Saturday, September 22, 2007

Was Calvin Augustinian?

After being referred to a noteworthy quote from Augustine posted on the Catholic Encyclopedia article on "Justification", I wondered how Augustinian Calvin truly was.

The excellent Introduction to Calvin's Institutes provided with the McNeil Edition, citing B. B. Warfield, says "the Reformation, inwardly considered, was just the ultimate triumph of Augustine's doctrine of grace over Augustine's doctrine of the church. (Intro. X, on predestination)" Fascinating. Augustine's predestinarian thought (which was integral to Calvin's reformational 'doctrine of grace') prevailed by way of a methodology of which he would have disapproved. But was this thought even really Augustine's thought?

Now to Augustine: "He who made you without your doing does not without your action justify you. Without your knowing He made you, with your willing He justifies you, but it is He who justifies, that the justice be not your own. (emphasis mine) (Serm. clxix, c. xi, n.13)"

The McNeil Edition is frank in admitting that Calvin "goes beyond Augustine in his explicit assertion of double predestination, in which the reprobation of those not elected is a specific determination of God's inscrutable will." And further, "He feels under obligation to close the door to the notion that anything happens otherwise than under the control of the divine will." If the former quote means that Augustine may have implicitly agreed with double predestination, I think Augustine above (...'does not without your action justify you.') belies the idea. Further, Calvin seems boxed in by the idea of God possessing a single will equally in force in creation as it is within the Godhead. "They will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven." Could double predestination (i.e., double election), if novel to Calvin in the 16th Century, be right?


Gil Garza said...

The only way to answer your question in the affirmative is to have a pair of sharp scissors in hand while reading Augustine.

The sad irony of Calvin was, while appealing to Augustine in select matters of justification, Calvin silenced him regarding matters of Sacraments, worship, Church order, ecclesiastical authority and a host of other topics.

Thos said...


And I think Calvin scholars know Augustine didn't teach double election/predestinarianism. The Intro in the McNeil edition I quoted was clear in its view that Calvin 'developed' Augustinianism to its natural and full conclusion. It was also clear to caution that Augustinianism was developed wrongly after Calvin, in the form of Jansenism (which was Rome's problem, not the Reformation's).

It's interesting that we (Reformed) look in partum but not in toto to the tradition of the fathers.

Peace in Christ,

Joseph said...

Gil, you beat me to it, except you did so with a brevity that I have never been capable of.

In the sense of your post, Calvin would have also been Athanasian in the level of agreement to the Blessed Trinity, however not only would have disagreed with the same manner he would have with Augustine, but also in regards to "works" and their necessity for man's justification (though a man is justified by faith, good works are still a necessary element of justification). So, he would have also been in partial agreement to the Athanasian Creed.

On that note, Calvin was, in fact, a Catholic until he chose, by an act of the will, to leave the Church for his own interpretation of the Scriptures and his own traditions. His communion with the Church was imperfect (by virtue of Baptism, he remained a Catholic; yet he was not in communion with the Church) so also were his points of agreement with Fathers such as Sts. Athanasius and Augustin.

Gil Garza said...

It is my opinion that Calvin was attempting to appeal to the humanism of his time in order to mask the reboot of Christianity for political purposes as a religious reform.

Thos said...


While you are certainly entitled to that opinion, any facts you have to support it or help flesh it would be read with interest!

Peace in Christ,

Gil Garza said...

The Catholic humanist efforts of Desi Erasmus and Frank Ximenez (as I fondly refer to them) produced the “back to earliest sources” bibles that the Reformers used to give religious justification to new political movements that arose in the Renaissance.

It was no mistake that each of the Reformers was sponsored by a politician seeking to bolster his independence from the Catholic regime. Luther boldly hammered his protest not on the door of the cathedral or university, but on the chapel door of a politician unhappy with the Catholic regime.

