Steinmetz: Calvin in Context

Steinmetz, David.  Calvin in Context.  Oxford.

Steinmetz’s thesis is that one can’t abstract Calvin’s Institutes from his larger body of exegesis. We move from the Bible to the Institutes and then to the Commentaries. This book is a collection of essays that examines Calvin’s exegesis with some thought towards the philosophical issues of the day.

Calvin and the Natural Knowledge of God

Calvin is somewhat unique in focusing on the noetic effects in Romans 1 (Steinmetz 29).  The natural order does not reveal God’s essence, but “knowledge accomodated to the limited capacity of human beings to comprehend God” (29).

Calvin and the Absolute Power of God

Calvin attacked the medieval distinction between potentia dei absoluta and potentia dei ordinata.  But maybe Calvin overshot his mark.  The goal of the distinction wasn’t to speculate “What could God really do?”  Rather, it clarifies what is logically possible and logically coherent, and what God has covenanted to do for his people.

Calvin on Isaiah 6

The problem:  Is God’s message to Isaiah negating human responsibility?  Calvin responds by several points: 1) God wills that Isaiah speak his word.  It is accidental to the nature of the Word that it blinds people (104). But when it meets an adamant heart, it hardens it.  2) God foretells a state of affairs in which unbelievers are responsible.

Calvin among the Thomists

Given that Calvin praised Bucer as the near standard, and given that Bucer was a Thomist, are there Thomist leanings in Calvin?  Not really, but Steinmetz compares and contrasts Calvin’s reading of Romans 9 with Bucer’s and Thomas’s.

Thomas is quite clear that Jacob’s election isn’t based in any foreknowledge or anything Jacob had done (“Expositio in Omnes Sancti Pauli Epistolas,” in Sancti Thomae Aquinatis Doctoris Angelici Ordinis Praedicatorum Opera Omnia 13 (Parma 1872), 95, quoted in Steinmetz 144).  Bucer and Calvin clearly agree. Bucer develops Thomas in that “God works in such a way as to make human beings the agents of their own acts” (149).

Calvin doesn’t specifically draw from Thomas.  Rather, as Steinmetz concludes, all three draw from Augustine.


About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
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