Psalm. It stands at the beginning of the Psalter as a faithful doorkeeper, confronting the community of faith with the basic choice between the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked[29]. On the recognition that the Psalter was originally compiled for use in corporate worship, one can see that the centrality of Torah is designed to persuade the audience of the worth and life-giving nature of Torah, in order that they will choose to live Torah. Each Torah psalm has a neighbouring Psalm with an eschatological focus[30]. This structure serves to place the call to live Torah in an Eschatological and international context.

 

Conclusion

In order to persuade its audience to live Torah, Psalm 1 employs several metaphors which contrast with one another so as to emphasize the difference between the results of living Torah or not living Torah[31]. Psalm 1 is one of several Torah Psalms which seek to persuade their audience of the worth of Torah and its resulting blessings. These Psalms are strategically placed in central places of the Psalter so as to place the community of faiths worship in the context of the call to live Torah.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

Alter, R., The Book of Psalms: A Translation and Commentary (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2007).

 

 Anderson, A.A., Psalms 1-72 edited by R.E. Clements. (The New Century Bible Commentary, 1; London: Marsh, Morgan and Scott, 1972).

 

Bullock, C Hassel., Encountering the Book of Psalms: A literary and Theological Introduction (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001).

 

 Goldingay, J., Psalms 1-41 edited by T. Longman. (Baker Commentary of the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, 1; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006).

 

 Keathley, J.H., “Psalm 1: Two Ways of Life A Psalm of Wisdom”. http://bible.org/article/psalm-1-two-ways-life-psalm-wisdom (accessed 10 May, 2012).

 

 Kidner, D., Psalms 1-72 edited by D.J. Wiseman. (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries; Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, 1973).

 

Mays, J.L., “The Place of the Torah-Psalms in the Psalter” Journal of Biblical Literature 106/1 (1987): 3-12.

 

Pinto, B.D., “The Torah and the Psalms” Journal of Biblical Literature 86/2 (1967): 154-174.

 

 

 


[1] It could be better translated as, “how very, very happy is” to bring out this exclamation of the multitude of blessings for the righteous person. J.H. Keathley, “Psalm 1: Two Ways of Life A Psalm of Wisdom”. http://bible.org/article/psalm-1-two-ways-life-psalm-wisdom.

[2] R. Alter, The Book of Psalms: A Translation and Commentary (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2007), 3. Walking on a way is a traditional metaphor for pursuing a particular set of choices in life

[3] J. Goldingay, Psalms 1-41 ed. T. Longman. (Baker Commentary of the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, 1; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 82. It is counter intuitive because the movement is from walking to sitting instead of from sitting to walking as one would usually expect. D. Kidner, Psalms 1-72 ed. D.J. Wiseman. (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries; Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, 1973), 48.  This is made evident by the Hebrew word for “sit”, which emphasises being entrenched and comfortable in ones position. Keathley, “Psalm 1: Two Ways of Life A Psalm of Wisdom”.

[4] Keathley, “Psalm 1: Two Ways of Life A Psalm of Wisdom”.

[5] This can be seen particularly in the third line of the verse in which the person is seated with the ungodly, since being seated is symbolic of a high level of fellowship.

[6] Goldingay, Psalms 1-41, 83. A scoffer is someone who mocks, derides, or ridicules A.A. Anderson, Psalms 1-72 ed. R.E. Clements. (The New Century Bible Commentary, 1; London: Marsh, Morgan and Scott, 1972), 59. A scoffer is more ungodly than a sinner or the wicked and the furthest from repentance. Kidner, Psalms 1-72, 48.

[7] Anderson, Psalms 1-72, 59.

[8] The context and tone of the verse suggests that it is a person’s choice as to which way they walk. Goldingay, Psalms 1-41, 82-83. However, the main function of the three negatives is to clear the way for the positive exhortation which is mentioned in the next verse

[9] Anderson, Psalms 1-72, 59. The translation of torah to law is inadequate, and fails to communicate the meaning of the Hebrew. A better translation is God’s teaching for life. The verse talks about delighting in the Torah. This means to live Torah and to see Torah as a blessing rather than a hindrance.

[10] C.H. Bullock, Encountering the Book of Psalms: A literary and Theological Introduction (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 214-216.

[11] This view is backed up by the psalms (Pss 40:6; 50:23; 51:16-17; 141:2) and prophetic writings (Mi 6:8) which criticize the emphasis on the ceremonial law in the concept of Torah and put forward the thesis that the essence of Torah is being in a right relationship with God by doing the Will of God and treating our fellow human Beings in the correct way. Bullock, Encountering the Book of Psalms, 214. This is the same view we see in the New Testament writers and the teachings of Jesus. Although they reject any assertion of the importance and necessity of the ceremonial Law for the New Testament community, Jesus, Paul and James stress the primary importance of loving God and our neighbour.

[12] Anderson, Psalms 1-72, 59.

[13] Kidner, Psalms 1-72, 48. This would include a study of the Scriptures. Anderson, Psalms 1-72, 60.

[14] Such a tree would gain great nourishment from the water and would grow well and bear good fruit.

[15] These two images are linked; both are seen as long term journeys of character solidification. Just as the wicked end up solidified in their character as scoffers, so also the righteous end up planted like a tree and bearing fruit in season.  Alter, The Book of Psalms, 4. In the semi-arid environment of Israel this would have been a powerful image, as everyone knew that a tree needed to be near a water source to flourish.

[16] Notice that the growing of the fruit is not immediate but is in season.

[17] Kidner, Psalms 1-72, 48. Rather than an independence of the rhythm of the seasons, since the previous verse precludes this reading. Scholars disagree as to whether the last part of the verse denotes God as the subject who makes everything the righteous man does thrive or whether it is the righteous man himself who makes everything he does thrive by living torah. Goldingay makes a strong case for the translation “He makes everything that he does thrive”, based on the immediate context and other uses of the language. Goldingay, Psalms 1-41, 79. This is significant because it is the response of the righteous man to live Torah that makes him thrive rather than some intervention by Yahweh.  

[18] This metaphor is given in verse 4. Chaff is the husks and fragments of straw that are blown away in the process of winnowing. The chaff has no purpose or worth and is therefore discarded in the winnowing process. Kidner, Psalms 1-72, 48. The juxtaposition of these two metaphors serves to emphasise the difference between the results of the choice to live Torah or not to live Torah.

[19] This interpretation is backed up by similar language in Nah 1:6. Though scholars continue to disagree about this verses interpretation. Anderson, Psalms 1-72, 62.

[20] The Hebrew word used to communicate Gods state of relationship with the righteous person is usually translated “embraces”, however, it literally means “knows”. This denotes an intimate connection between God and the righteous, which is akin to that between a man and woman. Alter, The Book of Psalms, 4.

    Kidner, Psalms 1-72, 49.

[21] Kidner, Psalms 1-72, 49.

[22] Alter, The Book of Psalms, xviii-xix. While the Psalms are poetry, many of them are actually in the form of prayers to God.

[23] Psalm 1 uses metaphoric images to communicate the difference between living Torah and not living it. e.g. The wicked are pictured as chaff and those who meditate on Torah are pictured as a tree planted near a stream.

[24] Alter, The Book of Psalms, xviii-xix.

[25] Alter, The Book of Psalms, xviii-xix.

[26] This demonstrates that the Psalter was read alongside the Pentateuch. Alter, The Book of Psalms, xviii-xix.

[27] Alter, The Book of Psalms, xviii-xix. This is no surprise if they were read alongside the Pentateuch.

[28] J.L. Mays, “The Place of the Torah-Psalms in the Psalter” JBL 106/1 (1987): 9. The Torah Psalms are 1, 19, and 119.

[29] Kidner, Psalms 1-72, 47.

[30] Mays, “The Place of the Torah-Psalms in the Psalter”, 11. Psalm 1 sits next to psalm 2 which has an emphasis on the need for the nations to choose the right way or be punished. Mays, “The Place of the Torah-Psalms in the Psalter”, 7-11. Psalm 1’s contrast between the consequences of the two ways to live, leads into the warning of Psalm 2:11-12 that the nations will be destroyed if they continue on in their way. Bullock, Encountering the Book of Psalms, 60.

[31] For example verse 3’s metaphor of tree planted close to water contrasts with verse 4’s metaphor of the chaff that is blown away.

 

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Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Scripture

Introduction

Since the reformation the Christian Church, in its many forms, has argued about where the foundation of the knowledge of God was to be found. For the Catholics it was the Pope and the Church, for the Romantics it was the experience of divine dependence, for the Liberal Protestants it was a critical- rationalistic reading of the Scriptures, and for the Fundamentalist Protestants it was in the inerrant Scriptures. Karl Barth hit this theological scene like a bomb shell. ‘Nine’, he said, theology was to be grounded on the gracious act of revelation by the free triune God; revelation which could not be controlled by human beings[1]. Barth’s doctrine of Scripture takes form around this doctrine of revelation emphasising that Scripture is not direct revelation given to us but an inspired witness in human words to revelation which only becomes the Word of God, by the work of the Holy Spirit. This short essay will systematically analyse Karl Barth’s radical doctrine of Scripture as well as critically engaging him by demonstrating some of the positive and negative points of his doctrine. It will then assess Mount Pleasant Baptist Church’s use of Scripture in light of the study.

 

God’s Revelation

Barth based his theological assumptions on Kantian metaphysics. He believed in the reality of the ontological gap and the necessity of revelation. Indeed, Barth affirmed that we know God by his gracious acts of revelation and by nothing else[2]. The guiding motif in Karl Barth’s doctrine of revelation is that man can never control God or else he would make him in his own image. Barth asserted that both Protestants and Catholics had attempted to pervert the creation/creator relationship of man to God by setting up a false basis of knowledge and power[3]. In the case of the Catholic Church this took the form of a statement about the Church and subsequently the Pope which placed them in the position of ultimate authority[4]. Whereas in the case of the Protestants this took the form of a statement about the Bible, which allowed them to have access to an assured knowledge of God apart from the grace of God[5]. Barth’s view is well summarised in the following quote[6].As we can see Barth rebelled against the attempts of modern Protestantism to ground the bible upon itself, thereby bequeathing themselves control over revelation. He saw this as highly sinful because in doing this they began to interpret the Scriptures in a way that fulfilled their presuppositions and created God in their own image. In contrast to this Barth believed that the Bible was meant to be a free and spiritual force through which God could speak afresh to each new generation.

The Threefold Forms of God’s Word

For Barth revelation begins and ends with the self revealing triune God. In Barth’s words “the same God who is unimpaired unity is revealer, revelation, and revealedness”[7] What Barth is saying is that revelation is an act of God by which God reveals God[8]. This revealed God is what scripture calls the Word of God. It is this Trinitarian understanding of revelation which underlies Barth’s doctrine of Scripture.

 

 Barth identifies three forms of God’s word in the Scriptures[9]. They are the man Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:1-14), the text of Scripture (2Timothy 3:16), and Christian preaching (2 Peter 1) although only the first two are dealt with in this essay[10]. On the Word of God and the Scriptures Barth writes[11]. For Barth the Bible is a witness to revelation, which has been written down in the words of man, it becomes the Word of God in a derivative sense as God works through it in an act of revelation. For Barth the bible has provisional authority over the Church, which is grounded in its being a witness to revelation[12].

 

Barth believed with other orthodox Christian’s that in the incarnation there is a hypostatic union between the divine Word of God and the man Jesus. Therefore Jesus Christ is the absolute Word of God and revelation itself. On the other hand, the Bible is not the Word of God in the same sense[13]. On this Barth says[14]. Barth’s point is that unlike Jesus the Bible is not the Word of God in an absolute sense in that it is not an incarnation of the Word of God in human writings[15]. Barth used the image of John the Baptist to communicate this point. John always pointed away from himself to Jesus to bear witness to his hidden identity[16]. This is the job of Scripture in Barth’s theology, to point to Christ as a witness to his true identity[17]. For Barth there is no inherent presence of God or impartation of divine attributes in the Bible[18]. Rather God reveals himself through the human vehicle of Scripture indirectly. This takes place as a personal encounter in which the Holy Spirit graciously reveals God in his judgment and mercy to the human agent[19].

 

Barth on the Biblical cannon

For Barth the determination of the Canon of Scripture is always an act of witness in accordance with the revelation that has been received by the Church at that moment in time; it is not an arbitrary human decision but a response to the Word of God’s testimony that the text is Scripture[20]. He believed that the early Church received the writings that God revealed to be a true witness of revelation. However, Barth asserts that fallible humans may have miss-heard God and therefore improving the Canon in response to further revelation is possible[21]. Barth conditions this statement by asserting that this is to be done in the context of the Church rather than at an individual level and that individual’s should approach the canonized Scriptures of the Church as Holy Scriptures[22] .

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The Bible as Inspired and Human

Up to this point it may appear that for Barth there was no part for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to play in the writing of Scripture, but this is not true. Although he did not see the writings themselves as inherently inspired he did believe in the inspiring work of the Holy Spirit. For Barth inspiration took the form of a special activity of the Holy Spirit in commissioning the apostles and prophets for their task of witnessing in the form of the written word[23]. Although this activity did not bypass their human limitations, Barth asserted that this activity of the Holy Spirit on the writers made the words of Scripture theologically reliable[24]. But for Barth this is not the end of inspiration in that that God also does this inspiring work in us so that we can see and hear what the authors saw and heard[25].

 

Barth’s doctrine of Scripture welcomes the human part of the bible. For Barth revelation always comes to us in a fallible human vehicle. To communicate why we should not seek to de-humanize the Bible by way of a doctrine of inerrancy Barth used the analogy of the many people over time who have stumbled over Christ’s humanity[26]. Barth asserted that as orthodox Christians have embraced Christ in all his humanness so we must also embrace the Bible in all its humanness[27]. Barth calls this humanness of Scripture a scandal and offence. Hart sums up Barth’s view well when he says[28] To Barth the Word of God always comes to us as a scandal. Jesus the man is not the medium of revelation but the veil[29]. The same is true of the Bible. The Bible is veiled by fallible human words and can only be unveiled by a revelatory act of God. Barth had no time for any doctrine of Scripture which attempted to remove the offence of the humanness of the biblical text by denying or qualifying its human side[30]. Barth proposed that the text is both fully divine and fully human[31]. He insisted that the Bible contained scientific, historical and religious error but instead of paling over this as most theologians would Barth insisted that the fallibility of the Bible is essential to its intended theological function, namely, preventing humans from setting it up as a false absolute and leaving  revelation under the control of God[32].

