Why a radical Christian philosophy can only develop in the line of CALVIN's religious starting-point.
CALVIN also passed through an early Humanistic period during which he wrote his well-known commentary on SENECA's De Clementia. But when he reached the turning-point of his life, he broke radically with the nominalistic dualism that more or less continued to flourish within LUTHER's world of thought and that was dominated by the scholastic ground-motive of nature and grace.
In CALVIN's Biblical view-point this scholastic motive is eliminated. He maintained that the true nature of man cannot be opposed to grace. Nature is in its root corrupted by the fall, and is only restored or (as CALVIN more pregnantly states) "renewed" by God's grace in Jesus Christ (4).
(4) See Institutio religionis Christianae (1559), II, 1, 9: "Unde sequitur partem illam, in qua refulget animae praestantia et nobilitas, non modo vulneratam esse, sed ita corruptam, ut non modo sanari, sed novam prope naturam induere opus habeat." ["From this it follows that that part upon which shines the excellence and nobility of the soul, not only is wounded, but as much corrupted that it not only needed to be healed, but nearly to assume a new nature."] Also see II, 1, 6, where the radical character of sin is sharply set forth.
This was also AUGUSTINE's conception. The Bible does not permit any view of nature, in distinction to grace, in which human reason in its apostasy from God, becomes the main stay of a "philosophia et theologia naturalis". It does not sanction any view in which the νοῡς τῆς σαρκός (that is to say, the intellect which is apostate from Christ in the sense of thinking according to the "flesh") is declared to be sovereign.
God's revelation must take hold of the heart, the root of our entire existence, that we may "stand in the truth". CALVIN hits rationalistic scholasticism at the root of its apostasy from a Christian attitude towards knowledge, when he writes: "Nec satis fuerit mentem esse Dei spiritu illuminatam, nisi et eius virtute cor obfirmetur ac fulciatur. In quo tota terra Scholastici aberrant, qui in fidei consideratione nudum ac simplicem ex notitia assensum aripiunt, praeterita cordis fiducia et securiate" (5).
(5) "And it will not have been sufficient that the mind is illuminated by the Spirit of God, unless also by its virtue the heart is made firm and is strengthened. In this matter the scholastics completely deviate, which in a superficial way conceive the motive of faith as a mere and simple assent by virtue of the understanding, whereas the confidence and surety of the heart is completely neglected." This statement only gives expression to the pure Biblical conception which considers knowledge — and in the first place knowledge furnished by faith — to be rooted in the heart from which proceed the issues of life. This is characteristically misunderstood by Roman Catholics as "sentimentalism". In 1931 A. J. M. CORNELISSEN wrote a meritorious comparative study concerning the Doctrine of the State of "Calvin and Rousseau". In this thesis which he defended at the Roman Catholic University of Nijmegen, he wrote (page 25): "If faith does neither require a praeambula furnished by reason, but the reverse, rational knowledge is strengthened by faith, then, if one is consistent, the act of super-natural "knowing" is only an act of feeling. CALVIN drew this conclusion and thus fell into sentimentalism."
Under the influence of Thomistic-Aristotelian epistemology the insight into what the Bible means by the "heart", as the religious centre of life, has been so completely lost sight of that there remains nothing else to do but identify it with the temporal function of feeling and then place it in opposition to theoretical thought.
CALVIN radically rejected the speculative natural theology. He called it an "audacious curiosity" of human reason that seeks to intrude upon the "essentiae Dei", which we can never fathom, but can only worship (6). Again and again he warned against the "vacua et meteorica speculatio" on God's essence apart from His revelation in His Word (7).
(6) Inst. I, 5, 9: "Unde intelligimus hanc esse rectissimam Dei quaerendi viam et aptissimam ordinem; non ut audaci curiositate penetrare tentemus ad excutiendam eius essentiam, quae adoranda potius est quam scrupulosius disquirenda; sed ut illum in suis operibus contemplemur, quibus se propinquum nobis familiaremque reddit ac quodammodo communicat." ["Hence we understand, that this is the most correct way and appropriate order to seek God; not that in an audacious curiosity we try to penetrate into an examination of His essence, which is rather to be adored than scrupulously to be examined; but that we contemplate Him in His works by which He comes near to us, makes Himself familiar to us and in some way communicates Himself."]
