Part 1 of 6: A Rebuttal Against “The Institutes of the Christian Religion” In Light of Ultimate Reconciliation

Written By Thomas Perez. September 22, 2010 at 11:13PM. Copyright 2010

‘The Institutes of the Christian Religion’ by John Calvin (1509 – 1564) will be examined in light with the doctrine of Universal Salvation. A rather large manuscript, The ‘Institutes’ deals primarily with the notion of the predestination of all beings and their ultimate fates. In philosophy this theological position would be called hard determinism. Such a view, as posed by John Calvin, would find no room for either normal determinism, soft determinism, or in-determinism (as in the view of the Pelagius – contemporary of St. Augustine and Jacobus Arminius – contemporary of Calvin, who all believed in the freewill of all men).

Calvin’s view is a fatalistic approach and must be viewed as such. Therefore in actuality, the ‘Institutes’ can be considered, at least to a certain degree, a book about the philosophy and principle of determinism as seen from the Scriptures. Can one boldly make this statement, a statement that compares the ‘Institutes’ with that of philosophy or free thinking/reasoning? I say yea. In light of the supreme sovereignty of God illuminating and ever self revealing in His Word; upon which Calvin draws his conclusions from, one can indeed make the comparison of faith and philosophy. The very word ‘philosophy’ is from the Greek word ‘philosophia’ – meaning the love of wisdom.

However, and let us be honest, to many of the early Church fathers classical philosophy was erroneous for the simple reason that it did not emanate from divine revelation. It was secular and pagan. The early Church fathers complained that whereas Greek philosophers may have argued over words, Christianity possessed the Word, true wisdom as revealed by God. So, the early Church fathers believed that studying Greek thought would contaminate Christian morality and promote heresy. For the early Church fathers, there would be no compromise between Greek philosophy and Christian revelation. The early Church father, Tertullian (150-225) once wrote that “with our faith, we desire no further belief. For this is our faith that there is nothing which we ought to believe besides.

Yet, there were other Church fathers who defended the value of studying classical literature and philosophy. The classical Greeks could aid in the moral development of children because the Greeks, though pagan, still embraced a virtuous life. Knowledge of Greek thought helped Christians to explain their beliefs logically and enabled them to argue intelligently with critics of Christianity. It was Clement of Alexandria (c.150-220) who brought reason to the support of faith by trying to make Christianity more intellectually respectable. As Clement once wrote in his Stromata (Miscellanies), “thus philosophy acted as a schoolmaster to the Greek, preparing them for Christ, as the laws of the Jews prepared them for Christ.”

Using the language and techniques of Greek philosophy, Christian intellectuals changed Christianity from a simple ethical creed into a theoretical system. From this “Hellenization of Christianity,” theology was born. Christ was depicted as the divine Logos (reason) in human form because the Socratic Greeks had a concept of the Logos but not the true Logos of eternity. The believers saw Christ as both God and Logos – John 1:1, this included the believing Greeks. Moreover, Roman Stoicism was incorporated into the belief that all are equal and united in Christ. Many adherents kept to this view, including: Anselm, Rene Descartes, and St. Thomas Aquinas – all of whom defended the ontological proof of God from a philosophical stand point.

To wit did Calvin think upon these things? Calvin often resorted back to the teachings of Augustine. Perhaps a brief background into Augustine might suffice.

Augustine was born in North Africa and 354 and died at the age 76 in 430. His father was a pagan, his mother a Christian. He was, then, the product of a mixed marriage. He loved his mother dearly, a fact which partially explains his later conversion to Christianity. He was educated at Carthage in North Africa, and very quickly yielded to earthly temptation. At the age of eighteen, he took a concubine or mistress and together they had one child, a son. It was at this time that Augustine was attracted to the heretical teachings of a man called Mani (216-276), who believed that one God could not be responsible for both good and evil. So, there had to be two gods. Such an opinion, of course, is heresy.

In 387, and under the influence of men like St. Jerome, and his mother, he became a Christian.In 399, Augustine was elected Bishop of Hippo, one of the intellectual centers of North Africa. Hippo was also the focus of a lively debate on numerous theological issues. In a certain sense, late 4th century Carthage was similar to the intellectual environment of Athens 1000 years earlier. In other words, Carthage was flooded with new ideas. Augustine spent more than thirty years combating heresy, writing commentaries and interpretations of Christian theology. He wrote the first autobiography in western history, The Confessions. His most important work, however, is The City of God, a massive book written between 413 and 426. The City of God was written to show that it was God’s plan that Rome would fall and that Christianity was the salvation of mankind. In other words, according to St. Augustine, history has direction, history has meaning – the unfolding of God’s grand plan.