 

Positives

There are several positives to Barth’s doctrine of Scripture. Firstly, Barth’s doctrine of Word of God makes sense of the biblical use of the phrase[33]. Secondly, Barth highlights the necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit in the act of revelation[34]. This backs up the reformed emphasis that man cannot make his way to his own salvation and allows Gods Word to function in its life giving power[35].In Barth’s view the Bible is not longer static but is alive[36].Thirdly, Barth’s view makes sense of the humanity of the Bible with its significant historical and scientific errors[37].Fourthly, his doctrine allows one to have a high view of scripture while also recognizing its limits as a human vehicle. Fifthly, if his view of Scripture is implemented Barth successfully takes revelation out of our hands while giving it back to us in its proper place, with us standing under, rather than above it.

 

Negatives

There are also several criticm’s that have been made regarding Barth’s doctrine of scripture. Firstly, Barth has been criticized by conservatives who assert that his doctrine of scripture if poorly implemented will lead to a radical subjectivism in which orthodoxy will be compromised[38]. However this charge does not stick for these three reasons[39]. Secondly, Many Liberal Protestants have suggested that Barth did not take historical criticism seriously enough[40]. However, on a reading of the twelve theses it becomes clear that Barth believed in the usefulness of sound exegesis and historical criticism and only wished exegetical work to take its proper place as inferior to the revelation brought by the Holy Spirit[41]. Thirdly, if the material authority of the Bible is surrendered as Barth asserts then doesn’t this raise doubts as to the reliability of its witness to say, the resurrection and other events crucial to Christian faith[42].

 

Mount Pleasant Baptist Church’s Doctrine of scripture

Mount Pleasant Baptist Church has a small statement of faith in which one sentence is devoted to the doctrine of Scripture. This document states[43]. This doctrine of Scripture affirms the inerrancy of the Scriptures instead of recognizing that they are a human vehicle as Barth suggests. For Mount Pleasant the Scriptures are revelation in themselves rather than a witness to revelation as Barth thinks they are. Because the Bible is the supreme authority in matters of faith Mount Pleasants doctrine and preaching are formed around the careful exegesis of biblical passages, considering the cultural context, translation, the meaning of the author, and comparison to other biblical sources. Although the statement of faith suggests that the Holy Spirit plays no part in revelation, in practice Mount Pleasant believes that the Holy Spirit plays a primary role in all revelation and believes that Scripture cannot be correctly understood apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. Mount Pleasant seeks to frame all areas of faith and practice around that outlined in the biblical text while also looking to the Holy Spirit for his ultimate guidance. Barth would agree with this use of the Scriptures because it seeks out what the Bible says while also waiting on the revelation from the Holy Spirit as the ultimate authority. In practice Mount Pleasants use of Scripture is very close to that outlined by Barth in that there is a Barthian emphasis on the place of the Holy Spirit’s work of revelation through the Bible, rather than revelation coming from study of the text alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

 

-Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics I/1: The Doctrine of the Word of God. Translated by Bromiley, G. W. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956.

 

-Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics I/2: The Doctrine of the Word of God. Translated by Thompson, G. T. & H. Knight, Edited by Bromiley, G. W. & T. F. Torrance. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956.

 

-Barth, Karl., God Here and Now: Religious Perspectives. Translated by P. M. V. Buren, Edited by Anshen R. N. (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1964).

 

-Barth, Karl., The Word of God and the Word of Man. Translated by D. Horton. (London: Hodder and Stoughton, nd).

 

-Beach, J. M., “Revelation in Scripture: Comments on Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Revelation” Mid America Journal of Theology 17 (2006) 267-274.

 

-Bromiley, G. W., “Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Inspiration,” Journal of the Transactions of the Victoria Institute 87 (1955):66-80.

 

-Cornwall, Robert, “Three Fold Word of God”. http://www.bobcornwall.com/2009/09/three-fold-word-of-god.html. (assessed 29 March 2012).

 

-Franke, John R., Barth for Armchair Theologians (London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006).

 

-Hardon, John A., Review of Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Holy Scripture by K. Runia, Theological Studies 25 (1964): 89- 100

 

-Hart, Trevor., Regarding Karl Barth: Towards a Reading of his Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999).

 

-McGrath, Alister E., Christian Theology: An Introduction (5th ed. London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011).

 

-Mueller, David L., “The Contributions and weaknesses of Karl Barth’s View of the Bible” in The Proceedings of the conference on Biblical Inerrancy 1987, 423-447 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1987).

 

-O’brien, B. J., “Theologian of the Word of God? Reception of Barth’s View of Revelation and Exegesis in North America and Britain, 1945-1962’”Trinity Journal 32(2011): 31-46.

 

-Oneil, Michael D., “Forming Moral Community: Christian and Ecclesial Existence in the Theology of Karl Barth, 1915-1922” (unpublished Ph. D. diss., Murdoch University, 2008).

 

-“The Mount Pleasant Baptist Church Believes”, http://mounties.org.au/kingdomtools/site/mounties.org.au/resources/500000000025/what_about_belief.pdf (accessed 28 March, 2012).


[1] John R. Frank, Barth for Armchair Theologians (London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 163.

 

[3]John A. Hardon, review of Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Holy Scripture by K. Runia, TS 25 (1964): 90.

[4] Hardon, review of Runia, 91.

[5] Hardon, review of Runia, 91.

[6] “The Bible was now grounded upon itself apart from the mystery of Christ and the Holy Ghost. It became a ‘paper Pope’ and unlike the living pope in Rome it was given up to the hands of its interpreters. It was no longer a free and spiritual force, but an instrument of human power… a codex of axioms which can be seen as such with the same formal dignity as those of philosophy and mathematics.” Barth, Karl, Church dogmatics I/2: The Doctrine of the Word of God, K. Barth, Church Dogmatics I/2: The Doctrine of the Word of God, ed Bromiley, G. W. & T. F. Torrance Trans., Thompson, G. T. & H. Knight (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956), 525, 522.

[7]  K. Barth, Church Dogmatics I/1: The Doctrine of the Word of God. Trans. Bromiley, G. W., 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956), 344.

[8] Hart, Trevor, Regarding Karl Barth: Towards a Reading of his Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 31.

[9] There is an implicit analogy to the trinity in this part of his doctrine of scripture.

[10] Hart, Regarding Karl Barth, 31.

[11] “The Word of God is God himself in Holy Scripture. For God once spoke as Lord to Moses and the prophets, to the Evangelists and the Apostles.    And now through their written word he speaks as the same Lord to his Church.   Scripture is holy and the Word of God because by the Holy Spirit it became and will become to the Church a witness of divine revelation.” Barth, Church Dogmatics I/2, emphasis added, 457.

[12] It must be noted that for Barth this witness to revelation becomes a kind of partial revelation in itself. Barth draws on many biblical passages to illuminate this point. “This biblical witness is the visible form of the otherwise hidden presence and lordship of Christ. “You shall be my witnesses.” He who hears you hears me.” And then, “Behold I am with you always even to the end of the world.” All these refer to the particular bearers of the witness upon which the congregation is founded. “So we are ambassadors on behalf of Christ; for God is making his appeal through us.”” Karl Barth, God Here and Now: Religious Perspectives. Trans., P. M. V. Buren, ed. Anshen R. N. (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1964), 47.

[13] Hart, Regarding Karl Barth, 34-35.

[14] “The bible is not the Word of God on earth the same way as Jesus Christ, very God and very man, is that Word in heaven… The act in which he became the Word of God in his humanity requires neither repetition nor confirmations…” Barth, Church Dogmatics I/2, emphasis added, 513.

[15] There is no unification of the Word and the human vehicle as there is in the Word of God and the man Jesus of Nazareth.  G.W. Bromiley, “Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Inspiration,” JTVI 87 (1955):73.

[16] Hart, Regarding Karl Barth, 35.

[17] Hart, Regarding Karl Barth, 35.

[18] Franke, Barth for Armchair, 122-123.

     Barth, God Here and Now, 49.

[19] Michael D. O’neil, “Forming Moral Community: Christian and Ecclesial Existence in the Theology of Karl Barth, 1915-1922” (unpublished Ph. D. diss., Murdoch University, 2008), 274.

[20] Barth, Church Dogmatics I/2, 475-476.

[21] Barth, Church Dogmatics I/2, 476.

[22] Barth, Church Dogmatics I/2, 478-479.

[23] Hart, Regarding Karl Barth, 45.

[24] Hart, Regarding Karl Barth, 45.

[25] Hart, Regarding Karl Barth, 46.

[26] Hart, Regarding Karl Barth, 38-39.

[27] Hart, Regarding Karl Barth, 38-39.

[28] “The scandalon must be allowed to stand… Gods’ word comes to us in full human form. It is veiled from us by this very creatureliness, and becomes ‘visible’ as it were, only in the event of revelation. The real presence of the Word in human words cannot be guaranteed, coerced, pinned down or held onto… it can only be prayed for and received by faith… There is no magical transubstantiation.” Hart, Regarding Karl Barth, Emphasis added, 44.

[29] O’neil, “Forming Moral”, 271

[30] Hart, Regarding Karl Barth, 38.

[31] Hart, Regarding Karl Barth, 38.

[32] Hart, Regarding Karl Barth, 36-44.

[33] The bible refers to Jesus Christ as the union of man and the pre-existent Word of God (Jn 1:1-14) the preeminent mediator of revelation (Mt 11:27; Lk 11:9; Jn 14:1-10) and the full revelation of God (Heb. 1:1-2; I Cor. 1:30) as well as to the Scriptures (John 5:39) and the preaching of the Church (Acts 4:31, 6:7, 15:36). Robert Cornwall, “Three Fold Word of God”. http://www.bobcornwall.com/2009/09/three-fold-word-of-god.html (assessed 29 March 2012).

[34] Both Bromiley and Runia applaud Barth on this point of his theology.

David L. Mueller, “The Contributions and weaknesses of Karl Barth’s View of the Bible” in The Proceedings of the conference on Biblical Inerrancy 1987 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1987), 433.

B. J. O’brien, “Theologian of the Word of God? Reception of Barth’s View of Revelation and Exegesis in North America and Britain, 1945-1962’” TJ 32(2011): 41.

[35] J. M. Beach, “Revelation in Scripture: Comments on Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Revelation” MAJT 17 (2006): 271.

[36] In Barth’s view reading the bible ceases to be a mundane chore but becomes an existential meeting with God, in which we are welcomed into ‘the strange new world of the Bible’. K. Barth, The Word of God and the Word of Man. Trans. D. Horton (London: Hodder and Stoughton, nd), 28-50.

[37]This serves to back up his doctrine rather than to disprove it, answers some difficult questions about the biblical text, allows one to discard ancient cosmology.

[38] This is because Barth does not ground the faith in infallible Scriptures and instead stresses a reliance on the Holy Spirit which could lead to individuals or congregations rejecting certain parts of the Scriptures. O’brien, Theologian of the Word, 37, 40.

[39] Most of Barth’s followers have remained orthodox and formed the confessing Church which opposed Nazi Germany, for Barth matters of the Canon and orthodox revelation are discussed in the context of the Church at large under the Lordship of Christ, and the Bible continues to have authority in his theology it just isn’t the primary authority.

[40] O’brien, Theologian of the Word, 38.

[41] Barth, God Here and Now, 52- 58.

[42] It is much harder to defend Barth against this criticism as he does appear to emphasise that there is no foundation for the knowledge of God but God himself. Mueller, “The contributions and Weaknesses”, 434.

[43] “That the whole of the Scriptures, Old and New Testament, as originally given, are the inspired Word of God, free from error and the supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct.” “The Mount Pleasant Baptist Church Believes”, emphasis added. http://mounties.org.au/kingdomtools/site/mounties.org.au/resources/500000000025/what_about_belief.pdf (accessed 28 March, 2012).

 

John Calvin on the Sacrament of Baptism

Abstract

This essay engages with John Calvin’s doctrine of baptism as stated in the Institutes of the Christian Religion. It begins by introducing the topic, listing some of the concerns that underlie Calvin’s doctrine and giving some historical context. The essay then moves to engage with Calvin’s view on the Sacraments in general, before delving into his understanding of what baptism is and what the sacrament accomplishes, and symbolizes. The essay then critiques Calvin’s understanding of infant baptism before presenting a personal reflection on Calvin’s doctrine in light of the study.

 

Introduction

Baptism is a sacrament that is almost universally recognised throughout the many factions of the Christian Church, however, how this sacrament is to be understood has long been a subject of fierce debate[1]. This debate was at its height in the age of the Protestant reformation, where Roman Catholic, Radical, and Magisterial thinkers proposed and defended their theological positions on the sacrament. John Calvin was a second generation magisterial reformer whose doctrine maintains a middle line between the Catholics, with their insistence that baptism removes the taint of Original sin, regardless of one’s faith, and the radical reformers, such as the Anabaptists, who rejected infant baptism as a corrupt unbiblical practice and asserted that baptism was only efficacious for those who had faith at the time of baptism[2]. In Calvin’s doctrine of baptism one can see the underlying concerns of justifying continued schism from the Catholic Church, denying faith as a pre-requisite for baptism so as to safeguard the practice of infant baptism and insisting that one’s faith is the only determining factor in whether or not one is forgiven of their sins. Due to these concerns Calvin refused to give baptism an efficacy in the individual’s salvation that is not due to it. This essay summarises Calvin’s doctrine of baptism and critiques his position, noting its biblical support, its explanatory power, and its avoidance of the pitfalls of his opponent’s views.

 

Calvin on Baptism- Better than Fatless Bacon

For Calvin the sacraments are signs that have two functions[3]. Firstly, they act as a seal from the Lord upon human conscience and secondly they are a reciprocal testimony of piety from the believer[4]. So the sacraments are both a sign of a work of God and a response to God. Calvin’s view recognizes the importance of the sacraments as a reciprocal process which is necessitated by the nature of the covenantal relationship between humanity and God.

Calvin thought that for a sacrament to be efficacious then they must be accompanied by both the Holy Spirit and faith[5]. For Calvin the sacrament of baptism signifies a gift that is given that must be received in faith or it will not be received at all[6]. This distinction between reception and promise allowed Calvin to explain why some receive the saving efficacy of baptism and some not at all[7]. His doctrine also avoids the issue of whether or not baptised babies have the faith needed to receive the gifts signified in baptism[8]. For Calvin the chief point of baptism is to receive the sacrament as a promise of forgiveness, salvation, and new life[9]. For him the sacrament of baptism is like a document that confirms to us that our sins are abolished, remitted, and can never be charged against us[10]. Calvin’s view of the relationship between the sign of baptism and the gift that is signified, occupies a position that is mid way between the views that were held by Zwingli and Luther[11]. He holds that the relationship between the sign and the gift is an intimate one that allows each to be applied to the other[12]. Calvin’s position makes sense of the biblical language used to describe baptism, in which baptism is stated as efficacious for the forgiveness of sin (Acts 2:38, 22:16), the portrayal of baptism as a sign which signifies real gifts that are received by  faith in Christ (Peter 3:21),  Paul’s linking of the concepts of the baptism of water and the Word of life (Eph 5:26), as well as the doctrine of salvation by faith alone (Eph 2:8). By making baptism a sign that promised the believer forgiveness of sins for the whole of life, Calvin replaced the Catholic sacrament of penance with the reminiscence on baptism for assurance of forgiveness[13]. In doing this Calvin knowingly avoided the several issues that arose for his contemporaries[14]. For example his doctrine eliminated the need to provide further means by which to provide the expiation of post-baptismal sin such as confession, penance or the Eucharist in the Catholic Church[15].