(7) Ibid. I, 10, 2: "deinde commemorari eius virtutes quibus nobis describitur non quis sit apud se, sed qualis erga nos; ut ista eius agnitio vivo magis sensu, quam vacua et meteorica speculatione constet." ["Moreover we must remember His virtues by which is described to us not what He is in Himself, but how He is in respect to us; in order that this knowledge about Him may rather consist in a lively consciousness than in a void and meteoric speculation."]
CALVIN expressed the true critical religious attitude concerning knowledge of God, an attitude grounded in the humble insight into the essential boundary between the Creator and the creation, in timidity with respect to the deep mystery of God's majesty.
The scholastic motive of nature and grace is not found in CALVIN's thought, nor is there any trace of the spiritualistic contrast between the divine Law and the Gospel, found in LUTHER. God's divine Majesty does not tolerate the blotting out of the boundary between the Creator and the creation. In view of this boundary, LUTHER's elevation of Christian liberty beyond the limits of the lex divina cannot be accepted.
The cosmonomic Idea of CALVIN versus the Aristotelian-Thomistic one.
We have already referred to one of CALVIN's statements that occurs several times in his writings: "Deus legibus solutus est" (8). This statement necessarily implies that "all of the creation is subject to the Law."
(8) Cf. De aeterna praedestinatione (1552) C.R. 36, 361: "Non vero commentum illud recipio, Deum quia lege solutus sit quidquid agat reprehensione vacare. Deum enim exlegem qui facit, maxima eum gloriae suae parte spoliat, quia rectitudinem eius ac iustitiam sepelit. Non quod legi subiectus sit Deus, nisi quatenus ipse sibi lex est." ["I truly do not acccept that device that God's acts are exempt from reprehension because He is not bound to the Law. For he who renders God "exlex", deprives Him of the principal part of His glory, because he annuls His equity and justice. Not that God should be subjected to the Law, unless in so far as He is a law to Himself."] Cf. Comm. in Mosis libros V (1563) C.R. 52, 49, 131: "atque ideo legibus solutus est, quia ipse, sibi et omnibus lex est," ["and therefore He is above the laws, because He is the Law to Himself and to everything."] (Contra the nominalistic ex-lex!).
Christ has freed us from the "law of sin" and from the Jewish ceremonial law. But the cosmic law, in its religious fulness and temporal diversity of meaning, is not a burdensome yoke imposed upon us because of sin, but it is a blessing in Christ. Without its determination and limitation, the subject would sink away into chaos. Therefore, CALVIN recognized the intrinsic subjection of the Christian to the decalogue, and did not see any intrinsic antinomy between the central commandment of love as the religious root of God's ordinances, and the juridical or economic law-spheres, or the inner structural law of the state. Anabaptists lost sight of the religious root of the temporal laws, and consequently placed the Sermon on the Mount, with its doctrine of love, in opposition to civil ordinances. CALVIN strongly opposed this error. He proceeded from the radical religious unity of all temporal divine regulations and could therefore radically combat each absolutization of a temporal aspect of the full Law of God, as well as every spiritualistic revolution against the state and its legal order: "Christo non est institutum legem aut laxare aut restringere, sed ad veram ac germanicam intelligentiam reducere, quae falsis scribarum et Pharisaeorum commentis valde depravata fuerant" (9).
(9) Inst. II, 8, 26. ["Christ has not received the mandate to loosen or to unbind the Law, but rather to restore the true and pure understanding of its commands which had been badly deformed by the false devices of the Scribes and the Pharisees."]
This fundamental Idea of the Divine Law does not go with a falling back upon the Aristotelian-Thomistic conception of the "lex naturalis". For this latter proceeds from the religious form-matter motive of Greek thought, and therefore necessarily conflicts with the Biblical conception. The speculative Idea of the "lex aeterna" provides the foundation for the speculative "lex naturalis" with its teleological order of "substantial forms". In this construction human reason thinks it can prescribe what is law to God. And in the final analysis the Aristotelian conception of the world-order is deified, because in the Idea of the lex aeterna it is identified with the "rational essence" of God. In opposition to it, the Reformation was forced to preach the doctrine of Christian liberty. In this, both CALVIN and LUTHER were prominent, but CALVIN succeeded in enunciating a purer position. In his conception of the Divine Law, he lost nothing of the Biblical Idea of freedom in Christ. LUTHER did not escape falling into a spiritualistic antinomianism against which must be proclaimed the Biblical conception of the Divine Law, grounded in the central confession of God's sovereignty as Creator. This was necessary for the sake of maintaining the Biblical ground-motive of the Reformation.
