John Calvin (1509-1564): Doctrine is not merely apprehended by the intellect

220px-John_Calvin_2

Theologia est doctrina Deo vivendi per Christum – Theology is the doctrine of living unto God through Christ. It is doctrine, that is, propositional teaching apprehended by the mind (i.e. it is what theologians call theoreticaspeculativa or contemplativa). But it is the doctrine of living unto God through Christ, that is, it has practica as its end. The study of theology is meant not only to inform the intellect, but to reach the heart and affections, and thereby lead to practice. Thus the acquisition of the knowledge of God is a means to an end, namely the worship of the Triune God. John Calvin (1509-1564) talks in this line in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.vii.4:

“This is the place to address those who, having nothing of Christ but the name and sign, would yet be called Christians. How dare they boast of this sacred name? None have intercourse with Christ but those who have acquired the true knowledge of him from the Gospel. The Apostle denies that any man truly has learned Christ who has not learned to put off ‘the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and put on Christ,’ (Eph. 4:22). They are convicted, therefore, of falsely and unjustly pretending a knowledge of Christ, whatever be the volubility and eloquence with which they can talk of the Gospel. Doctrine is not an affair of the tongue, but of the life; is not apprehended by the intellect and memory merely, like other branches of learning; but is received only when it possesses the whole soul, and finds its seat and habitation in the inmost recesses of the heart. Let them, therefore, either cease to insult God, by boasting that they are what they are not, or let them show themselves not unworthy disciples of their divine Master. To doctrine in which our religion is contained we have given the first place, since by it our salvation commences; but it must be transfused into the breast, and pass into the conduct, and so transform us into itself, as not to prove unfruitful. If philosophers are justly offended, and banish from their company with disgrace those who, while professing an art which ought to be the mistress of their conduct, convert it into mere loquacious sophistry, with how much better reason shall we detest those flimsy sophists who are contented to let the Gospel play upon their lips, when, from its efficacy, it ought to penetrate the inmost affections of the heart, fix its seat in the soul, and pervade the whole man a hundred times more than the frigid discourses of philosophers?”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s