 

For Calvin baptism also acts as a public confession of faith and an oath of allegiance to God[16]. Calvin saw baptism as signifying a change in both temporal and eternal realities. On
the visible level Calvin saw baptism as a sign of a person’s initiation and reception into the society of the visible Christian Church, and on an invisible level Calvin saw baptism as a sign of being engrafted into the invisible Church, made up of those elected and engrafted into Christ, seen only by God[17]. Calvin’s understanding of baptism as a rite of visible initiation and a promise of spiritual initiation if one responds to God in faith, is grounded in the reality of the Church in the Protestant Reformation, in that it was filled with both true and false Christians.

 

For Calvin there is no inherent power in the water of baptism to wash away sins[18]. Calvin quoted Paul (Ephesians 5:26) and asserted that Paul joins the concepts of the baptism of water and the Word of life (the Gospel)  together, in order to explain that it is the Gospel that brings the message of our cleansing and sanctification to us and that, rather than saving us, baptism acts as a seal of the Gospels reception[19]. Calvin insisted that baptism itself offers us no other means of purification than the sprinkling of Christ’s blood, of which the water of baptism is only a representation[20]. Calvin saw this recognition of the meaning of baptism as a knock down argument against those who would vest mystical power in the water itself[21]. Calvin rejected the doctrine, taught by the medieval Catholic Church, that baptism removed the taint of Original sin[22].  This Medieval teaching promised that baptism effectively removed the Original sin of everyone baptised, but did not say it had much significance for the rest of life[23]. In his rejection of this doctrine one can see Calvin’s prerogative to move away from the ‘superstitions’ of the medieval Catholic Church, with its insistence on the efficacy of baptism in relation to the forgiveness of Original sin as well as his concern to link salvation to the Gospel and faith, rather than the sacraments in themselves, as was taught by the Catholic Church. Calvin denied that the effects of Original sin are washed away in baptism and continued to see humans as depraved in their post-baptismal state[24]. However, Calvin saw baptism as a promise that God would not allow our sin to rule over us[25].  Calvin concluded that the mortification of our flesh began at baptism[26]. For Calvin this mortification is symbolised by our baptism into the death of Christ, which is mentioned by Paul in Romans 6:3-4. I could not agree more with Calvin, baptism is most definitely a sign of our participation in Christ’s death and resurrection to new life. The doctrine of baptism held by the Roman Church does not do justice to the inter-relation between faith and baptism, the scriptural testimony, the need for Christ’s atoning death, the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification and the realities of the continuing struggle against sin in the Christian life. However, Calvin’s doctrine holds all of these things together.

 

Calvin’s theology of infant baptism is based upon the view that there is an anagogic relationship between baptism and circumcision[27]. For Calvin, both rituals announce the promises of God to a person and introduce them to the covenant people[28].  Calvin argues that since one sign of the covenant was administered to infants and the New Covenant is as inclusive as the Old Covenant then we cannot deny infants the sign of the New Covenant[29]. Calvin also argues for infant baptism on other grounds. Calvin draws on the basic principle demonstrated by Jesus when he invited children to come close to him[30]. From this he extrapolates that If Christ welcomed children and said that “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Mathew 19:14) then why should we exclude children from baptism on the basis of age[31]. Calvin also attacks the Anabaptist critique that no infant is baptised in scripture. To do this Calvin uses the example of the baptism of a whole family in Acts 16:33[32]. Calvin argues that although there is no explicit mention of the baptism of infants in scripture, it is never excluded when the baptism of families is mentioned[33]. Though Calvin’s point is valid, his use of the baptism of entire families to legitimise the universality of child baptism is an extrapolation that the scripture does not warrant; especially in the face of the clear reality that the regular practice of the early church was believer’s baptism for consenting adults. It could also be argued that Calvin disregards the historical contexts of circumcision and baptism[34].

 

Reflection

I must say that I am not usually a huge fan of Calvin’s doctrinal positions; however, Calvin’s view on the sacrament of baptism has great explanatory power in regards to Christian experience and makes sense of the biblical witness. Calvin’s doctrine effectively explains the inter-relationship of baptism and faith, it shows that baptism involves both a divine and human element, it recognises the change in temporal and spiritual realities at baptism, and it makes sense of the continued struggle with sin in the Christian life. The only part of Calvin’s doctrine that I have any issue with is his doctrine of infant baptism. Although Calvin’s doctrine of baptism as a sign is the only understanding of baptism that makes infant baptism feasible, he is clearly not supported by the majority of scripture and at times his doctrine lacks internal consistency[35].  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

.Calvin, J., Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 Vols, Library of Christian Classics Vol. XX-XXI, edited by J.T. Mcneill, translated by F. L. Battles, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960).

 

. Evans, W.B., “Calvin, Baptism and Latent Efficacy Again: A Reply to Rich Lusk” Presbyterion 32/1 (Spring 2006): 38-45.

 

. Godfrey, W.R., “Calvin Worship and the Sacraments” in Theological Guide to Calvins Institutes: Essays and Analyses, edited by D.W. Hall and P.A. Lillback (Phillipsburgh: P & R Publishing Company, 2008), 368-389.

 

. Grislis, E., “Calvin’s Doctrine of Baptism” Church History 31/1 (1962): 46-65.

 

. McClean, J., “Calvin on the Supper: Puzzling and Provocative” in Engaging With Calvin: Aspects of the Reformers Legacy for Today, edited by M.D. Thompson (Nottingham: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 204-229.

 

. McGaughey. D.H., “Baptism in the Protestant Reformation” Restoration Quarterly 2/3 (1958): 99-114.

 

. Mcgrath, A.E., Reformation Thought: An Introduction (2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1993).

 

. McGrath, A.E., Christian Theology: An Introduction (5th Ed. Oxford: Blackwell, 2010).

 

. Riggs, J.W., “Emerging Ecclesiology in Calvin’s Baptismal Thought, 1536-1543” Church History 64 (Mar1995): 29-43


[1] A. E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 5th Ed (Oxford: Blackwell, 2010), 420.

[2] His doctrine is a combination of Lutheran and Zwinglian elements. A.E. Mcgrath, Reformation Thought: An Introduction, 2nd ed (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1993), 183.

[3] D.H. McGaughey, “Baptism in the Protestant Reformation” RQ 2/3 (1958): 104.

[4] McGaughey, “Baptism”, 104.

J. Calvin, Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 Vols, Library of Christian Classics Vol. XX-XXI, ed. J.T. Mcneill, tr. F. L. Battles, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 4. 14. 6.

[5] McGaughey, “Baptism”, 105.

Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 14. 9, 15

[6] W.B Evans, “Calvin, Baptism and Latent Efficacy Again: A Reply to Rich Lusk” P 32/1 (Spring 2006): 40. On the sacraments Calvin insists that “it is one thing to offer, another to receive” Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 14. 16.

[7] Evans, “Calvin, Baptism”, 41.

[8] Since Calvin asserts that these gifts can be received at any point that one comes to faith.

[9] Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 15. 1. This understanding of the promises of baptism is in line with Luthers view. Mcgrath, Reformation Thought, 184. Calvin thought that full immersion was the form of baptism prescribed in the bible; however, he did not feel that it was of great significance and proposed that the form of the sacrament should be left to each individual congregation. This was probably due to his emphasis on baptism as a sign rather than a mystical reality, as the sign was valid regardless of whether the person was immersed or sprinkled. Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 15. 11. I agree with Calvin’s view on immersion but I disagree that the ritualistic form of baptism is irrelevant. Small changes to rituals can result in big changes in human understanding, and vice versa.

[10] Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 15. 1.

[11] Mcgrath, Reformation Thought, 182. Zwingli and Luther held polar views on the relationship between the sign of the sacrament and the gift that was signified.

[12] Mcgrath, Reformation Thought, 182. This allowed Calvin to maintain the difference between the sign and the gift that was signified while insisting that the sign really points to the gift that it signified.

[13] McGaughey, “Baptism”, 106. Some have claimed that Calvin’s view is incoherent due to his simultaneous assertions that baptism is valid as a past sign for having been adopted into the covenant people, that the reality is present in and with the sign and that in the future the sacrament will bear fruit in faith. But this criticism is unfounded, since it is based on Calvin’s presentation and not his actual thought. J. McClean, “Calvin on the Supper: Puzzling and Provocative” in Engaging With Calvin: Aspects of the Reformers Legacy for Today, ed. M.D. Thompson (Nottingham: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 226.

[14] Calvin asserted that baptism had continuing significance for the whole of life, in that the remembrance of the complete forgiveness promised in baptism assured someone of forgiveness even if they stumbled and committed a sin. Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 15. 3. However, this idea seems to fly in the face of the practice of Infant baptism, since it is unlikely that baptism can be remembered by the baptized child.

[15] Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 15. 11. In early Church times many Christians would leave their baptism until their death bed in order to avoid post-baptismal sin.

[16]Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 15. 1. However, it is difficult to see how an infant could make an oath of allegiance to God when they are not even aware of what is going on. In saying this Calvin partially agreed with Zwingli’s understanding of baptism.

[17] Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 15. 1.

J.W. Riggs, “Emerging Ecclesiology in Calvin’s Baptismal Thought, 1536-1543” CH 64 (Mar1995): 38. The first sign was immediate but the second sign was only efficacious if it was received in life by faith. The distinction between initiation into the invisible and visible Christian Church is necessary to distinguish between the efficacy of the promises of baptism for those who are baptized and have faith and those who are baptized and do not.

[18] Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 15. 2.

[19] Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 15. 2.

[20] Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 15. 2.

[21] Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 15. 2.

[22] Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 15. 2.

[23] W.R. Godfrey, “Calvin , Worship and the Sacraments” in Theological Guide to Calvins Institutes: Essays and Analyses, ed. D.W. Hall and P.A. Lillback (Phillipsburgh: P & R Publishing Company, 2008), 378. This teaching built on the teachings of Augustine and Cyprian. For Calvin, baptism did not regenerate infants or remove the guilt of Original Sin; however, it gave parents a surer confidence in Gods care for his posterity and encouraged parents to teach the faith to their children.

[24] Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4.15. 11.

[25] Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 15. 11.

[26] Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4.15. 11.

[27] Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 16.  4. E. Grislis, “Calvin’s Doctrine of Baptism” CH 31/1 (1962): 51. This idea finds its scriptural basis in the linking of the rites of baptism and circumcision in Colossians 2:11.

[28] Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 16. 5. Grislis, “Calvin’s Doctrine”, 51. However, the inclusion of all Europeans into the covenant people at birth led to rampant nominalism.

[29] Grislis, “Calvin’s Doctrine”, 51. Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 16. 4-5.

[30] Grislis, “Calvin’s Doctrine”, 51. Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 16. 1.

[31] Grislis, “Calvin’s Doctrine”, 51.

[32] Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 16.  7.

[33] Calvin asserts that the notion of rejecting the baptism of infants on the grounds that the baptism of infants is not explicitly mentioned in scripture is the same as rejecting women from the Lord’s Supper on the same grounds. Calvin seeks to show that since the second conclusion is unacceptable then so is the first. Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 16. 7.

[34]Calvin assumes that the historical context of the New Testament Church is like that of theocratic Israel. In doing so he disregards the idea that God may have devised a new way of doing things for a new historical situation.

[35] For example, Calvin’s view of baptism as an oath of allegiance seems strange, considering that Infants were incapable of making such an oath. I realise he is not directly contradicted by scripture either.

Catholic Theology from Vatican 1 to Vatican 2: A Comparison

Abstract

This essay discusses the changes to official Roman Catholic theology that were made at the Second Vatican Council. It gives a brief outline of the socio-political context at the time of the first and Second Vatican Council’s so as to outline the factors behind the theological journey of the Catholic Church in this time period. It outlines several of the doctrinal positions that the two Councils took, highlighting the significant alterations in the doctrines of Soteriology, Revelation, and the Church made by Vatican II.  

 

Introduction

The Second Vatican Council’s approach towards modernism was the very antithesis to that of the First Vatican Council. The attitudes and theological assertions of each council were heavily influenced by the socio-political context at each time. Although much of Catholic Dogma was left unchanged by the Second Vatican Council some significant changes in Catholic Theology were made. This essay will evaluate the changes in the doctrines of Soteriology, Revelation, and the Church. It argues that although most of Catholic dogma was left untouched by Vatican II, significant changes were made to the three aforementioned doctrines. These changes reflect a radically different attitude towards other Christian denominations, other religions, and the Church in modern society.

 

Historical context

In order to fully understand the change in theology between the First and Second Vatican Councils we must recognize the complex socio-political context at the different periods. The First Vatican Council was convened by Pope Pius IX, and was held from 1869 to 1870. First and foremost, it was called in response to the echoes of the Enlightenment period with its emphasis on the authority of human reason, the increasing levels of dominance by non Catholic political structures, and attacks on the Church’s worldly power and influence[1]. Pope Pius IX’s main interest in convening the Council was safeguarding Orthodoxy and reasserting the Church’s dominance over and against the threats of enlightenment rationalism’s criticism of the Scriptures and the Church’s doctrines, as well as attacks on the Church’s worldly power and wealth[2]. The Council sought to define the nature of the Church over and against the non Christian philosophies that had undermined the basis of Christian authority[3]. It rejected Naturalism, Rationalism, and Pantheism and reasserted the unique, exclusive, and supernatural nature of Christian revelation[4].  The Council produced two controversial documents before it was forced to end due to the breakout of the Franco-Prussian war[5]. Overall the Council had an attitude of re-entrenchment[6]. It followed in the footsteps of Jacques-Benigne Bossuet (1627- 1704), emphatically reasserting the constancy of the Catholic tradition, and the same boundaries of Catholic orthodoxy as that before the Council[7]. In the First Vatican Council one can see a reaction to the enlightenment akin to that of the fundamentalist Protestant emphasis on the inerrant scriptures.