In The City of God, Augustine brings together the sacred history of the Jewish people, the pagan history of the Greeks and Romans, and the Christian expectation of future salvation. He quotes Herodotus, Plato, Cicero, Tacitus, Aristotle, the Old Testament, the New Testament as well as the interpretations and commentaries of the Church Fathers.The City of God contrasts two cities: the City of God and the City of Man. He taught that the City of Man – that is, Rome – was evil and destined to decline and fall. Augustine saw this with his own eyes. In other words, he was not looking back into history, he was looking at his own present. The City of God was invisible – it was not of this earth. It was otherworldly. The chosen or the elect – the true Christian – should recognize that earthly existence was little more than an illusion. Furthermore, there was a higher reality beyond Rome. That higher reality was the City of God. It was only in the City of God that the chosen would find their final resting place. If any of this sounds like Plato and the Allegory of the Cave, then you are on the right track. Augustine studied Plato – he was a neo-Platonist. He combined Christianity with Plato’s higher reality of Ideas and Forms. In the end, what Augustine accomplished was nothing less than a synthesis of Christianity and classical humanism.

Of course, Augustine did not believe that Christ, by his death, had opened the door to heaven for every soul. Most of humanity remained condemned to eternal punishment – only a handful of souls had the gift of faith and the promise of heaven. People could not overcome their sins – moral and spiritual regeneration came only from God’s grace, and it was God who determined who would be saved, and who would be damned (the notion of predestination would appear again, with greater force, during the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century). Although Augustine’s influence was impressive, the Church rejected his idea of predestination, that only a small number of people would find salvation. Instead, the Church emphasized that Christ had made possible the salvation of all. With Augustine, the human-centered outlook of classical humanism gave way to a God-centered world view. The fulfillment of God’s grand design became the chief concern of human endeavor. Is it any wonder why Calvin would believe in double predestination? I must confess, I do not blame him (considering the time in which he lived) for doing so, nor do I blame Augustine. But we must be fair to the facts – Predestination (at least in the Augustinian and Calvinistic point of view), is a by product of Platonism. Where Augustine left off, Calvin drew upon, and added his…shall we say, interpretation to the doctrine or ideology of divine election. In other words, Calvin’s foundational work is based upon Augustine’s work, who, in return, was influenced by Platonism.

While it is noted in my other excerpts, essays, and discussions that I, ‘Thomas Perez’ am not an advocate of the freewill model, (upon this I do agree with Augustine and Calvin as opposed to Pelagianism and Arminianism), I do however, accept Existential Freedom as seen by Jean-Paul Sartre. Existential Freedom is the view that all humans individually create humanity at every moment through their free acts. In this view, one can incorporate God telling men to be fruitful and multiply and to do that which is righteous – for truly this is the whole duty of man (Eccl 12:13-14), upon which we will also be judged, as verse 14 indicates. They are our duties, given by permission from God to be exercised by our common freewill. All things, weather they be laws of God, governments, laws of the state, or decrees can be fulfilled through the model of existential freedom. These things are given to us to use (at our own discretion) to enjoy, make abundant, seek, discover, find, destroy, plunder, or to make better. For everything there is a season under the sun. There is a time and place for sowing and reaping, a time for war and a time for peace – these are earthly matters and affairs. Matters of such have nothing to do with the Kingdom of Heaven. Yet, we are told to aspire, or at least imitate the Kingdom of Heaven upon earth. We are also told that the Kingdom of Heaven is within us.

Here we not only hear the words of our Saviour, “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven” but we also see epistemology – the theory of knowledge. We are to know His will. To know is to acquire knowledge. But, How are we to know knowledge, does knowledge require certainty? Is knowledge, in fact possible? Here we see Socratic ignorance, as Paul concurred when he said, “We see in a mirror dimly,” “But now abideth faith, hope, and love/charity, these three, but the greatest is love/charity” (I Cor 13: 12-13). In lieu of this fact, how are we to know what the all encompassing will (knowledge) of God is when we are bound by nature and matter? As opposed to the Agnostics, this is the primary reason why God became matter / flesh in Jesus our Lord, so that we can obtain the righteousness of God positionally and progressively in Christ since we are told to conduct ourselves in virtue. Virtue would be considered the highest thought as in reference to the will of God. But we only have the nature of ‘virtue,’ not virtue….for it is unobtainable. The Apostle Paul cited a similar stance when he said, “Finally brethren, whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Phil 4:8). Can there be any virtue, praise, or good report when thinking of evil? The evil which will befall many individuals based upon a message of accept of burn? Or a message of divine election of the few and the exclusion of the many? As any reader can clearly see, the words cited; war, destroy, and plunder are bad/evil. Therefore, the words; damnation, condemnation, or annihilation are also synonymous with the word bad/evil. Therefore, one must ask, can the decree of evil be the decree of God? The answer to that is yes.