CALVIN's Idea of the Law versus BRUNNER's irrationalistic and dualistic standpoint.
This Biblical view of Law is at the present time rejected by Emil BRUNNER. He seeks to replace it by an irrationalistic ethics of love which must break through the temporal divine ordinances. For, according to him, the latter are not the true will of God (10).
(10) See Das Gebot und die Ordnungen (1932) ["The Commandment and the Ordinances"], p. 108 and following, in connection with BRUNNER's treatment of Das Einmalige und der Existenzcharakter in Blätter f. deutsche Philosophie (1929). The command of love, as "Gebot des Stunde" or "des Augenblicks" (a typically irrationalistic expression) is here opposed to the law in temporal ordinances.
In a typically spiritualistic fashion, BRUNNER fulminates against the Idea of a Christian science, philosophy, culture, politics, etc. As to philosophy this is indicative of a new attempt to effect a compromise with the immanence standpoint (namely, with Kantianism and modern irrationalistic existentialism). This compromise does not proceed from the spirit of CALVIN. It is rather born from LUTHER's dualism and cannot have a fruitful future.
BRUNNER attempts to accommodate the after-effect of the Lutheran nominalistic dualism between "nature" and "grace" to CALVIN's view of the Law. But just as this dualism is incompatible with the Biblical ground-motive, it is also irreconcilable with CALVIN's standpoint. The Word of God reveals to us the root of temporal existence; within this root it lays bare the unbridgeable cleft between the Kingdom of Christ and the Kingdom of darkness; it drives us with inexorable seriousness to an "either-or".
If a Christian philosophy, Christian jurisprudence, politics, art etc. are not possible, then these spheres of temporal life are withdrawn from Christ. Then once again the un-Biblical dualism between "nature" and "grace" or between the Law and the Gospel must be accepted, and once again, in order to bridge the dualism, the path of scholastic accommodation must be followed.
In this case one may reject the synthesis of Christian faith with the rationalistic cosmonomic Idea of ARISTOTLE or of the Stoics, but modern Humanistic irrationalism or Criticism are not an iota more Christian.
For, by following this way one arrives with BRUNNER at a depreciation of certain aspects of reality. BRUNNER absolutizes love at the expense of justice; he irrationalistically misinterprets the central religious commandment of love. As a consequence of his dialectical standpoint he treats the Idea of justice in a neo-Kantian fashion (11): it is denatured to a "purely formal value".
(11) See Das Gebot und die Ordnungen ("The Commandment and the ordinances"), S. 675, where it is said of the Critical Kantian conception of the Idea of juridical order, that it "erfahrungsgemäsz und aus guten Grunden nur von solchen Juristen verstanden wird, die mit der reformatorischen Glaubenstradition in Zusammenhang stehen" (for example, STAMMLER and BURCKHARDT) ["that, according to experience and for good reasons, it is only understood by such jurists who stand in connection with the tradition of faith of the Reformation"]. Thus the synthesis with Kantian immanence-philosophy is completed.
BRUNNER sets forth a thesis which denies the fulness of meaning of the Cross; he holds that complete justice is in itself a contradiction and that love, although it must pass through formal justice, nevertheless does abrogate the latter (12). If we follow BRUNNER along the path of synthesis, we must also tumble into the same pitfall. In this respect Christian philosophy has no more choice than has immanence-philosophy.