 

The Second Vatican Council was called by Pope John Paul XXIII on December 25, 1961[8].  The years between the Councils saw the emergence of Catholic modernism within the Roman Church, as well as the rise of prominent progressive theologians such as Karl Rahner and Hans Kung, whose theological assertions influenced those promulgated at Vatican II[9]. The Church was no longer limited to Europe, after years of evangelization Catholicism had made its way into many parts of the world. This, coupled with rationalistic thinking forced the Church to deal with the difficult questions arising from religious pluralism. In the half century before Vatican II the human race had seen two horrific worldwide wars and a global economic depression[10]. This lead to a widespread rejection of enlightenment rationalism and its myth of human progress, and allowed an opportunity for the Church to once again offer the hope of the Christian Gospel. One can see that these significant historical events were in John Paul’s mind when he acknowledged the need for the Council in his speech that convoked the council in 1961[11]. John Paul recognised the twilight of enlightenment rationalism and the need to modernize the Church. He accepted the scientific and technological conquests of modernity while rejecting its exclusion of God from society, and acknowledged that changes had to be made in Church doctrine and practice to bring the modern world into contact with the Gospel once again.  The Council produced sixteen documents of which scholars consider three to be the most significant. They are Lumen Gentium, Gaudium et Spes and Dignitatis Humanae[12]. Overall the Council promulgated many changes to doctrine and practice[13]. The attitude of the Second Vatican Council was totally different to the first. While Vatican I had an attitude of reentrenchment, Vatican II had an attitude of reform and renewal and sought to dialogue with the modern world. For example the Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes states:

 

“To carry out such a task, the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel.”[14]

 

At Vatican II the Church recognized its duty of addressing the concerns of a changing world in order to continue to communicate the Christian Gospel[15]. Although Church dogma was untouched by the Council, it promulgated some significant changes to important doctrines. These changes reflected a positive and inclusive attitude towards other Christian denominations and non Christian religions.

 

Soteriology and Other Faiths

The doctrine of Soteriology underwent a radical transformation at Vatican II. Vatican I asserted that Catholics were saved by faith. For the Church at Vatican I, faith was understood as an ascent to belief in certain propositions that the Church presented as divinely revealed. Faith was made possible by the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit and was only available within the Catholic Church[16]. For example Dei Filius says

 

“Wherefore, by divine and Catholic faith all those things are to be believed; which are contained in the word of God as found in scripture and tradition and which are proposed by the Church as matters to be believed as divinely revealed.”[17]

“The situation of those, who by the heavenly gift of faith have embraced the Catholic truth, is by no means the same as that of those who, led by human opinions, follow a false religion.”[18]

 

As we see Dei Filius sought to convey that other religions are simply human opinions and followers of these false religions are not in the same position of salvation as Catholics since they do not ascent to belief in the Dogma of the Roman Catholic Church[19].

 

Although Vatican II reaffirmed that salvation was through Christ alone, the Council rethought the scope of the atonement and the situation of those outside the Catholic Church. The Vatican’s position moved from an exclusive view at Vatican I, which asserted that salvation is only available for those inside the visible Catholic Church, to an inclusive view at Vatican II, where salvation is available to all. One can hardly ignore the influence of the progressive theology of Karl Rahner on this new position. Rahner coined the term ‘anonymous Christianity’ and identified the acceptance of grace, which was necessary for salvation, with adherence to the human conscience[20]. The Catholic Church followed him in this regard, officially supporting the doctrine of anonymous Christianity. For example Gaudium et Spes says

 

“All this (salvation through Christ’s atoning sacrifice) holds true not only for Christians, but for all men of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way. For since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery.”[21]

 

As we see this document asserts that Christ died for all, so salvation is universally available. However, it breaks with Church tradition by proposing that since some people have not heard the Gospel then there must be another way of being saved by Christ’s death[22]. It even goes so far as to assert that God is actively working in these religions in an unseen way. Lumen Gentium goes further than this and asserts that people who do not have the knowledge of God or his Church can be saved by God’s grace based on their response to their God given conscience[23]. After a short discussion of God’s continued love for the Jewish people, Lumen Gentium specifically makes mention of the position of the other Abrahamic faiths before God.

 

“But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the creator. In the first place amongst these are the Mohammedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind.”[24]

 

In saying this, the Council appears to have been explicitly stating that salvation is available in a special way to those who acknowledge and love God[25]. Even though Vatican II reasserted that salvation comes through Christ’s atoning death, its doctrine of Soteriology was very different to that of Vatican II and was highly inclusive of all non Catholics.

 

The Doctrine of Revelation and Other Faiths

Vatican II’s doctrine of revelation is a considerable departure from that of Vatican I. Vatican I conceived of revelation as the revealed doctrines which are found in both scripture and Church tradition[26]. However, at Vatican II revelation was seen as God revealing himself, rather than doctrines[27]. The doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture which was asserted at Vatican I was qualified at Vatican II. Vatican II stated that everything God wanted put into the Scriptures for the sake of our salvation was inerrant, rather than the whole of the Scriptures.

 

Vatican II developed a new position on revelation in other religions. Vatican I sought to communicate the uniqueness and exclusivity of Catholic revelation over and against the false revelatory claims of other religions and philosophies[28]. Although Vatican II reasserted the uniqueness of Christian revelation it also acknowledged that other religions contained elements of truth which were either stumbled upon in the search for life’s meaning, or revealed by God[29]. In Nostra Aetate, a document which dealt explicitly with other religions, the Council outlined several positive aspects of non Christian religions, seeing in each a mix of divine revelation and human speculation driven by a desire for truth[30]. There is definitely a hierarchical nature to Vatican II’s view of the extent of revelation in each religion[31]. This can be seen in the structure of Lumen Gentium. The list begins by acknowledging the other two major Abrahamic faiths, commenting on their biblical foundation and their belief in and love of God, before then moving on to other non Christian religions[32]. It is clear from the structure and language used in Lumen Gentium, that Vatican II ranked the extent of revelation in each religion in accordance with its similarity to Catholicism, a decision which has undergone much criticism[33].

 

The Doctrine of the Church: The People of God

One of the most important symbolic changes set forth by the Second Vatican Council was the decision to define the Church as the “People of God” rather than the institution of the Roman Catholic Church[34].  This change was due to reflections on the biblical evidence, a push towards greater unity between the many Christian denominations, and a desire to emphasize the human and communal side of the Church, rather than the institutional and hierarchical aspects which had been overemphasized in the past for polemical reasons[35]. In defining the Church as the “people of God” the Council was including those Christians outside of the institution of the ‘Mother Church’ as part of the Church[36]. In this definition the Council sought to avoid any terms that signified a differentiation of membership in the Church[37]. To make this point clearer the Council made a concerted effort to assert that Orthodox believers in other denominations are also Christians and that these people are joined with the Catholic faithful by the Holy Spirit[38]. The view of the Church as the people of God was also intended to assert the importance of the laity as part of the Church[39]. In the document Apostolicam Actuositatem the Council built on this foundation, asserting the priesthood of all believers and calling the laity to act in charity and to serve in their sphere of influence to advance the Gospel, the Church and the good of humankind[40].

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

There were several significant changes between the First and Second Vatican Councils. Vatican 2’s attitude of renewal in doctrine and practice and its dialogue with modernity was a far cry from Vatican I’s re-entrenchment of the Church’s former positions and its rejection of modernity. This change in attitude between the two Councils was heavily influenced by the prevailing thought and the significant events of their times. I have outlined three significant theological changes that were made at Vatican II. Firstly, the council adopted an inclusive doctrine of Soteriology, which proposed that Non-Christians could still be saved by Christ’s death. Secondly, the Council promulgated a new understanding of the nature of revelation, the inerrancy of the Scriptures and a radical view that there are varying extents of revelation in other religions. Thirdly, the Council altered their definition of the Church to “the People of God” and asserted the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. This new understanding of the Church was inclusive of other Christian denominations. These changes reflected a positive and inclusive attitude towards different Christian denominations and non Christian religions in contrast to the negative attitude of Vatican I.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

. Abbott, W. M., ed., The Message and Meaning of the Ecumenical Council: The Documents of Vatican II (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1966).

 

. Cairns, E.E., Christian Thought Through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church (3rd ed. Grand Rapids: .

Zondervan, 1996).

 

. Casarella, P. J., “Modernity and Post Modernity” in The Blackwell Companion to Catholicism, edited by James J. Buckley, Frederick Christian Bauershmidt and Trent Pomplun (Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2007), 81- 95.

 

. Lane, T., The Lion Concise Book of Christian Thought (Sydney: Lion Publishing, 1984).

 

. Manz, J. G., Vatican II: Renewal or Reform? (St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1966).

 

. McGrath, A. E., Christian Theology: An Introduction (5th ed. London: Blackwell Publishing, 2011).

 

. Nicholl, D., “Other Religions (Nostra Aetate)” in Modern Catholicism: Vatican II and After edited by A. Hastings. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 126-133.

 

. Ogden, J., “Religious Liberty, Vatican II, and John Courtney Murray”. http://www.duke.edu/web/kenanethics/CaseStudies/VaticanII.pdf. (accessed 10 May, 2012).

 

. Pace, J. M. “The Soteriology of Julian of Norwich and Vatican II: A Comparative Study”. http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/obj/s4/f2/dsk3/ftp04/mq25203.pdf. (accessed 13 May, 2012).

 

. Pope John Paul XXIII., Humanae Salutis, in The Message and Meaning of the Ecumenical Council: The Documents of Vatican II, edited by Walter M. Abbott (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1966), 703-709.

 

. Straus, B.R., The Catholic Church (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1987).

 

. Vatican Council I., “Dei Filius: Dogmatic Constitution of the Catholic Faith”. http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Councils/ecum20.htm. (accessed 11 May, 2012).

 

. Vatican Council II., Dei Verbum: Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Promulgated by Pope Paul VI, November 18, 1965 (Boston: St Paul Books and Media, 1965).

 

. Vatican Council II., Gaudium et Spes: Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Promulgated by Pope Paul VI, December 7, 1965 (Boston: St Paul Books and Media, 1965).

 

. Vatican Council II., Lumen Gentium: Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Promulgated by Pope Paul VI, November 21, 1964 (Boston: St Paul Books and Media,1964).

 

. Walsh, K., “The Apostolate of the Laity (Apostolicam Actuositatem)” in Modern Catholicism: Vatican II and After edited by A. Hastings. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 151-156.


[1] Such as the French Revolution, Bizmarks Kulturkampf, Napoleans imprisonment of 2 Popes, and the Italian states confiscation of Papal lands. J. Ogden, “Religious Liberty, Vatican II, and John Courtney Murray”, 2. http://www.duke.edu/web/kenanethics/CaseStudies/VaticanII.pdf.

A. E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 5th ed. (London: Blackwell Publishing, 2011), 78.

[2] Ogden, “Religious Liberty”, 2.

[3] B.R. Straus, The Catholic Church (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1987), 136. Modernism asserted the principle authority of human reason using deductive reasoning and the scientific method to discover knowledge about God and the universe and applied new forms of criticism to the Biblical text and Church tradition. Ogden, “Religious Liberty”, 3.

“Thereupon there came into being and spread far and wide throughout the world that doctrine of rationalism or naturalism, – utterly opposed to the Christian religion, since this is of supernatural origin.”  Vatican Council I, “Dei Filius: Dogmatic Constitution of the Catholic Faith”. http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Councils/ecum20.htm.  

[4] Straus, The Catholic Church, 136. “There came into being and spread far and wide throughout the world that doctrine of rationalism or naturalism, – utterly opposed to the Christian religion, since this is of supernatural origin, – which spares no effort to bring it about that Christ, who alone is our lord and saviour, is shut out from the minds of people and the moral life of nations.” Vatican Council I, “Dei Filius: Dogmatic Constitution of the Catholic Faith”.

[5] These were called Dei Filius ‘the Dogmatic Constitution of the Catholic Faithand Pastor Aeternus ‘the Dogmatic Constitution of the Catholic Church’. Ogden, “Religious Liberty”, 3-4.

[6] Ogden, “Religious Liberty”, 3.

[7] McGrath, Christian Theology, 78. Apart from the Infallibility of the Pope and the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception which became articles of faith for Catholic Christians.  J. G. Manz, Vatican II: Renewal or Reform? (St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1966), 23.

[8] The Pope consulted a broad range of ecclesial bodies to determine the issues that the council would address. Ogden, “Religious Liberty”, 9.

[9] Catholic modernism is a movement akin to that of liberal Protestantism. They accepted the most sceptical conclusions of biblical criticism and asserted that the doctrines of the Bible, Pope, and tradition were not infallible.  They were excommunicated by Pope Pius X and the clergy were required to take an anti modernist oath.  T. Lane, The Lion Concise Book of Christian Thought (Sydney: Lion Publishing, 1984), 215.

[10] P. J. Casarella, “Modernity and Post Modernity” in The Blackwell Companion to Catholicism, eds. James J. Buckley, Frederick Christian Bauershmidt and Trent Pomplun (Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2007), 89.

[11]One can see his recognition of these factors in this extract from his speech “Today the Church is witnessing a crisis underway within society. While humanity is on the edge of a new era, tasks of immense gravity and amplitude await the Church, as in the most tragic periods of its history. It is a question in fact of bringing the modern world in contact with the vivifying and perennial energies of the gospel, a world which exalts itself with its conquests in technical and scientific fields, but which brings also the consequences of a temporal order which some have wished to reorganize excluding God. This is why modern society is earmarked by a great material progress to which there is not a corresponding advance in the moral field.” Pope John Paul XXIII, Humanae Salutis, in The Message and Meaning of the Ecumenical Council: The Documents of Vatican II, eds. Walter M. Abbott (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1966), 703.

[12] Lumen Gentium “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church;” Gaudium et Spes “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World;” and Dignitatis Humanae “Declaration on Religious Freedom.” Ogden, “Religious Liberty”, 10.

[13] They were an inclusive doctrine of the Church, a new stance on Soteriology, a revamped doctrine of revelation, further lay involvement in the Mass and the life of the Church, a progressive stance on religious and academic freedom, and an embrace of modern critical exegesis, amongst others.

[14] Vatican Council II, Gaudium et Spes: Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Promulgated by Pope Paul VI, December 7, 1965 (Boston: St Paul Books and Media, 1965), 4.

[15] Casarella, “Modernity and Post Modernity”, 89.

[16] J. M. Pace, “The Soteriology of Julian of Norwich and Vatican II: A Comparative Study”, 36. http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/obj/s4/f2/dsk3/ftp04/mq25203.pdf.  

[17] This qoute is in the context of defining the faith that saves. Vatican Council I, “Dei Filius: Dogmatic Constitution of the Catholic Faith”.

[18] Vatican Council I, “Dei Filius: Dogmatic Constitution of the Catholic Faith”.

[19] It is important to note that since Protestants did not ascent to all of the Dogma of the Catholic Church and were not within the bounds of the visible Catholic Church, they were not thought to be saved.

[20] Rahner thought that even Atheists could be saved in this way. For Rahner, salvation doesn’t come from a knowledge of God or an ascent to a belief in God or a certain set of truths, but rather, it is due to ones response to him in their conscience, whether or not they know it is God they are responding to or not. Lane, The Lion Concise Book, 218.

