Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Calvin's (1509-1564) Institutes: Book 2

"Then, if a discourse is pronounced which flatters the pride spontaneously springing up in man’s inmost heart, nothing seems more delightful. Accordingly, in every age, he who is most forward in extolling the excellence of human nature, is received with the loudest applause."

This book focuses on the utter worthlessness of the human soul.  The above, of course, has quite a ring of truth to it as these days it is considered to be a violation of human rights to upset a student regarding his failings.  Self esteem is number one.

Calvin is extremely hostile to the philosophers in this work and the Christian theologians who have followed in their footsteps.  On this account I agree - with exceptions - since the philosophers believed that reason led to good while desires led to bad.  I noted that in my review of Anselm as well and Calvin also highlighted Anselm as one of the offenders.  Augustine clearly is of a different view - that reason is just as useful for evil as for good.  Calvin quotes Cicero also, but fails to note Cicero's attack on the Stoics regarding the evils of reason.

Still, I think Calvin goes too far.  Mankind has a conscience that directs him towards the right, even though all else might direct him otherwise.  Yes, this conscience is something we are endowed with by God, but at the same time, it is part of our makeup and clearly does effect are behavior.  To what degree is impossible to say, since our decisions are the result of so many things.  It seems to me that the boundary between man's free will and God's predestination is more than a little bit fuzzy when I consider this and that ambiguities are inevitable.  Calvin argues that the only way to have a clean system that does away with the ambiguities is to assign 0% to free will and 100% to predestination.  That scores well on the neatness category, yet it still suffers from an inescapable fact:  No matter how firmly a Calvinist believes in predestination, he conducts his life as if it were 100% free will.

1 comment:

Delirious said...

And we have to take in to account God's plan for us in this matter. The mission of the Holy Ghost is to testify of truth. How does he do this? By giving us a feeling. Sometimes we have what is referred to as a "burning" feeling in our hearts. (The example of the experience of the apostles on the road to Emmaus comes to mind.) Sometimes it is just a feeling of surety, or "rightness" about the thing. So to go solely on reason, really does go against God's way of leading us in to all truth.