(12) See Das Gebot und die Ordnungen, S. 436: "Gerade vom Christlichen Glauben aus gibt es keine irgendwie faszbare Idee der volkommenen Gerechtigkeit. Denn Gerechtigkeit ist an sich unvollkommen." ["From the Christian faith itself there cannot in any conceivable way proceed an Idea of perfect justice. For justice is in itself imperfect."] I would like to suggest that justice "an sich" does not exist but is a meaningless absolutization. The same is true of love "an sich". Cf. p. 437: "Die Liebe ist konkret, persönlich, nicht vorausgewuszt, nicht allgemein, nicht gesetzlich. Die Gerechtigkeit ist gerade allgemein gesetzlich, vorausgewuszt, unpersönlich-sachlich, abstrakt, rational." ["Love is concrete, personal, not foreknown, not generalizing, not legal. Justice, on the contrary, is general, legal, foreknown, impersonal-real, abstract, rational."] From the Biblical point of view our answer is simply that the opinion of BRUNNER is not in keeping with the Biblical conception of the Law but stems from a semi-Humanistic point of view. A Christian must learn to bow before God's majesty and justice, which is not different from His love. God is the origin and original unity of all modal aspects of human experience which are to be distinguished only in the temporal order, but coincide in their religious root and a fortiori in their Divine Origin.
In his later work Gerechtigkeit (1943), BRUNNER did not essentially change his earlier position. He now spoke of "the justice of faith" in contradistinction to the justice in the sphere of ordinances, but the former does not have any intrinsic connection with the latter. "Justice of faith" is identical with the Love of the Gospel and it abolishes justice in the sense of retribution. And the latter is also true of Divine Justice. Divine Justice is diametrically opposed to earthly justice in the sphere of ordinances. Although earthly ordinances and justice oppose the command of love, yet the former aid in the life of love. This conception is typically Lutheran. In addition compare REINHOLD NIEBUHR, The Principles of Ethics, chap. V and VI and the Nature and Destiny of Man II, chap. IX. If earthly justice is diametrically opposed to Divine Justice, and nevertheless the former belongs to the sphere of Divine ordinances, there is accepted a dialectical dualism in the Divine Will which betrays the influence of the dialectical ground-motive of nature and grace.
The synthesis with ancient immanence-philosophy led Christian thought into complicated antinomies; the synthesis with Humanistic immanence-philosophy does the same. It not only involves Christian thought in the basic antinomy between "nature" and "freedom", but above all it leads to a radical collision between the hidden apostate ground-motive of this philosophical thought and the central Biblical motive of the Christian religion. Dialectical theology is only the expression of the religious dialectic born out of this collision.
When we consider this whole situation and recall that CALVIN was the first to formulate a purely Biblical conception of the lex in its origin, radical religious unity and temporal diversity, we arrive at the conclusion that a real reformation of philosophic thought cannot historically proceed from LUTHER but only from CALVIN's point of departure.
Do not misunderstand this conclusion. The reformation of philosophy in a Christian sense does not signify the inauguration of a new school-philosophy such as Thomism which binds itself to the authority of a philosophical system and thinker. It does not signify the elevation of CALVIN to a pater angelicus of reformed philosophical thought. It does not mean that we will seek a philosophical system in CALVIN that is not there. It does mean, however, that we will relate philosophical thought in its entire foundation, starting-point, and transcendental direction, to the new root of our cosmos in Christ. We will reject every philosophical standpoint that leans upon the "naturalis ratio" as a supposed self-sufficient Archimedean point. Our aim is an inner reform of thought which is born from the living power of God's Word, and not from an abstract and static principle of reason. Therefore, in the development of a Christian philosophy which is actually stimulated by the Biblical ground-motive of the Reformation, there must be a constant striving after the reformation of philosophical thought. This precludes the canonizing of a philosophical system.
Christian philosophical thought cannot be led by a spiritualistic mysticism of faith that fancies itself to be elevated above Divine law. It can only be led by the vivifying spirit of God's Word. In spite of the fact that the temporal cosmos is shattered by sin, since God has maintained its structural order, and since the fulness of meaning is not to be found in time, it is possible to accept the cosmos, in its many-sided richness of meaning, as God's creation, concentrated in its new religious root: Jesus Christ.
The Christian transcendental ground-Idea embraces the religious antithesis (13) between the apostasy of nature and its destiny according to creation: it does not seek a dialectical synthesis after the fashion of "natura praeambula gratiae". But it recognizes in "common grace" a counter force against the destructive work of sin in the cosmos, because the antithesis between sin and creation is really abrogated by the redemption in Jesus Christ.
(13) In Vol. II we shall show more completely that this is something entirely different from a "cult of antinomies" as CORNELISSEN, apparently under the influence of dialectical theology, misinterprets CALVIN's thought.