However, the Vatican II parts from Rahner in that it states that those who hear the true gospel and see the necessity of the Church and deny the Christian faith and the Church will not be saved. Pace, “The Soteriology of”, 32.

[21]Words in parenthesis added. Vatican Council II, Gaudium et Spes, 22-23.

[22] Although how this exactly works is a mystery that only God knows. Vatican Council II, Gaudium et Spes, 23.

[23] Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium: Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Promulgated by Pope Paul VI, November 21, 1964 (Boston: St Paul Books and Media,1964), 16. This is another reiteration of Rahner’s position.

[24] Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium, 16.

[25] W. M. Abbott, ed., The Message and Meaning of the Ecumenical Council: The Documents of Vatican II (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1966), 34.The special mention of other the Abrahamic faith’s seems to imply a hierarchy of those who are most likely to be saved.

[26] Vatican 1 promulgated the inerrancy of both Scripture and tradition. Vatican Council I., “Dei Filius: Dogmatic Constitution of the Catholic Faith”.

[27] Lane, The Lion Concise Book, 216. This can be seen in the following qoute “This plan of revelation is realised by deeds and words having an inner unity: the deed’s wrought by God in the history of salvation manifest and confirm the teaching and realities signified by the words, while the words proclaim the deeds and clarify the mystery contained in them. By this revelation then, the deepest truth about God and the salvation of man is made clear to us in Christ, who is the mediator and at the same time the fullness of all revelation.” Vatican Council II, Dei Verbum: Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Promulgated by Pope Paul VI, November 18, 1965 (Boston: St Paul Books and Media, 1965), 3-4.

 This new position appears to have been heavily influenced by the doctrine of revelation asserted by the prominent Swiss theologian, Karl Barth.

[28] Vatican Council I., “Dei Filius: Dogmatic Constitution of the Catholic Faith”.

[29] This can be seen in Lumen Gentius where it says “Whatever goodness or truth is found among them (proponents of other religions) is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the gospel. She regards such qualities as given by him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life.” Words in parenthesis
added. Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium, 16.

[30] Pace, “The Soteriology of”, 33-36.

    Manz, Vatican II: Renewal or Reform, 77.

    Abbott, The Message and Meaning, 661- 665.

[31] Pace, “The Soteriology of”, 39.

[32] Pace, “The Soteriology of”, 39.

    Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium, 16.

    D. Nicholl, “Other Religions (Nostra Aetate)” in Modern Catholicism: Vatican II and After, ed. A. Hastings. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 132.

    Abbott, The Message and Meaning, 34.

[33] Pace, “The Soteriology of”, 39-40.

[34] Ogden, “Religious Liberty”, 10.

[35] Abbott, The Message and Meaning, 24.

[36] The Mother Church is the visible Roman Catholic Church. Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium, 16.

[37] The Vatican did not wish to make it seem like non Catholic Christians were any less a part of the Church.     Abbott, The Message and Meaning, 33.

[38] Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium, 15.

[39] Abbott, The Message and Meaning, 34.

    E.E. Cairns, Christian Thought Through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church (3rd ed. Grand Rapids:      Zondervan, 1996), 498.

[40] K. Walsh, “The Apostolate of the Laity (Apostolicam Actuositatem)” in Modern Catholicism: Vatican II and After, ed. A. Hastings. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 151-152.

The ecclesiology of the Magisterial reformers: A Study of the View of the Church and its Mission that was held by Martin Luther and John Calvin

Abstract

This essay compares the understandings of the Church and its mission in the thought of Martin Luther and John Calvin and analyses the effect of their understanding on their practice. It begins by outlining the overall position of the Magisterial reformers in comparison to their major contemporaries and moves to provide a historical background for the differences and similarities between the Ecclesiology of Luther and Calvin. The essay then systematically compares four major factors of the Ecclesiology of each theologian. First, it compares the concept of the Marks of the true Church in the thought of each reformer. Second, it outlines the twofold distinction of the invisible and visible Church in the thought of each thinker. Third, it compares the foundation, nature, and structure of the Church in the thinking of each reformer. Fourth, it outlines the understanding of the purpose or mission of the Church in the thought of each reformer. Lastly, the essay concludes by taking note of the prior comparison of the Ecclesiology of each reformer and analyzes the effect of these beliefs on each reformers practice.

 

Introduction

The Magisterial or Moderate Reformation grew out of the perception of several German theologians that the Catholic Church has lost sight of the Christian Gospel[1]. The Magisterial Reformers were confronted on both sides by rival views of the Church and its mission, those of their Catholic and radical opponents[2]. On one side the Catholics emphasized the visible hierarchical institution of the Church which possessed historical continuity with the Apostles and on the other were the Anabaptists and other radical reformers who claimed that the true Church was in heaven, and that no institution on Earth merited the name of the ‘Church of God’[3]. The magisterial reformers sought to claim the middle ground between these two positions, by asserting a Trinitarian doctrine of the Church, the universal priesthood of all believers, the difference between the false and true visible Church and the difference between the invisible and visible Church[4]. In doing so the Magisterial reformers sought to validate their separation from the historical Church centered in Rome as well as to justify the validity of their sacraments and their own status as the true Church. Two such Magisterial reformers were Martin Luther and John Calvin. This essay will systematically compare their views on the Church and its mission, concluding with an analysis of the effect of each theologians understanding on their practice. These two reformers views on the Church and its mission have many similarities. This is because Martin Luther’s thought informed that of Calvin. Martin Luther’s Ecclesiology was only a temporary measure which was designed to justify a temporary withdrawal from the Catholic Church until it had returned to the true Gospel[5]. The Catholic Churches repentance was anticipated to occur quickly once they had recognized that the arguments of the reformers were valid[6]. However, Calvin was a second generation reformer, and by his time it had been recognized that the separation from the main body of the Catholic Church would probably continue indefinitely[7]. Therefore Calvin undertook the task of developing a systematic and coherent Ecclesiology which was based upon the scriptures, and which built upon the thought of his predecessor, Martin Luther[8]. The end result was a strong Ecclesiology that solidified the fragmented ideas of Luther, allowing the reformation to move forward[9].

 

The Marks of the True Church: Word and Sacrament

Paul Avis states that “Reformation theology is dominated by two foundational questions: ‘How can I obtain a gracious God?’ and ‘Where can I find the true Church?”[10]. For the Magisterial reformers these two questions are inextricably linked. For them, the answer to the first question, the gospel of God’s free justification of sinners provides the answer for the second, In that it is the presence of this gospel that is the mark of the true Church. The true faith cannot therefore be divorced from the true community. This understanding of the Gospel as the mark of the true Church can be seen in the thought of both Luther and Calvin who came after him[11].

 

Luther believed that the question of whether or not a Church was authentic stood or fell on the question of whether or not they assented to the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone which he considered to be the centre of the Christian Gospel[12]. For Martin Luther the Gospel is enough to sufficiently identify the true visible Church[13]. The true Church is inextricable from the Christian Gospel; neither can exist without the other[14]. In fact he believed that the Church itself was the creation of the Word alone[15]. For Luther where the Gospel is preached there is true faith, and where true faith exists then so does the one true Church, the bride of Christ, and where the bride of Christ exists then so are those individuals who are betrothed to Christ[16]. Though there are secondary marks of the true Church, the recognition of the Gospel is primary in Luther’s thought[17]. For Luther it was far more important to hold the same faith as the Apostles than to be a member of an institution which was historically derived from them. For Luther it was this faith that is the Christological centre of the one true Holy Catholic Church, the centre which gives the Church its identity[18]. Luther attacked the Roman Catholic Church for their insistence on human tradition and asserted that it is the true faith which identifies the true Church[19]. For Luther all other things are secondary and expendable while the Gospel is primary and needful[20]. He was only willing to sacrifice the visible unity of the Church, if by doing so he would save the Gospel which was the centre of the very identity of the Church[21]. Luther’s reform movement sought to reestablish the Church on the redemptive actions of God rather than on human merit and organizations[22].

 

Calvin’s assertion of the marks of the true Church is very similar to Luther’s. For Calvin the presence of the Word of God and the Sacraments were the essential marks by which the true Church was to be known[23]. In Calvin’s thought the true visible Church is to be found where the Word of God is preached and the Sacraments are administered in accords with the Holy Scriptures[24]. But for Calvin the Word of God took on a different meaning to that given to it by Luther[25]. For Luther the phrase meant the gospel, while for Calvin it took on the broader meaning of correct doctrine and proper Church order[26]. However, Calvin would, if pressed, lay down properly constituted Church order and the Sacraments and would retreat to the Gospel alone as the true mark of the Church[27]. Calvin’s doctrine of the Church and its marks is continuous with Luther’s doctrine[28]. Both reformers shared the conviction that the Gospel was the central and decisive factor in marking the presence of the true Christian Church.

 

The Church as Invisible and Visible

Although the marks of the true Church helped one to distinguish between the true and false visible Church, this did not mean that every person in that Church was a true believer. Both Calvin and Luther recognized this truth and drew a distinction between the invisible Church known only to God and the visible Church that could be known by the mark of the Gospel[29].

 

Luther conceived of the Church on two levels[30]. The first level was the internal invisible Church and the second the external visible Church. Luther believed that the true invisible Church is hidden under the visible Church which is made up of both true believers and hypocrites[31]. For Luther the real Church is not an institutional system with a hierarchical-judicial character and a system of sacramental grace which is centered in that order such as that seen in the Roman Catholic Church, nor is it a voluntary association which is entered into for the cultivation of individual and corporate piety[32]. Rather, it is an invisible spiritual entity that is ruled by God and is being built by God as a bride for Christ. The second level of the Church, the visible, was the community of true and false believers that were inside the true visible Church which was marked by the preaching of the Gospel[33]. Luther believed that the spiritual Church is an article of faith and is not an empirical identity on Earth which is visible to the eyes of the natural man, but that through the aforementioned mark of the word people are given a visible sign of it[34]. For Luther these two levels of the Church are indissoluble in this world, like the body and soul, until the eschaton, when the kingdom of Christ is revealed and the sheep and the goats are sorted[35].

 

Though he rarely used the terms invisible and visible in relation to the Church, Calvin built on Luther’s view of the two levels of the Church. Calvin roots the invisible Church in Gods secret election[36]. For Calvin the invisible body of the Church is known only by God and is the community of the living and dead elect[37]. Like Luther Calvin considers the visible Church to be a mix of both the elect and the reprobate[38]. For Calvin both aspects of the one Church are necessarily combined[39]. The Church is invisible because election cannot be seen and visible because, despite its mixture of hypocrites and saints, the Church is made up of the elect[40]. Calvin follows Luther’s view that only in the Eschaton will the true elect Church finally be seen.

 

The Nature and Foundation of the Church and Church Structure

Martin Luther turned the medieval understanding of the Church as an institution upside down. For Martin Luther the Church is grounded in the action and purpose of the triune God[41]. God the Father justifies sinful humanity on the basis of the salvific work of Jesus Christ[42]. This gift of grace is communicated by the Holy Spirit through the Word and Sacrament which are served by an ordained minister[43].  For Luther the Church is a living communion of people in Christ, gathered by the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament[44]. It is not a saving institution that distributes grace as it sees fit but rather a fellowship of love, faith and suffering that exists by God’s grace[45]. However, although it was not primary to his thinking Luther asserted the need for an institutional Church and declared that the Church was a divinely ordained means of Grace[46]. Luther had no issue with a hierarchical system of Church leadership as long as all believers were recognized as priests and were not treated with partiality[47]. For him the medieval Church looked like the true Church but was not because it did not teach the true faith[48]. Luther seemed to assume the legitimacy of the role of the bishops in the Church, if they were true to the Word and Sacraments, but vehemently denied the legitimacy of the role of the Pope due to his recognition that only Christ is the head of the Church and that the pope was originally only the bishop of Rome[49].  One of Luther’s more radical ideas was the universal priesthood of all baptised believers. He believed that since every true Christian partakes in the Word and Sacrament, then they have Christs Word, Christ himself, and all that he is[50]. Because of this Luther thought that every Christian shared in everything that Christ had, including the power to do everything that a priest could do, namely preaching the Gospel whenever and wherever it is needed[51]. This assertion smashed the medieval concept of the Church to pieces by eliminating the divide between the spiritual caste (the clergy) and the temporal caste (the laity)[52].

 

Calvin follows Luther in recognizing that the Church is grounded in the action and purpose of the triune God. In a Luther like fashion, Calvin states that the Church is composed of those “who by the kindness of God the father, through the working of the Holy Spirit have entered into fellowship with Christ”[53]. In this divinely ordained community, Christ encounters the elect through the means of Word and Sacrament[54]. Although he rejected the Roman view of hierarchy and priesthood in the Church, Calvin did not use the phrase ‘priesthood of all believers’ in the same sense as Luther did[55]. Calvin thought that the universal priesthood of believers referred to the freedom of each Christian to come to God without need of any human mediation[56]. Calvin rejected Luther’s understanding of universal priesthood with its mistaken conclusion that each person has all the gifts of Christ. Calvin emphasized that the different gifts are spread throughout the Church so that each person has only a limited portion. The scriptural image of head and body is crucial to Calvin’s doctrine of the Church[57]. Christ is the head and the Church is his body[58]. With their particular gifts each person performs a certain function in this body. Calvin took this image to its fullest and proclaimed that as no body can live without a head properly attached, so no Church can live without being attached to Christ as its head[59]. A consequence of this thinking was Calvin’s refusal to reject the distinction of rank in his Church structure since it eliminated confusion as to each person’s function in the Churches ministry. Calvin’s view of the Church as a functional entity that is used by God as an instrument, led him to create a strong Ecclesiastical organization which became the backbone of his reform movement[60]. In contrast to Luther who seemed to accept the ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Church as a matter of historical contingency, minus the office of Pope, Calvin thought that there were four orders of office that were instituted by God for his purposes in the Scriptures[61]. They are the offices of doctor (teacher), pastor, disciplinary elder, and deacon[62]. Calvin believed that each office performed a different function in the Church, ranging from maintaining Church discipline to the preaching of the Word and the teaching of theology[63].

 

 

The Churches Mission

The conception of the mission of the Church is quite different in the thought of Luther and Calvin. For Luther the gospel and its mandates form the primary mission of the Church[64]. The Church’s primary mandate or mission can be seen as the preaching and teaching of God’s Word to preserve and spread Gods Word and to administer the Sacraments as taught in the Scriptures[65]. However, Luther also thought that Church had the secondary purposes of supporting the faithful and protecting the true faith from heretical beliefs[66]. Therefore, for Luther the Churches overall purpose is to facilitate the preaching and teaching of the Gospel, to administer the Sacraments, to support the faithful and to protect the true faith.