However, the Scriptures themselves set our minds at rest. In (Isa 45:5) “I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside Me. I girded thee (Cyrus – see verse 1), though thou hast not known Me, that they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside Me. I am the Lord, and there is none else. I form the light and create darkness: I make peace and create evil. I the Lord do all these things.” “I create evil.” What does this mean? The Hebrew word here translated “evil” is “ra.” The word is also translated “sorrow,” “wretchedness,” “adversity,” “afflictions,” “calamities,” but is never translated “sin.” God created evil only in the sense that He made sorrow, wretchedness, etc, to be the sure fruits of sin. But the word “ra” is translated “evil” no less than 445 times in our Authorized King James Version. Therefore, it surely means evil. And Isaiah tells us plainly that God created evil. As a friend once told me “To live is evil, as soon as you are born you are dying” How true and profound is such a statement when we view the result of our mortal decay due to our “ra” – sorrow. Evil is a necessity in God’s purpose for good to be appreciated. Moreover, that is why God created evil. But not only do we learn from the Scriptures that God created evil, but we also learn that sometimes He does evil. Now this may startle some until the facts are fully considered. We are so accustomed to the idea that God always does good (much like the atheist above). The Bible insists that God always does right; He cannot sin, He cannot commit iniquity. Abraham, you remember, put the question, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen 18:25). But, it is sometimes right to do evil that good may follow. When a parent punishes a child, for instance, he does evil to that child in order that the good may ensue and the child may be blessed. This is often so with God. He cannot sin, He cannot commit iniquity, (because He chooses not to), but He can do evil. God is not limited, such is the omnipotence of God. In the book of Jeremiah alone, there are more than thirty references to God either doing evil or repenting from evil which He had purposed doing, and there are similar passages in other books. For example, in (Jere 11:10), we read of Israel and Judah having broken the covenant which God had made with their fathers, and then comes this passage, “Thus saith the Lord, Behold I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape.” Notice that God does not say, “I will allow evil to come upon them,” but “I will bring evil upon them.”

Notice carefully what Isaiah says, or rather, what God Himself says through Isaiah. “I form the light and create darkness.” God did not necessarily create light, because light was always in being, since God Himself is light (1 Jn 1:5). The light in reference to Genesis is the light of the universe, of which God created from Himself. Thus, creating the darkness (space) from the light, as we see it today (Gen 1:3-4). He had to create darkness because darkness was something that was not originally in being, but had to be brought into being so that the light could be appreciated. If we never experienced the darkness we would never know the light, we would take it for granted like the air we breathe. It is only when the air becomes foul that we really appreciate what fresh air is. Similarly, God says, “I make peace and create evil,” Peace did not need to be created since it was always there where God was. But, evil had to be created in order that good could be understood.

The majority of believers who see two separate forces at work—are all dualistic in nature (Zoroastrianism, Marcionism, Gnosticism, Manicheism, Bogomilism, Catharism, Judaism, and Christianity). Those that see many gods, as in eastern religions, miss the point due to their belief concept of pantheism. What must be realized in pantheism, is the conceivable cancellation one deity my have over the other due to one who might be more omnipotent than the other. But, the problem is not quite easy as that, for the Scriptures make it clear that God, on a number of occasions, does evil as well as good, while the Adversary, the exponent of evil, may appear at times as a messenger of light, and light in itself is good. But, again, if we are to say that good emanates from God and evil from Satan, how are we to explain the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” which God planted in the garden of Eden? Here we have the knowledge of the two things brought together in the same tree, which was planted by God!

However, the question warrants a deeper understanding of the evil, it is the understanding of the continuity of the evil that must be examined. Furthermore, (and this is most vital), if good finds its origin in God and evil in God, how can we be certain that good will triumph in the end? If evil came from God and has arisen in the universe from God in the past, allowing it to exist, how can we be certain that He will destroy the works of the devil, workings of death, and sorrow, when it is said by some that God will permit the continuity of evil in the universe trough eternal misery. Will this not defeat God or at the least defeat His purpose and sovereign plan? How can a Kingdom be divided against its Sovereign Ruler? For both, the good and the evil thus came from Him. Yet, He has revealed in His Word to destroy death, the present world system, and the works of the Adversary. If so, how do they continue to exist in Calvin’s theology of eternal damnation?

Let us now focus on Calvin’s ‘Institutes’ and see what he is trying to convey. I took the liberty of quoting some of his works. Though, as stated earlier, the manuscript is rather large, but all in all, it is a book containing many Christian truths. Therefore, for the benefit of this study, I have cited specific chapters and paragraphs that encompasses Calvin’s overall thoughts and beliefs as opposed to other schools of thought pertaining to foreknowledge and predestination.

To Be Continued in Part Two: Calvin’s Citations.

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