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Revelation and TrinityThe Formative Influence of the Revelation of the Triune God in Calvin's 1559 Institutes and Barth's Church Dogmatics
By Sang-Hwan Lee
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Sang-Hwan Lee
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Chapter OneThe Doctrine of Creation
The subject of inquiry in Book I of the 1559 Institutes is the revelation of the creative being and action of God in creation and in Scripture. Calvin here deals with God's primal and universal relationship with creation, and formulates Christian doctrines of creation and Creator from the revelation. This chapter explores these doctrines in the light of their relevance to God's revelation in creation and then to his revelation in Scripture. Its focus rests on the ontology and the epistemology of Creator and creation, and their relationship. It demonstrates the trinitarian character of the being and action of the Creator from his conceptual basis in the revelation of the triune God the Father. This relies on an elaboration of Calvin's insistence on the indispensability of faith for the noetic and conceptual possibility of this trinitarian revelation.
I.1. The Revelation of God the Father in Creation
Calvin's treatment of God's revelation in creation, and its knowability and knowledge, is the major concern of Book I.iii-v. My constant dialogue with commentators is designed to clarify complicated issues in this. The precise nature of the sensus divinitatis and the revelation of Creator in creation are unravelled in the light of the hermeneutical relevance of faith and predestination to them. This leads us not only to illustrate the determinative source of Book I.iii-v, but also to examine the relevance of God's revelation to natural reason and to faith, and their dogmatic purposes and relationship. Their purpose is discussed, and a brief evaluation is made to point out their distinctive character.
1.i. The Sensus Divinitatis from Revelation
i.1. The Sensus Divinitatis as a Divine Origin
A sense of Deity (divinitatis sensus) is a natural awareness of God as Creator from his revelation in creation (i.e. in our natural intellect and world). It generates a sense or seed of religion (religionis semen), and has an actual content of intellectual knowledge of God as Creator, and of intellectual conscientia to obey his will. The explicit use of "self-revelation" is absent in the Institutes. It is, however, vital to notice the total dependence of the reality of the sensus divinitatis on the grace of God's self-revelation in creation. Its significance is this: it not only demonstrates the grace of God's miraculous and super-natural action as the origination of man's sensus divinitatis and sensus religionis, but it also opposes man's autonomous possession of them and man's sharing of merit with God for them. Man is utterly passive to them; they occur only by God's illumination of man's mind to respond to the grace of his self-revelation in history.
The self-revelation of God in creation entails God's accommodation and communication of himself and of his free will to us, and our feeling, hearing and understanding of his communication. In knowledge of God from his revelation in the creation of our conscious subjectivity the intuition is predominant, likewise, in knowledge of God from his revelation in the creation of our external world, visual observation and ratiocination are predominant in this knowledge. For God also reveals himself through our external world to us and for us in the process of our rational observation and ratiocination. T. F. Torrance does not seem to be fully just to the nature of Calvin's knowledge of God from his revelation in creation, as he argues for the genuineness of his auditive and intuitive knowledge of God solely from the revelation of his Word in the Bible.
Calvin contradicts the rejection of the occurrence of God's self-revelation in and through creation, and man's actual knowledge of it. Barth claims that Calvin treats them merely as a hypothetical possibility after the Fall. His claim stems from his false interpretation of Calvin's emphasis on the effect of the Fall. For Calvin, the Fall negates neither God's objective revelation in creation from the grace of God, nor its actual knowledge by man. Rather, it turns the original salvific knowledge of God from natural reason before the Fall into a unsalvific one, and nullifies its utility and effectiveness for true (salvific) knowledge and the religion. That is to say, the Fall brings about a drastic change of the nature of man and his action, but not of the nature of God and his action (revelation); the latter was already determined by his eternal will (decree) before the foundation of the world. Calvin stresses the relevance of man's created nature to the knowability and knowledge of God's revelation in creation (and in Scripture); it is the persistent concern of Book I of the 1559 Institutes.