 

Calvin assented to Luther’s view of the Churches purpose, but he also saw another function that God had ordained for the Church[67]. Calvin saw the institution of the Church as a divinely instated means of sanctification[68]. The institution of the Church was a necessary, helpful, God given and God ordained means of spiritual growth and development[69]. Calvin borrowed the image of the Church as mother from Cyprian of Carthage[70]. He believed that the Church exists for the sanctification, nourishment, assistance and guidance of Christians. For Calvin the Church is elected by God as a tool to make community with Christ possible[71].

 

How Their Ecclesiology informed their practice

The Ecclesiology of Calvin and Luther informed the practice of the Churches that they founded. First, the strong organization of Calvinist communities gave them a greater capability to weather difficult political situations than their Lutheran equivalents and helped to sustain the spread of their presence during difficult times[72]. Calvin’s strong Church structure in Geneva served to educate and send out missionaries to spread Calvin’s faith to other European nations[73]. New Churches that formed then adopted the same structure as Calvin’s Geneva Church, with Geneva itself becoming like a Protestant Vatican[74]. This protected the faith against heresy and further schism and allowed the Word of God to spread. Second, for both reformers the preaching of the Gospel and true doctrine were of primary importance. Since the true faith was thought to be the determining factor in whether the visible Church and each individual Christian was genuine, the practice of teaching this faith was emphasized by each reformer[75]. Third, Luther’s view of the universal priesthood lead to the expectation that each person was expected to know and preach the gospel in their everyday life leading to an increase in lay ministry[76]. Fourth, unlike the Anabaptists Luther and Calvin did not withhold Church membership from those who may not have been true Christians since they understood that the visible church would always exist as a mix of the elect and the reprobate and that no level of exclusion would change that reality. Fifth, due to Calvin’s understanding of the Church as mother, the Church played a major role in disciplining and correcting the Christian community. Calvin’s Ecclesiology built on Luther’s Ecclesiology, leading to a strong Trinitarian doctrine of the Church that worked out in a well functioning Church structure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Avis, P.D.L., The Church in the Theology of the Reformers, edited by P. Toon (London: Marshall Morgan and Scott, 1981).

 

Calvin, J., “Draft Ecclesiastical Ordinances September and October 1951” in John Calvin, Selections from his writings, edited by J. Dillenberger (Missoula: Scholars Press, 1975), 229-244.

 

Calvin, J., Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 Vols, Library of Christian Classics Vol. XX-XXI, edited by J.T. Mcneill, translated by F. L. Battles, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960).

 

Gassmann, G., and S. Hendrix, Fortress Introduction to: The Lutheran Confessions (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999).

 

Lindberg, C., The European Reformations (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1996).

 

Lohse, B., Martin Luther: An Introduction to His Life and Work, translated by R.C. Shultz (Edinburgh: T & T Clarke LTD, 1986).

Luther, M., Church and Ministry, vol. 1, Luthers Works vol. 38, edited by E.W. Gritsch (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1970).

 

Luther, M., “The Smalcald Articles”. http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/concord/web/smc-02d.html (Accessed 1 September, 2012).

 

Luther, M., On the Councils and the Church (1539) in Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Vol. 50, edited by D. Martin (Weimar: Bohlau, 1914).

 

Luther, M., “95 Theses: Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences”. http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/luther/web/ninetyfive.html (Accessed 1 September, 2012).

 

Mcgrath, A.E., Reformation Thought: An Introduction (2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1993).

 

McGrath, A. E., Christian Theology: An Introduction (5th Ed. Oxford: Blackwell, 2010).

 

Mueller, W.A., Church and State in Luther and Calvin: A Comparative Study (Nashville: Broadman, 1954).

 

Partee, C., The Theology of John Calvin (London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008).

 

Plasger, G., “Ecclesiology” in The Calvin Handbook, edited by H.J. Selderhuis, translated by R.H. Lundell (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 323-331.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] A.E. Mcgrath, Reformation Thought: An Introduction, 2nd ed (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1993), 188. The name ‘Magisterial Reformers’ has been given to Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin for the reason that their reform movements were supported by magistrates or ruling authorities.

[2] Mcgrath, Reformation Thought, 188.

[3] Mcgrath, Reformation Thought, 188.

[4] Mcgrath, Reformation Thought, 188.

[5] A. E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 5th Ed (Oxford: Blackwell, 2010), 382. It was never Luther’s intention to leave the Catholic Church indefinitely. The early reformers had no wish to start their own Church; they were interested in reforming the Catholic Church.

[6] Mcgrath, Christian Theology, 382.

[7] Mcgrath, Christian Theology, 382.

[8] Mcgrath, Christian Theology, 382. For Calvin all of Christian faith and practice must be based on the Scriptures.

[9] While Luther recovered the Churches identity and being, his Ecclesiology was not viable. P.D.L. Avis, The Church in the Theology of the Reformers, ed. P. Toon (London: Marshall Morgan and Scott, 1981), 24.

[10]In the European mind at this time in history these two questions were linked due to the assumption of Nulla salus extra ecclesiam, that there is no salvation outside the church. This raised the question that if salvation was not available outside the Church, then what was the true Church? Avis, The Church, 1.

[11] It must be noted that in speaking of the true Church the reformers were talking of the true visible Church, this did not mean that every member of this true visible Church was a true Christian.

[12] On this topic Luther says “Now anywhere you hear or see [the Word of God] preached, believed, confessed, and acted upon, do not doubt that the true ecclesia sancta catholica, a “holy Christian people” must be there, even though there are very few of them. For God’s word “shall not return empty” (Isaiah 55:11), but must possess at least a fourth or a part of the field. And even if there were no other sign than this alone, it would be enough to prove that a holy Christian people must exist there, for God’s word cannot be without God’s people and conversely, God’s people cannot be without God’s word. For who would preach the word, or hear it preached, if there were no people of God? And what could or would God’s people believe, if there were no word of God.” M. Luther, On the Councils and the Church (1539) in Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Vol. 50, ed. D. Martin (Weimar: Bohlau, 1914) 628-630.

Luther reiterates his belief that the Gospel was the mark of the true Church when he says “The sure mark by which the Christian congregation can be recognised is that the pure gospel is preached there. For just as the banner of an army is the sure sign that they have taken to the field, so, too, the gospel is the sure sign by which one knows where Christ and his army are encamped.” M. Luther, Church and Ministry, vol. 1, Luthers Works vol. 38, ed. E.W. Gritsch (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1970), 305.

[13] Avis, The Church, 15.

[14] B. Lohse, Martin Luther: An Introduction to His Life and Work, tr. R.C. Shultz (Edinburgh: T & T Clarke LTD, 1986), 177.

[15] Avis, The Church, 13.

[16] Lohse, Martin Luther, 177. Avis, The Church, 18.

[17] Luther’s secondary marks of the Church are the sacrament of Baptism and the altar rightly administered, the offices of the keys and the ministry, public worship and the bearing of the cross. Avis, The Church, 14. Luther also emphasises the sacraments but it is clear that the gospel is primary in his thought. Avis, The Church, 16.

Luther’s 95 theses also shows his emphasis on the importance of the Gospel where he says “The true treasure of the Church is the most holy gospel, since the Church has nothing which is more precious and salutary” M. Luther, “95 Theses: Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences”. 62. http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/luther/web/ninetyfive.html.

 

[18] Avis, The Church, 13-21.

[19] On this Luther says “We do not concede to them that they are the Church, and [in truth] they are not [the Church]; nor will we listen to those things which, under the name of Church, they enjoin or forbid. For, thank God, [to-day] a child seven years old knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd. For the children pray thus: I believe in one holy [catholic or] Christian Church. This holiness does not consist in albs, tonsures, long gowns, and other of their ceremonies devised by them beyond Holy Scripture, but in the Word of God and true faith.” M.Luther, “The Smalcald Articles”. XII. http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/concord/web/smc-02d.html.

[20] Avis, The Church, 3.

[21] Avis, The Church, 2.

[22] Avis, The Church, 13. However, although his views were clear and simple Luther had an Achilles heel. He assumed that what the Gospel actually was, was clear to everyone, but this turned out to be untrue. This is highlighted by his disagreement with Zwingli over the Eucharist. Mcgrath, Reformation Thought, 191. With the widespread contradictory competing claims to the true Gospel today we can see the inadequacy of Luther’s view even better.

[23] G. Gassmann, and S. Hendrix, Fortress Introduction to: The Lutheran Confessions (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999), 133.

[24] This can be seen in the Institutes where Calvin says “Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and listened to, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, it is in no way to be doubted that a Church of God exists. For this promise cannot fail: “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them” (Mathew 18:20). […] If the ministry has the Word and honors it. If it has the administration of the sacraments, it deserves without doubt to be held and considered a Church.” J. Calvin, Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 Vols, Library of Christian Classics Vol. XX-XXI, ed. J.T. Mcneill, tr. F. L. Battles, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 1023-24.

[25] Avis, The Church, 29.

[26] Avis, The Church, 29.

[27] Avis, The Church, 29. Calvin refuses to make the Churches visible existence dependent on any fluctuating criteria such as a standard of exemplary life shown by its members and seems to count even the sacraments as secondary to the doctrine of Christ’s Gospel in demonstrating the existence of the true Church. Avis, The Church, 30-31.

[28] Avis, The Church,  35.

[29] Gassmann, and Hendrix, Fortress Introduction, 133- 134.

[30] Lohse, Martin Luther, 178.

[31] Gassmann, and Hendrix, Fortress Introduction, 138. The understanding of a mixed Church comes from Augustine, who asserted the doctrine in answer to the Donatist controversy.

[32] W.A. Mueller, Church and State in Luther and Calvin: A Comparative Study (Nashville: Broadman, 1954), 9.

[33] Gassmann, and Hendrix, Fortress Introduction, 138.

[34] Mueller, Church and State, 10. Luther expressed his understanding of the relationship between the invisible and visible Churches when he said “This Item (I believe a holy Christian Church) is as much an article as faith as all the others. Therefore no reason, whatever glasses it may use, may know and recognize it… The Church is not to be believed, but believing refers to that which one cannot see.” And “Therefore it is also useful and necessary that the love and fellowship of Christ and of all the saints appear hidden, invisible and spiritual, so that we are given only a bodily, visible and external sign of it.”[34] Mueller, Church and State, 9-10.

[35] Mueller, Church and State, 12.

[36] G. Plasger, “Ecclesiology” in The Calvin Handbook, ed. H.J. Selderhuis, tr. R.H. Lundell (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 325.

[37] Plasger, “Ecclesiology”, 325. Calvin makes this clear in the Institutes where he says “For we have said that Holy Scripture speaks of the Church in two ways. Sometimes by the term “church” it means that which is actually in God’s presence, into which no persons are received but those who are children of God by grace of adoption and true members of Christ by sanctification of the Holy Spirit. Then, indeed, the Church includes not only the saints living on Earth, but all the elect from the beginning of the world.”  Calvin, Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1021.

[38] Plasger, “Ecclesiology”, 325. On this Calvin says “Often, however, the name “church” designates the whole multitude of men spread over the earth who profess to worship one God and Christ…In this church are mingled many hypocrites who have nothing of Christ but the name and outward appearance.” Calvin, Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1021.

[39] Plasger, “Ecclesiology”, 325.

[40] Plasger, “Ecclesiology”, 325. Calvin, Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1021.

[41] Gassmann, and Hendrix, Fortress Introduction, 137.

[42] Gassmann, and Hendrix, Fortress Introduction, 137.

[43] Gassmann, and Hendrix, Fortress Introduction, 137.

[44] Gassmann, and Hendrix, Fortress Introduction, 137.

[45] Gassmann, and Hendrix, Fortress Introduction, 133.

[46] Mcgrath, Christian Theology, 382.

[47] Mcgrath, Christian Theology, 382.

[48] Mcgrath, Christian Theology, 382.

[49] Lohse, Martin Luther, 177-180. In the Smalcald articles Luther gives the following validation of the role of the bishops “The Church cannot be better governed and maintained than by having us all live under one head, Christ, and by having all the bishops equal in office (however they may differ in gifts) and diligently joined together in unity of doctrine, faith, sacraments, prayer, works of love, ect.” and on the pope he says “That the Pope is not, according to divine law or according to the Word of God the head of all Christendom (for this [name] belongs to One only, whose name is Jesus Christ), but is only the bishop and pastor of the Church at Rome, and of those who voluntarily or through a human creature (that is, a political magistrate) have attached themselves to him, to be Christians, not under him as a lord, but with him as brethren [colleagues] and comrades, as the ancient councils and the age of St. Cyprian show.” M.Luther, “The Smalcald Articles”. IV.

[50] Avis, The Church, 97.

[51] Avis, The Church, 97.

[52] Avis, The Church, 96.

[53] Calvin, Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1015-16.

[54] Plasger, “Ecclesiology”, 323.

[55] C. Partee, The Theology of John Calvin (London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 266.

[56] Avis, The Church, 95. Calvin speaks of how we partake in Christ’s priesthood and need no further mediation between us and the Father in the institutes where he says “Christ now bears the office of priest, not only that by the eternal law of reconciliation, he may render the Father favourable and propitious to us, but also so that he may admit us into this most honourable alliance. For we, though in ourselves polluted, in him being priests (Rev 1:6) offer ourselves and our all to God and freely enter the heavenly sanctuary, so that the sacrifices of prayer and praise which we present are grateful and of sweet odour before him.” Calvin, Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, 502.

[57] Partee, The Theology of John Calvin, 262.

[58] Partee, The Theology of John Calvin, 262.

[59] Partee, The Theology of John Calvin, 262.

[60] Plasger, “Ecclesiology”, 331.

[61] Mcgrath, Reformation Thought, 200.

[62] J. Calvin, “Draft Ecclesiastical Ordinances September and October 1951” in John Calvin, Selections from his writings, ed. J. Dillenberger (Missoula: Scholars Press, 1975), 230- 236.

[63] In Calvin’s own words the function of each office was as follows. Pastors were to “proclaim the Word of God and to instruct, admonish and censure, both in public and private, to administer the sacraments and to enjoin brotherly correlations among the brothers with the elders and colleagues”. Doctors were to “instruct the faithful in true doctrine in order that the purity of the Gospel be not corrupted by ignorance or by evil opinion”. Elders were to “have oversight of the life of everyone, to admonish amicably those who they seem to be erring or to be living a disordered life, and when it is required, to enjoin fraternal corrections themselves and along with others”. Deacons were to “receive, dispense and hold goods for the poor, not only daily alms. But also possessions, rents and pensions… and care for the sick and administer allowances to the poor” Calvin, “Draft Ecclesiastical Ordinances September and October 1951”, 230- 236.

[64] Luther and Calvin believed that the Churches power of the keys was actually its power to preach the Gospel. Avis, The Church, 144-145.

