Knowing the triune God : trinity and certitude in the Theology of John Calvin

Krohn, James B. (2002-12)

Thesis (DTh)--Stellenbosch University, 2002

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: JOHN CALVIN is said to have played a significant role not only in the shaping of Western Christianity, but also in the shaping of Western culture. An adequate appreciation of his thought therefore remains of ongoing significance. In the history of Calvin scholarship, varied interpretations of him have been presented, though in the recent past there has been a growing disinclination towards presenting a coherent exposition of his thought. In the context of these disintegrative proposals, a counter-argument is presented for the viability and desirability of a comprehensive construal of Calvin's thought along historical-theological lines. The argument primarily takes shape by locating Calvin within the sixteenth century intellectual milieu, and particularly by means of uncovering the epistemological consciousness of the Reformation period in reaction to the Renaissance revival of scepticism. The nature of human knowledge, particularly of God, was at the forefront of the sixteenth-century intellectual debate. Calvin, reformer and humanist, was particularly sensitive to this climate, as is illustrated by the Institutia which took the form of a discourse on knowing. However, the theme of knowing God on the basis of Scriptural revelation alone is prevalent in all his work, as an investigation into his neglected writings confirms. It also emerges that the kind of knowledge that Calvin advanced was experimental in nature and Trinitarian in foundation. Experientia and certitude disclosed the dynamic and proof of knowing God on an economic-Trinitarian and soteriological basis. This aspect of Calvin's thought has been overlooked in spite of its relevance to the contemporary post-Kantian crisis of knowing. Having sketched the epistemological background, Calvin's Trinitarian doctrina is examined. A historical-theological orientation to the doctrine provides the framework for appreciating Calvin's axiomatic exposition of the Trinity in the history of doctrinal formulation. Calvin's Trinitarian doctrina is unpacked by means of a historical review in relation to his Trinitarian debates, and by means of its definitive exposition in the 1559 Institutio. Through these, it becomes apparent that he displayed a hitherto mostly unrecognised theological acumen in assimilating Western (Augustinian) and Eastern (Cappadocian) aspects of Trinitarian doctrine due to his exegetical priority. What emerges is a Trinitarian doctrine that affirms God's Triunuy and translates into God's Person-al knowability. This thesis is confirmed by a discussion of Calvin's Trinitarian explication of the Christian life, and is shown to complement the previously highlighted emphasis on knowing. Recovering Calvin's Trinitarian doctrina is therefore of great consequence to post-Enlightenment and contemporary theological debates on God and the Trinity. It naturally follows that both Trinity and certitude were woven into the fabric of Calvin's God-centred hermeneutics. All of his exegetical labour, from Commentary to Instiuaio to Preaching, was focused on hearing the voice of the Triune God speaking in the Word under the sure guidance of the Holy Spirit. The final presentation of a comprehensive interpretation of Calvin is viewed in the light of the transmission of Reformed theology. Knowing the Triune God has the power to confirm and rejuvenate Calvin's theological vision amongst those who view him as their progenitor.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: DIT IS al van Calvyn gese dat hy 'n beduidende rol gespeel het, nie aileen met bettekking tot die vorming van die Westerse Christendom nie, maar ook wat betref die hele Westerse kultuur. 'n Toereikende evaluering van sy denke is dus steeds van belang. Binne die omvang van Calvyn navorsing is daar alreeds 'n verskeidenheid van interpretasies van Calvyn aangebied, hoewel daar 'n toenemende teensin teen die voorlegging van 'n samehangende uiteensetting van Calvyn in die onlangse verlede na vore gekom het. In die konteks van hierdie laasgenoemde standpunte word 'n teenargument aangebied vir die uitvoerbaarheid en ook die wenslikheid van 'n omvattende uitlegging van Calvyn se denke, in ooreenstemming met 'n histories-teologiese grondslag. Calvyn word binne die sestiende-eeuse intellektuele mileu geplaas deur die epis temologiese denke van die Reformasie as reaksie teen die Renaissance oplewing van skeptisisme bloot te Ie. Die aard van menslike kennis, veral die mens se kennis van God, was op die voorpunt van die sestiende-eeuse intellektuele debat, en Calvyn as, hervormer en humanis was baie bewus van hierdie debat. Dit blyk o.m. duidelik uit die lnstitutio wat die vorm van 'n diskoers oor kennis tentoonstel. Die tema van Godskennis, vanuit 'n Skriftuurlike openbaring as enigste grondslag, tree na vore rue net in die Instiuaio nie, maar in al sy werke. Dit blyk ook uit 'n ondersoek van selfs sy minder bekende werke. Uit die ondersoek kom dit ook na vore dat die tipe kennis wat Calvyn bevorder het, eksperimenteel en Triniter van aard was. Experientia en sekerheid word die bevestiging van Godskennis op 'n ekonomies-Trinitere en soteriologiese basis. Hierdie aspek van Calvyn se denke is misken ten spyte van die belangrikheid daarvan vir die post- Kantiese kennis-krisis. Nadat die epistemologiese agtergrond geskets is, word Calvyn se Triniteitsleer [doctrina} ontleed. 'n Histories-teologiese grondslag vir hierdie leers telling verskaf die raamwerk waarbinne Calvyn se unieke uiteensetting van die Drie-Eenheid in die historiese verloop van dogmatiese formulering waardeer kan word. Calvyn se Triniteitsleer (doctrina) word uiteengesit na aanleiding van sy Triniteits-debatvoering, en na aanleiding van die bepalende uitleg daarvan in die 1559 Insiiuaio. Op hierdie wyse word dit duidelik dat Calvyn as gevolg van sy eksegetiese prioriteit 'n tot op hede grootliks onvermelde insig getoon het in die vereniging van die Westerse (Augustiniese) en Oosterse (Kappadosiese) Triniteits-leerstellinge. Wat aan die lig kom is 'n Triniteits-leerstelling wat God se Drie-Eenbaarheid bevestig, en wat voortvloei in 'n weergawe van God se Persoon-like kenbaarheid. Hierdie tesis word gestaaf deur 'n naspeuring van Calvyn se Triniteits-uiteensetting van die Christelike lewe. Daar word ook aangetoon hoe hierdie standpunte die voorvermelde nadruk op kennis bevestig. Die herontdekking van Calvyn se Triniteitsleer (doctTina) is dus van groot belang vir die post-Verligting en konternporere teologiese debatte oor God en die Drie-Eenheid. Beide Drie-Eenbeid en seeerbeid is ten nouste verweef met Calvyn se God-gesentreerde hermeneutiek. Die somtotaal van sy eksegetiese werk, van Kommentaar na Institutio na Prediking, was daarop gefokus om die stem van die Drie-Enige God onder leiding van die Heilige Gees te hoor. Die poging tot 'n omvattende interpretasie van Calvyn word uiteindelik in die lig van die voortgang van Gereformeerde Teologie beskou. "Om die Drie-enige God te ken" is dus 'n integrerende motief wat Calvyn se teologie bevestig en ook sy werk besonder aktueel maak vir die hedendaagse teologiese debat.

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