Here I do not yet touch upon the sort of knowledge with which men, in themselves lost and accursed, apprehend God the Redeemer in Christ the Mediator; but I speak only of the primal and simple knowledge to which the very order of nature would have led us if Adam had remained upright. In this ruin of mankind no one now experiences God either as Father or asAuthor of salvation, or favorable in any way, until Christ the Mediator comes forward to reconcile him to us. Nevertheless, it is one thing to feel that God as our Maker supports us by his power, governs us by his providence, nourishes us by his goodness, and attends us with all sorts of blessings-and another thing to embrace the grace of reconciliation offered to us in Christ. First, in the fashioning of the universe and in the general teaching of Scripture the Lord shows himself to be the Creator. Then in the face of Christ (cf. II Cor. 4:6) he shows himself to be the Redeemer. Of the resulting twofold knowledge of God we shall now discuss the first aspect; the second will be dealt with in its proper place.
i.2. The Sensus Divinitatis as a dynamic event
The total dependence of the sensus divinitatis on revelation provides its noetic and conceptual dynamism, realism, existentialism, and objectivism. The ever-new objective revelation (presence) of God determines its reality as a living (dynamic, existential and objective) event that constantly occurs in the conscious subjectivity of man.
Therefore, it is utterly vain for some men to say that religion was invented by the subtlety and craft of a few to hold the simple folk in thrall by this device and that those very persons who believe that any God existed ... But they would never have achieved this if men's minds had not already been imbued with a firm conviction about God, from which the inclination towards religion springs as from a seed. And indeed it is not credible that those who craftily imposed upon the ruder folk under pretense of religion were entirely devoid of the knowledge of God. Indeed, they seek out every subterfuge to hide themselves from the Lord's presence, and to efface it again from their minds. But in spite of themselves they are always entrapped. Although it may sometimes seem to vanish for a moment, it returns at once and rushes in with new force ... therefore exemplify the fact that some conception of God is ever alive in all men's minds.
Calvin's dynamic and realistic concept of the religious consciousness of God is lost in Schleiermacher's. The basis of Schleiermacher's concept of religious consciousness of God depends not on God's own supernatural objective action (revelation), but on the awareness of deity in the natural conscious subjectivity of man. This, think D. W. Hardy and D. F. Ford, ends in a kind of formalism that detaches the concept of God from its constituent element, and causes it to lose its realism and dynamic.
The dynamic expression of the sensus divinitatis is not consistently explicit. Calvin often expresses it as an implanted or engraved (or inscribed or shown) reality of God in the internal heart and mind of man and in the external world. This expression portrays the sensus divinitatis as a static thing given once and for all and therefore inherent in human nature. It is nonetheless vitally important to stress that Calvin never intends to advocate its actual identification with inherent human nature. He explicitly renounces this kind of identification, and affirms God's constant revelation as the origination of the sensus divinitatis. His static expression is used to accentuate the undeniable existence of the sensus divinitatis in man and the inexcusability of his dismissal of God's revealing glory and goodness in creation.
The final goal of the blessed life, moreover, rests in he knowledge of God (cf. John 17:3). Lest anyone, then be excluded rom access to happiness, he not only sowed in men's minds that seed of eligion of which we have spoken but revealed himself and daily discloses himself in the whole workmanship of the universe. As a consequence, men cannot open their eyes without being compelled to se him. Indeed, his essence is incomprehensible; hence, his divineness far escapes all human perception. But upon his individual works he has engraved unmistakable marks of his glory, so clear and so prominent that even unlettered and stupid folk cannot plead the excuse of ignorance.
1.ii. The Conceptual Confinement of Revelation to Faith
ii.1. The Creator as the Triune God the Father
Calvin confines the noetic and conceptual possibility of the revelation of Creator in creation to the living faith (piety) of a believer.
It is therefore in vain that so many burning lamps shine for us in the workmanship of the universe to show forth the glory of its Author. Although they bathe us wholly in their radiance, yet they can of themselves in no way lead us into the right path. Surely they strike some sparks, but before their fuller light shines forth these are smothered. For this reason, the apostle, in that very passage where he calls the worlds the images of things invisible, adds that through faith we understand that they have been fashioned by God's word (Heb. 11:3). He means by this that the invisible divinity is made manifest in such spectacles, but that we have not the eyes to see this unless they be illuminated by the inner revelation of God through faith.
The dogmatic outcome of this confinement is highly significant. It enables Calvin to characterise the revelation (action) of the Creator in creation as that of the triune God the Father.