[65] Avis, The Church, 145.

[66] Gassmann, and Hendrix, Fortress Introduction, 138.

[67] Avis, The Church, 32.

[68] Mcgrath, Reformation Thought, 199.

[69] Mcgrath, Christian theology, 383.

[70] On this motherly function of the Church Calvin says “I shall begin then, with the church, into the bosom of which God is pleased to gather his children, not only so that they may be nourished by her assistance and ministry while they are infants and children, but also so that they may be guided by her motherly care until they mature and reach the goal of faith… For those to whom God is father the Church shall also be their mother” Calvin, Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1012.

[71] This tool is needed because of humanities inherent weakness. Plasger, “Ecclesiology”, 323. 

[72] Mcgrath, Reformation Thought, 198.

[73] C. Lindberg, The European Reformations (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1996), 272.

[74] Lindberg, The European Reformations, 272.

[75] Calvin gave this function to the office of doctor. Strangely the reformers made no efforts towards foreign missions to those outside Christendom. This was because their prerogative to reform the Church was seen by them as a mission’s project in itself since, to the reformers, most if not all of the laity of the Roman Catholic Church did not know of the Gospel and therefore they could not be true Christians. Another reason was that they expected that the end of the world was imminent. Avis, The Church, 167- 169.

[76]Avis, The Church, 97.

The Power of Ritual

 In modern times the word ritual has taken on a negative connotation. Many look at the Catholic mass or the chanting of the Benedictine Monks and see an outdated expression of the Christian faith. To take it further, many would label these ritualistic acts as ‘religious’ and ‘dry’. They would claim that because these acts lack spontaneity, they are not genuine or heartfelt and that what the Church needs is greater spontaneity. Now as Christians we need to follow Jesus every day and to be open to him crossing our path and changing our plans. However, to overemphasise this and to reject ritual is foolishness and will only lead to apathy and further struggles in the Christian life.

This misunderstanding of the place of ritual in the Christian life fly’s in the face of almost two thousand years of Christian history. As well as the biblical history recorded in the bible. God has always provided ritual for his people so as to renew their minds to bring them into a place of correctly relating to God and to others. If we deny the need for ritual then we are basically calling God a fool. The Old Testament abounds in ritual. For example the book of Leviticus consists of various rituals that served to constantly mould the Israelite people. Deviation from these rituals was punished severely because of their importance in the transformation of the Israelite people. God takes seriously, the reality that sin spreads and gains greater control of a person if it is not checked early on.

Human beings have a biological tendency to form habits; Yahweh is fully aware of the way human beings work and has given us ritual to kerb this biological tendency to form healthy habits rather than negative ones.

Every day we are creating the person that we will be tomorrow, we are either turning into a being of light and joy or a being of darkness and misery. Every television programme you watch, every second look at the girl across the street, every decision you make is solidifying what sort of person you will be tomorrow.

As Christians the Holy Spirit is also recreating us every day, seeking to renew our mind and our actions. In the process of sanctification we work alongside the Holy Spirit, who is constantly working to renewing our mind and actions, we can choose to work against or with him. Ritual helps us to refocus our lives around the living God and stops us from resisting the work of the Holy Spirit. If we do not institute Christian ritual in our lives we will struggle to be lead by the Holy Spirit and will feel distant from God. Without reorienting every day to Christ, we will lack the intimacy with God needed to sustain a life of worship.

Ritual is an integral part of the Christian life that has been ignored in the modern Church, due in part to its obsession with relevance. Let’s give up on being relevant and dig into 2000 years of Christian tradition so as to draw closer to God. The transformation that this will lead to will be the witness that the Church needs, no emotional music or good programmes can compare to a good Christian witness. We do not need to be more relevant, we need to separate ourselves from our non Christian society, and offer a wholly Christian way of life. We need to stop making concessions to the world. We are called to be a holy people, not a people that are indistinguishable from the rest of society. Bad ritual should not be replaced by spontaneity but by better ritual. Let us institute set times of prayer, the singing of the Psalms and meditation on the bible in a set daily pattern in our lives, let’s begin to transform our lives into spirit filled bastions of God’s love, and let’s begin to live a life of worship. Better yet, let’s do it as a community.

John Calvin on Original Sin

Abstract

This essay analyses John Calvin’s doctrine of Original sin. It begins by discussing Calvin’s doctrine of the fall and moves to an analysis of the doctrine itself in three components.  These components are the definition and scope of Original sin, the effect of Original sin on each person, and the consequences of the condition of Original sin. The essay then critiques Calvin’s doctrine. First, it brings Calvin into contact with the philosophical and historical criticisms of Pelagius and Voltaire, and then it discusses the impact of advances in the sciences on the validity of Calvin’s doctrine and provides an alternative in the doctrine of Original sin held by C.S. Lewis. Lastly this essay explores the Pastoral implications of Calvin’s doctrine in modern society in light of the analysis and discussion.

 

Introduction

John Calvin’s doctrine of Original Sin has been heavily criticised over time. Edward T. Oakes observes that “No doctrine inside the precincts of the Christian Church is received with greater reserve and hesitation, even to the point of outright denial, than the doctrine of Original sin.”[1]This essay analyses the three major components of Calvin’s doctrine of Original sin. They are, Calvin’s understanding of Original sin as a condition of total depravity, the effects of this state of depravity on a person’s actions, and God’s condemnation of persons for this condition of depravity. The essay then moves to critique Calvin’s doctrine, bringing it into contact with the findings of modern science, as well as philosophical and exegetical critiques of the doctrine and the more modern doctrine of C.S. Lewis. The essay then outlines some possible pastoral implications of the doctrine of Original sin in the modern world. Calvin’s doctrine of Original sin is not a viable option for modern Christians because it is not in accords with our current scientific understanding, it raises extensive theological difficulties and it is based on incorrect partially incorrect exegesis.

 

Analysis

Calvin’s’ doctrine of Original Sin is inextricably linked to his doctrine of the fall. Calvin read Genesis 2-3 literally and believed in a historical fall of a historical pair of people. He saw Adam as a covenantal partner with God and the biological and spiritual head of the human race, who willfully transgressed against God, thereby deciding the fate of the whole human race.[2] For Calvin this transgression went further than mere pride as Augustine had taught, Adam’s defection was grounded in their lack of faith and pride.[3] Calvin believed that this act in itself was the separation of man from God. Calvin believed that as the spiritual and biological head of the human race, the consequences of Adam’s Sin were passed on to the entire human race.[4] Therefore every human being is born with Original Sin. In the institutes Calvin defines Original sin as follows

 

“Original sin, then, may be defined a hereditary corruption and depravity of our nature, extending to all the parts of the soul, which first makes us obnoxious to the wrath of God, and then produces in us works which in Scripture are termed works of the flesh…..being thus perverted and corrupted in all the parts of our nature, we are, merely on account of such corruption, deservedly condemned by God, to whom nothing is acceptable but righteousness, innocence, and purity. This is not liability for another’s fault. For when it is said, that the sin of Adam has made us obnoxious to the justice of God, the meaning is not, that we, who are in ourselves innocent and blameless, are bearing his guilt, but that since by his transgression we are all placed under the curse, he is said to have brought us under obligation. Through him, however, not only has punishment been derived, but pollution instilled, for which punishment is justly due.”[5]

 

From this passage we can gather three vital components of Calvin’s doctrine of Original Sin. Firstly, Original Sin is the corruption and depravity of our nature, which extends to all parts of our soul; we are completely contaminated and enfeebled by sin.[6] Calvin makes a distinction here, the substance of human kind’s bodies and souls is not evil, but has become saturated by evil.[7] In Calvin’s thought sin is a tragedy, humans’ no longer possess the original goodness in which they were created and the glorious image of God has been effaced and blurred[8]. However, Calvin admits that the image of God has not been completely eradicated.[9] Man continues to have gifts given by God such as his reason.[10] However, in Adams posterity these gifts are no longer in the same condition as they were in Adam before the fall.[11] Probably the most startling part of Calvin’s view of Original sin is that he rejects all naturalistic attempts at an explanation of the doctrine.[12] For example he rejects the view that Original sin is an inherited malady passed on by physical process such as biological heredity.[13] Rather, he takes up the view that it is God himself who gave humanity its splendid gifts in Adam and it is God himself who has universally deprived human kind of these gifts through Adam.[14] Therefore in Calvin’s view the blight of Original sin has been universally placed on humanity by God. Calvin’s view is based on the writings of Paul, in particular his comparison between Adam and Christ in Romans 5: 12-21.[15]

 

Secondly, it is this corrupted nature that brings forth individual sins as a bad tree brings forth bad fruit.[16] Calvin is emphatic that people are not idle in their depraved state and lacking righteousness, but are actively seeking and bearing bad fruit.[17] Because of the blight of sin on humanity, the human understanding has been darkened, and the will, which follows what the understanding presents as right, always seeks after sin rather than God. For Calvin, Adam was the only person to ever have true free will; humanity after Adam no longer has this ability and is bound to sin without a choice in the matter.[18] They are bad tree’s which will undoubtedly produce bad fruit; no bad tree can choose to produce good fruit.[19] This differs from Augustine’s doctrine in that Augustine believed that human beings do not do things out of necessity but as a matter of freedom.[20] For Augustine Original sin simply weakened that freedom; it did not annihilate it as Calvin claimed.[21] One can see how Calvin’s doctrine of Original Sin is deeply entwined with his doctrine of predestination. If people are unable to make any choice for God, then it must be God who does the choosing.[22] For Calvin the taint of Original Sin leaves people absolutely unable to respond positively to God, the action in salvation must come from God alone.[23]

 

Thirdly, we are not condemned before God for the fault of Adam, but rather on account of our corrupted nature that has resulted from his trespass. Calvin believed that God can only tolerate purity in his creation; therefore humanity as tainted by Original Sin, is repugnant to God.[24] Calvin disregarded Augustine’s notion that all of humanity has inherited Adam’s guilt, since it would be unfair for God to punish us for what Adam has done.[25] Instead Calvin asserted that it is our state of total depravity due to Original sin and the sin’s that come forth from that state which makes us liable to the condemnation of God.[26] Calvin thought that this view glorified the merits of Christ and focused the sinner on their need for his atonement.[27]

 

Discussion

The earliest criticisms’ of the doctrine of Original sin can be seen in the Patristic period from a dissenter named Pelagius. Pelagius argued that it would be unjust of God to expect people to live up to a law that they cannot possibly live up to.[28] Therefore he asserted that there must be no disposition towards sin in humanity and human kind must have the ability to perfectly live up to the Law of God.[29] For Pelagius all sin was to be understood as willful disobedience to God.[30] Adam’s sin only applied to us by way of our imitation of it.[31] Pelagius came up with one of the most well known objections to the doctrine of Original sin, that of unfairness.[32] It does not seem fair that God would cause all of humanity to be born into a condition of Original sin and then punish them for this condition, which is not of their own making.[33] In light of this objection Calvin’s view seems to fail at the most crucial level in that it jeopardizes the goodness and fairness of God. But does it? It is likely that the Reformers would argue that natural reason, darkened by Original sin, is simply unable to understand the goodness of God’s condemnation of those born with Original sin.[34] Calvin’s usual response to his theological opponents was to remark that Gods motives for doing such an act were good but that we are not in any epistemic position to know these motives.

 

Calvin’s doctrine of Original Sin came under sustained intellectual attack in the thick of enlightenment rationalism with its optimistic stance towards the steady progress of human reason and virtue.[35] Enlightenment thinkers such as Rousseau and Voltaire vehemently opposed the doctrine of Original Sin.[36] Voltaire declared the doctrine to be a blight on humanity, a chain and ball that bound humanity to a pessimistic view of their own moral abilities, thereby prohibiting their moral progress.[37] Voltaire also criticised the doctrine on the grounds that it was formulated rather late in the fourth and fifth centuries by Augustine, rendering it open to rejection.[38]  While this is a valid point, it ignores the doctrines basis in scripture. Calvin’s doctrine is based primarily on his exegesis of certain biblical passages and must be criticised on these grounds. Mark Rapinchuk, the assistant professor of philosophy and religion at the college of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, criticises the biblical basis for the doctrine of Original sin. In particular he assaults the interpretation of the foundational text of Romans 5:12-21. Rapincheck’s main argument against Calvin’s reading of the text is that if Calvin is correct in asserting that if in verse 18a Paul is stating that all are sinners, without exception, as a direct consequence of Adam’s sin, then in 18b he must also be asserting that all, without exception, are saved from their sin by Christ’s atoning death.[39] Therefore consistency in this exegesis would lead us to an affirmation of universalism.[40] Rapinchuk argues that since this would demonstrate a massive inconsistency in Paul’s theology, so this interpretation cannot be correct.[41] Rapinchuk argues that Paul’s intention is quite different to that which is assumed.[42] Rapinchuk proposes that in Roman’s Paul’s primary point of emphasis is that there is no ethnic distinction between Jew and gentile.[43] Therefore in 5:12-21 Paul is seeking to communicate that both Jews and Gentiles are affected by sin and death and that salvation is available to both Jews and Gentiles.[44] So Paul is not, as Calvin claims, advocating a doctrine of Original sin but a universal sinfulness of all peoples, without ethnic distinction.[45] This interpretation challenges the biblical basis for Calvin’s doctrine of Original sin as a condition inherent in each human person but still acknowledges that death and sin came into the world through Adams sin.[46]

 

Calvin’s doctrine of Original Sin appears to stand or fall on whether or not the story of the fall has any historical value.[47] Over the last few hundred years this has been a matter of great controversy. Scientific research lead to Darwin’s theory of evolution and advances in radiocarbon testing which have dissolved any scientific foundation for the doctrine of Young Earth Creationism. The BioLogos website states that current genetic research shows that modern humans descended from a group of several thousand individuals who lived about 150000 years ago in Africa[48]. This raises two significant questions. Firstly, what are we to make of Adam and Eve? And secondly when and how did the first sin occur? The BioLogos foundation outlines three attempts at reconciling original sin and the scientific findings.[49] Firstly, that God endowed this group of humans with his image, distinguishing them from other hominids. He then initiated relationship with this group, or with a single pair that were selected as representatives of this group. After the fall this subset of the population then came to dominate, with other hominids dying off or inter-breeding with this image bearing subset.[50] This view sustains the fall and the doctrine of Original sin, as well as conforming to current scientific developments.[51] Secondly, Genesis could be read as an analogy for every individual human’s rejection of God.[52] This view conforms to the current scientific developments but denies the doctrine of Original Sin and appears to contradict the New Testament Scriptures[53]. It seems that one would be forced to deny biblical inerrancy to take this view since it fails to fit in with the New Testament writers’ assumption of a historical fall.[54] Thirdly, one could read Genesis literally and reject the scientific evidence.[55] Not only is this sticking ones head in the sand but it also ignores the problems in the text itself. For example, the text gives no explanation as to where Cain’s wife or the people of the land of Nod East of Eden came from.[56] It is worthwhile to keep in mind that Calvin lived before the enlightenment and the explosion in scientific knowledge. It is doubtful that Calvin himself would take the literalist view as in many cases he remarks on the biblical author’s lack of scientific understanding.[57] The first view is certainly the most attractive, in that it attempts to reconcile the biblical revelation and the scientific findings rather than denying one or the other.[58] In any case it is clear that the study of Genetics and biology have lead to doubt about the truth of the doctrine of Original Sin. On another note, Mathew Stanford, a Christian Neuroscientist recently wrote a book called The Biology of Sin. In it he argues that Original sin is partly a biologically inherited predisposition towards certain sinful behaviors.[59] This discovery, if correct, disproves Calvin’s assertion that Original sin is not inherited in any natural sense.

