There are a lot of moving parts in this discussion, I admit. Here we have a discussion about a concept, in which the discussion moves from Aristotle to Aquinas to Scotus to Luther to Calvin to Turretin and Warfield.
In my recent blog post, Luther’s Theology of the Cross and Metaphysics, I cited Muller as saying:
One of the elements of late medieval Scotist and nominalist theology that had a profound impact on Luther was its denial of any analogy between God and man and its consequent recognition of the impossibility of formulating a rational metaphysic concerning God (emphasis added). All knowledge of God must rest on authoritative testimony, primarily on that of Scripture.
After describing briefly that Luther “denied any recourse of theology to an analogia entis between God and man and insisted on the necessity of scriptural revelation”, Muller goes on to say:
“Calvin, similarly, allows a glorious revelation of God in creation that ought to be understood by reason—but argues that human beings are so corrupted by sin that apart from salvation in Christ and the saving form of revelation given in Scripture, knowledge of God remains inaccessible to them (emphasis added) Calvin also distinguishes between the eternal Word and Wisdom of God and the revealing Word given forth in the words of the prophets, the latter being accommodated to human ways of knowing.”
Based on interactions in the comments with Stephen, I went back and looked up what Calvin said in his Institutes Book 1, Chapters 1-5.
Muller’s word “similarly” refers to a movement that I’ll describe basically with these two citations from Calvin (given in Hall and Lillback, “A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes”, Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2008, in K. Scott Oliphint, Chapter 2, “A Primal and Simple Knowledge (1.1-5), p. 35):
Where Paul teaches that what is to be known of God is made plain from the creation of the universe, he does not signify such a manifestation as men’s discernment can comprehend; but, rather, shows it not to go farther than to render them inexcusable… (Institutes 1.5.14).
Although we lack the natural ability to mount up unto the pure and clear knowledge of God, all excuse is cut off because the fault of dullness is within us… (Institutes 1.5.15).
The issue that Muller is talking about is not that we know from nature that God exists. The issue is, “does fallen man gain enough knowledge of God in order to build a natural theology from that which is known from nature?”
Without question, the most controversial subject of Calvin’s discussion in this section is that of natural theology. The controversy reached its peak in the twentieth century, in the debate between Karl Barth and Emil Brunner. The crux of the debate can be seen in one quote from Barth:
Brunner’s interpretation of Calvin has one fault which vitiates everything. He has, with amazing cold blood and consistency, left out the very important brackets within which Calvin always speaks of the natural knowledge of God. They are the expression si integer stetisset Adam [if Adam had remained upright—from Institutes 1.2.1].
In other words, Barth’s understanding of Calvin was that the natural knowledge of God was obliterated at the fall. Since Adam did not remain upright, there can be no natural knowledge of God.
Numerous problems arise in this understanding of Calvin, not the least of which is that Barth seems to make no distinction between natural revelation and natural theology. The distinction is a crucial one, and one that must be kept in mind here. Natural revelation is that which God gives to man. As Calvin notes, it is that which God implants in us. Natural theology is that which man does with that natural revelation that God implants.
Later Oliphint says:
For Calvin, … , there is no natural theology on the part of an unbeliever that serves to do anything but render him without excuse. Every unbelieving attempt to construct a true natural theology will inevitably lead to condemnation (p. 38).
This is an important concept when it comes to metaphysics, which is what caught my eye in the first place (Muller speaks of “the impossibility of formulating a rational metaphysic concerning God” based on anything other than “authoritative testimony, primarily on that of Scripture” (Muller p. 223).)
In my mind, I have been coming to the conclusion that “Aquinas is the problem” – (see some of my “Fudging Aristotle” blog posts below.)
Outlining Aquinas’s method, Ralph McInerney, for example, makes the following claim:
So too a Christian sets out to show that God can be known to exist from the world around us, prodded, let us say, by Romans 1.19. But his arguments have to hold in the public philosophical forum and be cogent to those without as well as with faith.
It seemed well to begin with this problem the problem of Christian Philosophy, because it is often confused with what Thomas meant by theology. There are two kinds of truth about God, Thomas observes. First, truths which can be known by anyone employing his natural capacity to think about the world around us; second, truths which God has revealed about himself and which are accepted as true on the basis of a gratuitously granted disposition of mind called faith.
The whole aim of philosophy, as it was begun by the Greeks, is to achieve wisdom is knowledge of the first principles and causes; but the first principles and causes are divine. Philosophy strives towards knowledge of the divine, and if it is successful, ends as theology (emphasis added, from “Thomas Aquinas, Selected Writings”, Introduction, pg xv).
In Muller’s discussion, all of this was brought up in his discussion of “archetype” and “ectype” (and the multiple kinds of “ectype” theologies). However, Calvin (following Luther) was keeping in mind the movement (in Romans 1) from pre-fallen man to man after the fall, and what happens to “knowledge of God” in that case.
For Aquinas, man’s intellect is not affected by the fall. For Calvin (following Scotus and Luther), “All knowledge of God must rest on authoritative testimony, primarily on that of Scripture”.
On the other hand, “philosophy” (especially the philosophy of the Greeks, notably Aristotle), while seeking to articulate “wisdom”, fails to provide the sufficient foundation for theology that McInerny attributes to it. Rather, as Warfield says, “objectively valid as the theistic proofs are, they are ineffective to produce a just knowledge of God in the sinful heart.”
And later Muller cites Turretin to that same effect:
The use of the term theology is either equivocal and inappropriate (abusivus) when it is applied to the false theology of pagans and heretics; or less than truly appropriate (minus proprius) when it is declared of the original and infinite Wisdom, which, apart from us, is known by God in himself according to an ineffable and most perfect mode of knowing; the term, indeed, cannot do justice to the dignity of the thing; or of the theology of Christ (theologia Christi) or of the theology of angels (theologia Angelorum); or proper (proprius), when it is applied to the theology of sojourning men (theologia hominum viatorum), … (from Turretin I.i.9).
Muller, R. A. (2003). Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise And Development Of Reformed Orthodoxy; Volume 1: Prolegomena To Theology (2nd ed., p. 226). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
I think it will be instructive to follow Turretin’s thoughts at this point (and I’ll hope to do that in a subsequent blog post).
Following up, Muller says “Intellectually and theologically these distinctions and the debate over their use spring directly out of the preceding discussion of the meaning of the term theology and the problem of true and false theology (226).
This is another distinction that Rome codified at Trent (when it canonized Aquinas’s work as it did); Aquinas was a smart guy, but here’s a hugely important area where he got it wrong. We ought not to incorporate inferences drawn merely from reason as foundational to the entire doctrine of God.