For, to begin with, the pious mind does not dream up for itself any god it pleases, but contemplates the one and only true God. And it does not attach to him whatever it pleases, but is content to hold him to be as he manifests himself; furthermore, the mind always exercises the utmost diligence and care not to wander astray, or rashly and boldly to go beyond his will. It thus recognizes God because it knows that he governs all things; and trusts that he is its guide and protector, therefore giving itself over completely to trust in him. Because it understands him to be the Author of every good ... waiting for help from him. Because it is persuaded that he is good and merciful, it reposes in him with perfect trust, and doubts not that in his loving-kindness a remedy will be provided for all its ills. Because it acknowledges him as Lord and Father, the pious mind also deems it meet and right to observe his authority in all things, reverence his majesty, take care to advance his glory, and obey his commandments ... Besides, this mind restrains itself from sinning, not out of dread of punishment alone; but, because it loves and reveres God as Father, it worships and adores him as Lord ... Here indeed is pure and real religion: faith so joined with an earnest fear of God that this fear also embraces willing reverence, and carries with it such legitimate worship as is prescribed in the law.
For Calvin, faith (piety) derives from the internal witness of the Word of God in Scripture by the Holy Spirit. This internal witness is therefore indispensable for the noetic and conceptual possibility of the revelation of Creator in creation as the triune God the Father's.
The perspective of faith determines the actual occurrence of the revelation and knowledge of the triune God the Father as the conceptual and dogmatic criterion of Creator. Barth is inaccurate to propose that Calvin merely follows a priori biblical or dogmatic ideas and teachings of God's revelation in creation and its knowledge for their treatment. The perspective of faith allows him dogmatic freedom and autonomy to view them from their actual and dynamic occurrence to which the Bible and the Church attest. It enables him to avoid a rigid rational systematisation of them; it offers their a posteriori and actual and dynamic knowledge as the final criterion of their treatment.
Dowey is seriously misleading to claim that Calvin does not regard God's revelation in creation as "a positive contribution to faith, a foundation for it or a base under it." Dowey provides evidence of his claim from Calvin's remark:
I am not yet speaking of the proper doctrine of faith whereby they had been illuminated unto the hope of eternal life. For, that they might pass from death to life, it was necessary to recognize God not only as Creator but also as Redeemer, for undoubtedly they arrived at both from the Word. First in order came that kind of knowledge by which one is permitted to grasp who that God is who founded and governs the universe. Then that other inner knowledge was added, which alone quickens dead souls, whereby God is known not only as the Founder of the universe and the sole Author and Ruler of all that is made, but also in the person of the Mediator as the Redeemer. But because we have not yet come to the fall of the world and the corruption of nature, I shall now forgo discussion of the remedy.
Calvin's remark that "I am not yet speaking of the proper doctrine of faith" in the doctrine of Creator (in Book I) cannot be interpreted, as Dowey does, to indicate that he renounces any theological and systematic link between the doctrine of Creator and faith. His remark must mean that he would explore the particular nature of faith in a proper place (in Book III). His major concern in Book I is the doctrine of Creator that is designed to illustrate the one true God as the Creator, the Father, the Lord and Governor of all things.
ii.2. Twofold Knowledge of the One Revelation of God the Father
The remarkable outcome of Dowey's neglect of the decisive role of faith in the doctrine of Creator is this. He, like Brunner, ascribes the subject of this doctrine solely to natural or general (unsoteriological and untrinitarian) revelation and knowledge of God as Creator. For Calvin, however, the trinitarian knowledge and revelation of God the Father is the only dogmatic source and criterion of the true Creator from the perspective of faith. Dowey's confinement of the dogmatic relevance of God's revelation in creation to "natural and philosophical quality of the process" for Calvin is untenable. He thereby undermines Calvin's dogmatic delight and freedom to demonstrate the relevance of this revelation also to a living faith (piety) of the believer.
Let us therefore remember, whenever each of us contemplates his own nature, that there is one God who so governs all natures that he would have us look unto him, direct our faith to him, and worship and call upon him. For nothing is more preposterous than to enjoy the very remarkable gifts that attest the divine nature within us, yet to overlook the Author who gives them to us at our asking. With what manifestations his might draws us to contemplate him! .. Now I have only wanted to touch upon the fact that this way of seeking God is common both to strangers and to those of his household, if they trace the outlines that above and below sketch a living likeness of him.
The practical purpose of this is to show the true Creator as the triune God the Father. We cannot freely and willingly love, worship, praise and serve the one true creator-God unless we know the revelation of his fatherly goodness and love (mercy, and so on) in and through creation.
Excerpted from Revelation and Trinity by Sang-Hwan Lee Copyright © 2010 by Sang-Hwan Lee. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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