 

C.S. Lewis presented a doctrine of Original sin that was similar to that of Calvin’s, yet nuanced for the modern world. Lewis affirmed the universal nature of human sin but he conceived of this condition in a different way than Calvin. Lewis stated that in Adam’s sin humanity “sinned itself out of existence”.[60] The consequence of the fall was the fall back into the purely natural condition from which the human race was raised.[61] God now ruled humankind in a different way, by the laws of nature.[62] Humans became susceptible to the ordinary biological laws of nature and suffered whatever consequences those laws brought about.[63] This condition was transmitted by heredity to all later generations, since it was not an acquired variation but the emergence of a new kind of human.[64] The result of this change is an inherited slant away from God, man has become his own idol and his inclination is now self-ward.[65] Lewis’ view remains biblical and is in concordance with advances in psychology, neuroscience, biology and geology.[66] On the other hand Calvin’s view, created in a less scientifically advanced age is not in accords with our current scientific understanding and cannot be maintained in the face of the evidence.[67]

 

 

Reflection

Calvin’s doctrine of Original sin emphasizes the total depravity of humankind and their inability to do any good without Gods help. For Calvin people are so corrupted by sin that they cannot help but actively pursue sin. Calvin believed that people were condemned for this state of depravity, which was repugnant to God. This doctrine of Original sin has widespread implications for Christian theology, evangelism and life. Firstly, infant baptism is largely based on Calvin’s doctrine of Original sin[68]. In the late Patristic age it was theorized that since infants were born with the taint of Original sin, and were therefore condemned by God for this condition, then it was necessary to baptize babies lest they go to hell for eternity.[69] Therefore If Calvin’s doctrine is true then it seems logical that we should baptize infants.[70]

 

Secondly, Calvin’s doctrine succeeds in emphasizing every person’s desperate need for Christ and his offer of salvation and sanctification. However, In this day and age the apparent contradictions in Calvin’s doctrine of Original sin are more obvious than ever. Calvin’s views make theodicy impossible.[71] Calvin makes lofty appeals to God’s mysterious motives in the face of these kinds of inconsistencies but it seems clear that his doctrine jeopardizes the goodness of God. Modern audiences find this image of God to be repulsive and downright evil, and preaching or teaching this position is incredibly difficult and will undoubtedly cause many to reject the Christian faith in the modern age. To make this worse Calvin’s doctrine also fails to incorporate current increases in our scientific understanding, since it is based on a literalist reading of genesis. If it is asserted this doctrine would further alienate modern westerners from the Church. From the discussion of C.S. Lewis’s doctrine of Original sin we can see that a scientifically informed, apologetically strong and sophisticated doctrine of Original sin is available to us that can deal with the criticisms of the modern world.

 

Thirdly, Voltaire was correct when he suggested that the doctrine of Original sin presents a very pessimistic understanding of humanity. Although this alone does not mean that the doctrine is incorrect, there does seem to be some inherent danger in the belief that one cannot progress morally without continuous divine aid, particularly if in truth human effort and perseverance is also required for the process of sanctification.[72] Calvin’s’ pessimistic view  of the human condition can lead to a lack of effort to better the world and humanities moral condition since these efforts are seen as a waste of time because of the depth of human depravity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

Biologos Foundation, “Did death occur before the Fall?”. http://biologos.org/questions/death-before-the-fall (Accessed 12 June, 2012).

 

Calvin, J., Institutes of the Christian Religion Vol. 1 Library of Christian Classics Vol. XX, Translated by F. L. Battles, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960).

 

Copan, P., Philosophia Christi, Series 2, 5/2 (2003): 519-541.

 

Elwood, C., Calvin for Armchair Theologians (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002).

 

Horton, M.S., “A Shattered Vase: the Tragedy of Sin in Calvin’s Thought” in Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes: Essays and Analysis, edited by David W. Hall and Peter A. Lillback (Philipsburg, N.J.: P&R, 2008), 151-167.

 

Lewis, C.S., The Problem of Pain (London: HarperCollins, 1940).

 

McGrath, A. E. Christian Theology: An Introduction 5th Edition (Oxford: Blackwell, 2010).

 

Niesel, W., The Theology of Calvin Translated by H. Knight (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1956).

 

Oakes, E.T., Original Sin: A Disputation,” First Things 87 (1998): 16.

 

Rapinchuk, M., Universal Sin and Salvation in Romans 5:12-21” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 42/3 (1999): 427-441.

 

Stanford, M. S., The Biology of Sin: Grace, Hope and Healing for Those Who Feel Trapped (Colorado Springs: Biblica Publishing, 2010).

 

Voltaire, “Philosophical Dictionary”. http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/v/voltaire/dictionary/chapter353.html (Accessed 12 June, 2012).


[1] E.T. Oakes, “Original Sin: A Disputation,” FT 87 (1998): 16.

[2] W. Niesel, The Theology of Calvin Tr. H. Knight (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1956), 84-85.

[3] Calvin see’s Adam’s sin as a rejection of God and his Word. Niesel, The Theology of Calvin, 81. C. Elwood, Calvin for Armchair Theologians (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 65.

[4] Niesel, The Theology of Calvin, 83-86.

[5] J. Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion Vol. 1 Library of Christian Classics Vol. XX, Tr. F. L. Battles, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 251, emphases added.

[6] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 248-249. Calvin uses Eph 2:3, Rom 5:19, 1 Cor 15:22, and John 3:5-6 to back up his assertion that Adam’s sin has severely tainted the nature of all people over the Pelagian belief that Adam’s sin was propagated by imitation. Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 248-249.

[7] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 253-254

[7] Niesel, The Theology of Calvin, 80-81. Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 253-254. He does this to maintain his belief that man’s created nature is primarily good. Something’s nature is that which is essential to its being. By denying that sin is now part of humanities nature, he denies that it is essential to humanities being, which was originally designed good by God.

[8] Niesel, The Theology of Calvin, 80-81. M.S. Horton, “A Shattered Vase: the Tragedy of Sin in Calvin’s Thought” in Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes: Essays and Analysis, eds. David W. Hall and Peter A. Lillback (Philipsburg, N.J.: P&R, 2008), 154-155.

[9] Niesel, The Theology of Calvin, 81.

[10] Niesel, The Theology of Calvin, 81.

[11] Niesel, The Theology of Calvin, 81.

[12] Niesel, The Theology of Calvin, 84.

[13] Niesel, The Theology of Calvin, 84.

[14] Niesel, The Theology of Calvin, 84.  Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 250. Dr Mike O’Neil has raised the question of how the malady of sin is spread in Calvin’s doctrine, due to Calvin’s belief that each new soul is created ex nihilo and his rejection of Augustine’s understanding of the transfer of sin through concupiscence. However, it appears that for Calvin this is not a problem, as sin is not inherited in the sense of being passed on but is rather imputed on to all person’s by an act of God.

[15] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 248.

[16] This metaphore is used by Jesus and Paul when discussing the human condition and the relation between a person and their works. Calvin quotes Galatians 5:19-21 as his biblical basis for the arguement. Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 253-254.

[17] Niesel, The Theology of Calvin, 82-83. Calvin discusses this in the following passage. “Wherefore those who have defined original sin as the lack of the original righteousness with which we should have been endowed, no doubt include, by implication, the whole fact of the matter, but they have not fully expressed the positive energy of this sin. For our nature is not merely bereft of good, but is so productive of every kind of evil that it cannot be inactive.” Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 251-252.

[18] Neilson, The Theology of Calvin, 86-87.

[19] However, Calvin plays at his usual theological double talk, insisting that we sin of our own accord and not by necessity. He does this by making a philosophical distinction between the causes of our behaviour. He claims that we freely decide for evil; however because of our condition we cannot do anything other than choose to do evil. This is simply determinism disguised. Niesel, The Theology of Calvin, 87.

[20] A.E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction 5th Ed. (Oxford: Blackwell, 2010), 351.

[21] Augustine still believed that humanity had a disposition to sin but could by effort choose not to commit some actual sins. McGrath, Christian Theology, 351. Calvin’s view of the understanding and the will are partly based on philosophical assumptions. They also stem from Jesus’ teaching that good trees produce good fruit, and bad trees produce bad fruit and Paul’s use of ‘the works of the flesh’ in Gal 5:19-21. Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 251. His use of these scriptures is highly influenced by his philosophical assumptions and he takes the metaphors much further than is warranted.

[22] Niesel, The Theology of Calvin, 87.

[23] Niesel, The Theology of Calvin, 87.

[24] Niesel, The Theology of Calvin, 85-86. Calvin realizes that this seems unfair but affirms that Adam’s representative status was ordained by God. Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 251.

[25] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 251

[26] Niesel, The Theology of Calvin, 85-86.

[27] Niesel, The Theology of Calvin, 85. Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 259.

[28] Voltaire, “Philosophical Dictionary”. http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/v/voltaire/dictionary/chapter353.html (Accessed 12 June, 2012), section II.

[29] McGrath, Christian Theology, 352-353

[30] McGrath, Christian Theology, 352.

[31] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 248.

[32] McGrath, Christian Theology, 352.

[33] Or in Augustine’s conception of the doctrine, for God to impugn the guilt of Adam’s trespass to all people. McGrath, Christian Theology, 352. To make things worse both Augustine and Calvin believed that unbaptised babies were still born into Original sin and were therefore liable to eternal hell if they were not baptised.

[34] The reformers often emphasised the sinful use of darkened the reason as a weapon against the creator God as part of the condition of Original sin. Horton, “A Shattered Vase”, 157. Although, this argument is circular as it assumes the affects of Original sin in order to defend Original sin.

[35] P. Copan, PC, Series 2, 5/2 (2003): 519.

[36] McGrath, Christian Theology, 69.

[37] McGrath, Christian Theology, 69.

[38] McGrath, Christian Theology, 69. Voltaire, “Philosophical Dictionary”, Section II.

[39] M. Rapinchuk, Universal Sin and Salvation in Romans 5:12-21” JETS 42/3 (1999): 427-428.

[40] Rapinchuk, Universal Sin and Salvation”, 427.

[41] The book of Romans in itself deals a death blow to any basis for biblical universalism (Romans 10:13; 9:27; 11:5). Rapinchuk, Universal Sin and Salvation”, 431. Paul is a highly sophisticated theologian and is unlikely to blatantly contradict himself in the same letter. Rapinchuk, Universal Sin and Salvation”, 431.

[42] Rapinchuk, Universal Sin and Salvation”, 433.

[43] Rapinchuk, Universal Sin and Salvation”, 433.

[44] Rapinchuk, Universal Sin and Salvation”, 433.

[45] Rapinchuk, Universal Sin and Salvation”, 440.

[46] Rapinchuk, Universal Sin and Salvation”, 431.

[47] If there is no original sin of the first man then there can be no effects of this original sin.

[48] Biologos Foundation, “Did death occur before the Fall?”. http://biologos.org/questions/death-before-the-fall. Although this date is highly debatable and there could well have been less people in the group.

[49] Biologos Foundation, “Did death occur before the Fall?”.

[50] Biologos Foundation, “Did death occur before the Fall?”.

[51] Biologos Foundation, “Did death occur before the Fall?”.

[52] Biologos Foundation, “Did death occur before the Fall?”.

[53] For example Paul seems to assume Adam’s historicity as a part of his argument in Romans 5

[54] Biologos Foundation, “Did death occur before the Fall?”.

[55] Biologos Foundation, “Did death occur before the Fall?”.

[56] Biologos Foundation, “Did death occur before the Fall?”. Gen 4:16.

[57] Calvin remarks on how scientific understanding comes from God and should be accepted unless we wish to dishonour the spirit of God. Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 273-274.

[58] I have often considered the idea that a group of humans were endowed with the Image of God and came to relate to their creator in a covenantal relationship. However, they broke the first covenantal relationship with God and slid into sin over time, rejecting the knowledge of God until the knowledge of God was lost. God gave them over to this chosen path and its consequences, which were an inclination away from God and towards sin, and the loss of some of the gifts of God such as immunity to disease and death. This view is based on Romans 1:18-32, which seems to detail a slide into depravity and a loss of the knowledge of God over time.

[59] M.S. Stanford, The Biology of Sin: Grace, Hope and Healing for Those Who Feel Trapped (Colorado Springs: Biblica Publishing, 2010), 10.

[60] In Lewis’s eyes the Original sin is transmitted by heredity, in Contrast to Calvin’s view that Original sin is placed upon every human by an act of God. In Calvin’s view God is actively causing the condition of Original sin as punishment for Adam’s sin whereas he is much less active in Lewis’s view.  Lewis’ view makes more sense of how God could fairly judge humanity since they still have an ability to choose to do the right thing. C.S.Lewis, The Problem of Pain (London: HarperCollins, 1940), 79.

[61] Problem, Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 78.

[62] Lewis was a theistic evolutionist who accepted the findings of science and found a way to reconcile these findings with the Christian faith. He believed that humankind was raised from the higher anthropoids at a certain time of his choosing, thereby creating a new species with consciousness and a power over the natural world. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 63-85.

[63] The mind also fell under the laws of psychological association Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 77.

[64] Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 79

[65] Although in Lewis’ eyes man can still turn back to God. However, only by great effort. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 78-79

[66] Lewis’ view lacks many of the philosophical difficulties inherent in Calvin’s view, though it does contain its own difficulties.

[67] Calvin can hardly be blamed for his scientific backwardness, since he did not know what we know now.

[68] Voltaire, “Philosophical Dictionary”, section II.

[69] Or before Calvin’s time they were believed to be sent to hell or limbo because they had inherited Adam’s guilt.

[70] The question arises as to what sort of God would send unbaptised infants to eternal hell.

[71] On Calvin’s understanding, not only is God punishing people for the condition he has placed them in, which seems unjust but he is also punishing them for eternity which increases the problem.

[72] Calvin’s doctrine may cause some to feel as if they can never overcome the sin in their lives. This may lead to an unhealthy self image.