In the prologue to the 1st edition of the Institutes, Calvin pleads with French politician (and King), Francis I to abolish the Catholic Church in favor of his new religion. When Francis did not oblige, Calvin left for Geneva, then a center of the war Charles V was waging against Francis. When the city government fell, Geneva became an independent Calvinist theocracy (surprise!).

As new nation-states immerged, each searched for religious reasons to justify separation from the seemly God ordained political regime of the day. As they adopted new religious reasons to exist, they mandated new forms of Christianity in their realms. To this day, Protestant Europe can be mapped out along political lines forged centuries ago. For example, Lutheranism in Germany extended only as far as a politician could extend it (as they mandated Lutheranism), rather than as far as a preacher could.

Henry seceded from Rome not because he wanted a divorce from Catherine but because any heir produced from his union with her would threaten English sovereignty in a dynastic struggle with the Holy Roman Empire (he had originally married her to strengthen his position against France, which coveted English territories on the Continent). Of course Mary Tudor did not help English sovereignty by marrying the King of Spain (which earned her the spurn of history).

But, perhaps, I should stop rambling on…

Thos said...


True to my word, your post was read with interest, thanks!

The interplay between faith and state at the time of the Reformation would be worthy of its own blog. Where you're a scholar on the matter, I know only the standard facts.

Feel free to share more at will!

Peace in Christ,

StBasil said...

I know this post is old but I came across it and have to comment on it. Here is a passage from St. Augustine:

"Faith, then, as well in its beginning as in its completion, is God's gift; and let no one have any doubt whatever, unless he desires to resist the plainest sacred writings, that this gift is given to some, while to some it is not given. But why it is not given to all ought not to disturb the believer, who believes that from one all have gone into a condemnation, which undoubtedly is most righteous; so that even if none were delivered therefrom, there would be no just cause for finding fault with God. Whence it is plain that it is a great grace for many to be delivered, and to acknowledge in those that are not delivered what would be due to themselves; so that he that glories may glory not in his own merits, which he sees to be equalled in those that are condemned, but in the Lord. But why He delivers one rather than another,—"His judgments are unsearchable, and His ways past finding out." Romans 11:33 For it is better in this case for us to hear or to say, "O man, who are you that repliest against God?" Romans 9:20 than to dare to speak as if we could know what He has chosen to be kept secret. Since, moreover, He could not will anything unrighteous" (On the Predestination of the Saints, Book I, Ch. 16).

Two points from St. Augustine:
1. God's judgments are unknowable by us, finite beings.
2. God will not will anything unrighteous.

Now, we know that the eternal damnation of unrepentant sinners is due to their evil. Therefore to will them to do that evil, as Calvin states (sorry I don't have the quotes on hand but could dig them up), would be God willing evil. St. Augustine rejects that idea.

St. Augustine's view is that God has mercy on some and not on others, so the elect are those He has had mercy on (thus granted much grace) while the reprobate are those He has withheld His mercy. Now, withholding mercy, thus grace, does not mean He actively wills them to do evil or their damnation. It is permissive, not active.

That is why St. Augustine never taught double predestination because for him those damned are such by a negative reprobation, i.e. by God allowing it.

In conjunction with your statement of St. Augustine above, that God does not save us without our will, I think it entirely safe to say St. Augustine would state the same of the reprobate, that God does not allow them to be damned without their own will.

Another key point though is mystery. For St. Augustine the basis of predestination is in God's wisdom which we cannot fathom. Whereas for Calvin, the basis for predestination to glory or reprobation to damnation rests definitively in the active will of God.

Pax Christi tecum.

Thos said...


Thanks for looking at the old posts! I think a lot of them are better than my more recent thoughts. I was more on the fence then, so more edgy...

Augustine does seem to more of a single-election predestinarian. These quotes you gave seem more Lutheran than Calvinist (to be anachronistic).

Peace in Christ,

Pastor J Palm said...

Thanks for your article and the discussion following it. I added my own thoughts about how Augustine's Platonic philosophical background colors his approach to theology and how failing to understand the way Augustine thinks results in misunderstanding. Anyhow here's the link: Augustine was not a Calvinist